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Completely unrelated to my disastrous experience with Wizz Air, I did something exciting a few weeks ago. Anybody who has been following my adventures for longer than just today knows that I have a strange, strong and inexplicable love for abandoned places. As a member of a UrbEx Facebook place, some amazing pictures of a place supposedly called “Château Wolfenstein” popped up on my Facebook timeline and I was instantly in love. It had happened before with Château Miranda (now unfortunately demolished) after I had my first addictive experience with UrbEx completely by accident in Berlin. Anyway, back to Château Wolfenstein. This is what it looks like on the inside… Feel free to fall in love (and keep reading for a better impression).
You possibly (and correctly) noticed that I mentioned this castle is supposedly called Château Wolfenstein. This is not its original name, but, even though it is known under many different names, it is probably the most used one. What makes it more mysterious to visit a place like this is that it’s location is not advertised out there like a 3* hotel neon shouting for attention. Instead, it is hidden in clues and correctly formulated Google searches. In UrbEx it is common to exchange locations. The rules are simple: if you know a good abandoned spot you go there and take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints. Furthermore, you don’t share the location out in the open. Other explorers can ask you for the location and you can offer it to them in return for one of their locations. If you don’t have anything to trade you might have to search for clues on where to find the building you want to visit. In our case an amazing set of Google skills found us the information we needed, but in other cases you will have to compare photos to the environment in order to figure out where you have to go. The treasure hunt is part of the fun! Now even though this place is probably one of the easiest to find abandoned locations in Belgium I won’t spoil that fun and have the location remain a secret (if you do want to know and have something in return for me, please get in touch via the contact page 😀 ). One more cool thing I’m going to give away, it is reasonably easy to reach the spot by public transport!
This castle is not a castle like you know it from fairy tales. Not one where queens and kings lived happily ever after and not even one where brave soldiers were based. Manor would be more to the point. The castle was built in 1931 bij Louis Empain and was later sold to the Fabri family. After the second world war it was sold again, this time to the Belgian FNAPG (Fédération Nationale des Anciens Prisonniers de Guerre), an organisation concerned with victims and political prisoners. The castle ended up hosting recovering tubercolosis patients and ex political detainees as a result.
Sleeping under a sky full of stars
The trip to Château Wolfenstein was the first trip with my current boyfriend. It is said that doing exciting things together helps the relationship, so breaking in to an abandoned manor seemed like just the right thing to do. However doing just that would not be complete with a romantic night of camping under a sky full of stars. We borrowed my father’s car, packed nothing but a tent and drove until we reached the vicinity of the castle. On the way we had found a supermarket where we bought a baguette and some toppings to serve as both dinner and breakfast and it was time to find a good place to set up our tent for the night. Now technically wild camping is not allowed in Belgium, but there is a solution to that. Recently a concept called “pole camping” has been set up in Belgium in the Netherlands. Pole campings are small fields, marked wih a pole, where you are welcome to stay the night. Beware that the spots have no facilities at all and are aimed at travellers on foot or by bike. Our car was not really supposed to be there, but we just parked it nearby. Of course respecting the place and fellow campers is an important aspect of keeping this awesome initiative alive, so if you decide to go pole camping, please leave the spot the way you found it or ideally a little bit better. To find good pole camping location in Belgium, check out this page. The website is in Dutch, but the map should be clear to anybody.
Even though it was still August, the night was pretty cold. However, we had our heads poke out of the tent half the night to look at the beautiful sky above us. Most of the pole camping sites are far enough away from large cities to not experience any light pollution, so let yourself be amazed by the beauty of the night. One can even see the milky way and if you’re fond of spotting constellations you could stay up all night (Get the Sky-map app if you need some help on it!). Unfortunately my camera was not good enough to take a photo that will do justice, but you need to see it with your own eyes anyway.
Now that you know more about UrbEx, the history of Château Wolfenstein and its environment it is finally time to get to know the castle. To make sure the location stays as secret as it is, I can’t give too much detail on how exactly to enter the window, but what I can say is that we entered to a broken glass window. It goes without saying that the window was already broken, but that didn’t make it less dangerous to pass through the shattered glass.
The window opened into a small hallway with a broken sink as a the main feature. The tiny room soon invited us for more exploration. Shockingly enough the next room held shelves full of binders. One quick look inside was enough to know that the files in them stored the information about the patients and prisoners that had lived in this castle not even such a long time ago. It’s pretty insane that all that information is still out and about. After this shocking entrance, the next room was a combination between a dissapointment and a relief. No more private files, but the room revealed that this UrbEx spot is well known among people. The room was set up in a perfect setting: a table with two chairs, next to the fireplace, complete with wine cups and even plastic flowers. It was a pretty setting, no doubt about that, but the place just lost a bit of its authenticity to me.
