It’s a train! And it’s not in Leuven station either, is it?
Yes, I’ve been out and about today, and on my travels too. Nothing like a nice afternoon out, a change of scenery, a change of ideas and all of that. And to somewhere that I haven’t been for ages and which I quite like too.
Doesn’t this all make a change?
All in all, it was a really good day up to a certain point. Especially as I’d had a really good night’s sleep.
I was in bed reasonably early last night (something like 22:30 if I remember correctly) and more-or-less straight asleep. And the next thing that I remember was that it was 06:45. That was totally painless – I’ll tell you that. I’d been on my travels as well but don’t ask me where I went and what I did because I remember nothing at all.
And by 08:15 I’d breakfasted and even been down the road to the boulanger for my Sunday baguette. That’s what I call “organised”. I spent the rest of the morning working on my blog and by the time that I’d finished, it was completely up-to-date.
That on its own deserved a reward. And it was a beautiful day too, with not a cloud in the sky.
And so I hit the streets.
This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Belgium (yes, I’m still in Belgium) and I bet that you won’t know as what it serves until I tell you. You’ll never guess.
It’s not a palace, a court of an art gallery or a museum, but it is in fact a railway station – one of the most beautiful in the world. Antwerp Central railway station it is, and it’s a monument to everything that is great and good about Belgian architecture.
It took 10 years to build – from 1895 to 1905 – and replaced the original railway station that had been the terminus of one of the very first railway lines in the country.
And although you might not think so, it was hit by a German V2 rocket during World War II. While no significant damage appeared to have been caused, the shock waves from the blast had undermined the stability of the roof, which then in the early 1980s started to sag alarmingly.
The roof of the train shed is one of the most magnificent parts of a most magnificent building. It covers 12,000m² and was designed by Clément van Bogaert. To have demolished it (or even to have demolished the station, which at one time was being seriously discussed) would have been nothing short of an act of deliberate vandalism.
But wiser heads prevailed.The station was closed for a short while in the late 1980s and the glass was replaced by polycarbonate, which is about half of the weight of the glass and which seems to have resolved the problem.
We have seen on our travels around the Northern hemisphere some totally disgraceful acts of vandalism as classic railway stations have been butchered or even demolished to make way for the 21st Century.
Here in the Antwerp Central Railway station, they have been solving the problem of expansion in a way that is so simple and so straightforward that it’s a wonder that no other railway network or modern architect has tried it.
What they did was simply to expand downwards. The railway station is built on four levels – the newest and most modern level, to accommodate the TGVs, is on the fourth level down. It’s all so simple, isn’t it?
I went outside into the sunshine, because it really was a nice day. Here, I’m in the Meir
But we can’t go off down the Meir without looking backwards at this gorgeous building. yes, you’ve guessed – it’s the Antwerp Central Station again, designed by Louis Delacenserie, the city architect of Bruges and who was responsible for the restoration of the magnificent buildings in that city. And you can see why I’ve placed the station so highly on my list of magnificent buildings.
And if you look carefully at the plaque just above the entrance arch, you’ll see (although you can’t see it in this photo) the word Middenstatie – Middle Station in Flemish. That’s the original name of the Railway Station.
And then I had a sudden shock. I’d noticed the time. I’d been so engrossed in what I was doing with the Central Station that I had completely overlooked the real purpose of my visit to the city.
I needed the tram 5, and I had worked out the route that it took, and so I headed off to a nearby tram stop to wait.
Suddenly, I had a flash of inspiration. I walked around the corner and there was a flight of stairs leading down. I hadn’t realised this, and how I ground my teeth when I had worked it out, that trams 2,3,5 and 6 are called the “Metro” and they run through the city underground – not on the surface where I had been waiting.
And so about 20 minutes later than I had hoped to be, I finally discovered the underground metro system and then had to wait 10 minutes for my tram.
Damn and blast!
And here I am in Deurne, on the outskirts of the city. And this is the Bosuilstadion, the home of Royal Antwerp Football Club.
This was my destination for this afternoon and I’ve finally made it, 20 minutes after kick-off. And my odyssey isn’t over yet, because being so late, all of the ticket booths are closed.
A steward directed me to an office where I had to argue my way into the ground (I’m impressed with how much my Flemish is improving) and I ended up having to pay €25:00 for en expensive seat. They wouldn’t let me into the cheap seats.
