I’ve been trying to book most of my weekends, as I am fast approaching the end of my European experience. Once I return home to the US, I don’t want to regret any ‘lost weekends’ in Mons when I could’ve been seeing something different.
Namur province had been on my list for awhile, mostly due to its proximity to Mons (45 minutes by train). I’m not sure why I don’t see more of Belgium, as it’s the most convenient place for a weekend getaway – 1) easy train access, 2) my phone works thus no worries about finding WiFi, and 3) just having the low-stress feeling that ‘home’ isn’t that far away.
A little brief history about Belgium for those who don’t know (I didn’t before I moved here): the country is divided into two main areas, Flanders to the north and Wallonia to the south. Brussels is kind of smushed in between and is somewhat of its own entity. The two main areas are very different, both in language and appearance. Flanders speaks mostly Dutch, but many also still speak English, and the area has a touristy glow to it particularly in towns like Ghent and Bruges. Wallonia, in contrast, speaks mostly French, very few also speak English, and there’s more of a gritty look to it. Wallonia used to be the economic powerhouse before the mining industry took a major hit in the 1960s, and since then Flanders has built its tourism to a point where most visitors never even visit Wallonia. Even though I live in Mons, which is in Wallonia (residents here are called ‘Walloons’), I’ve given much more of my tourist time to the Flanders region. I figured it was time for a Walloon weekend!
The first thing I saw in the city of Namur was the ill-kept area around the train station. I definitely expect train station areas in Europe to be unsightly, but this one was grimier than usual. The city had an industrial vibe, and I wasn’t impressed by the selection of restaurants, either…they even had a Chi-Chi’s in one of the main squares, which is a below-average Mexican food chain that famously went out of business in the US due to an outbreak of food poisoning.
The city is set on the Meuse river, which offered some nice landscape photos of the city…
…and their massive Citadel towers over everything and provides excellent views as well.
I spent a few hours walking around the Citadel complex, and it was more impressive than anything I’ve seen in Mons, but being one of the sole city sights it still made Namur seem more like a day trip.
I was excited about the Felicien Rops museum, who was an artist mostly of erotic drawings….however it was closed for renovation. I settled on seeing a church called the Eglise Saint Loup, which had some semi-interesting wood and stone carvings.
I found a great Belgian pub my first night there, but when I tried to go back the next night the sign read ‘Closed Saturdays’….what the heck kind of pub is closed on Saturdays? I think that just spoke to the non-vibrant nature of the city. The best thing happened on my last morning here, when I had the best crepe ever….banana and chocolate drizzled in Grand Marnier!
After the Namur experience my expectations were strikingly low for Dinant, which is maybe why I liked it so much. It’s only a 30 minute train ride from Namur, and is also set on the Meuse river, but it’s a much smaller city…the kind of city that you really like for a couple hours, but then wonder what you’d do if you were here for a weekend. Regardless, it was a great afternoon spent here, as I didn’t realize I came at the right time – it was the 200thanniversary of Adolphe Sax inventing the saxophone. I played the saxophone growing up, and am still a fan of Coltrane and Charlie Parker, so this piqued my interest. The house where Sax grew up has been turned into a small museum – not much there but worth the free price of admission – and there’s also a monument to him right out front.
To continue with the saxophone theme, the main bridge into town (De Gaulle Bridge) was decorated with large, brightly colored saxophone replicas.
There was also a statue of Charles De Gaulle near this bridge, as he was wounded here during World War I while serving in the French military.
The Church of Notre Dame was quite the sight here as well.
I don’t want to judge these cities too harshly since both Namur and Dinant aren’t really known for their tourism, so my only rationalization for going was to have a different experience than a typical ‘Mons weekend’. It was different…so mission accomplished!