Another two for one and back on the move.

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.

image002
I would love to know what this place was.

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.

image002
My place in Charleroi.

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.

image005
Sadly, the friterie was never open.

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.

image006
Pretty impressive, eh?

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.

 

image009
It looked like a plan.

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.

image019
What a snazzy bar.

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.

image017
Maes beer – it didn’t taste like river water.

 

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.

image028
Fairly special looking specials.

 

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.

image037
Not usually my favourite type of place.

 

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.

image035 (2)

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.

image034

 

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.

image033

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”.

image031
I saw this lovely building on the way.

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.

image044
Back riding the rails.

 

 

 

IMG_4013.JPG
I arrived at the very futuristic Liège-Guillemins railway station

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.

image050
Simple but tasty.

 

 

 

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.

A lovely place but time to move on.

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.

image002
How did I miss this before?

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.

image001
The alleged site of miraculous visitations.

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.

image006
It was far too cold for al fresco drinking.

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.

image005
A very tidy bar.

, I even do literary.

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”.

image008
It is a lot different in daylight.

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.

image009
Shrine to Notre Dame de Beauraing.

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 had 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.

image018
A proper Belgian friterie.

 

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.

image017
The very welcome drinks menu.

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.

image020
I tell you this was so good.

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.

image022
Back riding the rails again…….
image025
……….and here are the very rails.

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.

image038
Another town and another search for the hotel.
image039
A pretty first view of Charleroi, two minutes from the station.

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!

image040
Yet another comfy bed in yet another hotel room in yet another town.

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.

A spooky thing happens to me.

The 16th of April was another chilly but fine enough day which I don’t mind. I can always layer up against the cold but I didn’t have any proper wet weather gear so that would have proved a problem.

The dawn thankfully did not plague me with an early rise due to my sleep disorder and my somewhat erratic body clock did not bother me until well after midday so it was just as well I was not checking out of the hotel or it would possibly have cost me a late check out fee. Having said that, they had been so good about my delayed check in they maybe wouldn’t have charged me, they were decent people.

 

Another walk round what little there was to see in town and I did find a couple of interesting little things.  Firstly, the town seems to be very “green” as I found out at tyhe local filling station where the display shown above suggests that 95% of all the hot water in the area is heated by solar power.  Nice move, folks.

Secondly, I discovered that the Hotel Iris Aubepine that I was staying in was not the original as I found it situated just next door.  I do not know if anything is planned for it but  it looks like it could be done up into a very tasty “boutique hotel” as I believe they call them nowadays.

image009
Back again.

Eventually the inevitable happened and I settled myself into the very pleasant Taverne Le Beaulieu for a day of trying to keep this blog / journal or whatever the heck the correct term is up and, much more importantly, drinking a lot of very good Belgian beer. I like a drink and make no secret of the fact and I reckon that Belgium is the best place in the world for beer, they absolutely excel at it.

 

I was getting to grips with most of the watering holes in town by now but I did manage a new discovery in the evening, the Cafe L’Exotic which was a little further out than my previous explorations had taken me. I wondered then, as I do now, why it was called l’Exotic and not l’Exotique with Beauraing being in a French-speaking region of this bi-lingual country.

I found the bars in Beauraing to be uniformly clean, tidy, well-ordered and thoroughly pleasant places to drink. This is all great and I can recommend any of them but I have this fetish for seeking out “rough houses” as will become apparent the more journal entries I publish on this site. I have literally been in places that locals will not go with me!  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not for one moment suggesting that l’Exotic is a place to avoid, far from it as it is an excellent bar with a decent selection of beer, friendly staff and friendlier patrons. It just somehow seemed to me to be more “real” than some of the other bars in town which, delightful as they are, all seemed to be a bit “twee” to me. Whilst it is nowhere on a par with some of the places I have drunk, it just seemed to be more alive and slightly less civilised if that makes sense.

My beer was well-kept and served as would be expected in Belgium and the locals were friendly to a fault, even putting up with my abysmal French which I did insist on trying out. This portion of the entry is an example of what I mean about L’Exotic. In other entries of bars I have numerous images of every little feature of various bars but this has two images, both taken from the outside as I was leaving. Not that I am suggesting for one second that anyone would have said a word to me had I taken images inside but it just didn’t seem right somehow. I suppose all things are relative and where I live this place would be deemed “posh” but here it really was not. I don’t really do upmarket and this bar suited me down to the ground.

I then ran into a bit of a logistical problem in that my only route back to the hotel required passing the Beaulieu again so I hardly need to tell you what happened.  At least I had enough about me still to take a few images so I must have had a vague notion to keep my travel writing up.

In the last instalment I promised you a story of a spooky experience and so here it is.

I am an atheist and will defend that position strongly although I absolutely respect the beliefs of others. I lived in Northern Ireland for the first 28 years of my life and know to my great personal cost what religious intolerance can do.

image024
This really made me feel strange. Our Lady of Beauraing statue.

 

When walking from my hotel into town in the morning I had seen a statue of the Virgin Mary beside a church close by but paid it little attention as such things are common in Roman Catholic countries. However, I have mentioned that the weather was cold as it had been all my trip and had turned damp throughout the day so that on my return there was a slight fog in the air. The statue assumed an appearance I can only describe as ethereal, frankly it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Sure, I ascribed it to the beer but a later look at my images, one of which I attach here, will possibly assist the reader in understanding. In truth, it does not really do justice to what I saw as it was a lot eerier than that.

It was only whilst researching this piece that I discovered that this was the site of an alleged 33 sightings of the Virgin Mary by teenage children which have been ratified by the Vatican. It is apparently a very holy site for those that follow the Christian belief although I did not know it at the time, there is just something about the place that got to me. It was a very strange feeling indeed.

