Here is my final set of entries from balmy Antwerp, Belgium. I hope that you have learned as much from these as I learned from my travels. My goal was to make it feel as if you were there with me!
One thing that I love about visiting Antwerp celebrating their love for the bicycle. The road engineers go out of their way to create nice, smooth paths for the bicycles, usually at the expense of pedestrian walkways. It is common to see the pedestrian path come to an abrupt end, such as we see in these pictures, while the bike path continues unabated. This policy ensures that more people will be encouraged to bicycle and those who don't will simply die.
Often have we come across citizens standing at the end of a pedestrian path, waiting in vain for the obstruction to clear. Some see it as an opportunity to settle down at these stopping places in the path. Others see it as a sign that they should take up bicycling. The rest simply fade away as time and bicycles pass them by.
There is a natural inclination, often practiced by ignorant tourists, of actually walking in the bike path, but this is quickly met with angry rings of bicycle bells as bikers warn pedestrians to get off of their path and back onto the pedestrian walkway (whether it exists or not).
I've written about the green parts of the city, but it's impossible to write about Antwerp without acknowledging the overwhelming allure of the waterfront.
Many cities have built up on the water to take advantage of the natural beauty that that affords, but nowhere have I seen a place capitalize on the waterfront quite like Antwerp.
Pictures don't do it justice, but I took this panorama shot to give a better sense of the majesty that the waterways bring to the city. The photo also shows a glimpse of the nice weather that I usually enjoy there at this time of year.
It's an unstated fact (until now), but the Belgians are probably the foremost society in the world for marrying both clever engineering and ecological awareness.
This photo shows a simple example of this, from my hotel room. This single door acts as both a door to the bathroom, and, when pushed all the way in, between the toilet and the main part of this bathroom. I have never before seen such a careful awareness of the shortage of doors in the world, and such a smart solution to the problem. I only wish other countries would adopt this attitude before we simply run out. And when we're out of doors, where will we be then? Outside, that's where.
I've written about Belgian engineering before, but nowhere is their inventiveness more apparent than in the area of building insulation.
Insulating old buildings can be quite difficult and costly, since rebuilding would be prohibitively expensive and breaking through the think stone walls would be otherwise impossible.
Enter the Belgians, with their clever and unobtrusive solution. If you look closely in this picture, you can just barely see that the entire right wing of this historical building (which I believe is the Bureau for the Processing of Forms Associated with Other Bureaus Doing Things that Also Process Forms) is fully and attractively insulated. Rather than remodeling on the inside, or suffering the cold every year, they simply attach a layer to the building just as one would wear a coat on a blustery day.
There is also a building hat (Dutch: hoed) which tops these buildings on particularly cold days, but this was a relatively warm day in Antwerp, so that article is not shown.
Here's another picture of some of the beautiful green (Dutch: groen) areas of Antwerp.
These plots are several parks in a row, aesthetically and thoughtfully squeezed between otherwise gray and depressing buildings. These numerous parks really bring the area to life, encouraging the residents and working people in the buildings to bring lounge chairs and barbecues and sun themselves in the balmy Antwerp weather.
You can see the care that the city took in creating such a natural area - it's as if the parks sprung from the living ground itself, overwhelming the concrete an bring the land back to its natural, green state. It was all I could do to work while I was in Antwerp; all I really wanted to do was to enjoy these beautiful natural areas.