Again, I am going to take a bit of a leap into the unknown here and try to post a gallery of images. On my wander round Metz on my last day there I went a bit crazy with the camera and took far more images than it seemed prudent to fit into the main blog entry for the day as I do value your scrolling fingers, dear readers. I have seen a gallery function here so I am going to try to do just that and see how it goes.
Metz is a beautiful city and there are so many things to see, it really is just one long photo opportunity. There will be little in the way of captions or text as I do not know what half the buildings were but I hope you enjoy the images and again apologies for the quality as my little compact camera was not exactly in peak condition.
Well, I hope this has worked and that you have enjoyed my efforts with the lens.
The 26th was planned for another move, this time to Nancy but yet again I had checked the train timetables and found them to be frequent and running late in the evening and so I negotiated with my charming landlady to deposit my case with her as I went for another ramble round Metz.
This was inevitably accompanied by a few “pit stops” on the way including a thing I rarely do. I went in to the Shannon “Irish” bar right in the middle of town.
I generally do not like so-called Irish bars as they are usually so fake and bear no resemblance to what I was used to as a young man in Northern Ireland and so what prompted me to pop into The Shannon I really do not know. I suppose I just fancied a beer.
I could have described this place to you before I ever went in the door as it is constructed from the identikit Disney concept of what an Irish pub is like. It had all the requisite advertising like Guinness posters, Beamish signs and some Bushmills whiskey promo stuff although bizarrely the huge bottle featured in the centre of the top shelf was Jack Daniel’s with a Bushmills sign hanging off the optic. There were the several obligatory large screen televisions showing sport, the dartboard and they even had a pinball machine. It was all depressingly predictable.
Whilst I don’t like the concept at all I have no complaints about the bar per se as it was clean and well-maintained, including the “facilities” when I had occasion to use them. The service was quick and friendly enough. Very deliberately avoiding Guinness I ordered a large beer of whatever generic international brand they were selling, Heineken if memory serves, and this is where I really decided I was not going to spend long here.
Yes, I know The Shannon has a very central location on one of the main streets in town. Yes, I know it is a “theme” bar and I would expect to pay a little more for my beer but what they charged me was ludicrous. I cannot now remember the exact sum but it was considerably more than I was paying elsewhere, even in the centre. A complete ripoff all round.
Apart from my imbibing escapades, I did manage to see a beautiful city centre garden with a fantastic water feature, a fine old city gate (now standing alone with no walls), some interesting statues and as much charming old architecture as you could wave a stick at. I do hope the attached images do it some sort of justice.
Reclaiming my baggage from the wonderful place that I was quite reluctant to leave, it was time for me to be back on the road, still with no plan other than a vague notion to head South in search of some sun, which had been in short supply all through this trip.
A walk back to the station or “gare” as my increasingly French-speaking mind was calling it, stopping to examine a poignant memorial to those deported from here by the Germans and then another punctual and very comfortable trip to Nancy, one more city I had never visited.
Arriving in Nancy by train in the early evening I had my route to my hotel planned and written down (I cannot manage all this ‘phone technology like maps) and had intended to go straight to the hotel, dump the kit and get out and about but, in the words of Robert Burns, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley”. In my case the plan, such as it was, foundered on the rock of the Ambassy Cafe and I blame it on Richard Mique. If, like me at that point, you have no idea who M. Mique was, he was the architect of the magnificent Porte Stanislas which I shall come to in a later instalment of this journal. I had stopped to admire his work when my eye was drawn to an establishment literally adjacent proclaiming itself to be Brasserie Ambassy which looked inviting (don’t they all?). Well, a quick one wouldn’t hurt, would it?
I dragged my little case past a group of younger people outside smoking in the pleasant al fresco area to the front and it was clear from the sweet smell on the air that there was more than Gitanes being smoked there. It is not particularly my gig although I have no problem with it and I merely mention it as if it is not to you liking then you may want to swerve this place. It definitely is a young hangout although I never felt out of place at all in my several visits, despite my advancing years.
I was just looking for a beer and so ordered a large glass of the “house” lager which turned out to be SAS pils which I had never heard of but subsequent research shows to be from a Belgian brewery dating back to the 16th century. The Belgians know a thing or two about brewing and this was a fine brew which also transpired to be the cheapest beer I drank in Nancy, indeed probably most of France. I really don’t know how they can sell it that cheaply.
I have to say that service was a little slow but this is not a criticism of the friendly staff who were going as hard as they could, it was just that the place was absolutely rammed that evening. I suspect it might have been some sort of “student night” or whatever and it also made finding a seat difficult but I managed it eventually which gave me a chance to have a bit of a look round. The word that sprang to mind then, and still did when writing this some months later, was cosy as it really fits the bill. They have sourced some of the comfiest chairs I have ever set my posterior on in a bar and I have been in a few!