I was to return the next day as I shall relate in this journal but it was fairly ordinary in the morning, it was just at that time and place, with the total stillness of the night, complete silence and a slight fog in the air that made it somewhat “unusual”. I have struggled here now for quite a while to find the correct word to describe it and cannot and so unusual is the best I can do.

No, it is not going to make a Christian out of me but I hope I have enough intelligence to know that there are things that I don’t understand and never will. Funny, they always seem to happen to me on the road, maybe just another reason I love to travel.

I’ll be back on the road tomorrow so stay tuned and spread the word.

I drink and eat too much, maybe get propositioned, am attacked by young ladies and two chickens and still survive in Beauraing!

image002
Very early one morning in Beauraing.

After an evening enjoying the beer delights that Belgium specialises in and a good night’s sleep in my very pleasant hotel it was the morning of the 15th and, frankly, far too early in it for my liking. I believe I have mentioned elsewhere in this journal that I suffer from a sleep disorder and my body had decided it was time for wakey wakey at about 0500. I know there is no point in trying to fight it so it was time to get up. I went outside for a smoke in the early morning with the sun doing it’s best to break through a pretty overcast sky. Actually, I do quite like that time of morning when it is still peaceful so it was no great chore although the temperatures were not so much to my liking. The previously mentioned overcast sky did not look like clearing which did not bode well for a sunny Spring day and so it was to prove.

I decided that a bit of internet work was the best bet and did that for a few hours before Morpheus kindly came calling again and I managed another couple of hours kip, rising at about 1400. Before I get to the events of the day, I promised you a review of the Hotel Iris Aubepine and here it is.

image001
Hotel Iris Aubepine, Beauraing.

If you have come upon this hotel review by way of the previous journal entry then you will know that I arrived in Beauraing a full 24 hours late having been done up like a kipper by Belgian railways and stranded in Namur the previous night. I made very sure that I got there in good time the next day and walked the short distance from the station to the hotel in about ten minutes. The location was convenient although Beauraing is not a particularly large town.

I was checked in by a pleasant receptionist with decent English and who told me that they would not charge me for my “no show” the previous night which I thought was decent of them. I don’t think they would have had a problem as I did not see another soul in the hotel during the three days I was there and it felt a bit like the Marie Celeste at times but they did not have to waive the fee.

I made my way to my room as I fancied a quick doze and noted that I had been given a double for the price of a single which was another bonus as a look at the website shows that the singles are, shall we say somewhat “compact and bijou” i.e. tiny. The bed was comfy, the room warm enough to keep out the fairly chilly weather and there was always plenty of hot water at a good pressure in the shower. The bed and the shower are really my two major requirements for a hotel as I can always layer on a few clothes if it is chilly. Everything was very clean and tidy.

image061
A comfy double for the price of a single.

If I stood by the window I could see the lovely old church which stands adjacent although the rest of the vista consisting of a carpark and some fairly dilapidated old sheds was less inspiring but I wasn’t there for the view and at about £40 per night I thought it represented good value.

image001
Not the best view ever.

Right, let’s go and have a look round. Unfortunately the church I mentioned above was not open and so I had to content myself with a few images of the exterior, which was a shame really. I thought churches were always open as places of refuge and sanctuary but it appears that the modern world with all it’s ills has put an end to that idea.

image014
Eglise St. Martin, Beauraing.

A quick walk round the town indicated that, nirvana having been achieved (see previous entries for an explanation of this), it was not all it was cracked up to be. Certainly it was a clean, tidy and pleasant little place but there was not really a whole pile to see there. What to do? People who know me personally and those who have read my submissions both here and on the late Virtual Tourist will know that this is a rhetorical question. For those that do not know me the answer, as always, is retire to a bar which is what I did.

image017
Street scene, Beauraing.

I know I have mentioned it before but I do seem to have an innate knack of seeking out the craziest places and for no particular reason other than it was there I headed into the Taverne “La Belle Rose” and again my craziness radar was fully locked on. It was a lovely little bar / restaurant with a goodly amount of Easter decorations on display, it being that season, and apparently the only other patrons were three “ladies of a certain age” i.e. not in the first flush of youth (I am not being unkind here).

image028
Now that looks like a bar!

When I went in it struck me as being more like a small restaurant rather than a bar in the traditional sense but that is not uncommon in this region. It was certainly very homely and comfortable and it appeared to me as if it may have had a recent refurbishment as everything looked quite freshly “scrubbed and painted”. Juxtaposed with this was the furniture which was obviously intended to look old-fashioned although whether it was reproduction or genuine I really couldn’t say. Obviously in a Belgian bar there were also various beer themed knick-knacks on the walls as well.

 

A menu on the wall suggested that my initial impression of it being a restaurant / bar was correct although I did not see any food served and as it was approaching Easter the entire establishment was literally groaning under the weight of decorations appropriate to that festival. Perhaps overall in terms of interior design it should not have worked but it did.

image027
Plenty of choice.

I was greeted by a very friendly barman who had some English and I even had a tentative go at some schoolboy French which he seemed to appreciate.

 

I settled myself down at a small table as I do not like to hog big tables when I am by myself as I think it is rude to do so and this table happened to be near the ladies mentioned. One of them appeared to be asleep under the hood of a parka jacket, one did not seem to be overly talkative but the third one most certainly was.

 

image019
Here are the ladies.

The conversation was entirely in French which I don’t really speak and so something may well have got lost in translation but I’ll swear that I was being offered the opportunity to sleep with them all either collectively or one after the other. I really don’t know if this was a commercial proposition or just for kicks but it did rather stun me. Of course, I may just have misunderstood the whole scene but somehow I don’t think so. Despite the early hour they all appeared to have “drink taken” as the old expression is and I suppose anything is possible even for an ugly old brute like me! I declined their kind offer, if indeed that is what it was, but the lunacy did not end there.

image018
They are just waiting to pounce.

