Last year, towards the end of the year, I planned three large trips. Liège was meant to be the last one, and we would have been there at the end of May. When I had to cancel the first one of the three trips, I didn’t believe that this pandemic would drag on that far. Whatever my assumption was, it anyway did. While the trips within Germany could be reimbursed, the regulations in Belgium were apparently different – either I could have claimed back part of the money that I had already transferred, or I’d postpone the trip. One horrible thing about this hostel was that they didn’t issue a voucher, so that it was not really clear how far ahead the trip could be postponed. So I took the first reasonable weekend, after having seen that the corona situation was getting better in Europe in general.
Just like the previous two trips this year (Koblenz and Heidelberg), there was no need for me to announce the trip anywhere. I just put it on my website and at some point all the spots were gone.
Things were looking really good at this point. Well, this was of course not the end of the story. Basically, two major problems then befell us.
After a relative stable period, the second wave arrived in Belgium. With the country already badly hit in the first wave, the reactions came very fast. They reintroduced partial measures two weeks ago. Compared to countries like Japan, which simply doesn’t have the capacity anymore, Belgium can apparently still bear some damage to the economy. Luckily, this one was much lighter than the lockdown in March and it was still somewhat allowed to make a group of 10 people.
Then came what I had initially feared: heatwave. July was largely spared of heatwaves this year. I never assumed it wouldn’t come, but deep down I always hoped it would be okay for our trip. Well, it wasn’t. Düsseldorf is for example seeing a temperature nearing 35 degrees.
This is essentially the background of this trip. Oh, maybe I should also mention one positive thing. The youth hostel apparently got subventions from the state, so that it was half the price for our stay. So in a room of 4 people, I was to pay 30€ for two nights. That’s almost ridiculous. But anyway, I have no idea what is the quality of Belgian hostels, so I decided to not take the usual insurance this time, which means I took the full responsibility for all cancellations etc. Indeed, Lea cancelled her stay for the first night, but still there was some money left from the previous trips which could compensate the loss.
Friday afternoon, I had to go through a huge crowd of people at Düsseldorf central to reach the trail, which was equally overcrowded. Where were all these people heading for? Anyway, I reached Liège two hours later. A ticket for 13€. Well, looking at the distance, it’s less than Koblenz. Liège sounds just so different, maybe because it’s already a French-speaking city.
Since it was so easy to reach Liège, I didn’t organize a group ticket there. So every one of us went there independently. I happened to be in the same train as Inna, so we walked through the city together and then went for sightseeing right after that.
Compared to the neighboring countries, Belgium is not quite famous for tourism. I’m certainly not an expert in history, but I guess part of the reason is because the buildings in this country are not quite as fancy as in the neighboring countries. We walked up the hill in the north of the city and got a clear view over the city. Well, there are traditional buildings, but there are also a quite significant number of buildings probably erected after the war, which clearly didn’t look like they should be there.
Most of the people arrived at 6:44pm (trains arriving every 2 hours?). We then left our stuff in the hostel and went to the restaurant L’Industrie. As I stated several times in the last weekend trips, this time we had decided to look for a place to have dinner. After heated discussions over the course of last week, we ended up with this restaurant. I’m pretty sure that the people in the restaurant hated us for being super noisy :D. Not quite surprisingly for me, they didn’t speak English. As I was the only one French speaker, I did some translations, but fortunately the young generation in France (and probably also in Belgium) would often try to speak English, so someone the communication worked. The only one thing that they had trouble understanding was this concept of tipping – this actually doesn’t exist in France at all and it is nearly always expected in Germany. So when Sarah tried to give tips, which led to confusions, I had to explain what she was trying to do. German people tend to think tipping is also common in France, but that’s mostly because Germans appear in the same places and in those places French people simply already know that Germans tip.
After dinner, we went back to the hill top, because except for Inna and me there was no one who went there. Going up something like 300 steps after a rich dinner with alcohol. We are still young and energetic … maybe.
The hostel had a super nice inner yard which was open until midnight (?) and a bar. Actually, while I was thinking that the hostels outside Germany are not quite as good as the German ones, I was surprised to see the quality here in Belgium. Anyway, we stayed there till midnight (with Belgian beer in the hand) and then went to bed.
The heatwave didn’t allow us to sleep a lot – I was awake several times, totally soaked in my sweat. Fortunately I brought a bottle of mosquito repellent, so we could simply leave the windows open. Sarah and Zaman were apparently bombarded by an army of mosquitoes in the night. Amen.
The breakfast was very much like in Germany – bread, cheese, jam, ham, cereals etc. I mean, only basic stuff but still decent.
