So last Thursday I decided to go to Belgium. The next day I hopped on a bus and about ninety minutes later I was in Antwerp with 40-odd exchange students. (Going to another country with only one day’s preparation – *blows my Australian mind*). The Erasmus Student Network were running the show, and they did quite a good job getting everything to run smoothly despite having the unenviable task of prying dozens of hung-over students from their beds early in the morning.
When we turned up we were all going on about how nice the hostel was. It was certainly unexpected to be staying somewhere better than most hotels, especially we had only paid 80 euros total for the accommodation, transport and meals for the entire weekend.
The trip was packed with activities: a ghost tour, beer tasting (which was cancelled due to a bomb scare), the inevitable parties, and a trip to the fabulous MAS (pronounced “maahss”) museum. The exhibitions were thought-provoking, making me reconsider the relationship between myself, the city of Antwerp and the world at large (which was reflected in the museum’s architecture). It particularly made me think about death, the concept of god and the expression of power and prestige: each level contained physical representations of each of these themes from different cultures. It was a collection of answers to these unanswered questions, and the answers came from people in many different times and places. If the word “inspirational” wasn’t so overused, it would perfectly describe the MAS.
While the rest of the group went to the brewery for the afternoon (only to be disappointed), I headed off on my own for a spot of exploration. This was the highlight of my trip. I had a couple of things in mind to see, but it was while ambling around the centre that I stumbled across a great gallery. At first I didn’t know it was a gallery, but I followed some people heading into a cute little alleyway of sorts. (Pictured below). That gallery (called De Zwarte Panter http://www.dezwartepanter.com/) had some really nice pieces arranged in an interesting way – the exhibition was upstairs, downstairs, in a creepy cellar, and in the garden too. During the course of the afternoon I also sampled the obligatory waffle at a small café run by a little old lady. Not only that, but I ended up at a touristy yet classy chocolate shop which was in one half of a palace (while the other half was taken up by a swanky restaurant).
There was ice skating on the last day. On a sunny Sunday morning we walked across the city (through the Amsterdam-esque red light district, which prompted some shock and debate among the students) to take part in a spell of ice skating. The skating rink had a sense of foreboding about it for three reasons: it was on a badboot (a “bathing boat”, meaning the rink is converted into a pool in summer, but initially I just thought it was a comment on the integrity of the boat); the sun was melting the ice as were skating on it; and as we turned up an ambulance was taking someone away. Somewhat surprisingly (given that most of us were not used to skating, and that the wind was blowing us around the skating rink) there were no accidents that day.
The bus trip back to Utrecht was the best sleep I’d had for a while.