In an act of willpower not normally associated with me I left after one but with a mental note to return which I did several times, I really did like this place. My return in the afternoon of the next day found the bar much less crowded but none the less welcoming and I spent some time there doing nothing but drinking beer and watching the world not so much go by as sit and enjoy themselves as well. There is something about the Ambassy that is just very comfortable, I would say a “je ne sais quoi” and I am going to descend further into this French farce by saying that it has an ambience that most other bars can only aspire to. OK, that is the appalling linguistic nonsense hopefully out of the way.
Dragging myself reluctantly away from the Ambassy I headed for my hotel, the New York, which was about half a mile away. This was OK for me as I was travelling very light but it would be a bit of a trek with heavy luggage. It was just as well I arrived when I did as the reception keeps very erratic hours but do not ask me exactly what they are as there are two signs displayed in the front windows showing different times and the website, which I have attached purely out of interest, is dated 2010 and therefore of limited use if any. Entry at other times is by means of access code.
The receptionist was friendly and efficient and directed me to my room which entailed lugging the case up the stairs as there is no lift which may present a problem for the mobility impaired. I do not know if there is an accessible room on the ground floor and anyway there are a couple of steps up to the front door and again, I do not know if there is a separate mobility accessible entrance. I subsequently found out that I was lucky that I had found the receptionist as I very rarely saw one there even during whatever the opening hours were supposed to be.
I had booked the room on the basis of price and location and it was about what I would have expected in this area at €55 per night for an ensuite single occupancy although it was actually a double room so that meant that the comfy bed was easily big enough for me. The ensuite was a shower which produced plenty of hot water at a reasonable pressure on demand and the wifi had a reasonable signal so all in all the room was fine. It was pretty basic but clean enough. The only slight problem was that it was to the front which did lead to a little road noise in the evenings as this is a very lively street and this leads me on to my next point.
The hotel is situated in an area that is very predominantly immigrant and contains many ethnic restaurants and shops which suits me fine. The only reason I mention this is that there are usually groups of young men standing about on street corners and behaving in a fashion that some people might find intimidating. I must admit I liked the vibe round the area and it was easy walking distance to the centre and the main sights but I feel it only fair to point it out.
I took myself for a walk and although I restricted myself to the immediate area, I did fond a couple of great bars and then I did a thing that some of you may consider unforgiveable.
Picture the scene. There I am, rambling fairly aimlessly further and further into France which is arguably the culinary capital of the world. It even gives so much to do with cooking it’s vocabulary, not least the term haute cuisine. Think all the way back to Escoffier and up to today with the Roux dynasty, Raymond Blanc, Alain Ducasse, the list is endless and I have to say here that chefs are up there in my estimation with great musicians, sportsmen and all the rest. Yes, I am a completely unrepentent foodie who will happily watch ten year old episodes of Masterchef on Youtube even when I have seen them before. I love cooking although I am merely competent at it but to my knowledge I have not poisoned anyone yet.
On this first evening in Nancy I had gone for a wander about and passed some fine looking restaurants and brasseries, drank in a few cafes and bars that seemed to be serving up some lovely looking food and had not eaten a bite all day, so what happened? Literally 50 yards from my hotel I spied a kebab / burger shop open, La Patate Gourmande, and that was it. I wasn’t really hungry but nothing would do except a burger. I know it is appalling.
Trapped in the indecision of another fine menu.
I went in, ordered my burger and had a look round what was a very clean and not unpleasant “restaurant”with the obligatory football on the large screen TV whilst my “gourmet meal” was prepared. At least it was prepared fresh and not sitting under lights, they had taken the care to griddle the bun and the salad was fresh. No big deal, nice burger after I had had a few beers and a fairly tiring day but the whole thing didn’t end there as I reckon that in a five night stay in this wonderful French city with restaurants literally every 20 yards apart in the area I was staying that this is the only place I ate. Crazy, I know.
On another occasion I fancied a kebab although just a snack so it was the small doner. Firstly, the meat was beautifully cooked and neither burnt nor dripping grease as such fare normally is in the UK where kebabs are the preserve of late night drunks. I freely admit I was a late night drink but I still appreciate quality.
Second were the potatoes which I must admit surprised me and much of this may be to do with language. People from North America refer to fries which is a contraction of French fries and are those ludicrously thin things as served by global conglomerates that I shall not name here. In UK we eat chips which word North Americans would understand as things that come out of a sealed bag (confusing isn’t it?) but in this establishment it was what I would understand as sauteed potatoes back at home and they were utterly divine, I mean it. How good can a sauteed potato really be? The simple answer is this good.
