Friday, September 06, 2013

Antwerpen

Working backwards...

I was trying to rush my way to the train station to catch an 8:08pm train to Antwerp, but along the way I realized I should slow down and catch the train I should catch.  I slowly collected my stuff from the hostel and made my way back to the Gare du Nord train station.  I arrived at 8:58, and noticed there was a train at 9:04pm to Antwerp.  But my American credit card sans chip would not work in the machine.  I had to run to the Quick- local fast food joint, to get change for a ticket.  I got the necessary change and pumped my euros into the machine with enough time to run to platform 11 to hop the train to Antwerp.

I got on, but as we slowly pulled out I noticed an L on the train, and saw a bevy of stops ahead of Antwerp.  When the ticket checker came around, I asked her how long to Antwerp.  She said we would arrive in about an hour.  About 30 minutes more than I had expected, since I had caught a local train.  She explained that in a stop in two further ahead named Mechlen, where I could change to a direct train.  While I debated using the extra time to write, I felt it best to switch and get to Antwerp sooner rather than later.

I hopped off at Mechlen, and checked the screen.  The kind conductor jumped off as well to help me figure out where to go.  Another, more direct train, was scheduled in 4 minutes just 3 platforms away.  I made my way subterranean and back above ground to catch the faster train.  I hopped on the train and searched for an open seat.  A Flemish fellow and I sat down at the same time, and laughed about it.  He said he was going to doze off, and asked me to wake him at the first Antwerp stop.  We sped through the kriek (dark cherry) night towards Antwerpen.

I woke my sleeping compadre, and he jumped up, thanked me and hopped off the train.  I went one more stop to the Antwerp Central Station.  I rode the escalators up, then over (how strange!) and then up again to the exit of the ornate station.  I walked out, thinking I knew where I was going.  Googlemaps always makes it look so easy...

I stopped to ask where the street I needed to follow was.  Immediately, as I chatted with the Flemms I realized I had crossed that great divide.  I was in Germanic Europe now, not Latin.  The tall beautiful blond Flemmes searched for the directions on their phones, but where lost to help.  I wandered around for a while before finding my way on Melstraat (Milk Street) towards my Argentine oasis- Bar Buenos Aires. I wandered and wandered, stopping for a chicken durrum (Turkish burrito) kebap to tide over my hunger.  When I put my stuff down, I got an earful from the Kurd behind the counter about my Turkish flag t-shirt.  So it goes- don't run a shop that advertises Turkish cuisine if you don't like the Turks.  He made me repeat a slogan for Ocalan.  I did so to avoid my kebap being spit in.  Everyone loves the Turkish flag t-shirt, save for the Armenians and the Kurds, who I always seem to bump into when wearing it.

I found my way to Bar Buenos Aires- a veritable outpost of Argentine culture in Antwerp.  My friend Phillipe owns the joint.  I traveled with him in Malaysia and Thailand, before he headed south.  He fell in love with Argentina, and decided to open an outpost of Argentine culture in Antwerp.  The fun bar was celebrating the 20th birthday of the daughter of his Argentine business partner Alejandro.  We sat out on the patio, drinking Fernet y coca as the spanish-speaking crowd partied on.  We ate delicious birthday cake and cleaned up to call it a night.  I crashed on the couch of Alejandro's place, as Phillipe lived a bit outside the city and Alejandro had more space to host.

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