Antwerp and Bergen op Zoom

 Bonus! Off site planned for Antwerp 🙂  The only bummer is that Alan was leaving on Sunday for 2 weeks in the States, still got to spend some time with him even if he was unfortunately not well.

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After Alan had left on Sunday Nuno arrived from Portugal and we went to find the hotel. Once checked in we then went for a walk around town so I could show Nuno the sights. We took in the Castle Steen (older than the Tower of London), the Grote Markt, the Meir, Groenplaats, Cathedral of Our Lady and Rubens’ House.

We had an early dinner at Vapiano and later headed on to De Vagant to sample some of the flavoured gins and have some cheese and salami with mustard (something I had not tried before this place). Nuno got a little tipsy 🙂

Monday Jan joined us for breakfast in the hotel and then we started our off-site. I won’t bore you with the details of that, but it was a good couple of days and extremely valuable. We should do them more often, we get so much more done that way.

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Monday night was bucketing down, but we all headed out for a little tour – Geert used to live in Antwerp and took us to some of the sights. He told us all the story of how Antwerp got it’s name and took us through the Vlaaikensgang, a 16th century alley which used to be the home of shoemakers who had the task of ringing the cathedral bells if there was an emergency. It’s a lovely little place and worth seeking out.

We headed to one of the pubs on the Grote Markt for a drink (too bright for my liking) and then to the Zuideterras restaurant which is right on the river – we were soaked through by the time we arrived and rather hungry! I admit that I tried the paardefillet for my main course – it was a very rich meat, not as rich as reindeer but certainly more so than beef.

Afterwards we headed to Cafe Beveren. It’s an odd little place with an incredibly bizarre organ reminiscent of a one-man-band type of setup. Frans got it going and then afterwards hit the jukebox.

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After a while a group of older men walked in wearing the most bizarre outfits – old fishermen style blue dress-coats, red neckerchiefs and white curtains around their necks. Turns out they were preparing for their town’s carnival – a big deal in this part of the world. One of the men told us all about the town they were from and the carnival. And they seemed pretty intrigued by their being an Australian in their midst.

The people of Bergen op Zoom wear no new clothes during Carnival (which centres around Shrove Tuesday). This tradition dates back to just after the second world war. The people had no money for proper winter clothes, so they used their old curtains to protect themselves from the cold. Their neckerchief is knotted at the front to distinguish them from other villages and they were a brooch of a crab with three crosses – their city emblem.

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During canival the town is renamed Krabbegat, which means the place where you can catch crabs. The town’s river used to be tidal and there were crabs on the beach that these men remember catching as children. They would catch the crabs and sell them for 10 cents a bucket – every so often they would be able to earn as much as 50cents in a day – a decent amount back then.

Every year the carnival days have a theme – this year is Shrove Tuesday – quite a Fairy Tale! I was presented with a figurine of Kleine Duimpje (Le petit Poucet – Tom Thumb). It was certainly an interesting night!

Wikipedia entry for Castle Steen
Antwerp Tourism Site
Vapiano Home Page
Zuiderterras Restaurant

Cafe Beveren