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Turning 50 in Antwerp… part six

We woke to cloudy skies and cool temperatures on Sunday morning. My German friend told me that “back home” in Wiesbaden, the temperatures were pretty high. But in Belgium, I had to put on a pair of pants. I’m glad I thought to bring them. Bill was wishing he’d brought a long sleeved shirt or a light jacket.

Because of the inclement weather, we ate breakfast inside the hotel’s breakfast room, instead of outside in the courtyard. We deliberately ate less, even though we were paying 30 euros per person to have breakfast. I was hoping to enjoy lunch somewhere interesting.

After breakfast, I did some writing, and then Bill and I walked to the Scheldt River, where we explored Het Steen, a castle like structure that now houses the tourist office, but was once used as a gatehouse and a prison. Het Steen is Antwerp’s oldest building, and it’s been used as a saw mill, residence, and museum. Until 2008, it was the site of the National Maritime Museum. According to a sign outside of Het Steen, a “striking detail above the Steen Gate is the Semini statue, an ancient fertility statue. The Jesuits maimed the statue in the sixteenth century, hacking off the penis.” I have to admit, I didn’t notice that!

More loud guys singing, pedaling, and drinking.

After we walked around Het Steen, we walked along a boardwalk next to the Scheldt River, then made our way back into the Grote Markt. On the way there, we encountered a processional of religious folks, led by a brass band! I managed to get a video!

Religious parade!

By the time the parade passed us, it was about time for lunch, at which point we soon found ourselves sitting outside at a restaurant called Elfde Gebod (The Holy Place), which is billed as Antwerp’s oldest and most reviewed restaurant. This is one place where I would have liked to dine inside, as it was very cozy and cute, with tons of religious relics and angels. Alas, we sat outside, where I was downwind of a smoker. About five minutes, later, we were joined by a group of twelve young men who were pretty rowdy. Some of them were smoking, and most were drinking Australian Rose wine. I got the sense it was a “fraternity” thing.

Elfde Gebod had a pretty good selection of beers, as well as comfort food. I love comfort food, so it was my kind of menu, and I had some trouble deciding what to have for lunch. I ended up having Apostle Fish Stew, which was a very nice concoction made of cod, mussels, and shrimp, and it came with a side of mashed potatoes, which went very well with the stew. It was more of a chowder than a stew, to me… and it reminded me of what I found in Dublin a few years ago. I loved it. Must be all that Celtic heritage I have.

Bill had rabbit stew, which came with excellent frites and mayo. I didn’t try his stew, because even though I’ve had rabbit before and it “tastes like chicken”, I’m not trying to develop a taste for other kinds of meat. It’s bad enough that Bill introduced me to duck, which I love. I ventured inside the restaurant to use the facilities and was surprised by how interesting it was inside. If we ever get back to Antwerp, I would definitely try to dine inside Elfde Gebod. The decor is something special.

As we were eating lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse. It started to rain. The restaurant staff turned on heaters, which was very welcome! By the time we finished lunch, it was time to find somewhere else indoors. I said I was in the mood to find a bar, listen to good music, and drink some exotic suds.

Bill suggested a cozy bar called Billie’s Bier Kafétaria, which got great reviews on Google. That turned out to be a very successful stop. The bartender was a pretty young woman who knew her beers, and they were playing good music. In fact, I even downloaded an album as we were sitting there. I can see why Billie’s is a popular place. I would happily visit again, especially since the bar carries a lot of beers one will likely never find in Germany. I was particularly happy with the excellent Kriek (cherry beer) I had.

We didn’t feel like looking for dinner, so we stuck around Billie’s for a long time, and eventually ordered some snacks to tide us over through my very last night of being in my 40s. Then we went back to the hotel and turned on the TV… and it was TLC! We watched Dr. Pimple Popper, again in English with Dutch subtitles. Somehow, I didn’t throw up. I had forgotten how gross that show is!

Silliness at Billie’s! If you click the link, you can see the video.

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Turning 50 in Antwerp… Part three

I got sort of a rude awakening at about 4am, on Saturday morning, as I tried to roll over. My left calf suddenly seized up in a hellacious cramp. I was still sort of asleep when it happened, so I just started whimpering pitifully. I wasn’t quite conscious enough to let out the scream that I really felt brewing. That cramp hurt like a mofo! But I was still kind of out of it, thanks to still being half asleep.

Bill woke up and asked me what was wrong. I somehow told him the back of my calf was cramping. He very calmly and gently reached over and put his hand on my spasming limb, which was healing enough. Then, he slowly forced me to stop pointing my toes. The cramp gradually went away and I was left amazed, and with a sore lump where the muscle bunched up. Yes, I know it would have gone away anyway, but there’s something about Bill’s touch that is very comforting to me. He’s very good at making my pain and discomfort vanish.

