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

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A good place to wake up.

The morning of the 14th duly arrived with Fergy well rested and waking in a very comfortable bed in a hotel that was probably slightly above his budget and in a city he had no intention of even being in but a little luxury is enjoyable now and again. The luxury was only slightly marred by the fact that my room smelt more like a kebab shop than the actual kebab shop I had purchased my supper in the previous night. I must say I felt a twinge of remorse for whatever poor woman was going to have to clean the place. In my defence I had not made a mess, it was just the smell.

I was determined to make Beauraing that day as it had now assumed something of the mantle of a Holy Grail because it seemed as if the Fates had determined I was not going to get there. OK, so I had missed a train and this is perhaps a bit hyperbolic but that is the way I felt, it was Beauraing or bust!

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A fine tavern for a fine beer.

Up and running, I stopped into the wonderful little bar I mentioned in earlier entries here for a couple of pints of breakfast but I decided that as I was in Namur I might as well have a look round. I wasn’t going to go on a massive hike and merely fancied a bit of a wander locally before getting the train and so off I set. Well, I got a whole 200 yards before I spied the Copenhagen bar and it was just calling to me and so in I went. I think it is officially the Copenhague Taverne but there are several variants of the spelling you may care to use.

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I loved the detail in this place.

On entering I found myself in a pleasantly appointed establishment which seemed to be slightly posher than the normal little back street bars I like to frequent but I only wanted a beer so that was no problem. I was served a well-kept pint of Jupiler by a friendly young barman who naturally spoke impeccable English and settled myself down for a bit of people watching by the window. There were al fresco tables but it was still a bit chilly for that.

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The barman hard at work.

It was still early for lunch service although I got the impression that this was more a restaurant than a bar as is common on the Continent. I went for a look around and discovered that there is a sizeable room upstairs although it was deserted and when I had occasion to use the “facilities” they were spotless.

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The pleasant upstairs room.

Although it was a bit devoid of atmosphere due to the lack of people it was a perfectly comfortable place for a drink and I would recommend the Copenhagen for anyone using the station as it is literally two minutes walk from it.

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Here I go trying to be arty again.

I genuinely do not know what it is but I have mentioned many times in other places that things just seem to happen to me. I swear I do not go out looking for “adventures” but they just seem to find me. I remember one evening at dinner with a friend I was regaling her of my experience the previous weekend where I had gone out to play a gig in London on the Saturday night with a journey time of about one hour on public transport. I arrived home on Tuesday lunchtime after a bit of partying. My friend just looked at me and said simply, “Fergy, you are just a party waiting to happen”. She knows me far too well!

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This is what I was there for.

One of my little escapades was looming large just over the horizon. As is nearly always the case, and with very few exceptions, it was to turn out to be a thing of great joy and a wonderful memory.

A couple of young people (yes, I can say that as I was 57 years old then) came into the bar and planted themselves beside me. The young man had a guitar in tow and the young lady had a couple of poi with her. They ordered a beer apiece and, naturally, with me being me, conversation ensued. I’ll let the images speak for their appearance but they were not, shall we say, people you would introduce to your maiden aunt if you have such a relative. They were, in common parlance, freaks and that brings me back to my oft-quoted maxim about not judging books by covers. In a mixture of broken English (incidentally the title of a great song by Marianne Faithfull) and my schoolboy French they told me that they lived locally and busked for a living. Fair enough, my kind of people.

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My busking buddy.

With the beers finished they took off to do their thing and I decided that Beauraing was going to have to be done sooner rather than later. The young man had parked himself on the ground in the service entrance of a closed supermarket just opposite the bar whilst the young lady was doing her thing with the poi on the main street adjacent.

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My other busking buddy doing her poi thing.

Waving a goodbye to them, I headed across the main road to the station to find out that Beauraing was, indeed, some sort of nirvana that was going to be hard to attain as the next train did not leave for ages and so there was only one thing for it. I could have sat in one of the various food and beverage outlets in the “gare” but I just do not like being ripped off by station facilities so I trundled my little suitcase back across the road to the bar.

It was almost inevitable. The idiotic planxty with a few beers on (it was still only lunchtime remember) and with a guitar within radar range was only going to have one outcome and so I joined the young man in his doorway sitting on freezing cold ground in about 10 degrees with a very cold wind blowing. I should mention in passing here that the jumper you see me wearing was purchased in Rotterdam as it has been utterly freezing cold for all of this trip and I had not packed for sub-Arctic conditions. I mentioned it in the last entry and you will see it a lot in these journal entries but it is OK as I always have a (reasonably) clean T-shirt on underneath. It is just the only warm thing I have.

Back to the narrative now and it ended up with the young man and I taking turns to play and sing with the other joining in if they knew the words or merely harmonising a la la la la (if that makes sense) if not. To be honest, not was the general state of affairs as we had completely different sets from completely different eras and in mostly completely different languages but we still made a decent fist of it if I say so myself. All the while the young lady was doing her poi on the main pavement and we had the “collection tins” duly deployed.