Belgium has adopted the no smoking nonsense so common in Europe now and so it is a matter of going outside for a cigarette. On my first trip out into the cold I spotted a “gang” of young ladies many of whom were dressed in uniform hoodies and it was explained to me that they were collecting money for a hen night (bridal shower in the US?) for one of their number. Apparently this is the custom here and so when they surrounded me amidst much general hilarity I donated a few € to the drink fund. It was a small price to pay for being surrounded by “pretty young things” as let’s be honest it doesn’t happen to me too often.

image029
Honestly, I do not make this stuff up. Attacked by chickens.

That was slightly odd but the next smoke break brought an even stranger experience when I was accosted by two chickens. Yes, you read that correctly, two chickens both standing at least six feet tall as I hope the image shows. They gave me a handful of tiny little chocolate eggs which were delicious as Belgium is rightly renowned for it’s chocolate. I thought they were collecting for charity or something and offered some money which was waved away. It seems this is merely a Belgian Easter tradition. Much as I was enjoying La Belle Rose I thought it was time to move before something really weird happened so I bade my farewells and went on along the Rue de Bouillon .

image049
Taverne Le Beaulieu.

I didn’t have to go far until I came upon the Taverne le Beaulieu which looked quite smart from the outside and so I went in to find a bar that is quite sizeable for the region where they tend to be pretty compact on the whole. As is the way in these parts it appeared to be bar and restaurant in equal measure although nobody seemed to be dining on this Saturday early evening.

image045
A very pleasant place for a beer – or six!

 

The decor was fairly minimalist but certainly comfortable enough and immaculately clean and tidy. I sat at the bar as is my habit although there is invariably waiter service in this part of the world. It is just something I like to do and was certainly no problem. What was a problem was to choose what to drink. I know Belgium is renowned for beer and most bars have a decent selection but I found myself confronted by a very impressive offering here.

I had been emboldened by the couple of earlier beers and so ventured some of my pretty appalling French and ordered myself up a fruit Witbier (sp?) which was delightful. After that things went a bit downhill. I do not mean the quality of the beer which was consistently excellent nor the standard of the service (ditto) but when I get going in a Belgian beer bar, especially one of this quality, I just don’t have an off switch and I am sure the reader can guess where that all led to. If hunger had not driven me out I could well have been sitting there yet.

Although it was nowhere nearly full, even on a Saturday evening, I did notice that it seemed to be about the best patronised bar of the several I visited in my three days in Beauraing so it appears that the locals know the score. I always find it a good bet anywhere in the world to follow the local crowd.

image050
This was a great find.

I mentioned the increasing hunger and so it was time to sort out a bite to eat. I know I always espouse the concept of eating local but local here really wasn’t on offer except at obscene prices. In the same way that chicken tikka masala (invented in the UK some decades ago, look it up) is now the most popular dish where I live so foreign food seems to be the most popular type of restaurant in this region. I had seen a decent looking “Chinese” restaurant called Song He restaurant although I guessed it was probably run by Vietnamese. Again, the parallels are obvious. In London you go to an “Indian” restaurant and the chances are it is owned, staffed and cheffed by Bangladeshis. This does not bother me at all and short of hitting the one ruinously expensive “local” restaurant I reckoned this was the place.


When I entered it was so typical of what I would term a European Chinese restaurant it verged on being a cariacature. There were the obligatory stylised prints of waterfalls, a few large fans on the walls and even a Lord Buddha image or two, beautifully presented tables with the nicely folded napkins, the whole shebang but none the worse for that.

image074
Where is everybody?

 

It was a large place which made it all the more noticeable that I was the sole patron there. OK, it was fairly chilly weather but it was a Saturday evening and I would have expected there to be at least a few people. I was promptly attended to by a server that I would bet my next pension cheque was of Vietnamese rather than Chinese extraction which tended to confirm my earlier surmise.

image063
That’s the beer sorted, now what about food?

Obviously a beer first and then a perusal of the menu which was extensive to say the least with all the “usual suspects” and a few little oddities to add a bit of interest. What prompted me to do it I do not know but I opted for a set meal which was not at all expensive by regional standards. I should have known better! I know what “Chinese” set meals can be like and this was to prove to be no exception, I suspect that chefs think they are feeding a platoon of soldiers on the Long March and it can often turn into “ordeal by food”.

For the benefit of those who may read this and do not know me, of whom I there will be many, I should explain that for such a tall man I have the appetite of a sparrow and will often go several days without eating. Strange I know but it does not seem to do me any harm. This will become relevant shortly.

image065
A beautiful (and plentiful) hot and sour soup.

I say ordeal “ordeal by food” but this really wasn’t except for the sheer volume. First up was a hot and sour soup, which I love, and which was done to perfection. It took just long enough to arrive to suggest it had been freshly made rather than merely banged in a microwave and it was beautiful but so thick and served in such a portion that it would have sufficed as a meal on it’s own.

image068
A housebrick masquerading as a spring roll.

 

Next up was a spring roll and I was hoping for one of the little ones like you buy in the supermarket but not a chance. This was the size of a housebrick although so gorgeous that I stupidly devoured the lot, along with the accompaniments and not one but two dipping sauces which were both sublime. I would suggest that they were all home-made.

 

By this stage, I was more than replete but we still had not come to the “main event”. First of all the little burner was produced to keep the food warm and I knew I was in trouble. If they produce that thing you just know it is going to be a huge portion and so it turned out. A sweet and sour dish which is another favourite of mine and served with as much rice as would have sufficed for four normal meals for me. I hope the images give some idea. I tried, believe me, I tried but eventually it defeated me and I had the plates cleared amidst much trying to explain to the server that it had been excellent but just too much. A lot of miming of rubbing my stomach and a bit of broken schoolboy and French the message apparently got through.

