To make up for my late start yesterday, I woke up at 7:15 today but then proceeded to spend the next hour in twilight sleep and arguing with myself on whether I should go up to Antwerp. Finally, by telling myself that I’d go just for the morning, to see two highlights max, I finally board the train at 9 am.
Even passing cities show sights of beautiful churches and densely packed houses. Very different indeed from back home. Same goes for trains and public transit.
The city was really only waking up when I got in. The Antwerp station is spectacular (I’d already taken pictures when I had 30 minutes between trains to Brussels) and really reminds me what a centre these stations were when they were built. I bask in the glorious sunshine, which is a first
I was looking for the Rubenhuis, where the artist lived and had his studio, but instead ended up in the Groen Plaats (and I strike out with street signs yet again). Passed street after street of old buildings converted into restaurants and shops. In a world in which it costs so much time and money to restore these treasures, I’m glad that businesses are stepping in to preserve local culture and take them back to their original purpose than being another stuffy niche museum. That being said, how many H&Ms (and its not the only offender) does one 500 m expanse of road need?! Because I definitely counted multiples (similar experience in Bruges).
Next to the Plaats is the OLV cathedral, a gorgeous Gothic cathedral. Having been to large cathedrals in other cities (Montreal, Puebla, Arequipa, New York and of course, Amsterdam), I’m quite struck by how similar (structure) and yet how different (style and individual details) they can be. Visiting churches are one of my favourite parts of new travels. They offer me serenity in the midst of a busy schedule but also makes me very happy to see a see a building hundreds of years old still being used for its original purpose.
I got lost in there for about 90 minutes (by which my family would have been pulling their hair out as I read very inscription and examined every painting). I was extremely impressed with the size of the commissioned works, but also amused by the works done as altarpieces for specific professional guilds. My favourite was the one that the schoolmasters and soapmakers commissioned- of the three panels, two were relating to teaching but only was to soap (with an obscure Old Testament miracle about oil, a key ingredient in soap). Funny to see how seriously these guys took those paintings.
After taking some pictures of the Grote Markt and the Stadhuis, I was armed with directions and a map and made my way to see the artist Rubens’ house (hence, Rubenhuis). Interpreting the sign as no cameras, I chose to leave my camera in my locker (actually no flash) so not that many fancy pictures (only iPhone ones). Instead I just focus on taking it all in. Also, the Rubenshuis gave me a little more insight into the history of Belgium, as this mix of Dutch, Spanish and French influences as well as the tensions between the Catholics and the Protestants.
Stayed in Antwerp longer than I thought I would but really good trip. I can always do some of the Brussels things I miss today, tomorrow.And as a reward, I decided to eat in one of those Argentinian restaurants I kept seeing all over the place in Amsterdam. Mediocre but at least now I can move on.
Got to the station at 2:30 and now I’m back on the train to Brussels, in the sunshine, feeling very blessed and invigorated.
I had made arrangements to catch dinner with my friend Shauna from NYU. Facebook has really facilitated these meetings around the world, as one status update can alert people to your whereabouts. We had dinner at a nice little Italian place after a bit of wandering, catching up on what’s been going on in our lives and the general dodginess of Brussels.
After dinner, we set off to buy some chocolates, get dessert and find the elusive statue of the Manneken Pis, which is the fountain with the figure of a small boy peeing, said to symbolize the irreverent spirit of the city. On finding the Manneken Pis, the jokes just write themselves. It’s tiny! Definitely not worth the hype (or the trouble to find it) but I take pictures anyways.
The street signs to major attractions is something I take major umbrage with Brussels, as they give no indication of distance (like in Amsterdam) or time taken to get there (like in Antwerp) and point into vague points in space. For example: As Shauna and I sat down to share a Belgian waffle (her first), we noticed these Asian tourists walking around in circles. She helped them get their bearings, no thanks to those terrible signs (which were actually confusing them even more).