Urbex

Exploring the Urban Environment

Hobotrip – March 2010

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Following Paris and the Einslife trip, the plan was to get away to Belgium again and see some powerstations and industry. More of the usual, whatever we can get our grubby, bramble scratched hands on. This trip seemed almost routine, a foray into dereliction for a prolonged period of time less of a novelty. If I’d have taken this trip a couple of years ago I’d have probably been beside myself with excitement. Thanks on this trip must go to Miles in particular, driving all the way to Liege and back in short stints between our long houred days of exploring.

This trip definitely had its highlights; the powerplant, the helicopters and finally getting into Stella Artois amongst them. It also had several repeats for me, being Du Parc, Schotte and Hasard Cheratte. For some reason, this trip didn’t quite as ‘epic’ as some of the other ones. Reasons? Not Sure.

Thursday night was a long one. We met at Portnalls Road and drove down to Dover in the smallest of the 3 cars available to us. Somehow all our kit and the four of us fitted into Miles’ Micra in a similar way to how people fit on a tube train at rush hour. We shoehorned ourselves in. Our ferry was cancelled due to an electrical fault, we had to wait an hour for the next one. We eventually got to Calais later than planned, so missed out on the Carrefour Stop for the best biers in town.  We stopped for Chimay at the services, also buying a mascot for the trip, an elephant called Gerald who was pointed at random Belgians for approval.

We had originally planned to travel to Maison De Viron but instead ended up going to the Basisschool, which was closer to our next destination. We parked up, walked around the site and across a field to what looked like a big haunted house. The shutters were down on half of the windows, but fortunately the front door was open. We made our way to the top and settled down in a dusty room with intact windows, setting tea-lights as the doors and windows banged in the wind.

The light woke us early and we scoped out the site as the hordes of schoolchildren began to arrive at the adjacant buildings. The Basisschool was a school for children whose parents didn’t have a steady residence, such as casual workers or those in the military. I imagine it was converted from a chateau as it was a grand building not really suited to it’s purpose. As we were getting ready to leave, a small group of kids walked through the front door to where we were sat. Clearly scared as mice to see me and Chris sat there looking ropey from a night of derelict sleep, they ran like the wind, squealing as they went. We Lolled.

ECVB was the next stop, a Powerplant given an acronym I don’t quite understand, except maybe to protect it’s innocence. We entered the site, were seen by contractors before we’d even got into the buildings, then swifly departed to Carrefour for bread rolls and orange juice. It was at this point that Gary had his first ever Red Bull. Bear in mind it was about 10am… Gary was buzzing.

We drove back to the powerplant and entered what I think was the best site of the trip. ECVB isn’t trashed, vandalised or grafittied. It’s simply heavy industry with bucketloads of decay. There is grass growing on the floor of the turbine hall, dust a plenty in the control room, and a warren of pipes and ducts across the ceilings. Proper industrial P0rn.

We spent maybe two hours here, seeing the turbine hall, the gantry, the loftspace and the chimney, while soaking up the rays coming through the tall windows of the art deco building. Industrial excellence.

To Brussels we headed, eating up the miles of the E40 before landing at the home of the Eylenbosch brewery. There were many curtain twitchers, one woman dressed in a blue jumper who stared at us with evil eyes, and one nice couple with a dog who saw the car and the tripods and asked us not to leave any litter.

Initially dissapointing, Eylenbosch got better when we found the things on the top floor. Between taking photos of  empty bottles of beer and dealing with a botched tenancy application back at work, I wandered around looking for a 20 year old bottle of beer I could chug down to really get myself going.

We entered the residence of the owners, which had a nice ceiling and a nasty rotten staircase. After seeing the brewing pots, or whatever they use to make beer, we left for Brussels.

The light was slowly fading, but there was time to take in another site.  A Hippodrome on the south side of Brussels had for some reason gone bankrupt 16 years after having an expensive new grandstand built in 1985. There was an older structure here as well, maybe some sort of press box. Having attended the races and seen similar places so busy, this site was particularly haunting being empty, and also so modern. The architecture here was interesting, the modern building of concrete and glass a contrast to the brick and stone built press box. The light was getting dimmer and dimmer, so we left for Brussells

It was raining when we arrived, pissing it cats and dogs as a pigeon Inglunder might say. We parked up and went for a wander round Gare Midistation, having seen some pics on Sleepycity from a rooftop. Once we found what we were looking for, we dissappeared to a Turkish pizzeria where they served delicious stonebaked pizzas topped with the most vile of toppings. Whoever taught them to make pizzas forgot the cheese and tomatoes.. Back to the Gare,  easy in, easy out, and some fine views were had by all. We slipped off into the night, the rain continuing to put the best made plans of mice and men to bed. The P de J would have to wait for a dryer night..

