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Belgian Waffling…

June 21, 2009

I finally made it across the border to Antwerp on Saturday.

Friend had called out of the blue on Thursday and asked whether I fancied going with her on the train for a day trip.  As I have wanted to see the city  for quite some time – about 11 years actually – and as it is less than an hour and a half away, I had no reason to demur.  I’m actually quite ashamed that it has taken me so long to get there.

Despite that fact that quite a number of friends have waxed lyrical about the virtues of the city, not least of all the shopping, I found I couldn’t work up any great enthusiasm about going although I did quite like the idea of it.

I’m in a funny forty-something  phase of life at the moment, one where I don’t know whether to dress young ‘n funky or whether to wear lemon yellow twinsets and, as a result, I find that occupying this bleak wardrobe no-man’s -land has left me indifferent to shopping.  The usual pattern I follow is enter shop, try to select a couple of items I sort of like, try on said garments that in truth I’m not really very keen on because they’re just the best of a bad bunch, gaze forlornly at giant in child’s clothes staring back at me from the mirror, leave shop feeling dissatisfied and slightly freakish.  Nothing seems to  fit me and nothing suits me.

So, the trip was planned for Saturday.  We woud go on the train because a) it was ridiculously cheap at €27 return; b) parking would be tricky and probably expensive and c) there might be a certain level of alcohol intake at lunch time.   Lunch would probably consist of Belgian beer, mussels, chips and a waffle.  I was looking forward to the day out with Friend but, in all honesty, I didn’t really have any great expectations of Antwerp because, well… it’s in Belgium.

How wrong I was.

From the minute we stepped off the train into the beautiful and impressive Centraal Station, with its massive iron and glass dome and stone staircases, there was a lightness of atmosphere and a positive feeling in the air.  Friend knew her way around the city and we headed straight off towards the shops.  And what shops!  Such a selection!  I was again reminded of how small the selection of shops, or rather the variety is in The Netherlands.  I remembered why I love going home to England or on trips to Paris or Lille for shopping because it is such a delight to be faced with such choice.  I can’t put my finger on what it is with Holland – there are plenty of shops but somehow, no choice.  That’s why, if I’m just wandering aimlessly in the hope of seeing a must-have item, I never find it and if I don’t have a definite idea of what I want, I still don’t find it because it’s not there.  Drifting aimlessly in Dutch shopping centers looking for  ‘tops for work’ or ‘just some t-shirts’ is indubitably pointless, just as looking for something too specific like ‘black trousers’ is a waste of time because, predictably, something won’t quite be right.  They won’t have my size, or they’ll be too short or too low-cut in the waste or made of crimplene.

Antwerp, on the other hand, has streets and streets of shops.  Even when it became busy in the afternoon, it wasn’t The Hague-busy because there are so many streets of shops that there was somehow room for everyone to fit.  They had Belgian shops, Dutch shops, French shops, British shops…oh, the list is endless.  I managed to buy two, yes TWO, pairs of shoes within 200 metres of Central Station.  I never buy shoes in Holland because I can’t find any that I like.  Forget finding ones that fit.  They’re either mega-expensive or ridiculously cheap with nothing in between  but that doesn’t matter because I don’t like any of them anyway and have to rely on trips home or holidays abroad to get them.  Now I have discovered Antwerp though, we won’t have to get on a plane or drive for 5 hours to buy shoes!

Friend is an elegant, funny and sexy woman, a space cadet when not at work and a true professional in work.  As a young, single, she has the time and  disposable income to indulge her passion for fashion.  As such, she frequents a certain type of boutique that I like to refer to as Elephant Shops.  Having been on a few trips to Paris with Friend, I have been into quite of few of these trendy little designer boutiques, all minimalist décor and sparse racks of garments made of fabrics so fine that they crumple and turn to dust when I finger them with my clumsy digits.   These are the shops that make me feel like Gulliver in the Land of the Lilliputians.  I have to stoop so as not to bump my head on the ceiling; I can’t  fit my big toe into the ridiculoulsy narrow tube of the leg of a pair of tiny jeans; sweaters of fine silks or linen make me look like an East German border guard in a cardigan stolen from a small child and  the furniture all seems to have been bought from the nursery department of  some hugely expensive furniture store.  I don’t know why but I feel myself turning into a giant, clumsy, oafish elephant who has been squeezed into a miniature shop for doll-like people .  Turning around without knocking over one of the stick thin leggy models working  as assistants becomes an achievement in itself.  If I catch sight of myself in one of the highly posished mirrors, my hair will invariably be flatter and thinner than usual and the clothes I’m wearing will be screaming ‘Cheap!  Badly cut!  Wash me!’  I feel inept to the point of wanting to apologise for having entered the shop .  In short, I think  I may have some kind of phobia.  It’s as though I cease to function the minute I cross the threshold.  Friend commented when I  tried to explain this to her in Antwerp that she had noticed my odd behaviour in Paris the last time when we had gone into an Elephant shop in Le Marais district.  Apparently I had followed her in, come to an abrupt halt in the middle of the shop and looked as though I had had a complete mental shut down before turning around and, knuckles trailing on the floor,  walked out  and waited for her in the street.  For me, it’s a question of being way, way outside my comfort zone and absolutely losing all sense of worth and self-respect.

