While Antwerp is not a large city and public transport is far superior to anything I experienced growing up, it’s been suggested to me on several occasions to get a bike. The city isn’t huge, but bikes can make getting to hidden pockets of the city much more easily accessible and you’re not beholden to the bus or tram schedule.
It’s for this reason that I set out one sunny Thursday afternoon to go bike shopping. I found a second hand bike shop located in the Antwerpen Zuid district, an area full of lots of little interesting shops and pubs. My plan is to go look at bikes and explore the area a bit, maybe get a coffee and sit a terrace and read. It really is a lovely day.
I grab the number 4 tram and get dropped off at the Tropic Institute stop, right at the center of the Zuid neighborhood. I’ve got my trusty iPhone map in my hand leading me through the diagonal cobblestone streets of the city. It doesn’t take me long to find the shop I am looking for but I am quickly disappointed. A sign on the door tells me that for the month of August, the shop will only be open on Friday and Saturdays.
Seems I forgot that nearly everyone takes an extended vacation in August in Europe. I first ran across this phenomenon last year when the sandwich shop across the street from the university I was studying at closed for a whole month, right when finals started. While I love the fact that there are not as many chains in Antwerp and I think it’s a good economic sign that people can afford to completely close their shops for two plus weeks and go on vacation, it’s incredibly frustrating for those of us still in the city in August.
Oh well! More of an excuse to find a nice coffee shop and read.
More specifically, I set out to find the Dansing Chocola. I read about this place in a student guide in Antwerp when I was here in summer 2012 and am to determined to try it this year. The reviews I read last summer just raved about it, and today I have the perfect excuse since I am already in the neighborhood. Google tells me that the shop is on Kloosterstraat, which I am already on, so I start walking up and down the street. After my third unsuccessful pass down the street, I go back to google to make sure I have the right address. This time I look at the reviews and notice that someone has commented that the Dansing Chocola has closed. Alright, not the end of the world.
Earlier this morning when I was searching Google and found the blog of Starfish & Coffee. The shop was apparently heralded in the book 500 Hidden Gems of Antwerp as one of the best places to get cake in the city. As anyone who knows me can attest to my sweet tooth, upon reading that I was more or less sold. Their website claimed they would be closed until probably 5/8, but it didn’t explicitly state a for sure date and there was no update to say that it was open. However, I have learned that websites for business in Antwerp are not always the most up to date. Surely there was some truth to the old adage, “Third time’s the charm” right? I decide to try my luck.
I walk a familiar path from the Tropic Institute to the lei. According to my map Starfish & Coffee is just on the other side, not more than a 15 minute walk from where I am. The sun is getting warm and the thought of a cold drink and delicious cake raises my spirits a bit. But once again, I find on my arrival that the month of August has thwarted me – the metal security gate is pulled over the entrance to Starfish & Coffee. It seems the August Vacation Gods are against me once again; maybe before my next outing I should offer an ice cream sacrifice to appease them.
Slightly dejected and defeated, I decide to head back to Marnixplaats. While I might not be able to get a piece of the best cake in Antwerp, I know that there are several terraces there that have chairs where I can sit and enjoy my book with a Kriek beer. I stop at the first place I come across, a bar called Marnix10. The bartender is in a foul mood and does not hide his annoyance when I reach the bar. I ask for a Kriek beer but get a pils instead. At this point, I am beyond arguing, take my beer and sit on the terrace.