Busy, busy, busy and moving on again.

 

 

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The end of the line.

Those hardy souls who may have been slogging their way through this journal will know that I was fairly much “confined to barracks” on Sunday 23rd April due to a serious equipment failure with my sole (pun absolutely intended) pair of boots which had fairly well restricted my mobility and so the first order of business on the Monday morning was to get myself reshod. I had seen a shop nearby which seemed to sell just about everything including discounted footwear and so I made straight for that.

I have fairly large feet (11 in UK sizes) which is probably just as well as it keeps my rather tall frame relatively stable but therein lay the problem. Searching through the reasonable selection of shoes on offer I discovered that there were only two pairs in my size (45 in the local currency). The choice was a pair of blue boots or a pair of sparkly and garishly yellow trainers so it really was Hobson’s choice. I am certainly no clothes horse and will wear just about anything but I draw the line at yellow sparkly footwear so the boots were purchased for a very reasonable €30. They are not walking boots but ordinary streetwear although they subsequently proved to be very comfortable and that is the main thing. Not a style I would have chosen ordinarily but they’ll do until I get home.

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What a way to go. RIP old friends.

I rather sadly walked back to the hotel for my dear the final trek of my beloved footwear. I am sure the reader will wonder why I am making such a fuss about a pair of ancient walking boots so I shall explain. The venerable old things had been my constant companions for no less than 24 years and I had understandably grown rather fond of them. I can date them precisely as I bought them for a trekking trip to Nepal in March 1993 and since then they have been to more countries than I can remember, trekked in the Andes, walked the West Highland Way, Thames Path, London Loop and many, many other things beside. If I had been at home I would have tried to get them resoled but it really was not practical in my situation and I couldn’t even bring them home to attempt that as I didn’t have enough room in my tiny suitcase.

Regretfully, the dear old things were eventually laid to rest in a hotel in Luxembourg City with minimum ceremony and maximum regret. I kept the laces as a souvenir, took a photo and left them there to be unceremoniously binned and committed to a landfill somewhere. What a sad end.

Anyway, time to get back to business and I had decided that my next port of call was going to be Metz where I had booked a small apartment but I thought I should see a little more of Luxembourg than the capital city. I knew the trains ran to Metz regularly and until fairly late so I effectively had a day free as I could not check in until the afternoon. I spoke to the really friendly guy on reception and asked if I could leave my case there for the day which was very obligingly done for me and then I headed to the station which was only about five minutes walk away. Needless to say, I got waylaid before I ever got there.

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Another favourite bar.

Cafe du Globe was my first diversion and was one of the numerous cafe / bars I had visited during my few days stay in the “Station Quarter” and it conforms very much to type for the area. I have mentioned in before that this part of town is not, shall we say, too genteel and has a predominantly immigrant population. It is the hotel bar of the establishment of the same name but is not what the reader may associate with the concept of a hotel bar and I am not even sure if you can access the rooms from the cafe without going outside.

The Globe is effectively just a locals bar which is clean and tidy and I was greeted by a very friendly server who spent no time at all in dispensing a well-kept and served large beer although I appreciate that comment is becoming somewhat repetitive as I do not believe I had a sub-standard drink served to me in my whole time in the country.

There is little remarkable about the premises although I feel I should mention the patrons here. In an area of town with more than it’s fair share of “eccentrics”, this place seems to be something of a magnet for them and as the evening wears on (I had also visited the previous evening) the music seems to get louder with the singing getting proportionately more raucous to match. Although there is no delineated dance area as such, that does not seem to deter anyone and I even saw occasional bursts of “cowboy style” line dancing breaking out from time to time none of which seemed to faze the consistently affable staff in the slightest. I personally never felt threatened and this is the very type of place I seek out but I mention it as it may not be to everyone’s liking. I have included here an image of yet another “new best friend” I made there. The locals really are a friendly bunch. The only slight irritant here is that the Globe also seems to be a magnet for many of the dozens of African trinket sellers that plague the city. They were never aggressive, just a nuisance.

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Would you believe yet another fine bar?

Leaving the Globe I was literally three minutes walk from the station but the Auberge de Reims got in the way. In some ways this is not surprising as the two premises sit across a narrow little side street from each other and I would doubt if they are more than 15 yards apart, you can see into one from the other.

Auberge de Reims is also a bar that happens to have a hotel above it although again it does not exude the atmosphere of a hotel bar in the accepted sense. On the several occasions I visited it was staffed by charming people who all seemed to speak at least passable English and served well-kept beer. It is spotlessly clean although with a slightly more modern decor than it’s more traditional neighbour and is a perfectly pleasant place for a beer. The difference I alluded to above was in the clientele. Whilst the Globe seems always have a few people about it, the Reims had only had a few patrons on a weekend night when I visited before and I literally had the place to myself on a Monday lunchtime which is perhaps less surprising. The prices here are completely normal for the area so maybe the locals know something I don’t or maybe it is just the fickle nature of the drinking public but I can find no fault with the Reims and so would have to recommend it.

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It was getting a little silly by now.

Surely I was bound to make the station now as it was literally looming so large, it is a huge building. No. Willpower was sadly lacking this day and I wandered into the Cafe Bei de Gare to find yet another clean and pleasant bar with a more modern decor than some of the other local establishments.

 

It was somewhat dominated to an extent by the large screen TV’s showing various sports channels which seem to be almost obligatory in these parts. At least the sound was down and it is always something to pass the time, I suppose. I was not overly surprised to find only two other patrons there as it was about 1100 on a fairly chilly Monday morning in April and therefore service was prompt and with good English spoken. The draught was Bofferding which is my preferred brew of the two most common local offerings as I have discussed previously. It goes without saying that it was impeccably kept and served.

 

I got the impression that the two chaps at the bar were happy with their own company so I perched myself up on a comfy high stool at a table and watched the sport whilst draining my third beer of the morning, it was turning into one of those days. Prices were about average for the area when I know bars sometimes hike the price in or near transport hubs but I suppose the strong competition locally keeps them all honest.

