Those hardy souls who may have been slogging their way through this journal will know that I was fairly much “confined to barracks” on Sunday 23rd April due to a serious equipment failure with my sole (pun absolutely intended) pair of boots which had fairly well restricted my mobility and so the first order of business on the Monday morning was to get myself reshod. I had seen a shop nearby which seemed to sell just about everything including discounted footwear and so I made straight for that.
I have fairly large feet (11 in UK sizes) which is probably just as well as it keeps my rather tall frame relatively stable but therein lay the problem. Searching through the reasonable selection of shoes on offer I discovered that there were only two pairs in my size (45 in the local currency). The choice was a pair of blue boots or a pair of sparkly and garishly yellow trainers so it really was Hobson’s choice. I am certainly no clothes horse and will wear just about anything but I draw the line at yellow sparkly footwear so the boots were purchased for a very reasonable €30. They are not walking boots but ordinary streetwear although they subsequently proved to be very comfortable and that is the main thing. Not a style I would have chosen ordinarily but they’ll do until I get home.
I rather sadly walked back to the hotel for my dear the final trek of my beloved footwear. I am sure the reader will wonder why I am making such a fuss about a pair of ancient walking boots so I shall explain. The venerable old things had been my constant companions for no less than 24 years and I had understandably grown rather fond of them. I can date them precisely as I bought them for a trekking trip to Nepal in March 1993 and since then they have been to more countries than I can remember, trekked in the Andes, walked the West Highland Way, Thames Path, London Loop and many, many other things beside. If I had been at home I would have tried to get them resoled but it really was not practical in my situation and I couldn’t even bring them home to attempt that as I didn’t have enough room in my tiny suitcase.
Regretfully, the dear old things were eventually laid to rest in a hotel in Luxembourg City with minimum ceremony and maximum regret. I kept the laces as a souvenir, took a photo and left them there to be unceremoniously binned and committed to a landfill somewhere. What a sad end.
Anyway, time to get back to business and I had decided that my next port of call was going to be Metz where I had booked a small apartment but I thought I should see a little more of Luxembourg than the capital city. I knew the trains ran to Metz regularly and until fairly late so I effectively had a day free as I could not check in until the afternoon. I spoke to the really friendly guy on reception and asked if I could leave my case there for the day which was very obligingly done for me and then I headed to the station which was only about five minutes walk away. Needless to say, I got waylaid before I ever got there.
Cafe du Globe was my first diversion and was one of the numerous cafe / bars I had visited during my few days stay in the “Station Quarter” and it conforms very much to type for the area. I have mentioned in before that this part of town is not, shall we say, too genteel and has a predominantly immigrant population. It is the hotel bar of the establishment of the same name but is not what the reader may associate with the concept of a hotel bar and I am not even sure if you can access the rooms from the cafe without going outside.
The Globe is effectively just a locals bar which is clean and tidy and I was greeted by a very friendly server who spent no time at all in dispensing a well-kept and served large beer although I appreciate that comment is becoming somewhat repetitive as I do not believe I had a sub-standard drink served to me in my whole time in the country.
There is little remarkable about the premises although I feel I should mention the patrons here. In an area of town with more than it’s fair share of “eccentrics”, this place seems to be something of a magnet for them and as the evening wears on (I had also visited the previous evening) the music seems to get louder with the singing getting proportionately more raucous to match. Although there is no delineated dance area as such, that does not seem to deter anyone and I even saw occasional bursts of “cowboy style” line dancing breaking out from time to time none of which seemed to faze the consistently affable staff in the slightest. I personally never felt threatened and this is the very type of place I seek out but I mention it as it may not be to everyone’s liking. I have included here an image of yet another “new best friend” I made there. The locals really are a friendly bunch. The only slight irritant here is that the Globe also seems to be a magnet for many of the dozens of African trinket sellers that plague the city. They were never aggressive, just a nuisance.
Leaving the Globe I was literally three minutes walk from the station but the Auberge de Reims got in the way. In some ways this is not surprising as the two premises sit across a narrow little side street from each other and I would doubt if they are more than 15 yards apart, you can see into one from the other.
