On Saturday, October 13th, my fifth anniversary, I took the Metro into the center of Brussels with Simon, and from the train station, we bought tickets to go to Antwerp. I like train travel; I miss it from my days in Denmark. It's a lot more comfortable than traveling on an airplane. The trip from Brussels to Antwerp took under an hour. I had been impressed by the architecture of the Brussels train station, but then I was absolutely floored by the majesty of the Antwerp station.
The pretty ceiling of the Brussels station.
The Antwerp station. See the difference?
I've seen cathedrals that were much less interesting than the Antwerp train station.
Outside the train station, it was raining quite hard. Simon and I quickly ducked into a restaurant. I chose Italian, and Simon evaluated the menus of two adjacent places and chose one.
They started us off with olives and radishes. Simon's not a big olive eater, so I got them all. We both ordered the spaghetti carbonara. Simon doesn't get to go to Italian restaurants very often because he and his Italian wife go so often to Italy, and when they aren't in Italy, she's a great Italian chef.
The most interesting thing about the meal was a basket that the waiter used to serve our bottle of wine. The bottle lay in the basket almost on its side, but just tilted at an angle so that he could uncork it and none of the wine fell out. After that, he never touched the bottle again, serving us only with the basket. Some online research has informed me that what he was using is called a "tressee wine basket". I imagine the benefit is to maximize the contact with the air without actually using a decanter.
The cheese course bookended our meal. And then it was back out into the rain!
Soon we found an ornate shopping mall to take shelter in. I didn't get to see much of Antwerp's outdoor architecture, but the inside of the train station and shopping mall were very impressive.
And what shopping mall doesn't have a hovering champagne bar?
We found a cheese shop.
And a shop full of ready-made gourmet meals.
There are many origin legends to the name Antwerp, all involve the throwing a severed hand. So they sell chocolate hands, naturally.
Here's the Antwerp town square.
With a statue of a naked guy throwing a hand.
We spotted a pharmacy with two cats in the window. At first, I was convinced that they were those fake dolls that have a motor to move their abdomens up and down, but then one of them twitched an ear and we decided they were real. Simon wrote about them on his blog.
This cowboy was standing outside a restaurant holding the menu.
Why would anyone choose to suspend Freddy Krueger above their restaurant? Why??
With another hour to kill and still in the rain, we decided to pick a bar at random and got lucky.
The bar we chose was a specialty gin bar. I only learned a few months ago that gin, spirits flavored with juniper berries, originated in Holland about a thousand years ago. So it seems only natural that they would know a thing or two about it in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking Belgian province of which Antwerp is the capital.
We were an hour away from a dinner party, so Simon and I couldn't bring ourselves to try one of the 250 different gins on the menu, but we both had a gin-flavored beer, made in leftover gin casks. The other patrons each had small glasses, bigger than shot glasses, but smaller than juice glasses, from which they were sipping the gin. When they ordered another round, the waitress came to their table and filled each glass up to the brim.
I was very, very intrigued and am disappointed that I missed out on having some high quality sipping gin.
The gin-only shop across the street made a lot more sense after visiting the gin bar. They had most of the items on the gin bar's menu, and it was nice to see a visual representation of the menu we had perused one beer earlier.
Antwerp seemed like a pleasant enough European capital city.
I like this photo.
I couldn't help taking a photo of this "OPEÐ˜" sign.
My travel companion, Simon, is a bit of a bookworm, so he couldn't resist checking out this small bookshop. But then we had to search around for the door. It took forever for us to find it.
Oh, there it is. No, actually this door didn't seem to go anywhere.
For some reason, the bookstore had a mint condition typed letter from the 1960s from Don Martin to his employer, MAD Magazine.
We briefly entered a cathedral and found this extremely ugly mother and her child.
With thirty more minutes to kill before Paola came to pick us up to take us to the party on the outskirts of town, we ducked into one of the most bizarre bars I've ever been in. According to my friend who lives in Antwerp, when the Catholic church next door went through a minimalist phase, the owner of the bar bought up all the religious iconography and decorated his bar with it.
Saints in the rafters.
Saints and a big cactus penis painting. Sure, why not?
These hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil angels were funny.
As you can see, it's right next to the cathedral.
What the heck kind of beer is that, you ask? It's called Kwak beer, from the hilariously-named town of Buggenhout. The name is an onomatopoeia for the noise that the glass makes when the air rushes in to fill the big bulb at the end. It sounded more like a "woof" to me. The glass can't stand up on its own, hence the wooden stand and handle. Crazy Belgians.
Then it was time to head to the dinner party at our friend, Di Mackey's house. It was a strange experience meeting people that I'd only somewhat adjacently made contact with via Di's Facebook posts. She was continually introducing me as "Erik…from Facebook!". Di's parties are famous for having attendees from most countries in Europe, which seemed to be the case.
My friends, Brian and Milo.
Someone brought this enormous bottle that we immediately nicknamed "the gay beer".
With what seemed like three glasses of wine and four conversations, it was already midnight and time to head back to Brussels. I must have been having fun because the time at the party flew by. I gave Di a big hug and off we went, to rest up for the final day of my trip to Belgium.