Striking stations in Belgium
1) Antwerp Dam Station
You might not think Antwerpen-Dam looks different from any other Belgian station. Located near Park Spoor Noord, it’s a typical Flemish Renaissance brick building standing alongside a railway viaduct. But an exhibition of old photographs in the tunnel under the viaduct tells an astonishing story. They reveal the entire station was moved 36 metres in 1907 to make space for a new railway line. The work was done using an ingenious system of mechanical jacks and rails. The company in charge of this exceptional engineering project hoped it could sell the technology elsewhere, but the concept never took off, leaving Dam station as a unique experiment.
Liège was until recently an old industrial city few tourists would dream of visiting. But the city began to change in 2009 with the opening of a sleek new station designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It’s an astonishing futuristic building with a swooping steel and glass canopy poised above the tracks like a gigantic wave. Now it is worth travelling to Liège just to admire the architecture. Start at the top level, high above the trains, where you can admire a neighbourhood slowly emerging from urban decline. Then go down to the ground floor where cafes and ticket offices occupy curious round glass pods. The station neighbourhood is still far from finished, but one day you will be able to walk into town along a magnificent waterfront promenade.
3) De Haan tram station
The tram pulls up in De Haan next to a beautiful art nouveau station built in 1888. It was designed by the Brussels architect G. Dhaeyer in a fanciful style with steep overhanging eaves, elegant carved wood and the French name Coq-sur-Mer in decorative letters. A sign recalls that Albert Einstein stepped off the tram here in 1933 at the start of his stay at the coast.
4) Ronse Station
The oldest surviving railway station in mainland Europe stands near the language border in Ronse/ Renaix. But it wasn’t always here. It was built by a Brussels architect in 1841-48 on ’t Zand square in Bruges. Eventually the classical building became too small to cope with the tourists visiting Bruges. A new Gothic station was constructed in 1881 and the old station was rebuilt in Ronse/Renaix.
5) Ghost stations on the North-South line
The busy rail tunnel running through Brussels has five official stations but most trains only stop at three. To cut journey times, most trains ignore Bruxelles-Chapelle and Bruxelles-Congrès. These deserted underground stations are like the creepy abandoned stations in East Berlin during the Cold War. The Chapelle station in the Marolles district is occupied by the alternative arts centre Recyclart, which organises art exhibitions and concerts (closed for renovation until late 2019). The other station, Bruxelles-Congrès, is harder to find. You might spot the huge ventilation tower dating from the period when steam trains passed through the tunnel. It’s worth going down the steps to admire the modernist interior which has barely changed since the station opened in 1952. You can still see the polished wood panelling, ticket office and abandoned station bar. But it is strangely silent, apart from the gentle vibration of a passing train.
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Hidden Belgium takes you off the beaten track and sets out to prove that Belgium is in fact one of the most interesting states in Europe.
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