Hitting everybody who begins a report about a trip to Belgium with the words "Hitting Belgium and hitting it hard", and hitting them hard. Compliments if you had to read that sentence only once by the way.
At the end of a several hours long journey, I stumbled out of a train that looked like the Belgians had bought it second or third hand from the Congo Railway Company and onto the platform of a station that had already been closed for the night. Heavy rain was pouring down on me, my cellphone refused to work on the Belgian network and the people I was supposed to meet were nowhere to be seen. What a great way to start the weekend.
I figured I'd just walk to the hotel as I had roughly memorized it's location on Google Maps a few days before. That plan was however quickly jeopardized when I got lost in a maze of construction fences. The only people around were some street prostitutes and a guy trying to ignite a crack pipe with a broken lighter. Fortunately, my phone rang.
"Where are you?" — "I have no idea!" — "Do you smell sulfur?"
I was pretty sure he asked something else, but the connection was really bad. I just yelled that I'd be back at the station in 5 minutes until he stopped asking what I said. From there, the night went straight uphill, we took some night shots in the rain and went to sleep early (in the morning).
Bakeries in Charleroi seem to not open before 9:30 which was quite a surprise for us as we got up extra early to get breakfast and meet the others on time. We failed, but luckily they waited for us and our breakfast ("Une Baguette avec Brie"). After the obligatory nice-to-see-you-again small talk (which I totally suck at), we drove to some rail tracks behind fences.
The Métro Léger de Charleroi, or more specifically the part we set out to explore that day, is a pre-metro line that has been mothballed in the middle of it's construction. It is just another example of a longstanding and rather special Belgian tradition. The various Belgian governments have the habit of starting the construction of miscellaneous infrastructure projects before realizing that there is absolutely no money to ever put them to use. Then they just pass on to leaving them to rot and starting the next project. Ultimately, the European Union ('coincidentally' headquartered in Belgium) takes over and makes the tax payers of other nations finance the completion of most of these unfinished projects.
The line's amount of completion roughly follows a gradient. Far away from the city center, we only found indistinct concrete blocks slowly losing a fight against nature that must have been spanning several decades. As we got closer to the center of the city, first a track bed, then tracks and catenaries and later completely finished stations appeared. We kept walking, over a bridge, down a ramp, past some security cameras and only stopped when somebody from behind yelled "TRAIN!".
We had reached the end of the abandoned section. Some of us continued further into the tunnel to take some shots of passing trams while waving at their confused drivers. Some didn't. I guess all of us wondered how long it'd take the authorities to show up.
After about half an hour, we got bored and started slowly walking back to where we had parked the cars. About half way there we noticed that a few not all that motivated looking metro cops were following us and yelling something about "dangeroux" and other French that I didn't understand. They spoke some more French, copied down the personal details of some of us and then kicked us out.
"Salut, et encore merci pour le poisson".
Check all 13 pictures in the Gallery:
Métro léger de Charleroi