Lastly was the method of serving which consisted of a tray covered in a paper towel and the kebab (in a nicely grilled pitta this time), the superb potatoes by whatever name you wish to call them and a most wonderful sauce that I can only describe as being something like a cross between a Marie Rose and a burger sauce, it was beautiful. Certainly saves on the washing up. I should mention that on yet another occasion I ordered the assiette of doner which did actually come on a plate with the same beautifully cooked meat and potatoes and a selection of whatever sauces I fancied, I think chilli and garlic were the options that night.
With a bellyful of beer and “junk” food that was far from junk, it was a short walk home to bed and another sound sleep.
I’ll take you for a look round Nancy in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.
I awoke on the 25th April very well rested in my most beautiful studio flat so first let me tell you about this outstanding accommodation and it’s slightly unusual name.
I had only booked the Studette du Graoully through a website the day previous to my arrival and through a series of emails I knew that I would not be able to gain entrance to the premises until about 1600 the afternoon I got there but that was not a problem as I described in the previous instalment.
I found the house with no difficulty and it appeared to be a sizeable home which was indeed the case. I was greeted by the lady of the house who was absolutely charming although spoke just about no English but we managed to get by as my French was coming back a little bit. We then started to climb, and climb. As the images suggest it was what we in Northern Ireland might have called a garret (attic room) and the house is already three storeys high so you are on the fourth level which may prove difficult if you have heavy luggage and makes it a complete non-starter for the mobility impaired regrettably.
When the lady showed me into the room I was thrilled as it was like the flat (apartment) I always wished I had, it was wonderful. Admittedly it was a studio i.e. no bedroom and you sleep on a pull out bed which turned out to be extremely comfortable. Everything was just perfect and it was so well equipped it was a joy to stay in. Whilst the weather still wasn’t exactly balmy the studio was perfectly warm at night. I was so happy there and in the city itself that I tried to arrange another couple of nights but unfortunately there was another guest arriving.
In April 2017 I was paying about €40 a night which is obviously a bit more than I would pay in a hostel and about the same as a basic hotel but that is a room rate so two sharing would make it outstanding value for what is offered. This place really is a steal. So what of the odd name?
As mentioned the flat was called the Studette du Graoully and the equally charming little bridge in the image above is called the Passerelle de Graoully which crosses what I now know to be the Seille River. I never paid much attention to that at the time until I came to write up this entry but I just had to find out who or what Graoully was so I looked it up. I swear my inquisitiveness will be the end of me but it is amazing what you can learn whilst writing travel blog entries.
Legend has it that a dragon known locally as the Graoully was holed up in the remains of the Roman amphitheatre along with all the snakes in the area and they were making a nuisance of themselves as dragons and snakes tend to do. The amphitheatre no longer exists and was last excavated in 1902 – 03 during the building of the railway freight yard although in it’s day it was one of the ten largest Roman amphitheatres anywhere and was estimated to have seated up to 25,000.
St. Peter allegedly dispatched St. Clement here as the first Bishop whereupon he converted everyone except the King to Christianity. In return he drove all the snakes a la St. Patrick into the nearby Seille river which is the lovely watercourse you can see in another of the images this journal entry. With the snakes gone, he set about banishing the Graoully to some far-flung place but he wasn’t done yet. The King’s daughter took ill and died whereupon he did no more than resurrect her and the King naturally converted thereby giving Clement the entire populace. Some story certainly but he is now understandably the patron saint of the city and to this day the local football (soccer) team have a dragon’s head on the club badge.
So now you know and back to the day’s activities.
I turned the TV on and tried to make sense of the French news channel which seemed to be dominated by the impending Presidential election which was being contested by a chap called Macron (who I had never heard of) and Marine le Pen, daughter of a very famous right-wing politician of years past. I even mastered the intricacies of the very fancy coffee machine which produced a great result but rather surprised me as all these modern gadgets are something of a mystery to an old technophobe like myself.
Duly fortified by the good old coffee bean it was time to head off and see if Metz was actually open on a Tuesday and fortunately it was. This was just as well as the laundry situation had become somewhat critical by now. A quick check on the internet showed that it was a fair distance to the nearest lavarie (laundrette / laundromat) so it was basically hump the suitcase back down four floors and drag it gingerly along up to the St. Pierre district.
I say I was dragging it gingerly as you definitely get what you pay for. In my opening post on this journal I was boasting about what a bargain I had had in buying my new cabin compliant suitcase. Well, a few days previously the extendable handle had detached itself on one side which meant that the handle was only attached to the suitcase by one extension rather than two. I did rather consider this in light of the recent “death” of my old walking boots as described in a previous entry. I had paid quite a lot of money for those and they had lasted me 24 years. This Dunlop suitcase which I had thought such a bargain had lasted me less than 24 days! However, in fairness, with gentle handling it survived the entire trip and at time of writing in July 2018 it is still just about going.
