Friday, June 14, 2013

First day in Antwerp

FYI, in addition to tweeting about my travels (as always), I am also posting travel updates to my Facebook page as well.

Thursday morning, I woke at 9 a.m. I think I got 7 hours of sleep, which, on this trip, is actually really good. Highlight of the morning: seeing a wild bunny out on the lawn of the hotel next door.

I took my time putting myself together. I packed up carefully (oh how glad I am that I have just my computer bag - full of way more than just my computer - and a carry on bag, with all this walking and moving I've had to do). I pushed it almost right up to check out time, because I didn't want to be stuck in Antwerp in a hotel lobby with no bathroom, waiting for my room to be ready. I watched @josswhedon on "Breakfast" out of London - the British accents all around him seem to have affected his speech.

I walked down stairs, asked when the shuttle would be leaving and, surprise, the last one left 45 minutes earlier. Is there a sign in the lobby saying this? Nope. There's just a time table on the counter, just like the one at the airport - written in tiny, tiny letters.

So I paid almost 20 euros for a seven minute taxi ride to the airport. Oh, I was pissed. And then, upon arrival, the driver started talking to someone who walked up to his driver's side door, leaving me to open my own door, walk around to the back, open the back, get out my luggage… he came running up saying, "Sorry! Sorry!" I turned around, did the hand gesture that means, "Bah! Go away" rather than something much more outrageous, and went inside the airport.

I took the escalators down to where I already knew the Antwerp bus was. The driver was closing the door and getting ready to pull out - so I ran and waved, fully expecting him not to care and pull away. And… he didn't! He opened up the doors at the bottom of the bus for my luggage, and patiently waited for me - no attitude at all once I got on the bus and asked, in english, "How much?"

It was 10 euros. A 45 minute bus ride from Brussels to Antwerp, cheaper than a 7 minute taxi ride to the airport. ARGH! But I did have to send this Facebook update on Jayne Abroad when I next had Internet access:

Hmmm... the bus from Mexico City to Puebla, in Mexico, has Internet access. The bus from Brussels to Antwerp does not. Come on, Europe, catch up to Mexico! For All About Puebla.

The ride was quiet, short and pleasant, and included another wild Belgian bunny siting in the large area of brush along the highway. The bus was mostly empty. We passed through a neighborhood of VERY large, pricey homes, then eventually came into Antwerp. The bus stops on the same street as the oh-so-grand Central train station. I gathered my things and walked to the station, then started trying to figure out where I was in relation to my hotel. A false start turned what should have been a 10 minute walk into a 30 minute walk, but it finally got me to the Sandton hotel (did I mention how glad I am to have so little luggage?). Surprise surprise, the hotel, even at 12:30, already had my room ready. WOOT!

I love the hotel's room decor. It's understated and very simple and tasteful. It's modern and eco-friendly. And I want the laminate version of the floor here in my kitchen someday. It's probably just 10 euros more than the Ibis budget airport hotel. Geesh but I love simplicity in a hotel!

So, in my first two hours since leaving Brussels, what have I seen, other than bunnies?
  • about half a dozen motorcyclists on the highway, all loaded down with gear, on their way to or coming from a trip abroad. It made my heart go pitter patter. 
  • a beautiful train station. Really, the Antwerp station is lovely.
  • Hassidic Jews, on their way to or from their work in the massive diamond trade here
  • people riding bicycles. Not like in Portland, Oregon, where people ride extremely expensive bikes fit for the Tour de France, and the oh-so-fit riders ride like they are racing; no, these are people of a variety of ages and ethnicities and body types, riding girlie bikes, 3 speed bikes, rent-a-bikes, some riding leisurely, some riding fast.
  • some really adorable scooters
I decided to walk around and get my bearings. I was determined to be out and about for at least five hours. I decided to head slowly for the house of Pieter Paul Rubens, which is now a museum. It was… okay. Lovely house, lovely grounds, and that alone was worth the visit, but there's not much artwork at all, and certainly not much by Rubens himself. And the museum staff were like those in Germany - I tried to view a room in the wrong order as directed by my guidebook and the security guard nearly had a heart attack. But I'm glad I went - the house really is beautiful, and I now have some ideas for my own gardens next year. And I'll get to say, "Oh, I got this idea from when I was at the house of Rubens in Antwerp." It will sound ultra snobby but the moment will be ruined because I'll be wearing very baggy shorts, Aldi clogs and a t-shirt covered in stains at the time.

I went on the hunt for a place to have coffee and read through my Lonely Planet Belgium and Luxembourg guidebook. I found a townie bar on Wiegstraat, tucked away amid high end shops, and looking like any old-people's bar in Germany - wood paneling, a bit of kitsch, older people drinking in the middle of the day. They had a radio station on that was playing Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Annie Ross and Bing Crosby swinging jazz numbers from the 50s and 60s. It started to rain when I'd finished my coffee, but one of the many joys of Europe is that no one is going to rush you out of a cafe or bar or restaurant just because you finished your drink or meal - you can sit there as long as you like. And so I did.

My Lonely Planet book is way outdated - it was published in 2001, and refers to the Metro here in Antwerp as under-construction - and therefore doesn't have a Metro map for the city. But it's still been essential. The Internet is NOT always available, I have no way to print anything - having this book has saved this trip from being a horrible mess. I looked over and mapped out my options for the next three days, which is way more than most tourists spend in Belgium, and I think I've found enough to make this a nice trip, rain or shine.

After mapping out all my options, I headed back outside. It was raining - and, no, I did not bring a rain jacket, because I was supposed to be in SUNNY BARCELONA NOW. I stopped at a grocery store and got some wine and some olives, then headed back to the hotel. And I've spent my time filling out Vueling forms to try to get a refund for my canceled flights, tweeting, updating Facebook, and writing and publishing two blogs, including the one you're reading now. And rinsing out the only two t-shirts I brought (I'm an idiot when packing, even after all these years - I also forgot to bring moisturizer and hair gel).

And I'm trying to stay up until midnight, not because I'm not tired, but because this is Antwerp, and I expected people to start coming back to their rooms, and being quite noisy about it, starting at around 10. I was wrong - they started at 11.

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