Apart from it’s proximity to the main station which is literally about two minutes amble away, there is very little to say about the Bei der Gare which is just very typical of the many fine establishments hereabouts and, as with so many others, I would have to recommend it.

 

Eventually I dragged myself away again and made it to the wonderfully impressive station. Obviously stations are effectively functional architecture but I have been in some beautiful examples all over the world and I love railways anyway. Somehow the stations from the heyday of rail inevitably fill me with a sense of travel anticipation that I just do not get from a modern, soulless airport.

 

Perhaps if I ever generate any traffic here I shall ask my readers to nominate their favourite station. You “early adopters” (get me with the business speak!) can start now if you like and I am not sure if I should bag London St. Pancras myself or remain neutral.

 

A quick look at the timetable showed that there was a train shortly to a place called Bettembourg which was only about a 40 minute journey so that looked as good as any.

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The trains are so good here.

I knew nothing of the geography of that small country and one destination seemed pretty much like another. I bought a ticket for a very reasonable €4 and hopped on another typically comfortable train for the short ride to a place I had never even heard of before.

A short journey on very comfortable modern rolling stock of CFL (Chemin de Fer Luxembourg I believe) deposited me at Bettembourg where the station was clean, tidy and pretty much deserted. I saw one other passenger on the opposite platform with not a member of staff in sight. I took the obligatory couple of shots on the trusty little compact camera and then it was out to see whatever there was to be seen in town.

 

 

 

Just outside the station was a charming old yellow ‘phone box which just begged to be photographed, so I did.

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A quick wander round the immediate environs of the station was not at all promising as there did not seem to be very much there and what there was was shut. I have found it to be the case in this region, especially in the smaller places, that Monday is very much a “closed” day and I was to discover that again in Metz that evening and which I shall discuss later in the entry.

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Lest we forget.

Very close to the station I came upon a memorial to those killed by the Germans in the Second World War. I found it interesting as I had never really thought about Luxembourg being much involved in that conflict which was a bit naive really given it’s location. I think I had some vague notion that it may have been neutral perhaps but obviously it suffered under the Germans like it’s neighbours.

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Having been in the Forces myself I have a great interest in military history of all periods and I will always stop for a look at a War Memorial or military cemetery partially to pay my respects and partially as you can learn a lot about previous conflicts which I find endlessly fascinating. It was therefore a foregone conclusion that when I had spotted the memorial I would pause for a look which is what I did.

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The excellent bilingual sign in Luxembourgois and French, if I have translated it correctly, informed me that plans were first mooted in 1946 for a monument to the dead although it took until 1953 to collect sufficient funds it was not unveiled until 1955. It is to the design of Joseph Conrad (not the writer obviously) and cost exactly 151,205 francs. The lighting was extra!

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Perfectly tranquil.

Headgear replaced (my lovely old bandanna) and respects paid I set off on another wander and I spied a road sign for “centre ville” which seemed like the place for me. For some reason the station is not that close to the centre but Bettembourg is not a huge place and so a 15 minute stroll had me in the middle of a delightful small town. I spied a beautifully tended smallish park with a fountain as the centrepiece and sat down on a gloriously sunny Spring day, broke out my emergency can of beer and regarded the large church adjacent which more or less dominated the skyline of the town.

 

Now drinking beer beside a tinkling fountain may seem idyllic but for a man of my age it is maybe not the brightest idea so I thought I should make a move before the situation got critical. I shall let you work that one out for yourself. I paused to speak to the huge man who was tending the gardens by sweeping up and we had a brief chat. I reckoned that I could manage a quick visit to the church before things were going to get tricky so that is what I did.

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The “Big Church” in Bettembourg.

I have mentioned in various other pieces both on this site and previously on others that I love to visit places of worship regardless of what faith they are albeit that I am an atheist. I apologise to those that have read this before but I post it for the benefit of those who may have just stumbled upon this entry somehow or another. It was inevitable therefore that when I saw the “big church”, and discovered it was open on that weekday lunchtime, that I would visit.

When I say “big Church” I mean it as it dominates the East end of the town and I was surprised at the size of it for such an apparently modest settlement. Properly known as the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin it is normally just referred to as “Eglise Bettembourg” (Bettembourg Church) or one of the language variations of this region but much more than that I am afraid I am struggling to tell the reader. When writing reviews I tend to augment my personal observations with background information from the internet but in this case I have drawn a complete blank despite the literally billions of pages on the usually useful web so I shall revert to plan A.

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If the church looks large from the outside then it appears positively huge on the inside with a very high vaulted ceiling. I think my favourite feature was the stained glass which is often the case as it is an artistic medium I am particularly fond of although the altar was pleasing as well. The Regina Angelorum (Queen of Angels) window pictured was, I think, of particular note.

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Again apologies for the quality of some of the images but I just do not feel right using flash in places of worship when there are others there as I find it disrespectful.

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As always I found the church to be a very peaceful and calming place so I spent a little while looking round and sitting in quiet contemplation before continuing on my way.

 

The small town of Bettembourg boasts an impressive array of open spaces and the park which forms the gardens of Bettembourg Castle are the largest and easily the most impressive. I reached them via a walk along the delightfully named Didlangerbach

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The wonderfully named Didlangerbach.

watercourse and across a quaint little footbridge which afforded me my first view of the castle, of which more anon. Certainly it was chilly but at least it was not raining and I took a bit of a stroll round the immaculately maintained area where, apart from several paths (all apparently fully accessible I am glad to report), I did find a few odd little things.

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Too big for my living room.

Actually, in the case of the chair pictured it was not a little thing at all but an extremely large one and I still have not worked out whether it was meant to function as “art”, a photo opportunity or something else as it was certainly too large and would have been far too dangerous to be play apparatus for children.

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Speaking of “art” I also spotted the other piece pictured which is apparently a modern sculpture but just looked like a large lump of rusting metal to me. Still, what do I know about modern art?

