The foray in Antwerp began from the impressively massive Antwerpen Centraal Train station, a masterpiece unto itself. They are still expanding it to add more shops in its staggering 3-5 storey-high building, with train platforms nearly on each level.
The distance of about a km and a half paves the way from the central station to the historic core (Grote Markt) is a massive pedestrian vein known as the “Meir” of shops ranging from the kitsch to the large department stores.
Antwerp is known for its avant-garde designers and has since become a shopping magnet for hard core shoppers. I walked around the historic centre for a while, and wondered how long it would be before I filled myself to saturation point with 16th century gothic guild houses.
Past the historic centre to the small river Scheldt, lies a strange statue of Lange Wapper at the foot of the Steen castle (now a maritime museum). According to 16th century Flemish folklore, the Lange Wapper is a legendary character whose powers include inexhaustible ways of changing his form and height to – guess what – get close to the women or drink their breast milk.
Some stories say that on one occasion he disguised himself as a newly-starched white handkerchief and lay down on the street. He was picked up by an unsuspecting passer-by and ended up in the pocket of her skirt. On another occasion he took the form of a newborn baby and laid himself on a stone bench outside the Butcher’s Hall pretending to be a foundling. A woman who had just given birth to a child took pity on the crying baby and gave him her breast.
The debauched medieval mind makes me feel so much better about the century I’m living in.