Auberge de Reims is also a bar that happens to have a hotel above it although again it does not exude the atmosphere of a hotel bar in the accepted sense. On the several occasions I visited it was staffed by charming people who all seemed to speak at least passable English and served well-kept beer. It is spotlessy clean although with a slightly more modern decor than it’s more traditional neighbour and is a perfectly pleasant place for a beer. The difference I alluded to above was in the clientele. Whilst the Globe seems always have a few people about it, the Reims had only had a few patrons on a weekend night when I visited before and I literally had the place to myself on a Monday lunchtime which is perhaps less surprising. The prices here are completely normal for the area so maybe the locals know something I don’t or maybe it is just the fickle nature of the drinking public but I can find no fault with the Reims and so would have to recommend it.
Surely I was bound to make the station now as it was literally looming so large, it is a huge building. No. Willpower was sadly lacking this day and I wandered into the Cafe Bei de Gare to find yet another clean and pleasant bar with a more modern decor than some of the other local establishments.
It was somewhat dominated to an extent by the large screen TV’s showing various sports channels which seem to be almost obligatory in these parts. At least the sound was down and it is always something to pass the time, I suppose. I was not overly surprised to find only two other patrons there as it was about 1100 on a fairly chilly Monday morning in April and therefore service was prompt and with good English spoken. The draught was Bofferding which is my preferred brew of the two most common local offerings as I have discussed previously. It goes without saying that it was impeccably kept and served.
I got the impression that the two chaps at the bar were happy with their own company so I perched myself up on a comfy high stool at a table and watched the sport whilst draining my third beer of the morning, it was turning into one of those days. Prices were about average for the area when I know bars sometimes hike the price in or near transport hubs but I suppose the strong competition locally keeps them all honest.
Apart from it’s proximity to the main station which is literally about two minutes amble away, there is very little to say about the Bei der Gare which is just very typical of the many fine establishments hereabouts and, as with so many others, I would have to recommend it.
Eventually I dragged myself away again and made it to the wonderfully impressive station. Obviously stations are effectively functional architecture but I have been in some beautiful examples all over the world and I love railways anyway. Somehow the stations from the heyday of rail inevitably fill me with a sense of travel anticipation that I just do not get from a modern, soulless airport.
Perhaps if I ever generate any traffic here I shall ask my readers to nominate their favourite station. You “early adopters” (get me with the business speak!) can start now if you like and I am not sure if I should bag London St. Pancras myself or remain neutral.
A quick look at the timetable showed that there was a train shortly to a place called Bettembourg which was only about a 40 minute journey so that looked as good as any.
I knew nothing of the geography of that small country and one destination seemed pretty much like another. I bought a ticket for a very reasonable €4 and hopped on another typically comfortable train for the short ride to a place I had never even heard of before.
A short journey on very comfortable modern rolling stock of CFL (Chemin de Fer Luxembourg I believe) deposited me at Bettembourg where the station was clean, tidy and pretty much deserted. I saw one other passenger on the opposite platform with not a member of staff in sight. I took the obligatory couple of shots on the trusty little compact camera and then it was out to see whatever there was to be seen in town.
Just outside the station was a charming old yellow ‘phone box which just begged to be photographed, so I did.
A quick wander round the immediate environs of the station was not at all promising as there did not seem to be very much there and what there was was shut. I have found it to be the case in this region, especially in the smaller places, that Monday is very much a “closed” day and I was to discover that again in Metz that evening and which I shall discuss later in the entry.
Very close to the station I came upon a memorial to those killed by the Germans in the Second World War. I found it interesting as I had never really thought about Luxembourg being much involved in that conflict which was a bit naive really given it’s location. I think I had some vague notion that it may have been neutral perhaps but obviously it suffered under the Germans like it’s neighbours.
Having been in the Forces myself I have a great interest in military history of all periods and I will always stop for a look at a War Memorial or military cemetery partially to pay my respects and partially as you can learn a lot about previous conflicts which I find endlessly fascinating. It was therefore a foregone conclusion that when I had spotted the memorial I would pause for a look which is what I did.
The excellent bilingual sign in Luxembourgois and French, if I have translated it correctly, informed me that plans were first mooted in 1946 for a monument to the dead although it took until 1953 to collect sufficient funds it was not unveiled until 1955. It is to the design of Joseph Conrad (not the writer obviously) and cost exactly 151,205 francs. The lighting was extra!
