Monday, November 21, 2011

Dinant - Doing what everyone tells us...

It's not very common, but we decided to do what people were telling us. Go go Dinant, it's beautiful. "Dino" as pronounced locally.
We heard a lot about the city on the rock, the city of Adolphe Sax and other things we didn't know like the fact that they have the toughest cookies in Europe. So, this is the place for tough cookies!
We left home while everything was very cloudy - the forecast sites said it'll get better but we were skeptic. The sites were right and this gave about 6 hours of some low autumn sun-light.
The train ride passes from Flanders to Wallonia. The change is immediately noticed. People are louder, the nature is wilder, the street of the towns and train stations we pass by look somewhat more abandoned.   The railway from Namur,thru Lustin till Dinant is parallel to the Meuse river and is beautiful.
We noted that people talking loud disturb us more than in the past.
We saw children with blue shirts belonging to a youth movement. Anyone has an idea what is it?
Some extra knowledge courtesy of the French Coffee shop in Namur's train station : Caffe Palomino == Caffe Macchiato.

So, November 11 turned out to be a definitely winter clear nice day.

Dinant is a very cute place. As we said above, all the way from Leuven to Dinant we could feel the French character of the region we were heading to - families were more outgoing and  consequently louder. It was a national holiday (Armistice Day), which means less frequent buses and trains, but mainly closed shops even nearby touristic attractions. The Tourist Information Office closed at doesn't matter that there was no sun till 12:00...
The souvenirs shop nearby the main church and teleferic was closed too - doesn't matter that it is the most central point in town. When we were coming down from the castle the lights in the shop were turned on - but don't worry - the shop was still closed. Yet again, don't worry, there was nothing worthy of buying.
In one of the pastry shops we got a 'coque' the hardest European biscuit according to the locals  and two pastries filled with a huge amount of apricot and cherry marmalade. A pose with Adolph Sax's statue and we were ready for the highlight - the citadel.
The imposing fortress on a huge rock cliff hanging over the town's church was impressive also from within.
We could expect that the walking paths in the park outside of the fortress won't be perfectly marked - e.g. the official map we got showed a walking path to a nice 17th century tower and watching point, but the path was closed and not marked. A short question to one of the teleferic operator clarified that "yes. you can get there. but you may have to jump a few fences" (+ a short blink). Definitely not an answer we'd get from a Flemish, but caused us to feel a bit at home. In our way to the tower we passed through a cemetery to the French and Commonwealth soldiers. For some reason the signs were also in Japanese (the only place in whole Belgium were we saw Japanese signs).
A short guided tour with a cranky old guide in the fortress reviewed the battered history of the town - passing from hand to hand since the middle ages it was destroyed in WW I by the Germans after a face-to-face battle with French soldiers (who lost the battle b/c of bad not to say stupid tactics - bayonet attacks. You may ask Charles de Gaulle who was wounded here). 70 dead in the fortress were Germans and trapped French soldiers who fought while outnumbered (54, 16 respectively) were summed to 1000 soldiers dead int he whole battle. At the battle dawn 674 citizens were executed by the Saxon soldiers ("Innocent Victims of the Teutonic Fury" as put in a local memorial) under circumstances which resemble a lot the destruction of Leuven a few days later). The fortress is decorated by a post WW2 Golster Meteor and an anti-aircraft gun, very unrelated to the most important historical events in these grounds.
The cranky guide spoke - actually, shouted, in French, Flemish and German and the very vociferous tourists of the same nationalities together with the echo in the fortress tunnels made us fell lucky we cannot understand a word. We read the signs in English (which looked similar to the guide's stories) and tried to run vain...there was no way out of the tunnels...only with bayonets.

At sunset we headed to the train station through the main town bridge with color saxophones escorting us as we cross. In a local bar run by two ladies just in front of the train station we agreed that Dinant is much more personal than Namur. We found in it not as magic as people described it nor very touristic, but it touched us in a way.
In the bar we sipped a Leffe Noel (Santa Claus for you) - the seasonal special version of Leffe draught. Of course, we forgot to mention that Dinant is the home of Leffe monastery. Leffe is brewed in Leuven and the monks here are quite fed up with the tourists from what we heard, but Dinant will always be the home-town of Leffe as well as Alexander Sax - the two most famous sons of Dinant.
The Leffe Noel was darker than the Leffe brown and somewhat bitterer. We enjoyed also a tasty draught Scotch CTS, a Scottish Ale (dark brown and bitter) from the mammoth manufacturer of Leffee and Stella InBev. BTWBelgium for about 4 years.

For the grand finale, we got a quick and painful return to reality. We approached the train station. We had to use 3 different credit cards till we managed to pay for our tickets back home (Amex which supposedly didn't require connectivity). The cashier was extremely nice and patience as well as the people who were queuing behind us.
Dinant has a huge potential for tourism (bigger than Namur) - we'd expect Jazz/Sax festivals - we'll for sure follow up sometime.
An another Dinant story for you before we are off to bed. The teleferic ride to the citadel cost 7.5 Euro per person. We hesitated for a moment, till we found out the price for going up by foot.
7.5 Euro as well....Go figure.

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