And by the time that I finally entered the ground, I’d missed almost all of the first half. and I’d missed two goals too. 1-1 it was when I finally took my seat.
All of that I’d missed, and for €25:00 too. I fancied a cup of coffee after all of my exertions, but the unexpected €10:00 over what admission to the cheap seats would have cost me had cleaned me out.
I was not having a very good day today.
I didn’t mention that the reason for my coming here was that OH Leuven was playing away against Royal Antwerp. That’s them in the black strip – Royal Antwerp in the white and red.
I’ve been without my football fix for two months now and the easy accessibility of trains, the proximity of Antwerp to Leuven and the glorious weather was more than enough to entice me out of my cocoon to watch the action, such a sit might have been.
The Royal Antwerp fans are very happy – letting off a red smoke bomb and waving a huge club flag about.
And so they ought to be, too. They’ve just scored a second goal, a goal that turns out to be the decisive, winning goal.
And at the final whistle, It occurs to me that I have never ever seen OH Leuven do anything else except lose. I must be the Kiss of Death to OH Leuven.
In fact, from what I saw of the game, it was pretty miserable. There wasn’t much in the way of excitement and the goalkeepers didn’t really have to do all that much. The Royal Antwerp keeper was the busier of the two but he wasn’t really under all that much pressure.
Royal Antwerp had a player, the squad n°55, who was an exciting player when he had the ball. He looked the best player on the pitch at certain moments, but he only seemed to work in fits and starts and it didn’t seem to me as if he was all that keen to run and chase around when he didn’t have the ball – not that I would know all that much about it.
I caught the tram back into the city and decanted myself out into the Meir. The Meir is the main shopping street of the city and where everything in the city goes on, and it’s also where there are some really magnificent buildings here.
I was lucky in that it hadn’t gone quite dark by this time, so the camera on my mobile phone could cope with the situation, such as taking a photo of the big Inno Department Store here, with the much-more banal Delhaize supermarket in the foreground.
My idea of a late evening wandering around the city taking some photographs came to a rather dramatic halt as the light disappeared.
Had I had the Nikon D5000 with me, it wouldn’t have been too much of an issue but cameras like that aren’t allowed in football grounds in Belgium so I hadn’t brought it with me – relying instead on the camera on the telephone, which doesn’t work very well in situations like this.
Instead, I went to sort out some cash and then went for something to eat. It’s Sunday, pizza night, I had bought some vegan cheese the other day and I’d seen a very democratic pizza place on my travels. It was run by real Italians too, and I ended up speaking Italian to them – and it’s been a long time … "two years ago last summer when you were in the Alto Adige in fact" – ed … since I’ve done that.
Brought back a few memories, that did. I must go off to Italy again.
Down in the bowels of the station I waited for my train back to Leuven. I’d come on the line via Brussels Airport and Mechelen, so I decided to go back on the line via Lier and Aarschot.
Not that it would make any difference because it was pitch black outside at this time of night and I couldn’t see a thing.
The train was packed when we set off, and as the journey progressed, more and more people crowded in. 99% of the people on board were students, dragging their suitcases behind them. Leuven is world-famous for its University, which is huge, and I imagine that all of these students have been home for the weekend and are now heading back to their kots.
It can’t have been unexpected because the train had been extended from the normal size to accommodate the crowds. So much so that there was an announcement “for those of you alighting from the train at Heverlee, DO NOT travel in the first four carriages. Presumably they don’t fit alongside the platform there.
The train pulled into the Station and the train disgorged about 99% of its passengers. And like a huge tidal wave, they all swarmed up the main drag into town, dragging their suitcases behind them.
People were dropping off the end of the wave the further towards the town centre we advanced, but there was still quite a crowd as we passed the beautiful Leuven Town Hall, all lit up in the night.
And when I finally reached my hostel and installed myself in my little room, I could still hear the rolling suitcases rattling by.
So here I am now, back at home, tired out and spent up. It’s been an exhausting day and I’m spent up – and not for very much good purpose either as I’d missed almost half of my football match.
But never mind – I’ve had a nice afternoon out, even if the photos don’t do the journey any justice. It’s a shame that I couldn’t take the Nikon and had to rely on the camera on the telephone, but I’ve done the best that I can.
I hope that you all enjoy it.