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The beautiful Bettembourg Castle.
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The formal gardens were beautiful as well.

In stark contrast to the crime against sculpture mentioned above, the castle itself is absolutely beautiful although it is not really a castle in the accepted sense of the term but rather an overgrown farmhouse which was first built in 1733 by a chap called Lothaire de Zievel on the site of an old 10th century fort. It was bought over by Charles Collart in 1807 and remained in that family until as late as 1971 when it was acquired by the local authority who took a typically bureaucratic 20 years to convert it into the town hall and “Administration Communale” which it remains to this day. I noticed a sign which, if I translated it correctly told me to keep out unless I had official business there and I did not think taking tourist snaps qualified as such so I had to content myself with a peek through the gate which revealed a superb building round three sides of a courtyard. I’d love to have a look inside, it must be wonderful.

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This was as far as I got.
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What a great find.

Even if you cannot get into building itself the park is well worth a visit should you ever find yourself in Bettembourg which is a trip I do recommend as an alternative to spending all your time in the capital.

 

By this point I was a) thirsty with walking in the heat in too many clothes, b) not sure how the new boots were going to treat my feet and c) pushing my luck regarding the earlier beer so I took off back in the direction of town as there did not seem to be much more heading the way I was going. I had earlier spotted the Cafe de Centenaire which looked tidy enough so I repaired there and it transpired to be an excellent choice.

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Bofferding and bar snacks.

Yes, I like a drink now and again. And again, and again…………….. The upshot of this is that I visit a lot of bars, an awful lot of bars. I reckon that during the three and a half months that this journal will hopefully eventually refer to that I visited literally hundreds and I promise I shall get round to telling you about as many of them as I can remember in due course. They were almost uniformly perfectly acceptable and I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the establishments I did not like for whatever reason. Sometimes, however, you come across a complete gem and often in the most unlikely of places and this was exactly the case with the Cafe du Centenaire in Bettembourg, which is the most wonderful of bars on so many levels.

 

In truth, there was not a huge choice as it was a Monday lunchtime in April and many businesses in this region tend to shut on that day. In a town with a population of less than ten thousand souls I doubt it would have been economically viable to open all the bars anyway.

 

Externally it is of indeterminate age but of an architectural style very typical of the region. It is very tidy and has a good sized al fresco drinking / smoking area to the front which affords an eye-catching view of the “big church” I mentioned which stands just across the street. In I went and I should mention that there are several steps up to the front door which may present difficulties for the mobility impaired as I do not know if there is step free access to the rear. I do like to mention mobility issues when I can.

 

The bar was very tidy and just slightly old-fashioned with a few vintage framed paintings on the walls. Unsurprisingly, there was only one other customer there, a little old lady with her small aperitif and equally small lapdog sitting obediently under her seat. After exchanging a civil greeting I spoke to the barmaid who either did not speak much English or was doing me the courtesy of humouring my French which was still not good but was coming along. I ordered a large Bofferding beer which is brewed less than ten miles away and I do like consuming local produce so that suited nicely. It was a little cheaper than Luxembourg City which I suppose is to be expected and was kept and served in great order as I had come to expect in the region.

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The not so humble hot dog.

After a couple of beers I actually felt a bit peckish which is unusual for me during the day and so I opted for a hot-dog from the reasonable selection of snacks, pizzas and tartes flambee on offer. It was about as far removed from the appalling offerings you get at home as it is possible to be as I hope the image conveys. It was absolutely delicious and accompanied by Luxembourgoise mustard which I had never heard of berore and, frankly, tasted the same as Dijon to my untutored palate. Still, I suppose that is hardly surprising as it is not exactly a thousand miles to that centre of mustard excellence which I will get to here eventually. At €4, it was a snip.

 

After a couple more beers I decided it was time for a wander down to the far end of the bar for a look round as I had seen what looked like a pleasant lounge area there and also noticed that it appeared to go round to the right out of my eyeline. I fancied capturing an image or two in anticipation of writing this piece. Well, what a find. It was like the resident’s lounge of a posh fin de siecle hotel with a candelabra, leather Chesterfield furniture, the whole Hollywood set, it was wonderful.

I wasn’t going to move anywhere so I returned to the bar to continue my conversation and the next thing I knew was hearing a call of “Ah, Monsieur, vous-etes ici” or something of that nature which could only have been addressed to me as I was the sole male in there. I turned to see the man mountain that is the local street sweeper who I had passed the time of day with in the churchyard earlier on and who was still togged out in his bright orange overalls. Even if I had been inclined to go elsewhere I was soon disabused of that notion as there was quickly another beer in front of me that he had apparently bought. I’ll swear that man should have been playing professional rugby rather than sweeping the streets in a small Luxembourgoise town, he certainly had the build for it. I really wish I had got a picture of us together but I was enjoying the moment too much to think of it. Still, I have the memory and had a physical reminder for a day or two as he shook my hand so heartily when he left that my knuckles felt as though theyhad been through a wringer. I am sure he did not mean it as he was, to use an old London expression, “a diamond geezer”.

 

Well, one thing led to another as it does and if I had not been just compos mentis enough to know I had to get to France that evening I might well have been there yet. Fond farewells were bid and I made a promise to return if I was ever in the area again. I shall certainly honour that promise. I know I regularly tend to wax lyrical about bars but I just cannot speak highly enough of the Cefe du Centenaire, it really is something special.

Time to get going to Metz then and so back on the train to the hotel to pick up the bag where the guy on the desk was again charming, wished me “bon voyage” and told me I would be most welcome should I return to Luxembourg. Another one of my all too many travel maxims is that any establishment, be it hotel, youth hostel, restaurant, museum, gallery, bar or whatever else is only as good as the staff and I stand by this completely. The finest place can be ruined completely by bad service and the humblest place can be made wonderful by good staff. OK, here endeth the lesson but I have to say that the staff in Hotel Yasha were friendly to a fault. Literally nothing was too much trouble for them.

