On, In and Underground

SMACK!!! Here I am again…. An all too familiar feeling courses through my body when I realise  I’m being way too intimate with the asphalt. I roll over on my back and try to get up when an intense sting in my wrist causes me to collapse. On my second try push through the pain and manage to find my footing.  I stumble to my backpack dragging my board with my fingers. My girlfriend who’s until this point been sunbathing on a bench completely clueless of my predicament. Once on the bench I clean my grazed hands with the last of my water. Since we still had to drive home and I couldn’t use the shifter, I had to ask my girlfriend to change gears. As you probably can imagine, the drive home was an interesting one.

We started the day with a full itinerary. We packed our bags, loaded up some longboards and departed for Brussels. After about a 40 minute drive at the Dansaert parking lot which we had previously decided would be our parking spot for the day.we got our gear and pushed off to our first stop…

The ones who push the limits, discover the limits sometimes push back.

Frosty Hesson

underground

the sewer museum

We skated for about 10 minutes from the parking garage alongside the canal and past the ninoofse poort to the octrooi pavilion. The museum above ground is made out of two buildings, the north building is the exit, south one the entrance. The first building mainly portrays the history of Brussels’s sewer system and the waste disposal netwerk. The central piece in the gallery is reliëf sculpture of brussels and the surrounding area. After strolling around for a while and reading up on a bit of brussels history we heard a large group of kids coming up the stairs so we decided it was time to move on to the next part of the exhibit. This was the part of the exhibit I was most looking forward to. We were descending on a white forged spiral staircase to what I had been building up in my head as a grim, mysterious and somewhat dirty tunnel system linking all districts and communities together like a subterranean highway system. A bit of a mix of paris’ catacombs and the untamed waterworks as portrayed in the Pixar movies ratatouille. As i near the last steps i realise it’s yet another gallery a little disappointed i mosey on. 

Koen Van de Wauwer

Wandering from one hall to the next I learn about the construction process, the physics behind different shapes of sewer, different animals and urban legends when all of a sudden a weird glass door catches my eye. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the decor so decide to go and have a look. All excited, this might be the real sewage system I run up to the door. It appears to be some sort of airlock between the sewer and the museum. I urge my girlfriend to come take a look. Intrigued, we both walk in and are greeted by the sound of a powerful stream. Finally we’re in the sewer, surprisingly there isn’t even the slightest bit of odour to be smelled. The tunnel is being led up by a couple of old dirty fluorescent bulbs that are swarmed with mosquitoes, the walls are almost entirely covered with some sort of mould. A couple of feet in front of me is a spot on the wall that stands out. I can make out blue contours which lead me to believe it’s some sort of street sign. I move closer… It’s a sign! Apparently this section runs parallel with la Senne. 

About 10 metres ahead the tunnel bends as it runs under the SlachthuisLaan. Here we are faced with a choice, take the stairs up to the surface or follow what I still think is a vast network of tunnels. You can probably imagine it isn’t much of a choice, we keep following the tunnel. We’re walking on metal grades with the water rushing beneath our feet. Suddenly my girlfriend points to the wall, which is covered with hundreds of murals depicting the first inhabitants of these tunnels. The murals tell the story of a rat community planning to overthrow society and establish their rule over the planet. In hindsight this masterpiece was the best part of this museum. After taking up all of the murals we make our way further into the tunnel until about 30 metres past the mural the tunnel ends. Studdend, thinking this can’t be the end, I look for a turn we might have missed …. But there isn’t one. We start to realise this, this is it. Disappointed, we walk back to the last staircase and make our way back up to the surface. We find ourselves in the north building. This gallery is dedicated to the water treatment process. In the back is a little desk with two microscopes . Upon looking through the lenses we see a little shrimp-like lifeform, apparently these thrive in the dirty water in the sewers. This gallery is quite small so we are through with it and in no time we are about to leave when we are stopped by the man behind the desk. He’s interested in our longboards. His son is an avit skater but he has never seen such large boards. He’s very kind and a genuinely interested man. We chat for a bit then bid him farewell.

