72 hours in Belgium and Netherlands: Antwerp

72 hours in Belgium and Netherlands: Antwerp

Since we ran out of things to see in Eindhoven in the first day, we decided to jump city and country for the second, after having breakfast in the Market Square Market (what a coincidence, that it is a market, and it is in market square). Our destination was Antwerp, aka Antwerpen, or Anviers, or Antuerpia… This city is like me, people call it whatever they like

As I told you a couple of posts ago, people in transport info here must be rude and unhelpful as a job requirement (there is no other explanation) so it was past noon when we got to the right bus, and we paid twice what we should have. Warning for other fellow travellers: flixbus ticket double the price 30 min before departure, now you know, not like this pair of losers…

The Flix bus took us from the Netherlands to Belgium with no glamour…no customs, no fences, no people with machine guns on the border… You don’t even notice you have changed country! Can you imagine how boring and horrible it would be if all borders were like this?  </utopic hippy irony mode off>

Once you get off the bus, or even a little earlier when your start seeing the buildings and the glorious central station, you realise that Antwerp is beautiful. Not just interesting or fun. Beautiful in that European style that leaks history and art from every pore, in every street and every square, beautiful in the majesty of the buildings that witnessed how centuries and people went by… Beautiful in this way:

Map of every European city
Mapa de cada ciudad europea

We wandered inside the central station, one of us inspired to take photos (the building is worthy of a Windows wallpaper), the other with a headache (some people are too old for the carry-on of the previous night). From Antwerpen-Centraal we walked to the hotel admiring the beauty of the buildings but with the limited admiration that comes with an empty stomach… Technically it wasn’t a hotel but a cute studio no more than four salaries away from being worthy of Barney Stinson and that we found in Airbnb. I have to say I’m not normally a big fan of using this platform due to the negative impact on city centre dwellers of touristic cities, but I’m also not a big fan of sleeping in the streets so it’s just a matter of rearranging priorities a little…

The flat was on one side of the Theaterplein or Theatre Square, which, guess what, is a square with a theatre. And also with the food market where we had planned to have lunch. So obviously we didn’t have to think much about the plan and just went down to have lunch at the Exotic Market (that’s the name) and fill our bellies as if there were no tomorrow… Wee problem: we wandered drooling around the stalls for too long trying to decide so by the time we finally did it the stalls were closing and there were only two choices. Solution: ending up having an omelette and chorizo sandwich in the middle of Belgium.

We finished with a coffee in a cute hip stall manned by a gentleman who spoke really good Spanish because he had lived in Granada (based on the hippy outfit I bet it was in Alpujarra) and served coffees in all sorts of flavours and colours. Alba went for the safe option and ordered a hazelnut latte but I decided to be adventurous and choose a coffee that the sonofa***** decided to call “bombón”. But not the typical Spanish bombón that sweetens your life, no… coffee with lime zest. LIME. The green fruit that is pure bitterness, that lime. And the dude asked if I was OK because I didn’t look good. ‘Cause you have poisoned me, my friend, what did you expect?!

(Now, I seriously recommend this coffee stall because it was cute and normal coffees tasted amazing.)

Estación central de Amberes,
Antwerp Central Station
Central Station in Antwerp. Isn’t it super cute?

I must confess I livened up after that, not sure if due to the caffeine or the fear, since we had decided that we’d be riding a bike for the rest of the afternoon, and I hadn’t done that for a few years, especially not in a medium to big city.

But one of the advantages of visiting these central European cities so green and progressive (and flat!) is that you can hire a bike in the simplest way and ride them easily because bike lanes are real bike lanes…

In Amberes you can pay €4 online and they send you a text with your username and password which you’re able to use in any of the Velo points around the city. In these points you login into a machine with your username and password and it unlocks one of the parked bikes. And after that there’s no more payment required for 24 hours unless you don’t park the bike every 30 minutes, but it’s still a very small surcharge.

