niina.amniisia » bits, pieces and photos from sydney, australia and elsewhere
antwerp and cologne 0108


Late Saturday night, August 18, I boarded a Eurolines bus from London Victoria to Antwerp – a full load of drowsy grumpy people and they decide to show us ‘Easy Rider’. At the edge of England, our bus drives in to a large metal box to cross the channel on a vehicle train – I was expecting a road in a tunnel – and I must have nodded off, randomly waking during the rest of the journey vaguely noticing foreign road signs.

6am – Antwerp : very tired and an exhausted headache throbbing at me, backpack on my back, I wandered a few streets to find central station, withdrew some money from a cash machine, and sat on a bench wondering what now.

(Grote Markt and Antwerp Town Hall at about 7am)

The next couple of hours were spent walking around Antwerp waiting for the city to wake up. At 9.30 I called the Boomerang Youth Hostel, they had beds he said but the room would not be ready until 11. I went for a quick coffee, dropped off my bag, wandered a little more, and returned to Boomerang at 11.

Dorm 4 : 6 sets of bunk beds in the room and a few peoples remnants lieing about. Quick shower (cold and icky), stuff my backpack in my locker, and off to wander some more.

(one of the bunks in the Boomerang dorm / a street in Antwerp)

Lunch at Grote Markt where I notice that the battery I’d charged up for my video camera was nearly empty – in my earlier sleepiness I’d accidentally left it recording for a full tapeload so I had less than 10 minutes battery life for my entire holiday.

More wandering for the evening, dinner at Groen Plaats, returning to Boomerang around 11pm still sporting a headache and additionally very sore feet and a blister forming on my left big toe. The light didn’t work in the toilet and there was no toilet paper so I took another walk to a corner store to buy a candle and toilet paper. Having never stayed at a youth hostel before, I didn’t quite know what to expect – I should have followed my Lonely Planet’s advice and brought along a torch.

(Groen Plaats and a tram)

I decided to sleep in a top bunk to rehash childhood memories. It took a while to fall asleep and I must have started waking up at about 5am because after I’d been dozing and waking up for quite some time, I jumped out of bed, checked my mobile which said it was 5.30 in London (so 6.30 in Antwerp). When I properly woke up I realised that no one else had come in to the room during the night – a whole dorm to myself – that made up for the oddness of the place.

A shower (warm this time, but still icky) and then off walking.

Every time I walked past an underground metro station the escalators weren’t moving – a lot of broken escalators I presumed – but when I decided to walk down them to buy a day ticket, a metallic clink as I stepped on a plate at the top and the escalator begun to move. Ingenious!

With my day ticket, I took random metro trains, trams and busses criss-crossing the city finding parks, going across the Schelde river, south to Zuid (nothing around so I swiftly jumped on the next tram back) and south-east through a jewish area. On the river-edge, I saw a US Car Club gathering with a carpark full of all sorts of automobiles, big and slick.

Sitting outside the Kids Rhythm and Blues Kaffe I noticed a strange recycling system : a man with a big wheelie bin went up to these tubes in the ground, three with green rims, one with white, and he put all the green and brown bottles in to the green tube, and clear bottles in to the white tube. A woman with a carrier bag came along and did the same. Logic told me that the contents of the wheelie bin wouldn’t fit in to such a small tube so there must be some sort of underground collection bin for the glass. Ingenious yet again!

(I found a cat inside a shop window)

More fantastic food, more wandering, returning back to Boomerang and another night alone in dorm 4 (I saw perhaps a dozen people wander through over the two days).

Waking up I counted 21 mosquito bites.

and then on to Cologne

Tuesday morning I walked back to Central Station and bought a train ticket to Cologne (I almost threw a coin to decide between Cologne and Brugge but decided I might as well see another country considering it was so close). Had a mild heart attack when the train pulled in to Mechelen, waited a while and then took off backwards! Thankfully the next stop turned out to be Leuven (as it was meant to be) where I changed to a very comfortable train through to Cologne.

