Friday, 11 November 2011


Whatever it was I expected Antwerp to be like, it was completely different.  It was last on our list of cities to visit and if we didn't go I wasn't going to be that disappointed.  After all, I was thinking, how different to Brussels, Ghent or Bruges could it be?  So it's sort of a sea port and the tourist book said it had a gay thing going, why would I care?  Just goes to show I don't even know what I don't know.

You can't see it in this photo, but all that metal work is painted red.

I'm used to the gorgeous Victorian cathedrals that are the train stations in the north of England; Newcastle's station is a stunner, but I could still appreciate the beauty of Antwerp's station when we pulled in. 

It reminded me of red lace.

On top of that, though, when you leave the platform area, it reminded me of the incredible sights of Milan train station

Other photos show this better than mine, which some how seem small and stark compared with how I remember the place, which is huge.  This gives you an idea of the size.  Sadly, we weren't there then.

When you come out of Newcastle Central Station, you are facing a row of pubs, cafes and hotels. 

Just outside of Bruges station is a lovely little park and a hotel. 

Just outside of Antwerp Central Station is a row of diamond shops. 

Oh yeah...that's what Antwerp is about - the diamond market. 

Which means there is and has been a bit of money there. 

As evidenced by the main street shopping district. It seemed to go on forever.

I have to confess that we were hungry when we arrived and we took the simplest option - McDonald's.  Yeah, I know. 

I have come to really appreciate free toilets, something I've always taken for granted in McDs.  Nope, it cost 40 pence even though we were buying lunch.  [Yes, that subject again.  What do you think, should I call my other blog 'Loos I've Loved' or 'Toilet Talk'?]

The main thing I remember was watching a couple and their small daughter.  The man seemed slightly older than the woman and when I saw them I was thinking they were perhaps Moroccan or Algerian.  The daughter had a happy meal and a balloon, but neither parent had anything to eat.  I wondered if it was because they had other plans or because they couldn't afford it.  In any case they seemed happy enough with their situation.  Then a young girl with a Muslim head scarf came in and went from table to table asking for money; that's the first time I've ever seen an identifiably Muslim female do anything of the like and she certainly didn't look very happy about it.  I was pretty sure we weren't going to give her any money, but whatever she said seemed to get her a 40-50% success rate, including with the man whose daughter was having a happy meal.  That was the other thing that surprised me, that it was the men who came up with change for this girl, not the women.  I was very curious to know what her story was, and what on earth made her chose McDonald's.

The other unusual thing, which we'd not noticed until we were leaving, was that there was a touch screen near the entrance on which one could pre-order a meal before joining the queue, an interesting idea though I'm not sure how it all works. My main thought was that I wouldn't want to touch a screen touched by everyone else just before I ate my food with my hands, particularly as it cost 40 pence to go upstairs and wash them; so, maybe not a great idea, this screen.  Picky of me, I know.

So, we proceeded down the main pedestrian street surrounded by these enormous ornate buildings on both sides.  I can't even remember all the designer shops we saw, though I was looking for and spotted Dries van Noten.  I didn't find Ann Demeulemeester.  Those are the only two Belgian designers I've heard of; hadn't realised until now that Diane von Furstenberg is also Belgian.  Not that I was buying anyhow, I just wanted to look.  Sometimes I get what the designer hype is about, sometimes not.

So where were we heading?  To an area that we began calling South Africa, owing to the street names Transvaal and Pretoria.  Tomorrow we'll go to South Africa, OK?

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