Some overlooked details:
Day 1: my friend Márcio was also helping me pack. Not very helpful as he hadn’t had any experience in cold winters then, but the important is the intention.
Day 2: the name of the fancy square with the fancy chocolate place is Sablon. Also, the museum was the African museum in Tervuren and it was the palace of King Leopold II.
The following day we, as good adventurers, woke up quite early because we wanted to enjoy the day as much as we could. So, we got up at 8 and had breakfast. Louis would not travel with us because he had just discovered he would have an exam in the first days of January and he had some studying to do. But he was going to help any way he could. We decided to get a plan of the city we would visit that day and it took us 3 hours to decide and plan where we would go. We chose (in fact Louis mostly recommended) 11 places to see in Antwerpen (or Anvers). It was a city near Brussels. Louis took us to the station and our big adventure started.
We were a bit insecure about our French skills, but hadn’t we been preparing for months? We bought the tickets, quite expensive ones, but as i had no idea how long we would stay there, I decided to buy only one way tickets. I had the impression that choosing a time to be back would limit us and supposing we were having a lot of fun, we would have to run to the station and come back. First big mistake. We got to the platform but were unsure if it was the correct one. So Carol said she was going to ask for information and she chose the right person to do so. It was so much so that I started playing the tourist just to take a picture of whatever was moving and make a context to take a picture of the guy she talked to.
Then, there were few people with us in our wagon we got to a city which was not Antwerpen but almost everybody was getting off. We got worried and asked a lady who was getting on. She didn’t speak English, nor French, she asked if we spoke Dutch and the train started. Too late. So I told Carol we were going now wherever the train was going but the woman asked us in Portuguese ‘Oh, do you speak Portuguese?’ It turned out she was a Brazilian woman who had been living in Belgium for some years. I don’t remember her name, but we talked to her for half an hour. She would get off in Antwerpen just like us which made us comfortable we hadn’t lost the stop. And she was the one to tell us we should have bought the round trip ticket because it was a special day of the week and we would pay almost the same we had paid for one way. And she explained the trains would leave every 15 minutes and we could take anyone we wanted. There was a certain code, however, to the express ones and the slower ones. Have this in mind as you keep reading.
We finally arrived in Antwerpen, and the central station there does justice to what they say about it - it is one of the most beautiful in Europe.
We started walking around. It took us some time to get used to the map. Yes, we got a bit lost even with the map. It was colder than it had been since we arrived and Carol was afraid her hands would freeze and fall off.
The first place we went to us Rubenshuis, or the house of Rubens, a painter of the 17th century. It was the first contact with paintings and it was funny to discuss about still-life (yep Carol, it was not dead nature) and two funny things happened as we were leaving the museum. Near the exit two girls were on a table and asked us if we could help them in a research. They were studying how people reacted to the museum and there were some questions about what we had seen and learned from the booklet. So, after the museum, a test! But the nice thing is that we got a postcard to make up for the stress of a test. And in the garden, where we could take pictures there was a boy who resembled the guy who plays Harry Potter, and paparazzo Elton was there to very discreetly register the moment.
The day followed and we were getting hungry. We found one streetmarket and there were a lot of cheeses and candies and nuts and whatever and the hunger increased, but Carol wanted a warm place to eat. So we decided for a restaurant similar to a bakery in which people would choose the bread and the stuffing. A kind of local Subway. But when it was our turn, the attendants did not speak French, nor English, but one tried and was kind enough while we were making a certain confusion in the line. Food, drinks in hand, let me go to the toilet, but even inside the restaurants as it was in the museum, everywhere you had to pay 0,40 to be admitted. And it was how we got one of our catchphrases in the trip - I can easily pay 0,40. (At first, we thought it was an absurd to pay “so much” to use the toilets, but in retrospect, it was one of the cheapest places wherever one had to pay).
It was almost 3pm and we had visited ONE of the 11 places we had in our plan. So we decided to hurry up a bit and visited the cathedral and the main square.
We then found the Fashion Museum. And although none of us was a big fan of fashion, we were in one of the most elegant and fashion-oriented cities in Europe. So we asked for a very friendly guy and he told us there was a hat exhibition. Perfect. So let’s enter. 10 euros? Wow, we hope it is worth it. Well, crazy hats apart, in 10 minutes we had finished all the floor. Is there another one? No, that’s it. 10 euros for 10 minutes. We were so frustrated. That’s why in Portuguese we have a saying that when someone is deceived he or she is “taking the hat”... we tried to see one or other museum but they were all closing or closed. It was almost 6pm. Louis was worried what time we would be back, so we returned to the station. There was a fast train leaving. Let’s buy the tickets. 10 min, the train was gone and we were still in line. A big family buying, the cashier closed, one guy starting yelling at the cashier, the other came to intervene. And almost half an hour later and some trains lost we managed to buy the tickets (that we should in fact have bought in the morning). Running and running to the platform and we got on the slowest train out of all the options. And to make it more adventurous - or horrible for two exhausted journeypeople - it stopped somewhere in the middle of the way and we had to wait in the cold for another one which would finally take us to Brussels.
After this funny and adventurous day we had a cool night with dinner at Louis’s and he offered some wine. We were not very picky about it, but he wanted to be sure it was the correct wine. We had never heard there were correct wines and incorrect ones. We had already finished eating, so any would be the most suitable, proper, adequate but the word he used ‘correct’ was exotic and funny (the linguists would say it was not collocational). So we had some correct wine and went to bed.