Thursday, February 16, 2012

Two hours in Antwerp

Once we returned from our weekend adventure in South Africa, the temperature not only dropped to a chilly 10ºF but it also started snowing--finally! I'll take snow over rain any day. And even though it snows every year in Holland, for some reason it freaks everyone out, every time. Just like last year, NS (the national rail) couldn't handle it. Not even two inches of snow! Trains stopped running, the routes clogged, lines re-routed, major delays, people stranded. The other part of the equation is that people still take the trains despite the weather. So everyone should just know better, I guess.

Well, we were in denial as well. We had a Saturday day-trip planned for Antwerp since Monday and we weren't not going to go. [Elliot: "This is Holland! The Dutch know trains!"]

We got to Rotterdam Central and of course our train was delayed 30 minutes. We poked around the new HEMA store and by the time we came back out to check on the train, the delay decreased to 25 minutes--by the time we sprinted to the platform the train had just left. Total bummer. Next train was in 75 minutes.

So we waited.

The next train was actually on time (only because the one before it was cancelled) and took us all the way to Dordrecht, only 15 minutes from Rotterdam. And it went no further. We waited for the next train; then we waited on that train for another 45 minutes.

We finally made it to Antwerp after about 4.5 hours--what should have been an hour-long train ride with no transfers. It was 2:30pm and 8ºF.

Antwerp is gorgeous, though. We were first welcomed by the stunning train station. Four levels and fourteen tracks, built in 1895. Impressive stone and iron work. Just beautiful!

What a lovely and old city, too. And So much shopping you don't know what to do with yourself. In the 1500s, Antwerp was the richest city in Europe because of its port--trading spices, silver, and textiles. The city has also been famous for its diamond industry, which apparently is the largest in the world. More than half of all diamonds go through this city at some point.

It was so cold out, we could only be outside for about 23 minutes at a time. So wandered around the shopping streets, the Grote Markt and the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of our Lady), with a break before each for lunch, espresso, and a vanille millefeuille from Paul (respectively). 

By the time it was 4:15pm, we were exhausted from the bitter cold and knew it would be getting even colder once the sun dipped below the gabled houses. So we made our way back to the station. Pathetic, I know! But I'm glad we left because our train, again, was 30 minutes late...and then stopped about 20 minutes outside Antwerp never to start again. Instead, we sat on the stopped train for another hour and finally disembarked, walked up and over the tracks and into another northbound train. It only took about 3.5 hours on the way back, but at least we didn't get stranded! 

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