I’ve had a good two weeks in this fine old city. It has a plentitude of the things I enjoy most when I travel: surprises around every corner, ancient places, great art, good food at low prices, nice people (and the bonus — these people all speak English!). I would recommend time here to anyone looking for those same qualities in a destination. I would probably not recommend doing it in January, but that was the only time it fit into my schedule and the weather wasn’t so bad on most days.
Antwerp has a long history with many ups and downs. The visitor enjoys the artifacts of the good years: the medieval cathedral, the 17th century when it was a center of trade in Europe, the late 1800s when ornate buildings popped up along the Meir, and apparently now. Building is going on everywhere now. Shopping in Antwerp is excellent, including many the big name international retailers and famous couturiers such as Channel. The city is filled with restaurants and I found their prices to be much lower than comparable prices in the U.S. restaurants.
Yesterday I discovered another big and glorious surprise: a beautiful turn-of-the-20th-century building turned into a fashionable shopping mall, right in the center of the city. It’s called Stadsfeestzaal. In Dutch Wikipedia tells me it was built in 1908 and that the mall was developed in 2004-07. I’ll show you rather than tell you this beautiful old space that’s been recycled for the 21st century.
I’ve mentioned before the ornate railroad station that serves the center city. I went there yesterday to meet the caretaker for the apartment I rented in Antwerp. Gloria led me to an extraordinary café on the upper level that I’d failed to notice. She said the place had been closed for years and had only recently been restored and reopened. It was really lovely as the picture at the top of this post shows.
I’ve already told you how much I enjoyed the Mayer van der Bergh art museum, the Red Sail Line museum and the Plantin-Moretus museum as well as the stunning cathedral. I’ll just be a bit more practical here and mention that the part of Antwerp that tourists will want to visit is very walkable and also has an easy-to-use (but expensive) bus and tram system. (The tourist offices sell a ten-trip pass that lowers the cost o a ride more than 50%.) Antwerp is a good base for seeing much of Belgium and Holland — rail travel is easy (though not cheap) and the trains run on time. The main Tourist Info office and the TI in Central Station were very helpful and staffed by pleasant people; the museum pass was a good value.
I have loved wandering the twisting old streets and finding ancient brick buildings around every corner. I hope I’ll have an opportunity to return to enjoy Antwerpen again.