My Tramway Adventure in Antwerp
If you get cold feet, call me and I will drive up to pick you
Mamy offered to meet me at the hotel where I stayed, to drive me the 14kms to her home for dinner. I had offered to arrive at her home on my own on the public tramway. After lunch at Da Giovanni that afternoon, we had poured over the map for routes and identified the tram hops that I had to make and she suspected that I may have ‘cold feet’.
It was my 3rd day at Antwerp. Ever since I had arrived, the tram was my way of getting around town. The friendly front office staff at the hotel had educated me on the rules and etiquette of tram riding. I knew that I had to punch my ticket only after I boarded the tram and not while exiting like I would in Singapore, where I was familiar with the metro. I also knew that if I used the tram within one hour of punching my ticket once, I didn’t have to validate it again.
I had used the tram on Route №24 that brought me from Joe English, the tram station near where my hotel was located, to Antwerp Centraal, from where I had walked all along the pedestrianised Meir, the shopping district at Antwerp, multiple times in the last 48 hours.
I wasn’t going to call Mamy even if I got lost
I didn’t want to give her the additional stress of having to pick me up added to her cooking us a sumptuous dinner that evening. Anyway, how lost could I get? How difficult was it going to be to find a tram if I knew where I had to board from?
‘It is pretty simple actually. Hop off at Melkmarkt and walk to Groenplaats. Look for the underground tram station, find Route №3 or 2 and hop onto the tram going towards Merksem and ride up to the last station and I will wait for you there’, assured Mamy when I told her I was going to find my way to her home on my own.
My husband, who was joining me for dinner, was driving straight from work to the home of our guests. He called just when he was leaving to check if I wanted to be picked up at the hotel.
No! I will see you at dinner.
Just to be sure I had the details right, I cross checked the tram information Mamy had shared with me with the front desk of the hotel, before I left for the evening. It was not that I didn’t trust the information she had shared, but just that she wasn’t someone who rode a local tram to get to anywhere in Antwerp.
She drove everywhere in her B class hatchback
I suspected she may not have given me the shortest tram route or known of alternative routes to Merksem from where she had to pick me for the 15 min drive to the beautiful Brasschaat where her home was.
The front office assistant, in the best English he could muster, said I didn’t have to go upto Groenplaats on foot from Melkmarkt but instead ride the same Route №24 to Roosveltplaats, from where there was an underground to ride Route №3 to Merksem. He said I would save some walking time and he was pretty sure that there were no tram routes towards Merksem from Groenplaats.
He seemed more the tram rider than Mamy was plus he had consulted the tram routes, printed me a map and marked me a route to the underground at Roosveltplaats. He had suggested a shorter, easier alternative.
I instantly trusted him
Armed with this new info I had gathered, I smugly walked to the tram station at Joe English.
As the tram pulled up towards Roosveltplaats on it’s way to Melkmarkt, I wondered if I should stick to the original plan and follow what Mamy had asked me to do — to be fair, she had consulted the De Linj maps — yet, I got off the tram at Roosveltplaats to find the underground. I briskly walked in the cold crispy evening air, humming under my breath, more out of anxiety than happiness.
I took the left turn as the friendly front office assistant had suggested and -ta da!- there was no underground! I retraced my path with my eyes to see if I had followed the young man’s advice and I had to the T. Instead there I was, on a huge construction site, in the middle of dug up ground and cranes. I hastened back towards the Roosveltplaats tram station to undo my walk to find the underground and to maybe follow Mamy’s original suggestion?
But my pride would not have it.
I didn’t want to give up so easily. Maybe I hadn’t taken the correct turn and that is why I hadn’t found the underground? I looked for someone to ask and I spotted a really tall, old man standing by himself.
Would you be able to help me?
I bet he saw in me, a lost tourist with a map of the city in hand needing some directions to a place I needed to get to and he seemed friendly and eager to help. He said that he wasn’t from Antwerp but was familiar with the city. When I reported the case of the missing underground, he seemed to know of its existence and offered to walk up with me to find it. So we retraced the walk from Roosveltplaats to where I had discovered the missing underground. On our way there, the friendly man was in a chatty mood.
Are you from Hyderabad?
He seemed familiar with India and sounded excited when I said I was from Chennai. He had never visited Chennai up until then. He did some work with a Christian youth organization in Goa, Mumbai and Bangalore. He now lived in Singapore and was in Antwerp on work. I told him I was familiar with Singapore because it was home for nearly seven years, so we happily chatted on about that country.
When we reached the same spot that I had walked to earlier by myself, he seemed perplexed too — there was no underground.
By then I had wasted nearly an hour, walking up and down Roosveltplaats and talking to random strangers, that I was ready to swallow my pride and go back to option 1- which was the original tram route suggested by Mamy.
But my new friend, wouldn’t give up so easily!
He stopped another passerby, smoking a cigar and enjoying his walk to ask him about the missing underground. The man with the cigar looked up and down and helpfully pointed in the direction of Melmarkt from where I could walk to Groenplaats which he confirmed had an underground.
Oh Mamy, you were right all the time! Damn you, young front office assistant.
I thanked both the men for their precious time and help and again walked back to the tram station at Roosveltplaats to ride another Route №24 to Melkmarkt from where I could walk to Groenplaats Underground — the route I should have followed an hour back.
I would have been hopping mad at my stupidity had it not been for the encounter with the friendly stranger who promised to meet me in Chennai someday.