Headgear replaced (my lovely old bandanna) and respects paid I set off on another wander and I spied a road sign for “centre ville” which seemed like the place for me. For some reason the station is not that close to the centre but Bettembourg is not a huge place and so a 15 minute stroll had me in the middle of a delightful small town. I spied a beautifully tended smallish park with a fountain as the centrepiece and sat down on a gloriously sunny Spring day, broke out my emergency can of beer and regarded the large church adjacent which more or less dominated the skyline of the town.
Now drinking beer beside a tinkling fountain may seem idyllic but for a man of my age it is maybe not the brightest idea so I thought I should make a move before the situation got critical. I shall let you work that one out for yourself. I paused to speak to the huge man who was tending the gardens by sweeping up and we had a brief chat. I reckoned that I could manage a quick visit to the church before things were going to get tricky so that is what I did.
I have mentioned in various other pieces both on this site and previously on others that I love to visit places of worship regardless of what faith they are albeit that I am an atheist. I apologise to those that have read this before but I post it for the benefit of those who may have just stumbled upon this entry somehow or another. It was inevitable therefore that when I saw the “big church”, and discovered it was open on that weekday lunchtime, that I would visit.
When I say “big Church” I mean it as it dominates the East end of the town and I was surprised at the size of it for such an apparently modest settlement. Properly known as the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin it is normally just referred to as “Eglise Bettembourg” (Bettembourg Church) or one of the language variations of this region but much more than that I am afraid I am struggling to tell the reader. When writing reviews I tend to augment my personal observations with background information from the internet but in this case I have drawn a complete blank despite the literally billions of pages on the usually useful web so I shall revert to plan A.
If the church looks large from the outside then it appears positively huge on the inside with a very high vaulted ceiling. I think my favourite feature was the stained glass which is often the case as it is an artistic medium I am particularly fond of although the altar was pleasing as well. The Regina Angelorum (Queen of Angels) window pictured was, I think, of particular note.
Again apologies for the quality of some of the images but I just do not feel right using flash in places of worship when there are others there as I find it disrespectful.
As always I found the church to be a very peaceful and calming place so I spent a little while looking round and sitting in quiet contemplation before continuing on my way.
The small town of Bettembourg boasts an impressive array of open spaces and the park which forms the gardens of Bettembourg Castle are the largest and easily the most impressive. I reached them via a walk along the delightfully named Didlangerbach watercourse and across a quaint little footbridge which afforded me my first view of the castle, of which more anon. Certainly it was chilly but at least it was not raining and I took a bit of a stroll round the immaculately maintained area where, apart from several paths (all apparently fully accessible I am glad to report), I did find a few odd little things.
Actually, in the case of the chair pictured it was not a little thing at all but an extremely large one and I still have not worked out whether it was meant to function as “art”, a photo opportunity or something else as it was certainly too large and would have been far too dangerous to be play apparatus for children.
Speaking of “art” I also spotted the other piece pictured which is apparently a modern sculpture but just looked like a large lump of rusting metal to me. Still, what do I know about modern art?
In stark contrast to the crime against sculpture mentioned above, the castle itself is absolutely beautiful although it is not really a castle in the accepted sense of the term but rather an overgrown farmhouse which was first built in 1733 by a chap called Lothaire de Zievel on the site of an old 10th century fort. It was bought over by Charles Collart in 1807 and remained in that family until as late as 1971 when it was acquired by the local authority who took a typically bureaucratic 20 years to convert it into the town hall and “Administration Communale” which it remains to this day. I noticed a sign which, if I translated it correctly told me to keep out unless I had official business there and I did not think taking tourist snaps qualified as such so I had to content myself with a peek through the gate which revealed a superb building round three sides of a courtyard. I’d love to have a look inside, it must be wonderful.
Even if you cannot get into building itself the park is well worth a visit should you ever find yourself in Bettembourg which is a trip I do recommend as an alternative to spending all your time in the capital.
By this point I was a) thirsty with walking in the heat in too many clothes, b) not sure how the new boots were going to treat my feet and c) pushing my luck regarding the earlier beer so I took off back in the direction of town as there did not seem to be much more heading the way I was going. I had earlier spotted the Cafe de Centenaire which looked tidy enough so I repaired there and it transpired to be an excellent choice.