I had seen that the lavarie closed for quite an extended lunch period so I scoped a local bar, “Le Crocodile”, and waited for the afternoon re-opening.
I went in and found a very attractive bar which looked a bit posher than I normally go for. Remember that I was dressed in what there was of my “wardrobe” that was not awaiting a wash and in the small case you can just see propped up against the bar in one of the images. I appeared a little “windswept and interesting”, shall we say and half expected to be shown the door but not a bit of it. I was greeted by a very friendly lady and had my beer presented in short order which was well-kept and served. We had a bit of a conversation as she wasn’t at all busy which surprised me slightly as I thought everything stopped for lunch in France. The laundrette certainly had.
During the conversation I explained my situation which seemed to surprise her a little as I suspect they don’t get many travellers in these parts so when the appointed hour came I bid her farewell and took off wheeling my entire worldly goods and possessions with me. I got to the laundrette to find out that it was not self-service as we have usually in UK and so I had to negotiate a rather expensive service wash, was told to leave my case there as it would be OK and told to come back at 1600. Well, I wasn’t going to sit in the laundry so that gave me two hours and what to do with it? I didn’t fancy wandering and potentially getting lost so the answer was obvious and I marched straight back to the Crocodile. The lady looked slightly surprised to see me, especially minus the baggage so I explained all and ordered another beer.
When came the time for a cigarette, I went out to the enclosed al fresco area at the side and discovered arguably the most attractive feature of the establishment as it was delightful. Obviously well looked after and with some lovely trees in full blossom it was charming although don’t ask me what the trees were as I don’t know a chestnut from a chess set. It was too chilly to sit out but it must be blissful on a warm summer day.
One beer followed another, the lady was replaced by a barman who was equally pleasant and the time passed quickly enough until it was time to go and pick up my now less “ripe” clothing.
The whole time I was in there I reckon about five or six people came in, all in pairs and all for coffee, it really was quiet and if I have a fault with the Crocodile it is that it lacks a bit of atmosphere purely due to being empty. Everything about it is perfectly comfortable but it just seems a little soulless somehow. Perhaps it gets better at night, I don’t know as I had to get the laundry home!
When the magic hour arrived I trundled the remains of the suitcase back to the lavarie and enquired of the lady there about using the machines. I thought it would be tokens and DIY but no, she just told me to throw my stuff in the machine indicated and leave my suitcase and she would take care of it. She told me to come back at a certain time (I forget exactly when) and all would be sorted. Nothing for it then but to go back to the bar where a most pleasant afternoon was had. I duly collected the laundry which left me good to go for another while and made my way back to the Delanta restaurant as I had promised the lady there I would come back this evening for a meal.
As it had been the previous night, the restaurant was completely empty although my new friend’s son did appear later on. I was given the menu which is not extensive (French only) but I had another plan and I asked if it would be possible for her to prepare me something, whether on the menu or not, that she would eat at home. I suppose that could have gone horribly wrong and I would have been served a pizza but she got the idea! She actually looked delighted to be given the opportunity and took off to the kitchen where I could hear plenty of prepping going on so I knew it was all going to be done from scratch.
On one of her excursions back to the bar to replenish my beer she insisted that I had to have a Picon beer as an aperitif. A Picon? What kind of beer is that? I naturally agreed and was a little surprised at what she prepared. I had been drinking my beer from the bottle as I tend to do but she insisted on pouring this one. I was really intrigued now as the concept of beer as an aperitif was totally alien to me. The bottle you can see in one of the images was produced and a shot of it put in the beer. A quick sniff definitely indicated oranges which is not so surprising as some of the beers in the Low Countries are served with an orange as garnish and subsequent research has taught me that it is a liqueur made of bitter orange with a few aromatics for good measure (pun absolutely intended). The result was unusual but very tasty.
I had no idea what I was going to be served but I had told her that spicy was OK and to make it exactly as it should be. I had mentioned this as the menu offers the option of how spicy you like your food, presumably to cater for less adventurous palates. Naturally, this took a little while but I was settled for the evening and a few beers and a semi-shouted conversation between bar and kitchen passed the time very pleasantly. Eventually, dinner was served and what a dinner.
