Antwerp Central station
The first thing you notice when entering Antwerp
is the beautiful train station, which must be the most elegant I have ever seen. When the train is pulling up to the platforms it is modern and trendy, all blue lighting and smooth steel. Then you step out of the train and the platforms are covered by an enormous old iron frame and the station itself is a thing of beauty. Built in 1895, the high dome and attention to detail reflect the values of a time when public services were granted respect and even reverence, a seemingly impossible opening up of the world to all who chose to see it. Walking down the main stairwell to the ticket office you are dazzled by the grace and elegance of the marble stonework, decadent but tasteful.
Outside the train station the main square was taken up by an inflatable monster, which appears to be doing the rounds of Europe, chained up for adventures to explore its innards.
Our morning at Antwerp was reserved to visit Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the world (built in 1843). We spent most of our time in the zoo watching the elephants. There are four elephants in the exhibit (Lydia is eagerly anticipating the fifth elephant
), three mature Indian elephants and one juvenile. While we were there the juvenile was frolicking in the water, diving under the surface and appearing to try to do handstands, with only its bum and tail sticking up, splashing its trunk along the surface to make splashes and generally jumping around.
When it saw its mother standing by the water it ran out and tried spraying her with its trunk, that didn't work so it ran back to the water and started to stamp its hind foot to make splashes in the water. After still being ignored it got out and started to push its mother into the water. Giving up with a sign of weariness, the mother entered into the water and started showing the baby how splashes are meant to be made, while the baby tried to climb on top of its back and generally ignore the concept of personal space. Finally the big male strode into the water, and calmly bathed without fuss by the other two elephants. Finally clean, the mother strode out of the water, ignoring the baby's efforts to run around and push it back it, accompanied with high pitched chirps. The other adult had spent the entire time trying to get treats from a feeding toy, but when the big male emerged from the water and let out low pitched rumbles all the elephants got together, formed a circle and started to throw dirt onto their backs.
The juvenile wasn't very good at it and kept on getting dirt in its eye, and even had to sit down and have a rest half way through.
After the zoo Lydia's friend Di met us and took us back to her place for a delicious lunch, then proceeded to take us on a tour of this oh-so-lovely city. We walked past old cathedrals and tiny alleyways to the town square, where a tall statue (the Brabo fountain, built in 1887) shows the mythological origin of the name "Antwerp". According the legend, a giant called Antigoon lived near the river Scheldt. He extorted a toll from those crossing the river at the city, and those who refused had a hand severed by the giant and thown into the river. The giant was slain by the hero Brabo, who cut off the giants hand and through it into the river, and thus the city is called "hand werpen" ("throwing the hand"). Today a gaggle of school girls were perched up on the statue giggling at those below. We also walked to the old castle on the port, with a statue of a water spirit visiting local drunks, and walked through the shoemakers alley. A really enjoyable taste of a remarkable city.
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Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest in the world, and was obviously designed at a time when a zoo was about parks, statues and rotundas for the visitors,… read entire review