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Belgium 30 April-4 May: Liege, Namur, Tournai

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Arising at 8:30 in Essen on Sunday morning, I dawdled a bit, leaving for the train station an hour later. I'd opted for the later train, as the earlier would have involved 4 trains, while my option only required 2 changes. Off on the Swiss-bound train, exiting in Koln (Cologne), with a 24-minute layover before heading back north through Aachen to Angleur where I crossed the platform and rode a single stop, leaving in Liege. My hotel was nearby, but the room wasn’t yet ready at 1pm, so after grabbing my camera, it all got left until later.

Back in 2017, on the Danube bike ride, I’d been to Liege, so I had day trips planned for my stay. First off, to the south, was to Malmedy, which required a train to Trois Points and then a bus. All through gorgeous countryside.

Front facade, Cathédrale-abbatiale de Saints-Pierre-Paul-et-Quirin, Malmedy
Cathédrale-abbatiale de Saints-Pierre-Paul-et-Quirin, Malmedy

The cathedral in Malmedy, Cathédrale-abbatiale de Saints-Pierre-Paul-et-Quirin, was on a small square/roundabout, and after dodging a gaggle of motorcycles, I was able to visit this single aisle, simple Catholic seat. While not overdone as many of the gothic and baroque versions I’d visited, this had a simplicity and beauty.

Back outside, I sat and waited for the return bus, and then the train. Along the way, through verdant fields just beginning to burst into leaf, I went through a town called Coo, with several fly fishers in the shallow river alongside the tracks. The river flowed through the valley, with steeply sided hills/mountains and flat farmlands twisting along the path.

In retrospect, the train I’d taken continued into Luxembourg, to the town of Clervaux. There is an abbatial church, used as a cathedral from 1937 to 1946, which I planned on seeing from Luxembourg City. I could have jumped the gun and headed further south. On the train, a dozen German speaking hikers rode one stop before continuing their walk, while a father with 4, speaking French, continued along. The kids obviously adored him, the girl #2 a significant counterbalance to the devil child #3.

Facade, Cathedrale Saint-Paul , Liege
Cathedrale Saint-Paul , Liege

Opting to exit at the Liege stop closer to the local cathedral, I was pleased (once I found my way) that the restorations of 2017 had concluded. No longer under wraps (scaffolding and canvas), Cathedrale Saint-Paul was closed as it was after 6pm, so I headed back towards the hotel. Once I espied the multicolored dome over the Liege-Guillaume station I began scanning for dinner.

Le Tripick Brasserie is around the corner from my hotel, on arrival the business seemed to be at the bar, but as I ate dinner, the crowd shifted. My meal of boulets, Liégeois à la Tripick7 et son chips et lard. Meatballs cooked in the house ale, with fries and bacon, the beer gave it a sweet flavor, enhanced by onions, carrots and raisins. I added a small salad, with a mustard-horseradish dressing that was superb. A perfect meal!

Then to the hotel, completing registration and into my room. With a two night stay, I was able to unpack a bit, and then backed up the day’s photos and did some email.

Monday, May first is a holiday in much of Europe - the equivalent to Labor Day, albeit also a Catholic religious feast day celebrating May as the month of the Virgin Mother Mary. Seemingly, many folks had made it a three day holiday, so shops were closed, trains were lightly used, and people seemed more relaxed. Leaving Liege and Wallonia,I boarded a train to Liers, where I transferred to a bus to Hasselt. Rolling countryside, the bus veered through tiny villages, giving a much closer view of these Flemish towns. [Belgium is divided into three provinces - the north speak Flemish, which is like Dutch, while the south speak French (in Wallonia); the capitol, Brussels, officially is bi-lingual.]

Front facade, Sint-Kwintenskathedraal, Hasselt
Sint-Kwintenskathedraal, Hasselt

When in Hasselt, I had a 15 minute walk through town to the Sint-Kwintenskathedraal. Most impressive for me was the rood cross, which featured Mary and John below the crucified Christ. There were several organs, and the Stations were paintings.

Returning to the station, I rode on to Tongeren by another bus.

Front facade, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Basiliek, Tongeren
Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Basiliek, Tongeren (former cathedral)

The former cathedral, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Basiliek, had its single tall tower under wraps for renovation, so my front shots were mundane. This gothic church was interesting, with heavy thick round piers holding up the galleries and clerestory in the nave.

