Here I am, eighteen days after leaving home to visit Europe, finally starting a report after having been in Paris, Brussels, and Ghent. Reports on those cities will have to wait, as I scramble to catch up with myself.
The first thing I have to say about Antwerp is to urge you to add more time, as much time as you can spare, to any visit you make to this wonderful, hugely varied and vibrant city. Thus the title of this report -- you'll fall in love with the place and wish you had more time to get to know it.
Antwerp dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century AD & its fortunes have dramatically risen and fallen over the centuries. Brief history here.
I arrived at the celebrated Neo-Renaissance main train station, which has a well-used park in front of it featuring a meadow-style planting. The station is cheek by jowl with the zoo.
Setting off for my airbnb room, I encountered my first Antwerp surprise. To my delight this street, a true Asian enclave, was on the route to my room ~
Once settled into my home for the next three nights, I set out to explore, starting with a quick look at the zoo ~
Lawn ornaments of the gods ~
The whole city is full of exuberant plantings. I admired the color combinations in this pot at the zoo ~
I didn't visit the cathedral on the first day, but here are some pictures of the exterior. Do not miss visiting inside, though! More on that later.
This appears to be the last judgment, with the righteous being ushered toward Saint Peter and the damned herded into the gates of Hell. It looks as though everyone on the bottom tier are those yet to be judged ~
Oddly, my memories of Antwerp train station are totally different -- not neo-Renaissance but a place with wood and something about Lenin (?). I don't remember and neither does my husband. Are all the diamond merchants still in front of the train station?
Bjd, copy & paste this link to click through pictures of the different levels of the train station. I didn't see anything like what you describe. Maybe it was something up because of renovation? Doesn't explain the Lenin part, though. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antwerpen-Centraal_railway_station#/media/File:CentraalStationAntwerpenEtages.jpg
If you walk out of the station straight back (opposite of front entrance), you enter a long, long covered area. Much of the first part of that is taken up with diamond shops. In line with what Whatagain said, all the men I saw around those shops were Orthodox Jews. There are also many diamond shops on the part of Meir closest to the station.
You are so right about the drought, Whatagain. All the grass is turning yellow and the little garden where I was in Ghent was really suffering. I don't know how Antwerp is keeping the zillions of public plantings so perky.
My memory must be playing tricks on me but I have only been to Antwerp and Brussels train stations. I can't find anything online either. I will have a look through my old travel photos when I get home.
I am delighted to see these photos (with many more to come, I'm sure) because my only trip to Antwerp was under Antwerp, in the motorway tunnel that passes under the river, in the middle of the night. I had decided that I absolutely had to drive to Berlin as the wall was coming down in 1989 and recruited a friend to accompany me. We left Paris about 8pm, and the distance from Paris to Berlin is a bit more than 1000 kilometres. It was a rather insane road trip, but I will treasure it forever. So I need to return to Antwerp because all I saw were some industrial installations around the port and then we sped away to see something incredible happening farther east.
Perhaps a "Lenin slept here" plaque, like those about George Washington, Napoléon and other Famous Men? Can't fathom any other association. The staid banking city where many political and artistic revolutionaries hung out during the "Great War" was Zurich, because as a proper bank centre, Switzerland was neutral.
I've been through Antwerp too, but it was with colleagues driving between a location in Belgium (not Brussels) and Amsterdam - there were fascinating sights but obviously under the circumstances I couldn't ask them to stop and walk around.
I'll be interested to see what your rummaging turns up, Bjd. Mich, I can't wait to hear your sister's take on Antwerp. Whatagain, have you spent time here? To all of you who haven't visited, put it on your lists. There's a great deal of everything: historically great art, new art, music, a fascinating mix of cultures from all over the world, an important port, and the sense of a real working, thriving city.
Today I walked yet again until my feet are bloody stumps. I visited MAS, which I'll be showing later in the report. Speaking of museums, that was another source of frustration. One I really, really wanted to see was the Red Star Line museum, dedicated to the 3 million people who emigrated to the Americas on this shipping line. Alas, it closed for renovations ten days before I arrived in Antwerp. Ditto the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, whose jewel, Mad Meg by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, is away being restored.
