Trying hard to blog.
The dawn of the 20th April arrived and, remarkably, I was up with it. I am generally just thinking about going to bed at that hour of the day as I am a fairly nocturnal creature, but here I was wide awake at about 0500 so nothing to do but head out to the back yard for a smoke. In truth, this was no hardship as the wonderful hostel I was staying in had the most gorgeous courtyard. Let me tell you all about this excellent place.
I have mentioned on various other sites about the way that Youth Hostels have changed over the decades since I started using them in the 1970’s and this is a prime example.
Way back when, Youth Hostels were basic to say the least and run along regimental lines that I would have later recognised from my military service with the minimum of facilities. Chores in the morning were the order of the day and you were strictly forbidden to be indoors during the day no matter how inclement the weather. Yes, they had a certain charm, especially the one I stayed in with no electricity and the toilets outside but things have moved on.
The Hostel George Simenon stands on the road of the same name, both of which are called after the author who created the fictional detective Maigret. It is a modern and comfortable building although obviously built on a much older structure, many of the architectural features of which have been cleverly retained. I have discovered whilst researching this entry that it was previously a convent. The courtyard mentioned above is, to my mind, the most striking feature and really is a thing of joy. They obviously treasure it as well as using it to the full with a lovely display of plants even at that time of year and what looked like a small market garden operation.
The hostel is located fairly centrally and even with my bad back I dragged my small suitcase from the station with no problem. On arrival I was greeted by a young hostel worker with perfect English (the norm here much to my shame) and allocated a bunk. All the staff were consistently pleasant throughout my stay. OK, the room was upstairs and to the rear but that had the twin advantages of no road noise at night (not that there was much anyway) and a beautiful view of the adjacent church. In the room there was even a small “attic” double bed up a step ladder which looked extremely cosy.
So what of the rest of the facilities then? Well, faultless is the word I would use. The reception is 24 hours a day so none of the rigidly enforced curfews of my youth, they have a table football (soccer) machine should you be so inclined, a pool table and best of all a bar that is also open non-stop. Basically the receptionist doubles as the bar server and with prices marginally cheaper than in town there would be little need to go out the front door if you just wanted to drink good Belgian beer and socialise.
The bunk bed was comfy enough and with sufficient length to accommodate my rather lanky frame, the communal bathroom adjacent was kept spotless with lashings of hot water at a good pressure and I really was well content at the price. I fully appreciate that this style of living is not to everyone’s taste but it suited me fine and kept the costs down allowing me to keep on the road.
I do like to cook occasionally and I have to say that the kitchen would have done credit to a small sized restaurant. Whilst I was only knocking up simple things I reckon that any decent cook could have had a field day in there. It was kept immaculate and was a pleasure to cook in.
Downsides? I was there over the Easter school holidays and there was a group of young schoolchildren there who did make a bit of a racket as they went about their communal activities in the day but that was no great hardship.
I am now approaching 60 and still like hanging out in Youth Hostels, I suppose when I stop enjoying it then I may well stop travelling. Hostels have changed out of all recognition since my childhood and the George Simenon is an excellent example of what can be achieved.
Again, I apologise for the quality of some of the photos here but I have a natural aversion to using flash as I think it draws attention to myself although looking like me that is a pretty normal state of being. Small children continually stare at me which is no problem, they must think I am Santa Claus or some mad pirate or whatever it is that small children think. I include the images merely to give an indication of how good the hostel was albeit I would not normally publish images of this poor quality.
The day itself was predominantly spent indoors trying (and failing miserably) to keep this blog up although I did manage a wander round some local bars later in the afternoon. Well, this is Fergy and a day without drink is like a day without sunshine as they say. I had suffered more than enough of those (days without sunshine not drink) on this trip as the weather has been abysmal.
As you would expect in Belgium there is no shortage of bars which appear to be uniformly appealing in various ways and one I did visit that evening was Le Manhattan 2. Don’t ask me where Le Manhattan 1 is as I have no idea but this was a charming place for a beer with decent service although, like most places I visited that evening it was all but empty. There is nothing of note to tell you other than it is worth a visit if you are passing.
Continuing my perambulation I came upon what looked like a bar although, as is the way here, it was rather more a bar / restaurant than purely a drinking establishment. It was called Bibi Afrika and that gave me sort of a clue as to what it’s provenance may have been. Like my country although albeit to a considerably lesser degree, the Belgians had something of an empire, predominantly in the 19th and into the 20th centuries. In the Belgian case it centred very much on central Africa and there is no escaping the number of people from that region in the country. It doesn’t bother me, a bar is a bar and so in I went.
It was pretty small but immaculately clean and as I say I thought it was as much eating house as watering hole although nobody was eating at that time. Truth be told, nobody was eating because there was nobody there! OK, it was getting on a bit on a fairly unpleasant April evening but I had the place completely to myself. Not a problem, I can do that.
I propped myself up in my accustomed position at the bar and ordered a beer which, needless to say in this country of beer lovers, arrived perfectly kept and poured. A bit of conversation with the server in the schoolboy French I was now becoming more and more comfortable with and it was indeed a pleasant time spent.
It was only whilst subsequently researching this piece that I discovered that the premises is actually a not for profit organisation although I can find no further details of the background of that. Whilst I would have been quite prepared to recommend Bibi Afrika as a very decent little bar per se I can only further endorse that recommendation with my new knowledge. If I can have a well-served beer in pleasant surroundings and maybe do a tiny little bit of good along the way whilst doing so then I cannot see any downside to that, can you?
Back to my very comfortable bed and another sound night in great surroundings.
More of Liege tomorrow so stay tuned and spread the word.