Living large on a living barge – 8

By Tom Miller

Tom and family are touring Europe by barge. This is the eighth in his series of reports on what is to be six months per year of cruising the waterways there.

Wilco lifting his car onto Rabelo

Wilco lifting his car onto Rabelo

Today was one for firsts.  In the morning we lifted Wilco’s full sized Citroen station wagon onto Rabelo.  We were nervous. The big car was right at the weight limit for our crane.  Fortunately everything worked out as planned.  Having a full size car to pick up our friends and their luggage at the train station would prove a big help.

Wilco’s Citroen on deck

Wilco’s Citroen on deck

After loading the car onto Rabelo we headed off to our next destination. Along the way Lisa and I reached another milestone. We managed to enter, site tie-up, try and then exit a lock without any help from Wilco.  I steered and took care of the stern line while Lisa handled the bow-line. Rabelo was a good girl and did what I asked her to do. At 130 feet and 150 tons our big baby is a lot of boat for two people to handle, and yet we managed her with ease. Every time I drive Rabelo I learn something new and become more confident.  When it was time to leave in the morning I backed Rabelo down a narrow channel for almost 250 yards before turning her about.  There was a time when I thought it was impossible to back up a barge without a bow thruster.

Riding into town we found this little guy in someone’s backyard.  I think he was lost.

Riding into town we found this little guy in someone’s backyard. I think he was lost.

Wilco drove home for the weekend and left Lisa and me on Rabelo moored about 3 kilometers outside the city of Helmond.  Saturday morning we took our bikes out of storage and rode to town.  Neither one of us had ridden in ten years.  One of the things we enjoy most about barging were  the surprises.  Because we spent so much time in small towns that the typical tourist would never think to visit we  always ran into the unexpected.  As it turned out Helmond had a huge farmers market going on when we arrived. Everything imaginable was for sale from clothing, furniture, artwork and bed sheets to fresh vegetables, fish, poultry and red meat.  For lunch we found a little café where we each had a great hamburger without fries. I’m sure the waitress thought there must be something wrong with us. 

Sunday was cleaning day, so we got out the vacuum, rags and mops and spent the morning massaging our baby. When we were done Rabelo sparkled. Lisa prepared a wonderful lunch with some of the chili she had made earlier in the week.  Like good monks we washed it down with La Trappe beer.  Then we jumped on the bikes and rode back to town.

I’m not sure what you would call it, though I suppose it was the Dutch version of a town fair.  In either case, Helmond had a special event

I know this guy was lost.

I know this guy was lost.

going on. The police, fire, rescue and the military had brought their equipment to town to show how it was used. There was even a collection of restored police cars and motorcycles from the United States.  What a surprise to see a California Highway Patrol cruiser in Holland or a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) motorcycle. The guy who owned the collection was dressed as a New York City cop, and had the car to go with it. The entire city had come out to see what was on display along with all the demonstrations.  They had high speed police boats taking people for rides on the canal, police dog demonstrations, and the fire department even got into the act with their pumper trucks.  There were also plenty of live bands for extra entertainment.

Fortunately she wasn’t issuing parking tickets.

Fortunately she wasn’t issuing parking tickets.

Oh yes, you can’t have a fair without food stands. Everyone was walking around holding paper cups filled with French Fries and mayonnaise.

That night we found this incredible Italian restaurant, Ristorante Sicilia where we

We don’t have to worry about speeding on the canals.

We don’t have to worry about speeding on the canals.

had pizza, Carpaccio and ravioli. It was not a good day for losing weight, but it sure tasted great. One of the more pleasant surprises that we have found in both The Netherlands and France is that the restaurants in the small towns are usually very reasonable and quite good.


THEWAVE_sig1Tom Miller is an adventure writer from Thousand Oaks. His novel The Wave, about a tsunami destroying Honolulu was published in 2010. Tom has a degree in geology, has been a contractor and developer, prolific diver, pilot, sailor, and barge captain. When he’s not chasing adrenalin overseas, he hikes with the local “Heartbreak Hiking Fools.” LIVING BARGE is his memory of his recent six month journey through the canals of Europe with his wife Lisa.



The extensive Dutch waterway system.

The extensive Dutch waterway system. source:


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Tom Miller


Communicating with the Dutch is easy. Most of them speak English. Lisa and I continue to work on our French. We’ve never had a problem despite our rudimentary language skills. The secret to dealing with the French is you start every conversation with a, “Bonjour” and a smile. We’ve never had a problem, and the French have always been very helpful and courteous.

Stefan Djordjevic

Sounds like fun. I’m wondering how you communicated with the Dutch and French. Was it hard? Thanks.