Read about this trip from the start – here.
|Arriving in Anterwerp via the waterways
I don’t know why, but I was expecting a bit of something when we crossed the border from the Netherlands into Belgium. At least a sign saying you’re leaving one country and passing into another. There was nothing. We had to check the map to see where we were and discovered we had popped into Belgium. Without even knowing it.
Heading toward Antwerp it was becoming decidedly industrialized. We also started wearing our lifejackets in the locks as they are deeper – and it’s a Belgian recommendation. And then we got to Antwerp harbour. The second biggest harbour in the world – after Rotterdam – before Hamburg. We motored over 16 kilometres straight through the harbour and everywhere you looked there was another branch or arm leading off – full of barges and ships. Antwerp has 13 057 hectares of harbour. Some stats from 2010 show that Antwerp harbour turns over 40 ships, 156 barges and 250 train loads of goods per day. No wonder barges were going past Tholen all night long.
And again I was expecting to go through immigration, have my passport checked. My husband specifically asked the havenmeester (harbour master) about this. We didn’t want a problem as a result of not being stamped in. The havenmeester phoned his local authority and was told we needn’t worry. Certainly the opposite of how it works at airports – but there you go. This havenmeester has his very own dinghy and he races out to meet the incoming boats as the bridge opens and guides them into free spaces in Willemdok marina. Very helpful that. He was a friendly guy with a John Wayne accent when he spoke English. He probably honed his pronouciations listening to American movies.
|Havenmeester coming to meet the boats
Have I mentioned how much we loved being in the Netherlands? It’s organised, everything works. The people are the country’s biggest asset. Direct but friendly. And now after three summers we were in Belgium. We went for a quick walkabout in Antwerp and stopped for a drink. A Belgian beer of course. And it hit us – Belgium is different. I would expect a contrast between Sweden/Norway and Italy/Spain. But Belgium is right next door to Holland. They speak almost the same language. Yet the people are different in manner and even appearance. The architecture and style was not the same. I had gotten used to bending my brain to understand Dutch and now I couldn’t undertand Flemish. We went back to the boat and sat on the deck, glass of wine in hand chatting and listening to the sound of laughter and water lapping on the boats tied up. It was one place we could get some relief from the sticky heat.
Our first priority in Antwerp was to get the mariphone fixed. On our way into Antwerp my other half had tried to radio the bridge operator on his mariphone and there was no reply. We figured s/he wasn’t interested in us. Luckily as we got to the bridge he motioned us over and said the protocol was to call him on the VHF. Which we had done. A few times. My husband had eventually phoned. Turned out our mariphone wasn’t working. The following day, I left my husband to find a marine supplies shop and do his best while I went exploring. Access in and out the marina was via a card. We arranged that I would text him to let me back in. Fortunately my husband was able to figure out the mariphone problem. The wiring in the boat is 21 years old and the cable had disintegrated. He replaced the aerial and wiring. He also managed to get the float on the fuel gauge going. Boating is more than just cruising the canals.
Meanwhile I met a bunch of vegans at an animal anti-cruelty outreach in Antwerp and they had suggested some vegan eateries for us to try. That evening I treated my other half to a meal and a glass of wine. We were both tired and went back to the boat early. There was a sprinkle of rain which cooled the air.
The havenmeester had given us a map and a booklet of what was happening in Antwerp. We liked the idea of a city walk which takes place at 14.00pm from the Tourist Info office – Tue to Sat in high season – and lasts 3 hours. The information office said it was €7 per person if you pre-booked. Or €9 per person if you pitched up on the day. Only thing was they do the tours – in two languages per tour. They also had a guide book for €5 which lets you to do your own thing. Luckily they had an English book. We opted for the book which allowed us to explore at our own pace. In English only. And at 1/3 of the price. We somehow managed to drag the walk out to 5 hours by which time we were exhausted, so raced through the last few pages. There’s a LOT of information to take in. Each museum or historical place expects an entrance fee. We poked our nose in those places but didn’t venture in.
The nice thing about following a proper guide versus just wandering about is you get to see places you would never have known about. And find out about their role in history and modern times. The bad thing about this guide is the directions were not clear. Not sure if it was due to a poor translation from Flemmish to English? Or if the writer assumed the visitor would have a detailed map as well as the guide? Thank goodness my other half has a MapsMe app on his smart-phone. It doesn’t need data. You load up maps of your intended destination and then refer to them when you need them. You can delete them when you’re done with that part of the workd. Without that app we would never have been able to do the walk. He also uses MapsMe on the waterways when he’s not sure about something on the nautical map. I use it to find a long straight road to go for the odd run so I don’t get lost. That app has been immensely valuable to us.
|Part of Antwerp Pride drive by
While we were doing our city walk, Antwerp was having a Pride festival. There was a Gay Vintage Car Club and members had decked their cars out in flags, flowers, feather boas, you name it. The drivers and passengers dressed up in bright colours. A pink satin suit with a pink feather hat to match was one of the colourful outfits we saw. There were lots of pop-up venues for eating, drinking and partying all over Antwerp.
The story continues – here.