Lovely day today for a nice stroll with 3 generations in my home town. I moved out of the city and deeper into the province years ago, but Hasselt, my home town stays close to my heart. Small enough to be walkable and cosy, yet big enough for nice finds and excitement.
It is weird that I always research towns and places I want to visit in other countries in depth, but I never thought about checking out what would be interesting in my home town. I can’t even find a decent picture I took of Hasselt that looks like a picture I would take if I would be a tourist. So, when my daughter and mum asked me what the plan was for today, I told them that we would look at our city through the eyes of a tourist.
But it starts already with the route. Skip all the shops, I don’t need anything. Skip the souvenir shops, goody stores, because we don’t need to bring something home. The one bakery I wanted to go for something typical from the town was closed on Monday… the old school candy store was closed for the holidays…
Throughout the last 30 years a lot was done to make the center more fun to wander around in: limitation of traffic, restoration of some historic buildings and opening them up to the public, opening up hidden gardens and back alleys, the green boulevard surrounding the inner city, upgrading the marina area and so forth.
A lot also has disappeared. Listening to my mum’s stories, it must have been a great time in the 50’s and 60’s. There were several dance halls around the grand place, a cinema – the Cameo – in the main street, bars in small alleys where once the nuns from school found her skipping school – guess they knew where to look for lost sheep…
Some icons from my youth also vanished. The bar – ‘t Kelderke – where teens joined illegally during and after school is no more. Obviously, I never went there… I was trying to figure out what happened again and why it closed. I stumbled over a blog post of a resident DJ of that time. Way back in the 80’s I had a favorite store – Cinderella. In contrary to how it sounds, it was specialized in new wave and punk clothing. I still have the Perfecto jacket I bought there after saving money for a long time and all my shoes with pointy tips came from that place.
In a side street called Paardsdemerstraat you can find one of my absolute favorite places to go and get “a” coffee (see the map below). You don’t get just “a” coffee at Boon… you get an experience sprinkled with chocolate. They make their own chocolate pralines and got launched post a successful participation in a TV show that helped kick start people with a dream for their own business. My daughter now always asks to have a coffee there and she is starting to bring her friends as well (aged 13… as the twig is bent the tree is inclined…).
When in Hasselt, obviously you need to go and see the Grote Markt. In one of the side streets – the Kleine Maastrichterstraat – you will find Leonidas. A chain of chocolate makers. At the minimum, get their signature pralines: “the white ones with the nut”, as we call them. Officially, they are called Manon Café.
If there is one place you need to go for a real drink… it is Het Hemelrijk… (in the street with the same name). Bar with zillions of jenevers, Hasselt’s signature liquor and over 400 beers. You can sneak through a passage towards the Kadetjesplein, a nice little garden tucked away in the midst of the center. First pass it towards the Kleine Maastrichterstraat, get an ice-cream at Ijs van de Smaak, return to the garden and enjoy it eating it there.
More pictures in my album: