Saturday, January 20, 2007

Weekend: Antwerp errands and sightseeing

We're staying put this weekend and doing some local exploring. The director of the JMU Study Abroad program arrived yesterday and will be here for a week, showing us the ropes.

Last evening (Friday) we went to a neat Scottish pub called The Highlander on Prinsesstraat. It's the meeting place of BATS, the British Amateur Theatre Society, and a fellow JMU staff member here in Antwerp says it has a "Cheers" atmosphere in terms of the regulars who get to know one another. The girls came along and tried the macaroni and cheese (makaroni-kaas) which is their favorite, while I had a nice plate of spaghetti bolognese. I was thankful for the boisterous atmosphere because it meant the girls didn't have to whisper their way through the meal. We're really trying to limit dining out so that they can relax when it's time to eat. It's only fair, when so much is expected of them.

Later last evening, John attended a meeting of the Antwerp American Club as a guest of Mr. K. It's the 2nd oldest such society of its type in Belgium, second only to the Brussels chapter. There used to be a substantial American community here, but the club has dwindled to eight members (perhaps today's American expats just don't have interest in joining). John spoke to one 88-year-old member who is a WW2 veteran who did the Mermansk run as a merchant mariner. He enjoyed the evening, being the sort who is genuinely interested in people and the stories of how they came to be where they are.

Me? I stayed in to watch "The Italian Job" on tv while the girls slept. It was nice just to chill and do nothing. And I love a good heist movie.

This morning we had some errands to run and marketing to do, so we split into separate teams and set off about 10am. John and JieJie went to the grocery store with the grocery caddy on wheels. MeiMei and I went to a store called Unif on the Quellinstraat, where we were able to locate gym shoes and tights that fit MeiMei. She's so tiny, the smallest gym shoe they sell is a size larger than she takes, but not by much. Yesterday we'd found JieJie's tights at a department store on the Meir called Inno, but they didn't have anything smaller.

On the way back from Unif, I had a Navigational Light Bulb Moment! Antwerp had really thrown me this week. Normally I have a fairly reliable sense of direction, but the streets have a way of curving and shifting that keeps messing with my internal compass. Finally this morning I looked down from the Teniers Plaats and saw the tail end of the Meir shopping street! MeiMei and I followed Leysstraat to the Meir and found our way home, stopping en route for a chocolate croissant of course.

When we got home, John and JieJie had returned from the Super GB with goodies for the week: new kinds of meat and cheese to try, some Muesli with chocolate and other treats.

Lunch, then quiet time + orientation meeting, and then John headed out on a program errand. The girls and I had a quick snack before making our way down the 51 steps to the street and making our way to the Grote Markt, a major stop for tourists.

On the way, we followed our noses into a beautiful church: The Carrolus Borromeuskerk, which overlooks a beautiful little cobblestone square called the Hendrik Conscienceplein. I found an exterior shot on for your viewing pleasure. It is a beautiful church, built by Jesuits in the 1600's according to my Essential Antwerp guide (AAA Publishing, 2001). The inside was also pleasant and the girls hushed their voices almost instinctively as we walked in. Soft vocal music was playing as we made a donation and lit a candle. It occurred to me that we will be visiting no small number of houses of worship on our trip, so it's not too early to practice the proper way to do so. The painting above the altar was beautiful too, very dramatic with lots of Heavenly Light. Found a picture of this too on flickr!

After our visit to the church, we crossed the square to the Stadts Bibliotheek (City Library) which has a beautiful room filled with old books and busts of famous Antwerp citizens. Right now it has an exhibit of a contemporary book binding artist's work.

We headed back out through a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets that opened onto the Grote Markt. It's a beautiful square. Gilded guildhall buildings surround a large cobblestone square and in the center is the statue depicting the legend that supposedly gave Antwerp its name. The statue shows a man named Brabo getting ready to throw a giant's hand (Hant-Werpen would mean Hand Throwing, shorten it and you get Antwerpen) into the Schelde River, saving the city from the giant's wrath. JieJie wanted to see the monster's arm where the hand came from (of course) so we walked around til we saw the poor giant with the big owie.

On the way home we stopped for a piece of chocolate. I got white chocolate filled with butterscotch-caramel. MeiMei picked a chocolate bear filled with chocolate creme, and JieJie couldn't make up her mind--she is a discriminating shopper--so we helped her choose a chocolate rocking horse with chocolate nut filling.

We found our way home no problem (yay!) though JieJie's tantrum, which is still going on at this writing, began about three blocks from the apartment and had something to do with needing a Band-Aid but is really about being physically and mentally tired. Still, we can't get her to rest before a planned dinner out with the director at a local rib joint, so I'll be sitting this one out. I'd rather miss a restaurant dinner than spend the whole thing scolding two tired troupers who need a good night's sleep. Them's the's easier to do the right thing knowing we have several more months to visit these places.

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