14 March 2012

Antwerp II: Actual holy things, unholy things, and a bicycle

My second day in Antwerp started on a high point with a visit to De Kathedraal, or the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. Reverence for St. Maria means that there are quite a few of those in The Netherlands and Belgium. Conversely there also seems to be a Jodenstraat in most towns. Anyway, renovations that are in progress notwithstanding, I really enjoyed this cathedral. I didn't only have to be content with works by Peter Paul Rubens, I could also be impressed by the intricate stained glass windows and other decorations. I can only imagine what an amazing space this must be to experience when no-one is hammering in the background.

For lunch I engaged in what might be considered the opposite of a beautiful church building, greasy chips with mayonnaise, or frietes.

The lovely weather enticed me to revisit Grote Markt and get a good picture of the hero flinging away the giant's hand. Sounds obscure, I know. The folk origin of the city is explained on Wikipedia:

According to folklore, and as celebrated by the statue in front of the town hall, the city got its name from a legend involving a mythical giant called Antigoon who lived near the river Scheldt. He exacted a toll from those crossing the river, and for those who refused, he severed one of their hands and threw it into the river Scheldt. Eventually, the giant was slain by a young hero named Brabo, who cut off the giant's own hand and flung it into the river. Hence the name Antwerpen, from Dutch hand werpen—akin to Old English hand and wearpan (= to throw), that has changed to today's warp.

Next I walked up to the MAS, Antwerp's main museum of ethnology, city history, and the like. Two of the floors weren't open, but I so thoroughly enjoyed the ethnographic exhibitions on the top floors that much more would've simply passed me by. Another cool thing about this museum is the "behind the scenes" peek you can get on the first floor. My desire to spend my life in a museum or archive of some kind is growing ever stronger.

I had bought a Velo day pass online the night before, so I spent the rest of the afternoon using these bicycles to cruise around the city. With the user number and password I had, I could go to any station and get a bike. Only the first half an hour with a bike is free, but if your time is up it's easy to dock at a station and walk around for a while, or you can just wait five minutes and take a bike again. Antwerp is very walkable, but as a tourist trying to save her feet a bit I was very happy to enjoy some relaxing cycling.

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