Yes, I like a drink now and again. And again, and again…………….. The upshot of this is that I visit a lot of bars, an awful lot of bars. I reckon that during the three and a half months that this journal will hopefully eventually refer to that I visited literally hundreds and I promise I shall get round to telling you about as many of them as I can remember in due course. They were almost uniformly perfectly acceptable and I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the establishments I did not like for whatever reason. Sometimes, however, you come across a complete gem and often in the most unlikely of places and this was exactly the case with the Cafe du Centenaire in Bettembourg, which is the most wonderful of bars on so many levels.
In truth, there was not a huge choice as it was a Monday lunchtime in April and many businesses in this region tend to shut on that day. In a town with a population of less than ten thousand souls I doubt it would have been economically viable to open all the bars anyway.
Externally it is of indeterminate age but of an architectural style very typical of the region. It is very tidy and has a good sized al fresco drinking / smoking area to the front which affords an eye-catching view of the “big church” I mentioned which stands just across the street. In I went and I should mention that there are several steps up to the front door which may present difficulties for the mobility impaired as I do not know if there is step free access to the rear. I do like to mention mobility issues when I can.
The bar was very tidy and just slightly old-fashioned with a few vintage framed paintings on the walls. Unsurprisingly, there was only one other customer there, a little old lady with her small aperitif and equally small lapdog sitting obediently under her seat. After exchanging a civil greeting I spoke to the barmaid who either did not speak much English or was doing me the courtesy of humouring my French which was still not good but was coming along. I ordered a large Bofferding beer which is brewed less than ten miles away and I do like consuming local produce so that suited nicely. It was a little cheaper than Luxembourg City which I suppose is to be expected and was kept and served in great order as I had come to expect in the region.
After a couple of beers I actually felt a bit peckish which is unusual for me during the day and so I opted for a hot-dog from the reasonable selection of snacks, pizzas and tartes flambee on offer. It was about as far removed from the appalling offerings you get at home as it is possible to be as I hope the image conveys. It was absolutely delicious and accompanied by Luxembourgoise mustard which I had never heard of berore and, frankly, tasted the same as Dijon to my untutored palate. Still, I suppose that is hardly surprising as it is not exactly a thousand miles to that centre of mustard excellence which I will get to here eventually. At €4, it was a snip.
After a couple more beers I decided it was time for a wander down to the far end of the bar for a look round as I had seen what looked like a pleasant lounge area there and also noticed that it appeared to go round to the right out of my eyeline. I fancied capturing an image or two in anticipation of writing this piece. Well, what a find. It was like the resident’s lounge of a posh fin de siecle hotel with a candelabra, leather Chesterfield furniture, the whole Hollywood set, it was wonderful.
I wasn’t going to move anywhere so I returned to the bar to continue my conversation and the next thing I knew was hearing a call of “Ah, Monsieur, vous-etes ici” or something of that nature which could only have been addressed to me as I was the sole male in there. I turned to see the man mountain that is the local street sweeper who I had passed the time of day with in the churchyard earlier on and who was still togged out in his bright orange overalls. Even if I had been inclined to go elsewhere I was soon disabused of that notion as there was quickly another beer in front of me that he had apparently bought. I’ll swear that man should have been playing professional rugby rather than sweeping the streets in a small Luxembourgoise town, he certainly had the build for it. I really wish I had got a picture of us together but I was enjoying the moment too much to think of it. Still, I have the memory and had a physical reminder for a day or two as he shook my hand so heartily when he left that my knuckles felt as though theyhad been through a wringer. I am sure he did not mean it as he was, to use an old London expression, “a diamond geezer”.
Well, one thing led to another as it does and if I had not been just compos mentis enough to know I had to get to France that evening I might well have been there yet. Fond farewells were bid and I made a promise to return if I was ever in the area again. I shall certainly honour that promise. I know I regularly tend to wax lyrical about bars but I just cannot speak highly enough of the Cefe du Centenaire, it really is something special.
Time to get going to Metz then and so back on the train to the hotel to pick up the bag where the guy on the desk was again charming, wished me “bon voyage” and told me I would be most welcome should I return to Luxembourg. Another one of my all too many travel maxims is that any establishment, be it hotel, youth hostel, restaurant, museum, gallery, bar or whatever else is only as good as the staff and I stand by this completely. The finest place can be ruined completely by bad service and the humblest place can be made wonderful by good staff. OK, here endeth the lesson but I have to say that the staff in Hotel Yasha were friendly to a fault. Literally nothing was too much trouble for them.