Then came the killer punch. Would I like dessert? Pardon my French (yes, I know I just did that) but not a bloody chance. I could not even risk a “wafer thin mint” (for the Monty Python fans amongst you). I was absolutely full to bursting and thankfully they didn’t hassle me to get out, well they wouldn’t do as it was empty and so I sat for a while and digested what had been a very fine meal.

Song He is a great restaurant but do remember to bring your appetite!

image081
Where is this place? Ideas on a postcard please.

When the dinner had settled a little it was time for another beer or two by way of a digestif and so I took off to yet another bar although the rigours of the day, coupled with my stupid failure to take an identifying image means I have no idea which bar it was. What I do know is that I took into some more kriek (cherry beer) with the brand name Mystic with a lot of associated marketing as you can see.

 

After that it was a short walk home and off to my comfy bed.  The projected four-day trip had concluded it’s fifteenth day and did not look like stopping any time soon.

There will be a tale of a pretty spooky experience in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.

I got there in the end aka Namur to Beauraing via Dinant.

image011
A good place to wake up.

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!

image019
A fine tavern for a fine beer.

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.

image018
I loved the detail in this place.

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.

image023
The barman hard at work.

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.

image027
The pleasant upstairs room.

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.

image022
Here I go trying to be arty again.

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!

image025
This is what I was there for.

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.

image036
My busking buddy.

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.

image034
My other busking buddy doing her poi thing.

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.

image037
I just love this image. What a day.

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.

image013
Railway Station, Namur.

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.

Things start to unwind.

After the exertions of the previous day, enjoyable as they were, the 12th was given over entirely to sitting about the hostel drinking excellent Dutch beer from the very tidy and well-stocked bar, eating yet more pickled herring (I really do love them) and trying desperately to keep this journal up which I really was finding difficult to do.

I had tried blogging before when I was also writing my tips on the Virtual Tourist website and I really do struggle with juggling the two as I always like to research my tips / reviews fully. I would say that a single review of a hotel / hostel / bar / restaurant or whatever would rarely take me much less than an hour and often considerably longer so the time really did mount up. Add on top of that the writing required for the journal entries and it probably explains why I ended up beginning to write this entry on a train between Metz and Nancy in France exactly a fortnight after the events described. I finished it in a delightful art deco brasserie in Nancy later still. Hopefully this new format of having my own site where I do everything in one place will assist me in keeping vaguely up to date.

For some obscure reason I did try to get a bit arty again with my little compact camera and a most wonderful moon.  Not easy and certainly does not

image001
I love pickled herring!

how atmospheric it was but these are the best two of my efforts and hopefully they will give you an idea.

 

As this entry was pretty meagre I shall pass straight on to the next day.

 

The day of the 13th April began in ridiculous fashion with me waking up at some unnatural hour in the morning. I am normally thrown out of a room by the chambermaid or the manager as I have long overslept the check-out time but on this particular day I was up, dressed and sitting having a smoke in the gorgeous garden area of the hostel having a fairly one-sided conversation with the equally gorgeous hostel cat by about 0700.

image073
Ani & Haakinen hostel, Rotterdam.

I know, I know but yes, I talk to cats or dogs or just about anything because I just talk all the bloody time! I suspect my early rising was to do with my requirement for nicotine being in inverse proportion to my bladder capacity, but enough of that, I was up and about. After a couple of cans of breakfast and packing up it was time for the off.

My plan, such as it was for the day, was to go to a place called Beauraing for no better reasons than I had never been there and I liked the name. Yes, really, that is the way this particular little excursion was going. As I shall explain, I singularly failed to get anywhere close but it was an interesting day all the same. I should have liked to stay another night in that wonderful hostel as I felt really comfortable there and I was thoroughly enjoying Rotterdam but, as explained earlier in this journal, it was school holidays and the place was completely booked out for that night.

As I have noted previously here I am travelling extremely light and so humping the kit around really is not a problem as I don’t have that much of it. My increasingly frantic search for a launderette later on in this journal will attest to just how light I was travelling!

image011
Street scene, Rotterdam.

With my ability to wander about more or less freely, I decided to go for another walk around the centre of the city which is very compact and do a bit more happy snapping on my trusty little camera which is about as compact as Rotterdam. As an aside here, I do recommend the Canon Ixus as a cheap and reliable compact, I love mine.

image025
One of the many statues in Rotterdam.

Whilst I did get productive with the camera as some of the fairly amateur efforts here indicate, it almost inevitably degenerated into a bit of a pub crawl and the Premiere Brasserie and Cafe Plein do stand out in the memory.  Let me tell you about them in a moment but first let me alert you to the fact that some of the camera efforts mentioned will be featured in an image gallery here.

image020
Premiere Brasserie, Rotterdam.

The reason I picked the Premiere Brasserie over the many other bars in the area was simply that I happened to be passing it at the time. It looked clean and tidy so why not?

 

Walking past the numerous tables outside, which would have been lovely in summer but a bit chilly in early April, I walked into a spacious and virtually empty bar. I went to the bar and enquired of the young lady if they were open and she informed me that they were.

image022
Premiere Brasserie, Rotterdam.
image012
Premiere Brasserie, Rotterdam.

I knew I had a bit of a journey in front of me so I wanted something pretty weak and Heineken fits that bill precisely. A later perusal of the beer menu shows that they do have an extensive selection here which is as good an excuse as any to return at some point.

 

Although I did not eat there I did have a look at the menu outside when I went for a smoke later on and it appeared to be as extensive as that of the beer with separate offerings for lunch and dinner and even a daily special.

image023
Premiere Brasserie, Rotterdam.

I had taken up my usual post at the bar and was chatting to the very friendly barmaid but a look round showed that it appeared to be very comfortable and when I went to use the “facilities” they were immaculate.

