Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day Trip: Liège (Luik, Lidje, Lüttich) Belgium

Earlier this week the president of Bryan's basketball team told us that the team van was available on Thursday and Friday if we wanted to use it.  Since we don't often have access to the car anymore and Bryan had a four day weekend, we took him up on the offer without really having any solid plans of taking the car anywhere.  But after waking up on Thursday morning, we quickly consulted Google Maps and searched for places to visit within a 2.5 hour radius, and settled on either Maastricht, Netherlands or Liege, Belgium.

A trip like this, where we generally pick a location or region and head there with no particular agenda or plans, we have dubbed "free stylin' travel" and it has been Bryan's dream to do trips like this for a long time.  I usually intervene his free stylin' plans and make concrete travel agendas for us, so he was pleasantly surprised when I went along with his idea.

1 hour later, we had packed lunches, Oscar's food and bed, an overnight bag anticipating that we would spend the night somewhere and we were on the road by 10:30 a.m.  About 30 minutes into our drive, as Bryan was making the comment of how impressed he was with our teamwork and packing efficiency, I said to him, "Don't we need our passports to check into a hotel?"

An hour later, after returning home to get our passports, we were once again driving through Oberhausen on our way to The Netherlands and potentially Belgium.  The good thing to come from our 1 hour delay was that Dylan fell asleep at approximately this point, giving him a solid 2-hour nap in the car before arriving at our destination.

We passed through Maastricht (didn't look like much was going on there) and continued on to Liege.  It was around this point where our Google Maps directions came to an end.  It's quite a difficult task to read our directions, which were in German, while also reading the street signs, which were in Dutch, and eventually French.  We kept seeing signs for 'Luik' 30 km's away, which was really confusing. Where was Liege?  To make matters worse, once we arrived in Belguim, the Luik signs became 'Lidje' signs.  (When we came home we told our neighbor we went to Liege, Belgium and he gave us a completely blank look.  Finally it came to him and he said "Ahhh, Lüttich!" This city apparently has many names.)

Somehow, we found the city of Liege/Luik/Lidje/Lüttich without any problems.   There seemed to be ample parking, and we parked at one of the first available spots.  There was good reason for the ample parking.  We were in the hood.  Bryan summed it up when he asked, "Are we in Belguim or Tangiers?" To which I responded "If this is a culture shock to us, then we will never survive Tangiers."

The ghetto was a neighborhood called "Huy", and all the stores were either doner shops, hair salons, clothing stores where traditional Muslim apparel and head covers could be purchased, or import/export "emporiums" where a few Arab-looking fellows were haggling with each other over the cost of a cheap lamp or mattress.  There were virtually no people out on the street and it appeared as though someone in every building had recently been evicted due to all the household crap laying on the sidewalks.  We took a brisk walk around the block and headed back to our excellent parking spot in search for a more populous part of the city.
Just arrived in Liege, ready to see the sights!

The "Huy" neighborhood, French for "ghetto"

The worst part was that we couldn't read the map to find a new part of the city.  So, we blindly ventured on, crossed to the other side of the river and voila - a bustling, populous city emerged that looked much more like the one we imagined Liege would look like.  We parked near the train station, picked up a map from the Best Western and quickly got our near bearings of where we were. Dylan, Oscar and I took a 20 minute slow walk around while Bryan popped into an Internet Cafe to try to find a cheap hotel for the night.  His search was broad and he looked in Liege, Maastricht and Aachen, but the best deal was 100 Euros/night at the Best Western, which was more than we were willing to pay.  So, we did what we like to do best in a new city ... wander around.
Wandering the city...

The weather in this part of the world has been really strange.  It's been in the mid-60s (sometimes colder) and every couple hours a rain storm comes through, downpours, then the sun comes out again.  About an hour into our wandering, exactly that happened and we had to duck into a sidewalk cafe for a drink while the storm passed through.  We were looking forward to trying to Belgian beers, so I ordered a Leffe Blonde and Bryan ordered a Kriek.  I was also really hungry so I ordered a ham sandwich, mainly because the only word I knew in French on the menu was "jambon."  Unfortunately, they were out of ham and most other ingredients, so my only options were the "American Sandwich" or something else that I didn't know how to translate.  Our waitress suggested, in French, something about an American sandwich and I said, 'ok.'

I was really looking forward to having an American style sandwich, but when they brought it out, it was obvious that whoever put the menu together had never been to America and had no idea what an American sandwich should looking like.  It was basically a crusty hogie roll with a weird tomato paste scooped into the center.  There truly was nothing American about it.

Taking refuge from the rain at a sidewalk cafe

Kriek + Leffe + Peanuts = Yum!

The most un-American "American" sandwich.

3...2...1... Temper Tantrum!

It was really strange trying to communicate in a French speaking country after struggling so long to communicate in German.  French is a language that I know 13 words, total.  I can count to 10, say hello, goodbye and thank you.  Most of the time I forgot all 13 of those words and my communication was broken down to pointing and grunting, then saying "danke schon, I mean thank you, I mean ..... ummmmm ... merci!"  I'm pretty sure Bryan didn't even attempt to speak to anyone, as I did all the ordering and talking everywhere we went.

Dylan had his usual temper tantrum at the restaurant, so Bryan took him to a nearby park to let out some steam.  I drank both beers and ate my sandwich in peace, then joined the boys at the park.  We then made our way to the central part of town which was really cool.  Lots of sidewalk cafes, bars, shops and a  fair amount of Frites (French Fries / Pommes) stands.  It was around 6:30, so we got some fries and Dylan chowed down two foot-long curry wursts plus some fries during the hourly downpour of rain.  That's right - Dylan ate his age in curry wursts.

Dylan made two older kids sit down in the train while he "drove" it. 
The church in the town center.

Scooters...(Bryan's comment: What a random picture to add, Dear.) 

My free stylin' husband

Liege's cool town center...

One of the sights to see in Liege is this really long staircase that has over 400 steps and some historic significance of which I don't know (part of the drawback from free stylin' is that due to the lack of planning we have to read on Wikipedia the history behind all the cool sights that we see after returning home).  We couldn't decipher where on the map these famous steps were, but we found ourselves walking up a steep hill and thought surely this must run parallel to the steps and we'll be rewarded with a magnificent view of the city once we reach the top.  So higher and higher we went, taking turns pushing Dylan in his stroller up this crazy hill - even Oscar kept turning around to look back down the hill wondering where we were going.  Our effort didn't really pay off, except for burning a lot of calories from eating the fries, since there were some new construction homes blocking the perfect view.

Here we go up the hill...

Would have been a great view had it not been for those new homes!

And, back down the hill.

It was getting close to 9 pm, which was the time we agreed to leave and head back home, so down the hill we went and back to the car.  Poor Oscar passed our from exhaustion as soon as we got to the car, and was even so tired the next day that he didn't even ask to go for a walk until close to 11:00 a.m.  Dylan eventually fell asleep in the car as well, and we were home before midnight.

All said and done we spent about 60 Euros on gas and less than 20 Euros on food/fun while getting to see a new city and go to Belgium in the time it would take us to drive from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Detroit..  I would say it was a good day for free stylin' travel.

Also, Dylan saw this ad and insisted that it is a photo of his Mommy and Daddy. :)


Cheryl Bennett said...

Love the updates. Living vicariously through you, until its our turn to travel Europe! By the way, love the Mommy/Daddy picture at the end. :)

Mom said...

Great photo's and dialog. I laughed out loud seeing the "American" sandwich!