The 18th was really an unremarkable day of wandering from bar to bar and doing little else. I even omitted to take many images which is unusual for me as I tend to be a bit of a shutterfly.
One of the bars I found was La Belle Epoque, which was rather good and with a fine selection of beers but by then I had come to expect it in a nation of cerevisaphiles as the Belgians are.
It did, however, end up finishing with a very decent kebab in one of the most architecturally charming kebab shops I have ever been in, I hope the image does it justice.
Due to the lack of anything much of interest I shall publish the day here along with the subsequent one to save you having to keep clicking on links but first I shall tell you about the hotel I had arrived at.
The Hotel De La Basse Sambre was chosen for one reason and one reason only, it was cheap. I had looked online and it appeared a step or two up from a fleapit and whilst I know that internet promo photos are designed to present any premises in the best possible light they were not too far off the mark and I knew exactly what to expect. Basic but it was en-suite which is a bonus even though communal facilities do not bother me overly.
When I had blown into Charleroi on the train I took off for a walk to the hotel which was given on various websites as being about 0.9 km or 1 km. My ear! It is a fair old trek out of town on and sits in a light industrial site as seems to be becoming more common nowadays. I have no problem with this as I am not there for the view, I just need a comfy bed and a shower with hot water at a decent pressure and the Basse Sambre certainly provided both. My room was at the back i.e. facing the industrial area but if I had a slight worry about noise it was unfounded as that was not a problem at all.
When I did eventually slog my way up there, check-in was quick and friendly with good English spoken and I was quickly in my room which was of a decent size for a place in this price range, spotlessly clean and with everything I could have wanted. There are little (for which read nothing) in the way of communal facilities here and those looking for a spa, jacuzzi, sauna etc. will be disappointed but I suspect the Basse Sambre is set up for business travellers and those like me that just want a safe and comfortable place to lay their head which it supplies completely.
The bed turned out to be very comfortable and I had a great sleep there. The shower did indeed provide piping hot water at a good pressure on demand and so my hotel requirements were well met.
My word, it is tomorrow already.
The 19th April came and I was still in Charleroi but with plans to move. I just had this mad urge to keep moving. To hark back to earlier entries in this journal, I had planned for four days away and packed accordingly and here I was, almost three weeks later, still running the wheels off it.
It was a day of doing very little really except visiting a few bars, well more than a few, truth be told. I found Charleroi to be a very pleasant town and, whilst I did not visit many of the “attractions” that day, or indeed any other, I still don’t consider it as wasted time. I found a few of the seedier bars in town (as I usually do and quite on purpose), hung out with the locals and found out to my utter amazement that I could carry my end of a conversation in French. The reason this amazes me is that I was never that good at languages in school and, although I did get my French “O” level (thank you, Miss Miller) I had literally not used it for over 40 years. Had you asked me I would have said that I did not speak it at all but it somewhow just came back to me and I was using vocabulary that must have lodged somewhere all those years before.
Let me tell you about three of the which demonstrate very well the range of options available. First up is the Snooker Club.
I have mentioned in previous entries in this journal, specifically those attached to my Beauraing pages, that the bars in this region of Southern Belgium are uniformly what I would describe as “posh” by my standards and I have also mentioned elsewhere here that I like my bars a little “rough” so when I saw the Snooker Hall I thought it may be my kind of place. It turned out to be exactly my kind of place.
I have no idea what thoughts the concept of a snooker hall or even pool hall in the reader’s home country generates but in UK they are generally regarded as being slightly rough establishments and not somewhere to take you maiden aunt should you have such a relative. It was an absolute dead cert I was going to be in there.
What I found was a very clean and tidy bar with a “bar snack” menu and a few pool (not snooker as the name would have suggested) tables to the rear of the premises. Whilst it was certainly a little “edgier” than most of the very tidy bars in town, it was grand for me. A beer was ordered and, almost needless to say in Belgium, it arrived very well kept and presented as they really do know how to do beer here and so another few were called for.
When I say it was “edgy” that is a relative term as the whole establishment was very well run and there was not a hint of trouble. It was a spotlessly clean and tidy bar and I spent a very comfortable couple of hours there watching the sport on the large screen TV, chatting to the staff and drinking some very fine beer. All in all a great place and now onto the complete opposite, Le Luxembourg.
On my meanderings around Charleroi I had noticed a rather posh looking cafe / restaurant called Le Luxembourg which was situated on a large roundabout in the centre of town but I had taken a somewhat cowardly approach as I wasn’t exactly dressed to the nines for reasons as explained elsewhere in this journal. Later on and fortified by a little “Dutch courage” from a few other more down to earth establishments I took the plunge and wandered in. What was the worst they could do to me? Throw me out on my ear I suppose.
When I did eventually go in my impressions of the establishment from the outside, reinforced by a few surreptitious glances in the mullioned windows were entirely confirmed. Purely out of habit I walked up to the bar even though there was waiter service here as is the norm in the region and I suppose it was this that led to the very smartly attired waiter to address me in English before I had even opened my mouth. Am I really that obvious? Apparently so.
