A drive across Belgium
17th July 2017
Today was going to be a long drive. We were off on a magical mystery tour that hopefully didn’t result in us spending an afternoon in Maidstone.
I had thought of doing this when I went to Vytas’s wedding last year and was also prompted by childhood memories of us coming over to the Continent.
I didn’t say where we were going but told them to make sure that they had cases packed for an overnight stay — or two.
Off we went heading towards Arras and then up towards Lille where we crossed the border into Belgium. The weather was not great in fact it was pretty overcast for the entire journey but I wasn’t too worried for today. If it stayed dry I’d be happy enough.
Once you are passed Mons and Charleroi the road eastwards becomes less built up and sitting on the Autoroute makes for easy driving. The only thing that disappoints me being that, out this way, the road signs are in French so you don’t get the full sensation of being in a foreign country.
Just after midday we were approaching our lunchtime halt in Namur. I visited decades ago and remember being impressed by the citadel that sits on a promontory between the rivers Sambre and Meuse (Sambre et Meuse is a famous French military march). The road in entails a number of hairpin bends as you wind your way up between the gates.
We parked up on the esplanade and set out for a dander.
The Citadel of Namur
Getting views over the Meuse was easy enough but there was so much vegetation you had to take it on confidence that there was another river off to the west.
It is a large site and I knew that we were only going to be there for a few hours so we would not be able to do a full exploration. The nature of the position means that this has been a strategic site since the dawn of history. Most of what remains however is more modern merely dating back a few hundred years.
Louis the XIV of France may have had an impact on society and the European map but throughout the north of France and Belgium the name that constantly crops up is that of Charles Quint : Emperor Charles V (who in his spare time also doubled as Charles I, king of Spain). His wars against François I, king of France resulted in the citadel being heavily modified and the general shape is still visible today.
Further changes were made during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) when fighting between The Holy Roman Empire and the Protestant countries flowed back and forth.
The Lowlands belonged to the Spanish who obviously sided with the Empire (because through Charles Quint, they were all related). France may have been Catholic but it was also a rival and thus it found itself invaded — which meant well below what we now consider to be the border. My local town of Hesdin was only captured by the French in 1639 and Cyrano de Bergerac was injured during the siege (within a siege) at Arras which fell to the French in 1640.
Following the Napoleonic wars the Citadel was rebuilt by the Dutch who were given control of Belgium until its War of Independence in 1830. The majority of the citadel today is made up of renovations from around this period. With the construction of smaller fortresses around the citadel its own position redundant and it became a popular walking place. A hotel was created and a sports arena created.
Only two sections remained as military sites (until 1977), that called Terra Nova and the Median.
There are kilometres of tunnels under the site and we could have done with a full day but we had to make do with what we had and pottered around the site, looking over the walls, wandering around the battlements and stopping for beer and coffee.
Lunch was taken back on the esplanade where we sat on the terraces there was plenty to eat and the flasks had kept the water really hot all day so they had been a good investment. We had a couple of uninvited wasps but they were more interested in the food containers than us.
We munched and watched the learner drivers practice their manoeuvres and the coach tours come and go. The wee tourist train looked fun but we didn’t have the time. Having stretched our legs for a few hours it was back into the car and off further east crossing the German border and onto our final destination of Aachen.
Arriving in Aachen
I had booked a pair of apartments in the centre of the city (which meant getting my car a German Eco sticker) and finding them was more of a hassle than I had expected. The GPS on my phone decided that now was the moment to start playing up and it began to lag by a few hundred metres. That is of no use whatsoever when you are at a junction and it is still telling you what to do for the previous one. Eventually I managed to find roughly where I needed to be and parking was now going to be the problem. I got close to where I needed to check in, abandoned the car and walked down as it seemed easier.
Once I had got the hang of the directions we were not much longer in getting the car into the garage and us up into the rooms. Not enormous but they were going to do us for two nights and we were within 800 metres of the cathedral. More than value for money.
Dad fancied pasta for dinner so off we went to find an Italian restaurant in the historic centre of town. It was nice and warm and the weather for the morrow was more than promising.
Posted : 17 July 2017