... to Maastricht 'Off to the Spa, but ended up playing Snakes and Ladders'
Could it be...could it really be that the weather is turning into that blue sky and warm sun that i've been accustomed to for the majority of this trip. No sympathies i know from those of you back at home reading this i have no doubt (!), but it is cold in this metal van which seeps on through to my bones, with no heating to compensate other than layers of extra clothing! So with my reliance upon the sun to warm up the van of a morning, and me, it means that on this very day i can finally feel my bbody defrosting from the night as i was debating that if the day was like the last few i'd get myself into a hotel room tonight.
Shower time and its like one of those you find at an outdoor swimming bath where all white tiles are grimy and the only heat this place can get is by the running of a hot tap. You feel that if you get yourself into the shower to warm your bones up know you will then find it difficult to put your toe outside afterwards as the tester as it may drop off from frost bite! That's it, trapped in the warm water til next summer! No time to hang around, just hit the showers and get on with it so we can get off to our next adventure, so i try to find the cleanest of the showers (well one out of the option of two) and after the dribble of hot water I manage to wrap myself in my towel before the freeze set in with a quick change into dry clothes. All done and hopefully this is the day in which others will follow to keep the sun shining until i'm home in just over a weeks time.
So off we pop, just 5 minutes down the road for our second try of exploring Spa which is a real picturesque town and often gets referred to as the 'Pearl of the Ardennes' as its nestled in a wooded valley surrounded by rolling hills and countless rivers and springs. Its given its name to all Spa's around the world so its no surprise that visitors from all across Europe come here for its healing hot spring water treatments since the 14th century. This place was also the home to the world's first casino, built in 1763 to cater to visitors and its also home to the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack, one of the most scenic circuits in the Grand Prix schedule.
We park the van up and wander through the park and i'm not quite sure what i'm looking for here but i'm strangely thinking I'm expecting to see a hot springs right in the middle of town, although I know that wouldn't really be practical so its not the best plan to have, unless its a fountain...but surely it can't be, there has to be springs of some kind. No, don't be daft, there isn't a spring in town...but as i'm not sure what i'm meant to be looking for i suddenly see a railway that goes up the side of a mountain using a cable car, well that's looking better as why build a railway if there's nothing to see up at the top? We head to the cable car and there it is, a sign, but not one of springs...but why, why are no dogs allowed in here?!? I look up and like Indiana Jones and feel that the treasure of the hidden Spa is all the way up there to seek out so a trek up the mountain side is a must.
We start at the bottom step and following the grey brick stairs, as it slaloms up and around hairpins, but it stops; just stops to nothing. I look for signs for the pathway to take next which feels like it will either be the ladder that gets me to the top or one to slide back down the muddy slopes to the bottom once more. I try to keep to the rail tracks heading on up so at least i can meet it somewhere up there but heading right, going under the tracks, there isn't much going on this way and its not a pathway to walk on really. So left it was and the pathway was of a better walking substance but i was heading further and further away from the rail tracks so I stopped and just looked straight up instead, technically i could climb up...this was a curse, with curses then coming out of my mouth as I thought half way up what on earth possessed me into thinking i was indeed Spiderman.
So as the pathways either side of me looking like they weren't the quickest option i started climbing on all fours up the muddy mountain side, and the steepness was one of me basically tipping forward on my toes! Ellie with her four paws and claws was heading up no problem, and with soil slipping under my feet as i was overreaching to branches to pull myself up on (and praying that they didn't break at the same time) I did wonder at one point if i could move no more. Looking down there was certainly more of a risk in heading back that way so going up it was...Ellie just turned and wandered back to me every now and then to check in on me, once she was satisfied that i was still on the move she toddled off once more!
Finally, after 10 minutes of climbing, i felt like Rocky getting up those Philadelphia Library steps to do my own jiggery dance at the top and wondered what i've got for my perseverance...looking around not a lot! A few more track curves to go up and i found an odd looking building which turned out to be the Spa...wait one cotton minute, i've climbed this mountain edge for the worst architectural building of a common looking Spa that i'm not even interested in using...really?!? This can't be it, where are the springs with us being this high up, there has to be a warm spring somewhere but there wasn't one to be seen. After feeling like i've got the bronze once more as my little arms were smaller than others my age who could hit the backboard quicker than me to get the gold at a swimming gala, i headed back down again but from the other side. Well as it turns out this route was so much better and that track i thought ceased to exist earlier was only a few feet long and the rest of it was fine...with steps!!
