A Weekend In Bruges - The Medieval Fairytale City

Bruges, Belgium • September 2017 • Length of Read: 12 Minutes

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Could you please stop what you are doing and give us your full undivided attention. I have a serious announcement to make…”

A silence fell over the cabin as a long pause ensued. We were about three-quarters of the way into the flight from Glasgow to Brussels Charleroi Airport and, ignoring the faint apology for our hour-long runway delay, it had so far been without a hitch. This sounded serious, though. I turned to the girl on my right and noticed that her face had faded to quite the shade of white. Even fake tan can’t hide a flush of nerves. On 22nd March 2016, three coordinated suicide bombs exploded in Belgium, and a Level 3 terror alert was still in place across the country. The UK Government travel advice website continues to issue the warning that ‘terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Belgium’, with the Belgian authorities indicating that ‘there is a serious and real threat’.

“We’ve gone a little bit crazy here today,” continued the pilot, his voice crackling back over the PA system. “But if you play your cards right, one of you could become very rich.”

Putting down my copy of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Texas Rangers come cattle herders, I began to fear a hostage situation.

“Ryanair are giving away free scratch cards,” the pilot then announced, his previously stern voice taking on an almost sing-song tone. “Yes, that’s right. If you buy five scratch cards for just €10 then we’ll give you a sixth one completely free. And if that wasn’t enough, if you buy €20 worth, not only will you get twelve scratch cards but I’ll also throw in my co-pilot’s mobile number. He’s single; enjoys long walks on the beach; can cook, and bends both ways, if you know what I’m saying? Want to be in with a chance of winning €1million? Then look out for our crew members passing through the cabin very shortly.”

I breathed a heavy sigh of relief and re-opened the 900-page tome of which I was only a demoralizing 88 pages into. I’ve written before about how I regard budget airline carriers to simply be shops with wings, and this was a prime example. In addition to the scratch cards; foodstuffs; and gadgets, immediately prior to the seatbelt signs being illuminated for landing the cabin crew then turned master perfumers. Offering a seemingly larger selection of fragrances than the beauty section of a department store, they wheeled a trolley of incense sticks down the aisle, inviting each passenger to purchase exclusive smells such as Jean Paul Gautier and Dior at rock-bottom prices. It all smelled like a con to me, however, and I was delighted to finally disembark down the plane stairs at Brussels Charleroi Airport to a baking sun and blue skies.

I use ‘Brussels’ here in the loosest of terms. Even if you stretched the greater Brussels metropolitan area to its limits, Charleroi still wouldn’t fall into its municipality. In fact, it’s an entirely separate city, the fifth most populous in Belgium, and it took me ninety minutes on a combination of buses and trains to reach the centre of Belgium’s capital. How Ryanair can get away with calling this a flight to Brussels, I have no idea. But then, at least the airport knows. I once flew into Kuala Lumpur Airport only to discover that it was sixty miles, and a ninety-minute bus ride, to the city. That’s like calling Edinburgh Airport, ‘Glasgow Airport’.

I was taking a long weekend trip to the fairytale medieval city of Bruges, and skirting around the numerous armed and camouflaged military that had been deployed at seemingly every transport station in Brussels, I grabbed some dinner and hopped on a seventy-minute train towards my destination. By the time I’d arrived I was still only on page 166. Dumping my bag in the shared dorm I’d booked at St Christopher’s Bauhaus, a chain of dreary and lifeless hostels that are oddly popular across Europe, I headed for a dusk walk around the cobbled historic centre, the entire area a prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site. What I saw blew my mind.

The cult black comedy In Bruges is one of my favourite films ever and was the main influencing factor as to why, at that moment in time, I found myself wandering down Bruges’ picturesque cobbled lanes; following narrow brick bridges over quaint canals and across bustling market squares. Grandiose towers and church steeples give the city literal stature as they play big brother to their perfectly-preserved and colourfully painted sibling houses and taverns. Restaurant seating spilt out onto the pavements and the laughter of patrons could be heard over a diverse array of languages and clinked glasses. I slid into a bar called Snuffel and ordered a strong Belgian ale, so absorbed by my surroundings that it felt like I’d daydreamed myself back in time.

Five English lads crowded around a table at the other end of the bar and approaching them with some trepidation I made introductions. “Rangers or Celtic?” asked the shortest and scruffiest member of the group, picking up on my Scottish accent. It was a question I hated almost more than any other when travelling. Almost as much as ‘Where in Ireland are you from?’ which I seem to get asked in droves.

