I’m back with another post about my adventures in Belgium! (In case you missed it, here’s part 1, where I already covered my first four days in Belgium). This post will be in the same format as the last, as I break down what I did day-by-day and add pictures at the end of each day. A quick note on the photos: the only day I took my DSLR with me was Tuesday in Liège; sometimes when traveling I like to leave my camera behind and just take a few photos with my phone because it often distracts me from enjoying my day. I apologize in advance, as they aren’t the best quality!
Before I get into the next couple days, I wanted to warn everyone that it might be a bit before my next entry, as yesterday I arrived in Madrid (woo!) and this week is crazy busy, between orientation, searching for a flat, getting my metro card, and finishing all my papers and documents. Once I get settled in I’ll try to catch back up, however!
This post should cover the next 5 days in my adventures, focusing on my first few days with Xavier and ending at the start of the weekend. Enjoy!
Day 5: Reuniting with Xavier
Picking up where I left off last time, I woke up on Sunday morning at Lauranne’s place after her party the night before, and made my way back to Verviers on the train. I thought that Xavier was arriving home around noon, so when my train pulled in to Verviers at 10 and he was there waiting for me with the car I was quite surprised! After my initial surprise and a long hug, we headed back to his house together.
The start of the day was more on the lazy side, as we were both tired from traveling and getting little sleep, but after laying around a bit we decided to take a spontaneous mini-roadtrip together. We headed east towards the small German-speaking community of Belgium, driving through a couple countryside towns together. We made a stop in Eupen, the capital of the German-speaking community, and got ice cream. After that, we headed out across the border into Germany, and went to the small town of Monschau, as it was recommended to visit by Xavier’s mom.
Side note, the trip into Germany was one of the weirder car rides I’ve been in. Right before the border we were on a straight road in the middle of a dense forest when we came across a sign that read “Highway to Hell: Let’s Shake Forever! For 5 km“. Just as I was laughing and making the cliché AC/DC joke, I discovered the true meaning of the sign as we encountered the bumpiest, most uncomfortable road a car could drive on. After a miserable 5 kilometers of “shaking forever”, I did a quick google search and discovered this road has been in line to be repaved for a while, but in the meantime the government placed a warning sign to travelers of the uncomfortable stretch…with their own sense of humor apparently.
Anyways…Monschau is a very picturesque town that looks straight out of the Middle Ages with its narrow cobblestone streets, old timber houses, and a large castle that sits on the top of a hill and overlooks the whole town. Unfortunately, the castle was closed for a festival going on, so we weren’t able to visit it! We spent an hour or two walking around and taking a few pictures before heading back towards Belgium. The last stop we made was at a small inn on the side of the road to have a local beer Xavier really liked.
After dinner we went together with his family and some friends to the Val-Dieu Abbey. Val-Dieu was built in 1216 and used to be a Cistercian monastery, although the last Cistercian monks left in 2001, and is primarily a brewery now. As part of the celebration of the abbey’s 800th year, there’s a nightly show that details the history of the church. The show was a narrated story with images/animations projected onto the church and was quite visually appealing. Although the narration was entirely in French, Xavier did his best to translate for me, and it was fascinating to hear how the church was built, destroyed, and rebuilt three separate times over the years. I got to try 4 of the 5 beers they offer, but my clear favorite was their limited-edition Cuvée 800. (There’s a picture of that beer at the very end of my first Belgium post!)
Day 6: Liège
The next day (Monday) Olivier had an exam at his university in Liège, so Xavier took the opportunity to show me around the city. We were also accompanied by his girlfriend, Constance (although she’s affectionately known as Coco). As I mentioned in my last post, Liège (the city) is the capital of the Liège region, and with a population of ~200,000 it reminded me a lot of Linz, the city I was at on exchange in Austria, although Liège was definitely a bit bigger.
After we dropped Olivier off for his exam we first headed back to the stadium of Standard. If you missed my first post, Standard is the football team of Liège, and also Xavier’s favorite team. Xavier wanted to take a look around the team shop and then take a picture of me. For the picture, we climbed a large hill behind the stadium, I put on one of Xavier’s jerseys, and then lit a pyro/flare. It felt like an induction ritual into the Standard fandom, and it resulted it some pretty cool photos!
Afterwards, we headed back into the main part of town and grabbed lunch at a neat little restaurant called Huggy’s Bar, a USA-inspired gourmet burger place. Let me just say that, coming from an American, Huggy’s had some of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Their menu was extensive, and featured some real good-looking burgers. After lunch, we began to walk around the city. Xavier showed me the highlights of the city, including the main cathedral, the former Prince-Bishop’s palace, and the busy markets and streets. We then climbed the Montagne de Bueren stairs, the longest single staircase I’ve ever seen! I lost track at 500 stairs, but at the top there was a neat statue and an amazing view of the city, so it was definitely worth the climb.
