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Belgian Journey

01/03/2013

I decided a change of scene was in order for the New Year, and had planned a journey to Belgium, since its proximity to Amsterdam made it a logical choice:  New Years eve in Amsterdam is always a lot of fun, and the fireworks display in Dam Square was visible from my bedroom window.  I was glad not to have ventured out into the rain to watch it from the square itself.  The party downstairs kept on till the wee hours, and I headed off to bed early to be in good shape for my trip.

I found myself on platform 13a, on the first day of 2013, waiting for a train to take me to Belgium  The journey itself was very pleasant, and it took less than an hour and a half.  I was surprised to find the city itself so quiet, with practically all the shops shut.  A receptionist at the Hilton Hotel was very kind in giving me directions to my hostel, which is a clean and modernistic building.  The sun came out, and I spent a very pleasant afternoon taking photographs of the historic city centre.

The Onze Lieuwe Vrouwe Kathedral dominates the square, indeed the entire city centre, and taking photographs of it from numerous angles is fun.  There is a statue of Brabo in the square, a Roman soldier who allegedly killed a giant who had been terrorizing the town.  Brabo, as he is known, then cut off the giants hand and threw it into the Scheldt.  The river Scheldt is the prime geographical feature of this area, and made Antwerp an important port.  It was blockaded after falling into Spanish hands during the war with the Netherlands, and rival cities such as Amsterdam then took the lions share of trade.

There is also a Christmas market which runs until tomorrow, and even though I am suffering from a fair amount of festive fatigue,   it was nonetheless pleasant to visit.  The promenade by the riverside was beautiful in the winter sunshine, especially set against the backdrop of Het Steen, an old fort overlooking the river.  Ambling around the winding streets of Antwerp is a wonderful experience, and the numerous old buildings have a wonderful ambience:  The city, and Belgium as a whole, seems visibly more Catholic than the Netherlands, which is a relic from the war with Spain.  The northern Netherlands became sober,  pious and Protestant, while the southern Netherlands, now Belgium, remained forcibly wedded to the Roman Catholic faith.

I got chatting to two other guests, and we went out to a great restaurant in town called Mama’s Garden, which serves huge portions of food for a good price.  After dinner we headed out to a little bar, which seemed rather empty, but turned out to have good music and a friendly crowd.  Needless to say the beer was also very good, this being Belgium after all.  This morning I walked down to Het Rubenshuis, a local museum which was the home of Pieter Paul Rubens.  He was a famous local painter, and numerous of his paintings are on display.  These are mostly of religious scenes or portraits, and are definitely worth a look.  The nearby Museum Mayer van den Bergh is not as old as it looks, but was only built in 1904, hwever it also contains numerous works of art and is thoroughly engaging.  A combination ticket will get you into both.

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6 Comments
  1. Matt permalink

    Hey,
    I enjoyed reading your travel stories, they really communicate your passion. I see that you like to had lots of pictures too, that’s definitively a plus. It may just be my screen but I noticed some of your shots seem a little underexposed. I recommend slowing down your shutter speed and getting closer to your subjects. Speaking of subjects, I think grounded everyday scenes that show off the city’s idiosyncrasies work best for travel blogs. Like a sleepy neighborhood’s morning commute opposed to the famous church in the main square. I am looking forward to your next update.
    -Matt

  2. Enjoyed this piece….and it brought back a lot of memories as well…NICE!

  3. Very interesting post. 🙂

  4. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I’ll be back to see more of your travels and photos, as I know I can always learn from others. Warmth and courage–M.

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