There is very little else to say about the Premiere really other than I can find no fault with it and it is certainly central if you fancy a break from a hard day’s sightseeing or retail therapy.

image036
Herdenkingsmonument.

 

Having torn myself away from the Premiere it was time for a little more sightseeing and a few more images and one sight of particular note is the rather cumbersomely named Herdenkingsmonument which you can see above.

 

On my various travels in the Netherlands I have noticed that the Dutch are extremely fond of statuary and Rotterdam is no exception to this rule. My favourite of the many statues I saw in the city, for execution and most certainly not for what it represents, is the Herdenkingsmonument which literally translates simply as Commemoration Monument and stands appropriately in Plein 1940. It is the work of the sculptor Ossip Zadkine who seems to have specialised in war memorials.

The statue was unveiled in 1953 a mere eight years after the end of the Second World War which it commemorates and when memories must still have been fresh and raw of the virtual destruction of central Rotterdam by the German Luftwaffe. Apart from it’s obvious artistic merit I think it makes a very powerful statement.

Obviously everyone will have their own taste in such things but I would suggest that if the traveller specifically seeks out one statue of the many on offer that they make it this one.

image034
Cafe Plein.

Well, it had been a while since the last beer so I was ready for another and I decided on the Cafe Plein although there were certainly enough bars to choose from. A man should never go thirsty in this fine city.

image030
Cafe Plein.

There were a few people sitting outside although I have no idea either how or why as it was freezing. Perhaps I am just not hardy enough to be Dutch. Hypothermia was not on the day’s agenda and so I wimpishly went inside (which was completely empty) and in the hope of perhaps warming up just a little, ordered my beer and the result was as you can see in the images, there was actually frost on the outside of the glass. Perhaps a Jamaican coffee would have been a better bet. Still, I don’t mind cold beer, it is warm beer I don’t like.

image031
Cafe Plein.

The barman appeared to be busy doing all sorts behind the bar and so I contented myself with watching chef working hard in the semi-open kitchen to the rear of the bar. I am not surprised he was busy as he has a very extensive menu to contend with.

 

Most of the bars in city centres in the Netherlands seem to follow this pattern of being cafe / bars with huge menus during the day and morphing into clubs at night. Cafe Plein fits this pattern exactly and is no better nor worse than any of the rest of them. Service was prompt and polite, the bar was comfortable and the “facilities” spotless.

image027
Not a scam at all.

I have mentioned a couple of times about how bitingly cold it was here in April although it was thankfully dry and quite bright most days but my meagre wardrobe wasn’t up to the task and I knew that something warm was the order of the day. I had a look in a few shop windows but everything seemed very expensive, at least comparable to London prices if not higher. I am no clothes horse and so style wasn’t a big issue, I just wanted something to keep out the chill. Thankfully I stumbled upon the clothes shop you can see here which were offering good bargains. It was called Scamm but it really was not a scam as I got a really warm jumper for a knockdown price and it was to stand me in good stead for the rest of my trip.

Here are another few images from my day of wandering round this lovely city.

image024
Street scene, Rotterdam.
image038
Sorry about the roadworks.

 

 

 

I had read about a mode of public transport in Rotterdam called the Waterbus which is exactly what the name implies. My thinking was that I could get that as far as Dordrecht and then catch a connecting train to Beauraing.

IMG_3705
Erasmusbrug, Rotterdam.

I had made enquiries at the station in Rotterdam and been told that this was perfectly feasible. As you shall see shortly, this was not to be the case. The first part of the journey was no problem and I found the jetty and boarded for a very enjoyable hour or so “cruise” on the Nieuwe Maas, alighting in good order in the lovely town of Dordrecht. Let me tell you about the trip which was great fun.

It is well-known that the Netherlands is famous amongst other things for it’s waterways both natural and man-made and this is hardly surprising as so much of the country is reclaimed land and below sea level. Although I had seen plenty I had not been on the water on this trip to the country and so the waterbus to Dordrecht to continue my journey onwards was a bit of a foregone conclusion.

 

I knew I needed the number 20 line and found the quay easily enough as it is adjacent to the large new bridge. There was a clean and tidy waiting area which should have been welcome on a bitingly cold day but I was doing my tourist thing on the quay taking images, some of which accompany this entry.

image060
A whole lot bigger than the boat I was on.

 

The boats leave every half hour and take just about an hour to reach Dordrecht with five intermediate stops. I was able to buy my ticket onboard from the conductor in a pretty comfortable salon complete with a large plasma TV although I was busy watching the passing scenery on the Nieuwe Maas which was fascinating.

 

I had the inside almost to myself as my few fellow passengers seemed content to stand out on the back deck with their bicycles. Bicycles on a riverboat, how quintissentially Dutch.

 

I realise that this is predominantly a local standard mode of transport rather than designed for tourists but I do recommend it as an alternative to the train for a slightly different view of the area. It is not exactly scenic but it offers a great insight into to the hinterland of what is one of the busiest seaports in the world.

I did take some video footage of the journey which I will post here if I work out how. Another step on the learning curve but I shall persevere until I work it out.

image063
Welcome to Dordrecht.

Once in Dordrecht I made my way quickly to the train station stopping only briefly for a few photos and it was here that, as my old school friend and excellent musician Andy White puts it in one of his songs, things start to unwind.

Then another option occurred to me as I found out I could get a train to Namur which at least was going in the right direction so I jumped on that, alighting there a short time later. Well, what was I going to do next?

image012
Grand Hotel de Flandre, Namur.

