ANTWERP, BELGIUM – a bit off-hand

The hand thrower, Antwerp.

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.


Filed under Belgium, Cycle touring

6 responses to “ANTWERP, BELGIUM – a bit off-hand

  1. Nice chap. I think he also works at the train station in Como. I have met him.
    I really want to go to Antwerp, I want to go to the Dries Van Noten shop there. I hope he is in Como the day I arrive.

  2. Ilona

    This is apparently a local custom to lower your expectations. This way the rest of your trip will be sooo nice 😉
    I have had a similar experience with a man working on public transport in Antwerpen.
    I kindly asked to busdriver to please let me know when my stop was, (mind: back then they’re were no electric signs inside the bus). He replied with a very insulted face “Allez, ik ben toch geen computer!” (What are you thinking? I’m no computer!)

    With some astonishment on my face I entered the bus and took a seat in the front, hoping I would be able to read the small letters on the busstop.
    Strangely enough, the busdriver alerted me when my stop came up.

    Strange strange man…

  3. I was excited to find this site. I want to to thank you for your time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely loved every part of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff in your web site.

  4. Nik Van Gils


    I’m from Belgium, although not from Antwerp !
    Sory to hear from your experience with our Railway Lines. Shit happens , as they say.
    However , I would like to make a remark about your story about the « hand-thrower » your picture shows.
    It’ s true that the story goes that a giant , called Antigoon terrorised the region by letting the sailors on the Scheldt pay a toll. If they couldn’t pay the giant hacked their hand off and threw it in the Scheldt. So far, so good ( ?) … I mean your story.
    But you forgot to tell the rest of it. A Roman soldier (the story seems to be very old !), named Brabo, fought the giant and killed him, then cut off his hand and threw it in the Scheldt, thereby freeing the region of this scourge.
    When you look at the whole statue on the marketplace in Antwerp, you will see that the dead giant lies at the feet of the victorious Brabo, who throws the giant’s hand (it’s clearly bigger than his own) away.
    All this story just to say that Antwerp didn’t erect the statue to honor the villain, but the savior of their city.
    Hopefully, on your next visit to the city, you’ll encounter a more helpfull person !
    Also, congratulations with your website, it’s a great read !

    • Thanks very much for this information, Nik. It’s great to hear the rest of the story and explains to me why the hand being thrown is so big. I’ll be heading back to Nederland this week, and hope to ride the bike down into lovely Belgium again – and to find the train conductors more helpful!

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