We left the hostel at 8:45, in the hope to take a bus to cut the first 4 km or something where we were supposed to walk through the city. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how to buy a bus ticket. Due to the corona restrictions, it is currently not possible to buy a ticket on the bus, but then the corner stores, which sold bus tickets, simply didn’t know which bus ticket they were supposed to sell (actually the guy didn’t even speak proper French…). As the problem had already been there the previous day for Zaman and co. (and there we didn’t think that we could find a quick solution), we simply decided to do the whole trail.
A few days back, when we realized that it was going to be extremely hot, we decided to do the trail other way around, meaning instead of arriving in Liège at the end, we started from Liège. This turned out to be a brilliant idea, as the beginning part was exactly in the shadow when we started. Whenever we had a short sunny zone, we could heat the striking heat.
I guess hiking is not quite the most popular activity in Belgium, just like in France. So, even though the trail was actually quite good, we didn’t encounter a lot of people on the way. Only there were a lot of trail runners. Is it the new wave arriving in Belgium?
As Lea had to work on Saturday, we were 9 people, meaning there was no practical reason to separate the group. But Zaman was going actually so fast that I was far behind the group in the beginning. With this, we were around 1 hour ahead of my planning when we arrived at the break site that I had planned beforehand. This was probably pretty good, since we wanted to have time for swimming at the end of the hike.
As soon as the nature started in today’s trail, we had mostly no direct sunlight. South of Liège is a massive forest. We were lucky that we were spared of the burning sunlight today.
Concerning the forest, I was actually particularly interested in the forest of this area, because this is the beginning of what’s called forest of Ardenne, which goes towards the border between Belgium and Germany. You might know that France capitulated fairly quickly in WWII. This is essentially because they were defending the north of the country, where it’s vastly flat, but the German tanks actually went through this massive forest, which was hardly expected from the French side. In order to understand, why French thought that Germans would never cross this area, I always wanted to see what it looks like. And today, I can indeed confirm that it’s a massive forest, and probably the center of Ardenne is even wilder. I’d be very much interested to see that area as well the next time.
There was a shopping area on the way, where we went to different places for lunch. I entered an Italian restaurant, which offered fresh pasta. Frankly, I wasn’t particularly hungry in this heat, but the place looked kind of authentic so I ordered Bolognese – this one was perfect. It’s hard to believe that such a great lunch can be found outside cities in this country.
The rest after the lunch was relatively short, but we had a super nice path along the river Ourthe. It was the place where the river makes a sharp curve and we were on the outer side of the curve, which was (not so surprisingly) a steep hill. This was a part of trail, which I wondered whether to erase or not, because I wasn’t sure if we’d have enough time today. Great that I left it there.
This river Ourthe was not extremely clean, but clean enough for us to find it quite okay to enter. As soon as we went down the hill, some of us entered the water. Even though this was a river, the water was quite warm, but of course cold enough to extinguish the fire burning us within a fraction of second.
We stayed there maybe for 1 hour. I was actually starting to feel cold towards the end. I could feel that my body core was cooled down extensively. At some point we started walking, which seemed like a wrong moment as it was too late for one bus connection, but way too early for the next train connection.
This last part was probably the worst part of the day – we were walking along a large street with virtually no shadow. I could see Sarah start to stagger slightly in this heat. So good nothing happened to any of us.
Finally we arrived at Esneux, where we wanted to take a bus. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to buy a ticket on the bus, so I asked in a corner shop nearby for a ticket. Well, at least we got someone this time who knew which ticket we should be buying, but he had only multiple tickets, meaning one ticket would be for 6 rides. This must have been quite an exception for him to see tourists in this small place, let alone during the corona time (because otherwise we’d buy one on the bus). I talked to passers-by, but no one really knew what we could do. Zaman then asked if it would be possible to get a 6-ride ticket and use it once for 6 people. After 10 min of research in the internet we found out that that’d be ok. It’s good that we had half an hour before the bus was to leave.
We didn’t really have a plan for dinner. As I was simply exhausted, probably because of the heat, I decided to roam in the city only with Meysam, to find a good place to eat. There are quite some places to sit in this city, but most of them were brasseries, which are essentially bars where you can also order food. But then you get mostly stuff for drinking, which is not so bad but also not so special. After some time, we ended up in the same restaurant, which was perfectly fine by me since I really wanted to eat mussels again.
In the evening, as we were not allowed to stay in the yard for a long time, we stayed inside and played billiard. I could see that this hostel was not just for small children, which is usually the case in Germany. It would be really nice to have something like this in Germany as well…
For the amount of Belgian beer, I was pretty okay the next day. I just had to take cold shower several times in the night.
After the breakfast, we went to the train station separately. I almost immediately left the hostel and went to the station, because there wasn’t much for me to see in Liège anymore and I wanted to cross the city as quickly as possible to get the minimum amount of heat.