Almost needless to say the journey to Metz was very comfortable in modern rolling stock although, somewhat surprisingly for this region, it was about five minutes late arriving for some reason that was undoubtedly announced but which I could not understand. Still, it is still a million times better than what we have to suffer (I use the word advisedly) and pay through the nose for in the UK.
I had taken the precaution of writing down details of how to get to the place I was staying as I do not trust technology. Rely on Google maps and your ‘phone battery dies, where are you? I had read reports online for the place I had booked complaining that it was “too far out of town”, “a bit remote” etc. What utter drivel. Even dragging a rollalong case with me it took no more than 20 minutes from the station and included a walk over the delightful bridge that you can see in the image above which eventually landed me in a very quiet residential area. When I say quiet, I really mean it as I reckon I could have safely lain down and slept in the middle of the road I was staying on because there was zero traffic.
I arrived at a huge house, and I mean huge, rang the bell as the booking had instructed me to and was immediately greeted by a most charming middle aged lady who spoke not a word of English but I was fairly undaunted by this point with my basic French returning. I was directed to my room which was a converted attic and therefore on the fourth floor which did make it a bit of a trek with my back hurting a little and humping the luggage but it was well worth it. What a gem of a place. I’ll not go into it in too much detail as this entry is going on a bit so I shall do it in the next instalment.
Kit duly dumped and it was off to explore the delights of Metz. I had asked the lovely lady of the house where there was a nearby bar / cafe and she had told me. I found it no problem but it was shut. I kept walking and must have walked past at least five more closed bars which is something of a major tragedy for me. As in Bettembourg earlier in the day, Metz just closes on a Monday and you will struggle to find anything open. I must have rambled round for a couple of miles and could not find a single place open for a beer. I did go into a kebab shop but obviously no drink there as I believe they were Muslim or possibly just not licensed for it. Keep walking Fergy and something will turn up, I was trusting to the travel Gods at this point.
I am happy to say that the travel Gods have generally been very good to me and so it was that I discovered the Delanta restaurant. It was very evidently an Ethiopian place, the flag on the wall was the clue there and it was completely empty save for a woman behind the bar who was obviously totally bored and doing something on her computer.
Enquiring, more in hope than expectation, if a beer was possible I was told that it certainly was. Well, that was your humble narrator settled for the night. The beer was of the bottled variety and a major international brand I am not overly fond of but it was beer. I was damned if I was going to pay €7 for a 33cl. bottle of imported Ethiopian stuff, no matter how good and authentic it may have been.
The restaurant was small, there were only the two of us there, no TV or other distractions so what else to do but make conversation which is proper order anyway in a bar in my opinion? The lady, who turned out to be the wife of the proprieter, had not a word of English and yet we had a most jovial two or three hours conversing in French. As I have mentioned I only learned to a basic level but being in Francophone countries seemed to revive it all from the dark and distant nethermost regions of my brain.
It was yet another wonderful experience after the earlier tragedy of having to ditch my trusty old boots (see earlier journal entry for the full story of that) and did lift my spirits considerably. The lady was utterly charming and was indeed Ethiopian, taught me about the difference from the old Ethiopian flag (which I recognised) and the new one (which I did not recognise) amongst a host of other subjects. She asked me if I wanted to dine but as usual I had no appetite and promised her to return on the morrow, which I did to brilliant effect as will be noted in a later journal entry. I left the place long after normal closing time as I bought the proprietress a couple of beers and the conversation seemed to flow. It was just one of those nights and, again, one of the reasons I travel. A brilliant memory.
After what had been a pretty full day both emotionally (the boots again!), travel-wise and with new experiences, not to mention the beer, it was quite surprising that I found my “digs” in a small residential street, never mind climb the four floors in darkness but I did. I even had the presence of mind to take some images of the place before totally “Fergying” it and then crashed out for a great night’s sleep.
Those that know me or have read this journal from the start know that I suffer from sleep disorder so that was a very welcome thing. As they say here, I slept “comme un bebe” (like a baby) and so here ends the day. Have a look and see what you think of my digs.
In the next instalment I manage to discover Metz when it is open so stay tuned and spread the word.