Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Amsterdam to Antwerp

Mark didn't want to eat breakfast in the hotel again ("It's so depressing and dreary"), so we decided to change things up and walked a few blocks away to grab coffee in a little cafe before checking out of the hotel. Even better, though, was this:

...the Noordermarkt farmer's market! It's a fantastic outdoor organic market with just about every type of fresh veggie and fruit you can think of, as well as fresh baked breads and pastries and fancy meats and cheeses. They have full scale fridges and ovens and such set up in the space in front of Noorderkerk, the church that overlooks the small square. It's also part flea market, so we walked through all of the stalls and bought a few things, including a very cool pirate toy thing that swings back and forth and makes the pirates swordfight. The weather was so nice and the market was so cool that I didn't want to leave, but we had places to go!

We made our way back to the hotel, ogled at the loooooong line already forming for the Anne Frank Museum (turns out it was a WWII memorial holiday that day), checked out (goodbye, steep steps!), took the tram back to the car, and hopped on the road. The drive to Antwerp, Belgium, was supposed to take just under two hours. After our last trip in the fall, where in one case we spent a full day driving, that seemed like nothing!

The drive wasn't too bad and there really wasn't much traffic. At one point we passed a small sign that said 'BelgiĆ«' so we figured we were in Belgium. 

We got to Antwerp and found the hotel with no problem. Since we were a little early we grabbed lunch at a nearby cafe to kill the time. I had a goat cheese and sundried tomato tartine and we shared a bowl of ridiculously fresh fruit. People were right - Belgium is delicious!

The hotel was right next to the cafe so we went back to the car, grabbed our bags, and checked into what is probably the nicest hotel we've stayed in in Europe. The room was huge and they even had an elevator! We dropped off our bags and made our way back downstairs. 

The hotel was right next to Centraal Station (yup, that's the correct spelling), so we cut through the station to check it out. It is the prettiest train station I've ever seen (you can even see one of the trains on the platform on the right side of the picture). We weren't going to spend the afternoon looking at trains, though...

...we were going to the Antwerp Zoo!

The zoo is right in the middle of the city and is one of the oldest in the world, established in July 1843. And honestly, I think it may be my new favorite zoo. They had animals there that I'd never seen before, and I don't know if I've been to a zoo yet with that much variety. 

For the first few minutes we were walking the same general path as a family with several little kids, including this ridiculously cute little girl. The mother was teaching her what I think were the French names for each animal, so Mark and I tried not to make it obvious that we were trying to learn the names from her, too.  :)   C'est un flamant rouge!

The zoo grounds are ridiculously pretty.

Now we're monkey buddies! Or as Mark says, now we're primate buddies. It's actually a chimpanzee; as an anthropology major, Mark absolutely loves when I refer to any and all primates as monkeys.

The flower displays here, while not as extensive as Keukenhof, were almost as good.

I think this is a mongoose. Most of them were sleeping, but there were a couple running around in the bottom of the enclosure.

They had a huge selection of birds, including quails. They also had a kea, which we had seen in the wild in New Zealand, and a couple cardinals, one of which I can see in my yard right now.   :)    There was also a long line of cages with huuuuge birds like condors and eagles.

This is my kitty! Or to be more accurate, this is my Amur Leopard. It looked right at me as I clicked the shutter.

All of the lions were sleeping. I don't blame them; it was getting pretty warm and I could have used a nap myself.

At first I thought this was a beaver with no tail, but it's actually a coypu.

The pelicans were huge! A couple of them kept yawning and it looked like they were turning their heads inside out.

We eventually made our way over to the penguins. They had a few different kinds of penguin all hanging out together in a big enclosure.

One of my favorite things was watching the elephants eating.

A male mandrill. Or until Mark sighed and corrected me, I had captioned this picture as a monkey dude.

We spent several hours at the zoo wandering through the displays; it was fantastic. They had a nocturama with all sort of night creatures like kiwis, bats, sloths, and aardvarks, and there were tons of displays with lions and tigers and jaguars and seals and birds and lemurs and pretty much any other animal you could think of. If you ever find yourself in Antwerp, definitely make time for the zoo.

We eventually left the zoo and walked back through the train station. Mark bought a couple apple strudel waffles from a vendor and we took them back to the room.


Mark went exploring in the hotel and found this view of Antwerp from the fitness center a few floors up.

We wound up having a lazy night in the hotel, which was perfectly fine with me, and ate the fancy bread, cheese, and fruit that we picked up from the Noodermarkt for dinner. We were planning to get a fairly early start the next day since we only had one full day in Belgium before we would head back to Amsterdam.

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