Aside from absolutely breathtaking views atop the nearly 400-step Montagne de Bueren staircase in Liège, I found myself watching an old man. He was gray-haired, dressed casually in jeans and a button-down, and pushing 75. I was captivated by his movement. He strolled back and forth along a small platform near the bottom of the staircase, hands clasped behind his back. After a few minutes of feeling the sun and air on his face, he’d take a deep breath and take the steps up to the next level. I was impressed. I could feel his peacefulness, the meditation he experienced slowly walking up the steps, and the joy dancing across his features from accomplishing such a feat.
And here I was, having taken the back way up so I’d have to do less work, heading down the stairs. Liège is a city constantly going up, and I was fighting the progress. Shame on me.
Although, it’s not like I had an easy escape. Those breathtaking views from the top were a direct result of breath-stealing steps up about three other staircases hidden in back alleys. Every time I thought I was finished, I found another set of cardio waiting for me just around a cobbled bend in the road.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed every bit of it. Liège is chock full of incredible nooks and crannies, and pockets of history hide around every corner. Art is scattered about the city, too, and a giant wall mural or two had me on the lookout for hidden beauty.
But back to the stairs. After my trek down, I wandered around the historic city center looking for some of the city’s seven collegiate churches. My favorite was Saint Bartholomew, built in the eleventh century, reconstructed in 1876, and full of ancient religious art.
I ended up following my map to the Meuse River and began a quest to find food. I tend to research my trips, a lot. So I knew exactly where I wanted to eat: Cafe Lequet. According to Trip Advisor and a few other forums online, this cafe serves the best boulets et frites in all of Liège. (For you uninitiated readers, that’s meatballs and fries, Liège’s traditional dish.) What I didn’t know was the cafe’s exact location. I had pinpointed it to a couple blocks along the riverfront road based on the address because I wanted to be bad-ass and not use Google Maps to find the RIGHT location.
I highly recommend doing the same thing whenever you travel. Google Maps may be efficient, but by only knowing the general area of a place, you get to experience tons of things you’d miss otherwise by just going right to your destination.
For me, I ran headfirst into the beauty of the Pont des Arches. This bridge is flanked on both sides by giant statues that appear to be guarding the river crossing. The four statues represent Liège’s history: A knight for the Middle Ages, a man hiding a grenade for the resistance to the German occupation, a person with broken chains for the Belgian Revolution of 1830, and a mother and child for the birth of Liège.
I was so tired from sightseeing when I got to Cafe Lequet that any ounce of French left in me had completely bailed. Luckily I knew what I wanted, and even luckier, the woman at the table next to me had the exact same meal. All my broken brain had to do was motivate me to point to her dish. I know she saw me pointing, and I can only hope she knew that I was just saying “I want what she’s got,” but she did move the table tent to block the view between us a bit, so I can’t be sure. Anyway.
Simply put, this restaurant is now my first stop on any future trips to Belgium. The food was delicious. Gravy, sweet and smoky like a mix of ketchup and barbecue sauce, smothered soft meatballs compacted with onions, meat, and tiny bits of fat that dissolved into juicy flavor pockets. My fries were cooked perfectly, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
Once fully satiated, I traced my steps back through the Parc d’Avroy (tailed by a very dirty but very cute little white dog) and settled into the Liège-Guillemins railway station, a stunning piece of art designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, to wait for my train to shuttle me to Brussels.