I opted for a Maes beer in preference to my usual Jupiler as it appeared to be the “house beer” and with this being Belgium it is almost superfluous to mention that it was kept and presented immaculately. I still marginally prefer the Jupiler but there is not much to choose between them. If you are interested, Maes is the Flemish name for the river that is also known as the Meuse in French and the Maas in Dutch. Although it was not a conscious decision I had been vaguely following hte river and hadn’t realised it. In Dordrecht it had been the Nieuwe Maas, I had followed it on the train from Namur and indeed I was to bump into it again as you shall see if you keep reading this series.
Choosing a seat I settled down for a look round and there was certainly plenty to see, as indeed there was when I went on a brief exploration later on. The entire bar just oozes that fin de siecle opulence and whilst the prices are a little dearer than other bars locally you certainly do not pay through the nose for the surroundings. I would suggest that the chandelier alone merits a visit as I hope the images convey.
Although I did not eat here the specials blackboard for the day did offer some very interesting suggestions with mains running generally at €18:50 and I was tempted by the asparagus soup as it was right in season and they produce some great asparagus in this region. Next time perhaps. Whilst I cannot vouch for the quality of the food obviously, I can state that this would be a great place to get your gladrags on and go for a special meal.
As they had not asked me to leave even when I was wandering about making free with the camera I decided that another beer was in order and that was duly polished off before I continued on my merry way. Another very fine bar and I have to recommend it highly.
Somewhere in between Le Luxembourg and the Snooker Club is the Irish Times pub.
I lived the first 28 years of my life on the island of Ireland and it is no secret that I like a drink or ten so it is hardly surprising that I know a thing or two about Irish. Frankly, outside Ireland you will struggle to find the genuine article. Certainly I have drunk in so-called “Irish pubs” from Phnom Penh to Peterborough and Bratislava to Brisbane and I generally do not like them as they are just so obviously fake. It is as if some Hollywood set designer had been employed to design a template for “Irish Bars” the world over and they have all slavishly followed it. One small example should serve here. I have lost count of the number of so-called Irish bars that have an old bicycle hung upside down from the ceiling. I have NEVER seen that in a pub in Ireland.
OK, that is my rant about faux Irish pubs over so why did I go into the Irish Times in Charleroi? Who knows? A forlorn hope this might somehow be different? A hankering after the “old country”? Not a chance. Most likely it was merely a desire to visit as many bars in Charleroi as possible and eventually report back on them on the website I was currently writing for. Yes, I know that is in itself probably pretty pathetic but there you have it.
Walking in, it was exactly as I expected, or should I say feared? It was verging on a caricature of itself with the fixtures and fittings straight out of the “Buy an Irish pub online” website (no, it doesn’t exist, I just made it up to illustrate the point). Guinness was promoted heavily as expected but if I won’t drink it in a “proper” Irish bar in London (i.e. one where Irishmen drink) why would I drink it in a country renowned for the quality of it’s own beer? I ordered a Belgian beer and very good it was too. I took a seat to watch the re-run sport on one of the numerous big screens that seem to be the raison d’etre for the establishment.
Whilst researching this piece I discovered that this outlet was then the newest of three in the group with the others in Antwerp and Hasselt and this is exactly what bars like this are, commercial chains and not proper pubs. In fairness, they have been going here since 2000 so they must be appealing to some type of clientele, few of whom I would suggest have ever set foot in a proper Irish pub. No, the Irish Times is not my type of place but in the interests of fair reporting I have to say that it was spotlessly clean (including the “facilities”), service was quick and friendly and the beer very well-kept and served as is to be expected in a Belgian bar. No complaints at all.
Certainly, it is not my kind of place for reasons as outlined above but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Irish Times and I can find no fault with it per se. If that is your kind of place then go for it and good luck to you, you will not be disappointed. As we say in Ireland, “Slainte Mhath”.
Time to move on though and it was next stop Liege. I am sure Liege was one of the destinations on the 2015 Virtual Tourist “three countries in three days” Euromeet before that wonderful site was so wantonly destroyed. However, I did not make it then as, in the way of these things, myself and a few friends had made a bit of a night of it the evening before in Aachen and didn’t quite make the trip.
The journey was quick and painless as train journeys in this region tend to be although I saw no more of the city than heading from the station to my next place of residence for the night. Actually, that is not entirely true and the reason will not be surprising to most of you.
I did get waylaid for a while in the rather pleasant Brasserie le Tube where the extremely jovial barman insisted on posing the alcoholic still life you can see here as soon as he saw me at work with the camera.
Eventually I made it to my excellent hostel and after a quick bite to eat and it was off to bed and a good sleep.
This really was turning into something of a trek from what was meant to be a four-day “jolly” in Leiden and I shall tell you about the hostel and Liege itself in the next episode so stay tuned and spread the word.