Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Belgium Adventure Part 1 - Antwerp

This is the second time that I come to Europe. Since I will be here for 3 weeks, I decide to take the advantage of the weekend to explore the different cities here. The first choice is naturally, Belgium, since it is just next to Netherlands. The two biggest cities to visit are Antwerp and Brussels.

Antwerp has the second largest port in Europe and it has quite a lot of interesting buildings, most of which date from the 16th (the golden era of Antwerp) and the 17th century. Antwerp is second largest city of Belgium and has about a half of a milion population. It is about 1.5 hour train ride away from Eindhoven.

My alarm did not go off on time on Saturday morning so I missed the 10:00am train. I had to change 3 trains to get to Antwerp. Again, it was an interesting experience. I had to kind of memorizing all the stops along the way so I could know where to get off and change the train since not all the train broadcast tne next stop in English. I managed to read the railroad chart and got to Antwerp around 2:00pm.

My first impression of the place was the huge and pretty Central train station. The part of the station where the platforms are is covered by an immense metal and glass dome. There were 3 levels of the platforms and you could see both trains above and under the ground level. The inner decoration in eclectic style with the use of marble and the presence of a gigantic staircase. The Christmas decoration was still inside the station so there were two big Christmas trees right in the front of the train ticket office. Walking to the outsude of the train station, it looked like that some kind of maintenance was going on.

Apparently, the road sign was not that important to Belgians. They must all have good sense of the directions without knowing where they are. It was absolutely not possible to find any street sign. It took me at least 10 minutes trying to figure out which road was what right on the exit of the train station. My hotel was supposed to be just cross the street from the Central station. But the train station took over the whole 2 blocks and there were at least 5 main roads around it. So it took me a while to locate the right direction to the hotel. It was the smallest hotel room I had ever stayed. Only big enough for the bed on side and a tiny desk stuck in other corner. The bathroom was very small too. For the price of 54 Euro a nigh as the budget hotel, it was really not that bad. Besides, it was only 10 minute-walk to the popular shopping area "The Meir".

I immediately went out to explore the region. There were so many people on the street that reminded me of NYC, Tokyo and Taipei. It must be the on salef shopping weekend post-New Year. And it was sunny, windy and around 40'F. And lots of American fast food chains there. It seems that those fast food stores became high-class expensive places there since they were all located on the major street and occupied big space. Of course, it would cost you 6 Euro (US $8) for a big Mac there!

Then, I came to the most popular square in the city, the 'Groenplaats' (= Green Square). The most impressed building there was the Our Lady's Cathedral. Around the square were numerous restaurants. In the middle of the Groenplaats was the statue of Rubens (famous local painter). Even though that church was very pretty. I was more interested in the next square: the town square 'Grote Markt'. It was said to be the most beautiful square of the city of Antwerp as well as the historical heart of it.

The building that caught my eyes immedately at 'Grote Markt' (town square) was the Town Hall of Antwerp. It is one of the oldest Renaissance buildings in Europe.As you can see from the pictures, they put those intesresting sphere Christmas lights decoration outside the building. Actually, there was a moving blue light under every sphere so it looked like a moving waterfall at the night time. Of course, a big Christmas tree next to it.

In the front of the town hall stands the Brabo fountain. Paying attention to the statue in the center of it. The top staute actually threw a "hand" in his left hand. According to a legend, a terrible giant, called Druoon Antigoon, lived on the banks of the river Scheldt in ancient times. Whenever sailors on the Scheldt river refused to pay toll to the giant, he punished them by cutting off their hand. A Roman soldier, Silvius Brabo, managed to kill the giant. Brabo cut off the hand of the giant and threw the hand away in the river. Hence, according to the legend, the name of the city : hand ( Engl.: hand) -werpen (Engl.: to throw).

To be continued....


DEREK said...

i'm getting jealous mr, you always go on these wonderful trips, let me hide in your suitcase. Enjoying your pictures have a great time.

Ice John's World said...

Thanks, Derek. It actually is not glamorous to stay so far away from home for work for so long. Hotel is really not that comfortable after a while. Of course, it is a plus to get to see more places. I would need a very long suitcase to have a big guy like you to hide in. LOL.