Belgians haven’t always been nice to visitors in the past and it seems the tradition continues.
Antwerpen takes its name from the Flemish ‘hand werpen’ – or ‘hand throwing’. The story goes that the gates were guarded by a giant who demanded a toll of travellers. If they couldn’t pay, he cut off their hands and threw them away.
Antwerpen is very proud of this historical hospitality and has erected a statue in the city square in that friendly chap’s honour.
The train conductor I met at Antwerp Centraal Station was a direct descendant of the hand thrower and doing his best to maintain the tradition.
I bought a ticket for myself and my bike and waited on the platform for the train to Amsterdam. I know bikes can be a nuisance on trains, so I found the conductor and politely asked him which carriage I should go to. ‘Fifth one along,’ he answered, pointing down the train.
As I turned to wheel the bike in that direction, he blew his whistle, shut the doors and sent the (mostly empty) train on its way to Amsterdam, leaving me and bike on the platform.
Thanks. Merci. Dank u wel!
When the next train arrived an hour later, I shoved the bike into the first compartment I found and avoided talking to any Belgian railway staff.