DAY 13: Third Day in Bruges/A Day in Antwerp
Picture-esque weather today. Headed into Antwerp. While waiting for the train a young kid with a backpack reminded me to lighten up. Often times I’m too quick to look away from people when we make eye contact but a lot of the time I get a friendly smile. That’s what this kid did. We made eye contact and as I quickly began looking in another direction, I noticed at the corner of my eye he was smiling at me. I looked back at him and smiled. Felt good. General consensus: smile more, and brood less— get the fuck over yourself.
Antwerp: a hybrid of contemporary Rotterdam with the historical sense of The Hague. You’d walk by a straight-forward H&M, then turn your head in another direction to marvel at an 18th-century statue. Pleasant city. Kind people. The cops too. Their uniforms all say “politie”, which means “police” in Dutch but for days I thought it said polite, which made my dumbass chuckle more than it should have. I got yelled at by one of these polite gentlemen. Well, not yelled at; He was, in fact, quite… polite.
There are no bridges between canals in Antwerp, something it’s known for. What they have instead are these long underground tunnels that run up to 572 meters at about 32 meters underwater. The only time anything resembling a bridge was built here was during the Spanish-Dutch war apparently, but they were more blockades of trade than bridges.
I walked the Voetgangstunnel to the other side and then searched for the entrance to another tunnel called the Waaslandtunnel, which was designated for automobiles only. I wanted to walk both if I could though. I ignored the numerous red-circled personnel-only signs but obliviously so. I didn’t give them much thought honestly, I just wanted to get into the tunnel. I should’ve assumed I wasn’t allowed to walk the access ramp; There wasn’t a single soul walking it except yours truly. Extremely narrow. I was perched a couple feet above both lanes of traffic. People in the buses were looking at me like I was nuts. A police officer on motorbike honked at me and pointed in the direction I entered the tunnel from. I didn’t think twice.
I walked back up the ramp and he was waiting for me on the other side of the street. Hand signaling the personnel signs that I should’ve paid attention to… He was cool about it. Probably for the best. I’m not sure I would’ve walked the entire length of the tunnel anyway; The combination of the heavy fumes from the rush hour traffic and the enclosed tunnel was not conducive to breathing healthy oxygen. Walked back through the pedestrian tunnel, Voetgangerstunnel, which I can’t say I liked per se. It’s incredible obviously but midway through I could feel claustrophobia creeping up. The coolness from the water around us was disconcerting. The empty off-white walls didn’t help either; Nothing to occupy your eyeballs except the people heading in the opposite direction.
The Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp was located in the heart of Antwerp. She was worth the visit alone. I’m not a religious person at all. I was raised Catholic, then transitioned over to Baptist (for a girl, ultimately) and then one day I started paying more attention to what I was reading and hearing. I graduated to the religion of being lost and confused. I hesitate to refer to myself as atheist cause I find that to be about as pretentious as saying you know that there’s a heaven. You don’t know there isn’t one either.
My lack of faith didn’t deter from absorbing the incredible architecture, and statues and intricately designed stained-glass windows. Or the paintings depicting the birth and death of Christ. The oak wood carvings of Mary. The candle-lit prayer areas. It was all breathtaking. The scale of it. I spent far too long out front trying to capture the exterior of the building in a full wide, top to bottom, but that was damn-near impossible.
Finding Antwerp’s own red-light district was a little difficult. They don’t advertise it on their maps, so I searched. I visited specific areas on the map based off their layout and it didn’t take long before I spotted those distinctive red fluorescents. This was different than Amsterdam though. In Amsterdam there’s an immediacy due to proximity; There were alleys so narrow only a single person could squeeze by at a time. I didn’t much like it, really. Wasn’t as entertaining as Amsterdam.
Grew bored quick and found a place for authentic Dutch french fries, which weren’t anything special. I couldn’t await nightfall to see what the city turned into. Last train back was leaving at 9 and it doesn’t get dark until about 10:30PM, sometimes later. It was 11:00PM by the time I was nearing home-base and I could still see the vague blue glow from remaining sunlight. Then again I wouldn’t have minded being stranded in Antwerp for the night; There are worse places to be stuck in.