Reached Liege towards noon, after interesting run down the Meuse Valley. First we passed the little town of Huy with its white stone bridge, church, and old castle built into the white cliffs above the river. An immense volume of water is pouring down the valley, edged in places with stripes of the richest green.
Then we got into an area of huge factories, mines and industries – gigantic jumbles of machinery, retorts, chimneys, with all their attendant gloom and slumminess. What a rich and busy little country this is! Finally Liege. How absurd are one’s attempts to picture places one hasn’t seen. When I used to read of Liege, near which the Hun stumbled, I visioned a kind of Belgium Taihape. It is a large and beautiful town. The river winds through it, spanned by many handsome stone bridges, its banks encased in solid stone walls topped with promenades.
Here are numbers of released prisoners of war of every nationality, even Russians. The streets were gay with bunting. For the first time saw soldiers in the scarlet breeches of the pre-war French army. Everything is amazingly expensive – in many cases ten or twelve times the price one is used to in New Zealand.
My iron rations making me thirsty, although broke, I entered a cafe and ordered coffee. When the waiter asked one franc, I was staggered, but handed him five sous, and told him that it was all I had. He hurried off and brought up the proprietor. Instead of ejecting me, he smilingly addressed me (and the whole room-full) thus: – “You fight for me. You like glass of wine, or verre de Cognac?” I had the Cognac.
One of the most superb sunsets it has ever been my lot to witness, the crimson sky being cleft diagonally by a spear of pale green. The line of the nearer hills was broken by a tall church spire, and in the river itself all was reflected and idealised.
In the forenoon a body of us were marched downstream to an enormous sugar refinery where we obtained baths, hot and good.
The sugar refinery seemed well appointed. The beet is cleaned and shredded by machinery and, after the goodness is taken out, the refuse, like squeezed and chopped up macaroni, is taken off to the farms to make ensilage. A peculiar sickly smell hangs around. The heat making me very thirsty, I had some beer at the nearest cafe, and begorrah, it tasted the same as the “schmell” of the sugar-beet. Proving, bedad, that they make the beer out of it.
A boy with whom I chatted told me that although he spoke some French, his natural language was Walloon – also that the Meuse was very high and practically in flood.
Dead weary – Mauvais temps, Monsieur! as an old Belgian called to me en route. We formed a dripping cavalcade. After traversing rolling country, we began to strike into entirely different terrain; more hilly, more rugged. The villages too, seemed different, and the inhabitants dissimilar to those further back. So we plodded, our clothes and equipment running wet; curiously gazed upon by the dripping villagers.
The last mile was the most interesting. From fairly high country, we swept down a steep grade into the valley of the Meuse which here rushes, a broad torrent, through a narrow gorge, flanked on the one side by rocky promontories and cliffs, and on the other by a strip of flat. Towns and villages are visible both up and down stream, making exceedingly picturesque peeps even now when winter darkens all.
Liege is not far from here: our nearest town being Huy, and this village Bas-Oha, or some such name. In summer this would have been an enjoyable jaunt.
In another barn up a long iron ladder. Reached Beuzet at midnight after nearly missing the train at Brussels.
Don’t know the name of the place we’re in, and don’t want to.
This morning the spirits of those of us who won in a lottery, for passes to Bruxelles were high. We arrived in the famous city at about 3 p.m., with only an hour of daylight in which to view all its wonders. A hasty glance around and superb cathedral revealed glories of sculpture, carving, and stained glass that could easily absorb a summer’s day. A walk around the towering Town Hall and other beautiful buildings, were the only glimpses of the City I could get. The rest of the time spent wandering about watching the life of the people who apparently never dream of spending an evening at home, but frequent the cafes, picture theatres, dancing halls, and the like.
Tea over; barn candle lit; air full of foolish, ill-flavoured talk. I sometimes grow quite desperate with the fear that either it will not end, or that, when it does, I shall have become deprived of the power of rational conversation.