Hey all, I hope you enjoyed the post from my brother featuring Zermatt, Switzerland! I will be posting another from him in a few days so be sure to check back to see what life in Riva is like!
Day 4 in Belgium was similar to Day 2 (Monday) when my mom and I took ourselves on a walking tour, except today was Monday on steroids. We walked over 25,000 steps and 12 miles (according to my Fitbit which I used to log our activity daily). Those 25,000 steps packed full of seeing Antwerp from every possible angle, including above, below, and inside. Yes inside. I will explain.
We started the day by walking to the other city of the city using the St. Anna’s pedestrian tunnel, a 1/2 mile long tunnel that crosses the river and allows pedestrians and bikers to go from the more residential side of the city to the more commercial side. The tunnel itself was a very cool experience because it allowed us to experience a bit of life that an average Antwerpian (?) would use to get to work or home. Something else we found fascinating about this space was a giant elevator that allowed people to bring their bikes up and down from the tunnel, making it easier than trying to maneuver them on the escalator. This feature highlights a very important part of Belgian culture and is something that would be very unusual to see in other countries.
Upon exiting the tunnel, we were met with a very sudden sense of quietness. The noise and activity level was aparent the moment we stepped out of the exit point and into the open air. We sat and enjoyed the quiet, still sidewalks and views of the skyline rising across the water that was gently lapping at the shores of the river banks. After we got our fill of refreshing breezes and peaceful barges floating by, we descended once again underground and resurfaced on the other side.
Having not spent enough time underground, we decided to submerge ourselves once again, this time within the heart of the city through De Ruien, the underground sewers that had been converted from open waterways at the start of the city’s development. Tours of De Ruien come in several options, including walking or boating. The walking tours require you to suit up in rubber boots and perhaps even a protective uniform and range from 17euro/person to 295euro/group with a max of 15 people. We chose to participate in the boat tour, which is a mere 5euro/person and takes you down a short (300m) waterway while learning a bit about the history of how the city functioned at the beginning of its foundation. The sewers used to be open waterways that allowed merchants and vendors to trade goods and obviously have since been covered and turned into drains. For 5euros/person this was a cheap and unique experience that not only gave us some lesser known history facts, but allowed us to view the city from a different perspective that is not so easily available in most communities.
Deciding we’d had enough of underground Belgian transportation systems, we headed to the Mas (moss) Museum, not to see the exhibits, but to see the city from above. Entrance to the building is free (if you want to see the exhibits there is a cost) and ten flights of escalators will slowly wind you upwards through the building until you reach the rooftop access point. The panorama view from the top included the city and the entirety of the 25 mile-long port!
By this time, it was mid-afternoon, and I was hangry. Like, very. Napos Quality Grill is right across the sidewalk from the Mas and was the perfect place to stop for a beer and some snacks (extremely flavorful stuffed mushrooms and perfectly cooked falafel with hummus) to hold us over until we were ready for dinner.
If you’ve been following my travels for a while, you may have learned that I have a thing for love locks. I saw my first love lock in Malta, just a few hundred feet away from my house, and since then have gone out of my way to search for them during my travels. I had read about a giant red ‘A’ in Antwerp along a fence that featured love locks and set out to find it. Little did I know that it had been moved the very day before, on February 14th, Valentine’s Day, to a new, permanent location right outside the Mas Museum. Its location right next to the iconic building and along the water instantly allowed it to look at home in its new spot.
Our plan was to find a place to eat dinner in the Moroccan or Turkish quarters, as it was a part of the city that mom had eaten in when she first got to Antwerp and her program director was very familiar with. However, we did not have quite the same experience that she and her friend/assistant had first had and instead felt uncomfortable walking through the streets after dark. Of the dozens of shops, restaurants, and corners we passed, we did not see any women or children, only men. The atmosphere was different from that of not only the other parts of the city we had been in, but also different than when my mom had been there during the day a few weeks earlier. Being unfamiliar with the area, we decided to listen to our feelings of uncertainty and move back the way we had come.
While we did feel a sense of discomfort, it was a cool area and amazing how just a few blocks from the main squares were communities with completely different cultures. Just like Chinatown or Little Italy, these districts featured shops, markets, bakeries, schools, and entertainment options for the residents that were organized within the cultural preferences of the community and truly felt like we were no longer in Belgium. We ate at a Turkish restaurant and then headed home for the night, exhausted from our day of extensive walking.