My visit to Liège was most enjoyable -- partly because the city was teeming with activity and sights to see, partly because it did wonders for my exercise regimen. If you want to do some small-scale mountain climbing, Liège is a decent option. It's also great if you like architecture, such as the beautiful Opera Royal de Wallonie, shown in the first photograph.
Liège had been on my list of places to go since I first visited Belgium by car in 2001. While driving eastward toward Aachen in Germany, I rode a Belgian highway that snaked back and forth across the west-east Flemish-Walloon interior border. Each time I crossed that border, all the signs would switch languages from Flemish to French. Unfortunately, as the names of the cities were different between the languages, the signs would also change. References to the upcoming city of "Liège" would change to "Luik" and back. As the largest city in eastern Belgium, this name-flopping occured over a long distance and so was burned into my memory, thereby explaining part of my desire to go there. I then learned the Germans had a third name for it, "Lüttich", adding to the fun.
The best parts of Liège were on the west bank of the Meuse River (this becomes the Maas River as it reaches the Netherlands -- see Maastricht and Rotterdam), an area bounded by the hills marked Mont Saint-Martin and the Parc de la Citadelle. This hemispheric section of town had the main pedestrian shopping district, the market squares, several parks, and the city's Cathedral, shown in the second photograph that includes the flowered square in front. (And no kidding, it also included an outdoor set of urinals located at the base of the church near the spire at right -- I would have taken a picture of it out of disbelief but they were in use...)
When I entered the city, I came from the west (the Liège-Guillemins train station, specifically) and followed the signs to the "Centre". Following the Rue des Guillemans, I passed by the Parc d'Avroy that was hosting the city festival -- a month-long affair that annually culminates on Armistice Day, the 11th of November. The kilometer-long festival was jam-packed with people the whole weekend.
Most of Liège reminded me of a typical American-style city -- dominated in parts by high-rise apartments and squarish non-descript brick buildings. But the skyline began to vary greatly downtown, with the most prominent and beautiful structures being the churches. The Parc de la Cathedrale dominated the center of the pedestrian district, surrounded by cafés and shops, and fronted with a beautiful flower garden that you see in the second photo.
Meanwhile, about a half-dozen other prominent churches encircle the downtown, most of them constructed atop the various ridges about the Meuse Valley. Among them is the brilliant white Church of Saint Martin, built on the Mont St. Martin directly above downtown. The climb is steep and takes you past another beautiful, but unrestored, church being the Église Sainte-Croix. The latter has a gilded gold interior, darkened by age. Across the city are two other Byzantine-style churches with their massive copper domes -- the Église Saint Vincent (visible at center in the third photo) and the Notre-Dame de Lourdes sitting high above the train station. The former looked to be in good shape, but sadly the latter has a badly damaged exterior. Towards the northeast was another interesting structure, the ancient Saint-André, whose black dome was visible throughout most of the downtown.
Finally, the church that was the clear tourist trap was St. Bartholomew's to the east that hosted a massive casted baptismal font. St. Bartholomew's was completely gutted when I was there, as a massive restoration effort was underway. The baptismal font and a set of displays were being used to help fund the work.
Apart from the churches, there were several notable structures. The first was the Pont de Fragnée, also in the third photo. This colorful bridge is essentially the gateway to the city -- located at the southern (upriver) boundary of the downtown. Each end of the bridge was marked with two grand columns topped with golden figurines, and famous figures line both sides of the bridge.
The others were at the eastern side of the city. The Palais of Justice and the Place Saint Lambert are shown in the fourth photo. This palace was built up against the surrounding ridge line, and its two main faces were very different. The facade in the photo was reddish sandstone, fairly plain. The facade at left was all light-gray concrete and detailed with numerous sculptures. Two buildings in one, I supposed.
Following the Rue Hors Château, I came across Le Perron, a columned structure similarly to Holy Trinity Columns I've seen, and the Impasses, Liège's hidden alleys. These alleys were very colorful residential roads hidden away from the rest of the city, accessible only by very small passageways from the main road.
But there was one other Impasse that wasn't so hidden -- in fact, it was really huge and unmistakable. The Impasse des Ursulines, the top of which is in the fifth photo, is a stairway leading from the downtown to the top of the Montagne des Bueren. I lost count of the stairs after 300, and I wasn't half-way up! Needless to say, I was very happy when I took this picture.
Thankfully, there was more to the top than just the climb. A World War II monument (Point de Pèrî) and vista point were just a short walk away, and the Parc de la Citadelle a little bit further. As I walked the outer walls of the park I was joined by a small herd of goats feasting on leaves and shrubs. They appeared to be surprised to see me, not many humans were nearby.
On Sunday, I went to the region of Outremeuse, sitting on the island between the Meuse and the Deviation, a canal running east. Crossing the river, I noted the weekly market located on the quai de la Ribuée, shown in the final photo. This market specialized in produce and seafood, although antiques were also plentiful. The Outremeuse region was okay, but that's about it.
Despite devoting an entire weekend to a single city (something I rarely do), I still didn't have enough time to hit everything in Liège. It was too big a place. I visited none of her many museums, didn't get to walk the botanical garden, nor the city's main park, the Parc de la Bouverie at the point of the island. I would also have loved to have done more dining -- Liège didn't have a great number of traditional sit-down restaurants, but had dozens of taverns ... and I had the chance to enjoy a traditional pail of stewed mussels washed down with a Trappist ale.
By whatever name it was called, Liège was a fantastic destination.
Trip Taken 2-3 November 2002 -- Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin