Mon 16th Sept.
A twerp in Antwerp.
I had breakfast with them and left a bit later than planned. Their daughter was studying graphic design at Antwerp which was a few miles west and where I was going next. My aim for the day was to pass through that get down near Ghent by the end of the day. I said my thanks and left.
I got onto the river nearby which I had used to get to the hosts house, which would take me straight into the city, only the headwind on the river was ridiculous. It was difficult to make any progress and demoralising as I was moving so slowly. I kept on and after a few miles the path ahead was closed due to construction. I followed it anyway and when I got to the bridge I could go no further. Another man on a bike came up beside me and seemed guided me off to the alternative path that would rejoin with the river. We didn’t really say anything to each other, but I thanked him when we parted ways. Only then did I realise he had gone out of his way to help me out, as he went back the way we came. People here were too kind. I’m not sure how I would adjust to being back in England.
The path I was now on was a cycle lane surrounded by trees that went through a few quiet towns. The adrenaline I had for nearly completing the trip was building up again allowing me to do abnormally long days just to get a bit closer to home.
I didn’t like the outskirts of Antwerp. It was busy, pushy, full of traffic and lacked any atmosphere. The city centre was much nicer though. When I got there it felt much more like a medium-sized European city.
I looked around a few of the areas before I decided to move on. How little I knew.
On the map the was two roads crossing the river, that I naively assumed were roads, even though there was little to suggest otherwise. I was in the centre of the city and there was a bridge to the north and one to the south, or so I thought. I headed north in search of that bridge. I didn’t find it, but kept going, sure it would turn up. I started to leave the city still with the river to my left and no sign of any bridge. I stopped and got the best view of the river I could, searching for this mystery bridge. Nothing.
Frustrated I had lost time and baffled, I headed south to the other bridge. Same result in a deeper more difficult to navigate part of Antwerp with less views of the river keeping everything hidden. Another hour and a half wasted.
Now I didn’t know what to do. There must be a way across the river. There’s no sign of a ferry that takes people across. I went back to the centre and onto the docks to really study the river with sharp eyes. I asked a stranger how to get to the other side. They said there was a tunnel, but it was for cars. The entrance was about a km north near the petrol station. I found the petrol station and asked there. The lady the sent me on a wild goose chase through the roads with no sign of any opening that connected this side to the other side. I kept asking people on the streets were it was and everyone kept sending me 5 minutes that way, 10 minutes north, just down there and to the left. I found the red light district and went through the main tourist area with shops and restaurants. I was a man at the absolute end of my tether. I had lost precious hours the could jeopardise my arrival time in the UK, which I had no booked my ticket for from Calais, midday on Wednesday.
I spoke to some waiters in the restaurant and laid out the situation and told them what I thought of their city. The waiter said it was in a square nearby, there was an opening and it was the building at the end. You go into a building and take the elevator down, that’s the walkway for people. This had to be it, otherwise I would be stuck here for the night and spend tomorrow trying to complete this benign task.
The man was right, I found the opening and the building I needed was the most unassuming looking construction I could have imagined for the essential purpose it serves. It looked like a Communist building that had been decommissioned in the 70’s and had barely been touched since. Antwerp clearly didn’t receive many tourists that like to cross the river.
The most frustrating thing about this dilemma, was that this was the first part of the city I came into about four hours ago, which now felt like yesterday. I couldn’t believe my misfortune and it made me despise the city all the more. But it was still light and now I knew how to get where I needed to be.
I picked up the only Belgian beer I would drink here from a newsagent and got in the lift, still furious at this stupid city.
Once I was on the other side it felt like I had been let out of prison. I looked around at my new playground and ploughed all my energy into getting as far away from this place as I could. I got about 8km from the demon city into another town when it was getting dark. I looked around the town for a camping spot with intent to leave around 6am the next morning. I found a public park where people were still walking there dogs. It wasn’t ideal, but was the only choice I had. I setup in some trees providing cover from suspicious eyes and drank my beer still cursing the city.