We were up early and out the door of our hotel to meet Bryony at the Brussels Central Station for a one hour train ride and a daytrip to Antwerp. Walking the streets of a beautiful city shorn of its usual crowds has its benefits.
Both the Brussels and the Antwerp Central Train Stations are huge “beehives” of activity. Their architecture oozes old world charm. In the case of Antwerp, as it became necessary to expand the number of tracks serving the city they merely expanded downward. Each level contains many train platforms providing service to national and international destinations. There are over 20 separate train platforms!
In the 10 weeks that we have now been traveling we have ridden over 20 separate train trips, not counting commuter subway trips. Not a single one of those trips have been off their published timetable… every one has departed and arrived precisely on time!
Antwerp is a busy seaport city that is known for its prominence in the diamond trade. We passed on shopping those venues in favor of strolling the harbor area, and ascending the MAS art museum building for a free panorama of the city.
We did not have time to actually visit the collection, but just walking about inside was entertaining. There were lifelike statues of a ship captain and female officer standing at the edge of one of the floors, and a well utilized study area.
The city vista was also entertaining as one building displayed a series of larger than life human figures climbing the walls.
Our intended destination was the Red Star Museum. This is a sister site to New York’s Ellis Island. Over a span of approximately 40 years from the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century, Ellis Island received over 12 million immigrants for processing into the United States. Over 2 million of those souls had departed from Antwerp. The Red Star Museum is named after the prominent ship line that transported many of those emigrants from Antwerp and is housed in the buildings that processed those folks.
The museum presents the stories of those people, both the prominent such as Albert Einstein, and the nameless.
Screening to standards set by US Immigration at the departure point was necessary as any passenger rejected in New York had to be returned to Europe at the ship company’s expense. In spite of the rigorous examination, 2% were still turned back in New York. Imagine the heart rending choice that parents had to make when one of their young children was rejected and they could either proceed without her or choose to keep the family intact and return to Europe. Most families chose to continue on as social, economic, and political conditions in their former countries provided no real option for returning. Societies were formed to care for those “orphaned” children in the “old country”, helping them to remain in contact with their families if such was possible.
Our day also included a wonderful harborside lunch, and then a late evening dinner at a French restaurant back in Brussels.
We depart Belgium tomorrow evening and will be aboard a night sleeper train. Our destination will be Bratislava Slovakia for 3 days with Svetlana Rosinova, her husband Milan Rosina and their children. Svetlana lived with us for a year as a high school exchange student in the 1990’s. This will be an exciting reunion!
Peace Everyone. Pete