Mike Strachan’s e-mail journal — Entry #22, from Belgium
Received 12 May 2008
Travels for May 12/08 — Turnhout
First thing in the morning the flea market folks are set up in the street, and a little later a swarm of kids go by in a foot race. Today is a holiday in Belgium. There is everything imaginable for sale at the flea market tables — one has all comic books, another has jewellery, and still another has African art and books. One outfit has a truck trailer parked on a corner and is selling large furniture items — wardrobes and dining room suites, and another has old tools of all sorts — it's more like an artisan museum. Then a men's foot race goes by with cyclists carrying bottles of water — it's hot at 11 AM. The size of the flea market is impressive — it starts two blocks from the hotel, passes the hotel, then turns down a street like Robson Street for many blocks. Imagine Library Square in Vancouver filled front and back with flea market tables which then extend down Robson St. to about Jervis St. It's a huge underground economy, avoiding the VAT (GST).
My trip to Turnhout is via Antwerp Berchem station where I have a 20-minute layover until the train to Turnhout. The first part of the trip is a repeat of the trip to Gent. Along the way I see backyard gardens, and gaggles of seniors out for a bike ride.
At Gent-Brugge station I am joined by a man with dark skin and curly black hair, with two golden earrings in each ear — very Gypsy-looking. The conductor comes by and discovers that the Gypsy has no ticket, and sells him one after a brief conversation.
Next station is St. Niklaas, then a rocket-like trip into Antwerp Berchem — we must be running late. Outside the station is the usual bike park, and back inside I am approached by a young panhandler, one of the few I have seen here.
My two attempts to get a pack of chips out of a vending machine fail — chalk up the two €1 coins to experience. Then to platform five, where two women in African dress are running for a train and just make it. The train to Turnhout leaves two minutes late!
Although my ticket is second class, the seats in the car I choose are very comfortable with new leather upholstery. There are community gardens in single plots all along the tracks, each one having a small plot of ground and a storage shed.
We stop at Lier, Kesel, and Nijlen. The conductor checks the tickets, and uses a punch to clip a small rectangular piece out of the edge of my ticket, similar to a syncopated perf on a postage stamp.
Next stop is Bouwel, then Herentals, after which the car fills with the smell of manure on the fields — Landwirtschaft (agriculture)! Then Tielen and into Turnhout, which appears to be prosperous, with another Robson-like street leading to a large square which has several other similar streets running off it.
The church is St. Pieters Inside it is dark, too dark for photos, but I do get one of the stained glass windows illuminated by sunlight. The altars, fixtures, and pulpit are all very ornate, and the organist is playing a light piece, rather in contrast to the sombre setting. At the Café Debeiaard (church bells) I have the special of large white asparagus in butter sauce, with boiled potatoes and scrambled egg with parsley — Flemish style, said the waiter, and very good with a small bottle of Canada Dry. The waiter responds to my question about Turnhout's prosperity by saying it's a city central to a large surrounding area, and only 45 km from Antwerp.
On the way back to the station I get a photo of the 1904 water tower, which appears to have apartments in the top.
On the train back to Kortrijk it is oppressively hot, and very noisy as passengers have opened windows to try to cool off. The conductor comes around to check tickets and tells me I'm in first class, so I have to move. Altogether I'll spend almost four hours on the train to be in Turnhout for two hours and 15 minutes. Kortrijk is cooler, and the party is still going on, but the flea market has packed up, leaving their mess behind. At the hotel I do my usual nightly routine on my last night in Belgium. Tomorrow — travel to the Netherlands.