May 14, Antwerp
We met up with Dirk and Annie, and together took the train to Antwerp. This again reminded me of how delightful the European train system is - frequent, fast, quiet, reliable, and inexpensive. Irène joined the train at a later stop and we connected with her once we got to Antwerp.
The Antwerp Centraal Station is a magnificent building, inside and out, with grand staircases, vaulted ceilings and much more. Just outside the station is the Antwerp Zoo - we didn't go into the zoo, but it looked attractive.
Antwerp is the historical center of the diamond trade, and there were many, many shops selling diamond and gold jewelry. During our walk we stopped in a chocolate shop (of course, Belgians are very proud of their chocolates), and admired the public artwork that residents were enjoying. Irène told us of how it was to live in Antwerp through the WWII German bombing, and pointed out a movie theater where a bomb killed hundreds of soldiers watching a film.
Irène took us for lunch to Elfde Gebod (Eleventh Commandment), a delightfully quirky pub/restaurant in a building that used to belong to the adjacent cathedral, and decorated with a wild assortment of religious statuary (some in not the best condition) and interesting artwork. The food, drink and service was all excellent. I made sure to have a traditional Belgian meatball dish.
We walked to the river, and then slowly made our way back to the train station. Gingy checked out a lace shop and came out with a purse that delighted her.
We said our farewells and then took the train back to Brussels.
May 15, Brussels
The five of us walked through a Turkish section on the street behind our apartment where, to Bud's delight, we found a bakery selling freshly made Simit, a bread ring dipped in pomegranate molasses and sesame seeds, that Bud had enjoyed on a years-ago visit to Turkey. He had been unable to find or make some that matched his memory, and this bakery's version was deemed to be acceptably close.
Returning to the apartment, we packed for our journey home the next morning.
May 16, Home
Once again, I got the dreaded "SSSS" on my boarding pass, which made me unable to check in online, and once at the gate, I was sequestered in a separate area while my carryons were opened and gone through. It was professional and fairly quick, but I was not able to rejoin Leslie until boarding started. (As this was the second time in a row this happened to me, I applied for a "Redress Number" and quickly received a response saying that the TSA's data had been updated and that the number should prevent the problem in the future. It did, at least, for a Fortran trip I took in June.)
What I didn't realize until we reached New York for our connection to Boston, was that the SSSS also meant that I lost TSA PreCheck for the connection. This meant I had to go through the regular line, and it had been so long since I had done that that I missed taking off my shoes, to the irritation of the TSA agent. I got through that, though, and we made our connection and got home without further ado. Unfortunately, one of Bud and Gingy's connections was canceled and they didn't make it home for almost another day.
We had a great time in Florence, were delighted to see Dirk and Annie again, Irène was delightful, and parts of the Venissimo tour were good too. I think we're done with most of Italy for now, though we do have a 2024 OAT trip booked that takes us into the Dolomites in far-northern Italy, as well as France and Switzerland. But next up is Iceland, Norway and Svalbard! Stay tuned!