I managed to doze for a bit longer, until it was time to get up and face the day. We had told the night receptionist that we’d have breakfast at 8:00am. Breakfast at De Witte Lelie does not come with the room, and costs 30 euros a person. I suppose it’s not mandatory to have breakfast there, since the hotel is so close to the old town, but we found it convenient. The first morning, we ate outside, since it was sunny and warm outside. The manager, an Australian lady, brought out a basket of bread, fresh pressed coffee, and a bottle of fresh squeezed orange juice. I was delighted by the orange juice. That’s one thing I’ve noticed in Belgium and the Netherlands; they have great orange juice. Even if you get it at the gas station, it’s likely to be fresh!

Aside from the bread and juice, there’s also a small buffet with everything from Belgian cheeses to vegan charcuterie. I helped myself to some smoked salmon and avocado, and Bill had a ginger shot. We also had eggs and bacon, although we only did that on the first day, since it was a lot of food that neither of us needed.

As usual, we didn’t have any big plans. We almost never plan specific activities on our trips. Our style is more about going places and letting stuff happen. There are exceptions, of course. When we were in Florence a couple of months ago, we did plan to visit the Uffizi ahead of time. That was necessary, because of COVID and the number of people who want to go to the art gallery. But we didn’t have big plans for Antwerp. It didn’t find it to be the kind of place that requires a lot of planning.

We started out by heading toward the Grote Markt, which is the main attraction in Antwerp. We saw the couple who run the Brewers’ Kitchen, who were recovering from Friday night! The chef told us that he was born and raised in Antwerp and offered some tips on how to see the city. I was especially glad we stopped in to his restaurant on Friday.

Before we had a chance to explore the Grote Markt, we stopped at the Handschoenmarkt, which is where an adorable statue of a boy and his dog are located. I didn’t know anything about the 19th century novel, A Dog of Flanders, which is the heartwarming and tragic story about a little boy named Nello and his dog, Patrasche. The story, which was written by English author, Marie Louise de la Ramée, is well-known, especially in Japan, so the powers that be commissioned a statue to please tourists. The statue was created by Batiste Vermeulen (‘Tist’) and is absolutely adorable.

We went into Cathedral of our Lady, which is a huge, beautiful church in the middle of the city that dates from 1352 (with earlier churches dating from even earlier), but was consecrated in 1521. If one isn’t a child under 18 or a resident of Antwerp, there is a 12 euro charge to visit this church. We didn’t mind paying, though, since the Cathedral of our Lady is full of beautiful art, and is very much akin to a museum. We spent some time walking around, taking in the tremendous beauty of the vast cathedral itself, and the wonderful paintings and sculptures within it. We also visited the crypt, where we could see examples of the tombs buried under the church. Burials were allowed within the church until the 18th century, so as you walk through the cavernous interior, you are passing graves of people who died many years ago.

After we walked through the cathedral, we decided to visit the bistro. Yes, this church has an actual bistro, where you can get coffee, cake, and beer. We initially went in there to use the restroom (very handy), but later came back to try the excellent beer out in the courtyard.

On Saturday, we also made our way to the Scheldt River, which flows through northern France, western Belgium, and the southwestern part of the Netherlands. I wouldn’t say the Scheldt River is a particularly beautiful body of water, but it is what makes Antwerp an important port city in Europe. Next to the river is a huge ferris wheel called The Big View. I didn’t know this at the time, but our ride on the ferris wheel was Bill’s very first, ever! He’s going to be 58 years old next month, and he just now took a ride on a ferris wheel. We got three turns, which allowed us to mug for photos and get pictures of the Steenplein (Stone Square).

Bill says he had never been on a ferris wheel before Saturday, because he’s afraid of heights. He probably felt okay on the wheel in Antwerp, though, because it was completely enclosed. I wished we had an open car so I could get better photos, but this is probably a year round attraction. I’m sure enclosing it makes it usable in bad/cold weather. After we got off, Bill said he’d do it again. It always amazes me the things Bill is doing for the first time with me.

It turned out on Saturday, there was some kind of festival going on in the Grote Markt. It was quite the blowout. When we were passing at one point, an opera singer with an absolutely beautiful voice serenaded everyone. She was dressed in shorts and a short sleeved blouse, enchanting everyone with her dulcet vocals. After her first song, she was inexplicably joined by a beatboxer, who was also pretty good… although personally, I preferred her solo performance. I got some video of her singing, which I added to my first post about Antwerp. It made me cry. We also saw a guy balancing three beers on his head while riding a bike!

By the time the ferris wheel ride was finished, it was time to look for lunch. More on that in the next part, since this post is loaded with photos!

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