Clad in summer clothes and a winter jacket, I travelled from Amsterdam into Belgium shivering and wishing I could produce heat faster than I released them. The glamour of Amsterdam had after all, failed to mesmerise and now in the cold, drizzly Antwerp, I feared the worst. There was this determination in me though, to see the main square – something I had been looking forward to for months when I first researched this pocket-sized metropolis. You could tell from its unassuming streets that this city is teeming with wealth. In fact, it always had been. With its sartorial streets and subtle advertising at museum entrances, I despair at the lack of warmth and congeniality this place produced.
Antwerp of Belgium was picturesque.
I don’t know how else to describe the cobbled streets, the quiet trams which roll passed the countless window-displays of distinctive fashion by upcoming designers, the international restaurants which seem to provide all sorts of European and Middle Eastern food – a bucket of mussel here was surprisingly cheap – behind the main market square and the seemingly eternal grey sky which hid the sun and most importantly, the Guild Houses of Grote Markt which reminded me of fantasy land where houses squashed one another. I imagined them huddling for warmth in the wintry night, tall, narrow, almost grotesque but unequivocally beautiful. Unknown brands presented themselves to me – I had never been a fashionista and despite Antwerp being a fashion capital, I was more concerned with the lack of directional guides there. Belgian waffle was a heavenly savoury between an epileptic amount of sugar while desiring more. I had them as main meals – horrifyingly cheap for the student in me.
It was in Antwerp where the first pangs of home-sickness hit me. Far away from everything familiar with dreadful weather accommodating my illogical choice of clothing, I hated everything and imagined myself buying a ticket home immediately. The pride in me stopped me, of course. I went through waves and waves of loneliness in a country where I understood nothing and nothing understood me with a quiet defiance which was both silly and childlike.
I would only find out weeks later that my favourite Flemish painter was from here, and that his most important works are hanging on walls I had missed, too occupied with my misery. The Ruebens House is still there – I swear sometimes, I am the most far sighted person I know. The place which left me with the least favourable impression would instead impressed me the most in the forms of paintings. Masters such as Peter Paul Ruebens, Grueghel, Van Eyck and Anthony Van Dyck would haunt me up until today – a clear reluctant to reduce my pining for the Art world and sometimes, even today, I am left to wonder what exactly was I doing in Antwerp when I have seen and experienced nothing at all.