Walking through town back to the bus depot, I grabbed a take-away: Crumpieburger, fries and water, and used the facilities. The return bus was a tour coach, so much more comfortable, sitting much higher so my views were awesome. At the train station in Liers, because I knew the format, the quick sprint to get back to Liege was much less stressful.

The return train was fairly empty, but a woman who boarded midway, began kicking up a fuss as she’d wanted to go to Tongeren. I suspect she had her earphones blasting, missing all the announcements. I returned to the hotel, took a break with a lay down, as my back was bothering me (the string backpack with the journal puts too much stress there?) I did a bit online, and then headed out, walking around the block looking for options for a light dinner. Nothing much appealed, so I head back into Le Tripick. Two non-filtered beers (#8 Biere Hondertriple and #7 Biere ambre), and Gaufre au sucre de la patisserie Eggerois avec sa boule de glace vanille, with a decaf latte.

Tuesday morning I was up at 8:15, leisurely packed and readied, leaving the hotel at 9:20 and waiting 10 minutes for the half past nine train to depart for Namurs. Arriving at 11, the hotel was directly across, and my room was available. Unpacking only the small roller, I was soon out on the street, heading for the cathedral.

Front facade, Cathédrale Saint-Aubain, Namur
Cathédrale Saint-Aubain, Namur

Cathédrale Saint-Aubain is a Rococo temple, with lots of bas relief and painting on the walls, black-and-white tiling on the floor. An elegant dome provided good lighting into the crossing.

Leaving the church, I continued to ramble, crossing a bridge over the Sambre River (just before its confluence with the Meuse) and climbed to the citadel. A nice park, well planted, was there.

I rode the funicular back to the riverside, window shopped and found myself in the University district. Stopping in a grocery, I got a pre-made tuna and rotelli salad, and some fruit juice, which I took back to the room. After the rest and feed stop, I went out on a different route. Back into tall buildings, few people, again the University district, with a view of the cathedral from a different angle. More window shopping, picking up a polo shirt (like I need more clothes!) and turned down a passageway, landing at L’Apero. With a blond draft, I sat in the late afternoon sun in the company of a well-behaved German shepherd and his tobacco-smoking humans.

My notes report that I was surprised to find less English being spoken, contrary to my experiences over the past two weeks. Dinner found me at Brasserie Fred, where I was pleased they had Suze, my preferred aperitif. Spanish football was on the TV, Barcelona vs Osasuna, when my rillettes d’oie with toasts, chutney et oignons arrived at the table. My French friends tell me this is peasant food, the poor man’s pate, but has always been a favorite of mine. My main, rognon de veau a la Namuroise, was not what I thought, although I’ve had veal livers before. The gravy was tasty, the meat okay, berries tasteless. Hopefully I won’t order again.

May third morning, a Wednesday, had me scrambling in the Namur station, as the train to Tournai went out of platform 7, which had a defunct lift. Two trips lugging gear up the stairs was one option, or, as I did, I wheeled from a neighboring platform down a long ramp, used the subway to get to the corresponding ramp on the correct Voie - I’m not sure which was worse. The train equipment was ready early, with the front three cars continuing to Lille (my destination, but I didn’t find out about this configuration until we were underway. So in Tournai I had to get off, push the bags forward and reboard. In any case, on the first leg I sat with a couple who were traveling with two cute toddlers, exiting at Mons. After the carriage change, another half hour had me in northeast France and Lille.

I’ll write about Lille with the other French cities I visited, but want to keep the Belgian destinations together. After my day in Lille, I checked out, leaving my gear at the hotel and returning to the Lille-Flandres station for a return to Tournai. Heading to the cathedral, I had pretty much a straight shot, up a slight rise, through some construction and across a canal.

Rear facade of Tournai Cathedral, or Cathedral of Our Lady
Tournai Cathedral, or Cathedral of Our Lady

The Tournai Cathedral, or Cathedral of Our Lady (probably a Notre-Dame) was subject to serious conservation. With towers at each corner of the crossing, with a fifth over the crossing, it is a huge building. As I was unable to visit the quire (scaffolding everywhere), I paid to visit the Tresoir, where photography was not permitted (understandably.)

I returned to the train station, where, 3 minutes before departure time a track change was announced. Lots of folks scrambled, and for once, I was glad I didn’t have my gear. Another half hour on the train, I was back in Lille, where I returned to the hotel. I collected my gear, and headed back for the next leg in my journey.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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