When I was in Year 11, I joined IYS because I wanted to have penpals. I ended up receiving the address of someone from Belgium named David…and my love of letter writing really took off from there. We wrote to each other constantly for a year and a half – at one point we were writing a letter a week so we were having two streams of correspondence – until we both got too busy. I think the internet more or less killed letter writing for both of us too; though funnily enough the advent of the internet has ended up being important for us because he now runs a successful internet company on the side, and I’ve been doing web editing work for the past couple of years.
Anyhow, we met up for the first time in July 2002, when I went to visit him in Belgium for five days. I remember having a great time with David travelling all over the place and meeting up with other various connections I had. But I don’t remember all that much else except for an overall good feeling that Belgium is a really pleasant place to visit.
Coming back now was pretty different for me. I’m probably a bit more jaded for one thing, and also I travel differently – I try and learn as much as I can about a place. I no longer feel content to just pass the time (at least, not in European cities which are beginning to feel a bit samey.)
Word. (Some graffiti underneath the train tracks.)
This time round Antwerp struck me as a really grungy city with some interesting districts – including a dirty and curious area near the Centraal Station which is populated by Orthodox Jews who work in the diamond industry. Antwerp is quite small so I was able to see most of the city in a day by foot…and it’s basically a city with lots of construction work, lots of antique shops, lots of cafes, and lots of migrants (I don’t remember it being this multicultural when I was there last). Away from the centre of town it’s not particularly pretty, though if you look closely you see a lot of Art Noveau buildings that could do with a facade clean-up.
I like Antwerp a lot, though mostly because I felt pretty at home there and not because it’s particularly exciting. And it was great to see David again too, and to also meet up with some of his friends. He is, after all, the main connection I have to Belgium – and the reason why I’ll probably come back again.
The Dansing Chocola – a great cafe bar where I hung out for a while and actually starting writing a short story. It’s been so long I can’t remember the last time I did some creative writing – but I have my eye on a big competition where the prize is $5K cash and $5K worth of plane tickets (!).