 

 

Almost needless to say the journey to Metz was very comfortable in modern rolling stock although, somewhat surprisingly for this region, it was about five minutes late arriving for some reason that was undoubtedly announced but which I could not understand. Still, it is still a million times better than what we have to suffer (I use the word advisedly) and pay through the nose for in the UK.

I had taken the precaution of writing down details of how to get to the place I was staying as I do not trust technology. Rely on Google maps and your ‘phone battery dies, where are you? I had read reports online for the place I had booked complaining that it was “too far out of town”, “a bit remote” etc. What utter drivel. Even dragging a rollalong case with me it took no more than 20 minutes from the station and included a walk over the delightful bridge that you can see in the image above which eventually landed me in a very quiet residential area. When I say quiet, I really mean it as I reckon I could have safely lain down and slept in the middle of the road I was staying on because there was zero traffic.

 

I arrived at a huge house, and I mean huge, rang the bell as the booking had instructed me to and was immediately greeted by a most charming middle aged lady who spoke not a word of English but I was fairly undaunted by this point with my basic French returning. I was directed to my room which was a converted attic and therefore on the fourth floor which did make it a bit of a trek with my back hurting a little and humping the luggage but it was well worth it. What a gem of a place. I’ll not go into it in too much detail as this entry is going on a bit so I shall do it in the next instalment.

Kit duly dumped and it was off to explore the delights of Metz. I

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My “home” in Metz.

asked the lovely lady of the house where there was a nearby bar / cafe and she had told me. I found it no problem but it was shut. I kept walking and must have walked past at least five more closed bars which is something of a major tragedy for me. As in Bettembourg earlier in the day, Metz just closes on a Monday and you will struggle to find anything open. I must have rambled round for a couple of miles and could not find a single place open for a beer. I did go into a kebab shop but obviously no drink there as I believe they were Muslim or possibly just not licensed for it. Keep walking Fergy and something will turn up, I was trusting to the travel Gods at this point.

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The new Ethiopian flag.

I am happy to say that the travel Gods have generally been very good to me and so it was that I discovered the Delanta restaurant. It was very evidently an Ethiopian place, the flag on the wall was the clue there and it was completely empty save for a woman behind the bar who was obviously totally bored and doing something on her computer.

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This is what I wanted, the Ethiopian photos were a bonus.

Enquiring, more in hope than expectation, if a beer was possible I was told that it certainly was. Well, that was your humble narrator settled for the night. The beer was of the bottled variety and a major international brand I am not overly fond of but it was beer. I was damned if I was going to pay €7 for a 33cl. bottle of imported Ethiopian stuff, no matter how good and authentic it may have been.

 

The restaurant was small, there were only the two of us there, no TV or other distractions so what else to do but make conversation which is proper order anyway in a bar in my opinion? The lady, who turned out to be the wife of the proprieter, had not a word of English and yet we had a most jovial two or three hours conversing in French. As I have mentioned I only learned to a basic level but being in Francophone countries seemed to revive it all from the dark and distant nethermost regions of my brain.

 

It was yet another wonderful experience after the earlier tragedy of having to ditch my trusty old boots (see earlier journal entry for the full story of that) and did lift my spirits considerably. The lady was utterly charming and was indeed Ethiopian, taught me about the difference from the old Ethiopian flag (which I recognised) and the new one (which I did not recognise) amongst a host of other subjects. She asked me if I wanted to dine but as usual I had no appetite and promised her to return on the morrow, which I did to brilliant effect as will be noted in a later journal entry. I left the place long after normal closing time as I bought the proprietress a couple of beers and the conversation seemed to flow. It was just one of those nights and, again, one of the reasons I travel. A brilliant memory.

Update October 2019.

I do like to keep my posts here as up to date as possible and it is with a genuine sense of regret that I have to report that, according to the internet, this wonderful restaurant is now closed.  Quel dommage as they say in those parts.  This piece (and a subsequent one) will remain a treasured travel memory for me.

 

After what had been a pretty full day both emotionally (the boots again!), travel-wise and with new experiences, not to mention the beer, it was quite surprising that I found my “digs” in a small residential street, never mind climb the four floors in darkness but I did. I even had the presence of mind to take some images of the place before totally “Fergying” it and then crashed out for a great night’s sleep.

Those that know me or have read this journal from the start know that I suffer from sleep disorder so that was a very welcome thing. As they say here, I slept “comme un bebe” (like a baby) and so here ends the day.  Have a look and see what you think of my digs.

 

 

 

 

In the next instalment I manage to discover Metz when it is open so stay tuned and spread the word.

Disaster strikes.

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I loved this funky little car with the crazy numberplate.

The 23rd of April was another day for doing not a whole pile of very much for a very good and ultimately very depressing reason. When I had been walking the previous day, I had noticed a strange slapping noise every time I took a step and upon checking it turned out that the sole of my right walking boot had detached itself from the upper.

This was quite a problem as they were my only outdoor footwear although I had bought a pair of flip-flops (thongs / slippers) for hostel use on the way. I had attempted running repairs with no less than four tubes of very strong adhesive but that had lasted about three hours and as many miles by which time all the shops were shut. The 23rd was a Sunday and the whole area was effectively closed down.

It was freezing cold so the flip-flops were definitely not an option and therefore I was effectively confined to about a three or four hundred yard radius of the hotel. Not only were none of the shops open but most of the pubs were shut as well although I eventually found one or two and also discovered a new beer which is always pleasing to me. It is called Diekirch, is a pils and is brewed in the town of that name which is a few miles North of Luxembourg City. It is really rather good and I unsurprisingly developed quite a taste for it.

I did take a few images to show what type of area it is which is a touch seedy as I have mentioned before. I quite enjoyed it there though.

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The sign was only 17 years out of date at this point.

As I hope you have read in previous instalments I had taken myself on several evening rambles and visited several great little bars where I had certainly had some interesting experiences but for some reason I had managed to miss the Cafe 2000. This was unusual as it was literally across the road from my hotel door. Truth be told, I could have thrown a stone from my hotel room and probably smashed the bar window it was that close. Well, my omission needed to be rectified and it was.