“Glasgow Warriors,” I replied, referring to my local rugby team. I pretended long enough as a teenager that I had a care for football so as not to alienate friendships, but as an adult, I’m happy to admit that it’s a monkey no longer on my back. Nip the conversation in the bud, and if they don’t like it they can piss off, that’s what I say. The lads were in Bruges for one night, having road-tripped through the Channel Tunnel that morning, and, unfortunately for me, piss off is exactly what they then did. Damn.

As the quintet went out to explore, I hung about the bar for a bit longer until I began to yawn. It had been a long commute to get to Bruges, but every step I’d taken so far through the oil-painting beauty of the city had been worth it. Unlike football, I’d honestly struggle to see how Bruges couldn’t be somebody’s cup of tea. Apart from Ray in the film In Bruges, that is:

Harry: “It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?”

Ken: “What I think Ray meant to say was…”

Harry: “Is the swans still there?”

Ken: “Yeah, there are swans.”

Harry: “How can fucking swans not fucking be somebody’s fucking thing, eh? How can that be?”

I was charmingly awoken at the unrespectable hour of 5am the following morning by the beeping alarm clock of the Jesus-looking Israeli guy in the bunk above me. Causing earthquake-like tremors as he jumped off his bed to the floor, he then flicked on the light and proceeded to rustle around plastic bags like he was at a supermarket checkout. Well, that was me up for the day.

I was meeting a friend for lunch and wanted to do one of the free walking tours and cross off the main sightseeing attractions before catching up with her. Making my way along the corridor at Bauhaus towards reception, a waft of stale piss emanating from the communal toilets, I inquired with the young girl behind the desk as to where the meeting points for said tours were, their timeframes, and what ones came recommended. She rather unhelpfully couldn’t answer any of these questions. Instead, I found myself browsing around online for the necessary details. It didn’t strike me as too unreasonable a line of questions to ask someone working in hospitality, and I really racked my brains to come up with a reasonable explanation for her lack of common knowledge. I couldn’t find one. She was clearly just disinterested and shit at her job.

The fresh morning air cut right through me as I left the Bauhaus, sending a chill down my spine as I ventured along the now deserted streets. The birds were chirping, the skies were clear, and it was sure to become a scorcher of a day ahead. The rush hour morning commute consisted of a nun bustling past me towards the convent and the hooves from a horse-drawn cart clicking their way along the cobbles. There’s something empowering and inspiring about having a city completely to yourself. You have nothing but your thoughts as company, but at that moment it’s the best conversation you could ask for.

I found my way through Bruges’ canal-lined maze to the Market Square and Belfort bell tower. Probably the focal point of the city, the Belfry, as it’s called in English, stands at a slanted 83m and formerly served as an observation post for spotting dangers whilst housing the city’s treasures and municipal archives. The steep, narrow, winding staircase has 366 steps. I paid my €10 entrance fee to climb them and, before setting off, nodded towards the overweight American tourist limbering up and stretching his calves out at the bottom. Having marvelled at the view of the spectacular morning haze that leeched over the city from the top, I again passed him on my descent, still not even a third of the way up. This was his Everest.

In the market-place of Bruges stands the belfry old and brown;
Thrice consumed and thrice rebuilded, still it watches o’er the town.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Belfry of Bruges

Our extroverted walking tour guide was a Puerto Rican called Kai. Having initially come across to Europe on a backpacking trip, he’d fallen in love; learned the Dutch language, and now been calling Bruges his home for five years. As a group of misfit tourists gathered around him in the Market Square, Kai began the tour by explaining that the gable-stepped architectural roof features found on a large portion of the buildings were not just status symbols of the wealthy and powerful, but ergonomically designed so that chimney sweeps had easier access for their cleaning duties back in the day.

The following two hours were a continuum of quirky facts and little-known tales from the city’s rich history, which Kai delivered with the performance of a Broadway actor. Some of the more interesting and important points Kai mentioned included:

  • Bruges is home to dozens of churches, but only one cathedral; the reason being that cathedrals act as the seat of a bishop and each faith only permits one cathedral per city.
  • The medieval spiral staircase in the Belfort goes clockwise because most people are right-handed. This direction allows defenders facing downwards a greater range of movement when wielding their swords against enemies.
  • The best Belgian waffles are served from the van parked in Burg Square.
  • A café at the northern end of the city, where old windmills stand atop a grassy hill, serves vegetarian fries that are not baked in animal fat (vital, I know).
  • Apart from snacks and desserts, traditional Belgian food is not much to write home about.
  • In 1488, the people of Bruges executed Pieter Lanchals, the bailiff and counsellor of Emperor Maximillian of Austria. ‘Lanchals’ means ‘long neck’ and the Lanchals family crest featured a white swan. Legend has it that Maximillian punished the city by forcing the people to keep swans on their lakes and canals till eternity. Whether this is true or not, Bruges is covered with them. Crobs Abroad fact: A male swan is called a cob, not a cock. Never give a swan a knob.
  • Many houses have missing windows or even fake, painted ones. Back in the 19th-century people had to pay taxes on the amount of windows they had in their house, and since Belgians have a reputation for being masters at evading taxes a lot of people bricked up the windows just before the taxman came by.
  • Café Vlissinghe is famous for half a millennium of hangovers, having been serving alcohol to patrons for over 500 years. The oldest bar in Bruges, it is almost completely in its original condition.

