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Published: February 22nd 2010
Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp
I didn't sleep much that night. It was loud, and my throat was really hurting all night and making me feel like I was dying of thirst. When I got up in the morning my cough was worse and I wasn't feeling so great.
Sarah and I went down for breakfast. We'd payed 2.50 euro for it the night before, and I wasn't expecting much based on the rest of the hostel. But man were we surprised! On the table was a spread of fresh breads, meats, cheese, jams, butter, nutella and sprinkles! You see, the Dutch--and the Flemish Belgians--really like eating toast that's spread with nutella and covered in sprinkles for breakfast! After our awesome breakfast we shouldered our packs and headed out to go explore Antwerp before we left for Gent.
We followed the map to the Cathedral of Our Lady. The huge and glorious spire was visible long before we were even close! Inside, I was struck by how large the space was. The tower is actually the largest in the Benelux (the coalition that is made up of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg). The ticket person told us that a free English tour would be
starting in just a few minutes, and I was so exicted because tours always make it more interesting to me.
On the tour it was only Sarah and I, and our guide was this hilarious and SUPER knowledgeable guy. Once he found out that I was an art history major he said "Great, now I finally have someone who will know what the heck I'm talking about!" And then the pressure was on. He led us all the way around the cathedral, telling us that the original chapel was built in the 9th century! Periodically he would quiz me on Christian symbolism or architectural facts--sometimes I was right, but for the most part not. Hey, I'm just now taking Medieval art here in France! The church is well known for hosting several paintings by Rubens. The tour guide and I both agreed that Rubens isn't that great, which was funny. I'm just not a fan of his over-worked muscles, or his palette. The tour lasted almost two hours, and with both of us lugging our stuff around the cathedral, I was a little weary by the end. However, I was so glad we'd been able to learn a lot
of amazing facts!
We left the cathedral and walked back towards to train station. We found an internet cafe and checked up on some things and then headed for the station again. Walking through Antwerp in the daytime, I found that it was a very pleasant place with lots of interesting buildings. Antwerp is supposedly the fashion capital of Belgium, and it was visible in that there were lots of shops along the street with very avante guard styles advertised.
JOURNEY TO GENT:
After our very short train to Gent, we started following the directions I'd written down at the internet cafe to get to our hostel. We walked. And we walked. And we walked. The direction said it should only take 20 minutes by foot, but it had already been 20 and we still had several streets to find. Everything looked very ugly and non-scenic, and at one point we were sort of walking up this highway. It didn't seem like we were getting closer to town. Then at one point, we hadn't found the street we were supposed to turn on. Here's a little side note about Dutch and Flemish street names: they are really
confusing and impossible to pronounce! Here are some of my favorites (you can try to sound them out for fun if you like):
We learned that "straat" means "street". But besides that, we would usually just make up funny pronunciations, because especially when you're getting frustrated it just makes you even more angry (exampe: "Ok, where the @%*&$! is GRA...VER...VER...KIRJ...ORR STRAT?!") to be confronted with these strange alphabetic combinations. It was this last street (Grauwwerkerstraat) that we were having no luck finding. It seemed to me like we must have passed it, so I suggested we go into a gas station. "Speekt u engles of frans?" I asked, now getting super adept at this phrase. Because we were now in Belgium I would throw in "of frans" too, just in case they prefered to speak French. I had been bummed to find out that all of the places we were visiting except Brussels were in the part of Belgium that speaks Flemish. It's in the south that French is widely spoken. However, I was happy when I went to look up some basic phrases in Flemish on the computer to find that it
square with statue of Rubens (Antwerp)
is almost identical to Dutch, which I'd already been practicing. The guy said we had over shot the street by quite a ways, and that we should turn around and walk down the road until we came to the prison, and then take a left.
Sarah and I exchanged a glance. "The prison?!" I said, walking back onto the street. Where the heck were we? So we walked about a quarter mile back in the opposite direction until we came to this stoic looking building and took a left. We walked through a park area and then finally came to the canal where our eco-hostel would be moored. It was really seeming like we were in the middle of no where, and sometimes I would just giggle to myself deliriously, realizing the insane bizarreness of our situation. We had been lugging our packs for hours, and walking who knows how many kilometers. We finally saw our hostel boat up ahead. It had taken us over an hour to walk there.
We crossed the foot bridge onto the deck, but we couldn't see where to go to check in. There was a sign on the door that said if
no one was in the wheel house to call. Two older people showed up and said they were the parents of the owner. They called, and then this tall guy with dread locks tied back in the pony tail came up and introduced himself. He'd been working on repairs down below. He showed us to our room and explained the policies and what not. The hostel was really nicely taken care of, and the rooms were super comfortable! The hostel is an eco-hostel because it was built with all natural and environmentally sound methods and materials. First of all, they recycled an old tug boat to make it--isn't that cool? There is no central heating or air, yet in the rooms it's surprisingly comfortable. That's because the boat is well insulated with flax pellets. However, the halls of the boat were freezing! There is also a grey water system, which meant that we couldn't drink from the bathroom sink. All of the showers have water saving faucets, and you have to hold the button down to get the stream of water. Poor Sarah didn't discover that you have to turn the knob for hot water, so she ended up with
a cold shower!
Happy to have reached our hostel, we decided to head into the city center and find something for dinner. We asked for directions to take the tram, but didn't find the tram stop. It was supposed to be a short walk, but I was feeling really tired. We followed our map into the town and discovered that Gent is kind of cute! There was a huge medieval fortress, and lots of canals with cute houses set on the banks. In the city center there were many interesting stores and cathedrals. I was really excited that we would be visiting the main cathedral the next day to see the Gent Altarpiece!
We had a cheap but good dinner in a little cafe. I had veggie soup and bread with fries and Sarah sampled a Belgian waffle. We mozied back to the hostel and used the free computer to plan out the rest of our trip. We wrote down walking directions to our remaining hostels and copied down train schedules.
It was only just past 10pm when we went to bed, but it had been a long and tiring day. It was great to cuddle into
our bed and discover that they were incredibly comfortable!
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