I mentioned that I had eaten Ethiopian / Eritrean food before so I know what the drill was going to be. Small portions of the curry / curries and all the veg and accompaniments are placed on a sourdough flatbread called an injera. This is properly made from a specific kind of flour called teff which, for various reasons mostly EU bureaucracy, is apparently difficult to obtain in the EU so substitutes are often used. The injera is effectively an edible plate although proper plates are used here as well. In my case I don’t know how many she thought she was feeding as she produced a large basket full. Although cutlery is provided here for Europeans the trick is to tear off the bread and eat with your hand, much like the chapati in Southern Asian cuisine. Here is a tip if the reader has never tried this before and that is not to totally gorge yourself on the breads which were so warm and delicious it was difficult to refrain from eating the lot. Save just a bit of room for the “plate” injera which will have soaked up all the flavours from the food and is easily the best part of the meal.
Despite the lady very helpfully describing to me in detail exactly what the meal was I am completely stumped if I can remember it all now so I shall let the the image do the talking. I remember that it was quite spicy as I had requested but not lunatically so and was spiced rather than merely heat which is as it should be. What I can say with absolute certainty is that it was utterly gorgeous and I did even manage to put a fair hole in the injera basket although it defeated me in the end.
By this time I was completely full and therefore declined when the charming woman offered me dessert and she equally politely asked me would I be staying for a while which threw me a bit. I can understand being thrown out of a crowded restaurant so they can turn the cover around but I was the sole patron. When I said jokingly I would be there until she threw me out she gave me another of her utterly enchanting smiles and vanished into the kitchen again. I had a half an idea what might happen next and it duly did. Some time and several beers later, when my fine meal had settled a bit the gorgeous tarte you can see pictured was produced and I was encouraged to get into it. I don’t usually eat dessert and this was extremely rich but it was very, very good and I managed a good-sized piece.
When it came time to go eventually I checked the bill and it really was not too scary at all. Even though I had ordered off menu she had charged me about a median price from the mains on the menu and had not even charged me for the specially baked dessert. I queried this and she said it was a gift. How lovely.
I regretfully left and on my slow wander home I considered yet again the “Travel Gods” as I refer to them. On the off-chance of finding a beer the night before I had discovered a superb little restaurant serving authentic tasty Ethiopian food, a new aperitif and made a new friend. I had learned so much about Ethiopian culture specifically cuisine as well as practicing my slowly improving French. Not a bad return.
A couple more beers en route and I retired to my most comfortable little flat for another night’s much appreciated sleep.
Another wander round Metz in the next edition so stay tuned and spread the word.
Those hardy souls who may have been slogging their way through this journal will know that I was fairly much “confined to barracks” on Sunday 23rd April due to a serious equipment failure with my sole (pun absolutely intended) pair of boots which had fairly well restricted my mobility and so the first order of business on the Monday morning was to get myself reshod. I had seen a shop nearby which seemed to sell just about everything including discounted footwear and so I made straight for that.
I have fairly large feet (11 in UK sizes) which is probably just as well as it keeps my rather tall frame relatively stable but therein lay the problem. Searching through the reasonable selection of shoes on offer I discovered that there were only two pairs in my size (45 in the local currency). The choice was a pair of blue boots or a pair of sparkly and garishly yellow trainers so it really was Hobson’s choice. I am certainly no clothes horse and will wear just about anything but I draw the line at yellow sparkly footwear so the boots were purchased for a very reasonable €30. They are not walking boots but ordinary streetwear although they subsequently proved to be very comfortable and that is the main thing. Not a style I would have chosen ordinarily but they’ll do until I get home.
I rather sadly walked back to the hotel for my dear the final trek of my beloved footwear. I am sure the reader will wonder why I am making such a fuss about a pair of ancient walking boots so I shall explain. The venerable old things had been my constant companions for no less than 24 years and I had understandably grown rather fond of them. I can date them precisely as I bought them for a trekking trip to Nepal in March 1993 and since then they have been to more countries than I can remember, trekked in the Andes, walked the West Highland Way, Thames Path, London Loop and many, many other things beside. If I had been at home I would have tried to get them resoled but it really was not practical in my situation and I couldn’t even bring them home to attempt that as I didn’t have enough room in my tiny suitcase.
Regretfully, the dear old things were eventually laid to rest in a hotel in Luxembourg City with minimum ceremony and maximum regret. I kept the laces as a souvenir, took a photo and left them there to be unceremoniously binned and committed to a landfill somewhere. What a sad end.
Anyway, time to get back to business and I had decided that my next port of call was going to be Metz where I had booked a small apartment but I thought I should see a little more of Luxembourg than the capital city. I knew the trains ran to Metz regularly and until fairly late so I effectively had a day free as I could not check in until the afternoon. I spoke to the really friendly guy on reception and asked if I could leave my case there for the day which was very obligingly done for me and then I headed to the station which was only about five minutes walk away. Needless to say, I got waylaid before I ever got there.