I took myself in there after a well deserved lie-in and it really was situation normal for bars in the Low Countries which this journal started off being although it gets a bit silly later. I walked past four guys outside smoking and into a completely empty bar. Certainly, I had to retreat outside for a smoke later on and had a bit of a friendly word with them but what was most apparent was that none of them were what I would have described as indigenous Luxembourgois. This really is an immigrant area with people from the Eastern Mediterranean and central Africa predominant. Doesn’t bother me, I travel a bit and I had long since sussed the sort of area I was in.

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That’s what I came for.

I went up to the bar and ordered a Diekirch beer. I had noted that bars in Luxembourg were divided into two camps, Diekirch and Bofferding. I am by inclination a cider drinker and lagers all taste much the same to me but if you put a gun to my head I would have to say that I marginally prefer the Bofferding although there is little to choose between them. I suppose the choice depends upon whatever brewery they are “tied” to as UK landlords refer to it.

There really is little to say about the bar. It is modern, functional, spotlessly clean, has great service, immaculate facilities and well-kept and served beer. What more would a man want? Well, a little atmosphere would have been nice but it was early afternoon on a very chilly April Sunday and the football (soccer) which is so popular here was not on until the evening. I suspect it got a lot busier later on. The server was charm personified and even put up with my totally execrable French which was almost unbelievably getting a bit better but still nowhere up to par.

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Another one to try.

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Like the nearby Bar 2000 the Brasserie Marionette was another cafe / bar which I had managed to miss thus far and was close enough to my hotel to make it viable with my dodgy footwear. Believe me, I was trying very hard to visit them all but there were rather a lot to get through and I had remarkably only got here on my penultimate day despite it being literally three minutes walk from my hotel. For those in transit, I should mention that it is no more than two minutes walk from the main railway station and infinitely more pleasant than the type of overpriced soulless watering holes you find in transport hubs the world over.

Other than it’s excellent location there is little to say about the Marionette that I haven’t said already in numerous pieces about the bars in the Low Countries as they seem to be of a uniformly high standard. It was perhaps a bit more upmarket than many of the other local establishments but certainly not pretentious. It was empty when I visited on a Sunday early afternoon which slightly surprised me as I thought the locals would be out enjoying a drink on a day off work but at least it led to prompt and friendly service. The server even humoured me by talking to me in the schoolboy French I had ventured. It is the norm here that servers suss you immediately and switch straight to English but I got to practice a little bit here which I most certainly needed.

I have mentioned before that bars in Luxembourg fall into two beer camps, either Diekriek or Bofferding and this one was in the Diekirch camp. Certainly, there were other beers, both draught and a good selection of bottled, on offer but my draught Diekirch was well kept and served as always in this region. There is little more to say about this place really other than it is yet another very decent clean and tidy little bar in an area that certainly has more than it’s fair share.

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It will be no secret to those who know me and possibly those who have read my admittedly meagre offerings on this site that I have the appetite of a very small bird. Looking back as I wrote this I reckoned I had consumed one appalling burger and one excellent panzerotti (look up my previous instalment if you don’t know what it is, I didn’t) over a period of about four or five days. I was therefore taken a bit peckish on this Sunday evening and so what to eat? There were certainly no shortage of choices in the area I was staying in but I have mentioned that my rather pleasant hotel was Turkish run and had it’s own restaurant on the ground floor so that looked like a fairly obvious choice especially as precariously shod as I was.

 

Having glanced in the window on various occasions I knew it was very much set up as a takeaway sort of operation but there was a pretty large area of tables as well, nothing special but certainly tidy and comfortable enough. I went to the counter and asked, in fairly dog rough French, if I could sit for a meal. Certainly, “pas un problem” and so I ordered myself a beer and picked a table where I could watch the football (soccer) on TV. I already knew it was a Turkish place and this was confirmed by the fact that they had Turkish football on the telly although that was somewhat marred by the fact that the satellite kept dropping out every five minutes as you can hopefully see in one of the attached images. If you are intent on watching Galatasaray vs. Fenerbache then forget it as you will be sorely disappointed.

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The takeaway did most of the business.

I could not stand the thought of another burger after my previous debacle in Luxembourg and, much as I love a well made one, the thought of a kebab did not appeal so I thought I would have a “proper” meal and had ordered a chop with chips (fries) which came up within about ten minutes. I know it was freshly cooked as they would not have had a chop sitting about under the lights and the chips nearly burnt the mouth off me, obviously straight out of the fryer. The whole was completed by a good slaw portion of predominantly red cabbage and not swimming in dressing which is just how I like.

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This was really tasty. Proper Med food.

I have not been to Turkey which is an omission I intend to rectify soon but I have spent a lot of time in the Eastern Meditteranean where the cuisine is much the same and I can tell the reader that this was very good. A good dollop of tomato ketchup for the chips completed the thing nicely. No, no fancy sauces, no veloutes, no jus, nothing like that. It was just a meal of good simple food well prepared and I devoured the lot including picking up and gnawing on the bone. Impolite I know but there was nobody else there and it was gorgeous.

I know that my eating habits are fairly odd but for those with a normal appetite and who like that type of cuisine, this place is a winner. Apart from the usual burger / kebab menu they have a fairly extensive range of other dishes on offer. The surroundings are comfortable without being flash, the prices are good as is the friendly service. What more do you need?

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Yet another “new best friend”.  She was crazier than me!

After dinner, it was time for a few more local beers and I even managed to make yet another “new best friend” whose sense of fun was in completely inverse proportion to her size. She was tiny but a great laugh and yet again I amazed myself by conducting the whole conversation in French. It really was all coming back to me, whatever small vocabulary I may have had in the first place.

And so to bed, as they say, to await the morrow and the opening of the shoe shop. To discover if I end up barefoot in Luxembourg stay tuned and spread the word!

A day in the Grand Duchy.

