The 17th of April came up, thankfully not raining although still very, very cold. I really did have to get South to get some sun as this cold was killing me!
I had decided on Charleroi as my next destination as I had never been and the name Charleroi (Charles King I believe if my schoolboy French does not let me down here) appealed to me. It really was as simple and as random as that. Eventually, in my country we will have a King Charles III unless he picks another name as he is constitutionally entitled to do. I was just wondering if it was something to do with Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor, who I had “encountered” in Aachen on a superb Virtual Tourist meet in 2015. I really shall have to research that further.
Why Charleroi? Well, pourquoi non? (why not?) as they say in these parts and that is what this trip was rapidly becoming. After two weeks of a four-day trip and packed accordingly, this was now getting a little crazy. I didn’t want to go home and stare at the same four walls throughout a dismal London winter so I decided to just keep on going.
On that last morning in Beauraing I was took a final walk round and made quite a remarkable discovery. For the average reader it will not seem of note but for those that know me it will come as a bit of a shock. I had been in town for three days and it is a fairly small settlement so it was with a little surprise that I came upon a bar I had neither visited nor even seen before called Brasserie le Pelerin which translates as Pilgrim’s Brasserie. This is appropriate as Beauraing is the site of numerous Vatican ratified Marian visits in the 1930’s and it was very close to this site, specifically the rather prosaic railway bridge pictured, where they occurred. I have discussed this phenomenon elsewhere here. I assure you that I would not normally include such an image in a review of a bar.
Having sighted the Brasserie, the next issue was to ascertain whether it was open – it was and to get in and see if they threw me out – they didn’t. So far so good.
Even the smoking / al fresco terrace outside indicated that this was a fairly well-heeled establishment and that impression was confirmed on entering as le Pelerin really is pretty smart but this had been the case with all the bars in Beauraing and I was used to it by now. With it being pretty early on a chilly April Monday morning I was not at all surprised to find myself the only patron but that was OK as it afforded an opportunity for a bit of a chat with the server in my rudimentary French which I was getting, perhaps foolishly, increasingly confident in. They seemed to be quite happy to put up with that and did not continually revert to English which was obviously spoken. I liked that.
There is not really much to tell about the Brasserie as such, it is immaculately clean and tidy and with a comfortable but fairly minimalist modern decor which seems to be “de rigeur” in the area (get me with the French!). It is adjacent to what looks like it is a separate and even flashier restaurant where I had a quick scan of the menu whilst on smoking patrol outside. In fact, they are both the same establishment and share a kitchen which means you can get a meal in the Brasserie part from the same chef at a fraction of the price of the restaurant section although it is still not cheap.
It almost goes without saying that the beer was well-kept and served as the Belgians, in my opinion, have the best beer in the world despite protestations to the contrary from my French, Dutch, Danish, Irish, English etc. etc. friends and so obviously more than one was called for.
Several pints later it was back the way I had come and heading for the station. The walk back into Beauraing included a stop at the railway bridge where the alleged visitations of the Virgin Mary had occurred and then a wander back to look at the statue which had slightly freaked me out in the mist the night before and which I now know to be called “Our Lady of Beauraing”.
It was a freezing cold April Monday lunchtime and so it is hardly surprising that there were less than a handful of people there. However, the “facilities” laid on by the Church indicated that they were geared up for a lot of visitors as it was almost an amphitheatre-like.
I did sit there for a while, quietly contemplating things that need not be recorded here and then left. It was pleasant certainly and I am sure a place of miracles for some as there have been many recorded here although how much is due to psychosomatic reaction I could not possibly say. It was a place of peace and quiet as the whole town is in many ways and undoubtedly adds more to the billions of one of the richest organisations in the world but it wasn’t quite the same in the cold light of day. It was that concrete and plaster (or whatever) figure rising uplit on a foggy night that got me and, believe me, it really got me.