The food hub

After our pretty disappointing museum visit we want to grab something to eat. On our way we passed a fairtrade restaurant /sandwich shop called The Food Hub. The shop is located in sint-jans molenbeek overlooking the canal. It was only about a mile or so from the museum so it took us only a couple minutes to skate there. We ordered two delicious sandwiches. mine had the best egg salad in existence in this galaxy, probably the universe. The interior unfortunately doesn’t compare the quality of the sandwiches. They have tried to give the space some extra personality with plants and some colourful artwork. But it’s still a cold uninviting area. We chose a table by the window so we could at least have that and enjoy our meal. For dessert my girlfriend suggests she gaston so we jump on our longboards and drive off to our next stop. 

The next part  of our trip requires a bit more on the fly planning. It’s 2.5 miles to Laeken cemetery. Luckily the first part of the ride takes us over quality pavement and nice flat sidewalks. But as we near closer to our destination and enter the older part of the city some roads aren’t all that skateable so we have to walk some of the way. Unfortunately that’s only one of the hazards when skating in urban areas. Still it’s a great and athletic way to get around.

in the ground

Laeken cemetery

After skating for half an hour I realise I haven’t adjusted to the warmer temperatures of spring. We arrived at the cemetery around 2 pm. I wanted to come here because of a piece I read on Atlas obscura. Apparently the crypt underneath the cemetery has been subject to decay for some years. Multiple graves and plaques are supposed to be damaged, some even with remains spilling out. I understand it might seem unsettling for some. Sometimes it’s fun to enjoy some of the gore in different situations. The online article also said the crypt is not always accessible to the public. So I wrote an Email to city hall to check if the crypt was open to tourists and if not whether or not it would be possible for me as a student writing a piece about the cemetery. He assured me the crypt is always accessible during the cemetery opening hours.  

We follow the path towards the crypt and pick up a booklet to guide us through.  I’m flipping through the booklet and I start to realise this might be the sewer museum all over again. Of Course if i had done proper research i’d know that the crypt has been recently remodelled and totally cleaned up. And no longer the hub of death and decay I thought it was. But we’re here and it doesn’t hurt to learn some of its history and moderately famous people who are buried here. We walk down the ramp as our footsteps echo through the halls. It really is a vast gallery and I have to admit some of the memorial plaques are beautiful and bring forward the wealth of the people buried here. My favourite was one from the Vaxelaire familie. It’s beautifully being led up by one of the many sky-lights lighting up the crypte. Beautiful as these graves might be wandering around in this cold but otherwise quite lively crypt is getting dull rather soon. In addition we long for some sunlight so we decide we have seen enough and head back up. Even Though we wanted to come here for the crypte it’s, and I’m hesitant to use the word fun here but going for it anyway, more fun wandering around the conventional part of the graveyard. But it’s getting late and i still haven’t broken any bones so we better get to it.

on the ground

The pump track

A pump track is a parkour in a loop filled with bumps and tight turns. The goal is to propel forward using only gravity and your own momentum. Getting in the lower parts of the track you have to go as low as possible  and the opposite when going up. Essentially making a pumping movement while riding through the track. That’s why it’s called a pump track 

It’s only a stone throw away from the cemetery. We have to get all the way to the new developments at the vergrote dock right in the centre of Brussels. We are in luck when we arrive at a totally empty park, we get the place all to ourselves. To start off I take a lap  to show my girlfriend how it works afterwards we both take turns riding a couple laps.  After a while my girlfriend got tired and the park was getting a little buzzier so I decided to do one more lap. ONE MORE LAP, words that will go down in history. I’m at the end of when I have a critical case of wheel bite and end up on the ground.

After getting home my girlfriend pointed out a weird bulge so I immediately went to the doctor who urged me to get an x-ray as soon as possible. The x-ray showed a non-dislocated fracture in my left thumb. So I went to the emergency room. The nurses check me in and after a little while take me to the cast room where I get to choose which colour I want my hand to be imprisoned in for the next four to six weeks. They give me the usual talking to: what I can and can’t do, how to shower with the cast and directions on how to minimise discomfort due to the restricted blood flow. I’m being set up with an appointment on the  21st of april that 4 weeks from now. Let’s hope I don’t need it anymore by that time. So i can get on with doing stupid but incredebly fun stuf.

My name is Koen Van de Wauwer I’m 21 years old and I live in Antwerp. I'm passionate about traveling because I want to experience as much of the world as possible in my lifetime. My dream is to live on the sail boat i build myself
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