During the last couple of weeks we had made new friends (virtually through the wonders of email and Facebook) with Kris and David two fellow Aussies (hailing from Albany WA) sailing SV Taipan who were currently berthed in Antwerp Belguim.
They had been told of Red Roo when they stopped in Ipswich Haven Marina recently (our favourite place to stop over winter) and when Kris made contact an instant friendship developed (maybe it was the Aussie humour, or the fact that we are sharing the same time zone and were able to chat easily without the big time difference) anyway they very kindly invited us to visit them in Antwerp if we had time prior to going back to the UK.
And it turned out we did have time, once we arrived in Vlissingen (our departure point for the UK) the weather looked unsuitable for a passage for at least the next 4 days so we put ourselves on a train and 1.5 hours and €20 later we arrived in Belgium (we just love how easy and cheap it is to travel within Europe – if only they would let us stay longer and sort out the Schengen Visa restrictions!!!)
Considering the very poor sailing forecast Antwerp certainly turned on a couple of great days weather for our visit (the forecasted rain didn’t develop) and Kris and David were excellent hosts and company – we hit it off immediately, so much so we ended up staying with them longer than originally planned.
SV Taipan (50 foot GRP cutter) is a wonderful boat and home and has certainly done some sea miles. Having lived onboard since 2004 and circumnavigated Australia (more than once), including Tasmania (bonus points for that), then sailed extensively in Asia, before crossing to South Africa, then America and now Northern Europe. I am very jealous of both the sea miles countries and adventures and of your lovely boat (all that space including a washing machine – what a dream!). We are so very glad to have met and to call you friends (I am sure it’s not the last wine we will share together).
Antwerp is a beautiful city with amazing architecture and we really enjoyed wandering around and were really drawn to some of the amazing historic buildings.
The gothic style Cathedral of Our Lady built 1501 – 1518 is easily the centrepiece of the city no one could visit Antwerp and not be drawn to it, it stands tall and proud above the city with the spire reaching 123 meters tall.
We spied a magnificent brick building down an alley with an usual and appealing brick design and colour and went to explore finding it to be the old Butchers Guild Hall (dating back to 1504), very grand for a butchers shop. When the French abolished Guild halls as part of the revolution the building was used to store wine – you could fit a whole lot of wine in there!!
Antwerp’s oldest building dating back to the 9th century is the Fortress Gatehouse which sits on the riverfront, although it has been chopped and changed and modified heavily at the back over the years the front is still and impressive site.
It was also the launch of the Christmas Festival in Antwerp meaning the city was transformed into a winter wonderland full of Christmas markets and magic. There was a ferris wheel on the river front and in the town square there was a mistletoe marquee, pop up wooden christmas stalls, ice-skating rink, lots of gluhwein (mulled wine) and fairy lights everywhere.
It was really great timing as the visit included Maree’s birthday on the 8th and Kris’s on the 9th December so we didn’t need any excuses for drinks, delicious food and fun times (David and Phil didn’t stand a chance with two birthday girls over the 4 day visit!). Kris and David had already made birthday dinner reservations so we increased the booking to a table for 4 … more commonly known as gate crashing 🙂 and what an experience it was. We ate at LUX an amazing Michelin star restaurant right on the waterfront near the marina. We had an amazing three course meal with the starters and deserts being presented as art on a plate rather than food. The flavours were exactly as ordered but the food was presented in amazing shapes and textures looking nothing like the food ordered – and all accompanied by great wine.
Following our fine dining experience we walked to the town square and watched the christmas light & music show which was projected onto the amazing town hall building. It was spectacular – no other way to describe it (and I am not including pictures of the show as they simply don’t do it justice).
David had been hoping for snow all during our stay and on our last morning we awoke to snow, both settled on the ground and falling from the sky. It made for a really pretty morning at the marina and really made it feel like Christmas. Very different from home for these 4 Australian’s who are used to hot summer Christmas’s.
So a HUGE THANKS to Kris and David for inviting us and hosting us in your home, you were very generous and made exploring Antwerp really fun as well as a great way to spend my birthday, I will remember it for many years to come and we are already looking forward to the next catch up.