Fri. July 11, 2014:
Antwerp, Belgium to Rotterdam, Netherlands
The breakfast buffet featured Speculoos cookie butter- I seriously contemplate licking the container clean, getting another package of it and just eating it with a spoon. It was heavenly. We left our bags at the train station and walked over to Koninklejk museum to look at art. The Antwerp Museum of Fine Art was closed for renovation; the collection was dispersed among many museums, Koninklejk being one of them. The museum was really small. There were some nice neo-realist paintings, but also a few questionable pieces. It was nice to see work by lesser-known artists. All in all, we were in the museum for half an hour at most, which was almost too much given the small child running around and the security guard reprimanding the parents- so awkward.
Up next in our tour of displaced art we went to Rockox House: a historical house, that thanks to the reno now housed fine art in addition to historical artifacts. The house was crammed, but they had prepared for it. The guide we were given was literally a small book, each painting got anywhere from half to a full page. I was fooled by a Caravaggio-esque painting above a doorway that they somehow missed in the guidebook.
While we were not in a rush to get to Rotterdam, we still had a train to catch to get there in time for our evening plans. We went to look at Museum aan de Stroom because it had won a bunch of architecture design awards and it stood in stark contrast to everything around it. They museum was also on the harbour. As we were walking away Brent noticed an info panel and proceeded to read it. Good thing he did, turns out the top floor of the museum is an observation deck that is free for everyone. From all the way up there (really just the 10th floor) we could see all of Antwerp, it was a very interesting view of the enormity of the canal system- something you cannot get a sense of from ground-level. I was thoroughly amused by a barge floating along the canal with a pile of sand- where was it going with all that sand?! From up there you really got a sense of how large the cathedral really is, it looms over everything else- not just around it, but everything in the skyline. On our way back down we stopped at the maritime museum that was also free. There is a reason that museum was free: it sucked. There was nothing of interest, it was poorly lit and half under construction.
Back on the ground we had a bit of trouble wayfinding, the giant cathedral was nowhere to be seen. We had to guess and we knew we were headed in the general right direction. We had to back track a little, having gone too far, but we made it to the beer store by the cathedral for one last shopping trip before leaving Belgium. I demanded we stop at Desiré de Lille for one last waffle, the best in Antwerp. It was the second best of the trip, slightly less buttery than then one in Bruges. We ended up having to rush to the train station, speed-walking around hypnotized zombie-paced people. And we got to the train station with time to spare, leaving me enough time to grab a Fanta Zero (how I wish they had these in Canada!!!) and an iced coffee in a plastic sippy cup (really, an ingenious idea as anyone who has spilled Starbucks bottled coffee on themselves can attest). For a €1.50 coffee from a grocery store, the sippy-cup-iced-coffee was pretty damn decent.
The hour-long train ride was great for catching up on my writing and my podcasts. At some point I looked up and had no idea which country we were in: had we left Belgium and were now in Holland? There was no way of knowing. They also did not check our tickets. My notes say there was an annoying girl on the train…. I have no recollection of this.
The first thing I laid eyes on when we left the station in Rotterdam, the first thing you could argue I saw in Holland: a mall. It was so damn tempting but we had better plans than that and so my temptation was easily quashed. That and we had a half hour walk to our hotel, there was no time. The streetcars were so futuristic looking, and there were so many of them. The drivers in Holland actually seemed to care; I was a little bit shocked to see that they actually braked at the crosswalk!! It was a very long slow walk to the hotel. We amused ourselves by noticing the tall people who just towered over us.
On the way we passed a really weird gnome statue in the park he was holding what appeared to maybe be an ice cream cone, this is unconfirmed. What is confirmed is that it was very creepy; ruining the public square it was in. Rotterdam was the least pretty place so far, more of a busy city than anything else. We were really only there for the North Sea Jazz Festival. While I sat in the hotel lobby waiting for Brent I watched as people picked up their tickets for the Jazz Festival, it was all old people. I was starting to wonder what I had signed up for. I was excepting a much younger crowd, hell Robin Thicke and Pharell were on the schedule! It was funny to picture these old people at that concert though. It was unclear as to why Robin Thicke and Pharell were slotted to play at a jazz festival.
For the first time in what seemed like forever, the sun was out and there was no rain! I actually changed into shorts! It was the first time in days that I could wear them and not freeze. Our hotel room was really weird. The floors did not have carpet, there were 2 single beds pushed together and the mini bar was under lock and key. The bathroom was split between two rooms. The toilet was on one side of the hotel room and to get to the sink you had to leave the toilet room, walk around the desk with the TV on it and to another small room that had the sink and shower.
