We had booked our factory tour for 16:30 so we had a couple hours to stroll the canals. The designated walking path created by the town of Arques took us by an old boat lift that is no longer in use.
The path was pretty easy to follow in most places until there was some road construction going on that blocked our path. We had to take our own deviation which ended up being a several km detour walking on a rural road through potato and corn fields! The sun was beating down upon us in full force – it was probably 30 degrees out without a wind so needless to say, we were seeking shade wherever we could. We ended up having to cross a set of locks and were fortunate enough to get to see a large cargo canal boat go through.
The locks themselves were impressive – I have no point of comparison though to be fair – 13 meters high and taking an average of 30 minutes for a crossing. Having watched the boat go through, we made our way to the glass factory and checked in for our tour. We had made sent an email that morning to book our tour so were surprised when the receptionist told us that the tour was full! We had been walking for over an hour and were tired and thirsty at this point. Megs looked overheated and the receptionist asked us how we had arrived. We said we had walked in from Arques at which point she said she would check with the tour guide to see if they could squeeze us in. A few anxious minutes later, she said it would be fine! Turns out that she had emailed us back that morning to tell us it was full but we hadn’t had a chance to check our email so we were completely unaware.
The tour of the glass factory was about an hour and a half long which covered the end-to-end process of glass manufacturing. We learned that the sand was sourced from Belgium (both for its proximity and high quality sand) and transported via canal boats – which now explained the massive cargo boats we saw earlier. We then went inside the factory itself and were very glad they had given us earplugs and safety glasses! There was a lot of broken glass – turns out they get about 20% breakage throughout the day. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take any photos on the whole tour. We were both amazed at how some glasses can be manufactured in 30 seconds (we literally saw a glass tumbler from start to finish – from the molten glass being poured into a mould, coming out, being cooled, quality control checked and packaged into boxes). The most interesting part of the factory tour was seeing how wine glasses were produced. To my surprise, they are actually assembled from two separate pieces – the stem and bottom is fused at 500 degrees Celcius to the cup. Then the glasses have to be cooled for 3 hours before they can be packaged. Arc International produces about 3 million tonnes of glassware (almost any type of glassware you can imagine) a day and is the producer for brands such as Chef Sommalier, IKEA, Pyrex and Luminarc. The tour ended with a short video and demonstration of how the various types of glass moulds that are used in production. We then had a wander through the gift shop which let’s just say that if everything in the shop wasn’t so fragile, we might have been doing quite a bit of shopping! The only thing we left with were two glass mugs which were included in the cost of the tour and
salad bowl for our daily use. We had thoroughly enjoyed the tour and will never look at another piece of glassware the same again.
Wednesday was set aside for getting the van equipped and organized for travelling. We hunted down the local Carrefour and bought almost everything on our list: from cutlery (yeah! No more plastic from the plane) to sink stoppers and laundry soap. Having bought everything – which still took a couple of hours, we took it easy for the rest of the evening. The following day, we spent most of the morning and early afternoon organizing the previous day's purchases into the van. Once the van was organized, we decided to take a stroll along the canal going through Arques and to make our way over to the world renowned glass factory, Arc International, for a tour.