Holidazed in Antwerpen

Posted by jswt | Posted in Belgium - Antwerp | Posted on 02-01-2011


2 weeks in Antwerp, Belgium over Christmas and NYE 2010/11, and it was a rather splendid place to spend that time.

It was a harrowing challenge to get here, with some serious snowstorms shutting down the majority of travel across Europe. I’m still not sure exactly how it happened, but our train was not cancelled (although it did have to stop a bunch because of frozen lines), and Chris’ charter flight was almost the only flight to take off and land at the Brussel’s airport that whole day. A stressful day of transit and transport… I got in a few hours before Chris, and went out for a lovely dinner with C, who’d been stuck in Paris for 3 days due to weather and had just come straight to Antwerp rather than trying to get back to Germany – a perfect setting in front of a giant christmas tree with a 500+ year old church in the background with fresh snow on the ground… It was beginning to feel a lot like the holidays.

Our hotel was right in the middle of the city on Groenplatz square and for the first week leading up to christmas, there was a big party going on in the square. Every year, a bunch of vj’s from the Belgium version of MTV/Much Music locks themselves in a glass house and only eat a liquid diet as a fundraiser for Africa. It’s a really big deal here, and they have concerts every night, and the square is always full, and if you donate a certain amount you get to pick a song and the whole square dances… it was actually really cool. In the end they raised over 5 million euros.

Aside from the concert thing, having the hotel right in the middle of the city gave us a christmas market right outside our door, and at least 200 pubs and restaurants within walking distance.

Observations about the Belgians:

– They drink like mofos, but it’s in a good natured way. Like the Irish, you might get in a punchup, but they’ll buy you a drink afterwards.

– Belgian fries, chocolates and waffles are deserving of ownership by the Belgians when they do it so right.

– Belgian beer is awesome. Seriously awesome. (favourite? raspberry Hoegaarden!)

– Belgians have that “little brother” syndrome that I like in a country… (ie: Canada to the US. Portugal to Spain. Belgium to… Netherlands/France/Germany.) It’s where they kind of take the best of what’s around, and own it, amplify it, and make it their own, and even though it might get overlooked, it’s usually better than their “big brother”.

First week was mostly spent in bed kicking some ills, but was better in time to make it to Chris’ xmas work party where he did some carolling and played up some Santa action.

On Christmas eve, I was still wiped and recovering and Chris was burnt out from work, so we spent most of the day relaxing and watching movies. When the evening rolled around, I was fidgety from 5 days in a hotel room, and dragged Chris out of bed so we could go to midnight mass. We weren’t really going for the Jesusness of it all, but more for the fact that it was held in a church that was built in 1571, and had a MASSIVE pipe organ and a big orchestra and choir performing. We were walking over, and at 23h30, all the churches in the city started to ring their bells, and it was all you could hear in every direction. It was a fantastically beautiful and magical night out… (and church is a lot better when you have no idea what is being said).

The hotel was doing a big xmas brunch in their beautiful old ballroom, so we spent christmas morning stuffing our faces with a good group of friends. Spent the afternoon relaxing in the room, and elevated our chillout to new levels with a traditional christmas feast of chinese take out (note: not as easy as it sounds. you need to find: a place that’s open. a place that speaks english. a place that will deliver. After calling over 10 places, we managed the first two, but they didn’t deliver. Luckily, we did convince them to put it in a cab and send it over to our hotel though… a christmas miracle – heheh)

The next week was just spent working and wandering and exploring the beautiful old city.

We were lucky enough to have a friend I’d met through friends back in Vancouver track us down and let us know that he was living nearby so we invited him down to play tour guide and hang out, which ended up being fantastic – having a local show you around really lets you feel more connected to the city. Also helps when your local connection speaks fantastic english (among another 7+ languages) and has a worthwhile stream of conversation to contribute. J and Chris hadn’t met before, and we all got along great and had a blast hanging out.

For new years eve, we were trying to find a party, and it ended up that the best one we could find was actually happening in the hotel we were staying at – again in the ballroom. We’d gone to a big party in Copenhagen a couple halloweens ago (Sensation White) and really dug one of the DJs (Sebastian Ingrosso) and it ended up he was headlining the party in the hotel we were staying at. We managed to get some in/out wristbands so we did midnight countdown in our room with some friends popping champagne and spend the rest of the night going from the drinking in the room to dancing at the party and back again. Chris lasted until 4am (he’d worked all day) and I rolled in about 6:30.

New Years day was a blissfully lazy day. Aside from going out to get some fries and kebabs around noon (all that was open), we just laid in bed chilling out and napping. In the evening, our friend J buzzed to see what we were up to, and showed up with a great Flemmish film for us to watch. After the movie, he stepped out for a bit and returned with a heavenly midnight feast of belgian fries and beer… Serious win at the end of a lazy day off 🙂

I’m actually quite sad to be leaving Belgium… even though there’s nothing specific to do here, the living is good, the people here have been really nice, the architecture in Antwerp is gorgeous, and it just feels really welcoming. We both agree that we’d love to come back sometime and spend some time in Brussels and Ghent, and I’ve got a feeling we’ll find ourselves in Antwerp again sometime… I won’t be sad at all when that happens.

Chris made a comment this week that’s really got me down a bit though… He pointed out that I’ve got a week and a half in France, and then that’s the end of my Europe adventures (we’re going to Lille and Paris in France, and then the tour is coming back to Germany for a week [which i’m not joining] before heading to Istanbul, South Africa and then onto Australia). It sunk in that I’ve spent the better part of the past year and quarter in Europe, and I’ve become very, very fond of the lifestyle: the food, the style, the attitudes, the cultures… It’s going to be really hard to extract myself from that, and returning to a North American pace and style.

I’m still digesting this awareness, but in the meantime I’m going to make the most of my last week and a bit here… I’ve never been to France before, and I can’t wait to see Paris, and I’m dj’ing a party on the Monday night there before I leave…

Week 8 down…
I’m excited, but it’s mixed with a growing sadness that this part of my life’s adventure is coming to a close.