Charleroi really has a reputation that's worse than what it actually is. Yes there are a lot of abandoned buildings but they are trying to change that. The city centre at the moment is having a massive revival: a lot of the ville-basse has been demolished and they're building a massive shopping centre/open plaza.
Worth knowing that Charleroi centre is practically two towns, the Ville-Basse (older part, more run down, being made better again) and the Ville-Haut (More modern, grid streets, etc). There are pedestrian shopping streets connecting them. There's also a shopping centre called Ville 2 which has everything you'll need, it's walkable from the city centre but also on the premetro.
You should also know that Gosselies is actually a town of its own that's been absorbed into the entity of Charleroi. Charleroi town centre isn't actually that big, but they brought a lot of surrounding commune's into Charleroi to make it more of a city. Gosslies still has that nice village feeling IMO.
Public transport is great. Or at least compared to where I come from. The TEC runs it all and it's cheap and quite widespread. The network consists of the premetro: trams in metro infrastructure around city centre and some places, tram elsewhere. A central loop with 3 antennas (and one antenna that was built but never opened). Gosselies is on line 3 and it's very regular. There's also a dense bus network. There's integrated ticketing between all of these. For example you buy a ticket that lasts 1h and you can change as much as you want.
Getting out of the town is really easy. The SNCB gets a lot of bad press because of the strikes and delays but if you're not traveling on peak you won't really get any. There are IC trains to Brussels and Antwerp every half an hour, an IC to Namur-Liège every hour, and an IC to Mons-Lille (France) very hour. There are also plenty of IR and L trains to take you to nice places around the region. Very well priced as well.
In terms of things to do I've never run out of them. I might make a list of day trips up for you but the best thing is that you don't really need a car for a lot of stuff. If you like exercise you'll be near the Canal which is quite nice, and there's a network of greenways called RAVeL which has a website somewhere with a map. These are along old railway lines, canals etc. There's a really nice park on M1/M2 at Morgnies.
Lack of French is the only thing that might get in your way I think, depending where you are. Is it the airport you'd be working at? Maybe try starting Duolingo in French to get the pleasantries down.
There are comments about Charleroi being Detroit but really, it's not that bad. It's not the prettiest place but services and things to do are plentiful. That's about it, it's quite unremarkable. I think you'll really like your trip, remember it's only 5 months. You won't be shot or stabbed etc, and it's going to be a great experience to leave the US for a bit and live in Europe. You should loom forward to it! Oh and if it's in the summer we have a lot of great musical festivals in Belgium. Be sure to get back to me if you have any questions!
Indeed, Charleroi isn't one of the most attractive cities in our country. It tends to be notorious, so just try and be carefull. But knowing our culture and lifestyle, you'll probably enjoy it! Belgium is a very small country, so train trips of about an hour can take you to some of the beautifull cities in our country (ghent, antwerp, bruges, brussels). Using a go pass this costs about 5 euros. Also, most people are proficient in English (I'd say about 80%) and are very helpfull if you just ask for help. If you're affraid you won't have a good time with the natives, Belgium is filled with international students and is a mixing pot of different cultures and religions. Also, we tend to have the best beer in the world, so... I can also add that the 4 US students we hosted over the years all loved their stay in Belgium. Feel free to ask me any questions you might still have
I've never been to Gosselies (driven past it on occasion though) so I don't know the specifics. I do know that Charleroi's mayor (Paul Magnette) is trying to get Charleroi gentrificated the same way Gent did in the 1980s-1990s.
Now as for how dangerous it is, I'd say it's okay during the daytime but I'd recommend you to be careful at night. Guns are extremely scarce here, so criminals will be more likely to carry knives instead of guns.
As for transportation, Charleroi has a subway system (with one branch never being put into service so if urbex is your thing, that's worth looking into) and the train station (Charleroi-Sud) has rail links and regular trains (if there's no strike like yesterday) to most major cities in Belgium.
Charleroi is sleeping city.. little unruly. People mind their own business. You have some pubs and restaurants. A new shopping mall has cone up with Primark.. at river gauche. We have Ville 2 as well. Mcdonald's, dominoes and few more eat outs.
LIVING IN CHARLEROI
The inhabitants of Charleroi, 'the Pays Noir', are called Carolorégiens or Carolos, and they're well-known for being a friendly, and helpful populace and there is much to see for expatriates in Charleroi. The fotografiemuseum, for example, is a gallery that specializes in the art of photography, with exhibitions centered on its history as well as modern art. The city Hall Belfry is a fantastic place to visit if you're unsure of where to head first, as it was recently made a UNESCO world heritage site. You should have no problem living in Charleroi, but if you do need a little help you should visit the InterNations site to get the information you need. The site has an amazing network of expatriates from all over the world, some of which have lived in more than two countries and love to help others with their life as an expatriate.