Getting to the festival was easy; we just took the subway and followed the massive crowd of people. I was really confused because Brent kept saying “ahoy” and it made me think of Chips Ahoy. For some reason the concert venue is called Ahoy. Outside the centre there were people with signs desperate to buy tickets. It was the opposite of the usual scene: seedy scalpers trying to sell you overpriced (probably fake) tickets. The venue was awesome: it was a bunch of different concert halls connected by hallways. You could drop in on one concert and if it was boring head on to the next one, no wonder the festival is so popular.
The first show we went to was Robert Glasper Experiment and the Metropole Orkest conducted by Vince Mendoza. I was curious to see how an orchestra would handle jazz. Turns out they handle it very well, making jazz sound good. For the first few songs we hung around near the stage. Then we noticed that there was stadium seating around the stage. This is how all concerts should be: the option between pushing to the front of the stage or sitting back in a “comfy” stadium seat. As the concert wound down I could smell chicken nuggets. It was making me even hungrier.
We wandered off in a blind search for food. We had no idea where we were going, we just walked. It was unbelievable how many people were there. We passed a few stages and stopped to listen. Alas hunger wins out over jazz. It took us a while to finally settle on food. First we had to figure out that you pay with tokens bought from an automated machine. Then we had to choose from a variety of foods. We chose Indian food. Initially I suggested we go for the shortest line… until we realized all the lines were long. Ordering Indian food when the menu is in Dutch is not easy. Eventually by a process of elimination and watching other people order we deduced that “kip” was chicken. The food was ok, not spicy enough though. When we had been looking for food giant cookies had caught my eye, the perfect dessert. With my cookie and a green tea in hand we set off for the Nile Room. The plan was to get there early, enjoy the act before Robin Thicke and thus have seats for the rest of the evening. We walked into the room and were faced with a sea of people. Turns out this was the main stage. After climbing over some people we managed to snag seats at the back. It was set up in such a way that at the back of the room and on the two sides there was stadium benches, the whole centre of the floor was just a crowd of people.
Sheila E. featuring Candy Dulfer was performing. Apparently this was not to the true jazz enthusiasts’ liking. After a few songs people started leaving. Her music was a mix of pop with a tiny bit of jazz and rock. At some point Sheila took her shoes off. Then she took to drumming like the Muppet Animal, looking like a maniac. The saxophonist, Candy, was much better than Sheila. The worst was when Sheila name-dropped having worked with Prince… and then she proceeded to butcher a Prince song. I was about done with her by then.
In between the concerts, while they set up the other stage (in the main hall there were two, and the acts would alternate stages making for less time in between shows), the crowd had cleared out. We made our way to the bleachers on the side, much closer to the stage. We were there out of morbid curiosity: we wanted to see Robin Thicke flop. We had this grand idea that few would show up and those that did would boo him. Somehow there were over 10,000 people there, easily more. The crowd was not 100% into the show at first. He did say “I love you Amsterdaahh… Rotterdam… North Sea Jazz Festival” but that did not get him booed. He was such a dork. He kicked down the microphone, and for what?! A crew member came right back out and straightened it. He climbed up on the piano to sing. He tossed his sunglasses into the crowd. The concert really fell apart in the middle when he would shout stuff about “getting the party started” and would start singing a sad-sack song about getting his wife back. Then he would shout again about the party… and would sing more pathetic “take me back songs.” Then he said that because Stevie Wonder was watching from the sidelines we really had to “get this party started”… and he proceeded to play the piano and sing yet another whiny why-did-you-leave-me ballad. It was becoming unbearable but we had long ago realized that we were trapped. There was no way we could get out; we were tightly surrounded by a mass of people. He finished off with Blurred Lines, at which point everyone woke up and started jumping, including the people in the bleachers. We looked at each other, “can these bleachers support jumping people?” we wondered. Pharell, who was performing next, who is in Blurred Lines, did not join Robin Thicke on stage. Halfway through the song they threw beach balls out into the crowd… just in time for the end of the concert. At the end of the concert he reminded the crowd, twice, that he is “Robin Thicke, everybody!” That was the fourth or fifth time during the whole show that he reminded everyone of who he was. What a dope.
At the subway station I spotted a vending machine. I was feeling risky, on a whim I bought a soda called Sisi, the flavour was Sinas. Thankfully it was just citrus. There weren’t any good chocolates in the vending machine, but that is OK, I still had some Speculoos cookies left. I opened Brent’s beer on the door jamb, spilling beer everywhere in the process. The door jamb had clearly been used as a bottle opener multiple times, it was very beat up.