We rode like in a summer movie towards the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), the biggest museum in Antwerp built from two materials, red brick and glass both inside and outside, and planted in the middle of water, which was surrounded by more city. I think I need to show a map of Antwerp so it’s easier to understand the symbiotic relationship between the city and its river, because it’s difficult to explain otherwise, and it explains why the port of Antwerp is so important (the second biggest in Europe) despite not even having a sea…

Mapa de Amberes,
Antwer map
Antwerp map where you can see how the water just freely flows wherever it feels like flowing…

Back to the museum of an… interesting building, with an… interesting collection and… interesting exhibitions. I feel like I lack the words to describe it. To make my life easier, an image is worth a thousand words.

Skull with flowers and butterflies 
Calavera con flores y mariposas
As I said…interesting…

The roof of the museum offers the best views of the city. It’s tall (8 floors) but it doesn’t really matter because this land is really flat…

Since we were in the area, we rode 10 minutes further to the Zada Hadidplein, a square named after the architect who designed (and died before the completion of) the Port House. Well, technically the building was already there, but she designed an Elvis’ style quiff that you’d not define as discreet… It’s supposed to represent that union I mentioned between the city and the water (the older building was a former fire station and represents the city and the glass quiff represents the waves when touched by the sun’s rays). Despite not knowing anything about the topic, I imagine the building of this port house must have been polemic.

Port House in Zada Hadidplein
La casa del puerto
Amberes casa con edificio de cristales encima
“I think this house would look cuter with a blue toupee”

Back on the bikes, now on the other side of the canal towards St. Anna’s tunnel, enjoying the views on both sides (river and city).

Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)
Museo de Amberes de ladrillo rojo
Antwerp Museum red bricks
Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) from the bike. And half a giant floating golf ball.

We went with the bikes on a giant lift that took us to the underwater tunnel that joins the two banks of the river. We didn’t stay long in that area because it was nearly twilight, but it’s worth going to see the skyline of the city from the other side of the water, its silhouette against the sky reflecting the colours of sunset.

Antwerp skyline
La silueta de Amberes
Atardecer en Amberes
All that vast immensity of water was crossed by bikes (in a subaquatic tunnel)

Back to the velos again (a very sore bum awaited for the next day) and to the city centre, because it was time for the afternoon snack (you’d think I only think about food but that’s not true, I think about drink too). Also I think it is a capital offense going to Belgium and not having a waffle, so because we didn’t want to risk it we took a seat to enjoy our well deserved reward in an ice cream parlour that I’d like to recommend but I’m not going to because (brain searching for an acceptable excuse and opting for telling the boring truth…) I can’t remember its name

Do you remember I talked earlier about the beauty of this city? Well, in the historic district this beauty is even more noticeable: from the cathedral and the maze-like streets to the Grote Markt or the Square Market. This square is one of those places where your jaw drops while observing every detail of the baroque architecture of the guild houses topped by golden sculptures, of the fountain named after the city founder Silvio Brabo, of the imposing presence of the City Hall. To be quite honest, the details were kind of missed in the latter, maybe because it was under refurbishment and therefore covered by a giant cloth. The building was drawn in the cloth, yes, but it’s not quite the same, and if you don’t believe me go and bite a still life.

El casco antiguo de Amberes
La plaza del mercado
Market square antwerp at night
Antwerp old city
A sample of how cool Market Place is, despite the poor skills of the photographer, especially at night.

We had really earned our dinner (chips with truffle sauce again and I seem to remember something called chocodillas but I wouldn’t bet my head on this) and especially a beer, as the cherry on top of a great day. And if that beer is served in a heavy metal bar of my style (Kid’s Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Kaffee) with live music also of my style (Amörtiseur), and happy-erotica show included (not for all ages nor tastes) then you can’t ask for more. Well, yes: for another beer.

And talking about asking, we could also have asked that our phone batteries had lasted enough to take photos of all this, or to unlock our bikes, or some other silly things like checking Google maps for the address of our accommodation. But we didn’t ask so it wasn’t given, and now we can only thank two kind guys from the area for their help as guides while we had one of those typical talks where you fix the world that you only can have in the small hours….and with that it’s getting on for sleeping time, because it was about time we rested instead of… I don’t know, dancing to electronic music in a rented living room…

A day in Antwerp: Since we run out of things to see in Eindhoven in the first day, we decided to jump city and country to visit Antwerp: the Market Square, the Exotic Market, the Museum aan de Strom, the Port House...

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72 hours in Belgium and Netherlands: Antwerp