Talk to the hand...its over there...

Trip Start Jan 17, 2006
Trip End Dec 01, 2006

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Flag of Belgium  ,
Monday, April 10, 2006

Antwerp was different to Gent and Brugge and I like it, but I don't think I would choose to live there. Antwerp is much windier and colder than the other places in Belgium that I have been to. When I went there, I left Brugge with a t-shirt, because it was warm enough, but I was bitterly cold the whole day and I spent most of my time there trying to find a nice bar to escape the cold.

It is really interesting and unbelievable how different the people consider themselves to be even though they are less than an hour from each other. For example the people in Antwerp have a crazy dialect compared to the people of Brugge and I am told that if a foreigner learns Flemish from one particular city, they wouldn't be able to understand what the other people are saying. The Belgians from the east speak a mixture of Dutch and German and the people of the south speak Dutch with French mixed together and the north speaks more pure Dutch. This is really unbelievable to me because you spend more time driving from Perth to Margaret River than you do crossing the entire country. It's pretty funny actually, the manager got lost on the way to Brussels and ended up in Germany - Only in Europe...It is almost as if the people from each city go out of their way to be different from the other people because there is no other way that I can see that they wouldn't mix in together. There are also major breweries from each city that don't get sold anywhere else such as De Konick in Antwerp. Everyone there drinks it and it is actually pretty fantastic, but no one in Brugge would stock it because people would probably stop going to their bar.

Antwerp is much more like a real city than Brugge, because there is such an emphasis in Brugge on keeping it like the original medieval city for tourism, rather than having any major industry. It is situated on a massive river and it's main attraction is walking along the river, which everyone does. There are different sections that people live in and according to this tourism guide, they don't like to mix around with each other. On one side of the city, there is the city centre with the bell tower and the church (like every European city) and on the other side, the newer section with housing and other stuff that cities contain. Connecting them under the river is a 500m long tunnel that is meant for large flows of pedestrian and cycling traffic. It has wooden escalators that go down to the bottom and they you just walk down the straight line. It was very reminiscent of the film Irreversible for anyone who has seen it. I have included a photo, but it doesn't really capture the feeling of it. It was pretty funny actually how I discovered the tunnel: I was desperate to go to the toilet and I ran in there thinking it was an entrance to a train station where there are usually toilets. When I got downstairs, I was completely confused for about two minutes until I worked out what the hell it was.

The beers in Belgium that most people drink are like middies in Perth and they call them 'pinches' (not sure about the spelling). It is just a 250mL glass of the regular pilsner or lager. Most places have Maes, Primus or Jupiler and it was in Antwerp that I saw Stella Artois for the first time in Belgium. I think that it is more of a Walonia (southern province of Belgium) drink, simply because it has a French sounding name. The great thing about pinches is that they are small enough to drink for all night because the time that you spend waiting for the next beer is enough to ensure that you don't get too pissed. A pinche is also always an easy drinking beer that isn't too heavy in taste or alcoholic content. Jupiler is one such beer that is considered 'light' in alcoholic content by Belgians. For your information, Jupiler is 5.5% alcohol.

I would really like to go to Antwerp again, but at night because I can see that it has some really cool bars and clubbing districts. One of the big attractions for tourists is the red light district. I walked through it for a while whilst trying not to laugh. It is a copy of the one in Amsterdam with big buildings with lots of glass doors. Behind each door is a prostitute who makes eyes at men as they walk past. Some of the things they do to get your attention are pretty amusing, but I won't go into detail. When I was there, the time was about 2:00pm so I guess business was slow because half of the hookers were talking on their phones, sending SMS messages, doing their nails or simply talking to the girls next to them. I wasn't able to take photos because there is the whole thuggery thing going on there and if you were caught, I imagine the toughs would just take your camera off you and there wouldn't be much you could do about it.

In Antwerp, there is a statue/fountain where a guy has been slain and another dude is standing on top of him, has severed his hand and is about to throw it. Because of the colour of the statue, it doesn't really come out in the photo, but is really weird - out of the stumped arm, there are lots of water jets coming out and the head is the same - quite a violent thing to have in the main square. Just down the road, I saw a restaurant with a statue of a man beckoning you in. There are a few identical ones in Perth outside of The Greek and Valentinos except this one has had his hand severed, just like the statue.

Completely non-specific to Antwerp, but really cool were the basins of a bar I went to. There were stickers of an African kid and his mouth was the drain. One his forehead, was written (I translated this using my German, even though it is in Dutch) "You have drinkable water in less than a second, he has to walk 20km to get some: Drinkable water is a human necessity, help us help him". I thought this was an incredibly clever ad and it was unavoidable - unless you are a dirty person who doesn't wash their hands.

After visiting Antwerp, I came home to the going away drinks of some of my workmates. They were/still are a lovely Canadian couple with a quirky sense of humour that complemented mine nicely - we had a good time chewing the fat on various occasions. Sad to see them go, but I might go meet up with them somewhere and they are also coming back to Belgium some time in the future. A couple of days before I left, Ellen (Canadian girl) cut my hair when we were drunk and I think it came out surprisingly well, all things considered. You can tell that it wasn't done by a barber, but it has a nice scruffy look to it I think.

In the apartment now there are five Australians out of a total of six inhabitants. The other is a Canadian lady - ooh yeah, go the Commonwealth! We have done the right thing and hung an Australian flag in the window, so people know we are here haha. They are all cool people and it is really nice to be able to chat to people and speak Australian English and crack jokes that people actually understand. I don't think I ever understood how much slang we use at home because I have really had to change the way I talk, especially when I speak to Americans, because they simply don't get it. So that is nice to be able to converse normally for once. The downside of living with all Aussies, is that it makes me feel at home, but without the people that I don't know, so I have started to miss my friends over the last day - It happens sometimes, but it is all good. I don't know if that makes sense to anyone else, but it does to me!

I am really looking forward to the world cup: can almost smell it.

Other than that, nothing major to report.
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