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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Antwerp


Dageraadplaats, Antwerp
After yesterday's intense ride, today, Tuesday, I'm taking it easy in Antwerp, rediscovering the city. This is at least my third visit since I moved to Amsterdam and I'm starting to love the place. I could easily live here. I like the trams that lumber through the streets, the Jews on bicycles. It seems a less self-conscious place than Amsterdam.

(original date of this entry: Aug 22, 2017)
Now I'm in the Harmoniepark, next to the larger Konigalbert park where I'll try to find De Koninck brewery on host Etienne's recommendation. The Harmoniepark is simply a broad lawn now being mowed by a dude on a little tractor, a pavilion on one end fronted by graffiti-style panels. The tractor dude goes around and around.

Vrienden op de fiets hosts Etienne & Madinneke
I chose to spend a third night in Antwerp and Madinneke (actually Maria Danielle) and Etienne are cool about that. I appreciate that Etienne insists on making me a second cup of coffee. Today, over a good breakfast of cheeses, cold cuts and hard-boiled egg we chatted about his career as a photographer and he showed me a slideshow of a recent event he documented, the 99th birthday of the mother of a former colleague, when Etienne was working as a customs officer at the airport. He also showed me some of his Photoshop mashups. A bear of a man with a white beard, so far he has been clad only in his blue bathrobe, sometimes open to reveal his chest and Madinneke hastens to cover him up. 

Outside De Koninck brewery
Last day of the tour and I'm hanging at Maritiem park on the west side of the Schelde. A path above the bank gives fine views of central Antwerp's skyline which consists of several church spires and a few office towers. It's a hot day with a slight breeze. Perfect. Behind the path is a lower lawn shaded by mighty oaks where I am now most pleased to sit. Tomorrow I'll return to Amsterdam. I've been 10 days I'm on the road, seven of them in Belgium. This has been a good tour in most ways despite an accident and a thunderstorm. 

From Koning Albertpark I cycled to the center along Mechelsesteenweg, which runs into the Leopoldplaats with an equestrian statue of, I suppose, the savage ruler who murdered multitudes in Congo. Or was there another King Leopold? When I reached the historic core I parked the bike for a short walk down a shopping street. As in Amsterdam, the tourist zone seems tired, played out, especially on a hot day like today. I went as far as the grand plaza where tour groups were being led along. 

Sintannatunnel
I knew there was some kind of bicycle tunnel and wanted to take it. A cyclist by the waterfront told me to turn around. It was entered through that brick deco building on the square. This is the Sintannatunnel, constructed—as a pedestrian/bike tunnel I suppose—in 1933. An amazing achievement that I've somehow overlooked till now. Cyclists and pedestrians descend two levels of ancient escalators with stained-wood bannisters and yellow-tile walls dotted with small tactful ads. The tunnel can also be reached by elevator. Then the people flow through the long ovoid tube—"wegens zijn kleine afmetingen wordt hij ook wel de 'konijnenpijp' genoemd"—which goes on and on and is noticeably cool. It's a "shared space"—by an unwritten social contract cyclists ride at a moderate pace behind and around pedestrians. It must go on for a kilometer. At the "left bank" another pair of vintage elevators redolent of early industry convey you to the sunny exterior behind the restful Maritiempark. And now, we proceed ...

Bike/pedestrian ferry to central Antwerp

From Maritiempark I headed for kp 46. The riverfront parklands stretch on and on, with a fair level of activity today. Then I came to a ferry with a crowd of fietsers and pedestrians waiting to cross the Schelde. Farther along is Sint-Annaplage, but this "beach" seemed to consist of a lawn on the riverbank and a big municipal pool. Back on Thonetlaan, the boulevard that skirts the river, I lose the knooppunt trail—for the first time—and turn right instead at a marker for the "Sint-Anna route." This takes me down a dirt path through a serene deserted green area with a bunch of ravens, then up on this riverbank perch.

Industry on the Schelde
Yesterday's tour was rather strenuous. Today it's all about lounging. And I'm granted plenty of options for it like this shady spot facing the Schelde, right past the point where the river bends abruptly west. It now occurs to me that on my last ride from Antwerp back to Bergen-op-Zoom (which ended in a desperate scramble at nightfall), I took the trail on the opposite bank, which traverses the petrochemical refineries that I can now glimpse across the river. It's such a delightful spot that I feel uninclined to move. Cyclists drift byfrom time to time, in obvious bliss, a screen of riverbank vegetation between me and the droning factories.

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