Cafe du Globe was my first diversion and was one of the numerous cafe / bars I had visited during my few days stay in the “Station Quarter” and it conforms very much to type for the area. I have mentioned in before that this part of town is not, shall we say, too genteel and has a predominantly immigrant population. It is the hotel bar of the establishment of the same name but is not what the reader may associate with the concept of a hotel bar and I am not even sure if you can access the rooms from the cafe without going outside.
The Globe is effectively just a locals bar which is clean and tidy and I was greeted by a very friendly server who spent no time at all in dispensing a well-kept and served large beer although I appreciate that comment is becoming somewhat repetitive as I do not believe I had a sub-standard drink served to me in my whole time in the country.
There is little remarkable about the premises although I feel I should mention the patrons here. In an area of town with more than it’s fair share of “eccentrics”, this place seems to be something of a magnet for them and as the evening wears on (I had also visited the previous evening) the music seems to get louder with the singing getting proportionately more raucous to match. Although there is no delineated dance area as such, that does not seem to deter anyone and I even saw occasional bursts of “cowboy style” line dancing breaking out from time to time none of which seemed to faze the consistently affable staff in the slightest. I personally never felt threatened and this is the very type of place I seek out but I mention it as it may not be to everyone’s liking. I have included here an image of yet another “new best friend” I made there. The locals really are a friendly bunch. The only slight irritant here is that the Globe also seems to be a magnet for many of the dozens of African trinket sellers that plague the city. They were never aggressive, just a nuisance.
Leaving the Globe I was literally three minutes walk from the station but the Auberge de Reims got in the way. In some ways this is not surprising as the two premises sit across a narrow little side street from each other and I would doubt if they are more than 15 yards apart, you can see into one from the other.
Auberge de Reims is also a bar that happens to have a hotel above it although again it does not exude the atmosphere of a hotel bar in the accepted sense. On the several occasions I visited it was staffed by charming people who all seemed to speak at least passable English and served well-kept beer. It is 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.
Surely I was bound to make the station now as it was literally looming so large, it is a huge building. No. Willpower was sadly lacking this day and I wandered into the Cafe Bei de Gare to find yet another clean and pleasant bar with a more modern decor than some of the other local establishments.
It was somewhat dominated to an extent by the large screen TV’s showing various sports channels which seem to be almost obligatory in these parts. At least the sound was down and it is always something to pass the time, I suppose. I was not overly surprised to find only two other patrons there as it was about 1100 on a fairly chilly Monday morning in April and therefore service was prompt and with good English spoken. The draught was Bofferding which is my preferred brew of the two most common local offerings as I have discussed previously. It goes without saying that it was impeccably kept and served.
I got the impression that the two chaps at the bar were happy with their own company so I perched myself up on a comfy high stool at a table and watched the sport whilst draining my third beer of the morning, it was turning into one of those days. Prices were about average for the area when I know bars sometimes hike the price in or near transport hubs but I suppose the strong competition locally keeps them all honest.
Apart from it’s proximity to the main station which is literally about two minutes amble away, there is very little to say about the Bei der Gare which is just very typical of the many fine establishments hereabouts and, as with so many others, I would have to recommend it.
Eventually I dragged myself away again and made it to the wonderfully impressive station. Obviously stations are effectively functional architecture but I have been in some beautiful examples all over the world and I love railways anyway. Somehow the stations from the heyday of rail inevitably fill me with a sense of travel anticipation that I just do not get from a modern, soulless airport.
Perhaps if I ever generate any traffic here I shall ask my readers to nominate their favourite station. You “early adopters” (get me with the business speak!) can start now if you like and I am not sure if I should bag London St. Pancras myself or remain neutral.
A quick look at the timetable showed that there was a train shortly to a place called Bettembourg which was only about a 40 minute journey so that looked as good as any.
I knew nothing of the geography of that small country and one destination seemed pretty much like another. I bought a ticket for a very reasonable €4 and hopped on another typically comfortable train for the short ride to a place I had never even heard of before.
Train travel is a joy here.
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.
So this is Bettembourg.
Just outside the station was a charming old yellow ‘phone box which just begged to be photographed, so I did.
A quick wander round the immediate environs of the station was not at all promising as there did not seem to be very much there and what there was was shut. I have found it to be the case in this region, especially in the smaller places, that Monday is very much a “closed” day and I was to discover that again in Metz that evening and which I shall discuss later in the entry.
Very close to the station I came upon a memorial to those killed by the Germans in the Second World War. I found it interesting as I had never really thought about Luxembourg being much involved in that conflict which was a bit naive really given it’s location. I think I had some vague notion that it may have been neutral perhaps but obviously it suffered under the Germans like it’s neighbours.
Having been in the Forces myself I have a great interest in military history of all periods and I will always stop for a look at a War Memorial or military cemetery partially to pay my respects and partially as you can learn a lot about previous conflicts which I find endlessly fascinating. It was therefore a foregone conclusion that when I had spotted the memorial I would pause for a look which is what I did.