I definitely recommend the visitor to Beauraing visits here and bizarrely and for reasons as outlined above, I suggest they visit after dark when the place is shut purely for a glimpse from outside and then perhaps another visit in daylight for a more dispassionate look.
Whilst there I also found out that Pope John Paul II hd visited the site in 1985 and I can only imagine what sorts of crowds that very popular Pontiff attracted. Little Beauraing must not have known what had hit it.
Belgium is arguably best known for it’s beer although others would argue moules (mussels) and the final part of that holy if unhealthy triumvirate (OK, the mussels are healthy enough if prepared properly) is frites or chips as us Brits call them. To avoid ambiguity as I know this is an international site (I checked the stats!), what are properly referred to as chips are not things that come in bags but are rather what North Americans refer to as fries. OK, hopefully that has cleared up any confusion.
I had been a few days in Belgium and still had not had any frites which is not in itself surprising as I eat very, very little and normally at the most unconventional times of day i.e. the middle of the night. On this chilly lunchtime I suddenly had an attack of the munchies, which is unusual, but help was at hand in the form of Chez Michel et Monika friterie (chipshop) which I had seen earlier. I have no idea if I ever met Michel or Monika as people seemed to come and go behind the servery but I suspect I was served by Monika as the place was tiny and certainly gave off the impression of what I believe North Americans call a “Mom and Pop” operation. I have no problem with that.
I love places like this. I don’t know if any readers remember the excellent “Pulp Fiction” film by Tarantino but there is a bit of dialogue in it where John Travolta’s character is explaining to Samuel L. Jackson’s character that on a recent drug dealing trip to Europe he found out that you could get beer in fast food outlets at which Jackson looks suitably amazed. Chez Michel et Monika is one fine example of such a place. I still do not know if it is a small bar that happens to sell wonderful snack food or a snack bar that sells very good beer. Frankly, I am not too bothered either way as it just suited my needs down to the ground at that point.
Obviously it was beer first and they even had draught on. Come on, folks, this is meant to be a chippy! There was also a decent selection of bottled beer if I had fancied that. As I say, I was there because I had the munchies and the few hardy souls braving the cold by eating outside seemed to be tucking into some rather good stuff so it was full steam ahead and some strange urge made me order a Mexican something or another with frites. Why Mexican? I have no idea.
I had a fair idea what it was going to be and so it proved, some sort of re-constituted meat (if indeed it had 30% meat content) cooked in the fryer but I was there for the frites. It all came up pretty sharpish on a “no-frills” plastic tray together with a half reasonable “Mexican style” mayo (the Low country people always eat frites with mayo of one sort or another) which was basically a mayo with the merest hint of chilli in it. I would have made it differently but, thankfully for the people of that fair town, I am not the chef there!
No, it was not haute cuisine and it was never meant to be haute cuisine but it was exactly what I needed to fill my belly at that point. Yes, I have eaten in some very good restaurants and yes, I have enjoyed them immensely but this was what I travel for. Eating what was effectively pretty rubbish meat with some of the finest frites I have ever had and accompanied by a “Mexican mayo” (whatever that might be) was just a lovely thing that will remain with me.
If you need a “pitstop” whilst wandering round Beauraing then you could do a whole lot worse than Michel et Monika as it is an utter delight and a proper taste of Belgium.
Well replete, it was off to the station as I had taken the precaution of checking the timetable after my earlier disaster. The train was fairly full but I still managed a seat in yet another very comfy Low Countries train. A touch over an hour deposited me in Charleroi Sud, so no major dramas there then thankfully.
I made my hotel, the Hotel Basse Sambre, in good order and checked into another comfortable room before taking to the town for another beer or ten before bed. No, I am not joking about the numbers!
Another day and as my dear friend Jim (aka basaic) from Virtual Tourist days who was later a very active member on TravBuddy says, “I’m going to ride this sucker till the wheels fall off”! Let’s see how far it goes.
Stay tuned and spread the word.