Trying out De Waterbus in Antwerp, Belgium: Daytrip on the Schelde River to Kruibeke Polder and Castle Wissekerke

De Waterbus at Steenplein in Antwerp

We got our first chance to try De Waterbus yesterday, the river bus that leaves from Antwerp’s Steenplein and makes a 30-minute run to nearby Hemiksem via Kruibeke. De Waterbus is new as of July 2017 so not yet in service when we were here last spring and not so appealing during the cold days when we were in Antwerp last October-November. Yesterday, however, was perfect: warm and sunny; just right for an explore.

The Waterbus leaves every 30 minutes on the hour and half-hour from Steenplein (the pier where the free cross-river ferry to Linkeroever docks, near Het Steen castle). The cost is 3 for a one-way trip or 5, round-trip. De Waterbus has plenty of room and racks for bikes and a nice, air-conditioned interior and public toilets.

It’s fun to watch the bustling water traffic on the Schelde while the banks are mostly high water reeds and grasses or industrial structures. Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe after all.

The Waterbus made a quick stop on the right bank at Kruibeke, but we stayed on to Hemiksem on the opposite bank where walked a short distance to De Veertoren Taverne a pub I’d spotted online for lunch. There’s nothing else near the dock save tidy new homes.

Terrace at De Veertoren
Wednesday lunch special at De Veertoren: a hearty and tasty steak/frites

After a nice lunch of steak, frites, salad and ice cold Gouden Carolus Tripels, we hopped the free cross-river ferry to the Kruibeke side of the river. (This ferry runs every half hour on the 14 and 45.) I’d seen Castle Wissekerke in the village of Bezel online and wanted to visit, but had been discouraged in the past by the apparent need for a car. I was excited to realize we could actually walk from a Waterbus stop. Checking Google Maps, I saw it’s actually a much shorter walk to the castle from the bank opposite Hemiksem (2 km) than it is from the Kruibeke Waterbus stop (2.5 miles) even though Bezel is in the Kruibeke municipality. The ferry dropped us off at a small parking lot that gave way immediately to the bike trails of the Kruibeke Polder. “Polders” are manmade emergency flood plains that also serve as extensive biking trails connecting towns throughout Flanders and the Netherlands as well as being nature preserves and walking paths. We were the only pedestrians getting off the ferry and we would have loved to have bikes, but it’s still a nice walk and we enjoyed our stroll through wild wetlands and marshy forest. The bikes are routed away from the cobblestone walking path which is an added benefit for those on foot.

Kruibeke Polder just off the cross-river ferry from Hemiksem
Walking path in Kruibeke Polder
Marshy alder tree forest in Kruibeke polder
Sluice in Kruibeke Polder

In no time, we arrived at picturesque Castle Wissekerke surrounded by a little lake populated with swans, geese and ducks.

Castle Wissekerke

Entrance is 5/adult and happily included an English-language booklet with two paths through the castle, one for the nobility and one for servants. We were turned loose to explore the castle which we had almost entirely to ourselves. It was fun and refreshing to be allowed to look through documents, open secret doors, climb a bell turret, descend to the medieval cellar and kitchen, and generally wander and indulge our curiosity with minimal restraint. (There’s a children’s academy of some sort using a portion of the building and that was one of the few areas we weren’t encouraged to visit.)

“Vestibule” of Castle Wissekerke
Gothic-style living apartment, a change from the majority Napoleonic/Empire decor
Servant’s stairway to bell tower

The castle was the home of the family of Count Philippe Vilain XIII and is mostly decorated in restored Napoleonic glory. There are many original items as well as period pieces. Although the castle dates back to the middle ages, it’s current iteration is more a mansion than a fortification. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Wissekerke and are happy the Waterbus and ferry made it doable on foot from Antwerp.

Neglected belfry
Dining room with original china, crystal and silver on display
Chapel of Castle Wissekerke

We wandered through the terrace of a charming café called Bistro Den Duiventoren next door to the castle and peeked in a little “free museum” and bar across the street which is only open on the weekends before retracing our steps to the cross-river ferry and then catching De Waterbus back to Antwerp.

