I could have summed up what I knew about Belgium in two words: frites and chocolate (shaped like seashells, but fancy, so mostly eaten at Christmas).

There are places that are on your bucket list, perhaps Iguazu Falls, having your own Sleepless in Seattle moment at the top of the Empire State Building, or travelling on a slow boat down the Mekong River. Then, there are secondary destinations; these, I put on my "teacup list". Sure, I’m happy to go, but if I don’t visit in my lifetime I won't be heartbroken. That list includes Cairo, Stuttgart, Bucharest.

Then there are towns and cities that just simply fall off the end of any list. Places you’ll visit only for work or if you’re transiting through. For me, quite honestly, Antwerp was such a place. My family and I needed to pass through Belgium before embarking on the new European sleeper train to Prague but I had little investment in, or expectations for, that leg of journey.

But I'd forgotten how the places along the way can turn out to be the most memorable. In this I include the Italian restaurant in a desolate spot by Wroclaw Airport which I still maintain is the best pasta I have ever eaten, despite having lived in Rome. See also the orange lights of a motorway service station in the Republic of Georgia at 3am in the morning, on the way to Kutaisi airport, with huge dogs and lazily roaming cows loping across the forecourt, a fluffy bite of sugary doughnut and a hot coffee while my son ran, hysterical, around the cars waving at nearby Chinese workmen on a break.

There are other moments, travelling solo through Northwest India, the "toy train" - so called because of its small engine and slim tracks - from the Himalayan mountains and stopping in Kalka, a tiny frenetic town where the only cafe I could find was a construction site. Exhausted, sweating like a Tory at an expenses inquiry about his duck pond, and with seven hours until my next train, the kind hosts ushered me into a half-finished and entirely empty banquet hall where I ate the best paneer masala of my life while a raucous group of men partied hard before noon in the next room.

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So, as the family stuffed our rucksacks, I decided to give Antwerp two nights. Who knew what we might find there? Except for frites. And chocolate. And that’s not a bad way to spend 48 hours at all.

There are things I was not expecting about Antwerp: that it has one of the most beautiful train stations I have ever seen, trust me when I say I’ve done the global legwork on this; or that our hotel, the NH Collection, would be both affordable and charming, with a view of the trains coming and going and a tiny wash kit for my toddler complete with rubber duck. Hotels take note, the whole set probably cost £2 wholesale but they won our loyalty for life. I will concede that this was perhaps also due to the hand-poured waffles and "help yourself" Blood Mary station at breakfast. You know… something for the whole family.

It turns out Antwerp is amazingly family-friendly. The beautiful zoo, established in 1843, with an incredible aquarium, a literal minute walk from the train station. So too is Plopsa Station, a small theme park spread across three floors of the main terminal, where the staff sweetly and patiently jostled my resistant toddler onto each ride and then allowed him to fill his fairground boots once he’d found his dodgem legs. There’s also, as you might expect, a museum Chocolate Nation, with 10 tasters across the session and, of course, the bustling Old Town.

The Herald: Frites as street furniture in AntwerpFrites as street furniture in Antwerp (Image: Kerry Hudson)

But what I hadn't expected was how diverse the city would be. Indeed, when the month of Ramadan and Easter coincided this year, the city held an iftar, breaking of the fast, at an open-air two-kilometre table for both Christians and Muslims. Antwerp is also, and perhaps rightly, very proud of being the diamond capital of the world. Certainly diamond shops seem to be as ubiquitous as the Poundshop or Tesco Express on the average UK High Street. However, jostling alongside those diamond shops, on the same street were Polski Sklep, African produce stores, an Orthodox Jewish bookshop, and a Korean grocery selling imported soju for your train journey.

Within a 10-minute walk of the station, you could buy most international cuisines. Besides this, there is a warmth and an ease to visiting Antwerp, one that, in my experience of travel, comes from a diverse society thriving.

In the end we were sorely disappointed to be moving on, two nights were not nearly enough. My son wanted to go back to the zoo and see the giraffes. I wanted to cycle one of the excellent bike lanes out to the edges of the city and see what I might discover. My husband wanted to enjoy only having to walk a 15-minute radius from the hotel for any attraction. But the sleeper train waits for no one.

And so Antwerp is now consigned to the "one day again" list, like the Sicilian town Adrano, where I ended up after failing to get to Mount Etna on a public holiday, but left having been given hospitality and a carrier bag full of lemons by kind locals. Amsterdam airport where I only spent a few hours but was amazed by its thoughtful design. Or the 3rd-class train to Hua Hin, Thailand, where I ate hot banana pudding from an aluminium tray sitting at the open door as rice paddies flashed by.

The "one day again" list is made of places I've had good, unexpected, joyous moments of travel. Those "passing-through places" where you make a memory that you won’t be able to resist trying to replicate.