Antwerp was a great city to enter Europe. Being in Belgium we were surrounded by delicious food and beer, and as it is situated in the north of the country we could practice our rusty Dutch. I mean Flemish. Actually Mischa did confuse a local with his “perfect” accent, but then again he does have a maternal advantage… We chose a hostel on the main square in a ten-bed room (there were over twenty in the end) in the middle of the old buildings. The city was a mix of old and new, from cobbled back alleys to an art deco skyskraper and a very modern city museum. It quickly grew during the 16th century and in 1531 the oldest stock exchange in the world was built here. Over 80% of the worlds uncut diamonds have passed through the city over the centuries and there is a diamond quarter near the train station, full to the brim with jewellery shops.
Food and drink
The second best thing about being off the ship, after not being seasick anymore, was the food and drink. Again the cargo ship had been utterly non-vegetarian and this time surprisingly poorly cheese equipped so we gorged on vegetables and real cheese. Belgian is famous for beer and chocolate. Chocolatiers were ventured into and promptly left on seeing some of the prices, yet not before taking a quick photo of an aptly named chocolate, “diabetes”. On the advice of friends and family several bars were visited. Cafe Kulminator was an interesting find and very British-pub like in a way. A large room made to feel cramped by the bar, a couple of tables, crates of beer and memorabilia filling all the gaps. I had a lambic, like a sour, and Mischa tried a christmas themed wheat beer, both tasty. It was refreshing to be back in a familiar atmosphere with cheap real beer again.
Museum aan Strom
This museum is a fairly recent edition to the city, combining several small museums into one with roof-top views across the city. There is a lot to see in there, and our visit lasted more than two hours even with two of the floors closed for refurbishment. Antwerp had the biggest port and was the financial capitol of Europe hundreds of years ago before the Dutch claimed the land around the River Scheldt which we sailed up to reach the city. They prevented ships from entering the river and diverted them to Rotterdam instead, which is now the largest port in Europe. The different floors house items and information from different periods in time mostly relating to Antwerp. The building itself was unique and every floor gave different views through huge wavy glass window across the city, and the shop full of equally unique items.
Crossing the Scheldt
The Sint-Anna tunnel is the pedestrian access way to the west side of the city, under the Scheldt. Built in the 30’s along with art deco entrances on either end, the tiled circular tunnel reminded me of the tube in london. Old wooden escaltors lead down to the tunnel which is used by commuters and shared by walkers and cyclists. It was a longer walk to the other side than I imagined it would be and there wasn’t too much on the west side in the end, mostly housing and a few shops. It was however a good day after rain the day before, so we ate our first (of this visit) Belgian frites and mayonnaise on the river’s edge looking across to the old city.
Train: Antwerp – Brussels
For €7.20, we jumped on the 35 minute long double decker train to Brussels. The best thing about the journey was Antwerpen-centraal station. The frontage of the building is art nouveau and it was built in 1905. Inside, the modernisation has been combined in a practical way with three levels of platforms laid out in an easily navigable way. It was a little sad when we realised that this would be our last foreign train journey of the trip.