Antwerp, Belgium

I was really looking forward to my first visit to Belgium. We caught a train from Rotterdam, that only took 1 ½ hours. Unfortunately, it was a night train, so we didn’t get to see much of the countryside. Halfway along the trip, the lights in our carriage went out, and time flew once we were telling stories in the dark. We arrived at Antwerp to a huge train station, which was nothing like anything I have ever seen before. It was a very old and majestic building, with more than twenty platforms, many of them underground, and large escalators that took you up several floors at a time. We went outside and decided to catch a cab, as when we looked up the hostel online it was nearly 3 kilometres away. We gave the address to the taxi driver, who said we could easily walk it, and pointed us in the right direction. We decided to take the cab anyway, as it was late and we were tired. Although not a long drive, I’m glad we didn’t walk as it would have been very likely that we got lost.

He dropped us off at our hostel and we looked along the row of buildings, not sure we were at the right place. Every building on the road looked like an old three or four storey house, and there was no sign for the hostel. After having a closer look at the numbers, we selected the right entry and saw ‘Boomerang’ scrawled on the wall in brown paint. We rang the doorbell, which was answered by a quiet Asian woman, who led us to ‘reception’. We quickly realised why this hostel had been so cheap. We were checked in using a laptop at a large dining table in a dark lit room, where they wrote our names on a piece of paper. We were then led up three large flights of stairs to our room of five bunk beds. We were not given a key as there was no lock on the door, and were shown the small toilets and bathroom across the hall with a strange smell. We left our backpacks in the room and went downstairs for a drink. In the same room as ‘reception’ was an assortment of furniture, covered in about forty guests with a range of bottles and snacks piled around them, getting ready for a night out on the town. The nightlife in Antwerp is meant to be very good, but we decided to save ourselves for Coone and the Gang the next night.

We bought a few bottles of Jupiler from the bar, for only €1.50 each, by far the cheapest beer we have had so far, and sat on the floor for a smoke, as there was nowhere to sit at the moment. I was served by a nice African man, who brought out slightly dusty bottles, but at least they were sealed, and rang up our purchase on the most ancient till I have ever seen. It was like something from the 1900s with each key sticking out like a typewriter, and numbers on cards that pop up in the display panel. We observed the room more closely, laughing at the range of items decorating the room, many that looked like they had been flogged off the street during a council clean-up. There were old wooden beer kegs for tables, foam mannequins distributed around the walls, and beanbags hanging from the ceiling as a lampshade, from an electrical cord that had been duct taped to a chain that used to belong to a chandelier. The room started to clear so we moved to an old wicker couch covered with blankets and cushions. While leaning on the couch arm, I noticed there was not much support, and lifted the blanket to reveal the cane arm had completely caved in! I looked across the room and noticed the other wicker couch’s arm was completely detached from the rest of the sofa, and slowly making its way across the floor. We also saw a television that looked like it was from 1950 and an old stereo that reminded me of the one we had at home, complete with tape decks and a record player on top. My favourite item in the room was the toadstool shaped stools that were barely big enough for a leprechaun to sit on. We grabbed a few free map guides, written by travellers, and planned the places we wanted to see the next day. After finishing our beers we went to bed to get a good night’s sleep, so we could start the day early.

Unfortunately, some other guests in our room had other plans that ruined our good night’s sleep. About 4am, some English guys came stumbling in, crashing into things and making a lot of noise, then telling a story from the night at normal volume. I told him it was fascinating but could he please tell it somewhere else as we were trying to sleep. Five minutes later, they had all crawled into bed, then the couple on the top bunk started going at it. To be fair, they were extremely quiet, but unfortunately, rocking the top bunk does tend to make a squeaking noise. Gratefully, it was over quickly, then I heard another bang, and glanced up to see some guy’s fat ass staring me in the face. Tegan wasn’t so lucky, she copped the full frontal view. We finally managed to get back to sleep. While having breakfast we decided to get some revenge. By now it was 10am, so all our other roommates had left, so we re-entered the room for Timmy to turn on his laptop and play the fastest, loudest, nastiest hardcore music he had. They still didn’t wake up, so I went to take a shower. From the shower I heard screaming and yelling, and figured they had finally woken up to pounding hardcore to match their pounding heads. Timmy had turned it up to full ball in my absence and the guy launched out of bed, pushing him against the wall and threatening to break his laptop. As he screamed about respect for other people in the room, Tegan pointed out their lack of respect the night before. With our point made, we went downstairs and got on with our day. They must have learned their lesson, for when they crept in at 6am the next morning, we didn’t hear a peep.

