Tuesday, April 3, 2012

In transit: Antwerp and Ghent

Antwerp. I first saw it’s outline when we were exploring Oosterschelde Deltawork. I told myself, I will go there. And  took the courage to explore Belgium after the training, bought the train ticket, and started the trip solo. I will have to see Antwerp even half for a day.:)

Half day, of course is not enough. And walking on a very cold weather is really not comforting. But hey! I’ll only be here for three days, might as well maximize and enjoy the trip! I searched online for some possible places to see here but then again, I don't write it down and I don't know how to read maps. So forget about maps or GPS. Walking aimlessly is more fun! :D

By 9am March 5, I took the train from Amsterdam Centraal.
Be on time or else the train will leave you.

Passing through different stations (Slaterdijk, Leiden, Delft, Rotterdam and Dordecht) with different views, we finally arrived at Antwerp Centraal by exactly 12noon. Good thing I made a sandwich earlier that morning and packed chocolate cake I ate during travel. I am still full and ready to walk! The station itself is a marvelous work of art but I’ll save it for later afternoon exploration.

First stop is the St. Jacobkerk (Church) now turned into a musical center. 
St. Jacob's Church

It’s closed  so I continue the journey, walking when nature called. I kept on walking hoping to find a good place to relieve myself when I saw a church yard. A garden desolate and with a poster for an upcoming concert. I entered only to realize it’s an elderly commune.
The yard to the elderly commune
I went inside. All of the eating elders looked up at me. I smiled and asked the lady at the counter if I could use their toilet. She smiled and said, “Of course”. And pointed to me where it was.

I stayed for a while and chatted an old man at the garden. Being old and left at the commune. Gone are their productive days and they’re living with their pension. I wonder, are their children still visiting them? One thing we are proud of is our strong familial ties. Putting your parents to the home for the aged is still being frowned upon.

Then I saw one of the most magnificent steeples. The majestic Cathedral of Our Lady. Looking at its very intricate designs, it’s not surprising that it took 169 years (1352-1521) of labor to raise the 123m heavenward-reaching steeple of the Cathedral! It is the highest Gothic building in the Low Countries. The Cathedral is an iconic treasury, with an impressive collection of major art works, including a series of paintings by Rubens. Now, after twenty years, the seven-naved church has been restored to its former architectural glory. Fascinating features include Rubens’ ‘Elevation of the Cross’ and his ‘Descent from the Cross’.

the magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady
Amazing work of art!
Sadly, by around 3:00PM, it started to rain. From a soft drizzle, I can still managed to walk on this weather. I told my body, "Go on". But when big raindrops started to fall, and I didn’t bring any umbrella, I have to go back to the Centraal station. And of course, going back is not easy for me. I got lost (and I expected that already! Haha!).

After 20 minutes more of walking, asking directions from random people, taking more photographs of old amazing buildings, I finally saw someone hurriedly walking with a luggage. I surmised, she’s surely going to the station so I just followed!  Instinct. Common sense and just follow that ‘little voice’ within and you’ll be fine, my colleague Liezl advised me. So I did.

Antwerpen Centraal

 Antwerp’s Central Station is considered one of the most beautiful stations worldwide. In 2009, it was declared by Newsweek as the 4th World’s Most Beautiful Train Station! (but the Antwerp map  for young travellers disagreed. They are the best, according to them! Of course, love your own!haha!) . It was built in 1905 and looks like a basilica with high marble columns and elegant staircase. Between 2000 and 2009 the monumental building was completely modernized and expanded to accommodate the high-speed rail line. More platforms were opened on two additional underground levels, an additional entrance with station hall was built in Kievitplein and space was created for shops and restaurants. The unique metal platform roof had previously been restored. 

Souvenir shot taken by the policeman! ^_^

The train station itself is a good place to explore. I went inside the flower shop and smelled these beauty! 

 Perfect gift for your loved ones when you get back home! I always swoon when I see husbands buying flowers for their wives (or maybe even mistresses? Haha!). 

Diamonds are forever and a girl's best friend. REALLY?
After watching Blood Diamonds, I don't buy this marketing.

Antwerp is also a Diamondland. It has been into the trade for over 500 years now. Just across the station, the diamond shops abound! The Hovenierstraat, there are four diamond trade markets. This district provides around 10% of the Belgian national income. Back in the old days, the diamond trade business was done by the Orthodox Jews, but now, players from India, Eastern Europe and Chinese took over.
Remember your platform and the time of departure.
By 5:18PM, I boarded the train going to Brugge. Brugge is a wonderful city that enthralls every tourist. (it’s on a separate entry). But I still have a stop at Ghent. 

Although it's a 45 minute ride, I never slept. I tried to feast my eyes on the scenery. I tried to fight my droopy eyes. And I tried to listen to the Dutch train announcement and check if I can understand it. I didn't understand anything. What I did? Look at the digital board and check what's the next halte (stop). When taking the train solo, just remember not to oversleep. :) 



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