Cross-river ferry dock at Kruibeke Polder with ferry visible on opposite bank at Hemiksem

Posted June 7, 2018

Taking the JR Beetle ferry from Japan to South Korea

20160929_143430

Months prior to our trip, I’d bought our ferry tickets from Fukuoka/Hakata*, Japan, to Busan, South Korea, online at http://www.aferry.com/jr-kyushu-beetle-ferry.htm. This site makes buying international tickets easy for English-speakers and I found the fares to be actually cheaper than on the Japanese and Korean sites. Both Japan and Korea offer daily ferry routes between Hakata and Busan. The Korean fare is slightly cheaper, but the Japanese “JR Beetle” runs twice daily and offered a more convenient time for us, so I went with that.

[*Hakata is the former name of the city of Fukuoka and both the train station and a port are still called Hakata. This can be a bit confusing when you’re looking for trains as well as ferries since the natural inclination is to look for the name of the city as it is currently known.]

Instructions with our tickets informed us that we needed to be at the port at least 45 minutes prior to departure with printed ticket receipt in hand. Our hotel recommended we arrive an hour early. On a rainy morning, we caught a cab from the truly-lovely Grand Hyatt Fukuoka to the Hakata Port and found ourselves in a nearly-empty modern facility. Apparently, we had more than enough time.

20160929_102458

At the service counter, we exchanged our printed receipt for a real ticket and we were charged an expected fuel surcharge of approximately $20pp then escorted to a nearby machine to pay an additional $5pp for a government tax.

20160929_102452
Japanese government tax machine

We were directed to a 2nd floor waiting area where we eventually showed the receipt from the machine to emigration along with our passports before being allowed into a second waiting area with several duty-free shops. Downstairs from this waiting area was yet another waiting area by the entrance to the pier.

20160929_102511
Escalator to 2nd floor waiting area of Hakata ferry port

20160929_114018

I’d seen photos of the JR Beetle, but I was still a little surprised at how small the hydrofoil seemed for this 3-hour crossing of the Sea of Japan. With the weather increasingly inclement from yet another typhoon to the south, I had to wonder how smooth this crossing would be.

 

20160929_110517
Inside the JR Beetle
20160929_110611
Interior of JR Beetle; tv screens showed an Asian movie once we got going

We were a little disappointed to find the so-called “food service” offered no more than a few snacks and a pack of sandwiches. Opting for the sandwiches and a beer, we settled into our lunch soon realizing that eating was a little tricky in the not-all-that-smooth ride. We hurried to finish our lunch before we got further out into open waters.

20160929_114018

Within 15 minutes of departure, a couple across from us was visibly sick. They disappeared not to be seen again during the voyage. Moments after they left, a woman walking down the aisle fell into David’s tray, sweeping his beer to the floor. She refused to stay down, though, getting up to fall several more times before a ferry attendant got her back to her seat. But not for long. She was up and falling several times during the journey. Meanwhile a young couple ahead of us started making multiple trips to the bathroom, he gripping her upper arm firmly in support. David and I watched all this, hoping we wouldn’t be next. Fortunately, we were fine and even dozed off during the jostling ride.

Despite the rough trip, we arrived in Busan on time. The terminal in Busan is even larger and more impressive than the Hakata Port.

20160929_143439
Busan ferry port

It’s an easy walk from the Busan ferry terminal to the huge Busan train station. Turn left out of the ferry terminal past the taxis and then cross the drive into the terminal before taking the crosswalk across the main street to the blue-windowed Busan Station. The first elevators you come to will go up to the north side of the station, but you’ll have to go around to the front to enter the station. A second column of elevators (further down the main road away from the ferry terminal) will take you to an entrance to Busan Station main hall (and a nice viewing platform offering photo ops of the new Harbor Bridge). Our hotel, Almond Busan Hotel, was just beyond Busan Station, so cutting through the station made for a quick, easy walk.

 

Between Miyajima and Hiroshima by boat, train & bus

20160927_115945
A World Heritage Route boat

There are several ways to get from Hiroshima to Miyajima and back. We decided to go over by the new-as-of-August-2016 World Heritage Route boat and return via ferry and train. Both options worked smoothly and there wasn’t a lot of difference in the total time for us. The boat is more expensive, but also more scenic and requires no connections once you board at the Peace Park.