We decided to walk to Centraal Station, via Diamond City. Antwerp is one of the largest diamond producers in the world, and there is a whole street lined with jewellery stores called Diamond City. Unfortunately for us, it was closed on Saturdays, so resembled more of a back alley, lined with roller doors and security cameras. There was some beautiful jewellery on display in the windows, and we marvelled at the sparkling items on display, and then dreamed of being able to buy one someday with the exorbitant prices we witnessed. Strangely enough, there was a synagogue in the middle of all these shops, whose service had just finished as we were passing through. We headed up to the central square to visit the diamond museum. We saw some amazing antique jewellery using an array of valuable stones, carefully set into a variety of shapes, including flowers, insects and a peacock. Many of the pieces were created to have detachable segments, so a large crown could be broken into a smaller tiara, earrings and bracelet, or intricate headpieces became a necklace and brooch. Many of the pieces were designed for European royalty, and all of them had a story. The majority of diamonds came from South America, and there was a section where they demonstrated how diamonds are cleaned, cut then polished into the myriad of shapes we see today. Although most of it is now done by laser, I found it amazing to see the range of tools they used to use to shape the diamonds by hand.

We quickly stopped by the gates of China Town and the Zoo for some photos, but didn’t have time to explore these areas further on this trip. Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest and largest zoos in Europe, and even the decorations on the gates were magnificent. We headed for Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Cathedral, on the other side of town. We walked down the main shopping boulevard, and I nearly lost Timmy and Tegs again, as I wandered along taking photos of all the amazing architecture. I am continually amazed by the age of the buildings and the great condition they are still in, but I am most fascinated by the detail. Many of the columns are carved in an ornate range of shapes, with huge oak doors, and tiny figures perched on the rooves. Many of the structures are gilt with gold that shines in the sunlight, making the whole town seem opulent and magnificent. I love the many statues and fountains, with their famous figures, cherubs and angels. I wonder if Europeans truly appreciate how blessed they are to be surrounded by such history, that cannot be imagined in a country as young as Australia. Luckily, as I was spying through my camera’s screen, I noticed the Disney store. We had to side-track through this world of wonder, and Tegan and I became mischievous children again as soon as we entered the premises. We hid in castles with princesses spinning on top, dressed up in the many costumes and played with the vast array of toys. I’m not sure the employees of the store are used to adults behaving so childishly, as we received some interesting looks from the staff, but we had a fantastic time. Unfortunately, my camera battery was low and I wanted to save it for the cathedral, and Timmy lost their camera a few weeks later, without uploading the pictures from that day, so there are not many photos, but it is a memory that will stay with me forever. I am definitely taking my children to Disney stores so I can have that much fun again.

We finally arrived at the cathedral and it was definitely worth the walk. This was my first ancient church, and I took many pictures. Although it has been turned into quite a tourist attraction, we had to pay to get in and there was a souvenir shop at the exit, you could still feel it was a very spiritual place. I gaped at the huge columns holding up the high ceilings, at the art and sculptures displayed in every alcove, and the mammoth crucifix hanging from the centre of the church. The altars at the front of the room are my favourite thing to observe while in churches, and I sat in a pew for a while to just observe the glory around me. I love the ornate carvings that decorate the columns and ceilings, the stained glass window scenes, and the imitation ark of the covenant. This cathedral also had a display of ancient dress robes that priests have worn in the past, and even these were so beautifully decorated with gold thread and intricate designs. As I wandered around the vast space, I noticed many of the alcoves had candles lit in prayer to remember the deceased. In one smaller alcove, I found a wooden alter before a beautiful white sculpture of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. It reminded me of a piece of jewellery my Grandma used to have. I am not religious but my grandparents were both Catholic, so I bought a candle and lit it in their honour, reflecting on how much they would have loved to see this special place, in all its glory reflecting their faith. I wondered what other ancient churches they had visited, and felt they were there with me, witnessing the beauty of this amazing place.

