The morning of the 14th duly arrived with Fergy well rested and waking in a very comfortable bed in a hotel that was probably slightly above his budget and in a city he had no intention of even being in but a little luxury is enjoyable now and again. The luxury was only slightly marred by the fact that my room smelt more like a kebab shop than the actual kebab shop I had purchased my supper in the previous night. I must say I felt a twinge of remorse for whatever poor woman was going to have to clean the place. In my defence I had not made a mess, it was just the smell.
I was determined to make Beauraing that day as it had now assumed something of the mantle of a Holy Grail because it seemed as if the Fates had determined I was not going to get there. OK, so I had missed a train and this is perhaps a bit hyperbolic but that is the way I felt, it was Beauraing or bust!
Up and running, I stopped into the wonderful little bar I mentioned in earlier entries here for a couple of pints of breakfast but I decided that as I was in Namur I might as well have a look round. I wasn’t going to go on a massive hike and merely fancied a bit of a wander locally before getting the train and so off I set. Well, I got a whole 200 yards before I spied the Copenhagen bar and it was just calling to me and so in I went. I think it is officially the Copenhague Taverne but there are several variants of the spelling you may care to use.
On entering I found myself in a pleasantly appointed establishment which seemed to be slightly posher than the normal little back street bars I like to frequent but I only wanted a beer so that was no problem. I was served a well-kept pint of Jupiler by a friendly young barman who naturally spoke impeccable English and settled myself down for a bit of people watching by the window. There were al fresco tables but it was still a bit chilly for that.
It was still early for lunch service although I got the impression that this was more a restaurant than a bar as is common on the Continent. I went for a look around and discovered that there is a sizeable room upstairs although it was deserted and when I had occasion to use the “facilities” they were spotless.
Although it was a bit devoid of atmosphere due to the lack of people it was a perfectly comfortable place for a drink and I would recommend the Copenhagen for anyone using the station as it is literally two minutes walk from it.
I genuinely do not know what it is but I have mentioned many times in other places that things just seem to happen to me. I swear I do not go out looking for “adventures” but they just seem to find me. I remember one evening at dinner with a friend I was regaling her of my experience the previous weekend where I had gone out to play a gig in London on the Saturday night with a journey time of about one hour on public transport. I arrived home on Tuesday lunchtime after a bit of partying. My friend just looked at me and said simply, “Fergy, you are just a party waiting to happen”. She knows me far too well!
One of my little escapades was looming large just over the horizon. As is nearly always the case, and with very few exceptions, it was to turn out to be a thing of great joy and a wonderful memory.
A couple of young people (yes, I can say that as I was 57 years old then) came into the bar and planted themselves beside me. The young man had a guitar in tow and the young lady had a couple of poi with her. They ordered a beer apiece and, naturally, with me being me, conversation ensued. I’ll let the images speak for their appearance but they were not, shall we say, people you would introduce to your maiden aunt if you have such a relative. They were, in common parlance, freaks and that brings me back to my oft-quoted maxim about not judging books by covers. In a mixture of broken English (incidentally the title of a great song by Marianne Faithfull) and my schoolboy French they told me that they lived locally and busked for a living. Fair enough, my kind of people.
With the beers finished they took off to do their thing and I decided that Beauraing was going to have to be done sooner rather than later. The young man had parked himself on the ground in the service entrance of a closed supermarket just opposite the bar whilst the young lady was doing her thing with the poi on the main street adjacent.
Waving a goodbye to them, I headed across the main road to the station to find out that Beauraing was, indeed, some sort of nirvana that was going to be hard to attain as the next train did not leave for ages and so there was only one thing for it. I could have sat in one of the various food and beverage outlets in the “gare” but I just do not like being ripped off by station facilities so I trundled my little suitcase back across the road to the bar.
It was almost inevitable. The idiotic planxty with a few beers on (it was still only lunchtime remember) and with a guitar within radar range was only going to have one outcome and so I joined the young man in his doorway sitting on freezing cold ground in about 10 degrees with a very cold wind blowing. I should mention in passing here that the jumper you see me wearing was purchased in Rotterdam as it has been utterly freezing cold for all of this trip and I had not packed for sub-Arctic conditions. I mentioned it in the last entry and you will see it a lot in these journal entries but it is OK as I always have a (reasonably) clean T-shirt on underneath. It is just the only warm thing I have.
