14 August 2011

More of Belgium

I have terribly sore feet. I spent today being a tourist, and first took a train to a town called Dinant. When looking at the tourism websites for a country of course they say that every town and city is wonderful, so it is difficult to know where to go. I chose this place because I read that there were caves full of colourful rock formations. On arriving in Dinant, first impressions were quite favourable as it is quite a small place, on the banks of a river, with great forest covered cliffs looming above it. Much better than just another city. You can see in a single photo a large amount of what this town has to offer - a church and a citadel.

The church, called the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame, was actually quite nice. It was very gothic with a lot of carvings and statues and inside was very bright. Only I had forgotten it was Sunday so inside there were a lot of people listening to a sermon. Luckily I managed to arrive right at the end and very shortly they all stood up to sing a response to something in latin, ended with Amen and left quite quickly. There was an organ playing.

So you see the inside is typically gothic with all the arches and pretty windows. It was nicer in real life than in the photo. Then the bells started ringing, and there is really not that much to see in a church so I went on my way. Which happened to be towards a money machine because in a town that is geared for tourists nothing is free! On the upside, a town geared for tourists has nice postcards, and now my huge list of people to send postcards too is beginning to lessen.

After noticing a lot of giant gingerbreads in shop windows I found a wee information board about the city, informing me that Dinant is famous for very hard gingerbread. It looked yummy. Everything was closed though on account of it being Sunday.

So I noticed that on the bridge there were lots of saxophones, all painted differently, so asked at the tourism office what was with that. Turns out that the saxophone was invented in Dinant! So I visited the house of the inventor (I think the only free thing in town) and it had very little in it. It was very small, and had pictures, and some interesting quotes, and a lot of saxophones of all different shapes. Maybe they were not all saxophones.

I also came across an Irish pub named after Galway, oddly enough.

Finally I found a money machine so that I could pay for the privilege of climbing 408 stairs to the citadel. And it wasn't just a token payment either. You would think that the cost would be less for those wanting to walk than for those that take the special elevator thing. Because it turns out that the climb up and the view of the city is the only interesting thing about it. The citadel itself - big empty space. You get to the top and get inside the walls to find a big walled in space, with some old cannons and a little musuem that appeared to be about the history of military school? Being a fortress it of course did not have great windows and balconies with a view across the land.

There was one balcony, so I did manage to get a look across the city. Unfortunately it was overcast today and kept raining (though it was terribly humid and hot!). Still, it is a pretty little town. But the citadel a huge disappointment. I really must find a good castle to go see instead. I was told I could take a bus from Dinant but the man at the station seemed to think that was not the case. I think it would have been another journey of an hour or so though so I decided not to bother.

Going down from the citadel I had to hurry, as I did not want to miss the tour of the caves and wait a whole hour for the next one. The steps were very old; some had strips of metal holding the stones in place. Luckily there was a railing because if you slipped you'd probably only stop when you reached the very bottom. It was nice that there were so many trees.

I made it to the caves in time for the next tour, because it turns out you can't just wander on in by yourself. It is called "Le grotto merveilleuse" and of course supposed to be amazing. Thing is, when you read too many books like I do you are always expecting something so far out of the ordinary that you will always be disappointed. Thanks to the Lord of the Rings, 2nd volume I think, and the movie Journey to the Center of the Earth, I have always wanted to see caves full of sparkly gemstones. Now I don't think that is ever going to happen. But I read that these caves were "colourful" and I expected colour. Of course there is not much in the was of colour underground. The guide was pointing out colours but really it all looks yellowish-white. Apparently there was red-tinged yellowish-white, from the i-ron (yes, the tour guide pronounced the "r", but you can't blame him, English is full of random rules), there was white-blue from the copper and white, from magnesium. Perhaps I should mention that these colours were appearing in the mineralised remains of a very old underground waterful? Which is what you see below. There were also stalactites and stalacmites, so really big ones, and they grow only 1 cm every hundred years so I guess these caves are insanely old. It was really cold down there too. I did not have to duck at all to go through the passages, thanks to being so short. There were many stairs to go down, and then of course when it was all over there were many stairs to go back up, which I again paid for the privilege of climbing. The caves were far more interesting than the citadel.

After the tour of the caves was finished there was a good half hour or so until the next bus out so I went for a walk along the river, to see some big rock, which is apparently of interest because it is really big and cracked right down the middle, which legend has it was split by the hoof of the giant horse Bayard which was carrying four brothers away from the king Charlemagne. But I do not know this history and before getting to this rock, when I could see it in the distance, I decided it wasn't that interested and turned back. On the river I saw what appeared to be a small prefab building floundering in circles. I think it was some sort of advertisement, and I think it was purposefully doing such a bad job at floating.

I missed my bus out of Dinant because, while I did get there just on time, the bus was leaving, and I was not certain it was my bus because the destination of the front did not say the right place name. Although I think it did, just not in the language I was expecting. Many places here have two names, or even three, due to there being multiple national languages. So I had to wait an hour. It was still hot and humid and I was tired by this stage so I went to a cafe by the river, got ice-cream because even when I intend on getting an orange juice or something like that I always end up getting ice-cream, and filled in postcards. I made it to the next bus on time and went to a city called Namur. Which also had a citadel, which you can see in the photo below, taken from a bridge across the river Sambre.

This citadel did not charge for entry, it is huge and more like a big hilltop park. There are roads in it and some small, specialised workshops. There was one that did ceramics and metalwork, and a perfumerie. There were other things of course but for one, it being Sunday most stuff was closed, and two, I couldn't be bothered really exploring. The map was in French. I already knew there was a perfumerie and headed straight there. Only you don't get to see it all being made unless you pay for a tour, which of course isn't on at that time of a Sunday evening. The place smelled really good though. On the way up the citadel there were lots of opportunities for a good view of the city, which was quite a nice city to view.

It helped that the sky was clearing, there were ple and that there were rivers running through the city - they always make a place look prettier. Still, the buildings all look the same, and I think I liked the architecture in Germany better, and the Viennese buildings best of all.

I don't really know what views I was taking pictures of seeing as most the information was in French. This seemed to be a different river, heading out of the city into a valley. Apparently Namur is the city of valleys and is surrounded by lots of walks and hikes to go on, if you are in the place for a decent length of time. Shame there are not such things so close to Mons.

Getting back out of the citadel was more difficult, as the signposts had no words, just colours. The colours indicated particular routes that were laid out on the little map I had but such things are difficult to follow when you have no idea where you are in the first place. I finally found my way out and then figured out where in the city I was. It was time to have a look at the city before catching my train back to Mons. There were several churches, the most interesting of which (in my opinion that is) was stuck in a narrow street with a building right across from it, getting in my way of taking a good photo. Why do they put other buildings so close to big nice-looking buildings so that you can't stand back and have a proper look? This is the Saint-Loup Church.

I also came across a wig shop. I thought I would mention this because it is not such a common everyday sort of a thing. In fact I have never seen a shop dedicated to wigs before.

In one of the "places" (I guess that's like plaza, piaza, square, whatever) there was this odd group of statues. I have no idea what it means. There is a big snail and a smaller snail in a cage. I read something along the lines of it being a joke that the snail is the icon of the city because everything there is slow and leisurely. Perhaps it has something to do with that? Who would know. It is late and I am very tired after my long day. Tomorrow I would like to go to a wildlife park that I heard about, only the website does not tell me whether it is open on a public holiday or not. So I am assuming that it is. Fingers crossed. But now further computer use for the evening may prove difficult because my mouse-clicker button has finally completely given up on me - it appears to be stuck clicked-down and will not un-click back up. I think I should just go to bed.

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