Interesting enough, the scenes we encountered in all the next rooms varied between clearly staged and completely neglected. This still made the tour pretty interesting. We found more patient files and a desktop with a monitor that clearly belongs a few decades back as well as paintings, messy tables, stained bathtubs, a toilet with a pink plush cover and… a spiral staircase! If that last one doesn’t sound exciting to you, you are probably a normal, well-functioning person. Me on the other hand, I have a strange fascination for spiral staircases, especially in abandoned buildings. I guess we all have some strange interests. And when you see it in the photo, especially with the painting at the bottom, doesn’t the mysterious look of it appeal to you too?
After visiting all the rooms there were to visit, we were pretty overwhelmed with so many different impressions. It is obvious that this place is not as secret as it seems, but the entrance through the broken window adds to the sense of aventure of exploring an abandoned house. The files that were left on the spot make you wonder about the stories of all the people that once spent part of their lives in this house. It is one of the most intriguing parts of exploring places… leaving with a thousand romanticised stories of what it once would have been.
If you are going to try and visit this place or any UrbEx locations, please take into account that you take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footsteps and don’t share the location with the world. Furthermore visiting places like this is technically illegal and could be seen as trespassing.
To all Urban Explorers, adventurers, backpackers and everybody else who might be interested in beautiful, abandoned places. Please pay close attention, as this beauty unfortunately won’t stand for much longer. It is a shame, breaking my heart, but the beautiful Château Miranda will be taken down soon. For everybody who can still quickly get their ass over there, please do and for everybody else, this page will just be in rememberance of one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited.
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Exams and a study-related excursion have prevented me from writing lately. Such a shame, as I was already running behind on schedule. I am not mentioning this by means of an excuse as to why I haven’t posted lately, but because the study excursion turned out to be a lot more succesful than I had expected. Not only study-wise, but also environment-wise have I been amazed.
An in-depth review of the trip will follow under the correct country-headers, but I wanted to used this post both as a sneak preview as well as toto express my amazement of how close you can live to beautiful nature without even knowing about it. Because I study applied earth sciences, the trip was focussed on the geological aspect of the things we got to see. However this was combined with walks through the area that I would recommend to anyone with the slightest interest in hiking.
Just briefly look at the following photos. Where would you think they were taken? I am not sure what I would guess, but I would certainly not guess it right.
The colour and shape of the rock formations, combined with the contrasting blue sky that we were very lucky to have would never give away that the photo on the left was taken in Luxembourg and the right one (although you might have recognised that from a Dinant postcard) in Belgium. If I hadn’t taken these photos myself I wouldn’t have believed it. The larger picture above wasn’t taken by me, but I was there when it was taken and that one too was really taken in Belgium, despite the alien-like atmosphere it has to it. The region in the Ardennes is eally interesting to rock-climbers too!
We also found volcanic deposits in the Eifel, Germany, ordered as if someone had been playing with coloured sand like this:
Amazing isn’t it! Okay, I can understand that rock formations might not be the first thing you look at when you’re walking around an area and I therefore won’t bore you with my interprations of how they formed, but these special outcrops are so nice just to look at and would absolutely catch my attention, even I would not be studying geology. Some rocks even contained large mineral crystals that were absolutely beautiful and that you can sometimes buy on those markets, how cool would it be if you found a souvenir like that in the wild?!
Yet another little discovery I made during the same trip is not another rock, or hiking area, but a book. Yep. Not for everybody, as it is in German (I don’t even speak German properly, but I bought it anyway, because it is such a fantastic guidebook, especially for hitchhiking trips). The book contains 24 European countries, complete with maps (not detailed ones, but they have all the highways on them) and descriptions of hotels, hostels, bed & breakfasts and guesthouses on the way. This means that you can look up a nice place for a stop when you’re driving on the highway and will want to stop after +- two more hours of driving. Handy when on a roadtrip, but near essential when your hitchhiking without having a clue when you will get a ride to where and when you’ll need a place to stay for a night.
All in all you might wonder why I am so enthusiastically speaking about German books and places that are close to home to me, but might be miles away for you. This is because it is not necessarily these places that are so amazing. It is more that I’ve been living only about a three-hour drive away from these places forever and have flown miles to enjoy the wonders of the other side of the world without having ever seen what is just around the corner… It hasn’t been until the last few years that I have taken an interest in visiting countries and places closer to me.
There is so much to discover and for those with little money or time, I guess I want to teach the lesson that travelling and seeing marvellous things is not a matter of getting as far from home as possible, but a matter of opening your eyes.
Have you made any unexpected discovered lately? Please share where you love and what place close to you amazed you.