An unexpected treat today came about because I took the metro back from Antwerp's tiny but delightful botanical garden. It has a huge cacti and succulent collection -- which closed for the day just as I entered the park. Anyway, in my exhaustion I missed my stop. On the ride back, the train went past several mansions. They were quite imposing in a local style unfamiliar to me. Antwerp really has something to see or do around every corner.
Well, enough yakking. Let me show a little more of the historic district before I retire for the night.
As in Brussels and Ghent, there were fewer tourists milling around, due to their being clumped in cafés, watching the World Cup games ~
Let's start now with just a tiny bit of what I'll be showing of the interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady, a soaring treasure house of art. I began off to one side, as it was almost empty there. The gift shop is beyond the middle column in the 1st picture, where one indeed exits ~
The sheer number of huge, rich triptychs are almost too dazzling at first, so here's a look at some side treasures, such as the Stations of the Cross ~
Carved marble altar rail ~
Okay, one triptych for now, and then this reporter must crawl off to bed ~
When I see photos of any of these cities of northwestern Europe, I always wonder how much as been reconstructed since the wars. It appears that in spite of some terrible damage in the centre due to inaccuracy of the v-bomb, most of the bombs targeted the port and the rail lines rather than areas of habitation. Lots of people died anyway, and the worst thing about the bombing of Antewerp is that it took place six weeks after the city was liberated by the Allies.
Strange indeed that old houses can sustain heavy damage...
I went several times to Antwerpen and am always amazed at how nice it is. I spent my military training (3months) close by so we often went there on free evening but we had a tendency to select cafes as points of interest. And I worked in the chemical area of the port - close to a charming small village called Lillo surrounded by huge factories ... so I was familiar with the traffic jams around Antwerpen.
I am afraid that like so many cities close by I know of it and have been there but didn't visit the museums and such things that I do when 10 000 kms away.
Did you drink some Jenever Bixa ? And had some 'stoofvlees' ?
Such wonderful examples of the Flemish School! I'm too teary now to look at the dog and boy story.
LaGatta, I adore the Netherlandish Renaissance period, so you can imagine how I reveled in getting to see all those glorious examples. Baroque is of course well represented in Antwerp and in fact a celebration of it is currently going on here right now. The link is pretty safe to look at, being mostly about how A Dog of Flanders "came home" to Antwerp. I question the accuracy of that link, as it's immediately obvious the author of the article did little research on the history of the book.
I know so very little about Antwerp and it's surrounding cities and villages and do so look forward to learning more through your eyes. I am curious as to what drew you to that particular part of Europe. I can't really say and I don't know why but it would not be in my top five choices destination wise. Sounds so ignorant I know.
Thanks, Casimira. It doesn't sound ignorant to me, as that would have been my attitude in the very recent past. Really, I am so little traveled that I can get frozen in indecision when choosing a place to go. This forum has sparked interest in me for so many places and things that I never really knew or cared about before. Because of the excellent train system in Europe, there is opportunity to see a great deal. As for this particular part of Europe, my abiding love for the art as mentioned to LaGatta played a big part.
the worst thing about the bombing of Antewerp is that it took place six weeks after the city was liberated by the Allies.
I didn't know that! Antwerp is full of newish buildings next to very old ones -- whether as a result of war or something else, I don't know. Possibly the concentration on the port meant other areas weren't as badly hit.
I went several times to Antwerpen and am always amazed at how nice it is. I spent my military training (3months) close by so we often went there on free evening but we had a tendency to select cafes as points of interest. ... I am afraid that like so many cities close by I know of it and have been there but didn't visit the museums and such things that I do when 10 000 kms away. Did you drink some Jenever Bixa ? And had some 'stoofvlees'?