The excellent bilingual sign in Luxembourgois and French, if I have translated it correctly, informed me that plans were first mooted in 1946 for a monument to the dead although it took until 1953 to collect sufficient funds it was not unveiled until 1955. It is to the design of Joseph Conrad (not the writer obviously) and cost exactly 151,205 francs. The lighting was extra!
Headgear replaced (my lovely old bandanna) and respects paid I set off on another wander and I spied a road sign for “centre ville” which seemed like the place for me. For some reason the station is not that close to the centre but Bettembourg is not a huge place and so a 15 minute stroll had me in the middle of a delightful small town. I spied a beautifully tended smallish park with a fountain as the centrepiece and sat down on a gloriously sunny Spring day, broke out my emergency can of beer and regarded the large church adjacent which more or less dominated the skyline of the town.
Now drinking beer beside a tinkling fountain may seem idyllic but for a man of my age it is maybe not the brightest idea so I thought I should make a move before the situation got critical. I shall let you work that one out for yourself. I paused to speak to the huge man who was tending the gardens by sweeping up and we had a brief chat. I reckoned that I could manage a quick visit to the church before things were going to get tricky so that is what I did.
I have mentioned in various other pieces both on this site and previously on others that I love to visit places of worship regardless of what faith they are albeit that I am an atheist. I apologise to those that have read this before but I post it for the benefit of those who may have just stumbled upon this entry somehow or another. It was inevitable therefore that when I saw the “big church”, and discovered it was open on that weekday lunchtime, that I would visit.
When I say “big Church” I mean it as it dominates the East end of the town and I was surprised at the size of it for such an apparently modest settlement. Properly known as the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin it is normally just referred to as “Eglise Bettembourg” (Bettembourg Church) or one of the language variations of this region but much more than that I am afraid I am struggling to tell the reader. When writing reviews I tend to augment my personal observations with background information from the internet but in this case I have drawn a complete blank despite the literally billions of pages on the usually useful web so I shall revert to plan A.
If the church looks large from the outside then it appears positively huge on the inside with a very high vaulted ceiling. I think my favourite feature was the stained glass which is often the case as it is an artistic medium I am particularly fond of although the altar was pleasing as well. The Regina Angelorum (Queen of Angels) window pictured was, I think, of particular note.
Again apologies for the quality of some of the images but I just do not feel right using flash in places of worship when there are others there as I find it disrespectful.
As always I found the church to be a very peaceful and calming place so I spent a little while looking round and sitting in quiet contemplation before continuing on my way.
The small town of Bettembourg boasts an impressive array of open spaces and the park which forms the gardens of Bettembourg Castle are the largest and easily the most impressive. I reached them via a walk along the delightfully named Didlangerbach
watercourse and across a quaint little footbridge which afforded me my first view of the castle, of which more anon. Certainly it was chilly but at least it was not raining and I took a bit of a stroll round the immaculately maintained area where, apart from several paths (all apparently fully accessible I am glad to report), I did find a few odd little things.
Actually, in the case of the chair pictured it was not a little thing at all but an extremely large one and I still have not worked out whether it was meant to function as “art”, a photo opportunity or something else as it was certainly too large and would have been far too dangerous to be play apparatus for children.
Speaking of “art” I also spotted the other piece pictured which is apparently a modern sculpture but just looked like a large lump of rusting metal to me. Still, what do I know about modern art?
In stark contrast to the crime against sculpture mentioned above, the castle itself is absolutely beautiful although it is not really a castle in the accepted sense of the term but rather an overgrown farmhouse which was first built in 1733 by a chap called Lothaire de Zievel on the site of an old 10th century fort. It was bought over by Charles Collart in 1807 and remained in that family until as late as 1971 when it was acquired by the local authority who took a typically bureaucratic 20 years to convert it into the town hall and “Administration Communale” which it remains to this day. I noticed a sign which, if I translated it correctly told me to keep out unless I had official business there and I did not think taking tourist snaps qualified as such so I had to content myself with a peek through the gate which revealed a superb building round three sides of a courtyard. I’d love to have a look inside, it must be wonderful.
Even if you cannot get into building itself the park is well worth a visit should you ever find yourself in Bettembourg which is a trip I do recommend as an alternative to spending all your time in the capital.
By this point I was a) thirsty with walking in the heat in too many clothes, b) not sure how the new boots were going to treat my feet and c) pushing my luck regarding the earlier beer so I took off back in the direction of town as there did not seem to be much more heading the way I was going. I had earlier spotted the Cafe de Centenaire which looked tidy enough so I repaired there and it transpired to be an excellent choice.
