On our own with our Eurail Pass and the trains of Europe

We arrived in Liege, Belgium on a wet Saturday afternoon. By the time we arrived the rain had stopped but it was still very wet. The main station is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Very modern in both sculpture and design but finding assistance proved to be rather difficult. We knew no French and every policeman withdrew from the scene once he realised that our French was non-existent. Finally we found a pleasant cop who would listen to our story.

Government Building
 
The Government Buildings in Liege 
 
When I book our accommodation I always do my best was to find hotels near the Central station so as not to have to walk too far with 2 suitcases. What I did not realise is, because some of the cities are so large, they frequently have a couple of main (major) stations. As a result I made a few errors in bookings and proximity to stations. I am doing my very best to be more accurate for our trip to see the Northern Lights etc at the end of this year. I check every one which says near the train station to make sure it is the main station at which international trains arrive.
Trevor at Liege Central StationTrevor at the beautiful Liege Central Station

Anyway, back to what happened on arrival at his magnificent station. The policeman informed us that we had to get the underground train to another smaller station about 5 kms away. We found the right platform and eventually got the train to the correct station. To get out of the station we had to climb a steep flight of stairs up to the road. Remember that I said in an earlier blog, Dos & Don'ts, it is essential that you pack light. This is an excellent reason why to do so. No one assists you unless you are both blind and lame. After approximately 20 mins of walking and asking for directions we found our hotel.

As it was mid-afternoon we decided to go for a walk around the area and found it to be quite beautiful but also rather dirty. We walked past, please note we did NOT climb, what must have the longest flight of stairs linking 2 streets that I have ever seen. In fact, I have just looked again at the photo which I took and there must be at least 150. We had climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and that was more stairs so I guess we have met the stair-climbing challenge! There is a river which runs through the centre of Liege and it made the whole place seem so serene. I am very fond of water for its calming effect – waterfalls, rivers, streams, home water features etc. Although there was a boat on this river there was no time to experience it.

Steep steps in LiegeSteps joining 2 streets

The next morning we took a train to the beautiful town of Spa in the Ardenne Forest. Once a scene of awful human destruction in the 2 World Wars, today a perfectly serene and lush area in Belgium. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, our Eurail Pass was for 1st Class when available and it was on this trip from Liege to Spa that we discovered how to distinguish between the 1st Class and the 2nd Class coaches. No, not with a 1 or 2 displayed on the coach but by a yellow band painted across the top of the doors. Now who would have thought of that?!

The 1st Class compartment on this train which was a little suburban one was minimal. There was space for no more than 6 customers with 4 small bunk seats separated from the rest of the carriage by a glass door. This was a minimal help from the smells of dogs and smokers which in 2010 were still permitted on the trains. What we also learnt is that graffiti is common to everywhere all over the world. Even the smaller stations had the name signs and walls covered in graffiti. It really looks awful and so dirty. In the picture is Pepinster Station which had so much graffitti it was amazing. We had to change trains at this little spot even on such a short trip.

 

Pepinster stationPepinster Station

The train journey to the town of Spa took about an hour and once again it was raining. On arrival in Spa we had to walk about a kilometre into the town. It was only when we started asking about transport to the track that we were reminded it was Sunday and this meant that there were no buses or taxis running, unless we were prepared to pay a hefty price – 35Euros each way as it was a distance of over 30kms. So there we were, in a small out of the way town with the rain falling steadily and unable to reach our planned destination. It actually seemed quite strange to find things closed or not running on a Sunday as in South Africa this no longer happens except in the very small towns. The fact that it was reaining should not have been surprising as, in following F1 over the years, we had often heard that it could be raining within one section of the track and bone dry at another.

As I have said before, it is important to have learnt something about, not only the places one will visit but also the surrounding areas so that when things like this happen you can make a new plan. We knew that the town is called Spa due to its hot springs and so we took the lift built into the side of a hill to the top floor of The Spa.  After a long look at the beautiful views across the Ardenne wewalked down the path where we were able to breathe lovely fresh and clean country air. We walked all over the town where saw some really beautiful buildings and discovered an Arts & Crafts Market in full swing. This small town has about 5 hotels all on the main street.We ended up having quite a lot of fun chatting to the stall holders and others. We took the late afternoon train back to Liege where a warm bath and hot dinner were most welcoming. The following morning we had to be back at the main station by 9am to catch the train to Nancy and on to Pontarlier.

Liege from stationA view of Liege from the Central Station

About Me

I was born into the early part of the Baby Boomer generation, the 3rd of what came to be a family of 6 daughters. Although both our parents, who are now deceased, had been raised in rural Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) and the 2 eldest daughters were born in a country town, the other 4 of us were all born at home in Durban. Read More

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