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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 Ram├ęe, 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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churches, cute towns, day trips, Germany, Mainz, restaurant reviews, Rhein, Sundays

Heavenly windows by Marc Chagall and heavenly eating at Heiliggeist…

Last month, when Bill and I went to Z├╝rich, we visited the Fraum├╝nster church. That church is famous for having beautiful stained glass windows created by the Jewish French-Russian artist, Marc Chagall. I wasn’t familiar with Marc Chagall before we saw his windows in Switzerland last month. After I posted some photos on social media, a German friend told me that I could also see Chagall’s work in Mainz, at The Collegiate Church of St. Stephan. We live close to Mainz, but before yesterday, we hadn’t been there in a long time. Not only did COVID-19 keep us away, but there was also some construction being done on the bridge over the Rhein River which made crossing over there problematic. The bridge connects our home state of Hesse with Rheinland-Pfalz. I had actually forgotten that going to Mainz means leaving the state!

I think the last time Bill and I went to Mainz, it was to see my old friend, C.W., who is an American learning about German wines. I worked with C.W. in Colonial Williamsburg, back in the late 1990s. C.W. moved to Washington, DC and worked in a succession of fancy restaurants. He later decided he wanted to work in the wine industry, so he’s been getting educated. In the fall of 2019, he came to Germany to work at a winery as part of his education. He came back in the spring of 2020, just before COVID shut everything down. We weren’t able to see him on that visit, and we didn’t visit Mainz again last year or this year. That means that yesterday’s visit occurred almost two years after our last one! We had a good time yesterday. We’ll have to visit Mainz more often, now that we’re vaccinated. It really is a neat town with much to discover.

After looking at the location of St. Stephan’s Church, Bill decided he’d like to go out to eat. He found Heiliggeist Restaurant (Holy Spirit) on Open Table and decided that its status as the oldest citizen hospital in Germany fit nicely with our church theme. He made reservations for 3:30pm because, apparently, there were any earlier ones available. I’m not sure why that is, since there were plenty of tables available when we were there yesterday. But anyway, the church was open for visitation from 12pm until 4pm, so the late lunch/early dinner time slot worked out fine. We took my neglected Mini Cooper, since the weather was fine and I could put the top down. I had forgotten how different the atmosphere is in Mainz, compared to Wiesbaden. It’s a refreshing change of pace.

After parking at the theater garage, we trudged uphill to the church. It was about a ten minute walk from where we parked. I hadn’t realized the church wasn’t in the old part of the city and was kind of unimpressed with the neighborhood that surrounded it. From the outside, St. Stephan looks like so many of the other churches in Germany. That’s not to say it isn’t a beautiful or impressive structure. It is a very lovely church, especially compared to many American churches. I’m just saying that compared to a lot of churches in Europe, from the outside, it didn’t look any more or less spectacular.

But then we went inside, and my mind immediately changed about the beauty of St. Stephan… I was overcome by the cool, soothing, incredibly beautiful, and peaceful mood cast by the extraordinary blue windows… The entire inside of the church is bathed in a blue glow made by Chagall’s windows, the first of which was installed in 1978. Chagall was 91 years old in 1978, and he lived until 1985, which only goes to show you that when it comes to great accomplishments, age really is just a number.

As I took in the azure splendor of the great artist’s work, I realized that I much preferred Chagall’s windows in Mainz to Chagall’s windows in Switzerland. A bonus is, it costs nothing to visit this church. In Z├╝rich, we had to pay five Swiss Francs each admission to see a few of Chagall’s windows.

Of course, I might have loved these windows more because my favorite color is blue. I also just loved the way they all worked in concert to give the church an overall mood. I donated some change to the church while Bill lit a candle for his father, then he purchased a CD of the organ and some postcards at the gift shop. He says he’s going to try his hand at picture framing. Since my dad made his post Air Force living framing pictures, it’s a shame he’s no longer around to show Bill the ropes. The CD is, of course, for me. I am more moved by music than visual artistic endeavors. My mom was a church organist for over 50 years, so I probably have more of an appreciation for organ music than a lot of people do. However, as I listen to the music now as I compose this post, it occurs to me that if I could have been listening to it while touring the church, I probably would have been overwhelmed. I definitely am glad we took the time to visit St. Stephan and see these gorgeous windows! The church itself has an incredibly long history, having been established in 990. It is the only church in Germany that has windows by Marc Chagall, and I must say, the windows dazzled me! What an inspiration!

It took about ten or fifteen minutes to walk from the church to the old town. I needed a restroom, but we had about an hour before our reservation at Heiliggeist, so Bill and I decided to stop at a cafe. I took some more photos on the way down. Mainz really is a nice town, and there’s still a lot we haven’t seen or done there.