 

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I woke up here (the kebab shop features later).

The 22nd April came and I did not suffer from a ridiculously early internal wake up call so took to the streets at a decent hour (after a breakfast beer or two obviously) and it was time for a decent wander round. It transpired to be another absolutely wonderful day. This totally unscripted trip was just getting better and better, there is undoubtedly something to be said for this style of travelling. Let me tell you first about the Hotel Yasha where I woke up.

Whilst looking about on the websites I was using whilst booking ahead on this trip and which cater to the more budget end of the market one place had suggested itself almost immediately, the Hotel Yasha. It appealed to me for price and also it’s proximity to the train station. I like to walk to my lodgings when I have been travelling rather than start trying to mess about with public transport I don’t know or taxis that may well attempt to rip me off. Location wise it was absolutely spot on and literally five minutes walk in a straight line from the front door of the station even with my admittedly light luggage.

As I alluded to in the previous instalment, the location is a bit of a double-edged sword. Whilst it is brilliant in relation to the station that puts it in an area that is a little bit lively to say the least as you pass at least one strip joint in that short journey and you can see a sex shop a little further on. I find that the environs of major railway stations tend to be like that. If you go out, especially after dark there are sundry “ladies of negotiable affection” on street corners and small groups of young African men who will offer you drugs. The local bars can be a little colourful as well. I should stress that I became very fond of the area in the short time I was there as it is just my kind of place and I mention this purely for the benefit of those who may not be so self-confident in unfamiliar surroundings after dark. I never felt threatened, especially not in the hotel itself with 24 hour reception and so on.

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The hotel is very much in the Low Countries style i.e. there is nothing to speak of on the ground floor in the way of communal areas but rather it is built above commercial premises. I walked up to the desk along a pretty nondescript passage enlivened only by a few travel posters which suggested to me that the establishment was Turkish run which later turned out to be the case. It is built above a rather good Turkish restaurant owned by the same people and which is will feature later in this journal. I should mention that food smells from the restaurant were never an issue.

I spoke to the very friendly lady on reception who apparently had limited English but disappeared and reappeared about a minute later with a man (her husband I believe) who had perfect English, confirmed my reservation and allocated me my room. The friendliness was to be a feature of my stay there and the various staff were never short of local information or even just a cheery greeting as I came and went, even when I used to wake the poor old night porter up at some appalling hours! On the day I left, they were quite happy to stow my kit for the day even after I checked out as my train was not until the evening. I am a firm believer that any business is only as good as the staff and Yasha keeps the bar high on that score.

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Upstairs I went and found out I was facing the front which could have potentially been a problem on a street that is so busy especially at night but, as with the chance of food smells from below, it was never an issue. Considering I was paying not a lot more than I had been paying in hostels in the region I was very well pleased. Although I had only booked a single I had a double and the bed was more than enough for my somewhat lanky frame. As an added bonus it was fairly firm which I know may not be to everyone’s taste but certainly suited my pretty messed up back.

The bathroom was pretty small and of the shower only / no bath variety but I prefer showers so again it suited me nicely. There was piping hot water at a good pressure on demand at any hour, a TV, decent little writing desk area and even a safe.

The room was made up daily and kept immaculate. It was absolutely ideal and to be so central in what is not a budget city I thought it was a complete bargain.

Let’s go for a walk.

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I only had one problem the whole day and that was with an absolutely vertiginous bridge over the gorge that seems to bisect the city. I genuinely felt queasy walking over it and, later in the evening, got a taxi home as I really could not face it again. Yes, I know it is pathetic but I cannot do exposed heights and the sight of young couples taking “selfies” there literally made me feel unwell.

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A monument to the Duchy Guard post WWII.

Having navigated the bridge, what I did find was a most beautiful old town, largely spared apparently from the depredations of the Germans in the last World War. For those who have not visited the region, this is pretty unusual as the Germans destroyed just about everything and finding a medieval city more or less intact is a real bonus.

I shall intersperse this narrative with some of the many images I took which I trust will give you a sense of how appealing the city is.

 

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You can ride the tourist train if you like…….

Although I love walking and was quite happy to do my exploration on foot, there were a couple of alternative means of transport available. There was the “tourist train” which visits all the major sights.

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……….or you can ride a bike.

 

There is also a point to point bicycle hire system similar to the one we have in London that is nicknamed “Boris Bikes” after Boris Johnson, the then Lord Mayor, who brought them in.

Let me introduce you now to some of the more interesting places I visited.

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Place du Theatre.

Whilst on my fairly aimless wander round Luxembourg City to see what could be seen I came upon the very pleasant Place du Theatre which is a delightful public space boasting numerous cafes and bars although it was still a bit too chilly for al fresco drinking for me.

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Dancing statues.

What caught my eye immediately was the group of life-sized statues you can see in the images representing a troupe of medieval dancers and musicians and, if I am not mistaken, even a fire-eater. The impression of movement was quite striking and I half expected them to start dancing and playing at any moment.

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A medieaval Fergy perhaps. Bet he knows more chords than I do!

Obviously my favourite was the lute player as that is the nearest thing to a guitar which was not in general musical use at that time. I swear the stance rendered by the sculptor was straight heavy rock.  That could be Scott Gorham or Zoltan Bathory.  I know it was a Saturday afternoon when I visited but the place was literally teeming with people and the biggest problem was to try to get an image without people draping themselves over the statues or posing in front of them. It took me quite a while to get the images I did so I do hope you think it was worth it.

Although I did not look particularly hard I could find no indication as to who the sculptor was and even months later after diligent internet searching I am still none the wiser. If any reader can assist me I would be most grateful. Whoever they are, they are to be congratulated on a fine piece.

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Medieval breakdancing perhaps?

Statues can often be a bit sterile but I really did enjoy these.

Close by the statues I came upon a phenomenon that I had not seen before either in Europe or even further afield. In the middle of the busy square was something that I can only describe as looking like a chiller cabinet in a shop but instead of milk, eggs, cheese and the like it was full of books. I really had to go and investigate.

