02 December 2013

Antwerp Gillio Meet Up - November 29/30 2013

It was around the end of July or the beginning of August that Mella announced the Antwerp Meet Up, I took a look at the diary, I was free on that weekend. I looked at various options on how I was going to get there. Driving at first seemed logical, but it's over 700 kms, no I don't think so! So flying may be, no that would prove even more time consuming and expensive! So train... ah this would work.

So I booked my place and Mella was great with supplying details of local hotels and the prices seemed very reasonable. So hotel room booked, train tickets ordered and delivered. The days counted down and at last Friday arrived.

I started my journey to Antwerp for the Gillio meet up early on Friday morning, leaving home in south west France at about 7:30am to drive to the station at Saumur. I've only ever been on a train in France on my own once before, but that was a relatively simple journey compared to this one!! I felt reasonably confident, but not over confident about the journey and finding my way around the Paris Metro!

So my first train at 08:39 took me from Saumur beside the river Loire to the city of Angers, I had to change train here to join the TGV to Paris. Once in Paris I then had to cross to Gare du Nord via the Paris Metro, the stations were very busy, but I had taken the trouble to do a bit of on-line research before hand so I knew what the stations and the route between the trains and the metro station looked like. It paid off because it boosted my confidence quite a bit to not have to be constantly looking at signs to go in the right direction!

My trusty Cabin Zero bag carries everything for a weekend meet up!
I arrived at Paris Nord in plenty of time and then boarded another high speed train, this took me to Antwerp via Brussels and I arrived at about 14:30. Maria who I had met in London and in Edinburgh was not far behind me on another train from Brussels, so I waited a short while and used some free Wifi Internet connection in the station to catch up on some emails and Facebook messages!

Maria duly arrived and we walked the short distance to our hotel and checked in to our respective rooms. Later on we met up with some of the others who were staying at the same hotel in the lobby and then we found our way to the restaurant to meet Mella. Maria and I were the only British and native English speakers, but everyone spoke to us in English, but there were people from Holland, Belgium, Germany, Sweden. Naturally they conversed in their own languages at times, but there was a true international flavour to this meet up.

After a short walk we got to the restaurant and enjoyed some of the local cuisine, Tom and Ben joined us from Gillio and we had a great evening, I moved around the table a few times to get to talk with different people after we had finished our food. I sampled some of the local beer which was very good.

Planners soon appeared and of course a 'Gillio stack' was 'built' with the help of Tom and Ben with additional help from Anke! It has to be the most expensive planner stack at a meet up so far that I have attended!!! Notice the intense concentration as it threatens to topple at any moment!

It was late by the time we said our good byes, but it had been a lovely evening and we had our schedule for the Saturday from Mella already. I lead the way and our small group found our own way back to the hotel and good nights sleep. I finished off web finds before crashing in to bed!

The next morning after breakfast a few of us went to explore the city centre, Mella had given us some details of some of the local shops we might like to explore, it was great to find some small independent shops selling planners, Filofax, Sucess and Gillio.

This particular shop had quite a range of Filofax, in the pictures you can see a chocolate brown M2 in the foreground and an aqua Malden at the back, there's quite a date range between those two models!

Notice the M2 Filofax Classic at the front of the display!

Our meeting point with Mella and Christina was going to be the central station in Antwerp, so we had a sandwich on the way there and waited for them to arrive at the appointed time.

Antwerp Central railway station is like a cathedral for trains.

There are trains and platforms on three levels, with through trains at the lower level and local terminating trains arriving at the upper levels, so instead of a station that takes up a lot of land this one is very 'tall' I suppose. But with a very large light well in the middle where the passengers descend on some very long escalators.

Anyway, fascinating but I digress. We got on our train and took over the front part of one carriage.

We got to Brussels in about 45 minutes where Tom met us and we then took a short metro trip to Place Louis area of Brussels.

Before we went to the Gillio shop Mella took us to Nias, a brilliant stationery store where they sold planners of most makes I can think of in Europe, a great selection of notebooks, note pads, a huge range of inserts for all makes and sizes, pens, stickers etc. A must visit if you are ever in Brussels with an hour or so to spare.

Come 16:30 it was time to make our way to the Gillio store in a small shopping mall.

We were welcomed by Tom and Mieke and we deposited our coats and bags and got down to the serious business of the day.....

Later on we were joined by Ben and Paul the founder of the company. Whilst everyone enjoyed browsing and stroking and smelling all the Gillio leather products. Paul and I had a great conversation and shared a few amusing anecdotes about our planner community. He was as surprised as I was with the diversity of the people attending and the countries they had all travelled from to be with there that evening.

We all enjoyed some snacks and nibbles and a few glasses of champagne. Then after a short speech Paul handed over to Ben and Mieke to reveal the new 2014 Gillio range of colours and leather finishes. The flash bulbs were triggered there were squeals and applause then Mieke and Tom asked 'Would you like to see them?'  what a silly question...