We drove to Stella Artois, made a pigs ear of getting in, split into two groups and promptly got lost. At about 1am we found each other and went to the office spaces to sleep. I’d heard tales of explorers being chased from the laboratories so was somewhat apprehensive about sleeping here, so close to them. But sleep we did.

We awoke early, the buildings were cold and uninviting so we got moving quickly, getting back into the beer-making bits of the site once we’d seen the labs and the marble floored, wood-panelled offices. Why oh why do they choose not to use this? In an age when glass and steel are the preferred materials for building, brick, marble and fine woods really are a hallmark of quality.  We hid our bags under a giant sheet of polythene and went looking for the brew hall, which is this big beautiful thing here.

Soon after arriving we heard voices downstairs, and before we could think, two Belgians arrived up the stairs, with Nikon and Canon DSLRS. Brethren! We spoke for 10 minutes, exchanging ideas and eventually directed each other to the areas we wanted to be. Nothing like a bit of tourism. For me, knocking Stella Artois off the list was a big thing, given my failure six months ago. My assertions that the place was being boarded up were well off the mark, as the place didn’t have boards anywhere. We’d just turned up on the wrong day. Having seen the delights of the brewery, we moved on to pastures new.

By now the weather was stunning, the hour drive to Chateau Rochendaal a pleasant one. Why hadn’t the weather been like this the night before? I wanted P de J badly but instead, I just had to save it for the next trip.

Rochendaal was a pleasant site. An old chateau owned by the military, with a stables and officers block which resembled a well finished hall of residence. We didn’t spend long here, but for the first time in months I could explore in a t-shirt and feel the warmth of the sun on my arms. The Chateau was trashed, save for a room with a nice ceiling, and the rest of the site quite dull and empty. I imagine these buildings to have once been a country house snooper’s delight, but now they’re so faded they’re beige.

More from this site later…

We departed for Liege, scoping out the University. We entered a couple of buildings, both of which were not the fine educational establishment we were looking for. I’d seen old-skool lecture theatres and long corridors. All we found were engine rooms and grated windows. Not without trying, we scoped every building, having seen two other groups of explorers enter the site. Eventually we walked over to the main building, and after a few minutes of just walking near it, it started screaming at us with an angry siren. We departed, Miles reversing the car into a kerb in our naive haste.

Liege is an interesting city, as most of it seems derelict. Some heavy industry caught our attention but as it was semi-active we thought better of it, not every member of the group being entirely comfortable with the prospect. Another to add to the list for the future? We had time to kill in this city so headed out to Hasard Cheratte, perhaps the most touristy site in the country. Four fat blokes with Pro SLRs were shooting the big castle, taking the same pics I took a couple of years ago. If you’ve been, you’ve probably taken them too.

Nobody was inspired, so we made our departure as some more tourists stopped by. Gerrit walked along the pavement in front of the site and we stopped for conversation. He had ideas of train graveyards in the locality, but no information on him. We told him about our trip and he wanted to join us for our next location, Hopital Baviere. We parked outside the old hospital, which looked promising. We originally planned to sleep here but once myself and Chris had found a wobbly, sharp access point, we realised that it was trashed, didn’t have many windows, and stank of piss. We spent no more than 15 minutes here before we left, Gerrit peering over the wall around the back.

There was another building on the same patch of land, a tower of some sort. Now this was trashed. Every window was smashed, every wall scrawled and sprayed on. We took in each rancid floor as the light dimmed and eventually said our goodbyes, Gerrit promising to send us some information about the train depot.

As our sleeping plans for the night had been shot to pieces, we had to think. Rochendaal was my suggestion, we also contemplated going back to Brussels and sleeping in the building above the station. Rochendaal seemed like the best bet, so we stopped off at a supermarket and bought steak, burgers and the finest Belgian sausicces. Two French Sticks and some more Chimay meant we were set for the night, and so we descended on another Belgian hamlet for a night of revelrie in thier derelictions.

We parked ourselves in the officers quarters, setting the barbecue alight and making beds in a suitable room. We cooked our food and had the most chilled out night, sitting in a square in our sleeping bags, planning the day ahead and reminiscing about the two days just gone. Happy days, they’re the moments that stay with you. Waking up wasn’t so fun, the weather was grotty, but the sleep was the best I’d had on the trip.

There was a half converted prison we wanted to visit, we parked next to it and trudged through the mud to it. Prisons are notoriously hard to get out of, we couldn’t even get into this one. No amount of underground areas and open doors would lead us through to the desirable section. We poked around the lot of it, went through offices with heaters going and friday’s newspaper left on the table. The only option that could have let us in was a tunnel, partially submerged in water. Sometimes you just fail, and that time was today. And yesterday. And the day before. Perseverance wasn’t really the theme of this trip. Another day we might have put up with the soggy feet and tried the flooded tunnel, but it was sunday, cold, early and rubbish. Argh.