Back to the narrative now and it ended up with the young man and I taking turns to play and sing with the other joining in if they knew the words or merely harmonising a la la la la (if that makes sense) if not. To be honest, not was the general state of affairs as we had completely different sets from completely different eras and in mostly completely different languages but we still made a decent fist of it if I say so myself. All the while the young lady was doing her poi on the main pavement and we had the “collection tins” duly deployed.
In UK, busking is somewhat frowned upon but here it seemed to be quite accepted to the point that the waiter in the bar we were drinking in, which was certainly no dive bar, was willing to serve us drinks in proper glasses on the pavement as we busked. It was like we were sitting at a table. You can see the evidence of it in the image accompanying this. It was actually the waiter who took the image of the three of us you see here during a “smoke break”.
I fully appreciate that I am not like most men who are less than three years off getting a pensioners bus pass in my home city and it is probably 30 years since I busked (always for charities as I never thankfully needed to do it for a living myself and I am sure I would have starved) and I’ll swear that those 30 or more years just dropped off me for the couple of hours we did our thing there, it was pure magic and such a memory.
I do not much like having my photograph taken but the image you see of the three of us in that grotty doorway is undoubtedly one of my favourite images of myself. Right or wrong, that’s what I am and what I do. When I originally published this on another website a dear friend of mine commented simply, “This is so you, Fergy”. If it is then I am happy.
I have to report that we did actually make a few € which they seemed quite happy with, I just hope my contribution helped. Obviously, I did not take my “cut” although they very kindly offered it. I am not a rich man but it is their living and, frankly, I would have paid them for the privelege of doing what we did that afternoon. I know that I do go on a bit about things but it really was that good and it was a very happy Fergy that bade his farewells and headed for the train to the apparently elusive Beauraing.
Believe me, this is only the start of the adventures. I am a musician of “no fixed ability” and the thought of that wonderful time was fresh in my mind as I boarded the eventual train to Beauraing. My mind works on odd tangents and I was reminded of back in 1993 when I was trekking the Annapurna circuit in my new boots (the boots will feature heavily in a later journal entry). We were coming down off Thorung La which is the highest point on the trail and which wrecked me with AMS (mountain sickness). Jemmi, our wonderful guide, had pointed out a pass off to the right and told us it led to Mustang which you had to had to have a special pass to visit. Like Bhutan, an undiscovered wonder. Surely a small Belgian town could not be that difficult, or could it? Was Beauraing the Mustang of Belgium? Actually no, it couldn’t be that difficult once I had the train timetable worked out properly.
There was no direct train available and so I had to change at Dinant. In truth, there is little I can tell you about Dinant as I was there for about ten minutes leaving the station by about ten feet for a cigarette but I shall use this part of the entry as a vehicle (pun absolutely intended) for a few photos of the train journey en route to the now achievable grail of Beauraing.
The images above, clockwise from top left. I gave this lot very wide berth and made the station, which is clean and tidy. Pausing to pay my respects as I always do, it was merely a matter of finding the right platform, which turned out to be a bit gloomy as you can see, and wait for the train.
The journey from Namur to Dinant was very pleasant in decent, modern rolling stock and mostly following the picturesque River Meuse.
As mentioned above, I must have spent a whole ten minutes in Dinant which merely gives me a reason to return but I did have time to notice a rather impressive castle sitting on top of a nearby geological feature and two delightful if slightly incongruous statues which I am guessing must have come from an earlier incarnation of the station.
If I get really brave, not to mention competent, there might even be a video. As is normal in the low countries the train was comfortable, spotlessly clean and on time which are regrettably not standards always applicable to the trains in my home country.
I arrived at the Gare de Beauraing in good order (i.e. still half sober) and walked the short distance to the Hotel Iris Aupebine which I had booked and singularly failed to appear at the night before. I shall review it in the next instalment of the blog. I was checked in quickly and courteously and went upstairs to the room which was nothing special but clean and tidy and certainly more than required by a pretty rough and ready Fergy. I am not belittling in any way, shape or form the Buddhist religion for which I have the greatest respect having travelled in predominantly Buddhist countries a bit. However, it appears that nirvana is indeed achievable here on Earth if only getting to a hotel in a small Belgian town. All things are relative.
After my long day busking a short dozette was the order of the day and duly partaken of and then I washed and brushed up to venture out for the heady evening delights of Beauraing on a midweek night. Needless to say, several beers in several bars and a content Fergy retired for a night’s very sound sleep. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.
I shall show you the delights of Beauraing in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.