Today was the last officially scheduled day of our trip to Belgium. Tomorrow we do a program evaluation and debriefing, but have a free day otherwise. I think I am going to need it if I want to be packed and ready to go by Sunday morning!
On the docket for today was a trip to Antwerp. We had all been in Antwerp for about two hours earlier this week during our ill-fated trip to Den Hague. However, all we had see was the inside of the train station. Now, to be honest, I think most of us would have still been pretty awestruck by Antwerp if all we had seen was the inside of the train station. It is, without a doubt, the most incredible train station that I have ever been in. I have uploaded a number of pictures that show off various parts of it, but you definitely need to be there to truly experience it. You know that you are in for a great city when the train station sets such a high standard! It might be helpful if London figured out that first impressions matter…
As soon as we stepped outside of the train station we knew that we were really going to like Antwerp. All cities give you a ‘feel’ as soon as you get into them and Antwerp’s was great. The city was full of extraordinary architecture and was a little bit more relaxed feeling than Brussels. It also struck the balance between tourist town and functioning city. Things were spread out enough not to feel stressed, but close enough that they didn’t sprawl. Our first task was to pay a visit to Antwerp City Hall. Now, I know that most people’s conception of a City Hall is something like the painfully nondescript building that houses London’s city hall, so for a moment suspend your city hall biases. The Antwerp City Hall is unbelievable. I’ve been in some impressive buildings this week, but without a doubt this was my favourite. We were given an enthusiastic tour by a friendly older lady who had lived in Antwerp her entire life. Her passion for her city was infectious and we left feeling quite a bit a part of the city. The Hall gave off the same welcoming feeling that we felt from the entire city.
Following our trip to City Hall we had about an hour and half for lunch that I used to walk around the city and do a little bit of shopping. Antwerp is quite famous for its diamonds so it was quite hard to miss the hundreds of jewelery stores around the city. My mother will be impressed to know that I took a look at some Lladro figurines in one of the stores and finally understood why she finds them so breathtaking!
At 1:15 we met Dr. Brooks back by Central Station and proceeded to do something that demonstrates clearly that no one really ever grows up. We went to the zoo! Dr. Brooks took a group of 12 of us ‘children’ into the Antwerp Zoo for a look around. Dr. Brooks apprently has a way with people and managed to negotiate an arbitrary group rate for us despite the fact that we were all over the cut off age of 18 years old. We all sort of expected this to just be an in and out kind of thing, but 2.5 hours, 100 pictures and hundreds of animals later we thought otherwise. The Antwerp Zoo was infectiously exciting and we had a fantastic time. Dr. Brooks must have looked like some sort of elementary school teacher herding around a group of rather over sized children. We fit right in with the crowds of real elementary school children! I can’t quite say enough about Dr. Brooks. He has been an absolutely incredible leader of our group; showing extreme patience and genuine interest in our experience.
To top it all off, he’s bought us all ice cream twice! How can you beat that? Anyway, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a zoo quite as much as I did today and even managed to get my camera batteries to last through the majority of our tour at dangerously low levels.
We finished at the zoo and headed back to the train station where we expected to catch a quick ‘direct’ train to Leuven that would get us back in about 40 minutes. But, as has become a recurring them over the course of the trip, the train system conspired against us. Our train from Antwerp to Leuven traveled very slowly until it finally broke down at Mechelen station, forcing us to switch trains. The train switch ended up being quite complicated and had us running from platform to platform and train to train before they finally decided on one to take us to Leuven! Ultimately we managed to get back to Leuven, although it was much later than we expected.
I am currently planning to go for a run and to then head out with the group for a night in the Leuven square.
I should also mention a rather important event that is taking place today back home. Today is my mom’s birthday! She would probably be mortified if she knew that I was going to mention it on the blog, but I’m going to do it anyway. We’re a bit of a failure at our house this June 25th. Neither my dad nor I are home, so my sister is really the only one who is home. As I understand it, my mom and sister will be enjoying some shopping during the day before being treated to dinner by my grandparents. I also hear that Lyndsay has baked a rather spectacular cake to be eaten! So, if you see my mom, say happy birthday to her and don’t tell her that you found out from me!
On a far less positive note, it’s looking like I am going to be taking a 6am train to Brussels airport on Sunday. There are three of us that are flying out at around the same time and we’ve decided that we aren’t going to mess with the train gods. We had originally been planning to take the 7am train, as we don’t leave until 10:45ish, but we don’t want to risk it. Tomorrow will be a long day of packing followed by early to bed and an even earlier wake up call (probably around 5am…*sigh*). On the positive side, I am quite happy that I’ll be travelling to the airport with Monica and Valentina. It’s nice to have people to get lost with! Monica is actually taking the same flight back as I am.
Anyway, I’m off to run!