Grabbing a flat white at the lovely Vero Coffee just off the Market Square, Ann-Sofie soon entered and welcomed me with a big smile. We’d met in the northern Thailand hippie town of Pai earlier in the year whilst both backpacking through Asia, and when I’d mentioned to her that I was thinking of visiting Bruges she immediately offered to take time out of her weekend to show me about her homeland and catch-up. Having studied at Ghent University she was now working in the charming little coastal town of Ostend, twenty-five minutes west of Bruges, and with a summer sun basking over Belgium that weekend she suggested we head out of the city and to the beach. I agreed, and we were soon hammering down the freeway in her hatchback. Despite having working cruise control, the air conditioning was broken, so the journey was pleasantly smooth but unpleasantly warm.

The view along the boardwalk in Ostend is a poster for a permanent vacation, and it felt therapeutic to walk along with a good friend, licking ice-creams and discussing life. Children splashed about in the sea as their parents sunbathed on towels laid down on the golden sand; kids raced along the pier on scooters and bikes, enjoying the last bit of freedom before school started back, and couples held hands as strolled along, embracing their romantic vacation. Staring out to the ocean, it dawned on me that the landmass just out of sight was Britain. Never had I been so close to home, but felt so far away.

Spooning Ourselves to Sleep in a Belgian Ghetto

Brussels, Belgium • March 2011 • Length of Read: 14 Minutes

It was the Easter Holidays and classes would not commence for another four days. Most of the students had been looking forward to this much welcome break for months and plans had been hatched to make quick getaways as soon as their end of semester exams had been handed in. Throw some darts at a map of Europe and you would be hard done by not to hit at least one of their chosen destinations.

While all this was happening, however, I found myself sitting across from Bjorn in the kitchen of my Maastricht University student accommodation; surrounded by greasy dishes, listening to classic rock, and nursing some warm 36 cent Aldi beers. We had missed the boat and were now paying the price of suffering excruciating boredom in a small ghost town. 'There must be something better we can do with our time than this' I pondered as the bridge of Skynyrd's 'Free Bird' blared from some battery powered speakers, but this thought was abruptly interrupted with the buzzing of my Swedish friend's Nokia on the kitchen table.

“Bonjour Michelle, comment allez-vous?”

Following a quick conversation in lightening-speed French, Bjorn's third-best spoken language might I add, he slams down his phone and asks nonchalantly: “Want to go to Brussels?”

"You read my mind. Fuck it! Why not?"

We left the quaint Dutch town by train the following morning and by lunchtime were wandering down to The Grand Palace where we were to meet the elusive Michelle. Like all young men, my brain couldn't stop trying to guess whether she would be hot or not. Craning my neck skywards I was awestruck by the guild halls encasing Brussels main square but am again shaken from a trance, this time by the sound of a rough voice shouting: “Bjorn, Bjorn!” A lanky 6ft tall bearded Belgian bounces into sight and gives Bjorn a massive bear hug which, by the looks of it, he was greatly anticipating. “Hey man”, he said turning to me. “My name is Michelle. You ready to see the REAL Brussels?"

Please tell me I didn't just make the same gender-switching mistake as Scotty from the classic teen-comedy Euro Trip?

We walked down some side streets until our path was blocked by what at first glance appeared to be a large huddle of paparazzi. As we got closer, however, there was no sign of any A-listers, just hordes of agitated tourists crushing one another like they were in a mosh-pit in an attempt to get a decent snap of the Manneken Pis. This miniature statue of a golden boy urinating into a fountain, and which translates to 'Little Pee Man' in English, is the most famous sight in the country, but Michelle and Bjorn weaved masterfully through the crowds without even a glance in its direction.

"Enough of him! You need to see the Jeanneke Pis, his little sister."

I thought they were 'taking the piss' for a bit, but lo and behold just around the corner and tucked behind some railings down a one-way alley was a little limestone girl squatting over a puddle and apparently also suffering from a leaky bladder. If this is a supposed representation of the locals one could do a roaring trade in Catheters in this city.