20160927_114627
The World Heritage Route dock across from the Peace Park in Hiroshima
20160927_114558
Interior of the World Heritage Route boat

The World Heritage Route boat leaves every 45 minutes starting at 8am from a dock just across the river from the Peace Park by the first bridge just south of the A-Bomb Dome. The cost is 2000 yen per adult, one-way or 3600 yen, round-trip. The boat is enclosed and air-conditioned and drops you off at a dock a short distance from the ferry dock on Miyajima.

20160927_120931
Inside a World Heritage Route boat
20160927_123748
Where the World Heritage Route boat docks on Miyajima

Returning to Hiroshima, we decided to try another route. We caught the 10 minute ferry from Miyajima to the “mainland” for the paltry price of 180 yen (approximately $1.80 each). There are two options which cost the same and run side-by-side: the JR Ferry and the Matsudai. Since we weren’t using the JR Pass, we chose the soonest departure which happened to be the Matsudai which isn’t included on the JR Pass.

20160928_095229
Inside the Matsudai ferry from Miyajima

Back on the main island, we walked left past the bow of the ferry and out of the port area. Then, we crossed the street to the local train station. A quick search on Google indicated that we’d be better off taking a JR train, so we walked a block down the street to the JR terminal. There, we caught a train for Hiroshima (all clearly marked for the platform opposite the station), but got off at Nishi-Hiroshima to catch the 25 bus which stopped nearest our hotel where we’d stored our larger suitcases. (The bus stop is just in front of the train station and the 25 Bus parking slot is at the far end, clearly marked by an overhead sign.) If you want to ride all the way back to Hiroshima Station, just stay on the train. The total for all this travel was around 550 yen ($5.50) each.

20160928_104831
Sign for the 25 bus (The Nishi-Hiroshima train station is just to the right of this photo across a small parking lot.)
20160928_105502
Interior of the 25 Bus

Get more information at: http://www.aqua-net-h.co.jp/en/heritage/

Two-and-a-half months in Asia!

So we leave tomorrow on the trip that inspired me to start this blog: a 77-night ramble through Asia. This trip runs the gamut of lodging, transportation methods, and weather. It’s been a challenge to plan (and a challenge to pack for). We’re excited!

In a (large) nutshell, this trip includes:

  • Our first trans-Pacific cruise [the Aleutians, northern Japan, Yokohama/Tokyo]
  • 2 weeks in Japan [Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima island (where we’ll stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn), Fukuoka]
  • a ferry to South Korea [Busan, a Buddhist temple stay, Seoul, the DMZ]
  • a cruise from Shanghai to Singapore [Okinawa, Hong Kong, Chan May/Hoi An and Phu My/Ho Chin Mihn City, Vietnam]
  • Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
  • Siem Reap, Cambodia, to see Angkor Wat
  • Luang Prabang, Laos
  • a 2-day open-boat trip up the Mekong with a stop at some to-be-determined-when-we-get-there guesthouse in tiny Pakbeng, Laos
  • 2.5 weeks in Thailand: Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai (a day with elephants and a Thai cooking school), Krabi (scuba diving the Phi Phi islands), the Bridge on the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi, Bangkok
  • a 1st class mega-flight on Korean Air from Bangkok to Seoul to Dallas (courtesy of airline miles and credit card points, a favorite game of ours)

I’ve tried to anticipate the trickier bits and done an incredible amount of research, but I know there will be things I overlooked or had no way of knowing. There are liable to be things that don’t pan out as we’d hoped (or maybe don’t even pan out at all). It’s the nature of travel, and also part of what makes it exciting and interesting. And besides, I don’t want to plan every moment anyway. I intend to focus on experiencing the trip rather than documenting it, but I’ll blog about it when I can. Hopefully, there will be fun as well as useful info to share…and, no doubt, our portion of clueless-fools-in-a-strange-land moments. Wish us luck!

[We’ll be incommunicado for most of the 16-day Pacific crossing, so other than a possible post in the Aleutians 5 days out, we’ll be in Japan before I do any posting. I know going off-grid is a weird way to start a blog, but that’s the plan.]

– Tamara

August 31, 2016