The cabinet glass doors where opened and the new models were passed out to the out stretched waiting hands. The mobile phone cameras and video cameras continued to go off and people gathered in to small groups to look at them and exchange them for different colours. I managed to get a closer look and gave Paul my nod of approval, there were lots of smiles and appreciative chatter in at least two or three languages.

More champagne... I never turn another glass of bubbly down.. we toasted the success of the new range and then lined them up for some more photos. The atmosphere was electric and people clearly loved the new direction Gillio had taken. Bright vivid colours and some different finishes combine with the usual high standard of Italian craftsmanship was appreciated by everyone.

It wasn't long before people started to approach the sales counter where Els and Tom were manning the till and dealing with customers for purchases of the new range and the existing models as well.

I got to chat to other Gillio long standing customers, who had also been invited to the evening event who didn't know about our community... they do now!

After about an hour it was time for the short walk to the restaurant where we were joined by the rest of the Gillio team and their partners, for an excellent meal and wine. Paul gave a very pleasant speech to thank us all for all of our efforts. It seemed approipate that I should stand up and say a few words to thank our hosts Paul and his family and an especially big thank you to Mella and Tom for arranging such an excellent evening.

Tom then surprised everyone when he started to hand out Gillo bags, with nicely wrapped parcels in them, each one had our name on them, there were looks of joy on everyone’s faces as we all carefully unwrapped our presents. We had each been given a Gillio pen with our name inscribed on it and a small leather Gillio notebook cover and notebook, a miniature Filofax Flex!

Then after another short speech Tom and Paul presented a very special well deserved gift to Mella a  Gillio Compagna the colour tone was a perfect match for her own business cards!

This present was in recognition of the work Mella had done to publicise the brand over the last seven months.

Paul joked that if it hadn't been for Mella the company might have gone bankrupt... to which I quickly responded 'Yes but now we are all nearly bankrupt!' which made everyone laugh out loud! I think Paul appreciated my joke!

The lights then went down and a cake and with a lit candle appeared... it was Bens birthday, so a quick chorus of Happy Birthday from everyone was sung and we all laughed and joked as Ben blew out the one candle.. I'm sure he's more than one... but may be they didn't have enough candles!!

We all enjoyed some more discussions and conversations, photos were taken and shared on Facebook. It felt (I hope) like the whole group were part of our party.

It was starting to get late and we had to say our good byes before a short trip across the city in three cars to the railway station and the last train back to Antwerp. It was around about midnight when our train left so we were all a lot quieter on the way back. We said our good byes at the station some people were travelling home first thing the next day, but promises were made to keep in touch and to look forward to the next meet up... in which ever city in what ever country in Europe!

A small group of us walked back to the hotel, it was approaching 1am... dirty stop outs we all were.

But it wasn't over yet... Sunday morning at 9am we were again to meet Mella who if I may say looked a little tired from her late night, but still as full of life as ever. We got to meet her parents and her brother Brenten, who was going to take us on a short guided tour of some of the historic parts of Antwerp. It was very infomal, but very detailed and enjoyable. You can't beat having someone local show you around their own city, they know about things and locations the ordinary 'tourist' misses.

I had a late morning train to catch so we finished off our tour at the hotel where we collected our bags, paid for our rooms and checked out.  I said my good byes and once again thanked Mella for an excellent weekend, it had been quite an experience.

My journey back to my home in France was rapid and punctual all the way back to Saumur where Alison met me in the car for a relatively short journey back home to Misse.

Thank you to everyone who attended the meet up from all over Western Europe, and of course to everyone at Gillio that made us so welcome.

The new organisers will be available to order on the Gillio website in the very near future, they are working hard to get all the photographs and details added to the site before it goes live. 


  1. Excellent detailed report, Steve! Thank you! (and - eh - yeah, reminds me I wanted to do a blogpost on the meetup aswell .....)

  2. The meetup was GLORIOUS!!!So much positive engery,so many lovely people+so much laughter :o))
    Great post,Steve!!!

  3. ORANGE ORANGE ORANGE! This looks like one of the best meetups to date! And I want one of those orange faux-croc binders!

  4. Brilliant post Steve - thank you so much. I almost feel as if I had been there too!

  5. Thanks for such a great post, Steve.
    I would have loved to have come as it look like you all had a fabulous time.

  6. wow that looked amazing!!!!! xxx

  7. Wonderful time had by all!! So wish I could have afforded to be there and to purchase a Gillio!!! Loved this post Steve. xx

  8. That was an amazing post. Everyone look like they were having a great time. A very joyful meet-up.

  9. That was a fantastic post - I really want to see the Gillio shop and factory. Maybe next year.

  10. "I sampled some of the local beer which was very good" - that might have been the understatement of all time. Belgium is Beer Nirvana!

  11. What a great meet! The new colors look great! And Congrats to Mella! A well deserved gift!!!

  12. Wow! This does sound like the best meet up to date!!

  13. Many thanks, Steve, for this fantastic post and pictures!!!
    Ohhh, the grass green one... sigh...
    I couldn´t resist! :o

  14. I just love all of those photos!