Monday, October 26, 2015

Bad Weather and Great Waffles: A Day Trip to Liège

Méindeg, 26 Oktouber.

After a whirlwind day in Mons, some Fulbright friends and I hopped on (yet another) Belgian train and headed to Liege.

Why Liège? I'm not going to lie -- my enthusiasm for the city was linked first and foremost to its famous waffles. Gaufres de Liège, with their thick chewy dough and crunchy pearls of sugar, are one of my favorite things on this planet and were invented by God himself. (Or so I've heard.)

But Liège is famous for a lot more than its waffles! The largest city in Wallonia (the southern, French-speaking region of Belgium), Liège boasts a population of almost 200,000 people. The city has a rich history dating back beyond the Middle Ages and, because of its close proximity to the Belgian border, played a significant role in both World War I and World War II. (It was Germany's invasion of Belgium and subsequent assault on the city of Liège in 1914 that marked the first battle of WWI.) Plus, the city is located just a quick two-hour train trip from Luxembourg City. So why not visit?!

After a busy day in Mons, our Sunday in Liège began on the slow side. A walk through the weekly marché de la Batte, the oldest market in Belgium. A visit to the city's Tourism Office. A (long) pause for breakfast.

Having stuffed ourselves with coffee and croissants at a nearby bakery, we grabbed our umbrellas and headed out. Or, rather, up -- way up, that is! The Tourism Office employee had strongly suggested we check out the famous Montagne de Bueren. Despite the lousy weather, she promised, the view of the city was magnifique. Excited by the prospect of a magnificent view and not totally understanding what all this so-called "mountain" would entail, we set off.

And then we saw the stairs.

And the term "Montagne" suddenly made a lot more sense.

That's right. Three hundred and seventy-four steps, straight up through the historic heart of the city to the coteaux de la citadelle at the tippity top of Liege.

And although I happened to snap a photo of the staircase at a relatively quiet moment, I should mention that we were by no means the only visitors to the Montagne de Bueren. As we made our way up (pausing every few steps to pretend to admire the view while gasping for breath), we passed dozens of people -- tourists, joggers, children, and an elderly couple who made their way down the stairs, arm-in-arm.

The hike -- and I do not use that term lightly -- was brutal. But boy, the view was worth it! Even on a cloudy day, we could see the whole of Liège.

On the top of the hill we found the remains of the Citadel of Liège, a seventeenth-century fortress that overlooked the city. Today, the citadel grounds house a hospital, but you can still see some of the old walls! Next to the citadel is a monument to Liègois prisoners executed by the Germans during the First and Second World Wars.

There are dozens of sheep and goats living along the steep slopes of the citadel!! You can barely make one out in the photo above, but there were so so many and naturally, we went down the steps to say hello.

After walking (carefully) back down the 300-some odd steps of the Montagne de Bueren, we made our way along the Hors-Château, the most famous street in Liège! Its name literally means "Outside-Castle" and that's exactly what it used to be -- a road located just outside the exterior walls of the 10th century city of Liège. It is full of old churches and the former homes of particularly wealthy inhabitants.


On the right is the Collegiate Church of Saint-Bartholomew, one of eight medieval collegiate churches built in Liège. Originally built outside of the city walls in the eleventh century, this church recently underwent a massive renovation. It houses a famous baptismal font that is considered one of the seven marvels of Belgium. (Who knew?)

Pictured above on the left and below, is the seventeenth-century Eglise Notre-Dame-de-l'Immaculée-Conception. It does not have a famous baptismal font, but that's okay because it was really pretty.

While walking around the center of historic Liège, we popped into the Palais des princes-évêques, or Prince-Bishops' Palace. Built in the sixteenth century (on the site of another earlier palace), the Prince-Bishops' Palace was the residence of -- surprise, surprise -- the Prince-Bishops of Liège. (In case you were wondering, prince-bishops were bishops who, in addition to their religious authority, possessed a level of secular authority in the city or state they governed. The separation of church and state wasn't such a big deal in the Middle Ages!)

Today, the palace houses both the provincial government and the law court. On a rainy Sunday morning, the courtyard was completely deserted. We had a blast taking photos and posing for group selfies.

A particularly gray photo of a particularly gray building. 


One of my last stops in Liège was the Rue Roture. This picturesque alley is located in Outremeuse, an island neighborhood in the middle of the Meuse River (which divides the city in multiple parts). It's filled with little restaurants and was particularly quiet on a Sunday afternoon.


It was a pretty quick whirlwind of a trip, but I liked having the opportunity to get to know Liège -- and my fellow Fulbright grantees! I don't know if I'll be going back to Liège, but there are lots of things that I did not get a chance to see during my quick trip. The city has several popular museums -- including the Grand Curtius Museum, the Musée de la Vie wallonne, and the Musée Tchantchès d'Outremeus (dedicated to the famous marionettes of Liège) -- as well as many more famous churches, cultural festivals, and culinary delicacies.

And of course, there are always more gaufres to be eaten!

PS. It was a little unfortunate that our only day in Liège was so very dreary (even though the rain stopped after the first hour or so), but the gray skies made for some pretty unique photos. And although my photos may suggest otherwise, the city really is just as bright and lively as anywhere else that I've visited!