Charleroi is the center of an industrial region that has seen better days, so it can be depressing, especially if you get homesick. Speaking the local lingo definitely helps in this case. Apart from nearby France, Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg, there are plenty of interesting cities to visit in Belgium. I don't think there will be a shortage of weekend trips. Charleroi is on the Paris-Cologne HSR line, so there are direct trains to these cities (also Aachen, Düsseldorf and Liège). Another train takes you to Brussels in about 45 minutes. There you have transfers to Amsterdam, London, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Rotterdam, The Hague and Lille among other cities.
Since Charleroi has a good airport you can go almost anywhere form there on a weekend.
Ryanair goes to a lot of places --- You get what you pay for ... !
Unlike some people saying that Charleroi is a so-so city,
they do have some places worth seeing or visiting.
The best thing is that you will be only there for a very short time !
Apparently you have never been to Europe ?
So just go for it, have a great time, look at the bright side.
Even living for 5 months in one of those (they call them *Batiment*) concrete blocks
with holes in it, that people call a place to live ... ,
is not that big of a deal !!
After all, you would only be sleeping in those things !
Who knows, you may not want to leave that soon ...
I just hope you will not be going in the winter ...
Two more things, many places are closed on Sundays,
so be prepared to go somewhere else on Sundays,
and see if you can wrangle a week more off after your training.
Then go on your own and tale mmore time to explaore Belgium
(Brugge, Ghent, Brussles, etc),
The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland or France.
Do not make a whirlwind tour but choose one area and spend a couple of days there.
You find graffiti everywhere in Charleroi. On concrete walls, on the pillars that hold up the city’s elevated ring road, on the sides of apartment buildings. There are abstract shapes in bold colours, scenes of local history depicting coal miners and other industrial workers, and more recognisable figures, including local and global celebrities. Barely a dreary surface survives in this surprising city: every slab of concrete or brick seems to have been given colour and brought to life with strikingly professional modern design.
Here, graffiti constitutes not vandalism, but art. Not that the people of Charleroi are new to a bit of urban art. Two of their Metro stations are adorned with images of the cartoon characters for which the city is celebrated. Though Tintin belongs to Brussels, a gallery of his cartoon compatriots adorns the walls inside Janson station, while at the next stop, Parc, Lucky Luke is the main character in a cartoon adventure, drawn out on 21 panels along the far wall of the southbound platform.
Oh for anyone else reading this thread Charleroi is very useful as a transport hub for low cost airlines.
I will be using Charleroi again in November to return from a short trip to the Netherlands, remember you can go the full lenght of Belgium including your bus fare from/to the Airport for 11 euros one way, and belgian trains are excellent however, if you are using Ryanair there is a penalty in so far as the very early flight, if this is the case use your ticket to get to the Airport and book up with the Balladins superior Airport hotel, £62 per room, they will pick you up with their free shuttle, it's well worth it for the night, they obviously will run you to the Airport in the morning.
I was born in Brussels, in Laeken to be precise. Moving to Charleroi was purely coincidental; my father had gotten a job in the region so moved our entire family there. I relocated back to Brussels in 2008 for my studies, but Charleroi remains my true home. Most of my friends are Carolos, as well as the guys from Back in the Dayz, my label. Charleroi is more familiar to me too – it’s cosy. When bumping into people on the street, they actually take time to talk and listen to you. And, ironically, it was only after I left Charleroi for Brussels that I felt more Carolo than ever. I could never forget my roots, because after all Charleroi is the place where I first got introduced to rap music.
I have the impression that, over the last decade, Charleroi has gone through some sort of renaissance, thanks in no small part to the success of the – shamelessly named – Brussels-South airport. Independent, small businesses have been popping up due to the spike in tourism the city has enjoyed. But Charleroi’s renaissance isn’t just commercial. Culturally, things have been happening too. Cinemas and theatres have been getting renovated, and an increasing amount of concert venues have been inaugurated, firmly establishing themselves on the country’s artistic and musical scene. There are three concert halls that, for me personally, are truly top-notch, with Eden (1 Boulevard Jacques Bertrand) being, without a doubt, right at the top. They have an ambitious and motivated team, the venue is beautiful, the acoustics are perfect and it’s accessible, bang in the centre of the city. It’s really a place you should check out.
In terms of restaurants, I could name a dozens but two that immediately come to mind are Chez Georges (54 Route de Châtelet), the best Greek snack bar in town, and Chez Julot (6 Avenue de l’Europe), a traditional Italian restaurant where you can get a plate of homemade pasta for as little as 12 euros. For drinks, a beer at Le 34 (34 Rue de Marchiennes), originally a metal head dive that offers cheap beers in an intimate setting and that’s without a doubt one of the most convivial places in Charleroi, is a must. And if your mother needs a haircut, send her over to Nady’s (27 Boulevard Audent). She’s a friend of my mum’s and her hair salon is the best in town.