Dinant la merveilleuse

Trip Start Jul 26, 2007
Trip End Aug 05, 2007

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Saturday, August 4, 2007

It's been comfortably cool and crisp here all week... except for today, the last day of my trip, when summer decided to arrive with a vengeance. Hot sunshine was our backdrop as we ventured south to the town of Dinant. I'd wanted to get a taste of la Wallonie, or French-speaking Belgium outside of Brussels, and so after a breakfast of bread and chocolate (a custom I'm strongly considering importing to Canada), we rushed out to catch the train, only to find it delayed. Oh well, it's still a small enough country that we were able to get to Dinant before lunchtime.

We walked across the Meuse river, stopping for photos of the picturesque town, and then headed into the Collegiale Notre-Dame for a look. Yep, another addition to my ABC list, for anyone who might be counting.

Next stop was the Citadelle, which, while supposedly not as impressive as the famous Citadelle in Namur, was fascinating anyway. We took the guided tour and saw the fortifications, the prison cells, the cannons, even the room housing the guillotine and the machine to cut off people's hands. *Shudder*. One room was a re-created bombed-out WWI trench on a 45-degree angle, so walking through it was very crooked and disorienting. On the way up we took the 420 steps, but on the way down we opted for the cable car to save time. All in all, Dinant's Citadelle was one of the most interesting sights of my trip.

After lunch, we walked around town, taking in the views along the Meuse river, the legendary Rocher Bayard, and the many interesting shops and buildings. We stopped to purchase some couques de Dinant, hard cookies made from flour and honey and carved into interesting scenes and elaborate works of art. Careful, trying to bite into one without first softening it in hot tea can be very dangerous! We visited the Maison Sax, the house and museum dedicated to Adolphe Sax, founder of the saxophone. Despite the heat, the entire town was unbelievably picturesque and charming, and we were having a great time.

Late afternoon-ish, we walked up to the entrance of the Grotte la Merveilleuse, a large complex of caves that were discovered nearly a century ago and had been used as hiding places during WWII. We took a tour through the impressive caves, seeing all the geological formations and getting a much-needed break from the heat. Even at 29 degrees outside, it was no more than about 10 degrees inside, making me a happy person.

For dinner, we decided to splash out again in honour of it being the end of my trip, and we took a terrace table right along the river at a pizzeria and cafe that served absolutely ginormous portions of everything. The salad I ordered could've fed me for days, literally, and I won't even comment on the size of Yannic's calzone. Everything was delicious, though. And the atmosphere was unbeatable. I was really glad to have been able to get a taste of both cultures of Belgium even despite the short amount of time I had to spend in the country.

The train ride back to Brussels was fairly uneventful. We walked around the centre of town with the idea of getting one last beer, but after an encounter with a rude waiter, we ended up instead in the centre of the Grand Place one more time. Only this time, the Town Hall was lit up with the colours of the Portuguese flag, and we saw thousands of people sitting or standing in the square expectantly. We figured something was about to happen, and sure enough, at 10:30, all the lights went out in the square except in the Town Hall, and there was a music and light show in the square with a Portuguese theme. Nor sure what the occasion was, but it made for a great closing chapter to this fabulous trip.

Then, just to put an exclamation point on it all, as we disembarked from the metro stop near Marie and Yannic's apartment to head back home for the night, we heard fireworks. We rushed upstairs to their seventh floor balcony for a stunning view of fireworks over the city. Thanks for the send-off, Brussels!
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