A City of Gold – Antwerp 11.7.18

Nights spent: 1
Steps taken: 10, 510
Accomodations: ibis Budget Hotel Antwerp Centraal Station
Places of interest visited: Paleis op de Meir, Schoenmarkt, Antwerpen Centraal Station
Places eaten/drank: Bier CentraalSébastien, Waffles on Meir

I have misophonia. It’s a thing that makes menot be able to deal with people noises like sniffling, throat clearing, slurping, etc. It also means that I’ve gotten used to listening to music to fall asleep because if I’m listening to music I’m not listening to the other noises that happen around me. It also means traveling can be a bit of a bear for me and my friends. I’ll reference it throughout the blog, and often times if I mention being a little on edge, the misophonia is a contributor.

Another handy thing that CityHub did was put in Bluetooth speakers in every room. So we were able to listen to my Relax Melodies app in stereo overnight and it was honestly one of the best nights of sleep that I’ve had while traveling. Thank goodness, because our morning was a bit stressful.

I THOUGHT I had planned out our timeline well. I knew we had to be at the bus 15 minutes before departure. I also knew we wanted to sleep in as long as possible to combat the jetlag.

I also knew I wanted a hot breakfast (and proper coffee). Traveling is always better on a full, happy tummy tums, and there were a bunch of places that I saw along our travels the night before. We made sure we were packed up and then made the trek over to Baker & Moore. It was warm and cozy, with the motif of a old style home (exposed wood and brick and the like). I kind of forced Boyfriend to get a Mint Tea because I’ve been raving about them for actual years, meanwhile I went for a cappuccino since we were in a place where I knew it would be well made.

Boyfriend had never had a real European breakfast before (obviously) so I wanted to make sure we took some time to enjoy it. I wasn’t really stressed about the bus. I had downloaded the FlixBus app to get updates, and it let us know that a different bus was being used for our route. No problem, we just had to find the route itself. Usually things in train stations are really well marked so I wasn’t too stressed about finding the buses [though I should have been more particular ahead of time].

Breakfast was great, we got to discuss the giant Gundam statue guarding the park (let’s be honest if there was going to be a country to secretly develop Mecha Tech, I would expect it be the Netherlands), and we were just in range of it, so we battled at the gym there while waiting for food.

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We were content walking back to the apartment, but I was realizing quickly that I had misjudged our timeline. Travel days are hard for me because I stress about things pretty easily. I have missed trains and planes in the past and it’s not the most fun experience. So I do this terrible thing now where I get very particular about schedules, especially with Boyfriend who tends to move slower than me. I don’t want him to experience the yuck of missing transportation, but the result is us getting snippy with each other before anything bad even happens.

By the time we got to the bus station, it was 20 minutes until our route was scheduled to go off. That meant 5 minutes to try and find the bus as well as get ready for it; this meant no bathroom, no water, no coffee (and a little scolding from Boyfriend when I tried to do coffee and water at the Starbucks in the station). We found the bus lines, but finding FlixBus was proving difficult.

So, for those of you who read this and will be traveling in or out of Rotterdam: The FlixBus station is at the VERY END of all the bus lines. Go outside to the bus stations and just keep walking. I was growing more nervous, but then we noticed a lamp post with a FlixBus sticker and a bunch of other people looking confused and distressed. Boom. Right place.

We hadn’t filled up our water bottles, I had tried to get coffee at the station but was unsuccessful, Boyfriend and I were snipping at each other, and then when our bus pulled up we just did our best to put our stuff in the hold and get on. Then we saw that he was checking passports.

I have a 7th Annual Brewhaha fannie pack that I had bought this year. It’s not particularly special, but it is low profile, light, and perfect for carrying passports. It’s where all our travel documents go. Only, when we got out of customs in the Netherlands, I wasn’t wearing my pack. Boyfriend had his readily available. I had put mine in the one carryon, hidden, so that I wouldn’t lose it. Except I thought I lost it.