 

As best I could understand it, and I do hope I have this right, it was a book exchange. From what I could make of the notice on the front (which was helpfully in English as well as Luxembourgoise) the idea was that you just took a book, read it and brought it back or swapped it for another one. What a simple and brilliant idea and most heartening in it’s trust as I know exactly what would happen to such a device in London but it appeared to be totally untouched. For a reasonably major European city that surprised me a little but it did hearten me.

As far as I can tell you do not need any sort of token or card to access the Bicherschaf as they seem to be called and I would certainly have been tempted were there any English language books and if I had been in a position to return it which I knew I wasn’t as I was constantly on the road at that point but I did thoroughly mentally applaud the idea, what a brilliant concept.

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Eglise St. Alphonse

After another very short stroll I chanced upon what I now know to be the Eglise St. Alphonse and something just didn’t look quite right about it. Certainly I am no architect but it seemed to me that with the length of the building the twin towers were, frankly, a little stubby. It was only much later whilst researching the building that I found out the reason. When the Church was being planned in the mid 19th century the Prussians ruled here and for some reason, probably to do with Lutheran doctrine, they refused the original plans with much taller towers.

 

Still, this slightly architectural quirk was not going to stop me investigating and I have mentioned often before here on various sites that I am drawn to places of worship like a moth to a flame. I do not know what it is as I am an atheist myself and I do not mind which God(s) are being worshipped there, I just find them fascinating.

Having only been consecrated on the day of the saint for which it is named in 1869 it lacks the grandeur of some of the fine older cathedrals in the region but it still has a certain charm and I did rather like it.

 

I was particularly drawn to the stained glass which is a particular favourite artistic medium of mine, be it sacred or secular. There are some fine examples here with many of the principal saints depicted and St. Andrew with his distinctively shaped cross is particularly noticeable. There must have been a good number of worshippers / visitors here earlier that day as there was a sea of votive candles burning.

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Votive candles.

Again, I return to another travel mantra of mine which is that I learn so much about places not merely by visiting them but by researching reviews like this afterwards and what I learned about Eglise St. Alphonse is that it is very much an international Church. This stems back to the 1950’s when a small Coal and Steel Union was formed which, after many changes, has led us to the Federal States of E aka the EU comprising nearly 30 nations, soon to be one less. Obviously the spiritual needs of those coming in from all over the Continent, not to mention further afield, needed to be cared for and St. Alphonse became the centre for international Roman Catholic worship. There are large English, Italian and French speaking groups but also those from much further afield with notable contributions from countries as far apart as the Philippines and Malta. Apparently a recent survey showed worshippers from no less than 50 countries attending a Sunday morning mass. In these days when Christianity is in fairly terminal decline in my country I found this very impressive. It is not my gig for sure but it is impressive nonetheless.

 

As I mentioned above, this church is not one of the grand places of worship like Aachen or Canterbury or wherever but it is not hard to find and it is definitely worth a look.

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Very much more than adequate.

Naturally, all this sightseeing was making me a bit thirsty as it tends to do. I wandered back to the Place du Theatre where the wonderful statues were and where I had noticed one bar of the many on offer which was called L’Adequat. I have just found out that this translates as “adequate” from the French and it was certainly much more than that but interestingly it translates as “the right thing” from Catalan. I do not suggest for one minute that it was named from the Catalan although the attached website boasts no less than five languages spoken here as you might expect in such a very cosmopolitan city but it certainly felt like the right thing to me.

 

I wandered in to the bar where my pretty poor attempts at French were merely responded to in perfect English by the very friendly chap behind the jump. C’est la vie, I was never going to learn French at this rate.  A large Bofferding was ordered, it being the local brew and very drinkable, and I took up station by the window to watch the comings and goings and which is a pastime I take great pleasure in.

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Quirky but pleasant.

 

 

The bar was modern and with a fairly eclectic policy regarding decor although it all worked very well. The roof decoration which looked like a cross between a band lighting rig and Kew Gardens hanging from the ceiling was particularly of note.

I was surprised at how quiet it was although this may be partially explained by my research for this review which suggests it does not open until 1800 on Saturday. I can assure the reader I was there at about 1500, I don’t wait that long for a beer! With the first one having gone down so well, a second was obviously called for and a bit more of a look round. The entire premises was spotless and apparently not long refurbished, the seating was comfortable and it was a very pleasant sojourn. I was paying a little bit more for my beer than in the slightly rougher area I was staying in down by the station but not ludicrously so and it was to be expected.

 

I would suggest that this is more brasserie than bar with food taking the centre stage and they were offering assorted cheeses and cold cuts when I was there but they were also promoting food in the evening which I think is their main business. They offer a set meal between 1200 – 1430 @ €13 which in this part of town is very good value for this type of establishment and they have specials on every night as well as a full a la carte menu (note they are closed on Sunday).

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Pleasant but no good for mobility.

If I have one slight complaint about L’Adequat, and I may be mistaken here, it is that the “facilities” were down a spiral staircase which would make it a complete non-starter for a mobility impaired person. Even carrying a baby for a nappy change could be tricky. I have no idea if they have alternative facilities as I did not ask but other than the potential mobility issue this is a wonderful friendly bar in a superb location and highly recommended.

Eventually I dragged myself out of L’Adequat and despite having seen a number of excellent eateries I had not eaten all day.  I just fancied a quick snack as I made my way back to the hotel. As I tend to do, I walked straight past the MacDonald’s as I really don’t like them and into the almost adjacent Quick Burger.

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I know now why it was empty.

My alarm bells should have been ringing when I saw the place was almost completely deserted at just after nine o’clock on a Saturday evening and yet I carried on. I ordered a Giant burger and a beer which came up in about ten seconds flat which should have been another warning sign to me as Heaven knows how long the burger had been sitting there, it certainly was not freshly prepared.

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At least there was beer!

I do love the concept of getting a beer with a burger which I think is most civilised and a practice I wish we would adopt in my country.