We got a train around 10am, leaving for Eijsden. In strong contrast to the bus ticket, it was super easy to get a train ticket. As the final destination of this train was Maastricht, where we’d end up at the end of the day, Tim decided to go there directly, without doing the hike with us. It’s actually quite common that some people don’t do the full programme on Sunday. In fact, the only one weekend trip where everyone did the full programme was Heidelberg so far.
It was interesting to see our situation today. We were first in Belgium, and by train we were crossing the border to the Netherlands. Then over the course of the day we were to cross the border back to Belgium, then again to the Netherlands. And finally by train from the Netherlands to Germany again. It’s probably the first time in my entire life to cross a land border 4 times.
As soon as we entered the Netherlands, we could see herds of cyclists. It’s so interesting to see the different cultures in directly neighboring countries.
There was a river dividing the Netherlands and Belgium. As there were not enough bridges, we crossed it with a small boat. This boat apparently goes back and forth all day long, carrying mostly cyclists. A small entertainment for 1€ :).
After the boat, we were walking a flat path for some time again. The sun was shining, but with the amount of wind coming from every direction, it wasn’t so hot today. The area was covered with … wild bushes? It was a kind of landscape that cannot be seen often in Germany.
Then came a spot where we could finally go up a steep hill. It was actually not quite the same spot as it’s indicated on the map above, but we first had to follow the river a few hundred meters and then we could find a path to go up. It kind of appeared in the middle of nowhere, but there was a rope along the steep path. This was probably the most adventurous place this entire weekend.
When we reached the top, there was a huge plateau. How’s possible that there’s such a large flat surface after such a steep hill?
Along the way, there were a few caves in the forest. As we were heading for the famous cave spots near Maastricht, I’m pretty sure that what we were seeing was somehow connected to them.
As we continued our way, the sky started to turn dark. Then it started raining. Usually rain is pretty bad, but today, after this huge heat, we were delighted to see it arrive. It looked like the first drops were directly evaporating. We could smell the fresh rain dropping on the hot ground.
Well, the rain kind of turned into a storm after some time, but fortunately, this happened when we arrived in the restaurant next to the caves. That could have been a catastrophe if we had still been hiking in that moment.
This cave site is apparently a famous touristic place. There have already been a few people who talked about it. In order to enter the site, we needed to buy a ticket beforehand, but this one turned out to be a slightly complicated task: they were selling tickets only to people living together, but it was not possible to buy a ticket alone either. So I argued that people sharing the same room in the hostel are technically living together, even if it’s only 2 nights, and I got a ticket for 4 people in my room. Well, I guess from the legislative point of view it’s nonsense to claim that we live together, but for the infectious point of view, it probably even made sense. I first thought everyone would follow my logic (which Zaman indeed did), but then there was one girl in a 4-person room who got a ticket for herself and one more girl, leaving two other girls essentially stranded. I don’t really understand why she did that, nor why the two other girls didn’t really care about that, but anyway as they waited, the remaining tickets were gone, and they couldn’t join us. I guess I should have bought a ticket for all of us at once from the beginning, because whatever the rule was, it didn’t make much sense anymore anyway after a long weekend that we spent together.
It’s true that there was rain, but it was still really nice to be in the cool cave. It was just one hour, but truly entertaining. Since there were more sites to see there, I guess we’ll visit it again.
After the cave, we visited Maastricht, but essentially the trip was over. I walked around with Meysam, mainly because we missed the bus for Aachen. This is a church right next to the train station, which looked more like a mosque.
On the way back, we also visited this small town called Valkenburg. According to Tim, this is also a touristic site. We couldn’t find out why, though :).
Then I took a train back to Düsseldorf. Compared to other weekend trips, I came back home relatively early (7pm?). The others apparently mostly stayed in Maastricht and did more sightseeing.
This was the very first weekend trip abroad. As I already stated (did I?), this time I didn’t take the usual 5% insurance, and since Lea didn’t stay with us in the first night, I made a slight loss for this trip. Well, it doesn’t matter. The hostel was anyway so cheap that I could have possibly paid for everyone and I wouldn’t have been hurt at all.
With each weekend trip we are getting better and better prepared, but this time it was particularly well done – there was virtually no single instance where we didn’t know what we were to do. Great thanks to Zaman for helping me organize some stuff. Appropriately enough, some people thanked Zaman in the WhatsApp group as well for the first time.
So there’s pretty much nothing to say from my side. I guess we should organize more weekend trips to Belgium, especially after having seen the hostel in Liège (in the hope that the other ones are just as good). There’s one for example in Namur. That could take place maybe early next year. Hopefully the coronavirus is defeated by then.