The greatness of the past – Belgian edition

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Abandoned road.

It was a remarkably warm Sunday, the first of November. Good weather of course yells us to go out. So we went. We took a car, one of Waffles good old friends and headed for Mons. The theme of the day was industrial history, or archaeology, if you wish. Keeping that in mind, the region of Mons was just the perfect destination.

The area of Mons – Charleroi was boosted in wealth by coal, the black gold, back in the day. Thanks to coal industry it was built full of infrastructure to accommodate the logistics, mines and workers. The most visible of  this all are the canals, squirming in from Brussels, Zeebrugge and Dunkerque. And the coal hills, left behind by emptied mines. There are complete cities, built only for the workers that labored there, digging up coal and working in ceramics factories.

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Then came the change. Suddenly the coal became cheaper to buy and ship from the USA, making it non profitable to mine in Belgium. The factories and mines, once providing energy to third of France, started to die, cities became empty and canals unused. The area faced a downhill of economy. Once the richest region of Belgium ended up being the poorest.

Still, up until the year 2000, they have been developing the infrastructure further in the hope of reviving the industries and boosting up the economy. These efforts have left behind boat lifts and escalators, now standing empty and immobile. Nobody seems to transport goods by water ways anymore. Not to Mons.

The tower of Plan Incliné in Ronquières
The tower of Plan Incliné in Ronquières

So in this ghostly and abandoned neighborhood we decided to spend our Sunday. Driving from a ship escalator to an old spooky tunnel and ending up into a lift for boats, in which there was a museum.

The giant installation of a ship lift in Thieu. Finished in 2000, apparently has never been used too actively.
The giant installation of a ship lift in Thieu. Finished in 2000, apparently has never been used too actively.

Void of staff. We and the other guests got to explore the building on our own. Spooky. Special. And all that.

In museums, enthusiasm is the key.
In museums, enthusiasm is the key.

We ended the whole tour into one of those towns, once filled with life of the mine workers. Now eerily empty end neglected. Driving through back alleys, that are not anymore so inviting after darkness.  All the houses lining them, seemed to be made with the same mold, a feature so common for those early industrial cities.

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While returning home we saw a sports plane up in the air. There was this bright lamp appearing on top of Waffles head. What would be a better way to have an overview on all the things we had just visited, than flying over them, side by side with sunset? So we tracked the airstrip, found a pilot, and flew. That might have been the best idea of the day.

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We scrambled into this small tin can, which jumped up to the sky. Circling the towns and following the water lines, built by men, and doing a few flyby’s with para motorists. The sky was painted in orange mist with the sunset. Breathtaking views again!

The mammoth of a elevator seen from above.
The mammoth of an elevator seen from above.

After getting our breath back from the views, and landing safely on the ground again, we tasted the local beer, of course, and indulged with some fries before driving home.

A beer, to finish it all off.
A beer, to finish it all off.
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