As always, when in doubt, resort to the pub which is what I did. I could not access the internet there and so I asked the barman, a large and slightly rough-looking sort of a bloke who turned out to be absolutely charming, if he had any suggestions. At this point a lady sitting at the bar enters the equation. It was later to transpire that she was the barman’s partner but I did not know that then. There was a decent amount of English spoken and she understood enough to get on her mobile ‘phone and do a search for me although I had not even asked. Just yet another example of the numerous small kindnesses I seem to get on the road all the time. Certainly many very strange things happen to me but the vast majority of them are incredibly positive. The lady had seen that I was in a bit of a predicament and took it upon herself to assist. I have no contact details for her and I doubt she will ever read this but I do thank her most sincerely.

 

The result of the good lady’s research was to find out that the best deal in town was literally across the road from there, the Grand Hotel de Flandre (most of the images were taken next day).  I suspect it has been “Grande” in it’s day and still carries the marks of an old style railway hotel with a most beautiful staircase but it now boasts decent modern rooms with all the accoutrements required by the 21st century traveller. Whlst it was a bit above what I normally budget for, it was very comfortable and literally across the road from the station so it suited nicely. Let me tell you a bit about the hotel.

image010
A glimpse of a bygone age.

I suspect it has been “Grande” in it’s day and still carries the hallmarks of an old style railway hotel with a most beautiful staircase but it now boasts decent modern rooms with all the accoutrements required by the 21st century traveller. Whlst it was a bit above what I normally budget for, it was very comfortable and literally across the road from the station so the location suited nicely.

The room was en-suite oviously, even boasting a bath which regrettably would have been far too short for my lanky frame but it was nice to have the option. I had a twin room facing the road but it was not a problem with road noise as the town was pretty deserted by the time I got there. The single bed in a twin room was comfortable and the room warm enough on what was a fairly chilly night.

 

I cannot comment on the facilities in the hotel other than the room itself as I literally slept and bathed there before moving on but all in all it was a pleasant experience.

With my kit dumped fairly unceremoniously, it was totally incumbent upon me to return to the little bar and at least buy the lady a drink which I duly did. Truth be told, we had several, including a couple on the house from the barman when he had “closed”. It was a most convivial evening and yet another example of the reason I travel.

I was pretty hungry by then and the only place that appeared to be open was a kebab shop but that suits nicely after a bellyful of beer and so it was a doner washed down with a final beer for supper. It was a very content Fergy that slumped into a comfortable bed for a great night’s sleep. OK, I was in entirely the wrong place but I have spent most of my life being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I promise I get to Beauraing tomorrow (i.e. the next journal entry) so stay tuned and spread the word.

Fabulous Frank, fabulous Rotterdam, fabulous beer, fabulous day.

I awoke quite early on the morning of the 11th April and it wasn’t due to being in a communal room of six as all my young fellow travellers behaved in an exemplary manner, it had been the old man i.e. me that was last to bed but that is not unusual. I do not wish to be indelicate but I do not have need of an alarm clock because at my age I have a bladder to perform the function for me.

I wandered downstairs to the breakfast room where there was an excellent continental breakfast type spread laid on although I contented myself with some excellent coffee (another thing the Dutch do exceptionally well), some orange juice and a couple of slices of very tasty Dutch cheese. Is there anything the Dutch aren’t good at?

With the amount and variety on offer I reckon that if the traveller is on a really tight budget then eating up heartily at breakfast would easily keep them going until the evening meal which would be simple to prepare for themselves here as I would say it is one of the best hostel kitchens I have ever seen. It has ample cutlery, crockery and every imaginable utensil not to mention the most comprehensively stocked hostel larder imaginable. As with the garden I shall let the reader draw their own conclusions.

On what was to prove to be a three and a half month tour in Europe (sorry about the spoiler) I stayed in many hostels – one horror, a few acceptable but nothing to write home about and several that were absolutely outstanding. Ani & Haakien hostel in Rotterdam is certainly in the latter category. It is exceptional on every level as I hope to explain.

Firstly location. Most of the reason I picked it was for it’s proximity to Centraal Station as I don’t want to be messing about with taxis to end up on the outskirts of town somewhere. Forget that but even for a pensioner like me with luggage it was the work of five minutes station to hostel. I realise that many backpackers will be on budgets and prefer a cheaper alternative to the train and the national and international coach station is adjacent to the rail station so those travel options are equally well served.

image010
Common area, Ani & Haakien hostel, Rotterdam.

I had wandered into the bright and modern reception area to be greeted with a cheery smile and greeting. I was to find out during my stay here that this is not a “have a nice day” type of smile as I call it but was undoubtedly genuine. The young staff here are remarkably friendly and even seem to hang around the place when they are not actually on duty. I had a few lengthy and fascinating conversations with several of them. I firmly believe that any establishment is only as good as the staff and on that basis alone this hostel is world-class.

Having been allotted my bunk I had headed upstairs to stow the kit and it was immediately evident that this was a very arts orientated operation as there were bits and bobs of art everywhere. All this before I had even seen the common area or garden! I just knew it was absolutely right for me and so it was to transpire. The room was the standard hostel affair and I was just about to say that it was clean and tidy but it was a hostel room so it was clean! I was later to find out that the bunk was comfortable and long enough for me which is not always the case. Please remember that whilst this appears on the date of the 11th this all happened on the evening of the 10th.

I did have a quick glance around but decided to leave it until the morning to have a proper look round and so off to bed. In the daylight of the earlyish next morning and what a wonderful place this is. It is immaculately kept and comfortable but it was only when I went out the back for a smoke that I discovered the jewel in the crown which is the garden area and is utterly delightful as well as being downright relaxing, I’d love to hang out there in summer. It is also very”green orientated” as is the whole hostel. Everything is recycled and so on which has to be a good thing, I think. I’ll let the images do the talking for me, the reader will undoubtedly be glad to know.

 

Back upstairs for a quick shower which more than fulfilled my second accommodation requirement, namely a decent water pressure and plenty of hot water. In keeping with the rest of the premises the washrooms were immaculately maintained throughout my entire stay.

