Four hours and one train change in Brussels later, what might have felt like finally but felt instead like already? in the presence of someone you adore, the train rolled into Antwerp Central Station. It’s a super cool train station – some say the most beautiful in Europe – and it has a Starbucks with lots of seating and local college students. The youth vibe is present wherever you go, making the small town of Antwerp feel more cosmopolitan. Naturally we both had to go to the bathroom in the train station were the toilets cost one euro in contrast to the free toilets on the train, but here too there was no fear of someone not understanding your bladder.
It was raining. Appreciably. This condition continued for the duration of our stay, spasmodically with high winds, and never did I see anything aping like a mountain.
In a city of youth, it felt wrong to hail a cab – so with map in hand, we soldiered on in the rain from Central Station to our hotel in the heart of downtown Antwerp. I use the word "soldiered" intentionally as my feminine sister Beth was previously a US Army soldier and knows her way around a map. (As an aside, it tickled me proud with understanding to see her husband write this on her Facebook wall yesterday for Veteran's Day: "Happy veterans day to the most beautiful women to ever wear army boots and shoot an M16." )
As it was a Sunday, most of the stores were closed along the main shopping street of Meir. The Chocolate Line, a famous Belgian chocolate shop we had read about, was however open. We stopped in for a taste, as you would if you were to see an old palace that had been converted into a scrumptious looking chocolate shop. We also bought a chocolate bar for later. Fifteen minutes after that, we found ourselves at the Fritkot Max, an also famous Belgian frite place, overlooking the Cathedral on the Groenplaats. Trying to kill two birds with one calorically overloaded day, we devoured our first (but not last of the trip) Belgian frites. Max, if it was the real Max, was the only unfriendly person we encountered during our Antwerp stay. No mind though – we had curry ketchup to bring a smile to our face.
At the Matelote Hotel, a charming ten room hotel that felt more B&B than hotel, the person who showed up us to our room said: “Please help yourself to anything in the mini frig at no charge. For legal reasons, we can’t have any alcohol in your frig – but we are Belgian, so when you come downstairs to the lobby – the first drink is on us.” After putting our bags down and umbrellas up to dry, we got that free drink and peppered our new friend with questions on where we should go to dinner. Reading us like the tea leaves we are, he picked a great bistro for us called Le Zoute Zoen. Our friend later gave us a free breakfast just because.