It’s midday in Antwerp, Belgium when dreary skies and spotty rain showers finally give way to blues that make the flagstone pedestrian mall shine with a vibrancy reflecting the Flemish-style row houses and the rainbow flags that line the street Wapper. It’s a much-needed relief to the Flemings who squint and emerge from shopping arcades to reclaim the streets. Without a passing glance, fashionable students strut past the home of Peter Paul Rubens, holding their Galeria INNO bags, and peel off their rain gear to reveal a head-to-toe style that the Antwerp Six would surely admire. Blue-haired women with their wet plastic headscarves wipe benches dry with newspapers and resume their daily gossip.
I too am relieved that the rain stopped, as my first day in Antwerp is a formal affair. While the World Outgames 2013 are already in full swing, I’m here to catch the tail end of the festivities that will also coincide with the city’s Pride. After quickly changing in Hotel Leopold, I walk to Antwerp’s most picturesque square, Grote Markt. The City Hall (Stadhuis) stands on the east side of the square, which is surrounded by stunning Guild Houses built in the over-the-top Flemish Renaissance style. A bronze fountain in front depicts the etymology of Antwerp (a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo chopped off a giant’s hand and threw it into the river: hence the name of the city is derived from hantwerpen or “hand throwing”).