In UK, busking is somewhat frowned upon but here it seemed to be quite accepted to the point that the waiter in the bar we were drinking in, which was certainly no dive bar, was willing to serve us drinks in proper glasses on the pavement as we busked. It was like we were sitting at a table. You can see the evidence of it in the image accompanying this. It was actually the waiter who took the image of the three of us you see here during a “smoke break”.

I fully appreciate that I am not like most men who are less than three years off getting a pensioners bus pass in my home city and it is probably 30 years since I busked (always for charities as I never thankfully needed to do it for a living myself and I am sure I would have starved) and I’ll swear that those 30 or more years just dropped off me for the couple of hours we did our thing there, it was pure magic and such a memory.

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I just love this image. What a day.

I do not much like having my photograph taken but the image you see of the three of us in that grotty doorway is undoubtedly one of my favourite images of myself. Right or wrong, that’s what I am and what I do.  When I originally published this on another website a dear friend of mine commented simply, “This is so you, Fergy”.  If it is then I am happy.

I have to report that we did actually make a few € which they seemed quite happy with, I just hope my contribution helped. Obviously, I did not take my “cut” although they very kindly offered it. I am not a rich man but it is their living and, frankly, I would have paid them for the privelege of doing what we did that afternoon. I know that I do go on a bit about things but it really was that good and it was a very happy Fergy that bade his farewells and headed for the train to the apparently elusive Beauraing.

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Railway Station, Namur.

Believe me, this is only the start of the adventures. I am a musician of “no fixed ability” and the thought of that wonderful time was fresh in my mind as I boarded the eventual train to Beauraing. My mind works on odd tangents and I was reminded of back in 1993 when I was trekking the Annapurna circuit in my new boots (the boots will feature heavily in a later journal entry). We were coming down off Thorung La which is the highest point on the trail and which wrecked me with AMS (mountain sickness). Jemmi, our wonderful guide, had pointed out a pass off to the right and told us it led to Mustang which you had to had to have a special pass to visit. Like Bhutan, an undiscovered wonder. Surely a small Belgian town could not be that difficult, or could it? Was Beauraing the Mustang of Belgium? Actually no, it couldn’t be that difficult once I had the train timetable worked out properly.

There was no direct train available and so I had to change at Dinant. In truth, there is little I can tell you about Dinant as I was there for about ten minutes leaving the station by about ten feet for a cigarette but I shall use this part of the entry as a vehicle (pun absolutely intended) for a few photos of the train journey en route to the now achievable grail of Beauraing.

The images above, clockwise from top left.  I gave this lot  very wide berth and made the station, which is clean and tidy.  Pausing to pay my respects as I always do, it was merely a matter of finding the right platform, which turned out to be a bit gloomy as you can see, and wait for the train.

 

 

 

 

The journey from Namur to Dinant was very  pleasant in decent, modern rolling stock and mostly following the picturesque River Meuse.

 

As mentioned above, I must have spent a whole ten minutes in Dinant which merely gives me a reason to return but I did have time to notice a rather impressive castle sitting on top of a nearby geological feature and two delightful if slightly incongruous statues which I am guessing must have come from an earlier incarnation of the station.

If I get really brave, not to mention competent, there might even be a video. As is normal in the low countries the train was comfortable, spotlessly clean and on time which are regrettably not standards always applicable to the trains in my home country.

I arrived at the Gare de Beauraing in good order (i.e. still half sober) and walked the short distance to the Hotel Iris Aupebine which I had booked and singularly failed to appear at the night before. I shall review it in the next instalment of the blog. I was checked in quickly and courteously and went upstairs to the room which was nothing special but clean and tidy and certainly more than required by a pretty rough and ready Fergy. I am not belittling in any way, shape or form the Buddhist religion for which I have the greatest respect having travelled in predominantly Buddhist countries a bit. However, it appears that nirvana is indeed achievable here on Earth if only getting to a hotel in a small Belgian town. All things are relative.

After my long day busking a short dozette was the order of the day and duly partaken of and then I washed and brushed up to venture out for the heady evening delights of Beauraing on a midweek night. Needless to say, several beers in several bars and a content Fergy retired for a night’s very sound sleep.  I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

I shall show you the delights of Beauraing in the next instalment so stay tuned and spread the word.

Things start to unwind.

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

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

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

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I love pickled herring!

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

 

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

 

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

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Ani & Haakinen hostel, Rotterdam.

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

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

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

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Street scene, Rotterdam.

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

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One of the many statues in Rotterdam.

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

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Premiere Brasserie, Rotterdam.

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

 

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

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Premiere Brasserie, Rotterdam.
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Premiere Brasserie, Rotterdam.

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

 

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

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Premiere Brasserie, Rotterdam.

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

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

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Herdenkingsmonument.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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Cafe Plein.

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

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Cafe Plein.

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

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Cafe Plein.

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

 

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

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Not a scam at all.

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

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

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Street scene, Rotterdam.
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Sorry about the roadworks.

 

 

 

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

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Erasmusbrug, Rotterdam.

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

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

 

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

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A whole lot bigger than the boat I was on.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Welcome to Dordrecht.

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

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

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Grand Hotel de Flandre, Namur.

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

 

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

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A glimpse of a bygone age.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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