“Right, that’s enough sightseeing for one-day,” moped Bjorn. “Time to show you what Belgium is really famous for. Beer.”

We enter The Delerium Café, renowned for having the largest beer menu of any drinking establishment on the entire planet. Bjorn and I grab a table whilst Michelle heads over to the bar only to return moments later with some 'shoes' of beer. And when I say 'shoe' I do not mean that the bar had run out of drinking vessels and resorted to using what was on their clientèle's feet. What I actually mean is that he was struggling to carry three glasses towards us that were each the same shape and size as an adult's Wellington Boot. 2 litres of 8% Duvel a-piece?  Starting off easy then I take it.

Sitting around a table, which was actually an up-turned cask, we shot the shit with my tour-guides intermittently rattling off stuff in their mother tongue when they got too excited. Born in Sweden, Bjorn moved with his family to the little Belgian village of Nivelles during his teenage years where he befriended Michelle and learnt to speak French. He returned to Sweden when enrolling at Linkoping University but his parents and younger brother still split their time between their Scandinavian house and their one in the suburbs of the Belgian capital we would be residing in this weekend

The hours passed effortlessly as the boots were drained and it wasn't long before we became loud-mouthed and boisterous; much to the bemusement of some Spanish girls at a neighbouring table. My round was up and whilst waiting in line at the bar a bald man, whom I would guess was in his mid-thirties, tapped me on the shoulder and in the broadest Glaswegian accent stuttered: “Parlez vous Francais?”

“Sorry man,” I replied, “I don't speak French but would Scottish slang do instead?”

It turned out that he was there with five other guys on a stag do, and like me also found the concept of drinking from a welly trivially hilarious. He owned a jewellery shop about a 15-minute drive from my parent’s house and promised that if I was ever planning on getting married that he would offer a great deal on engagement rings. I thanked him for the offer but told him that he would be waiting quite a while if that were the case. I still have his mobile number and contemplate from time-to-time whether or not to give him a buzz. I wonder if he would still remember who I am three years on? Probably not.

Back at the table I divided up the beers and checking my watch saw it was already midnight. Jeez, we’d missed dinner and everything. It had been daylight when we entered the pub. Last orders were sounded and I started to yawn; it had been an awfully early start.

“Fancy calling a taxi soon?” I muttered, taking a large gulp from my shoe.

“Taxi? You do know where Nivelles is, don’t you?” looked Michelle quizzically.

“Not a Scooby-Doo”

“It’s at least a 50 Euro taxi fare away, and that's if they even want to take you! We’ll have to wait for the first train...”

“And when will that be?”

“In about 6 hours’ time,” slurs Bjorn.


And with that, we staggered out into the dark and wet back-streets of Brussels. This was going to be a long, rough, night.

After leaving the pub, each seemingly missing some basic senses due to the amount of alcohol consumed, we found ourselves rambling toward a flowered garden. Michelle ushered us with assurances that he knew someone who could put us up until our train departed in six hours’ time. The repeated chronological dialling of his entire phone book, however, and following voice-mails didn't quite have me so convinced.

As we stopped for Bjorn to take a piss a gang of four boys approached. They could not have been more than twelve years old and were clearly a local ‘young team’ looking for trouble. Bjorn and Michelle told them politely to ‘do one’ but the kids kept back-chatting and giving them lip. At least I assume from both parties’ mannerism and reactions that this is what was happening; the whole exchange was taking place in French of course.

What then transpired still both amuses and shocks, me to this day. Michelle said something to the supposed leader and the group immediately began to scatter. You would think this would be the end and the matter was closed, but no! Bjorn and Michelle began to pelt after them and after a brief tussle dumped the weakest member with an almighty splash right into the middle of a pond. The boy started to shriek as his friends pulled him out of the ice-cold water whilst my two companions simply sauntered back over, dusted themselves down, and then announced: “We should really get the fuck out of here – and fast!”

Ducking along side streets to avoid the fuzz Michelle eventually got hold of one of his friends who was a barmaid at a nearby pub. Fortunately, it was one of the staff member’s birthdays and all the employees were having a lock-in after closing time to celebrate. We made ourselves welcome, just thankful to get in from the bordering on zero temperatures, and I found myself perched on a bar-stool nodding in and out of sleep.

Seeing the state of us she offered that we share her bed until we could catch the first train out to Nivelles. What she conveniently didn't let on, however, was exactly where this bed was that we could share. Leaving the bar we walked for about 10 minutes through rougher and rougher neighbourhood streets. When one stops worrying about their possessions being stolen because their actual life seems to be on the line it might be a good time to turn around. But still we marched between dilapidated warehouses and crumbling flats before turning into a gate, crossing a claustrophobic courtyard, and pulling our drunken bodies up a winding stairwell; a stairwell that looked and felt like a cross between part of the set from a Brazilian slum in City of God and a Mafia hit-spot from the Godfather.

