Sunday, August 29, 2004

Brussels, Belgium—Antwerp, Belgium—Mol, Belgium—Brussels—Day 211

I first headed back to the Antwerp Zoo to see if my prediction about Hermein being outside. I took the metro to the central train station and hopped on a train to Antwerp, which is about 45 minutes from Brussels. Walked out of the train station and went right to the zoo for the third time in a row. Luckily the ticket person who I've had the past two days wasn’t there so I didn’t have to worry about her recognizing me for a third time. I bought my ticket, headed back to Hippotopia and sure enough, it was Hermein’s turn to be outside.

It was great that she was outside but unfortunately she was turned the wrong way so her back was facing me. I took a few pictures before deciding to head around the exhibit to see if I could get a better view from outside the exhibit. I walked around and found a good spot to stand where I could see Hermein but unfortunately there were trees in the way. So I had to stand on this bench and sort of try and jump to get pictures of her without the trees and wires that were in the way. After a few attempts, I had some good pictures of her but as I tried for my like fifteenth time of jumping and shooting, she decided to start moving around. So I raced back over through Hippotopia and happily found her turned. So I snapped away and soon had my pictures.

I left the zoo for the third and LAST time and needed to get a train to Balen, where the Olmense Zoo is. I knew vaguely where it was in Belgium and vaguely the towns around the zoo. When I got to the train station there was a train leaving for Mol, which I remembered for being on the website for the zoo. So I thought, what the heck, and jumped on it.

As we took off towards Mol (wherever that was) I hoped that I would make it ok to the zoo.

I got off at the Mol train station and found myself to be in a really small town. I looked around and found no taxis or signs saying anything about the zoo. So I asked at the desk (luckily she spoke some English) and was given a number to call a taxi with. At least I wasn’t too far from the zoo! I could have ended up in the entirely wrong place for all I knew.

So after finding the phone booth and then walking back to buy a phone card from the lady at the station again and back to the phone booth, I had a taxi coming to pick me up and take me to the zoo. I started to get worried for a bit after a while since it hadn’t shown up and just as I was about to go back inside the station to ask for help, a bright blue taxi van showed up.

I got in and we headed to the zoo, which wasn’t all that far away, just a few towns over from where I ended up on the train. I thanked the driver and asked if he could pick me up again (he told yes and that I should call him) so I went in the zoo. The Olmense Zoo was one of those municipal type zoos that feel almost as if you are in someone’s backyard, or that perhaps there really shouldn’t be a zoo there at all. I headed in on the dirt path to find the hippos (or hippo for all I knew). It didn’t take me too long to find the lone hippo in his enclosure, surrounded by barbed wire and green rusty metal bars. Poor guy. To take pictures of him I literally had to squat down near the ground so that I could get pictures under all of the fencing. He was mostly submerged in the water and would come up occasionally to take a breath, so I snapped away while other zoo goers threw rocks trying to get him to come up more often. Honestly, do they think that if someone threw rocks at THEM they would want to come up? I shot dirty looks to everyone taunting the hippo, shouting and some of which even had their dogs with them! I couldn’t believe it.

Finally the hippo (whose name I had yet to figure out) got angry with everyone and moved up a bit, opening his mouth and showing his teeth to everyone which of course was what they wanted.

After I got my pictures I walked around the zoo for quite some time trying to find someone, ANYONE who worked at the zoo. I couldn’t find a single soul. Even the information center was locked with no one in it. Sure there were people in the food cafeteria area (which, by the way, was decorated in stuffed animals—as in taxidermy to the max. Who wants to eat a sandwich under a stuffed cheetah at the ZOO?). Anyways, I FINALLY found a guy after finding a closed gate and hearing noises behind it. I thought for sure this is where a keeper would be and sure enough, one came out and so I cornered him and his wheelbarrow. He told me that the hippo’s name was August and wrote it down on my postcard that I bought of a hippo, in the process getting blood from a cut on his finger on it.


But, I had his name and my pictures so I was set. Now I just needed to find a phone, which was another fiasco. I eventually walked back into the cafeteria and asked if there was a phone in there and the woman behind the counter actually took me behind it and got someone to call on their phone for me. You mean, you don’t speak Flemish? She asks me. Um, no.

Note to self, learn Flemish.

So she booked me a taxi (the same guy of course—probably the only taxi driver in the area) and fifteen minutes later he picked me up again. How was the zoo, he asks.

He takes me back to the train station in Mol. I went in and saw that the train I needed was to leave in an hour, so I walked across the street to have some lunch at a café. When I was finished I went back to platform #3 (the only platform really that seemed to be functioning—all of the trains came and went out of it) and was soon on my way back to Brussels via Antwerp.

I made it back to Brussels about two hours later and came back to the hotel to drop off my bag before going out to find some dinner. I ended up walking around a different part of Brussels which then lead into where I was yesterday (the touristy center) so I just grabbed a sandwich instead of finding a sit down place. Maybe tomorrow.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.