The last few days I have been exploring Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. The largest city in Wallonia is Liège. (Brussels is also mostly French-speaking but is not considered part of Wallonia since it is administered separately as the capital, much like Washington, DC.)
My adventure began on a Monday afternoon in Brussels, after parting ways with several friends who I had enjoyed spending time with in the days and weeks prior. I had no plans whatsoever for the week, but needed to be in Cologne, Germany, four days later.
So I did what any adventurous soul would do and stuck out my thumb. Well, more precisely, I consulted hitchwiki and found a good spot to hitchhike east from out of the city. I did not know what my destination would be, although I was thinking something on the way to Cologne rather than in the opposite direction, if possible.
After waiting for about 15 minutes, an Audi A5 pulled up beside me and the driver asked in French something along the lines of where I was hoping to go (not exactly sure what he said since I do not speak French). I blurted out the first city that came into my mind, Liège. Fortunately he was going there as well. Perfect!
During the hour-long drive, I learned that the driver’s name was Sebastian, he could speak a decent amount of English, and that he was going to visit a friend that he knew from work, Laurent. It turns out that he had just bought his Audi a week before as well, so we spent much of the drive experimenting with the accessories of his brand-new car!
As we were arriving into Liège, Sebastian surprised me by inviting me to have lunch with him at Laurent’s flat. I happily obliged, and we all had lunch together in Laurent’s townhouse. Afterwards, Laurent decided to give Sebastian and I a personal tour of Liège since he had grown up in the city. I learned many things, like the fact that Liège was home to the second electric power plant in Europe (the first was in England), and that there were secret public gardens sprawled throughout the city, which he did not hesitate showing us.
In the end, Laurent did not let me leave his company without treating me to a shot of peket, the liquor of Liège. It had a juniper berry taste but was a bit sweeter and different than gin. In all, a very good day!
I retired to the only youth hostel in town, and soon met the other inhabitants of the room, Christian, an American teaching English in Zimbabwe and currently on his summer vacation, and Michael, an Algerian man coming to town to visit his kids.
Michael’s English was only so-so, but he was raving about a “ville” in the area that was a great spot to go at night, so Christian and I joined him to check it out. He had described it as a celebration of the Gaul peoples of Belgium, so we thought that it might be some sort of forest fire-dancing ceremony. However, we found out that it was just a carnival-like village set up with plenty of restaurants and stalls selling Belgian drinks. It was just temporarily up for a few weeks after the summer solstice, so I assumed that Michael was trying to communicate about the summer solstice by referencing the Gauls. Either way, it was a fun night for us, and we were pretty much the only tourists there as far as I could tell.
In the morning, Christian and I woke up and decided to take a train down to some caves he had heard about south of Liège. The caves, called les grottes de Remouchamps, had a river running through them and reasonably-priced guided boat tours down the river. After entering, we walked through the cave for about an hour and then got into the boats. In my opinion, it was well worth the entry fee for such a neat cave experience in a place I would not expect.
After returning to Liège from the caves, this time on a bus, Christian and I parted ways. I am eager to see what additional adventures await my final days in Wallonia!