Flemerlands Road Trip, Sept 2012(1)
If there’s one thing I love on forums and explorers websites, it’s write-ups about road trips. So here’s one I’ve done* that a number of people here can identify with. Hopefully inspiring to others to produce similar text/visual treats.
When you’ve pretty much exhausted your own city, nay, country, for explores. It’s time to look elsewhere for thrills and spills. When you live in the UK, one’s attention would naturally be turned to a nearby country dedicated to exploring, namely, Belgium. There were a few places I’d wanted to see for ages, each explored to death and always under threat of being burnt, in some cases, literally. I’d also seen some cool pics of an unfinished metro in the Netherlands that tickled my fancy. I put out a call on Filthbook for some comrades to join me, booked Eurostar, and rented a car. All so easy. Having done some pretty insane explores over the last year, I was hoping the exploring would be easy too.
We arrived in an empty looking Brussel around 9pm, and ditched our gear in lockers, before heading off into the night. We set off into the metro system to try to find a section I thought might be cool. On passing back and forth through the appointed section, we were left frustrated with an empty looking alcove. Brussel’s only ghost station (Sainctelette) leaving us frustrated. We left for a tip we’d received from local chap, Luc. It turned out to not be a tip, but to be a gem, 21 carat. We ended up walking down what appeared to be an unfinished access ramp into the live metro. Much fun was had dodging trains to get some interesting live shots. After service we headed for the next station, only to find the tunnel lights spring on and worker signs appear. Time to bail.
While looking around on the off chance for some food to keep my comrades peckers up, we stumbled across a large hole in the ground with some nice steps into it. It would be rude not to take a peek. I still have no idea what it is, but assume it to be train based. It was around a mile long, but not particularly interesting, so we turned back when it looked like we were close to the current working section.
We were then faced with a l o n g walk back to Brussel Midi to get our gear. Sadly someone had forgotten to replenish the street hire bikes, and we were too cheap to get a taxi. Tired, we grabbed our stuff from the station lockers and headed over to the handily nearby Horror Labs to get a few hours kip.
Bleary eyed, It was back to the train station to get our sleek hotrod, which due to an ‘upgrade’ turned out to be a Ford Fucus (sic). Still, at least it was diesel, so fuel consumption wouldn’t dig into our flimsy wallets. Instead of heading off, we went in search of an old cinema that had an amazing old section that brimmed with art nouveau gorgeousness. I’d caught a glimpse of it on another explorers site, but no one was willing to offer me the location. So I spent ages searching it out, and found it. Apart from being mentally dusty, it didn’t disappoint.
Yet more walking, and we dumped all our stuff in the ample boot of the car, before getting to play with a toy I’d bought from ebay for the trip. A second hand TomTom satnav, with hacked maps and a shitload of locations loaded on via kmls. I’d also managed to get hold of speed cam locations to facilitate much speeding. Highly necessary for the few days we had to blap as many locations as possible. With three down already, we were doing well. With matchsticks holding my eyes open, we set off south. My trusty supportive comrades offered me support, by falling asleep instantly. Gits.
Constantly under threat of being ripped apart, I wanted to see the 2 main power stations on the explorer circuit of Belgium. And one known as IM proved to be the first one to visit. Access was a dirty affair, and soon we were inside the beast. We arrived at the top of the building, and below us was a maze of sections built over numerous levels. What they all did, how they worked, and how much noise there would have been during operation, were all questions that were left unanswered. A brief encounter with security walking below me at one point proved the only real hiccup.
One thing I really like, are architectural flourishes, where an architect has been allowed to use his creative flair in what is an otherwise mostly mundane standard building. In a building known as Piscine de Mosque on the circuit, I found some nice touches. I felt somewhat saddened that the owner appeared to be trying to do the place up, but all around were trashed windows and the eyesore that is tagging. The foyer didn’t disappoint.
It was then time to test the speed dimensions of the Fucus, as we rushed across Belgium to meet some locals. After shooting up on chips & mayonnaise, we met up with the locals to hit some stronger stuff, Belgian ale. All fucked up, it was time to go see a trip highlight, some drains. Not really drains, but more a medieval brick paradise. I’d already been for a big drainer meet-up earlier in the year, but hadn’t done it justice. Luckily the rather awesome locals were cool enough to give us a few hours of walking and the history of the place.
After shaking off the filth, we headed for some Track action. While wondering whether it was possible to run a station with cctv staring down, our decision was made for us as track workers appeared. RUN!!!
Tired, knackered, and distinctly smelly. We wandered off to find our car. We drove to an abandoned house on the Belgium Derp trail, known as Chateau Amon Re, helpfully not too far away. Shutting the door in an attic room, we crashed out for the last few hours of darkness and quite a few of daylight.
The next morning we drove off to find the Comet Factory. After getting lost due to non-existent roads on the sat nav (I love blaming inanimate objects), we ended up at the back of the factory. The way in was quickly found, but then we realised it wasn’t the factory we wanted, merely one adjoining. So we went for a bolder approach, and followed a lorry into the main entrance and dived through a smashed window.
