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All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware
I feel as if every traveler has a list of destinations that they want to go to; places that they cannot wait until they reach. Sometimes those destinations are everything we dreamed of and other times destinations don’t live up to what you expected. Antwerp did not fit any of these categories because I really had no interest in going. I had nothing against Antwerp; I love Belgium as a country and I really enjoy the people. I loved the time that I have spent in Brussels but I love good Belgium beer so Brussels was easy for me to fall in love with.
Maybe I did not want to go to Antwerp because I really did not know much about it. I knew that they are on the Flemish side of the country and they are considered the diamond capital of the world and that is about it. Other than that I knew absolutely nothing about this city. Nonetheless we were on way to Antwerp with no expectations of it being that fun. To use a cliché, I believe I found a diamond in the rough.
Ash and I had finished up our stay in Haarlem, Netherlands with our friend Rory and we were ready to take off in our rental car (that we really did not want). First off it was a stick and Ash and I had a total of 2 hours worth of driving lesson on a standard. To say that we were confident in our ability of driving this car would be a vast overstatement. Don’t worry you will be able to hear me relive that account soon enough. Let me just say what was supposed to be an easy 2 ½ hour drive turned into a 5 hour event from hell. We eventually made it safely to Antwerp with our moods shot to hell from the experience.
The morning after arriving in Antwerp, Ash and I were up and showered with a positive outlook on the day. Nothing could be worse than what we went through the day before. We walked along the streets of Antwerp just taking in the new city. Our eyes darted everywhere looking for omens on what direction we should go. It was lunchtime so we sat down at a small little café and had ourselves some lunch and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc soaking up the warm weather. After a nice relaxing and lazy lunch we went along our way. We had no plans and really nothing we wanted to see. This left the city a blank canvas for us, we had no internet in our apartment so we did not even do a quick Google search on what we should not miss in Antwerp. My best advice when you’re wandering a new city blind is to use your senses of hearing and smell. I tend to think that the eyes can be deceiving.
As we turned right down a street, we overheard some music off in the distance and then the smells of onions and grilled meats started to grow. At the end of the street we saw a barricade and crowds of people. It was a street market and if you know anything about us, you know that we really love street markets. We entered the crowd and started gazing from one stand to the next. It was somewhat of a flea market in the beginning. Since Ash and I can’t really pack any more stuff we had to move quickly through this part to avoid the temptation to add any more weight to our backs.
The smell of food was still off in the distance so we went deeper into the rabbit hole. After the flea market ended it turned into rows of food and drink stalls, with stages for music spread throughout the next few blocks. We did not find traditional Flemish food but instead we found a street festival that was full of Latin influence. There were rows of food stalls cooking up traditional food from Central and South America, including traditional cocktails that you could drink as you walked through the market. We had arrived to the party of the year and all thoughts about driving standard were out the window.
The next couple of hours Ash and I spent our time snacking on empanadas while drinking pisco sours, caipirinhas, and of course mojitos. We walked the streets enjoying an assortment of entertainment. One stage had an awesome Rockabilly band with two ladies who had unbelievable voices, there was another stage with some jazz playing, and then a group of guys playing Latin dance music. We also came upon a drag show where drag queens danced and lip synced to their favorite songs. Ash and I were have a blast dancing and drinking along with the crowd.
We spent most of our time dancing to the Latin band. They had drawn one of the biggest crowds and you no longer felt as if you were at a street market in Antwerp but rather at a block party in South America. Ash and I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying ourselves at this street fair. We were very lucky to have stumbled upon it. I found out after looking it up it was called Ramblas and it only occurs on the 2 days of the year we were there. We just happened to be there on the right days!
All ill feelings I had towards Antwerp were long gone. The shell shock of that car trip seemed like a distant memory. As we danced along to the music, life was great again and Antwerp was the city that hosted this fun. Going through that hellish drive to get to Antwerp was now all worth it for this festival. We were happy, we were no longer stressed about anything, life was good and we knew we made the right decision to go off and travel the world. This is what we were looking for, these special movements and hidden gems that make everything seem right in the world.
As the sun was going down and the market was coming to an end our moods had not died. We came upon another little restaurant that focused on some local dishes and we wound ourselves down with some white wine and a great meal. We then went back to the apartment and slept soundly.
The next day in Antwerp was a little less adventurous. We went to the center and saw some of the tourist attractions and had some great cocktails at a bar called Dogma later in the evening. Life was good though. Our time here was coming to an end and we had Paris in our sights. Antwerp had surprised me; it was exactly the place I needed to be. I needed to be reminded that I am on this trip to see as much of this world as I can. I needed to take a breath and just enjoy what was going on in life around me. It is weird to look back at Antwerp and realize that I really did not want to go. I was able to see this city for two days, which is not a very long time, but it made an impression on me, an impression that I am always going to look back fondly on. Antwerp surprised me and I can’t wait to go back.
Thank you guys for reading I hope that you have enjoyed the article. If you have any experience in Antwerp I would love to hear about it in the comment below. Are there any destinations that surprised you? I would love to hear about them as well! Again thanks for reading. Like always go out, travel and change this world.
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