Sleeping on a bench
It was the night before I was to leave for Amsterdam. I was in Antwerpen, Belgium at the train station. I really didn’t want to spend money on a hostel, because hell, that’s 45 Euros wasted. I am the Poor Travel Blogger after all, right?
The train station in Antwerpen is huge. I mean, it’s multi-level huge. They have three different levels of trains going anywhere in Europe you want to go. It’s a plethora of people and escalators taking them to the train they need. What does this mean for me? Plenty of benches to choose from. I needed a place to sleep. It was warm inside the train station and for the most part safe.
It was about 11 PM and I made my way down to the bottom floor of the train station. I had spent the day exploring the Diamond capital for all its glory, and frankly, I’d had enough of Belgium. I found a nice bench in a semi-enclosed glass area (I know, I should have taken a picture of it) and got to work making myself comfy. I set my backpack on the end of the bench, rolled up my jacket into a pillow, and laid down for the night. There was one other person sleeping there and for the most part, the place was empty. I had the thought to keep one eye open on this guy while I slept, but before I knew it, all was black and I was slumbering away.
Until that, I heard French being spoken to me. I opened my eyes, and there stood in all his glory, a police officer. I sat up immediately, shaking away sleep and I looked back at him and said “I am an American.” He nodded and instantly switched to perfect English. “Ah yes, I was just telling you that you cannot be in the train station after 1 AM, we close the station until 4:30 AM and it is not safe for you to be here,” he finished with a smile. Well well well, and for a second there I thought I was going to be in handcuffs. How fun was this? There were two police officers and one train security person that escorted me and the other gentleman that had been sleeping, out on the street. On the way, I made small talk with the officer and he was nice enough to tell me, after I asked him, that he personally didn’t care if I came back at 4:30 and slept until my train arrived. I laughed and shook his hand and walked out into the cold nightlife of Antwerp.
But what a great night it was. I was glad to have been awakened by the officer because I would have missed what this city had to offer at night. The town center was bustling with people from all walks of life, going from one bar to the other. I went to a nice little all-night diner and got a skewer with beef and veggies that were fried in oil first with a side of fruit (fries). While I sat there eating, a man complained to the cook behind the counter about not accepting his 500 Euro bill. I thought well duh, nobody accepts large bills like that, anywhere at night, unless maybe at a fancy hotel. The man yelled obscenities at the cook, which resulted in the cook vaulting over the counter and chasing after him with his shoe in hand. He must have really hit a nerve there with his words.
After my not-so-tasty meal, I sat outside of a bar and bundled myself up against the wind, and waited out the couple of hours I had left to wait. I watched people mill back and forth. One man asked me on three separate occasions if he could bum a Euro from me. I told him no, along with the other people he ran into. He was obviously in need of a fix. I had made sure to ask how long the bar was open, and the waiter just laughed with “sometimes until 6″. That was good enough for me.
It was close to 4:30 AM when I finally made my way back to the train station and I went back to my old spot, the hard wooden bench, and slumbered, somehow managing to wake up right before my 8 AM train arrived. What a fun night.