Erwin did it like this.

Trip Start Jan 31, 2010
Trip End Jul 21, 2010

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Erwin's Floor

Flag of Belgium  , Antwerpen,
Saturday, June 12, 2010

We run a little late this morning, though I cannot work out how. Erwin and Valentine must rush out the door to check out a TV unit they hope to include in their house. I'm left to an empty house, so I get all domestic and clean a little, reoganising the piles of things I’ve been collecting and fixing the kitchen a little.

After a morning stroll along the water we make our way up to try for the cave walk Kate mentioned a few days ago. Erwin and Valentine sharing comments on the couple they are purchasing from, the house they stay in, everything but the TV unit they went to see. Both are convinced the couple are lesbians, but for very different reasons. Neither find it a problem or anything; it’s just strange how they see the different signs in the conversations and actions. They both plead their case, but I’m not choosing unless I meet them myself.

The cave walk is not meant to be. From behind his glass screen the man behind the desk informs us there are no free spots in the groups today, and it will most likely not be in English. If there had been two Erwin could have pitched in with a translation, but it’s not so. We find Kate as she sets out to collect the current tour, telling us the groups have asked for German instead, so the language barrier would have been even thicker than Flemish. Oh well.

I cannot say if the couple is as both Erwin and Valentine say, but their place is nice and they have a wicked view of the museum across the road. Valentine mentioned the green out the window with a hint of jealousy, but I see that out both their sets of windows.

The TV unit makes it up the stairs. Just. It’s a process of lift and carry on small flight of steps. Stop. Turn. Plan. Turn. Lean. Move towel to reduce scratching. Lift and repeat. It totally suits the rest of the furniture in the room and fits the pieces perfectly.

With the afternoon to ourselves Erwin and I head to the printing museum, Erwin with a collection of the past few days papers to catch up on in some nice quiet place he hopes to find. I cannot remember the lat time I read the paper, they’re not really words to me.

The place is amazing. I loved Groningen for its printing museum, the fact the machines were still used today. While no longer in use the printing Museum in Antwerp tells much more about the family printing company and how they survived through the ages as other came and went. The secret to a long lasting business that can ride the ups and downs of the paper industry is contacts – namely that of the church to print bibles for. . So the trick is to stick to religious books and science books – the church will always have money to pay, and facts often remain the same, keeping the book in print. There is a collection of old school prayer books with elegantly detailed pages and covers. Seeing this make me want to make books from scratch.

Here I see what is to become the birth of the humanist script, a lettering that is derived from the handwritten letters but re-rewritten and made into moulds and counter forms. I lose track of time, but a pretty sure it’s been a few hours. I’ve lost Erwin, a quick lap of the place again and a few nervous moments outside waiting for him and decide to move on, reckoning he’ll call if he’s lost somewhere. I rush back to find my phone, discovering no he has not called, so I do instead.

Finding Valentine marking papers in the sunshine I invite her out with us, and she hopes to catch up where ever we are after the pile is somewhat diminished. I find Erwin out the front of the museum again – a had not looked in the garden, where else would he be? – and we make our way down the busy weekend streets towards a gallery space owned and run by the Black Panther group, an artist group featuring photography, painting and sculpture. The space has at least three different areas to move around, the first of which is a reconditioned church. Wicked.

From here it’s a very short walk to the underground tunnel noted the first day I arrived. Two escalators take you down what feels like three stories to an underground tunnel, completely tiled and well kept. The acoustics are amazing - the map mentions a late night of kebab followed by early morning staggering down in the tunnel, blasting out your favourite ballads a loud as you can. I cannot find the same vibration frequency I could with Tim and Francoise. Valentine catches up when we’re about half way along, the tunnel, her footsteps a faster rhythm than any other on the concrete. The escalators on the other side make more noise and this carries down the tunnel, making the machines sound very intimidating like gnashing teeth.

Out on the other side and we walk to the water’s edge. Here with a brilliant view of the city skyline with all the notable buildings in view. In front of us is a small square of concrete jutting out into the water. Hanging down one side is a knotted length of rope. All the upper body strength I may have gained shoveling horseshit in Sweden is long gone as I reconsider trying to pull myself up. Oh well.

Back under the water and we make our way through a big loop of the city. I think I know where we are, then don’t then do, then don’t, then admit defeat and simply follow, trying to take in some sort of bearings as we go.

Antwerp has one very famous bakery. The longest running bakery in the city, it’s known for its simplicity of products – bread with raisins in it. People are queuing out the door for it, so I’m not going to assume anything about it just yet. Apparently big companies have attempted to buy out the shop and even steal the recipe. It’s like Willy Wonka with bakery goods.

From here we make our way down to Antwerp’s Botanical Garden. Mentioned on the day of my arrival, this is another of Erwin’s favourite places to sit and relax and watch the world. The blue sky is now full of a green canopy above us as Erwin and I sit on a bench to the side of the lawn. Erwin stops whatever we were talking about, breaking the bread in front of me and in the most serious of voices.

"You know, Jesus did it like this."

He hands me the loaf and Valentine comes running when she hears the laughter. Erwin you are mad.

The sunshine is magical, the botanists are at work rearranging plants and several small groups and families are taking up the available space. Summer is coming.

Getting bits for dinner, we use the local grocers and butchers. Erwin is very big on the idea of using these places over the supermarket, which may have everything on offer but often fails in terms of quality while cutting out the smaller distributors at the same time. The butcher is freaking amazing, talking with Erwin at length about the best kinds and cuts of meats for cooking, something the supermarket butcher, pimpled and pubescent, may do very little.

On the final stretch and Erwin points me into the Recycle Shop he spoke of that I had trouble finding. I was looking in the wrong place; it’s further down that I realise. The shop if freaking amazing! The bike chain chair looks terrible uncomfortable but I’m told otherwise by Erwin. The walls are lined with recycled goods turned into folders, bags, lampshades, picture frames and more. I want to buy all of it. I want to show all of it to everyone. I want to make all of it. I cannot wait to get home.

The sun is slowly setting; perfect for the most amazing thing you can do in Antwerp. Mentioned on the map and heavily endorsed by Erwin, we get some beers and make our way to the water. Sitting amongst the parked cars on the water’s edge we enjoy the last of the sun's rays and relax. The sun sets slowly, a cool wind begins. We hide our discomfort with talk of television and movies. The sun disappears behind a cloud momentarily. The hairs on my arm start to stand up. The sun is out again. Then hidden. Then out. Then hidden. The cars teeter precariously along the edge of the carpark once more. Then out. People weave between the parked cars towards the carnival amusement park down the end we passed on our way home. It make me think of the one on Phillip island, full of people unsure why they came to an island made of beach to go to a carnival when there are better ones at home. Then hidden. We give ourselves another twenty minutes then head back with the sun just about to touch the horizon line.

The rest of the evening is spent trading music and talking of travel and time. Late into the night I look up from my laptop to find Erwin tying himself to a table, practicing his knots for rock climbing tomorrow.

Valentine’s shallow breathing comes from the chair, curled up with a good book.
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