 

I had decided on a few hours trying to get my journal up to date (I was behind even then) with a few beers from the hostel. There is no bar per se but they sell beer from a fridge at reasonable prices. Guests are at liberty to bring their own alcohol and there is a large Aldi supermarket about ten minute’s walk away.

image009
Suzy the cat, Ani & Haakien hostel, Rotterdam.

Finally, I cannot conclude without a word about Suzy, the final staff member who, when not trying to stare out the guests, is fond of licking herself. Before you start wondering, Suzy is an adorable cat and even has her own website.

I think it is no fluke on the part of the “higher powers” that it’s postal address is Coolsestraat 47-49 as it is easily one of the coolest places I have ever stayed.

Whilst returning from the breakfast room to where I was sitting in the rather pleasant communal area I spied a noticeboard with a list of daily suggestions for things to do and this being a Tuesday the daytime suggestion was for a highlights walking tour with “fabulous Frank”, whoever he might have been, beginning at 1100. I made enquiry at the desk and was told that Frank would be along soon. I should mention here that “fabulous” is not a soubriquet he applies to himself, the hostel do it.

I should also point out here that I have only once or twice, to my recollection, been on a guided walk as the idea of them just makes me uncomfortable for some obscure and unfathomable reason. I prefer to roam about alone. Frank duly appeared, a very tall young guy with long, blond hair and an extremely friendly demeanour. He didn’t try to push me at all as I still had not really made up my mind whether to go or not but we chatted of this and that and it transpired that he had lived in London for some time which may partially have accounted for his faultless English although I believe he is originally Polish. I was much taken by the guy and decided to go on his walk which I do like doing anyway. My companions were to be two Belgian couples who turned out to be charming so it was not like being in a coach trip party as we were such a small group.

image001
First stop on Frank’s tour.

I won’t go into the route in detail here as frankly I cannot remember it exactly now but I have to say that Frank was utterly brilliant with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city. I was particularly interested in the way he described the events of post World War Two where the entire centre of the city was essentially obliterated by Nazi German bombardment.

What I propose to do instead is to publish a separate gallery for the numerous images I took on that day with as much accompanying information as I can get together.

Rotterdam is an old city and there were many historic buildings damaged although some were still capable of being saved but, with the exception of a scant few, the city fathers took the decision to literally tear down the lot and start all over which is why the city is so modern looking now. Amazingly, they had started drawing up plans for the redevelopment literally a few weeks after the bombardment stopped. Work finally began in 1946 and they basically rebuilt a city in a very few years. It was all remarkably interesting stuff.

 

It was all going swimmingly well and so something had to go wrong sooner or later, and it did. Frank had told us we were coming to the last point of

image010
Street scene, Rotterdam.

, of which there had been many, which was the Markt Haus (Market House) close by and then he would tell us a quick way home. Rotterdam is very compact and we had literally not been more than 15 minutes walk from the hostel at any point.

image038
The image that caused my downfall.

Naturally, the Market House is near the market and we were walking through a very crowded and interesting street market. I love street markets but it was not that which caused my downfall. I stopped to take an “arty” picture of an old Church and when I looked round the rest of them were nowhere to be seen. I mentioned earlier that Frank is a tall guy with a shock of blond hair and I stand 6’5″ so I thought it would be no problem to spot him over the crowd. Wrong! Admittedly it was very busy but they had just vanished. Ah well, no problem as I knew where the hostel was.

When I say there was no problem, actually there was. Frank does not charge a set fee for his tours but invites his clients to tip him what they think it was worth and, believe me, it was worth a lot. I was a bit worried he would think I had “done a runner” to avoid giving him money but that was resolved later in the evening when I ran into him back at the hostel and did indeed give him what I thought his brilliant tour had been worth.  I’ll include a few more images from the tour here.

image006
Centraal Station in daylight.
image008
I liked the look of this building.

 

 

image014
Town Hall gardens.

 

IMG_3596.JPG

image027
Town Hall interior.

 

 

In cases such as this there is only one solution and that is to adopt Fergy SOPs (Standard Operational Procedures) i.e. find a bar and so off I went. Normally, I would have dived into the first bar I saw but for some reason I walked past a couple of perfectly acceptable looking venues. I am quite used to things like this happening to me and don’t consciously dwell on it, I just go where the mood takes me.

image039
I lost the group but at least I found a market.

Turning into a street I now know to be called Mauritsweg I saw the rather strange sight of a fairly modern and slightly odd-looking building sandwiched two traditional old Dutch structures which was obviously a cafe / bar called  I put this down to the street probably having been bombed in World War Two when the Germans virtually obliterated central Rotterdam.

 

Despite the fact that there was only one other customer there, a lady with a glass of wine watching the world go by, I went in. It was lunchtime so my normal instinct would have been that the place was unpopular, for which there must be an explanation, and avoided it but I didn’t. Looking round, it was clean and tidy with no apparent reason for the lack of patrons.

image043
de Unie bar, Rotterdam.

I walked past the hugely ornate wooden chair you can see in the images and wondered what it was doing there as the rest of the decor was modern. I actually thought it was a salvaged pulpit from an old church somewhere although the significance eluded me. I ordered my beer from the friendly barman who appeared to be quite busy doing various chores behind the bar. I later found out that the place is primarily a gay nightclub which is open until 0500 so he was probably just sorting out some odds and ends from the night before.

 

 

Another quick beer and I went on my way thinking nothing more about what looked to me like just another Dutch bar if slightly architecturally quirky. It was only whilst writing this some months later that I discovered De Unie is of considerable artistic importance and here is a very brief potted history. De Unie was not originally here at all but in nearby Coolsingel where it was indeed bombed during the war. It had been designed by J.J.P. Oud, a leading member of de Stijl (the Style) which was a Dutch artistic / architectural movement of the 1920s known as neo-plasticism, whatever that is. No, I had never heard of any of this so travel does indeed broaden the mind!

