Stairway to Hell

by - 3:00 PM

I'm quite stubborn. This means I'm usually your worst nightmare in any kind of discussion. Sometimes it means I will not give up on what I want just because I thought it'd be fun. But most of the time it means something much simpler: when I see a climbable hill or mountain, I have to climb it. It doesn't matter if I'm half-crippled like I was in Scotland. I see a hill, I climb it. Simple.
Sadly I don't get to climb that many hills, living in a country as flat as the Netherlands. That's why I mentally did a happy dance when I was in Belgium and Ella from Ella Was Here came across Montagne de Bueren when researching Liège. This city has one steep hill with a citadel on top, which you can reach by climbing an enormous staircase with a funny name. When I went to sleep that night, all I could think about was the trip to Liège that Ella and I had planned for the next day. I was easily going to conquer Montagne de Bueren!

The sun was shining on a freezing Liège as we arrived late in the morning of the 28th of December. Before even thinking about climbing hills, or doing anything at all for that matter, Ella and I had to defrost and find the courage to continue our adventure in almost sub-zero temperatures. We had bagels at Get Your Mug, a bagel place where we learned that Ella is good at eating bagels while I attack them like a starving barbarian.
When we went out into the cold again we first had a look at the Christmas market, then pulled up Google Maps to get to Montagne de Bueren. It's basically a sidestreet of the Rue Hors-Château, exactly in the opposite direction we took even after consulting the almighty Google. Let's just say that reading maps isn't our forte...
We did manage my favorite ginormous staircase, only for me to realize I'd taken a liking to this thing way too soon.

Montagne de Bueren was way steeper than it'd looked in the pictures. Ella and I just stood at the bottom of the stairs for a while. I could only stare and wonder what I'd gotten myself into.
'Do you want to climb it?' Ella asked me. 'You can go if you want.'
I did not want to go up that monster of a staircase. At all. I was already getting vertigo just looking up at it.
'Yeah, I want to go up there,' my mouth said despite everything my eyes and brain were warning me for.
'I'll wait down here and take some pictures,' Ella said. She was being sensible. Me? Not so much. Because when I see a hill, I climb it. Simple. So while I still had the opportunity to turn around and say 'Nah, I'm good', I put one foot in front of the other and started climbing Montagne de Bueren.

The first few steps were no big deal - until I realized the whole staircase got steeper after the first ten meters or so. That's when I started to hate myself a little bit. Just a little. Giving up was no option though. I had to conquer Montagne de Bueren, all 374 steps of it, even if it was the last thing I'd do. I focused on my breathing and didn't look more than five steps ahead of me; I didn't want to get discouraged by constantly being confronted with my snail's pace. My approach worked until some kids came running past me, overtaking me like I wasn't moving at all. Not the best thing to happen to my self-esteem that day.
I walked on. Slow and steady wins the race. Slow and steady also becomes slow and painful real quick. My calves were burning, but I refused to give up. Then I made the mistake of looking up, thinking I had to be almost there. At least halfway, I told myself. I was so going to set a record time. I could practically feel the top of Montagne de Bueren under my feet already. So I looked up - and I saw I was only a quarter of the way. At the very best...
I sighed and swallowed a curse. I wanted to scream with frustration, but figured it'd be better to use that energy for walking. I trudged on, feet heavy, eyes focused on the top of the stairs this time. I wanted to take pictures from every possible angle, but couldn't bring myself to stop just for some pictures. I knew that I'd never make it if I'd stop, even if it was for half a second and three pictures.
My breathing became heavy. I was cranky as could be by then. A never-ending stream of swear words now found its way to my lips. I muttered curses in three different languages under my breath every step of the way, thinking Led Zeppelin probably didn't have Montagne de Bueren in the back of their mind when writing a song about a stairway to heaven. This stairway wasn't taking me to heaven - it felt like it was taking me straight to hell. I could see why the Huffington Post named it as their number 1 extreme staircase in the world.

Three-quarters of the way up my eye fell on the words spray painted on the base of the staircase's railing. They seemed nothing more than random French words like 'ou est', meaning 'where is'. I tried to make sense of these random words, not because I really wanted to decipher the message, but because dragging myself from word to word was the only thing that kept me going at that moment. That was until I saw 'j'aime ça' in bright orange. That's when I burst with anger and exhaustion. J'aime ça? J'aime ça?! I love that?! I had no idea who'd written those words on that freaking staircase, but I was not loving it. Not at all. Whoever wrote it probably didn't even get up there in one go. Stupid person.
I climbed on angrily, trying to suppress the urge to find this annoying anonymous spray painter and bash their head in with one of the staircase's cobblestones. I looked behind me, down at Ella. She was still taking pictures. She'd had the right idea, I was now more than aware of that. She wasn't dying on some dumb hill in Wallonia. Why had I ever thought that this was a good idea? This was worse than climbing Arthur's Seat with a busted knee.
My internal monologue was now just a bunch of random swear words. Then, just as I was completely convinced I'd die right then and there on those steps, they became less steep. And then, suddenly, there were no more steps. None. I'd made it!

I looked around in surprise. There was a wooden bench I refused to sit on. I was exhausted and weak, but not that exhausted and weak. There were still building rising high on both sides of me. Nothing special to see up here, I thought. Still, I felt euphoric. I'd freaking made it! I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the way down. I turned around - and stopped dead in my tracks.

I finally saw the vies. The promised view, which I didn't expect to see because of all the building on the Montagne de Bueren. From up there I could see almost all of Liège though. The sun broke through the clouds and made the waters of the river Meuse sparkle and shine like a diamond. It was amazing.
I immediately forgot about my cursing, my burning muscles and the serious hate I'd felt for this stairway. The view made up for most of it. I proudly left one of my Envy butterfly stickers on a lamp post at the top.

I stood there for a while, just taking in the view. It was extremely cold and I could not hold my camera steady while taking pictures of Liège. Yet in that moment, with my hands and feet freezing and my legs hurting, I was happy. That's what climbing new hills does to you. No matter how much your muscles ache, how much your body protests and how aggravating signs along the way can be, it's always worth it once you reach the top - especially if you reach it in one go. So please do me a favor and climb some hills for me.

x Envy
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Disclaimer: Pictures 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 by Envy Fisher. Picture 2 by Ella from Ella Was Here

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4 Fellow Ramblers

  1. Congratulations on your stubbornness and the successful climb. It looks like the view was well worth it! ☺

    1. Hahaha thank you. The view made up for everything along the way that wasn't so great.

  2. You can blame your dad for your stubborness and the urge to climb every hill, mountain or staircase you happen to stumble upon. He does the same thing except that he doesn't look if it's climeble but just starts Climbing. Proud of you!!!

    1. Thanks dad, both for the compliment and for freaking me out by posting anonymously. The latter is of course sarcasm *waves sarcasm sign*


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