Arriving in Liege after a long and complicated train journey, I was immediately struck by how cold and rainy it was for June, especially as I’d become accustomed to the heat of Southern Europe. I was also slightly taken aback by the ugliness of their train station, which was still under construction. I managed to catch a bus to my hostel, despite the driver not understanding me when I asked if the bus went where I needed to go, and spent as much time as I could be bothered wandering the town and eating waffles and chocolate, though I was thoroughly unimpressed with Liege (this trip was the beginning of my hatred of Wallonia, and my love affair with Flanders). But you may be wondering why I was there in the first place, especially since I took such an awkward journey to get there. The answer is of course World/Inferno, who you may recall were my favourite band at that time, and were playing a show there that night.
While hanging out at the hostel prior to the show, I started talking to a couple of Aussie guys who expressed an interest in coming to the show with me (maybe they had designs on me, I don’t know, but certainly nothing ever came of it), and I was happy enough to not have to find my way back late at night alone, so we all set off together, picking up some frites on the way. The venue was called CPCR, which apparently stands for the Centre PolyCulturel Résistances, which I’m guessing is some kind of anarcho collective not dissimilar to the venue in Paris, though this one was less weird, containing a bar, a kitchen, and a small show space in the back. When we arrived, the band were all sitting around a table eating soup, and I went full fangirl on Jack Terricloth, the singer, who was quite a bit older than me and not an attractive man by any stretch of the imagination (he was balding and had black teeth), but I loved his voice so much that I was super excited to talk to him and give him some British change I had knocking around, since they were heading to England next, and he promised to put me on the guest list the next time they came to Cleveland, which I was thrilled about (never happened, but I’ll explain more about that in a future post). And I got to meet up again with Dan and Ed, the roadies I had befriended in Paris. I loved this show even more than the one in Paris, probably because Jack specifically mentioned me on stage a handful of times (it was a fairly small crowd, so it wasn’t really as impressive as I thought it was), and I waltzed with Dan, who, unlike the Frenchman in Paris, did not urinate on my feet, so that was a definite improvement! Dan and Ed had a week off before heading to Britain with the band, and since we were all getting along so well, we agreed to all meet in Amsterdam in a few days’ time.
After an uneventful remainder of the night in Liege, I gratefully left the city and set my sights on Bruges, which had similarly crappy weather, but it was so pretty, especially after Liege, that I didn’t really care. I was pretty unimpressed with my hostel when I saw it, particularly the shower facilities, but I was kind of used to being smelly at this point in the trip, so I wasn’t too bothered about going a couple of days without showering, and instead headed out to explore the town. I had more frites (sans mayo, which is the devil), and discovered my favourite soda of all time, Fanta Pomelo, which unfortunately turned out to be a limited edition flavour that only hung around for a couple of years (I have found on subsequent visits that Schweppes sells an Agrumes soda in Belgium that is similar but not quite as good – my kingdom for a delicious pink grapefruit soda!), and ate more waffles and chocolate (when in Belgium). I ended up at Dumon, which is apparently recommended by Rick Steves, but for once the man got it right, because I LOVE their chocolate. I’ve gotten at least a kilo box of it every time I’ve been back to Bruges, and excitingly, Marcus found a place in Chiswick that sells it and got me a box for Valentine’s Day (though they’re not even doing mail order since lockdown started, so I’m shit out of luck for now), and on this occasion, I picked up a box for myself and one for my grandpa, which I stashed in my locker back at the hostel, and endured a sleepless night thanks to the guy snoring like a chainsaw in the bunk below mine.
The next day, I wearily headed out into the cold again to check out the produce and flower market in the Markt, which was very quaint, though I would have liked it even better if it had been the day for the weird antiques market that I discovered on a return visit. I also went to St. Jan’s Hospital Museum, because I had read in my guidebook that it was formerly a plague hospital, and how could I pass that up? Nowadays, it is mainly an art museum, but I was given an English audioguide that talked about its plague-ridden past, and there was a death cart that they used for the bodies inside the museum, so I was still pretty happy with my visit. I then went to the Halve Maan brewery for the tour, since it’s an obligatory Bruges kind of thing (you can read about the tour I took a few years ago here) and ate yet more frites and some ice cream (which I suspect might have been from Da Vinci Gelateria, which still has my favourite ice cream in the city). All in all, it was quite a pleasant day…and then I returned to the hostel.
If you were hoping the scatalogical stories were over with, I’m going to have to disappoint you here, but I think this was the last incident of the trip. That night, I was having a beer in the hostel bar, when an Australian guy I recognised as the human chainsaw in the bunk beneath me approached me and tried to hit on me. I rebuffed him, and asked if he could try very hard not to snore so much tonight, as I wasn’t able to get much sleep the night before. Well, he was clearly already completely pissed and instead wrapped me up in a big smelly bear hug I had to fight my way out of, and offered to buy me a drink in apology. I again rebuffed him and made another angry comment before heading upstairs to try to get some sleep before his drunk ass rolled into bed.
At some point in the middle of the night, Snores McGee came in and passed out and started snoring like a chainsaw again. I was already ready to kill him at this point, when the unthinkable happened. He jumped up, and started puking up spaghetti in the middle of the room. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. The strands of pasta were stuck in his throat, and he was standing there gagging and pulling them out and dropping them on the floor. He left the mess there, and returned to bed, starting to snore again almost immediately. Whilst this was happening, I reached down from my top bunk and pulled my bag, which was sitting on the floor, onto my bunk with me, so it remained clean, but some of the other people in the room who somehow managed to sleep through this were not so lucky, and their luggage was covered in vomit. I just sat there for an hour in total disbelief, not really knowing what to do as I would have to walk through his puke to find someone to clean it up, and I really did not want to do that.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, he then woke up again, and puked twice more, again, all over the floor, with no attempt to even leave the room. This time, it woke up an American guy who had a top bunk across the room from mine, and we just sat there staring at each other in horror whilst this was taking place. The room was equipped with six or eight sets of bunk beds, with an extra single bed on the floor, which a Mexican guy had to sleep on because there was no room in the bunks. While we looked on aghast, the puker started violently farting, and all of sudden, abruptly pulled down his pants and took a shit right on the Mexican guy’s duvet while the poor guy was sleeping under it (and how he managed to sleep through it, I will never know). At that point, the shitter ran out of the room and fortunately, the door locked behind him (I later found out that he had also smeared shit down the walls of the corridor and on the outside of our door). Somehow, the American guy and I were still the only ones awake who had seen the whole thing, and we had to wake up the poor Mexican guy who was still innocently slumbering away with a giant turd on his duvet, so the American guy, who was closer, shook him a bit with his foot and told him to get up because there was shit on his bed. He was still half asleep, but it obviously sunk in when he saw the turd, because he freaked out and threw the duvet across the room, as would anyone in that situation. In the meantime, the shitter had returned from his fecal depredations of the hostel and started pounding on the door to be let back in. Well, that woke up some more people, but I kept telling everyone to not let him in under any circumstances, as he had desecrated the room. After an hour of straight pounding on the door and yelling, one guy couldn’t take it any more and let the shitter in, where he immediately collapsed back into his bunk and started snoring again. I have never been so angry and disgusted in my life, and I couldn’t even complain without getting puke on my feet!
The next morning, the puke was still on the floor, so I had to just suck it up and step down on the least vomity part in my flipflops to head down for breakfast, not that I had much of an appetite. There, I encountered the guy whose duvet had been shit on, and we discussed the awful night before. He said, “I thought it was a bad dream, but I woke up, and the shit, it was real!” which is one of my favourite quotes ever. The shitting chainsaw got kicked out of the hostel, but as it was my last night there anyway, it didn’t do me much good, and the owner also made him clean the room, all the luggage he had puked on, and forced him to take the duvet to the laundromat, though I was personally disgusted that they would even try to reuse it at this point. If it wasn’t already obvious from the awful showers, that was a clue that the hygiene standards of this establishment were not the highest, as was the fact that when I went to pack up the chocolate I’d put in my locker, I found out it had been gnawed by rats, and I had to go buy more before I left. I would tell you not to stay there, but I can’t remember the name of it, and I would sincerely hope it no longer is in business anyway! (Lest you think all establishments in Bruges are like that, every place I’ve stayed since I’ve been back has been very nice, so maybe just stick to hotels and avoid the hostels!) Surprisingly, this experience did not put me off Bruges, since as you may have gathered from my asides, I have returned a few times (and have been to Belgium probably more than any other European country – I really love Flanders) – the chocolate, waffles, and prettiness of the town overrode the awfulness of that night – though it did very much put me off hostels! The next post will cover Amsterdam, which is now all a bit of a blur, for reasons which will not surprise you.