We left for Aalst, Du Parc and Schotte being reasonable locations I had visited before. Time really was on our side, but time was something we didn’t want to spend at these big soggy, light industrial locations. Each had some photo opportunities but the dull light and dampness inside made them completely undesirable. We met pikies on the way out of Du Parc, who told us in French that Schotte was opposite and for les photos.

We trudged to Schotte, wondering what the hell 6 foot square prints by Henk Van Rensbergen were doing adorning the exterior walls. Really, why? If you’ve got a nice derelict building, don’t put pictures of the inside on the outside. It just doesn’t make sense! Schotte had seen a ceiling fall in since I was there before and was just as stripped and empty as I remembered it. I only shot film in these locations, mainly because I’m a pr0, but otherwise because I couldn’t be bothered to get the digi out of the bag.

Off to X-press, for more light industry. Aside from some old-skool printing presses packed and ready to be shipped, and a room full of invoices from the fifties, X-press was unremarkable. We left after about half an hour, with another Flem staring at us as we drove away. Hoj?

The Russian Choppers were next, 3 giant helicopters parked up in an industrial estate. Myself, Gary and Chris entered while Miles stood by the car sorting out his love life. This must be very complicated, as by the time we’d come out, he was still on the phone… Chop Chop, we stood and did keepie-uppies with oranges while Miles perused the Skytechs.

The Choppers were great fun. I’d enjoyed the mystery of the Soviet hospitals and military sites from the December trip, the lettering and cyrillic alphabet making simple sites so exotic. As a 23 year old, I think we forget how far apart East and West were culturally as our grandparents were bringing up Mum and Dad. These helicopters were giant. They’re strong enough to lift a truck, and can fit a small lorry inside them. The cockpit can hold pilot and co-pilot, two assistants, and room for another 5 passengers.

I think we were all pretty knackered by this point. Our legs were tiring from our jaunt through Belgium, and we were running off gummy sweets and water. And pistachios, cashews and oily peanuts found in my backpack from the Paris trip. The joys of Belgium were wearing thin at this point; many of the sites were underwhelming due to my crap planning and completion of a good chunk of the Belgium ticklist on earlier trips. The East beckons?

We arrived in Dadizele for Dadipark, noting the scaffolding up the top of the town’s large church. Nightclimbers of Reading, eat your heart out. This was proper.

Dadipark was about as well occupied as it would have been when it was open. We bumped into one couple as we entered, another over by the slides, and then some big perv clearly looking to take some naughty shots. He had so much kit to shoot some pics of a rather average ginger girl, while another darked haired girl tried to grab his attention. He looked unnerved whenever we walked by – did he think we were going to nick his stereo?

We played on the slides and eventually walked out of the other end of the site into the fields at the back, where there was some sort of car rally going on that had attracted the whole town in.

We talked about the scaff on the church but sacked it off. Lame eh?

While there was still light, we headed to Vuylsteke NV, a metal products factory that closed in 2001 soon after a takeover. Somewhat reminiscient of Fullers Earthworks back home in Blighty, we walked in through the front gate and in a door that would have taken a bus. You want a drive-in explore? Go here!

Vuylsteke had its good points. It was massive, dirty, and a little heavier than many of the other sites we’d seen. It had a sense of faded grandeur, of a site that would have been pretty ace with all it’s machines still in it. I imagine these were either sold off for scrap, or shipped to China to continue production there.

On the way out a big old boy had parked his Mercedes Kompressor in front of the car, blocking us in. When we approached he wanted to know what we were doing. Who was out boss and who had told us to do it? Was it Gary? As we allegedly had no business there, he threatened to call the police, or take some addresses. I enquired as to his right to assert this authority over us and he said he owned the place. I could have either told him that he could do with getting some maintenance in to fix the broken windows, but instead my more sensible nature appealed to me for once and I instead assured him we were just interested in the derelict buildings and he had no need to call the police. Kids come and smash windows, we take pictures. Who should he be calling the police on? He drove off, seemingly appeased, and we drove back to Calais.

We got on an earlier ferry than planned and slept well, managed not to crash a single car on our combined ways home. I’d had another good trip but felt we hadn’t lived things up as well as we should have done. We’d sat out some decent looking sites for various reasons and spent time taking in what was actually crap. Previous European trips had tested our resolve with trying new things, taking in longer trips through more countries and more remote areas of Europe, and going underground in unfamiliar conditions, but this trip didn’t offer anything truly new to me. I feel the time is now right to test my boundaries and to push myself through more than I did this trip. Time to cut the aprons strings attaching me to the light industry and to bite the bullet more often. Anybody up for it?

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Written by Ali

March 22, 2010 at 9:53 pm

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