4th Apr 2010 - Belgium
We had done a lot of discussing the day before as to whether we would go to Antwerp or Ghent for a day trip. I was slightly on the side of Ghent as it seemed from the description to be more like Bruges but the others were more on the side of Antwerp because of the diamond museum and a bit more modern ie more shops. Anyway we didn’t decide – had a sleep in until 0915 and had breakfast – good thing they close at 1000 and by the time we messed around and decided we were going to Antwerp as could go to Ghent the following day on the ay back to Brussels it was nearly 1100. Tried to catch a bus to the train station but as the Cycle Race had started that morning the markt was in chaos and there were no buses going thru so eventually caught a taxi to the station to discover we had just missed a train and needed to wait 50 mins for the next one. Very easy to buy tickets and cost about 14 euros each return. Took about an hour to get to Antwerp. The city sits on the River Scheldt which is the gateway to the North Sea – one of the leading trading and cultural entres in Northern Europe. Had its share of suffering – battered by religious wars in the 16th century, cut off from the North Sea by a treaty with the Netherlands from 1648-1795 and bombed in WW2.
Found that the Diamond Museum was directly outside the station and decided to go in. Had an audioguide which always helps. Flirted with the guy at the counter (in French actually) when he asked if I was under 26yrs. Managed to get the ‘Je suis’ out (means ‘I am’ I think) – then we got stuck because I didn’t understand but Andrew and Nancy were impressed with my Je ne comprends pas or however its spelt. Anyway the museum was actually very good – a comprehensive story and display re diamonds, how they are mined, copies of the famous ones and how Antwerp became a major centre for the buying of diamonds – also a bit on the other side of the blood diamonds etc. From here we took the metro into Groenplaats (didn’t pay for a ticket and got away with it. Took a quick look into the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal – huge Gothic cathedral which has some paintings by Rubens and also visited the Grote Markt – dominated by magnificent buildins and a statue in the middle. The statue depicts Brabo, a legendary Roman soldier who freed the port of Antwerp by defeating the giant Antigoon and throwing his severed hand (hand werpen) into the river.
As it was now mid afternoon we were hungry so found the snack places we had been searching for all weekend – kinda like a fish n chips shop but a bit different. Ended up being about 8 euros but the frites were great. Then on through the shopping area (which took Nancy a long time) and onto the river frontage. Saying that I found a shop myself with jewellery and handbags and broughta nice necklace and earrings set for 5 euros down from 20. The river frontage was huge – they have cruise ships coming down here on the River Scheldt. The port was further up and not really picturesque. We walked along for a while and happened to stumble across a castle type structure which was the National Maritime Museum inside. It was closed but it had good views and we saw the Vleeshuis from far off. It had a lot of turrets and towers and was built in 1501-04 as the guildhouse of the butchers and a meat market. It must have been amazing in its time. It is now a museum of music – didn’t go in. Then we meandered our way back to the train station and eventually made our way back to Bruges.
The funniest thing happened – it seemed a very long way from the train station when we had caught the taxi this morning and on the day we arrived. We decided as we had time to catch the bus into the central market and were vastly amused that it takes 5 minutes. The taxi drivers obviously take the long route to make it worthwhile but it would have only been a 15 min walk to the hotel. We decided to go for Belgian food for dinner and were recommended a place called Gran Kaffee de Passage which was described as wonderfully dingy – I think this refers to the lighting being minimal. It was packed and we were placed at a long table with others. The food was great but I got stung by the price of drinks. Asked for rum and coke – and had two. Turns out the rum was 6 euros and the coke was 1.80 euros so nearly 16 euros for 2. Will be a bit more careful next time as that was the price of the meal.
Leisurely walk back to the hotel amongst the gorgeous streets.