Entering the apartment, a solitary room, it would be kind to say that Michelle’s friend might have been a minimalist. The walls were bare, the lighting temperamental, and Mother Hubbard’s cupboards lined an alcove kitchen that consisted of a rusty tap and crusty sink. The water supply had been disconnected and I began to wonder if this was perhaps a squat. Where the ‘bed’ should have been was a single stained mattress lying on the wooden floorboards and that would apparently be our accommodation for the next short while.

A beeping noise wakes me from my sleep and my first thought is: 'thank God I'm still alive'. As my vision starts to focus I then see an arm resting on me and my second thought shifts to: 'apparently I had been given the role of little spoon in this cuddle orgy.' The four of us were locked together under the skimpy mattress like pieces of Lego and as I unattached myself, the others shook awake. Thankfully by the look on Bjorn and Michelle’s faces they to weren't that bothered about hanging about for breakfast…whatever that may be.

We groggily made our way to the station without turning to look back once; weaving through the gardens where the early morning skirmish had occurred and onto the train that was waiting patiently at the platform. On the journey, Bjorn surveyed himself properly for the first time and in great annoyance realised that in the commotion one of the runts had ripped the pocket clean off his brand new Ralph Lauren shirt.

“My girlfriend got me this for my birthday the other week and this is only the second time I’ve worn it,” he panicked. “She’s going to kill me when I next see her.”

Pulling into Nivelles my stomach started to rumble. We hadn’t eaten in 12 hours and now the beer was wearing off I became absolutely famished.

“Is there anywhere we can get some grub around here?” I queried.

“Ha-ha not likely,” smirked Michelle. Today is Sunday. Everything is closed on a Sunday.”

Just when things were looking up.

Thankfully, when arriving back at Bjorn's house his brother is there to answer the doorbell; a bemused and bewildered look on his face. We wander in, cook up an omelette the size of a pizza and start to chow down. "It's my birthday today and all I've done is mess about the house the last few days," mutters Fillip. "Do you guys fancy going on a road trip somewhere?"

Looks like I wouldn't be getting much of a chance to recuperate after all.

“Where do you want to go on a road trip?” I asked Fillip, who was lounging back on the living room’s corner sofa wearing nothing but a skimpy pair of shorts and a completely unbuttoned shirt. He bashed the buttons on his Xbox controller and Tiger Woods hit another 300+ yard drive.

“Germany! I've always wanted to go to Cologne and it’s not that far a drive.”

“Okay, I'm up for that. Do you have a car?”

“No, but we can just take our dad’s. He won’t mind.” (Said in a tone that made it blatantly clear his dad definitely would mind).


Within half an hour we were packing the boot of the BMW 5 Series estate parked in their driveway; leaving as much room as humanly possible for the pair of German Shepherds Fillip was rightfully unwilling to leave behind. He had been left on dog-sitting duty whilst his parents were away for the weekend and weren't going to let them leave his sight.

With Bjorn behind the wheel, we screeched out of Nivelles onto the main highway; the sat-nav indicating it would take three hours to reach our destination. The driver, however, had a different idea of what route to take and soon indicated off the slip-road signposted to Waterloo. “We can’t drive past the site of one of the most famous battles in history without stopping to have a look now can we?”

I guess that’s a valid point!

Pulling into the car park Fillip let the dogs run loose whilst Bjorn and I paid our entrance fee and trudged up the Lion’s Mound from where we could see the vast expanse of land where Napoleon’s army clashed with Wellington and Blucher 200 years ago. It was a glorious vista and on the anniversary of the battle each year thousands of volunteers dressed up in Seventh Coalition and French uniforms can be found re-enacting the bloody encounter in the surrounding fields.

Back at the tourist information centre, we found Fillip, the bearer of some unfortunately bad news. Their parents had arrived home earlier than expected to find the house in pitch black and their drive empty. The brothers were to bring back the car and dogs immediately and not to think of doing anything as rash as an impromptu cross-border road trip ever again. We piled into the motor and headed back in the direction from whence we came what felt like only minutes after setting off. Germany would have to wait to be graced with my presence until another time, but under the circumstances, I was happily content with the historical knowledge gained of Napoleon’s defeat.

That weekend in Belgium had been an interesting one, to say the least, but in no way has it put me off returning. As a matter of fact, I am keen to go to Brussels even more now than when it was nascent and unknown.

Antwerp - The City of Diamonds

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.”