Tag Archives: Antwerp

MY WORST TRAVEL EXPERIENCES OF 2011

As I often tell my writing students, a good story always starts with something going wrong. So when I caught myself writing a summary post about the best meal, prettiest town, most charming B&B and most spectacular scenery etc of the past five months, I thought, ‘Stop that immediately, Richard! Everyone prefers reading about your disasters.’

So here are my worst travel experiences of the past five months: Continue reading

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Filed under Budget travel, Travel- Europe

ANTWERP, BELGIUM – a bit off-hand

The hand thrower, Antwerp.

Belgians haven’t always been nice to visitors in the past and it seems the tradition continues.

Antwerpen takes its name from the Flemish ‘hand werpen’ – or ‘hand throwing’. The story goes that the gates were guarded by a giant who demanded a toll of travellers. If they couldn’t pay, he cut off their hands and threw them away. Continue reading

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Filed under Belgium, Cycle touring

TOUR DE FRANCE – the dangerous Rotterdam-Brussels stage

Bike, windmill, camera - a fatal combination

G’day again, Lance.

You did well in the prologue time trial yesterday. An impressive 4th place on a drying track. Still 3633km to go, and quite a lot of them (223.5) are coming up today, so you’ll need my advice. I hope you can get email in the hotel, and if they have wifi, bring the laptop to the breakfast table, because I have a few things you need to know about…

Today Le Tour heads out of Rotterdam, down through Zeeland, then into Belgium and stops at Brussels. I’ve been to all those places already, so I won’t be coming with you today, but I think you’ll have fun.

Incidentally, you may have heard by now that Holland and Belgium are no longer part of France. Perhaps they were when the route for this stage was set out – I don’t know how long in advance the tour organisers plan these things. But it all changed after the Battle of Waterloo (1815). Perhaps the contracts were signed and they couldn’t get out of it. Anyway, it’s all set in stone now, and yours not to reason why…

There is a trap for young players in the Dutch countryside. You’ll find there is an almost irresistible temptation to stop at every windmill and take a photo (see sample above). There are lots of them down in Zeeland, where wind is a major import/export, but if you try to capture them all you won’t be in fourth place by the end of the day. Windmill photography is a complete waste of time, and I speak from experience, Lance.

Down in Belgium you’ll be passing through Antwerp. There’s an interesting street of Art Nouveau architecture near Antwerpen-Berchem Station. It’s a bit off the designated stage route, so I don’t suggest you go there yourself. However if you see Contador at the start line, whisper to him that I highly recommended it and he may lose a bit of time going looking for it. I know how Alberto loves his Art Nouveau and it’s quite hard to find without a Tom-Tom (a Dutch GPS device).

The hand thrower, Antwerp


Next little obstacle: In the main city square of Antwerp there’s this fountain/statue of a man throwing a severed hand. The name Antwerp comes from the Dutch for hand throwing – ‘Hand werpen’. The story goes that this chap used to demand a toll from passers-by, and cut off the hand of anyone who didn’t have exact change. It sounds crazy, I know, but Belgian authorities were very strict in those days. Belgium hasn’t had a government or any authorities for quite some time, so there’s probably nothing to worry about, but I suggest you put a few euros in your back pockets all the same. The shopping in Antwerp is supposed to be good.

Next it’s on to Mechelen. Nice town, another pretty square.

Mechelen town square

Mevrouw T and I were there a little while ago. Your bike is probably lighter than ours, Lance, but our city bikes were ideal for the Mechelen cobblestones. Maybe you should consider borrowing a city bike for that section. Mevrouw T is a bit fussy about who uses her bike, but I’d be happy to lend you mine if your mechanic guys could give the chain a bit of oil after the race. Third gear slips a bit too – perhaps they could take a look at that. Leave a comment on this blog if you’d like to take up the offer.

Some people find Brussels a bit boring, but they have good beer and chocolate, and the EU headquarters. The end of the race may not be too interesting either. It’s a dead flat stage, so…desultory breakaway, peleton catches them with 5km to go, mass sprint, Cavendish wins, all the usual stuff.

I don’t know why they make these sprint stages so long. They could have just said, ‘First to the end of Rotterdam’s Erasmus Bridge – go!’ then put you all on the train to Brussels. You can take bikes on Dutch and Belgian trains – 6 euros for a day pass. Maybe you could suggest it to the organisers; they’re more likely to listen to you than to me.

I hope all this helps, Lance. I’m planning to be down at the kerbside in Rotterdam, so give us a wave when you pass. If you can’t take a hand off the handlebars, just a nod and a wink will do. I’ll know who you are.

Cheers, Richard

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Filed under Cycling, Holland, Sport