Isn't that always the case, Whatagain? Twenty years ago I would have thought that I'd have seen every inch of Mexico by now. Nope -- too easy to put off for later. I am crushed that I didn't get to try jenever. The only place where I saw it offered, it was a flavored version. I have to say that in my limited experience, Belgium has great "regular" bars. A great irony of travel is that one is often forced to drink a coffee or a beer in order to get access to a place to pee. I found one such place practically in the heart of the tourist area in Antwerp. It offered a 2€ beer of the day (Boot/boat brand, I think) and very friendly customers and staff. One guy regaled me with the entire plot of Mississippi Burning, ending his account with the line, "It's okay to hate other people, but not to kill them." As far as food, I haven't visited many restaurants. For one thing, it's been very hot and for another, I've tried to economize somewhat as I won't have a place to prepare food until I get to Amsterdam. I now know the whole range of Carrefour's salads. I've also had some pretty indifferent doner take-away, along with fruit to balance things out. Carbonade flamande remains in my future.
I'm sorry I wasn't around to meet you in Antwerp, but I was on the island of Texel last week riding my bike.
I'm so glad you liked 'my' city. And I love looking at it through the eyes of travelers like you. In my early Fodor's years I always wondered why people came to Belgium ... I have learned a lot about my own country from their stories and reports.
Antwerp Central is really impressive, isn't it? It's also called the Railway Cathedral and is no. 4 on the list of most beautiful train stations in the world! It was on no. 1 in 2014 but today Liège Guillemins station by Santiago Calatrava is on no. 1.
Caduceus: symbol of trade & traffic. Antwerp has always been (and still is) an important trade centre. The Port of Antwerp is the second largest in Europe and an important transit port.
I love your picture of the pianist playing on Meir. His name is Toby Jacobs and he is a very gifted young musician. All his emotions seem captured in his beautiful piano playing. He is dearly loved in Antwerp.
I'm sorry you didn't get to visit the Red Star Line Museum. Didn't know it was under renovation as it has only opened five years ago.
I hope you didn't suffer too much from all the roadworks that are going on in the city ... and are far from finished. Very unpleasant and ugly.
And, last but not least, your photos are georgous, as always.
I often wish I lived in a 3rd or 4th tier city which I could promote. You can probably imagine that I do not need to promote my own city and almost never even mention the major sights, because that would be ridiculous. So I try to promote the 3rd or 4th tier attractions instead (sometimes even the 9th or 10th tier).
So I try to get away and have done what I can for Belgium and also Luxembourg, but I am not nearly as qualified as some of you.
Ahhh, Amboseli ~ meeting you would have made the visit to Antwerp utter perfection! Thanks so much for the kind words and for the very interesting enhancement of my sketchy coverage with your local information. Re: the Red Star Line Museum -- the closed-for-renovation information is not at all well publicized. I'd earmarked the museum for a visit while planning my trip, but didn't find out it was closed until much later, and then it was by accident. As far as the roadworks, they were a very minor annoyance. It's good to see a city developing.
Your reports and those of "the qualified" made me eager to see this part of the world, Kerouac.
This report will go in fits & starts, as I arrived (with difficulty) in Amsterdam yesterday & want to get out & about here. It will also be heavy on art, but there's a scroll button for those who are bored by that. Note that pictures had to be taken at whatever angle rendered the least glare & that close-ups are presented if their photos came out well. What I'm showing is the merest glimpse of what the cathedral has to offer.
So, back to the cathedral with yet another stunning triptych ~
If you are, that's kind of too bad, since I have more to show. I know there are people out there who enjoy paging through art books, and perhaps they'll be as thrilled as I over seeing all these famous pieces in situ.
For the restless, here are two paintings by the same artist which couldn't be more radically different from each other ~
Wandering deeper into the church, into sections toward the back, there are more carved and painted treasures from many different periods ~
There is a great deal of carved white marble in the cathedral ~
The lady in the pretty black and pink outfit looks as if she really wants to remove her shoes, as she would do in Mosque. A Moroccan friend in Paris welcomed two friends from his home village near Fez, Morocco, and they dutifully and respectfully removed their shoes in Notre-Dame.
The central square of Antwerp is spectacular! Hope you can get back there; normally it is a direct and easy trip by rail from Amsterdam.
The drawing of the nurse and soldier probably is of our queen Elisabeth wife of Albert the first. History says she spent so much time tending our wounded soldiers whilst the king tried to economise the blood of the soldiers, something few war leaders of then bothered with.