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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Back riding the rails again…….
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……….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.

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Another town and another search for the hotel.
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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.