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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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Back riding the rails.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.