There is a level of panic that rises in you as you search for a passport and watch a line of people dwindle, and with it your opportunity. It was the only bus to Antwerp for 8 hours. If we didn’t get on that bus, we’d have to carry our stuff around all day, not have any fun, and miss our only day in Antwerp. More frantically, I started to pull apart pieces of luggage, I began shaking, I started snapping at Boyfriend as he started to help (with no admonishment of my misplacement), and it got to a point where the bus driver came to us to check. Boyfriend was explaining as I was going back and forth between bags, desperate for the travel doc, and feeling the tears start and the shaking of a panic attack creeping up.

The bus driver was extremely patient and understanding. He looked at Boyfriend’s and then said in his kind Dutch dialect, “Darling, it’s ok. I’ve seen his. You’ve obviously just gotten here. Get on the bus and then keep it right here,” he patted his chest, “for the rest of your stay.” I thanked him, and Boyfriend helped me put the suitcases back together and load them up. We took our backpacks onto the bus, looking for our seats.

Oh yea, new bus.

We had booked table seats so we could both work on the journey. After snipping at each other a little more we found seats, went to hop on Wifi.

Oh yea, new bus.

So instead of working, I typed up some blogs and he played Candy Crush. Not exactly the most productive part of our trip for sure. We got to Antwerp with no more excitement, and unloaded in front of the train station. Our hotel was only a 10 minute walk from there, and it was rich with gyms and Poke stops to make us eager to get back out and about.

As we walked, we passed a Starbucks with a line out of the door and we were both taken aback by it. In the land of glorious Kafes, to find a Starbucks that popular was really surprising to me.

Confession: At home I drink Starbucks a lot. Mostly the convenience of the app drives me, also the fact that there’s one in the mall where I work part-time. However, of the three times I’ve been to mainland Europe, I’ve only gone to a Starbucks once (now in the UK is a different story).

We walked along the [very long] train station, stopping to check out the gaming café and the Pop figure store next to it that boasted of American Snacks like Pop Tarts, Oreos, and unusual flavors of Pringles.

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A quick left, and past the United Nations we found our well-hidden accommodations: Budget Ibis Hotel. In retrospect, they remind me of a Holiday Inn: you see Ibis’s all over Europe, but of different varieties. Budget, Luxury, and just standard I suppose.

We checked in and I was pleased to hear that they use keycodes on the room doors instead of investing in plastic room keys. Any reduction of unnecessary plastic is exciting to me and that alone would get me to come back to this hotel. We got to our room, which was unexpectedly labeled the “Zoo Room”. It was decorated with reprints of old adverts for the Antwerp Zoo which was on the other side of the train station, as well as current pictures of some of the wildlife there. If we would have gotten more than a couple hours there I would have insisted to Boyfriend that we go look at animals, but we opted instead for showers and a walk around the city before he had to log in to work for a few hours.

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The room itself was obviously bigger than CityHub, but not the size of rooms that we Americans are accustomed to. Still, it was a good size for two people, especially for a night. We had a big window that we could crack to regulate the temperature a bit. The beds were actually a double below a loft single, so if a group of people wanted to share a room they absolutely could do it. The water pressure in the shower was great, the temp was good, and the room was pretty efficiently designed. The shower and toilet were in separate close spaces, with the sink facing the bed.

Something I wish we had realized early in the trip (and we didn’t until 3 weeks in) is that the “Battery Saver” on your phone doesn’t prevent you from playing games or getting data – it just stops things like vibration when a new Pokemon appears. Only our second time exploring the city, we didn’t think ahead and pack our “brick” (our power pack), so Pokemon was limited since I was also navigating us with Google Maps and I wanted to be sure to have the ability for pictures. My type of city exploring is “Ooo! That looks neat!” or “Ooo! There’s a raid!” {Walk there]. We were going to try a raid near the zoo and then go from there.

It’s why I called it a City of Gold. I felt like we were seeing gilded buildings everywhere we looked. It was beautiful.

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We passed that Starbucks again and it turned out to be the 10 year anniversary of that store, so they were giving away “A free latte, cappuccino, or caramel macchiato to every guest”. I was absolutely astounded, and I can only imagine the kind of staffing and stocking nightmare that must have been.

