A festive vibe energizes the city. I’m on the number four headed towards the Nationale Bank stop. The passengers are filled with excitement despite the drizzle accumulating on the ancient tram windows. Darkness fell hours ago. I check my phone. 6:07 p.m. This is winter in Antwerp, days before Christmas. The tram eases to the stop. I descend the steps and walk on the glistening cobbles. The darts of moisture are in that in-between-stage, as any seasoned expat knows – it would be self-indulgent/wimpy to open an umbrella, but I left my hat at home. I glare at the rain
When my family and I lived in the Netherlands, my husband and I used to get up on a Sunday, look at each other and say, “What should we do today?” If it wasn’t raining, the answer was often, “Let’s go to Belgium!” We drive and park and wander the streets of Antwerp admiring the architecture, the wide boulevards, visit the Bric-a-Brac market in Sint-Jansvliet and inevitably feast on a waffle from our favorite stand in the train station. We’d head back to Leiden before dark. We’ve visited Christmas markets in Brussels, Brugge, Paris, and Aachen. For some strange reason,
The first week my 5-year old son was enrolled in Belgian school, he went on a field trip to the Antwerp Zoo. “But Mama, we didn’t take the tram, we took a school bus,” he jumped around like a kangaroo when I picked him up from school that day. He loved the zoo – the animals, the playground, the bus ride. A few months later, as he blew out his candles for his birthday, he wished the whole family could go to the Antwerp Zoo. On a chilly day in December, Sinterklaas rang our doorbell and scurried away on Amerigo
The depressed clouds had been crying off and on all morning – their tears flooding our patio then drying just as quickly. Like a confused husband, we shrugged and decided to move forward with our plans. It was a once-a-month outdoor event (only occurring during the summer months, at that) and promises had been made to our daughter. We skipped the tram and drove into the city – to the free parking lot just a few blocks from the impressive but lonely museum. We’d seen the museum the week before – after a visit to Antwerp’s newest and (in my
Gravel crunches under my feet. Naked trees loom above me, their skinny limbs reaching into the grey cold sky. I push faster – dodging patches of ice and slow Belgians. I must be the coldest and fastest person in this country right now. The red thermometer flashed outside the Chinese restaurant around the corner: 3 degrees. Celsius to Fahrenheit mental conversion is just something I have little will to master, but I do know this. Three degrees is cold. I chase the puff of frozen air ahead of me while jamming to my American rap and pop music buzzing in
“The Antwerp Zoo is stunning, it’s really a botanical garden with animals,” a fellow expat friend told me last fall. “Have you been?” she asked. Despite the numerous times we’d visited Antwerp while living in the Netherlands, we never had taken the kids. Passed it plenty – it’s just steps from the Antwerp Centraal Train Station, but with daily prices at a rate of 19 Euros/child and 24 Euros/adult – 86 Euros just seemed like a lot to shell out in one go. Upon moving to Antwerp we quickly discovered the beauty of the zoo membership. For 189 Euros, the
The wind whips through our hair as I gaze at the fearless below. A lone girl lounges back on her hands, one leg outstretched – a black boot dangling over the edge of the wall – undeterred by the fifty-foot drop to the glistening water below. A respectable distance away from the quiet one, a boy and girl laugh. Their legs tucked and arms wrapped around their knees and they rock back and forth on the stone pier. They sip from red cans of Jupiler beer between gazes at the water. The sunset casts glaring reflections on the muddy water.
Every real Texan knows about Barton Springs – the natural pool in Austin filled entirely from a natural spring – and the truest of Texans have dipped their body into the chilly, but refreshing waters on a scorching hot summer day. It’s a rite of passage for natives, like floating the Guadalupe, sipping a Big O at Georges, or riding the Texas Giant at Six Flags. Natural pools are few and far between – no matter what country you reside in, so imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Belgium’s version of Barton Springs in a nearby neighborhood of Antwerp.
The rickety tram dings a tiny bell, and pedestrians scurry from its path. Sunlight gleams between buildings and dances off windows. People of all ages climb the ancient stairs of this number four tram, cast glimmers of smiles at each other as they pass. The sun seems to have energized the entire city, despite frozen kisses the wind pecks on our cheeks. I glance between the beauty of Antwerp, with its art deco and art nouveau architecture fanning both sides of the tram tracks, and my WhatsApp messages on my phone. I have a group of old girlfriends in the