In 1986 an architect called Weeber came up with the idea of

reconstructing De Unie in a spare “hole” in the current location which is what he did. As I say, this is only a brief overview but an internet search of anything I have mentioned so far is so fascinating it took me well over four hours to compose this brief piece in the first place.

Knowing the history of the building is great and whilst researching it I also found out what the “pulpit” was all about. Although not an original piece it is of artistic interest also. J.J.P. Oud had designed this piece which was rather prosaically called Chair 07B which, for various reasons, was never realised. When de Unie was being rebuilt the interior designer, a chap called Hopman, sought and obtained permission from Oud’s heirs to produce a limited edition of 52 of these chairs which he did. It is all clear to me now.

As a bar it is perfectly fine and I have no complaints at all although I cannot help but wonder why I walked past others to go in here. Strange things happen to me!

Update July 2018.

I do like to constantly check my information and have found out whilst re-researching this for publication here that the premises went bankrupt in October 2017.  I do wonder what happened to the chair.

image046
Street Art, Rotterdam.

I navigated myself back to the general area of the hostel but of course it was still early afternoon and all that walking had made me thirsty so the hostel got a bit of a body swerve and the very pleasant Holy Smoke bar / restaurant, which I mentioned in the previous instalment, received my full attention until I returned home at a ridiculously early hour for me.

 

Before I departed however I ended up sampling one of the strangest things I have ever drunk in my life and I have drunk some very strange things, believe me. I had seen on the chalkboard of the constantly changing draught beers an item billed as “Kitchen Confidential – piccalilli beer”

image047
Holy Smoke bar, Rotterdam.

This interested me on two levels as “Kitchen Confidential” is the title of an absolutely excellent book by the world-acclaimed chef Anthony (Tony) Bourdain. It is a wonderful read about the lives of haute cuisine chefs in the 1980’s in New York where they used to stay awake on cocaine for 72 hours to prepare the most obscenely decadent feasts for the super rich of that city. It is brutally honest and well worth seeking out. As an aside Tony used to be a “star” writer on the now butchered Virtual Tourist website where I invested 12 happy years of my life. I am editing this for inclusion here in July 2018 and it was only a couple of weeks ago that I heard the very sad news that Tony had committed suicide. What a waste.

image063
Picalilli beer – whatever next?

The second reason for my interest was that it was a piccalilli beer, what the Hell was that? I adore pickles of all sorts and even have a strange notion that food merely exists in many cases to supplement the so-called condiments. In my time I have drunk banana beer, garlic beer, chilli beer and a host of others but how was anyone ever going to pull piccallili beer off? It sounded too ludicrous even for my rather odd palate, if indeed I can be said to have one.

 

I spoke to my young lady friend from the night before thinking it had perhaps been a mistranslation of Piccadilly in London and therefore denoting some sort of London ale but I was assured that, no, it was a picallili beer from the Jopen brewery which is highly respected and, like so many in this region, linked to a religious order. This simply had to be done and so a large glass was ordered. I am not a beer snob and know little about it except drinking it but I must confess I did a little beer snobbery by actually sniffing the product (or nosing, or whatever the purists call it) and I swear it was just like opening a jar of that particular pickle. I feel I can speak on this as I even spent a very long time making my own once some years ago. Too much like hard work for me to attempt again although it tasted great!

Time for the taste test now and it was simply divine, one of the best beers I have ever drunk. I know it sounds like a totally mad idea but it works so

image060
Honestly, I am not joking.

. I do not know what the base beer was, I suspect probably a duvel but you cannot argue with these guys as they have been brewing for literally centuries, indeed technically millenia now. I doubt it is available for export but if you can source it, do. Mortgage your home to do it and you will not regret it because it is that good. Beer and pickles all in the one glass made for a very happy Fergy.

I have to say that I did go on a bit of a shutter frenzy or whatever the digital equivalent is and so, as I did for Frank’s walk earlier, I shall publish a separate gallery to showcase some of my attempts at photographic art, for which read drunken idiocies.

 

I eventually tore myself away from the very obvious delights of Holy Smoke via a local supermarket where I stocked up on a strange selection of bread rolls, pickled herring, cocktail sauce and garlic butter amongst other things and that formed the basis of the “Chez Fergy plat du jour” for the evening before settling in for an evening’s writing with a few cans of beer from the local “nightshop” which actually seemed to be open all the time. As I have said before I do have a strange taste in food when I do get round to eating occasionally.

image070
Time to resupply.

I was still going well at that point so off to the extreme altitude of the fourth floor and an upper bunk. I nearly got a nosebleed but I did manage another good night’s sleep despite the room being full again.

image076
How much pickled herring can I eat? All of it!

After the exertions of the previous day, enjoyable as they were, the 12th was given over entirely to sitting about the hostel drinking excellent Dutch beer from the very tidy and well-stocked bar, eating yet more pickled herring (I really do love them) and trying desperately to keep this journal up which I really was finding difficult to do. As there is not much to report on this date I shall lump it in with the previous day.

image075
Not a bad working office.

I had tried blogging before when I was also writing my tips on Virtual Tourist and I really do struggle with juggling the two as I always like to research my tips / reviews fully and I would say that a single review would rarely take me much less than an hour and often considerably longer so the time really does mount up. Add on the writing required for journal entries and it probably explains why I ended up writing this entry on a train between Metz and Nancy in France exactly a fortnight after the events described.

After my day of writing, eating and drinking it was off for another great nights sleep. I was having a ball with the thought of going home never even crossing my mind.

In the next instalment I move on from Rotterdam and things start to go a bit pear-shaped with very interesting results so stay tuned and spread the word.