Baristas of Starbucks Antwerp: You are heroes. You dealt with lines out the door from sun up to sun down, and at the end of the day as you hosed down the floor, we saw you smiling and laughing with one another. And we thought two things: 1) How many liters of milk were used? 2) Oh what it must be like to make a decent wage and not hate a day like that.

Continuing!

So the raid was a bust (it was deep in the zoo and unreachable) so we turned left and when we saw gilded things, just angled that direction. Antwerp is a great city to walk. It was the second time (and we would have more) where we noticed a large walking, shopping district very close to the train station. We just picked a direction. There were wonderful smells, tempting treats, and so many stores I wanted to run into.

The mix of old and new you will see in Belgium always amuses me. Gilded statues of cherubs and angels sitting atop gothic style trusses which adorn the local H&M just seem out of places. The iron gates of past court members now protect chocolate shops and retail jewelry stores. We ended up in a shopping district, passing the delicious smells of burgers, Middle Eastern fair, and confectionaries. Every block had a coffee shop, and we found a few ice cream parlors as well. Chocolate and bakeries were everywhere. Jewelry stores were everywhere. We were torn between chasing down Mr Mime and stopping to listen to the street musicians squeezing their accordians.

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There is a Belgian waffle cart by a fountain (the fountain was not running) on Meir Street in the mains shopping district, and I recommend you stop there for your Liege (the better kind) waffles. Liege waffles have the rough looking edges and are often handheld or have simple ingredients (like Belgian Chocolate). Brussels waffles are the big’uns with lots of stuff loaded on top. I am one for simplicity. Gimme dat Liege waffle! The lady working inside was super nice and helpful. She took card and cash, so no worries if you haven’t hit up the ATM yet.

Today was the first day that we had to balance tourism with Boyfriend’s work schedule so we wandered back towards the hotel after walking around for about two hours. The plan was for him to work for a bit, then we would go back out and have dinner.

As we circled back, I found myself needing to hit up the ‘WC’ but public restrooms are a little hard to come by in this part of the world (and if you find them, you often have to pay 40 cents), so we dipped into the first private cafe we found. Which was about three steps after I realized I needed to potty.

If you are a coffee drinker: GET THEE TO EUROPE.

We just happened upon Sébastien, a little spot with some grab and go food, but also with fantastic espresso drinks and decadent desserts. How will you know you’re at the right place? There is a giant wall down Eiermarkt with ANTWERPEN grafittied. I am still mad at myself for not getting a picture.

Moving forward to the evening: Because of being so near the train station, everywhere we looked was really expensive for dinner. Stoopid tourists. All the restauarants had about the same ratings, and we didn’t want to venture too far from the hotel so we kind of picked one at random. The decor was lovely, the meat and cheese appetizer was great, and the dinner itself was pretty tasty. They had a good selection of beer, but all at tourist prices (which definitely disappointed me, but I should not have been surprised).

 

Dinner was excellent, the beer (and cider) were very good. Our palates were refining still and shaking off the American sugar needs. Boyfriend kept referring to how he could feel his reliance on sugar fading as we ate more meals that just automatically came with salad and didn’t have sugar sprinkled on top. We started with a meat and cheese bowl and whilst at home tube meat does not do it for me, Europe’s is the finest. Boyfriend got a “Typically Belgium” pototo steamer, sausage, and gravy. I got a “Salad Hawaii” because honestly I needed as many veggies as they were willing to give me.

They were good. They weren’t mind blowing, but it was a very yummy way to start Belgium. The ambience was fantastic, and if the prices were better, I would see that being a spot for locals to hang out, but it seemed to be a lot of tourist groups, business people, and celebrations.

Once we finally got the bill (they were short staffed and running around like mad), we made our way back to the hotel and we had a quiet rest of the evening. Brussels was next up. In the morning, we had paid for the ibis Budget Hotel’s breakfast and quite honestly? WORTH IT. At first glance it looks like a “typical Continental Breakfast” like one might see in an American hotel, but the bread was higher quality, there’s the all-so-common espresso/latte machine, and fresh meats and cheeses too. If it had a waffle maker, that would be the only way it could have made our morning better.

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TO BRUSSELS!!

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The inside of Antwerpen Centraal

 

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