Sometimes you have to spend time by yourself, even on vacation. Because while it was vacation for me, my mom was in Belgium to work first, play second. But no worries, I decided to take myself out for a day on the town, Belgian style!
We started the morning out by doing a little sightseeing and my mom took me to a couple of the cathedrals that surround her apartment. We decided to visit St. Jacobskerk (St. James’s Church). This did not last long. We got kicked out. Now you may ask, how does one get kicked out of a church? What could we possibly have been doing? Well, all I can say is, during the week I visited her, we also got kicked out of a greenhouse, a print shop, and our own train seats. Maybe kicked out is too strong a phrase, because we didn’t do anything wrong, but we didn’t exactly do what was ~right~ either, which was enter the church. Apparently that is not allowed. Honestly, we never really figured out what happened or why. Oh well. We moved on to the next one, Carolus Borromeus Church, and while we were hesitant to enter this one due to our previous experiences, we were granted entry and able to enjoy the beautiful interior, the surrounding courtyards, and the lovely architecture.
After entertaining me for a bit, my mom had some meetings she had to attend to, so that is when my trip turned from mother-daughter party of two to young female solo traveler trying to make it on her own. Don’t worry, it was only for a couple of hours, I’m being very dramatic. If you remember from my time in Dublin, I actually enjoy having opportunities to travel by myself.
Finding myself with a new sense of freedom, I decided to pamper myself. I did so by parting ways with my mother and navigating to the Foto Museum (FOMU), a place I had wanted to go but wasn’t sure if we would have the time to go together. And guess what? Going by myself was perfectly awesome. I was able to enjoy the exhibits and take as much time as I wanted. Of course, some of the displays were not in English, but that just added to the overall authenticity of the experience. While it was a museum, it was not packed with over-eager tourists trying to cram as much of Antwerp into each day of their vacation, but rather sprinkled with quiet-minded studious-like viewers who genuinely wanted to appreciate the art and skill of Belgian photographers.
After completely overwhelming myself with facts about famous Belgian artists and trying to interpret not only some of the art, but the descriptions themselves, I walked myself back into town and decided to tour the most prominent cathedral of the city whose tower can be seen as part of the skyline from across the river. Construction on the Cathedral of Our Lady began in 1352, and features significant paintings from the well-known Peter Paul Rubens, as well as other extraordinary artists. The belfry of the cathedral has been included in the Belfries of Belgium and France entry on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, giving it utmost importance specifically within the city’s community. The cost to enter is 6euros, and children under 12 are free. In addition to the stunning works of art, the cathedral also has a small underground crypt, fantastic gothic architecture, and beautiful stained glass windows.
I left the cathedral on my own will and went across the street to what is apparently one of the best places to get frites in Antwerp, the Fritkot Max, and got myself some curry fries. I ordered at the window and waited for my fries, and when they were ready, I was handed a bouquet of fries. No curry. I asked where the curry was and they pointed to the wall where eight different massive jugs of Heinz ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. was lined up. Apparently you just order fries and then smother them with whatever sauce you actually feel like having. So I mixed the curry sauce with some mayo and walked away feeling like I was missing something.
I sat on a bench and ate my frites while a couple casually broke up next to me. I continued to scoop up every last drop of curry while they took turns crying and hugging and being silent. The situation was both uncomfortable and amusing to me.
After the love saga ended and I was again left alone with my now empty bag of frites, I noticed a pop-up flower stand across the square from me, so I went over and decided to buy myself some gorgeous orange tulips.
As I strolled back through the bustling streets, carrying my flowers and having had a full day of sightseeing and learning, I felt more European in those moments than I did the entire time I actually lived in Europe. It was a strange feeling, not good or bad, just interesting. I’ve said it before, but I would strongly encourage anyone to experience traveling by themselves. Whether for just a day, a weekend, or even longer, you learn so much about the places you’re in, as well as yourselves and what you are capable of doing. There is no reason why you can’t take yourself to a museum, eat some delicious fried Belgian treats, and buy yourself some pretty flowers.