Antwerp, Belgium • March 2011 • Length of Read: 4 Minutes
With the closure of Carnival we felt we needed to make the most of our week off School and get away from Maastricht for the day. Steffi, Doug, Lukas and I therefore thought it would be nice to hop on an early train and take the two and a half hour trip west to the Belgian city of Antwerp. Not having a clue what we would find or do once we got there, but knowing we would have fun either way, we woke at the crack of dawn and biked our way down to the station.
After what seemed the shortest train journey ever (despite having 2 switchovers in Liege and Brussels) we arrived in Antwerp train station which was a beautiful in itself and one of the landmarks of the city. Like fishes out of water it was time to make a plan so our first stop inevitable has to be the tourist information desk. After receiving a map and a brief outline of what the city had to offer we decided not to stray off the beaten path for once and follow what was recommended in the guidebook, this proved to be a wise choice. Lukas however fancied seeing the beach and asked politely how long it would take us to get to the coast. His expression when the tour operator told him it was an additional two hour train ride, 100km to the North, was priceless.
Following the typical tourist trail, and with our cultural hats on we headed to the city’s main attraction – The Notre-Dame Kathedraal. Using my limited knowledge of European language I’m going to have a stab-in-the-dark that this in English roughly translates to ‘The Notre-Dame Cathedral’. Entering the vast relic as a baptised atheist I was actually amazed by what was contained. Dozens of floor to ceiling paintings depicting a large number of biblical figures hung from vast pillars of stone – the church having stood on the Handschoenmarkt since 1559. Now this isn’t the History Channel so I won’t bore you with any more dates of historical facts, but being immature at heart we did find one amusing thing:
One of the sections in the Church was names the Chapel of Circumcision and featured a marble statue of a man lying naked in a model like pose, with the likelihood he had probable gone under the procedure himself as a child. Yes immature I know but I did warn you!
We also may have stumbled across one of the best names ever registered since time began: Reginald Cools! Despite having a portrait of himself hanging in this Church of the Virgin Mary, he isn’t however famous enough to have a Wikipedia page unfortunately, so I am unable to give you any information on top of this useless fact. Because that is really how we measure someone’s famousness nowadays. Having your own Wikipedia page is surely a sign that you’ve managed to hit the big time.
Refuelling ourselves at a local Pizzeria – one of the few restaurants that actually decided to open on Wednesday lunchtime – we headed to expand our craniums ever more by visiting the city’s most modern building, the Mas Museum. 10 flights of escalators later we finally reached the roof where there was a supposed 360 degree panoramic view of the city. Now half of this was probably pushing it as all you could see was the harbour full or cranes, derelict buildings and murky water, the other half however was very pleasant and was worthy of our attention for a good 20 minutes, battling the prevailing winds in the process.
A quick tour around the museum itself gave us a nice background to the development of the city through conflicts and the shipping periods.
Needing a rest from all the walking we ventured to one of the coffee shops recommended in the guidebook. It was nice seeing a coffee shop that actually sold what it described – rather than the alternative type littered all over Maastricht. I opted for a Hot Chocolate being in Belgium and all, nom nom.
The statue in the city’s main square actually had a fairly fascinating story behind it so I might take what I said back about the ‘history lecture’ and let Wikipedia come to the rescue and tell the tale:
“According to folklore, and as celebrated by the statuein front of the town hall, the city got its name from a legendinvolving a mythical giantcalled Antigoon who lived near the river Scheldt. He exacted a toll from those crossing the river, and for those who refused, he severed one of their hands and threw it into the river Scheldt. Eventually, the giant was slain by a young hero named Brabo, who cut off the giant's own hand and flung it into the river. Hence the name Antwerpen”
Meeting up with Heidi and Julia who had got a later train across the border we went for some traditional Belgian waffles and then on to the pub for a much needed pint – 9% beer is definitely the way forward, especially when it’s table service with free bowls of crisps.
Daylight was almost up so we jaunted back to the train station for the journey back to Volksplein. Overall Antwerp is a not to bad place but I would definitely agree with Doug when he said that the day was a success “mainly due to the people and not the actual place itself.”