Saturday, 21 October 2017

Antwerp weekender

Crane on the banks of the Scheldt
Back in July we hopped on the Eurostar and headed for Antwerp, a city that is pretty perfect as a weekend break destination. Historic architecture, interesting museums and markets, high walkable, friendly, vibrant regeneration and some decent food were all in evidence.

So what did we get up to?
St Anna's foot tunnel
We started our trip with a wander by the riverside heading through the St Anna tunnel across to the west side of the Scheldt river. I was expecting the foot tunnel to be a bit like the Greenwich foot tunnel, but it is a much, much bigger brother.

We got a free pedestrian and cycle ferry back to the eastern side of the river after a short wander.
A mix of Antwerp building styles
On the second day in the city we walked from our hotel to the excellent Plantin-Moretus Museum. The Plantin and Moretus families were some of the most influential printers in Europe, who had one of (the?) first automated printing pressed in the world four hundred year ago.

The museum is a clever presentation of how their house and offices looked at the time and was very enjoying to look around. All of the daughters in the family were taught to read, uncommon at the time, so that they could help proof read in the business!
Plantin-Moretus Museum
From the old to the new, in the afternoon we headed to the ultra modern Museum aan de Stroom, slightly to the north of the city in an area of the docks which is now being regenerated. There is a gallery space on nearly every floor and we bought a ticket which allowed us to wind our way up through the building looking at each exhibition. I have to say that some were more interesting than others.

Museum aan de Stroom 
On our third day we started by checking out one of the large weekend markets that was right next to our hotel before strolling Stadspark and the diamond district (very much closed on a Saturday) to the main train station. It truly is a very impressive train shed.

We also spent the day doing quite a lot of meandering round the historic parts of the city, popping into chocolate shops and visited the Sint-Pauluskerk church.
Antwerp City Hall

Having had enough of the old, we walked back up to the docklands area around the Museum aan de Stroom to see some of the new. The regeneration is slowly creeping northwards and we found ourselves at the De Panick bar. Located in an old warehouse it was definitely a hipster bar and the type of place that will probably be flats in ten years time as the, but we enjoyed it!

De Paniek bar
For all the good things about Antwerp, one thing we didn't really work out was the dining scene. The Europeans all eat really late, right? Lots of places seemed to close early and the ones that were open seemed to stop serving relatively early. We never did figure out what the locals did, but we did stumble into De Arme Duivel / The Poor Devil at just the right time one evening to have a lovely café meal.
Steak tartare at The Poor Devil
On our last morning we visited the Rubens House Museum before making a last minute decision to try and fit in the Red Star Line Museum before our train. The Red Star Line museum was a fascinating account of all of the emigrants that passed through Antwerp on their way to the New World. The guidebook was correct that there isn't a lot of English in the museum, but it was still very much worth while a hurried visit.

 

Buying a Eurostar ticket to Brussels includes a free transfer to Antwerp, but you did have to change trains.

We stayed at the Theatre Hotel which we thought was a pretty good choice as it had a central location, large but dated rooms and a big continental buffet selection.

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