(Leuven station)

Disorientated on arrival around 5pm, I took out some money and went to a cafe in the station to try and decide what to do. Two years of rusty high school German floated back. My Lonely Planet came in handy again as I decided to call a youth hostel called Station – it had a very brief write up but it was only a few streets away from the train station. Yes they had beds in dorms and single rooms.

I fell in love with the place when I walked in – it looked like what I wanted a youth hostel to look like. Friendly staff behind the desk, comfortable lounge chairs, lots of pamphlets and maps on the walls and a blackboard announcing what was happening in town that night. I decided on a single room and was not disappointed. Despite being on the fourth floor (legs were very sore from all my walking by now), as I ascended progressively between floors they had placed a map of Cologne, then a map of Germany, a map of Europe, and finally a map of Europe by night. There were also photos of the owners doing up the building to transform it in to the Station.

(a notice and my lovely bed in the yellow and blue room at the Station backpacker’s hostel)

My room was painted half yellow, half blue. There were curtains on both windows. The bed was solid and had the biggest (size wise, not as in chunky and uncomfortable) pillow I’ve ever seen on a bed. A bedside lamp. A mirror. I was in heaven. The toilet down the hall was impeccable (the light worked and it had toilet paper), the shower was warm even though it was 6pm.

(the Dom – raising to 157m, it survived WWII intact)

I found the main shopping strip and bought a few t-shirts, ate outside another restaurant (the restaurants without outdoor seating were all empty as I went past, understandable in the gorgeous sunshine).

As I walked around later, there seemed to be a busker on every corner : guitarists ; girl groups ; accordian players ; string quartets.

Wandering around cobblestone roads was doing my feet in even more, and my right knee felt like it was about to fall off sideways. Trying to sleep on Tuesday night was torturous as any way I lay my knee ached.

(The Rhein in the evening and Central Station at night)

Appel strudle and coffee for breakfast, more wandering, discovered Lipton Peach Ice Tea (mmm), ate Bratwurst with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes by the Rhein, spent a bit too long lazing in the 28 degree sun and my shoulders shone red by evening.

Finished reading Dead Cat Bounce and slept perfectly.

Thursday morning I took a train from Cologne, changed at Leuven and all seemed fine until the stop after Mechelen wasn’t what I expected it to be! I checked my train map, I couldn’t understand how I’d ended up on the wrong train, but realised I could go a few stops further to St Niklaas and change there for Antwerp but a ticket collector came along, told me I was on the wrong train, looked disapprovingly at me, and told me to change at St Niklaas (I pretended I hadn’t noticed). A man sitting across the aisle explained to me that at Mechelen the train split in two – the front half went to St Niklaas and the back half went to Antwerp – but they didn’t announce it in English so of course I didn’t realise.

(The train at Leuven / accidentally in St Niklaas)

Arrived in Antwerp at 4pm and had to kill 7.5 hours before my bus back to London would arrive. More aimless wandering, watched a film crew at work in Central Station, noticed two young guys walk past holding a boombox, finished reading the second Harry Potter (which I’d begun that morning), drank ice tea sitting outside cafes trying to figure out the best way to spend the measly few coins I had remaining.

Finally the bus arrived at 11.15pm, I jumped on board and felt bad sitting next to someone who was slightly spread out dozing over two seats (the bus had already travelled quite a few hours from Amsterdam). I expected to cross over to England on the metal box again but this time we went by ferry. 90 minutes from Calais to Dover and I spent most of my time outside on the deck watching the 2/3am night sky.

(Early Friday morning ferry looking back at Calais)

The rigmarole of customs seemed to take forever, our passports were checked a few times (was it three?) and we had to wait around while our bus was searched and luggage xrayed. The whole thing took about an hour and it was not the most enjoyable thing to be doing at 4am in the morning.

I dozed again, waking up around Lewisham and bleary eyed watched the bus wind through London.