Yeah, I bet you did not see that coming. In May 2012, I had another short stopover in Liège that I used to take more pictures of the station, this time during daylight. It was already early evening, the light for photography was perfect with the sun shining out of a blue sky with a few interesting looking clouds.
At night, the roof already looks spectacular when you only see the white concrete with the black of the night behind it and during the day, the blackness is replaced by the blue sky. The station is called a high speed rail station because it services high speed trains such as the Thalys and ICE next to normal Belgian InterCity trains. There is also the regional train commuting between Liège and Aachen that looks so old you would think they stole it from some museum.
It was that same train that I had used during my trip to Charleroi, but I have since learned that the comfort and the time savings of the ICE or the Thalys are well worth the money. And if they don’t fit your schedule well, you can perfectly use the waiting time to marvel at the station and take photos. Or wander into the city and buy some Belgian chocolates. They absolutely deserve their excellent reputation.
While on the way to Charleroi, I got to switch trains in Liège. I knew that the city had a spectacular railway station and managed to book the train ride with a stopover there. The full name of the station is Liège-Guillemins and I had no idea how to pronounce that. Luckily, I bought the ticket at an office of Deutsche Bahn, and they don’t know how to pronounce foreign languages either. So they understood where I wanted to go. Upon arrival, I paid close attention to the announcement on the train, it is pronounced like “Lee esh – gi eh mo”. As you may have guessed, it is also in the french speaking part of Belgium.
The station was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, and shows his typical style of white concrete in organic, skeletal shapes. The curved roof raises up very high and does not have any support columns to hold it up. Standing in the middle of the station looking up makes one feel really small. At night it looks especially fascinating because the white concrete is illuminated while the windows in between just show the blackness of the night above.
You need a special permission to take photos with a tripod in this station, so I had to shoot handheld which wasn’t easy in the darkness. That, and the camera I used back then doesn’t perform well in low light situations. So I only got two usable photos from the place but I really like those two.
When I don’t have time to process new photos for the site but still want to post some things and fill up the Gallery, I have to dig out some old photos that I have already processed. And keeping with the theme of grim shots from Belgium (it is kind of a grim country), here are some from Charleroi at night.
I had definitely posted these on my old website already, but I still like them. I took them during my first ever trip to Belgium which was a weekend trip back in 2010. Charleroi is the third largest city in Belgium and the largest city of the southern, french speaking part of Belgium, Wallonia. The night was cold and rainy which kind of set the precedent for most of my other trips to Belgium. But here, the numerous colorful lights in the city were beautifully reflected by the wet streets. I had a lot of fun taking pictures and only went to bed around 3 in the morning.
The second night, I followed a recommendation and hiked to the top of one of the coal hills. Charleroi is an old coal mining town and most of the colliery wastes were just piled into big hills and left for nature to claim them. If you have a powerful enough flashlight, a GPS unit (or smartphone with offline maps) and aren’t afraid of the dark, you can get great views over the city. Of course, everything is very dark and you have to use longer than usual exposures to take pictures but it is worth it.
I think the Gallery now contains all the photos from Charleroi that I had posted on my old site.
I arrived in Brussels in the morning of New Year’s Eve 2010 and decided to walk around a bit. I stayed in a hotel very close to the Brussels South Station from where the Thalys or the ICE (I don’t remember) would take me back to Cologne the next day in less than 2 hours. Brussels is a beautiful city, it has a lot of historic buildings but also very modern architecture and high rise office blocks. And it has that kind of big city atmosphere you would expect from the capital of Europe, unlike anything I have ever experienced in Germany; although Berlin was close. I highly recommend visiting it, especially if you live in or near Cologne because with the short train travel times, it is very easy to stay for a weekend or even just a single day. Now that I think about it, I haven’t been there for quite some time now…
A good starting point for sightseeing is the Mont des Arts, or Kunstberg in Dutch (and German). It is possible to walk there from the Station and then it is easy to walk around and explore the old town and see some of the beautiful parks and palaces in central Brussels. On the Mont des Arts itself, preparations for the public New Year’s Eve fireworks display were in progress. Unfortunately though, a thick fog descended on the city that night so all that the people got to see of the fireworks were faint glows of colors above the fog.
The Manneken Pis is another extremely popular tourist attraction in Brussels. It is easy to find because every other tourist eventually walks there. And if it weren’t for the tourists, it could be easily overlooked. Even though it is surrounded by blinking lights. The Manneken Pis is an actual size bronze statue of a baby that is urinating into a fountain. It has been around for a few hundred years, but that’s pretty much all there is to it.