Rubens and boats

Trip Start Jul 26, 2007
Trip End Aug 05, 2007

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Flag of Belgium  ,
Thursday, August 2, 2007

One of the nice things about staying in Brussels is that it's so centrally-located, meaning that most of the country is easily accessible within an hour's train ride or so. Today, we took advantage with another daytrip, this time to the northern city of Antwerp.

The largest city in Flanders and a major shipping hub, Antwerp has more in common with, say, Amsterdam, than it does with Brussels, in terms of feel and style. Marie and I arrived at the beautiful Central Station, only to find it under renovation (same as Brussels' Central Station, and as a whole host of other sites seemingly permanently covered in scaffolding... my theory is that it's to encourage postcard sales, but anyway...). Just outside the station, there's a line of fake elephants, which seem random except when you consider that the zoo is right behind the station. There are some really small ones in that line, and it's probably the only time in my life when I'll ever be taller than an elephant, even if it is a fake one.

From the station, we walked around the area, noting the many diamond shops everywhere. It was like 47th street in Flemish. Neither of us being in the market for any diamonds, we moved on. The road leading from the station to the centre of town is definitely the most generically commercial of anywhere I've been so far in Belgium; with all the typical chain stores, it could be a main shopping street in any city around the world. The most lavish buildings seemed to be the banks; other old buildings probably served a grandiose purpose once, but are now relegated to being an Esprit or a Zara. I even spotted a Ben & Jerry's.

We walked up to the Rubenshuis next and spent over an hour taking the audio-guided tour of the museum and house where the famous painter (and Antwerp resident and favourite) lived, painted, and displayed his works. Unlike the stereotypical starving artists, Rubens was not only successful during his lifetime, but was a nobleman and statesman in addition to being an artist, so he enjoyed a successful and lavish lifestyle. The tour was a little dense, but was quite interesting nonetheless.

Finally we arrived in the centre of town at the typically beautiful market square, featuring the usual: a cathedral, a town hall, and a bunch of restaurants and overpriced tourist traps. I'm noticing a theme. We stopped for a beer at one of the aforementioned overpriced tourist traps - by overpriced, I mean we paid 2.50 instead of 1.50 for a beer, so it's still cheap by most standards. I finally got around to trying one of Belgium's famed Trappist beers. On Marie's recommendation, I tried Orval, which was pretty good even if it's low alcohol content compared to most in the category (only a meagre 6.2%, heck, that's practically Molson-esque!) Apparently, the monastary where it's brewed also makes cheese, and opens one weekend a year for public tours. Marie informed me that she and Yannic already have their tickets.

Antwerp is a port city, so of course, marine life figures prominently. We walked up to the water and stopped to check out a castle on the quay. We noticed several plaques commemorating the Canadian contribution to clearing the sea passage to the port of Antwerp during WWII.

Marie opted to head back to Brussels at that point so she could meet up with Yannic for dinner. I saw her off at the train station and then met up once again with Karlien, who graciously showed me around her city in the evening. We went out for some yummy Greek food for dinner, followed by a drink at a bar at the makeshift "fake beach" on the river.

We didn't stay out too late, since Karlien had to work in the morning. Heading back to Brussles was fairly uneventful, though passing by Brussels Nord train station by night was somewhat interesting, since the red light district, complete with Amsterdam-style prostitutes in windows, is clearly visible from the train. Not exactly the most charming part of Brussels, though it wasn't my stop so it was more of a curiosity than anything else. When I got back I found Marie and Yannic awake and watching DVDs of old episodes of 24, a show I'd never realized was so unintentionally entertaining.

They don't put screens in the windows in Belgium, so I'm covered in mosquito bites. Itch, itch, itch. (Yes, that was a random comment... but hey, it's kinda hard to think of anything else). Tomorrow is a weekend in our books, since neither Marie nor Yannic is working. So, as we say, "il faut en profiter". Stay tuned.
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