On Tuesday, April 11, we were taken by bus to our boat, the River Voyager, which was docked in Antwerp. The Voyager is a fairly new ship and looked very much like a barge when we first saw it sitting at the docks on the Schelde River. It has 4 decks. Our room is on the second deck. The room is amazingly large with a large window and sliding door, but no balcony. The dining room is at the bow of the ship on this deck. The deck above has more rooms and a lounge area at both ends. And the top deck is totally open with deck chairs and a running track. The lowest deck is for the crew and all things necessary for running the ship. This will be our home for the next ten days. We were quite shocked when our ship started going up and down until we realized that we were close enough to the ocean to experience tides. This was the only place we had tides - all of our other dockings were on canals or rivers controlled by locks and dams.
We spent the next day and a half in Antwerp. Antwerp was an important port in the 1500’s, taking over the business from Brugges when their river entrance became silted up. Because of all the wealth from the trade there were many beautiful, expensive buildings built in this period. The magnificent City Hall takes up one entire side of the town square. Beautiful guild houses with step gables take up the other three sides. In the middle of the square is the Brabo Fountain with a statue on top of the legendary hero of the city who killed a tyrant who was exacting tolls from merchants using the port.
The Cathedral of Our Lady is the largest Gothic church in Belgium. One tower is over 400 feet and the other was never finished. Inside we saw a spectacular exhibit of Rubens paintings. It was a special exhibit of paintings from other museums in addition to the ones that belonged in the church.
The things to shop for in Belgium are Belgian lace, Belgian tapestries, Belgian chocolate, Belgian beer, and Belgian fries (which must be eaten with mayonnaise). So, I have been enjoying looking for those items as we are walking along the cobblestone streets of the cities. We are a little early for flowers, but we have seen tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and iris – which is the national flower of Belgium (I guess they are saving the tulip for The Netherlands).