Crossing borders

Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on May 19th 2023.

Looking back for a moment, we left France on May 2nd and cruised into Belgium, crossing the border almost without realising that we had done so. By chance my eye fell upon a sign for the Douanes, the French word for Customs, attached to the side of an abandoned hut. I guessed that it marked the spot where the old customs checkpoint would have been, but half the letters were missing and neglect had leached the paint of its original colour so that it was now no more than a faint memory of times long gone.

Without man-made barriers and controls, the line that denotes where one country ends and the next begins is not always clear cut. There are often clues: an abrupt change in the style of the architecture or a different language, but the buildings in that part of Wallonia, the southern half of Belgium, looked exactly the same as they did a few streets away in the north of France, regrettably rather unappealing. That part of Belgium was also French-speaking and so everything remained familiar, from the signs for the boulangerie to the words that we heard spoken. It felt as if the two countries had merged softly together, each taking on some of the characteristics of the other.

On May 12th we left Belgium behind us and entered the Netherlands and at the border once again there was nothing obvious to mark the precise point where one country ended and another began. To us, however, it was a moment of some significance and so we noted the occasion in our minds. We had been trying to reach the Netherlands for the past three years, our plans initially delayed by Covid and then hampered by drought problems in France, and so to finally arrive after all this time felt like a personal milestone.

We moored up between the Servaas and Wilhelmina bridges in the centre of Maastricht and could immediately tell that we were in a different country.

We are moored down there on wall which is actually in the middle of the River Mass with the main through- traffic passing the other side of us.  The wall gives some respite from the wash of the commercial barges but we still bounced around a bit if a big one went past at speed.

The language was an obvious sign that we were in another country, mingling with accents from around the world as a steady stream of tourists as well as Dutch people flowed across the bridge and into town. Like so many of the big tourist cities that we have visited over the last six years, Paris, Strasbourg, Bruges and Lille amongst them, it was immediately clear that Maastricht was a money-making machine  but it was so beautifully presented that you couldn’t help but be drawn in. Pavement cafe culture was at its most beguiling, comfy chairs under parasols in leafy squares, charming back streets with pleasing architecture that asked to be explored, and everywhere had a relaxed and easy-going vibe proclaiming that life was good and should be enjoyed.

It seemed churlish not to join in and enjoy ourselves. In the market we bought a hanging basket for Olivia Rose, cheerful and full of natural beauty, a panacea against all the ugliness of the commercial landscape that we had seen over the past few days.


In amongst the chic clothing stores and designer names we found a store that sold nothing but rubber ducks. It was so frivolous and silly that we had to go inside. There were the usual rubber ducks for a kiddies bath but they had taken it to a whole new level with duck versions of Darth Vader, Harry Potter, Batman, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen amongst many more. The whole store was a treasure trove, the result of a delightfully wacky imagination – a sign in the window said it was a happy place and they weren’t wrong because I couldn’t help but smile as I wandered around the aisles, although it wasn’t so hard to come out empty- handed – we don’t have room for ducks.

Not quite sure how the frogs got in with the ducks but they’re fun too.

The next day we took the bikes out to explore further afield, gravitating as we so often do to the green spaces and parks, of which there are many in and around the city.

A rather haughty owl.
Looking down on the Maas and one of its marinas. Boats everywhere!
Found this sad chap sitting on a bench in the park. I had to resist the urge to give him a cuddle to cheer him up.

In the evenings we sat on deck, when the weather allowed as it was still changeable, sunny one moment and torrential rain the next, and watched the tourists queuing up for the evening disco-and-meal pleasure cruises, grateful we were on our boat and not on theirs!

Cities are always noisy places, no matter how beautiful, and after two nights being disturbed from sleep by the late return of the disco boat, or even being woken up at 7am by some teenagers and their music box who had been out partying all night and hadn’t got to bed yet, we decided we needed somewhere more peaceful. Just one day of cruising would take us to the lakes around Maasbracht and Roermond – it was time to slip the lines again and move on.


18 thoughts on “Crossing borders

  1. Bravo… made it to the Netherlands! Loved the photo of the bear….I wanted to give home a hug too. Love to you both.


  2. You two really are ‘The Constant Travellers’! You are so right about different architecture in each country. Our memory of Belgium houses were the tall detached thin houses, which we always referred to as ‘house slices’. Enjoy Holland/Netherlands.


    1. Hi Tracey. Wondered when you would be back. Absolutely loving Netherlands. Loads of questions – will have a long list for you by the time we reach Amsterdam!


  3. So Belgium wasn’t so impressive, it sounds, at least from the water vantage point? It looks lushly spring-like in the ND, but not sure I’d like the crowds either. Happy cruising!


    1. Oops that wasn’t meant to go! So… Belgium wasn’t that wonderful. Or the bits we saw weren’t – I am sure there are other places that are beautiful like the Ardennes, and we’ll get to them another time.


  4. Just back from holiday, and I have been saving your post to enjoy on our return. I love the rubber duck shop, although I’m sure I wouldn’t have bought one! There must be a story behind the sad-looking bear. A pity the parts of Belgium that you saw weren’t very picturesque. Hopefully you’ll find the good bits on another occasion.


  5. Well you have certainly sold Maastricht to me. Sounds fabulous. Did you ever discover the story behind the sad bear??? I think I would have had to have had one if each of those fabulous ducks and a frog… for you know who😂


    1. Hi Fiona. No the bear remains a mystery and I quite like it that way. I wish I had got a duck in retrospect but we’ll eventually return through there so a second chance awaits.


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