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Pretty average really.

To the table then and opened the box which brought a bit of a surprise as the burger was encased not only in the standard box but in a cardboard ring the purpose of which I can only guess at but was probably to stop the salad disintegrating as it sat festering under the lights. Have these people never heard of the rain forest? How much wasted cardboard? Green it most certainly was not.

OK, the top of the bun looked vaguely edible so now for the acid test, what did it taste like? Having fished it out of it’s secondary holder I took a bite and regretted it as it obviously was not fresh and not particularly tasty either. If the idea of the cardboard ring was to protect the salad then it had failed miserably in it’s job. In the interests of fair reporting, the burger sauce was very tasty and the beer was pleasantly cold but those are the only positives I can find about this place.

Certainly at about €10 in this very central area of what is not a cheap city it is an inexpensive option for those on a strict budget but I would suggest that there are much better options available. Maybe a Big Mac might have been a plan after all.

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Find me a bar, that burger was appalling.
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That’s what I needed.

I had a couple more beers in random bars and then grabbed a taxi for the shortish journey home as I really could not face walking over that bridge again and off to bed for another excellent kip which was becoming a very pleasurable habit.

It had been a great day and there is much more to come so stay tuned and spread the word!

Another day, another country.

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A last look at Liege.

On now swiftly to the 21st and this was now becoming more than a little crazy even by my lunatic standards. A putative four day trip, with appropriate kit for that duration had now gone over two weeks and I still had no desire to go home, I just wanted to keep going. I was starting to question my own sanity by this point but pourqoui non (why not?) as they say in these parts? I am not married, have no children and no responsibilities at home so I can effectively travel as much as I like. I have an annual travel insurance policy, my flat will look after itself as all the bills are paid directly from the bank. I have a modest income from a pension which is enough to keep me on the road if I keep the costs down (this was turning out to be a very expensive run) and I could just keep going until I don’t feel like it any more.

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Liege is a beautiful city and I had a bit of a wander round including several very good bars. However, in the way my mind (if indeed I have one) was working then, I had decided that Luxembourg was close. I wanted to visit there for no better reason than I had never been so why not? I’d had a shower so I didn’t smell too bad, I had a few (very few) clothes, a debit card and a few €€€ in my pocket, so let’s go.

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Back to the station……….
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……..one last arty image in Belgium and……….
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…..off we go again.

I scored a cheap hotel online in Luxembourg city, jumped on a train and just kept on running. Again, the train was my friend and deposited me bang on time in the beautiful Luxembourg station in very comfortable fashion. I have to say that what passes for a British railway system has much to learn.

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It was a short walk to my hotel which, being in the station district, was in what I would call a fairly edgy area. I saw gangs of black youths on street corners and had to front out a couple (nothing major), there were obvious prostitutes standing about and the street my hotel was on “boasted” one pole dancing club and two sex shops. However, I have lived in London for a long time, know how to look after myself and am not worried by the sex trade nor silly little boys strutting. I have seen far too much of both before. Frankly, and completely off topic, I would prefer to sit and have a drink with a few prostitutes than a few lawyers. At least the prostitutes are honest about taking your money!

I digress, as always and I shall tell you all about the Hotel Yasha in the next instalment.

 

So, I had arrived in Luxembourg and obviously I was going to have to investigate the local area. I did not fancy going too far that first evening as it had been a long day but a few minutes walk through a slightly seedy area which offered even more strip clubs and sex shops brought me to what looked like a half decent little bar called the Cafe – Brasserie Garer Stuff. It was unpretentious, although clean and tidy, quite busy with local people and just exactly my sort of place. I called for a beer which was one of the local brews (Bofferding if memory serves) which is a fine beer albeit I had been somewhat spoiled by the myriad offerings of Belgium.

The lady behind the bar was terribly friendly and we managed to get by in my pretty abysmal French in which I was getting probably too confident for my ability and her English which was of about the same level so I did not feel so bad. There were a few fairly raucous outbursts from several tables of middle aged men but she assured me it was nothing to worry about and so it proved, merely a bit of boisterous behaviour and nothing intimidating. Although the Garer Stuff had a certain edge to it which I love and actively seek out, I certainly never felt in the slightest threatened there on the several visits I made.

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Great beer but a little small for me.
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Now that’s more like it!

Unusually for me I was a little hungry and this being a Friday night it was Panzerotti night. What in the name of all that is holy is a panzerotti, I had never heard of one? It sounded to me vaguely like a WWII German main battle tank built by the Ferrari factory.  If you know what one is I do apologise and if not then please allow me to explain. A panzerotti is basically like a small calzone which is deep fried rather than oven baked, simple as that. I had seen several other people having them and they looked delicious so I ordered up one and it was utterly gorgeous and very good value at about €4 in what is not a cheap city.

Hopefully on the principle that a picture paints a thousand words my images here will give some idea. With my miniscule appetite it was more than enough for an evening meal and the perfect bar snack to accompany the excellently served beer. I should mention that this is not the only food on offer and there is a full menu of much more substantial food available throughout the day. Nothing overly fancy, just good “beer soakers” as we used to call them.

Yes, this place is in one of the rougher quarters of town. Yes, it can get a little lively although never worryingly so. Yes, it is fairly basic and yes, I love the place. This is effectively me in my element. Garer Stuff is hugely recommended if you think like I do but well worth a look even if you are a little more genteel as you will certainly come to no harm.

After a few more beers of the gargantuan size shown in the image above I headed back to the hotel to get my head down and had a great nights sleep.

I return to an earlier theme here. I hadn’t set foot in a museum, art gallery or place of worship nor indulged in any other tourist activity so was it a wasted day? Never. I had arrived in a new country (remarkably I’d never been to Luxembourg before ), hung out with the locals, rediscovered that I could actually speak basic French, had a very enjoyable time all round and I was still on the road. How bad can that be? I have a great life which I appreciate fully and I still had no idea where this little jaunt was going to end up.

More of the Duchy in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.