I’ve been through Belgium twice, “de paso”, for two very brief periods of time. On my 2003 European Vacation with my Eurorail pass, I saw Belgium from the train from Amsterdam to Paris, and I’ve always regretted not stopping there to see the country. Then in 2014, coming back from Christmas in the States, I had a layover there of about 20 minutes. It was the one where I made the connecting flight but my luggage didn’t until the following day. I was sort of hoping to have missed the flight for an excuse to get to see the country, but alas, no avail.
So when I had an open invitation to visit a friend who I met living in Valencia, I took advantage of a cheap Ryan Air offer (40 Euro return/roundtrip) during my week off in February for Carnaval, something that interests me about as much as Sookie Stackhouse’s Collection of Mosquitos. (I hate dressing up). And this week, I finally got to add Belgium to the list of countries I have visited. I’ll write up the country as a whole and my impressions (and some amusing anecdotes) later, but first I’m going to take a look at my three full days in Belgium.
Monday morning, I caught a train to the Santander Airport, which is one of the smallest airports in Spain yet still is functioning and running unlike some that shall remain nameless
Castellón Castilla La Mancha. I was able to sleep most of the fight, despite Ryan Air’s best to sell me things I’d never want and an even more expensive meal than the one I just had at the airport. I caught the bus and then train from Charleroi (I mean, Ryan Air would NEVER take you directly to the city ;)) to Antwerp. The journey was about an hour and forty minutes, and the landscape reminded me a lot of my own state, Ohio. It was great to see my friend again, who I hadn’t seen since 2011 over a quick drink in the Plaza de Chueca de Madrid when I first started working there (yikes! I’m old!). After he prepared a typical Belgian dinner of beef stew prepared with beer and potatoes, we went out for a drink at Den Draak. I did try beer, and again, I didn’t like it. Not even Belgian beer. Give me wine any day.
The next morning we slept in and tried to wait until the rain stopped before exploring Antwerp. Antwerp impressed me. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and perhaps I shouldn’t say that so we can keep it an unspoiled secret. After a typical Belgian breakfast with lots of breads, an egg, coffee and juice, the rain finally stopped and we went exploring.
The Cathedral is very impressive, as is the nearby statute. It was supposed to have two towers like Notre Dame, but as they ran out of money, they decided to wait until they had more money to finish it and never got around to it. I liked the staircase façades on all of the buildings. The cafés are all amazingly cool with an awesome environment. Hipsterdom is quite the rage in Belgium, I have to admit. I tried a Belgian waffle that was great.
We also took a tunnel that ran underneath the River Scheldt for 570 metres (reached by wooden escalators)
and went to the roof of the MAS art museum for spectacular views of the city.
I also must point out that Het Steen was also pretty cool. It is Antwerp’s oldest building and its name means the stone castle. The fortress has been used as a prison and a way of controlling access to the river. The statue at the front is of the Lange Wapper, a mythological (or not) giant who used to haunt streets not protected by the Virgin Mary.
Antwerp is also home to an incredibly beautiful train station, one that they are proud of and often wins polls declaring it “The Most Beautiful Train Station” in the world. The city is so full of beautiful and amazing things to see.
They are also trying to make an effort to light up one of the bridges as a rainbow to support the LGBTQQA (or whatever the initials are at the moment of reading) community. However, you can only see three of the six colours at any given moment.
Another thing I liked was a street full of old, incredibly beautiful mansions (called Cogels Osylei) and the Four Seasons apartment buildings that made up one corner. These buildings are a part of the city’s history, and I am so glad that people bought them in the 70s to keep from being torn down for new, more modern things.
We also saw some Belgian chocolate being made, and yes, I had a sample.
I am so glad I based myself out of Antwerp instead of Brussels. To be continued…