Tuesday the 9th of June
Starbucks coffee is dreadful. I would rather have no coffee than Starbucks coffee! This franchised company specialises in commercialised oversized syrupy beverages they try to pass off as quality caffeine. I was served a very large latte that was their smallest size ‘tall’ and tasted like milk. I had arranged to meet my Aunt Mimieke in this recognisable cafe that stood near the entrance of the Antwerp Central Station that morning before we were to embark on our planned escapades this second last day of my stay. I had taken the active route through Antwerp that morning, walking down the Meir and then the Keyserlei Street to the domed structure with its intricate statues built into the stone walls. Although I had many times stepped foot in this gorgeous building, it was to be the first time I had caught a train in Europe. We were heading to Bruges, one of the oldest Belgian cities in Europe that had once been a thriving economic centre home to the inventors of trade policies and taxation.
The train was rather luxurious in comparison to the shitty-rail carriages covered in graffiti, dirt and disgustingness that I am used to in Australia. We were quite comfortable with plenty of leg space and an automated screen indicating the position of the train on the journey. For an hour and a half, we sat quite comfortably in our cushioned seats viewing the green pastures that passed between the provinces. Once arrived, we consulted our map that lead us along a tiled pathway through luscious parklands and around the concert building until we arrived in the city centre. The Grote Markt was bordered by buildings that were the hub of life and business in its golden age, the most prominent being the tall tower of the Heilig Bloedbasiliek (translation: Basilica of the Holy Blood). We lunched at the De Carre overlooking this beautiful structure; a croque madam and again coffee to keep us going for the day’s activities to come.
Although we had planned to visit a number of attractions, we though it worth the detour to visit the Historium of Bruges. Unlike every other boring museum, this palace had been restored to its original outer appearance and the rooms had been converted into scenes from the fourteenth century when this town acted as a financial hub and home to revolutionary artists such as Jan Van Eyke. Not only were my aunt and I able to time travel into another era but also experience it as a four dimensional adventure complete with smells and touch too. The exhibit showcased a didactic story that followed the fictional romance between the apprentice of the aforementioned painter and his muse. We followed the main character from a quay to the painter’s studio to the taxation office to a typical brasserie to a bathhouse to a rosary maker and all throughout the streets of Bruges. The temperature fluctuated in each room – one even had pieces of snow flutter down around us as the (artificial) cool night air stung our skin. The final stage of the tour took us to the rooftop balcony which overlooked the city allowing us to view every gorgeous detail.
Hereafter we went to a very different museum only a street away where the featured exhibit was CHOCOLATE! It was interesting to learn that in the olden days a tax was imposed on chocolate items; these official ordinances were communicated by authorities in the town hall. It had become so popular in the short time after its introduction that religious institutions had to impose limitations to prevent their followers from overindulging and thereby committing delicious sin. Without a doubt Mimieke and I came out of there craving chocolate! (And luckily the surrounding streets were abundant in artistically shaped tempered cocoa products.)
It had already been a full day but we made it to the canal just in time to catch a boat tour through what once acted as a protective barrier of defence around the city centre. It gave us the chance to see all the important landmarks and allowed for some time to rest our tired feet.
We had time for one last touristy encounter before it was time to return home to Antwerp: the begijnenhof. We entered the secluded nun’s quarters, conscious of the silence that had to be maintained within the pristine white walls. The small apartments formed a secluded enclosure untainted by the outside world – it was its only little land of worship. On the previous canal tour we had passed a bevy of swans that are kept by the nuns residing here – I was told that one time a black swan joined their congregation and was removed by the nuns as though it were a bad omen of evil spoiling their pure territory.