So I was coming down through Belgium heading for Lille and I stopped in a layby just to make a cuppa, walk the dog etc.
but just look at this layby. You ever seen one as nice as that!
Charleroi, or Charlwah as I have heard it pronounced by a local, is by far and away the most rundown city I’ve seen in ages. Up til now Milford Haven had had that dubious honour but Charleroi definitely beats it into a cocked hat for derelict buildings, rundown buildings, strewn litter and graffiti, wasteland and old rundown and derelict industrial areas. I’d long wanted to visit simply because I knew it was a historical place, something to do with Bonaparte on his way to the battle of Waterloo.
The reason I first went in was because my TomTom decided to play up badly. I’d only got a message from TomTom a few days before saying they would no longer support my device as it was classed as ‘obsolete’ by them. In other words, they wanted me to dispose of it and buy another one lol I’d never been happy with TomTom mapping and a few other things about the company so I had decided to get a new SatNav and this time but a Garmin. I was hoping that Charleroi might have a decent shop where I could buy one.
While there was a massive regeneration going on in the new city centre, the shops were very limited in Charleroi and consisted mainly of rundown independents selling tobacco, food and cheap clothes. I walked the entire city from end to end and corner to corner and there was nowhere that sold anything like SatNav’s. Luckily after messing around at teatime with my TomTom after about an hour I got it working but as a SatNav is quite important to travelling I was still intent on getting a Garmin as soon as I could.
I did not take any photos of Charleroi: I was dedicated to one task and to photo nothing but rundown misery was not my thing that day. And non stop misery was pretty much all I saw.
Update: Almost a year after visiting, I read this article on the BBC website about Charleroi.
I first visited Bruges in 2004 after meeting a Belgian in Austria who recommended we visit. We were glad we took his advice because it’s a beautiful city like many in Belgium. I love the old traditional cities which have not succumbed to mind numbingly boring modern developers and retain some charm and interest and character.
This time I arrived on the night of 9th of March and decided that although it was after 10pm I’d walk into town before bed. Jack needed some exercise anyway. We found there was some kind of festival going on as everyone was in fancy dress, some throwing fireworks and all of the pubs were loud and busy.
The mood was boisterous but fun and friendly and walking Jack through the city centre was as safe as playing with him on the beach. he loved it as he got loads of attention from admiring passers by and of course that’s what Jack lives for. Well…that and killing things *sigh*
You can only have the menu!
After an hour of enjoying the mood and the city I decided to break with my normal diet and get kebab meat and chips, known most everywhere as meat ‘n chips. I spotted a kebab shop not far away so tied Jack up and went in.
Bruges is Flemish Belgium, so I asked for “Viande et frites s’il vous plait.” He looked at me and pointed to the six photos above the griddle which showed the delicious kebabs they sold. I waved to suggest dismissal and repeated, “Non, seulement viande et frites s’il vous plait.” He again gesticulated at the photos so I asked if he spoke English and he shrugged as if to say either “No.” or “I can’t be bothered to.”
We went on like this for five minutes with me thinking of various ways I could get through to him but it was increasingly apparent that he simply did not want to and was not going to veer from the 6 menus he had on the display. So finally I chose one that was a simple donner kebab: meat, salad and pitta.
I pointed to it and said “Menu cinq s’il vous plait.” He appeared really pleased and pointed to it and burbled something unintelligible. I said “Oui, mais pas de salade et pas de pitta mais avec frites…s’il vous plait?” which of course effectively got me meat n chips lol
He looked quite angry and waved at me shouting something that kind of looked like no but felt more like piss off! I wondered if it was my poor French but it has worked before…
I was a bit confused because if you sell something and have to take a part of it off and bin it but it has been paid for, what’s the problem? Anyway I decided it was time to leave so I went back to the van and made myself some savoury rice from scratch which was just as tasty as meat n chips and way healthier. Baise tu! Mr Kebab man.
So I spent the next day in Bruges and right from early morning the sun was shining brightly. As I got into town I noticed how clean the streets were especially after last nights shenanigans. It reminded me of Italy when we spent New Year in the Piazza del Popolo. There was about 50,000 people out celebrating and fireworks abounded.
When midnight struck apparently it was customary to share a bottle of cheap champagne with the person next to you, then throw the empty bottle into the square. The mess was amazing and we were careful when we left as there was very little path without glass on. However the council were coming in with cleaning crews even as we left for the tube and the next day the square was clean as a whistle.
Bruges also was clean although in the main squares there were still council vehicles and staff finishing off the clean up.
In the market square is a tall war memorial. I’d noticed some young boys trying to throw water bottles up to the top level of it. They weren’t intent on harm and I didn’t feel they were deliberately disrespectful, it felt like they were simply messing around without thinking what they were doing. However I decided if they had not stopped by the time I finished my coffee I would speak to them.
As I sat there a council worked drove round with his motorised street cleaner and stopped next to the large group who were very likely some sort of school group tour. He clearly had some quiet words with them and they behaved straight away. The whole thing was even tempered and over with quickly but I was astonished. In the UK no council worker would dream of doing the same thing, and if they had it’s likely that some irate parent would react angrily and aggressively because their little darling had been spoken to.
There is a process called socialisation where the young are taught how to grow and develop but that seems to be disappearing in some places. It was very pleasing and gratifying to see such a simple but positive interaction between adult and children in public.
I had an amazing day in Bruges and I am sure that won’t be the last visit I have. In fact I may go back next spring! As always here’s some photos from my visit. Click on any image to enlarge it and click on any image to exit the image browser.