I feel like the one on the left:


Am I alone in this, or are there other people out there like me?

Back to Antwerp, however.  For lunch we found a lovely bar in a lively little street of funky shops with window displays of 70’s furniture, goth fahsion and boots made out of bits of wood and old socks.

Knitted boots

Knitted boots

The meal consisted of a few Mojitos, some calamari rings and oh, I can’t really remember what else…

The rest of the day passed in a bit of a blur.  Suffice to say that I was also impressed by the friendliness of the Belgian people and the exemplary customer service we received in all of the shops and eating/drinking establishments we entered.  This is something that is sadly lacking in Holland.  There was plenty of beautiful architecture and a multitude of cultural possibilities that we could have enjoyed had we had more time to indulge ourselves.  As it was, we had a really enjoyable day in Antwerp and I find that I’m keen to return.  Thirteen, an avid shopper with a very sorted wardrobe, is keen to go with me next time.

On a final note, when I arrived home, I found that Husband had bought the Saturday Guardian, whose travel section featured an article on Mechelen, about 15 miles from Antwerp.  It sounds lovely, so I think I want to go there next.  My eyes have been opened to a small corner of Belgium and, having had a taster, I find I’m left wanting more.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2009 4:03 am

    Antwerp sounds beautiful! It’s always been my dream to go to Europe and hang out there for a couple of months to shop and take pictures. There’s quite a good bit of shopping to be found in Southeast Asia too, but many places are so ugly that you can’t wait to be gone.

    You’re not the only one who feels like that about porcelain-dollhouse shops! I’m Chinese, medium-build, but I feel that way sometimes when I see miniscule teens in skinny jeans and tops that manage to be tiny and baggy at the same time.

    The other thing is that my mum died the year I turned thirteen, and I have no sisters, and I was a shy kid, so learning to dress like an adult was a long, painful and lonely road. I’m still learning! But I’m better now. Confidence is free-sized.

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to add you to my blogroll… once I figure out how. I can’t find the link. I can’t even link directly to your blog via your comments on mine. Will try to figure this out.

    • purplejake permalink*
      June 30, 2009 6:32 pm

      Katie: I don’t know how old you are but I’m sure you’re quite a bit younger than me. I’m the wrong side of 40 and am still learning to dress like an adult! I’m sorry to hear your mum died when you were so young – far too soon – but, with regards to your own personal style, you sound totally sussed when I read your blog… and I have absolutely no objections to you adding me to your blogroll, assuming you find the link! Perhaps it’s something I need to do from my end, so to speak?!

      • July 3, 2009 1:56 pm

        Ahahaha, I have managed to add you! Thank you for your kind reply. Even among the amazing blogging talent in WordPress, I think your writing stands out for being so honest and heartfelt. Check back with you soon. Have a great weekend!

  2. July 9, 2009 8:14 am

    Finally had time to catch up on my blog reading, and am glad to know you finally visited Belgium! Antwerp’s a great city with lots of corners to explore. The shopping is wonderful there, so try to return while the sales are on during the month of July. If you like flea markets, they have some good ones there as well, but your friend would know better than me.

    Apart from dog shit on the pavement (though not as bad as it used to be), Brussels is a wonderful city too. Very under-rated. It has good shopping, restaurants catering to all tastes and pocketbooks, excellent museums, lovely parks, some very beautiful architecture and good public transport. And of course, its chocolate shops are worth a day’s exploration, at least.

    I’m perilously close to 50, and I know what you mean about feeling like a shopping misfit. I’ve gotten too chubby to get away with the clothes I’d like to wear, and (I think) I’m far too young to start dressing like a dowdy matron. Let me know if you come this way again. I live closer to Namur, but could always meet up somewhere… like Brussels. I always enjoy visiting your excellent blog. Now I’d better go and stop neglecting mine.

    • purplejake permalink*
      July 10, 2009 7:04 pm

      Megatonlove: Thank you – is it just me who gets a thrill when I see someone has left a comment? Even better when someone returns to leave a second comment, for obvious reasons! I enjoy your blog too and, although we haven’t chatted on Twitter, you make me laugh there because you’re soooo grumpily outspoken about schtuff – like MJ, for example. Must admit I’m really not getting to grips with the whole Twitter thang but I love all these new blogs I’m discovering.

      I don’t know whether you’ve spent much time in NL so are able to judge but I can’t for one pico-second believe that there is more dog poo in Brussels than The Hague… What do you think? Strange you’ve mentioned it as I’m in the middle of editing a draft that features quite a lot of doggy plops but I’ve decided I can’t post it yet as I’ve just done the gross-out toe one. I think I need to balance them out a bit, and give those with a delicate constitution some respite between nausea-inducing posts.

      But I will definitely get in touch next time I come to Belgie. I used to work for a Belgian-owned company in the UK and I think their head office was in Namur…. It’s a bit cloudy that part of my head, tho – so long ago……


  1. Off to Blighty… « Are You Receiving Me?

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