When I decided to go to Antwerp, I didn’t have high expectations. Another destination on my list that none of my friend had been to and I was curious at what I was going to experience. When visiting a place no one else has visited. My anxiety kicks in a little and makes me wonder if the reason why no one has explored these cities is because they are rubbish?
Once I got off the short bus ride from Eindhoven, I was greeted by the most incredible welcome to the city. The Antwerpen Centraal station is the most beautiful station I have ever seen, I actually mistook it for a cathedral. Tucked away beside the station is the Zoo, one of the oldest in the world, you are greeted with Victorian style gates and can take in the pristine preserved architecture. I didn’t have time on my itinerary to visit it but managed to talk in the entrance and caught a glimpse of the flamingos.
I made my way down De Keyserlei, slowly walking past the windows looking at all the beautifully merchandised diamond jewellery stores. Antwerp sees about 85% of the world’s rough diamonds passed through the hundreds of diamond houses, making its so-called ‘Diamond Quarter’ the largest diamond district in the world.
I wandered through the streets and ended up at Grote Markt. with an opulent city hall, numerous elaborate 16th century buildings, restaurants and cafés. It was like something out of a Disney movie. Market stalls were opening up in the square and the smell of fresh food that was starting to be prepared for the lunchtime rush. The chimes of the Cathedral of Our Lady tinkling to celebrate that mass is over. There is a charge for entering the cathedral unless you are going to pray. Naturally, I sneaked in whilst the crowds were leaving the and soaked in the beautiful architecture inside, said my prayers and left as the last lingering parishioners walked out.
I made my way to the Museum aan de Stroom (or MAS for short) on the banks of the river Scheldt which was a lovely way to take in the city. Taking the escalator up the ten floors is free as is some of the exhibits on the various floors. One of the free exhibitions was the ‘Visible Storage’. The rooms are filled with hundreds if not thousands of archived artefacts in locked cabinets are glass topped drawers. The tall gated cabinets have lights highlighting specific artefacts they want to visitors to admire. I am guessing that they regularly change the lights which mean that there is always something new to experience in the exhibit. Whilst walking up and down the escalators, I was greeted with another free exhibition, ‘Baroque Burez’ which was a plethora of photographs by Athos Burez.
Of course a trip to Belgium is not complete without some waffles. Just off the corner of Grote Markt, the waffle chain Waffle House has a great variety to suit anyone’s appetite. I opted for a waffle with chocolate sauce and cream. It was delicious and very filling.
On my way back to the bus, I walked back up the street, which had instantly come alive with locals. During the weekend that I was there, there was not only a food festival but also a Fashion Weekend. The city centre was alive with DJs playing upbeat dance music, buskers and this wonderful Opera singer who wowed a small crowd with her Arias as her friend held up a small speaker with the backing track.
One thing that I thoroughly enjoyed about my experience in Antwerp was the lack of tourists (or so it seemed). Everyone was laid back and taking in the city or their daily errands and their own pace without the chaos of confused tourists with big cameras and being hounded by tourists traps with people asking if you’re English. Antwerp is such a hidden gem of a city and with direct flights from the UK currently only coming from London Southend, it isn’t the easiest of cities to get to. However, it is definitely worth the effort. It’s got the classical flair and opulence of Vienna mixed with modern of Scandinavia. Go out of your way and visit this amazing city!