After climbing back down the ‘mountain’ of Liège, the three of us sat outside at a bar and drank some Peket, the famous local liquor of Liège, while we waited on Olivier to finish his exam and pick him up. That night, Xavier took me to George’s, the favorite Verviers bar of his friends, and I got to meet a bunch more of his friends…while trying some great Belgian beers, of course!
Day 7: Brussels
On Wednesday morning Xavier and Coco had to be in Brussels to sign a contract for their new apartment, so I tagged along and we visited the city after they were finished. In honor of (attempting) to keep this post somewhat short, I’m going to write about Brussels in a future post, since I visited Brussels a couple times throughout my stay!
Day 8: Leuven
During the next two days I was on my own again. Xavier was preparing to defend his thesis and needed a few days to work on his presentation, so I decided to take some more solo trips. I contemplated a few destinations before deciding to spend my first day in Leuven (also spelled Louvain).
Leuven, not far from Brussels, is in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium (Flanders) and is known for a variety of reasons. In addition to having a lot of beautiful, historic buildings, Leuven holds the University of Leuven, the largest and oldest university in Belgium, as well as being the global headquarters for AB InBev. For those that are less involved in the beer world, AB InBev is the largest brewing company in the world, and owns 200 brands, including Budweiser, Bud Light, Stella Artois, Corona, and Michelob Ultra.
My trip to Leuven was in typical Mark fashion, as I spent most of my day wandering the streets seeing what the city had to offer. Leuven has a lot of beautiful buildings, squares, and parks, so nearly every street I walked down had something worth seeing. One of the highlights from the day was visiting Kruidtuin, the Leuven Botanical gardens. For lunch I grabbed a salad and chips from a grocery store and took it to a nearby park. I found a spot under a large tree next to a lake, which seemed like a good idea until my lunch got swarmed by four bees! I quickly determined the tree had some form of beehive and packed my lunch back up. Thankfully I was able to move across the lake and enjoy my lunch in relative peace!
After spending a few hours walking around I went back to the Oude Market, a busy square in the center of the city. It’s lined with over 40 bars and cafes, and has the appearance of being one long continuous bar, which is referenced in its famous nickname of “the longest bar in the world.” It’s a popular place to sit watch people passing by, so I grabbed a beer and sat outside for a while. And in case you’re wondering, I did drink a Stella in honor of being in the city it’s brewed in!
Day 9: Cologne
The second day of Xavier being busy, I was planning on going to Cologne, Germany (Köln, in German) by myself, but the night before I found out Xavier’s mom and Aunt were planning a shopping trip the same day, so I ended up tagging along with them. We left in the morning, as it was an hour and half drive to get there, and stayed for a few hours. Once we arrived I split off on my own and was free to wander and do what I wanted. Köln is one of the largest cities in Europe, with a metro-area population of 10 million, and straddles the famous Rhine river (people from Cincinnati should recognize that!) so I was excited to see what it had to offer. Fun bonus fact: Köln is a sister city to Indianapolis, where my family lives!
The first thing I headed for was the Kölner Dom cathedral, the most famous site in the city. According to the German government, it’s the most visited landmark in the country, and is one of the tallest/largest churches in the world. The church was extremely impressive upon first sight, both in the gothic architecture as well as it’s sheer size. However, I only stayed long enough to snap a quick picture and to have a peek inside. Once you’ve traveled Europe enough you get accustomed to seeing beautiful churches in every city you visit, even the small ones, so I’ve become less and less interested in visiting them as time goes on.
After seeing the church I walked down to the river and walked across the Hohenzollern bridge, which contains love padlocks on nearly every portion of the fence of the bridge. The other side of the Rhine offered a nice view of the city, with the church and some other landmarks sticking out in the skyline, so I sat for a bit and enjoyed the view. Eventually I made my way back across the river and wandered a bit throughout some old streets and markets in the center of town. I ended up doing a bit of shopping myself, as Köln is known for its shopping district; Schildergasse has been called the busiest shopping street in Europe. Once I finally got tired of walking around, I found a small cafe where I drank a Kölsch (a famous beer style specific to Köln) before finally heading home.
At night, back in Verviers, Xavier had a meeting for the scouts group he is in. Don’t let the name confuse you, however; the Belgian scouting groups are quite different from Boy/Girl Scouts in America! After the meeting, the group had a BBQ and party, where I joined Xavier and met a ton of his Belgian scouting friends. I even convinced them to experience some American culture and play a game of beer pong, although I had a bit of an unfair advantage and won handily!
Thanks again as always for reading, and I hope you enjoyed following my next installment of my time here in Belgium!