The lorry being there to assist demolishing the place. On getting in and wandering around, I was trying to remember why I had this on the list. The place was totally trashed, so trashed, setting fire to it would be an improvement. I guess I’d seen an old pic of the stairs, another architectural flourish I wanted to see. Now, it was smashed and covered in wooden boarding. Here, more than anywhere else, it was obvious why people keep locations secret and give them odd names. Comet factory RIP.
We then headed the other side of Brussel, and went for another interesting building I’d seen. It’s called Wintercircus, and one can draw one’s own conclusions from that as to it’s purpose. It was like some mad multi-storey car park, with a huge open section in the middle. Entry was the most interesting of the trip so far.
With daylight fading, it was a quick rush out of town to another power station, this time ECVB. In the process of being demolished sadly. It had all the elements of decay that make these places so sexy, so, so goddamn sexy. This place was so much further gone than the previous one we’d visited. We left with dusk chasing us from the site, rather than security, and then went to the nearby city of Ghent, which is very beautiful. We had a slap up meal in a nice restaurant in the amazingly preserved medieval town.
Bellies full, we got back into the diesel workhorse and set the satnav to Brussel for one of my trip highlights, the Palais de Justice. For 20 years it’s been the world’s biggest climbing frame, due to the scaffold that’s sat around it. It’s been climbed innumerable times, but recently some fucktard decided it would be a good idea to tag the dome, so everyone could see. Thankfully after it’s removal, no one decided to up security, and the age old access route was still open. We weren’t too late.
It was now around 3am, and I found a street rental bike and headed back to the car. Then came back to pick the others up. As the only one with a driving license, I really was the chauffeur bitch. We headed off to an industrial park on the outskirts of the capital, and found our second smashed up building of the day. Known on the Derp trail as Hof Van B (I’ve no idea why), it’s claim to fame was, you guessed it, another architectural flourish, some double helix stairs. We bedded down in possibly the only room that wasn’t smashed to pieces, and got some sleep. In the morning we grabbed a few shots, and headed off on the road again.
It was time to do some border crossing, and we headed into the second country of the trip, The Netherlands. However we only went to the part known as Holland, which features the two main cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam (plus the Capital, Den Haag, which some people may find important).
We met up with a noob chap, who was desperate to learn about this whole urban exploring malarkey. So we clued him in over a few beers and some Indonesian take away. We got into an open boat on a canal, and gave him his first explore moment, while we sucked down the noodles. We suggested he join us for some un-built metro fun, but the fear gripped him, and he snuck off in the direction of a train home. We headed to a large hole in the ground, with nothing but Heras fence all around. Easy you might think. But not with endless streams of people passing about. An hour of fannying about, and checking another nearby hole in the same situation, was getting us nowhere.
I found a brief gap in human traffic, and vaulted the fence and almost jumped down the hole. We were in a huge expanse under the road above. I’ve been to numerous similar places, and it never ceases to amaze me what can be achieved in the world of engineering. I doff my cap to them. The project is controversial because of the aged buildings and questionable soil through which they were drilling. As can be seen here, the amount of material that must have been removed was huge.
We only really went to the next station, as we found it all blocked up (behind the camera in the pic above). So we headed back, and opted to climb a 20m box crane shaft. Well, why not when you’re shattered and half asleep. We then walked back to the car, which on the map looked to be 20mins, but turned out to be an hour. My feet were KILLING ME! Back at the car, we drove off to find an old tram shed filled with vintage trams from yesteryear. Even with the benefit of darkness, it was a tricky entry. More so with all our sleeping gear. We found an open tram, and bedded down for the remains of the night. I actually slept longer here than anywhere else.
Under a cloudy sky, we grabbed a few shots, and then made our exit, dodging the almost constant stream of cyclists and joggers.
Grabbing some grub from a supermarket, we headed back to Brussel. On the way I found a small village to sit by a river and down the aforementioned gastronomic treats. It was here that the odd logic of the Dutch delayed us getting back. They seem to like the idea of a 4 lane motorway with a 100kph speed limit. And then, further south, a 2 lane motorway with a 120kph speed limit. On the 4 lane motorway, as is common in the USA, they all drive at 100kph in each lane. So if you’re a speed freak, you’re screwed. You basically have to sit on the car in front’s rear bumper, and hope they see the speed freak menace in your eyes. With the foot wedged into the enlarging recess in the floor, we made it back to Brussel airport Here the Belgians showed their craziness, by shutting down the entire city of Brussel for a car free day (Actually something i’d approve of, if I wasn’t rushing fora train). We therefore had to get a train back to the Eurostar train terminal, which agonisingly stopped for what seemed an eternity at each intermediate station. We made our train home to England with 7mins to spare!
We’d squeezed in a hell of a load of stuff in just 4 days and nights. I went straight to sleep when i got home, and spent the next week at work shattered. Was it worth it, oh, fuck yeah!
Big thanks to those that helped me and showed up for drinks along the way.
*crossposted from a North American forum.
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