I had very “itchy feet” and needed to go somewhere to “scratch the itch”, so I decided to go to Antwerp. With all the disruption in flights from the volcanic ash, from the Eyjafjallajokull volcanoe in Iceland, over the last two weeks, the short train journey to Antwerp sounded good. It was supposed to be direct too but there actually was disruptions on the train that morning.
My train was supposed to leave Amsterdam at 09.54am but it was cancelled. We had to wait another hour before the next Intercity train to Brussels. In the meantime, the Thalys train going to exactly the same destinations arrived but Intercity passengers couldn’t take this train as reservations are obligatory for the Thalys, as mentioned on the NS HiSpeed website. We just had to wait for the next train, but it’s frustrating nonetheless, standing there waiting another hour for the next train, when there is a train right there in front of you, going to exactly the same place you want to go to and you can’t get on it.
Anyway, the 10.54am train arrived. We got on that one and it was still sitting on the platform at 11.20am. There were no announcements to tell us what was happening and people didn’t know whether to stay or go. A woman, who was going to Antwerp too, asked one of the NS staff on the platform what was happening. She came back and told a few of us that whoever was going to Rotterdam/Antwerp/Brussels had to get off and take the train behind it because the last carriage on this train had to be repaired.
That train was only going as far as Rotterdam, so people going on further to Antwerp and Belgium had to change there and pick up a connecting train to Brussels, which meant that the trains were mobbed! So it wasn’t a direct train and it did take more than the scheduled two hours and five minutes but at least they didn’t put us on a bus! That would have been worse, as there would have been a scramble for seats and I get bad motion sickness on a bus. So luckily that didn’t happen.
When I got to Antwerp at 1.45pm, I went to the Tourist Information, to find out which was the best tram to take to my hotel on Emiel Banningstraat. The lady there told me the 24 tram was the best one to take, so I bought a 10 ticket card, which you have to stamp on the tram. I found the tram stop, eventually and finally got to the hotel: Hotel Industrie, which is in the south of the city, right beside the courthouse, with it’s space-like, cone shaped, helmets on the roof. I didn’t think the hotel lived up to the pictures on it’s website and I didn’t think it was worth 60 euros per night but still, it was clean and the woman on reception was very helpful and friendly.
I’d been in Antwerp a good few years ago with a few friends but I don’t remember much from that time. The only thing I DO remember, is that my friends and I were in the bar The Irish Times, on a weekend night and there was a band on. We got talking to two Finnish guys and towards the end of the night, one of my friends whispered to me “say Mina Rakistan Sinua to him”. Of course, by this stage of the night, I was too drunk to even contemplate asking what that meant, so I went ahead and said it. The next thing, his arm goes around my shoulders and he gets all cosy and tactile. I thought “Shit, what have I just said?!” Mina Rakistan Sinua means “I love you” in Finnish!
I wanted to head into town and go to the Groenplaats and the Grote Markt, in the old part of town. I always love these parts of town. I had also planned to see the Cogels Osylei Art Nouveau area in Berchem but I panned to do that the next day. So I walked into town instead of taking the 8 tram. It only took 15 minutes to walk. The Groenplaats square is a little smaller than the Grote Markt, but the Groenplaats has the huge Onze Lievevrouw Kathedral (Our Lady’s Cathedral) in the background. I got a quick glimpse of it just as it was closing at 5pm. There was also a huge demonstration on that evening. I couldn’t make out exactly what they were protesting about but there were a lot of people wearing green jackets and scarves and carrying green flags. In the Grote Markt, they had a DJ high up on a bandstand chanting God knows what! The music he was playing was really loud. But I think only for the demonstration, the city would have been desolate.
I was pretty hungry by this stage and needed food. I’d spotted a steakhouse earlier on my wanders and decided to try the mussels in white wine sauce, with bread, chips and salad. My mouth started to water when I saw that on the menu. So I went in there and sat down at a table by the wall. There was another table right beside me, which was against a pillar. Five minutes after I sat down and ordered, this man came in and could have sat anywhere else in the restaurant, there were plenty of free tables. But no, where did he sit….right beside me! It kind of pissed me off a bit, I felt a bit uncomfortable, like it was an invasion of my space. It was off putting but not so much that I felt I had to get up and move. Because if that happens and things don’t feel right, I will move and go somewhere else. Maybe it was this guy’s favourite spot in the restaurant, I don’t know. I didn’t like it but I just thought “carry on and eat your dinner and go when you’re done”. I’m glad I had my book with me. It was taking the restaurant staff ages to bring the bloody bill, so I got up and went to the counter and paid.
I was in such a rush to get out of there, that I forgot to go to the loo. I’d passed the Irish Times bar earlier, so I scooted in there to use the loo and had a Baileys afterwards. I didn’t stay long there, it was quiet, so I headed back to the hotel.