Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Clare's Last Day in Antwerp

Yesterday ... Clare's last day in Belgium and many many things went slightly and/or very wrong.

We had been saving Middelheim's Open-Air Museum of Sculpture until Monday ... the park that has no visible staff, no entrance fee; the big beautiful park full of stunning sculptures but you know what ... it's closed on Mondays!

But why????

A smug woman with 4 slightly embarassed looking guests unlocked the entrance gate briefly, looked over at us and the two other hopeful park wanderers, looked outraged when Clare moved towards the gate, quickly locked it, then smiled at the privileged ones.

Walking away, I had to come up with some very convincing arguments about why we shouldn't just hop the fence ... winning the day with my description of my first run-in with Belgian rules and regulations and the fact a simple illegal road-crossing almost resulted in jail time.

Like most seasoned travellers, Clare doesn't carry her passport when a country seems safe and she's out with a local, and in doing so avoids worry about theft of passport. My imagined hopping the fence in to park scenario ran something like ... so we climb the fence, smug woman with key and guests spots us, calls police, they catch us, melt some when they discover we're Antipodeans then find out that Clare is without identification ... sigh.

We walked past the spot where, on our way to the park (an omen for sure), a girl duck had flown too low on her approach, smashing into the wire fence her boyfriend had cleared. I had never seen a concussed duck gather its dignity until that moment but she was quickly on her feet and walking towards her boy on the other side of the fence, albeit a little wobbly, slipping through the barred gate in a most enviable way.

So we headed into the city and oh what a bus ride!
I have never had a bus ride like that ride. We chose the back seat for spacious comfort but as the bus pulled away we realised we were sitting directly over the bus engine which sounded like a 50cc motor scooter on full throttle, although once hearing loss set in we both noted it also brought back memories of lawn mowing sessions back home; variations were the chainsaw on idle and/or that slow drill the dentist uses to grind out old fillings.

And perhaps that wouldn't have mattered but Middelheim back to the city seems to involve many stops, many streets, many many kilometres and so much of Antwerp city. It was a little depressing when we passed close to home. We shouted to each other over the engine noise, discussing the possibility of disembarking but there was always this feeling that 'just 5 minutes more' and we'd be there.

Ahhh, it wasn't to be, I should have guessed. The bus parked in a side street and the driver turned off the engine without an announcement. Bewildered passengers got off ... they were the Belgians, they knew where they were. I heard an English guy speak to the driver, asking 'what, where and why' but nicely.

I joined him ... clearly annoying the bus driver who eventually pointed out a tram line, not saying anything more than he wasn't going to the city ... perhaps he was unaware that his bus read 'Centraal Station'.

The British guy was lovely and we three talked all the way to the city. He too had been brought down by a policeman for incorrect road crossing, threatened with a 100euro fine and was made to cross the road twice with the lights. Interesting difference between his fining process and mine, did I mention he looked Turkish ...

We lunched then headed back out onto Antwerpen streets, pleased that we'd packed our umbrellas and pleased that they opened and closed easily due to the 37.5second showers every 17.2 seconds ...

We checked out two chocolate shops; world-traveller Clare found the Del Ray shop assistants just a little intimidating ... probably still suffering from the impact of the Brugge chocolate shop sign that said don't come in unless you are buying. I assured her this wasn't the case here in Antwerpen however the 52euro per kilo of chocolate moved us on anyway.

Burie Chocolatier was lovely, as usual however the shop assistant was frosty and there was some concern that she might tear the purse from Clare's hand, just to check that she wasn't lying about not having a 50cent coin. The chocolate was very very good though.

Then came the hail ... we were sheltering from that and when Clare said something about wine and home. I thought I must have spoken aloud.

Back home was lovely ... an island of calm for the shipwrecked.

It was sad sending her off on VLM's Fokker 50 last night; sad because she was leaving and she was a incredible guest ... and sad because she wasn't so sure about flying to London on a plane with propellers.

She's home safe and we've had heavy rainshowers, one hail storm, high winds and sunshine this morning ... ahhh Belgie.


Pam said...

52 Euros for chocolate?!?!? Tell me, is it worth it?

woman wandering said...

I have no idea ... and Gert's never tasted them.

Seems a little inflated to my way of thinking but clearly I'm not their target market.

Manic said...

Well it's Belgium chocolate. Each freaking penny is worth it, how dare you even ask. Just joking.
VLM is great, hopping from Antwerp to London, it's fast and easy. Not to worry about those propellors outside, they's safe.
Belgium weather is the greatest. Over here it was like this this morning: Rain at home, sunshine on the way of my destination and rain at the destanition, all of this in less then 5 kms. Just love it!

woman wandering said...

Lol manic ... how do I dare ;) but you are talking to the woman who loves Cadburys peppermint or caramello chocolate ... I am a chocolate philistine.

Propellors ... Clare gets airsick sometimes and we don't see propellor airplanes anymore back home in Australia or NZ. I'm sure they are safe, I trust Belgian safety standards.

Belgie's weather ... I can only write 'Ahhh yes, it is 'special' in reply to your comment. But I come from Dunedin, NZ ... the weather is very much the same as here. So double 'sigh' me although we have penguins on our beaches, so we get some interesting Nature in return for our suffering.