Yes, I like a drink now and again. And again, and again…………….. The upshot of this is that I visit a lot of bars, an awful lot of bars. I reckon that during the three and a half months that this journal will hopefully eventually refer to that I visited literally hundreds and I promise I shall get round to telling you about as many of them as I can remember in due course. They were almost uniformly perfectly acceptable and I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the establishments I did not like for whatever reason. Sometimes, however, you come across a complete gem and often in the most unlikely of places and this was exactly the case with the Cafe du Centenaire in Bettembourg, which is the most wonderful of bars on so many levels.
In truth, there was not a huge choice as it was a Monday lunchtime in April and many businesses in this region tend to shut on that day. In a town with a population of less than ten thousand souls I doubt it would have been economically viable to open all the bars anyway.
It wasn’t warm enough for al fresco drinking.
Externally it is of indeterminate age but of an architectural style very typical of the region. It is very tidy and has a good sized al fresco drinking / smoking area to the front which affords an eye-catching view of the “big church” I mentioned which stands just across the street. In I went and I should mention that there are several steps up to the front door which may present difficulties for the mobility impaired as I do not know if there is step free access to the rear. I do like to mention mobility issues when I can.
The bar was very tidy and just slightly old-fashioned with a few vintage framed paintings on the walls. Unsurprisingly, there was only one other customer there, a little old lady with her small aperitif and equally small lapdog sitting obediently under her seat. After exchanging a civil greeting I spoke to the barmaid who either did not speak much English or was doing me the courtesy of humouring my French which was still not good but was coming along. I ordered a large Bofferding beer which is brewed less than ten miles away and I do like consuming local produce so that suited nicely. It was a little cheaper than Luxembourg City which I suppose is to be expected and was kept and served in great order as I had come to expect in the region.
After a couple of beers I actually felt a bit peckish which is unusual for me during the day and so I opted for a hot-dog from the reasonable selection of snacks, pizzas and tartes flambee on offer. It was about as far removed from the appalling offerings you get at home as it is possible to be as I hope the image conveys. It was absolutely delicious and accompanied by Luxembourgoise mustard which I had never heard of berore and, frankly, tasted the same as Dijon to my untutored palate. Still, I suppose that is hardly surprising as it is not exactly a thousand miles to that centre of mustard excellence which I will get to here eventually. At €4, it was a snip.
How comfortable is this?
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.
Bridge on the River Seille.
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
asked the lovely lady of the house where there was a nearby bar / cafe and she had told me. I found it no problem but it was shut. I kept walking and must have walked past at least five more closed bars which is something of a major tragedy for me. As in Bettembourg earlier in the day, Metz just closes on a Monday and you will struggle to find anything open. I must have rambled round for a couple of miles and could not find a single place open for a beer. I did go into a kebab shop but obviously no drink there as I believe they were Muslim or possibly just not licensed for it. Keep walking Fergy and something will turn up, I was trusting to the travel Gods at this point.
I am happy to say that the travel Gods have generally been very good to me and so it was that I discovered the Delanta restaurant. It was very evidently an Ethiopian place, the flag on the wall was the clue there and it was completely empty save for a woman behind the bar who was obviously totally bored and doing something on her computer.
Enquiring, more in hope than expectation, if a beer was possible I was told that it certainly was. Well, that was your humble narrator settled for the night. The beer was of the bottled variety and a major international brand I am not overly fond of but it was beer. I was damned if I was going to pay €7 for a 33cl. bottle of imported Ethiopian stuff, no matter how good and authentic it may have been.
The restaurant was small, there were only the two of us there, no TV or other distractions so what else to do but make conversation which is proper order anyway in a bar in my opinion? The lady, who turned out to be the wife of the proprieter, had not a word of English and yet we had a most jovial two or three hours conversing in French. As I have mentioned I only learned to a basic level but being in Francophone countries seemed to revive it all from the dark and distant nethermost regions of my brain.
It was yet another wonderful experience after the earlier tragedy of having to ditch my trusty old boots (see earlier journal entry for the full story of that) and did lift my spirits considerably. The lady was utterly charming and was indeed Ethiopian, taught me about the difference from the old Ethiopian flag (which I recognised) and the new one (which I did not recognise) amongst a host of other subjects. She asked me if I wanted to dine but as usual I had no appetite and promised her to return on the morrow, which I did to brilliant effect as will be noted in a later journal entry. I left the place long after normal closing time as I bought the proprietress a couple of beers and the conversation seemed to flow. It was just one of those nights and, again, one of the reasons I travel. A brilliant memory.
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.
My place in Metz. Brilliant, isn’t it?
My place in Metz.
In the next instalment I manage to discover Metz when it is open so stay tuned and spread the word.