Today is bright but overcast and chilly. I have reverted to my winter coat.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The architecture of the station is quite magnificent and many people stopped to take photographs or be photographed with it as a background.
We spent some time studying the details of the station which was quite overwhelming.
In the square outside the station there were also curious and interesting sights to behold, such as
this ornate base holding a tall lamp, or
a piece of modern art in the form of a wooden man with a window in his chest.
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.
As in Bruges, there were religious shrines and symbols.
We reached the Grote Markt (market square) where the Stadhuis (Town Hall) stands.
We had been feeding our eyes (and our cameras) but now we felt it was time to feed the body.
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.
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.
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.
After the horse bus deposited us in front of the Stadshuis again, we continued walking, working our way back towards the station.
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.
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.
Despite the elegance of the design, the structure is quite complex because the station operates on three levels.
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.