Gare de Liège-Guillemins
Düsseldorf and Liège. These two under-rated cities bookended the 2017 Tour de France Stage 2 from Germany to Belgium and have embraced their unique heritage while charging into the future. Each with its characteristic old center, just as important, both cities are known for their wonderfully creative and iconic modern architecture that embraces the local history and interprets it in a new and soaring light. Frank Gehry’s Neuer Zollhoff in Düsseldorf symbolically morphs the adjacent Rhine’s flow into physical form and interprets the diversity that comes with trade in an assortment of colors and materials throughout the three-building complex. Meanwhile in Liège, Santiago Calatrava’s Gare de Liège-Guillemins celebrates the importance of the historic station and its role in international rail trade and travel. Believe it or not, Liège was a hub on the international scene in the mid-1800s. In 1843, the Gare Liège-Guillemins connected with nearby Aachen, Germany thereby becoming the first international railway station. Over the next 150 plus years, the station underwent new iterations with period Beaux-Arts and International Style architecture. The latest expression of the city’s progression came when renowned (not to mention controversial) Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was commissioned to design the new station. When it opened in 2009, the glistening white, largely open air arced and Calatrava’s characteristic steel, glass, and white concrete structure was a statement to Liège’s position as a global city connecting ideas and people.
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps
I’ve never really been a car racing fan. Of course I’d much rather watch bike racing, but the Formula One Grand Prix circuit has always held a certain fascination for me and Spa-Francorchamps, along the 2017 Tour de France Stage 3 route is a legend and somewhere that I’ve added to my bucket list. The original track was designed in 1920 utilizing public roads. Its first race came in 1922 and the Grand Prix arriving in 1925. The course itself has evolved over time from its original 14 km. length to its current 7 km. Still, it’s the longest circuit on the F1 tour and perhaps one of its most dangerous. To date, the course overall has witnessed 52 fatal accidents, the latest occurring in 2013. Aside from the Grand Prix races, Spa-Francorchamps became famous for its unique event, the 24 Hours of Francorchamps (now Spa 24 Hours). This race among more common vehicles in the marketplace started as an elite endurance race. The 2016 champions drove a BMW M6 GT3 driven by three individuals more than 3,700 kilometers, that’s a consistent average of almost 155 km/hour. The 2017 race will be held one day after the peloton passes the circuit. What a sight to behold if the riders of the 2017 Tour de France detoured to take in one lap of this famed and iconic sporting stage. A museum dedicated to the history of Spa-Francorchamps is now housed in the nearby Abbaye de Stevelot. The 18th century sprawling complex now features three museums and is a unique environment in which to see historic photos and vehicles up close and personal.
Verviers is a textile town. Similar to America’s famed Lowell, the city takes pride in this heritage and has built on the foundation of this industry, water. Situated on the Vesdre River, Verviers claims to be Wallonia’s “Capital of Water.” Two hundred years ago it was ground zero for Belgium’s Industrial Revolution. The textile industry started here as early as the 15th century but it wasn’t until English entrepreneur William Cockerill came here in 1799 that the town really flourished. Initially depending on the river for power, the town was known to have several mills that produced good quality wool. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the industry began to fade. This past, however, can still be seen in the prominent 18th century industrial complexes that dot the city. A museum and tourist center dedicated to wool and fashion now sits in an original wool factory and the prominent Hotel Verviers occupies a stylishly renovated factory that happens to now be adjacent to a modern Outlet Mall. Perhaps things don’t change that much after all.