We exited to the main square, where we visited a few souvenir shops, looking for gifts, and then headed back to central station. I decided to take a different route back, assuming the road I had selected ran parallel to the road we had come in on. Unfortunately, we had been walking for a really long time before I decided to check the map. By then, we couldn’t find any of the street names around us on the map, as only the main ones are written. I have a good sense of direction and knew which direction to take, and we eventually appeared at the road to our hostel. Unluckily, I had taken us on a rather long circuitous route around the main part of the city, and as much as I enjoy getting lost, the others not so much. Especially when we had a big event on that night and were going to be on our feet for hours. We still had to go to Central to lock our laptop away for the night, buy some batteries, print our tickets and get dinner, which involved more walking. On the plus side we now knew our way around quite well, and the man at the information desk was very helpful so we found what we needed quickly. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera charger was in the laptop bag, so I had no photos from Coone that night. The whole trip does seem to be a comedy of errors, though I do seem to be a slow learner, as this was not the last mistake I would make on my travels.

So we managed to catch the correct tram, and got to Coone before the doors opened. I was really excited to be attending my first international rave, especially after Coone played such an awesome set at Defqon in Australia, and some of my other favourites like Zatox and Wildstylez were playing too, and they released my two current favourite hardstyle songs. Looking around, I noticed a lot of young kids, and we found out it was a 16 and over rave. In most parts of Europe, kids can drink beer, wine and premixes from 16, but are not allowed ‘hard liquor’ or spirits until 18. The bouncers checked everyone thoroughly for weapons, but did not check ID, and I swear I saw many teenagers who couldn’t be more that 14. This sets a different tone for the night, as some of them can be quite annoying, and we had to find areas to avoid them. The drinks were really expensive, so we decided to stay sober, keeping ourselves going with red bull and water. Timmy was so pumped he fist pumped through the whole night, as amazing sets were played, one after another. Tegan and I were more tired from our epic adventures throughout the day, so after the first couple of hours dancing, we decided to sit down and film many of the awesome tracks being played. By 3am I could barely keep my eyes open, and we struggled through to the end so Timmy could see every set and write his review. It was still an amazing night, with many musical highlights, but I learned that I need a nap before such epic events, especially if I’m staying sober. We caught a taxi back to Central, got a few hours sleep at the hostel, had waffles with ice cream for breakfast and went home. Even though I stayed sober, I felt wrecked like I’d had a massive drunken night, and really enjoyed coming home to the Flying Pig.

See Timmy’s review at http://www.fear.fm/magazine/partyreport/report-coone-amp-the-gang-public-enemies/51

I loved Belgium, with its beautiful buildings, friendly people and awesome food. I can’t wait to go back, hopefully on this trip I’ll make it to Bruges and Brussels.

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3 Responses to Antwerp, Belgium

  1. Wonderful write-up – makes me want to go there and see for myself! I apologise on behalf of my nation (UK) for the oiks that kept you up…

    • Thanks Kate. I’m glad you enjoyed it, as I have only been blogging for a month, but always loved writing. Don’t worry, I don’t believe all Brits are like those guys. They were the rare exception, and you get rude people from everywhere lol ‘Oiks’ made me laugh, I haven’t heard that one before 🙂

  2. Door Bells says:

    Wow, awesome weblog format! How long have you ever been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The whole look of your web site is wonderful, as neatly as the content material!

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