At the bottom i found some 60+ aged ramblers with their long socks pulled up to their knees and sticks to hand to make that climb themselves...in which i believe they were cheating as they were doing it on the easier side! They must have been here before! Once i hit rock bottom, in more ways than one, we wandered around the old part of town as i tried to figure out what next to do. Suddenly walking down a pedestrian walkway I felt like i was heading Back to the Future as a pensioner whizzed past us both encouraging then Ellie to pull on the lead to run after...what exactly was that?!
I look ahead and see that its now whizzing itself back to me and i'm not exactly sure if i'm seeing what my eyes are trying to tell me, is it really a 60 year old Marty McFly wannabe on a hoverboard?!?! Yes Ellie i'm with you, i'm not sure what i'm seeing either! Moving on to leave the man with his toy we find the casino and bump into some information boards of which the English could be in Japanese for all i could read as they weren't telling me much either as to where these elusive springs were. Wait one moment, i see the old Egyptian symbol for springs and i may have just found it but it means one thing...heading back up the mountain once more!!!! No, no and no 'springs' to mind but car, car, car is a better option as i saw from the top a road that headed up there!
Up the mountain by car we find the Spa building once more and in route there were spring symbol signs and as we passed the building i'm hoping there are more to follow but they suddenly stop. I turn back and spot ilthe symbol signs again but not soon passing the Spa it disappeared once more but all i'm left with in-between is a wooded area so i just park on up. There is another sign up I see ahead in the woods and the spring symbol is spotted on the map but its showing that its behind me and not in the woods...but the only thing behind me is...oh say it isn't true, oh i do believe that its only the fake ugly Spa building and not the NATURAL springs! I'm pretty certain that they haven't built the Spa over a warm hot spring for only customers to enjoy with exclusive rights for membership!! I give up, but not without heading down to a river thinking that may be a hot spring was hiding away but it was just that, a river. Right; enough of Spa exploration and back to the car for our next destination of Liege of which i cannot think about without saying 'My Leige' like i'm back in the medieval times, not that I remember those times.
So Liege is the largest French speaking city in Belgium after Brussels, an historical city situation along the River Meuse, seems like a lot of these cities do! Dating back to Charlemangne, Liege is a treasure trove of historical sites with modern transformations as you can see from the new train station to link it to Brussels and Paris. Emperor Charlemagne was born here and so was the writer Georges Simenon, the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret for you crime novelists out there!
After a few swings round the city i manage to find a parking space although with slight hesitation as there were barriers stating no parking with building construction going on around the square but others are doing so (so that makes it right, right?). We have a walk around past bridges, old buildings, a statue of a high diver doing a handstand on a high board, boats parked on up, an old cathedral that needs a good wash, water features in the main square splashing over marble rocks and then some arrangement of metal looking cages that could have a flame running through it whilst in a cold of beer garden back at home.
After a tour around the old town we headed back to the van as the night was coming nearer and after deciding were stay we headed off to Maastricht in the Netherlands to see a castle...well i think it was a castle, and the campsite is near to a castle...so it must be a castle right?! Think i'm slowly losing my mind to organise what i'm meant to be doing each and every day. On route and i need petrol but remember that the Netherlands is extortionate and I believe that i can park up here and get some back in Belgium the next day which was probably going to be the wrong decision as the rest of the day hasn't quite gone to plan! The campsite is found but there is one slight problem, i see the castle (although not the sight i was expecting) and i park up in their car park as the campsite was a locked gate just yards away. You needed a fob to get in and i didn't have one, you needed a number to call but i didn't want to use my allowance just for a phone call so i sat and waited but then i noticed that it was closed for the day...what next to do?? I was in two minds to just sleep in the car park of the castle but with people around, security cameras, it being the Netherlands and the place in which it was i knew there would be someone at sometime with a fine to fill out and moving me on my way, i headed on off.
Sooooo, next plan....what is going to be the next plan and i fast running out of petrol that i was trying to avoid getting in this country! I look in my guidebook and there is somewhere just a few miles away but its in an industrial park...but it is free. Heading on over, with the darkness setting in now, its here or nowhere so into the industrial estate I go and I eventually find the place in which to park which was right outside a camping store. Parking up there are street lamps around, a main busy road on the other side and it doesn't feel such a bad place to park up even though its only me left here. The cold is seeping through once more and so the blinds go down, the screens go up and the bed is made. Time to sleep and knowing we need an early off, as we are not allowed to stay here beyond 8am as one of the restrictions noted, it was early to bed.