Bruges 2011 – Day 2

Approaching Bruges station
Approaching Bruges station

Today is bright but overcast and chilly. I have reverted to my winter coat.

A quiet corner of the canal
A quiet corner of the canal

Breakfast at the hotel is a buffet with a good selection of foods, cooked or cold. We stocked up well, not knowing how long it would be until lunch!

Terrace of houses dating from 1582
Terrace of houses dating from 1582

We visited tourist information during our ramble yesterday and they were very knowledgeable and helpful. In view of our preferences, they suggested two towns to visit and today we are off the first of these, Antwerp. The hotel is rather a long way from the station but we decided to walk, using the map I had printed from the Web before we left London. Tomorrow I think we will try the bus.

The station was very quiet today (Saturday)
The station was very quiet today (Saturday)

For train travel at the weekend there is a special weekend rate, so it’s worth asking for this or clicking "Weekend" on the ticket machine. Our train arrived promptly at 10:04 and we went aboard. We found a pair of seats at the end of a carriage, near the door. The journey from Bruges to Antwerp takes about an hour and a half. I fell asleep for part of it which made it seem shorter.

Arriving at Antwerpen Centraal
Arriving at Antwerpen Centraal

Our first surprise in Antwerp was the station. It is huge and there are platforms on several levels. The station itself is elaborate and highly decorative. It’s more like a cathedral or prestigious government building than the common conception of a railway station.

Antwerp station concourse
Antwerp station concourse

The architecture of the station is quite magnificent and many people stopped to take photographs or be photographed with it as a background.

These domes are decorative and let in the light
These domes are decorative and let in the light

We spent some time studying the details of the station which was quite overwhelming.

One of the palatial entrance arches
One of the palatial entrance arches

In the square outside the station there were also curious and interesting sights to behold, such as

Lamp base
Lamp base

this ornate base holding a tall lamp, or

A wooden man
A wooden man

a piece of modern art in the form of a wooden man with a window in his chest.

One façade of the station
One façade of the station (The camel belongs to the nearby zoological gardens)

The town centre where the more important buildings and monuments are to be found is away from the station but at the distance of an easy walk. There were many things to see along the way.

Chinese gate
Chinese gate

As in Bruges, there were religious shrines and symbols.

Religious symbols
Religious symbols

Streets of traditional buildings
Streets of traditional buildings

The Stadhuis (Town Hall)
The Stadhuis (Town Hall)

We reached the Grote Markt (market square) where the Stadhuis (Town Hall) stands.

A striking set of façades
A striking set of façades

We had been feeding our eyes (and our cameras) but now we felt it was time to feed the body.

Lunch!
Lunch!

We had lunch in a small restaurant called De Stadshuys because it was in the square opposite the actual Stadhuis and from here we saw what looked like a 19th century horse bus drawn by two beautiful chestnut horses. It turned out that the bus is a modern replica, not an antique, but even so, it seemed worth going for a ride.

The horse bus
The horse bus

It was cold on the open top deck of the horse bus but there were blankets and these helped. We hoped we might get some good photos from the high vantage point.

A view from the horse bus
A view from the horse bus

The ride lasts 40 minutes and although the speed is about walking pace, it’s a good way to see parts of the town. As in Bruges, many roads in Antwerp are cobbled. While such a surface is long lasting it also gives a bumpy ride and in a horse bus this is additional to the rocking and jerky movement of the vehicle, all of which combines to make it difficult to take photos without blurring.

A stall selling silver goods
A stall selling silver goods

After the horse bus deposited us in front of the Stadshuis again, we continued walking, working our way back towards the station.

Antwerp Zoo
Antwerp Zoo

Near the station is the Antwerp Zoo. This was founded in 1843 (which may explain why the name is displayed in French). I have no idea how good the zoo is as we did not go in.

Tiger mosaic
Tiger mosaic

We found that we had just missed a train to Bruges and had an hour to wait for the next one. This gave us the opportunity to engage in further exploration of the station.

The station operates on three levels
The station operates on three levels

Despite the elegance of the design, the structure is quite complex because the station operates on three levels.

Antwerp station clock
Antwerp station clock

The station clock shows the date of construction as 1905.

While Antwerp shares similarities with Bruges (the inevitable stepped gables were much in evidence) it has its own character. It feels like a bigger, busier town. Some parts of it were dirty and and in need of repair. For people who like the thrum of the city and plenty of night life, it is probably a better choice than Bruges. On a short visit we could not do it justice and it would take much more time to form an adequate view of the town.

By the time our train arrived, there was quite a crowd waiting. Belgians are not shy at pushing forward so there was something of a bun fight to get aboard and find seats.

My impression of Belgian trains is generally positive. The carriages seem wider than those of British trains because the seats are roomier whilst the central aisle probably gains a few centimetres too. One disadvantage is that the platforms at some stations are lower than at others, requiring more of a climb to get aboard. This would make life a little difficult for the elderly and the disabled.

The chilly morning had given way to a cold afternoon and an even colder evening. Arriving back at Bruges, we did not fancy a long walk in the dark from the station back to our hotel. Enquiries revealed that buses 6 and 16 would take us near our hotel. A 6 duly arrived and the driver confirmed the route then, having asked the name of our hotel, not only to told us when we reached our stop but also gave us directions on from there. This fits the general pattern of good humour and helpfulness that has characterized our interactions with the locals since we have been here.

The opulent interior of the Royal Cafe, Antwerp station
The opulent interior of the Royal Cafe, Antwerp station

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Bruges 2011 – Day 2

  1. WOL says:

    Wow! that’s some train station. The horses that pulled the horse drawn buss were probably Belgians — that’s what they looked like. They are a breed of “heavy horse” native to the country.

    • SilverTiger says:

      It seemed remarkable to me that they could pull the bus with a lot of people aboard, especially on the slippery cobbles. I hope they get proper rest periods.

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