The Sunday dawned bright and sunny. We were scheduled to leave only later in the afternoon. The half day sightseeing plan that our hosts had chalked out (for the wedding guests who stayed back) suited us and seemed like a good way to spend the morning. We also wanted to go over to meet our hosts, Corinne and John, before we left for the train. Through the windows of the hotel, I saw a few dog walkers with their mutts. The dogs looked happy in the cold weather. I missed Maxx much then. He loves the air con in our room and I imagined how happy he would be in Antwerp, in Winter.
After a light breakfast at the hotel, we walked up to the Museum Aan de Stoorm – a gigantic spiral sixty meter high museum tower – for a panoramic view of the docks and the old town of Antwerp. It seemed like anyone who was awake and about at Antwerp was at the MAS that morning! Except for the people at the museum, the roads wore a deserted look. I soon realized that none of the locals stepped out on a Sunday!
The MAS – built in the form of stone containers- had ten levels. Found out later from Wiki that the red sandstone that appears on the cladding were from Agra in India. No wonder we felt a special connection!
Each level of the ten level tower had exhibits and people were busy setting up for the day, expecting delegates and visitors to interact with them. We however, only wanted to click pictures of Antwerp from the top level of the MAS. On our way to the top level on the escalator, we saw the walls painted with colorful murals, stories depicting the history and cultural heritage of Antwerp. Maybe the next time back on a longer trip, we would stop by for a detailed viewing of this magnificent building and its contents.
On several floors, there were huge, misshapen, sleepy looking giant dolls that were propped against the glass walls in a mass of tangled arms and legs. I later found out that they were created by a French artist Mehdi Hercberg, aka Shoboshobo.
There were also several medallions, embedded in the floor of the building. Every one of them had the same design and some words written around it. We found out that it was the design of an ideal town as envisaged by a graphic designer and the words around it were actually a poem that talks about the water, city, people and heritage of Antwerp.
When we reached Level 9, the escalators stopped and the last level had to be climbed using stairs. On the landing between the 9th and the 10th floors, was a signage proclaiming that we had reached level 9 ½. Reminded me of Harry Potter and his friends who left for Hogwarts from platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station.
The skies were blue; the wind was chilly and forceful. My camera would have flown out of my grip if I had not been careful. Antwerp looked grey, red and brown mostly because of the water, the docks and the stone buildings.
One such was a Gothic style building right on River Schelde which I later found out to be Loodswezen, a maritime organization that handles shipping traffic that enters the ports of Antwerp.
We walked to John and Corinne’s home which was not too far off from the MAS. The wind chill was biting cold and the only sounds I heard was that of the wind and seagulls. Eerie! We spent close to an hour at the house, over a warm cup of tea, said our goodbyes and wished the newlyweds at the beginning of their new lives together. We brought back a specially bottled French wine from the wedding to take home with us.
We still had time before our taxi met us at the hotel to drive us up to the station. We decided to lurk outside to enjoy the last few hours of the chilly weather. Back home it would be 32 degrees! We walked up the street and found a coffee shop open. The shop had a unique name – Tante Lies! Brought to mind the ‘shop’ that Akank drew in her art book when she was younger. She would draw several colored contact lenses and called the shop Hip-not-Eyes. Tante Lies had the ambience of a bar. There were a few retired folks enjoying their morning beer and the bar woman /owner was delivering a loud monologue in Flemish. The hot chocolate and coffee we had there, warmed us from the inside.
We marched back to the hotel in time for our taxi pick up. At the Antwerp central station, we had a customary Belgian Waffle and boarded the Thalys to take us back to Schipol from where we were flying back home.
The Thalys was already full of people coming from Paris. A bulky Parisian was sitting on what I thought was my seat and when I claimed it, he gruffly responded with a ‘I don’t think so!’ Thankfully Ramesh stopped me from pushing my foot further into my mouth than I had already, by pointing out to me, two empty seats just next to him.
We had an unexpected power outage 15 minutes into the journey and we lost half an hour arriving into Schipol. Thankfully, we were in no hurry to reach since our flight back was much later in the evening. When the announcements in the train were made about the delay, I was amazed at how calm and unruffled people were. The entire coach was quiet except for soft murmurs that were conversations, unlike what would have typically happened on a Shatabdi (the closest train service I can think of to compare it with the Thalys) in India. People would have been anxious and restless on their feet, looked for the TTE or some railway authority to question them – as though they had all the answers. We would have had people jump off the train onto the tracks to stretch and enjoy a smoke. There would have been loud banter, the food service employees would have sold more cups of watered down sweet ‘kaapi’ or ‘chai ‘. Oh, how I miss home!
When we got to Schipol, we still had plenty of time before our boarding was announced. So we wisely spent both time and money, on some gifts for people back home. I was looking forward to catching up on more movies on my way back and I was not disappointed. Robert De Niro was superb in Red Light as a blind psychotic and Johnny Depp played a vampire to the hilt in Dark Shadows. The flip side being, KLM did an encore of what they did on our way to Amsterdam – forgot our vegetarian meal choices …again!
But even that could not spoil the mood of our short vacation, the wedding and a lot of lovely memories of our trip!