A day in Antwerp is a day well spent!
Last Sunday I took the train to the Belgian city, just about 2 hours from Leiden, NL. To be honest, I hadn’t heard much about Antwerp before landing in Holland. It was dropped into a forgotten conversation once weeks ago, but then quietly popped up in travel recommendations ever since. And they were all right; it’s a gem.
First steps into a city can sometimes be very telling, and Antwerp’s got that. The central train station is mesmerizing. I rode up the escalator in awe of its huge archways and oversized clock. The way high heels echo in the air, and a whisper in one corner glides up the tall dome ceiling and down to the other side. I found myself reaching for the stair banisters just because they looked and felt so regal. All throughout my city wandering, though, I tried to pinpoint its feeling. Perhaps it was so hard to specify because it was so authentic. Welcoming is what it is. Antwerp is unpretentious in the best way – that is, the way a place with all the credentials to be totally showy and snooty is actually completely without airs.
Fashion is where Antwerp really excels. “The Antwerp Six” may sound familiar, as it’s the nickname given to 6 inventive and special fashion design graduates from The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 80s. They helped put Antwerp’s school and the city itself on the fashion map. Walter Van Beirendonck is one of them, and my visit coincided with his exhibition at the Modemuseum. Whoa, whoa, whoa. He’s designed politically-charged outfits, and one’s for Bono, too. The fella is super cool.
The Scheldt river is like a magnet, pulling you ever closer to its long shoreside park, the boardwalk with a view, and the Het Steen castle. The river flows west, eventually into the North Sea, and seems massive compared to the Dutch canals I’ve grown used to. And the castle! Pretty perfectly maintained, it’s a spooky (and beautifully lit up at night) reminder of Antwerp’s medieval history.
Sunday is also the day for Antwerp’s Vogelenmarkt. It started in the 1500s as a Bird Market, and in a corner of Theaterplein, under a perfect Autumn tree canopy, a few vendors are still sellin’ the birds. So many varieties, it was kind of magical to see, and I really, really wanted to take one home. The market has expanded into vegetables, fruit, nuts, books, antiques, and !!! Belgian fries, waffles & chocolate.
It’s here that I decided the city is kind. The old man selling secondhand clothes gave me his gold card after I bought 2 wool sweaters for 2 euro. (“Nederlands? Francais? Engels? Deutsch?” he asked me with a warm smile. And then later, with no words, he held my umbrella while I sorted through mounds of great clothes in the rain.) The next vendor over was handing out samples of olives and feta cheese, and the most colorful variety of nuts I’ve ever seen. He made sure I tried one of each, and then a little nod and smile sent me on my way. And anytime – without fail – I positioned to take a photo in the street, someone walking past paused to make sure they weren’t in the frame, not ruining my shot.
Yes, so I loved it. Go!! It’ll spark ya with inspiration at one turn, and then little nooks of perfection will melt you round the next corner.