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|Antwerp Train Station|
Now based in England, we had planned to do a few trips around Europe, hopefully meeting some old friends, and also catching up again with friends that we met in Africa. We had thrown around ideas of going to Frankfurt, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Barcelona, Sweden, Munich, Belgium, Amsterdam, as we had met some great people who live in those locations. Well, we didn't have time for all of them which is a real shame.
In Namibia, when we boarded the second half of our overland truck trip from Cape Town to Livingstone, Zambia, we met a great Belgian couple named Thomas and Kim. We really got on well together, and enjoyed many good chats late into the evenings over some drinks. We had kept in touch, and made a plan to head to Antwerp, Belgium to stay with them. We couldn't believe our luck, finding that a cheapo bus company called
|Dinner with Kim and Thomas in their garden|
Megabus actually now traveled all the way to Brussels, using the ferry. We got a good price for one way (25 pounds), but the return trip was only a staggering 4 UK pounds!! How can they possibly do that, as it includes the ferry. We jumped at the bus tickets, figuring that we had been on so many buses in Africa, how could this be any worse than that. And, our usual motto is "we have more time than money"!!! Well, the bus ride was seamless, pleasant and comfortable. We didn't have to share our seats with any others, there were no chickens or goats on the bus, and the bus was modern and new. And, most importantly, the driver drove safely and carefully!! Such a difference from our cramped, hair raising journeys in Africa!!!
The boat ride was great too, as we left with a nice view of the white cliffs of Dover, and seagulls hovering, and stunt flying along beside us, hoping for some treats!!
|Michelle in Grote Markt, with Stadhuis and Throwing Hand Statue|
Arriving in to Brussels, it was actually an hour early, so it gave us a chance to look around briefly before meeting Thomas. He was stunned to see us sitting, waiting for his arrival at the planned meeting spot, even though he was early!!! And we drove back the 45 minutes to their home of Antwerp, where we met up with Kim and saw their beautiful home. They had been working on renovating this four storey house on their own and had done a spectacular job. Still more work to do, but what they had done so far was beautiful. We were so lucky to be welcome to such a place!!
Our first of many delicious meals with Kim and Thomas in their back garden, was enjoyed with some Belgian beers. Belgium is famous for it's Tripel and Trappiste style beers that are brewed by the monks. They are very strong beers 8, 9, even 11%, and oh soooooo tasty!!
|Hmmmmm...... which Belgian beer to choose?|
The best way to get around Antwerp is by bike, and we were able to borrow a couple for touring around the town and gothic architecture. The train station is stunning both inside and out, and had a massive underground 'bike' parking lot. Michelle also liked the fact that in the train station, all she could smell was chocolate. Looking down, she noticed a chocolate fountain below for a snack stand. In the area near the train station, you notice a large community of Jews. With the black coats and hats, and the beards an/or two long locks of hair. It turns out that in this area, is the largest diamond cutting industry in the world, with 80% of the world's uncut diamonds passing through here.
We continued down along the pedestrianized shopping street, checking out the buzz of the city, and the hordes of shoppers. Then to the Grote Markt, which is the main square of town. On one side is the Renaissance style Stadhuis (city hall) built in 1565. The picturesque guildhalls line the rest of the square. Also, Belgium's largest cathedral is just off the side of the square.
|Biking the St. Annatunnel with perspective|
Antwerp's name stems from a legend. A giant named Druon Antigoon lived at the bend in the river and forced passing ships to pay a toll. Those who did not pay would lose their hand. Along came a Roman warrior named Silvius Brabo who killed the giant, chopped off the giant's hand and threw it in the river. The Flemish term for hand throwing is Hand werpen, and therefore, the name Antwerpen morphed from this. The statue in the centre of the Grote Markt is of a man throwing a hand.
Through tons of other wonderful buildings we also crossed under the river in the 572m long St. Annatunnel. A pedestrian and biking tunnel built in the 1930's, that seems to disappear into a pinpoint in the centre in a long perspective. It is flanked on each end by old wooden escalators, that you flip your front wheel sideways, and bring your bike up or down each end.
We also managed to visit the modern styled MAS museum. Not in the mood to cruise around the museum, we just made our way to the top floor for views over the old city, and docklands to the North. The museum had interesting curvy windows on all side, giving an interesting effect. The museum was just past the sailor's quarter and the red light district. Although similar to Amsterdam's red light district with girls sitting in windows, it is far smaller, but does have a legalized large brothel in the centre that apparently has a police station in it!!
In our evenings, we spent some quality time with Kim and Thomas. We had fabulous meals, and I made it my mission to try as many of the tripels and trappiste beers that I could. We had such a nice time just hanging out with them. On one evening we went for a ride with them to a run-down commercial site which is now used as a 'summer' pub. On the way there, they showed us Cogels-Osylei, a street where there was an architectural competition many years ago, and it is full of interesting and sometimes strange tall mansions. Might be too many sculptures for my liking, but the houses were massive! The pub was basically a warehouse, but it was busy and we enjoyed some time with their friends. It's always good to hang out with locals at their local establishments!! *Stub
|Martin biking near Antwerp Cathedral|
|At the summer pub with friends|