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Published: March 3rd 2012
Rain, fog, robbery, and good beer: a few days in Belgian life.
Belgium! As different from France as wine is from beer. Where the French are subtle and quiet, Belgian prefer blunt, caustic truth said with a smile to remove the bite. In France the wine flows but in Belgium the beer froths, though both could care less about the "it's 5 o'clock somewhere" rule.
Namur, Belgium is no doubt absent from many of your personal geographical maps. Indeed, I had never heard of it till a random Google search made the name literally pop up in my browser window. But exist it does, and what's more it is the capital of Wallonie, aka French-speaking Belgium.
And what might one find in Namur? First and foremost, it's grey and foggy, perfect for anyone looking for a headless horseman gig and at night by the river a soft, raspy voice urgently whispers "don't follow the lights, Precious!" And ducks, lots and lots of ducks and geese. They're the alarm clock for the city.
But besides these musings, a large citadel is Namur's main attraction, high up on the hill with switch back roads and steep, slick green grasses.
View from citadel
In off season it feels more like the abandoned fort it's supposed to be as it lacks tacky museum displays and ice cream stands, though desolation might be the best descriptive word. As you climb, Namur opens before you, a cluster of stone buildings surrounded by rivers whose traffic consists of slow, lumbering flat bedded boats. But the view, like everything else in this city is dampened and dull, almost as if seen through murky glass and it hardly merits a camera shot because the feeling
would be entirely absent. A picture can't quite capture the isolation. As a lone explorer you are free to wander around, risking muddy shoes and dirty hands as you scramble up and over hills where you thought
you saw a path, which ended up being a well-disguised ditch. Finding the road again is hardly consolation as it too is slick and covered with mud with the added bonus of impatient, fast moving Belgian drivers. But it's all part of the adventure and I admit to having a smile all morning, despite the growing dampness of my feet.
Moving down from the citadel and into the city allows you to exchange one grey world
for another, the only difference is that the latter bustles along despite the weather. Old Namur is, as expected, a network of twists and turns around narrow streets, river walks that hold that distinct stench of human-polluted waters, and tavern upon tavern upon tavern. For, as I have needed to remind myself several times, I am now in Belgium and beer is their sustenance. I am not a beer connoisseur; I prefer the drinking of it to the judging, and so asking for "une bière" comes off as an insult and will get you a Stella for all your pains. Developing a new system seemed needed and so now I pick a new beer each time, ask for it with a smile and all is well! And can you believe it, they serve cheese cubes with your beverage!? Oh how I could love these Belgians!
Citadel, beer, and almost-pornographic art are the city's highlights, and I am not joking about the last. Féliciens Rops, born here but spending his good years in Paris and Brussels, was an artist who never had a claim to fame, mainly because his art was too risqué. (I find this odd coming from the
French, but that's just me.) So now his works are limited to a two-room museum and it's a passage through boudoirs, skeletons, breasts, phalluses, and political satire and can I just say, the man was creative. Unfortunately, due to PC restraints, I can only show the "appropriate" pictures here, but if you're up for a "huh" feeling, google him!
And now the last touch to my stay in dreary Namur: robbery. It's a _______, let me tell ya. To justify my what some might call foolish "expectation of safety", I first have to explain the security procedures of hostels. All personal information is given to the receptionist: passport or identity card or whatever. Usually just a formality, it covers their derrières should anything happen. Though many differ in how difficult it is to get into the building, most require access by way of key, usually electronic. My current hostel does this: electronic key gets you into the first two doors to the building and then gives you access to your room. So far so good. Sharing a room dorm-style requires a bit of trust, based on the idea that you're all pretty much in the same boat and if
you had a lot of money, you wouldn't be staying in a dorm. And if you get robbed, you can count the suspects on one hand. It's a mentality that has worked well thus far.
So we have personal information at the front desk, electronic key access by way of 3 doors, and a shared comradery in poverty. Now who would take the risk?
A cheeky little teenager, that's who!!! I had the unfortunate luck of sharing a room with "one of those". Anyone who has spent time in a hostel, you know what I mean. The kind that literally pokes you awake in the middle of the night, wanting to know your life story. The kind that drops their phone on your head a mere 2 hours later, turns on the light and starts cursing up a storm. And the kind that has the gall to say you
up with your snoring. And finally the kind that takes all the cash from the wallet you left upstairs in your (secure) room while you are downstairs enjoying breakfast. Sigh- such is life! Luckily she wasn't interested in my passport and my credit card was left in
One day of sun, and it's only peaking through
my pocket from the night before, so all she took was €100 and my trust in humanity.
Not the best start to my stay in Belgium, but I think I will have a chocolate, drink a beer, and enjoy some cheese cubes and let the universe work its magic. Because, afterall, life is still good 😉
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