Travelling through many small towns in Belgium it struck us that by far the most popular restaurants along the way were Chinese and Italian ones whereas in Antwerp city there was an abundance of every kind of cuisine. We even saw a shop selling Australian icecream which I never thought of as being an Australian specialty.
Our campsite was only 15minutes from the city and we met an 81year old Englishman who had been coming to the campsite for 37years. It may have been new at that time but now it was a fairly tired looking place.
We got into the old part of the city early and walked from Rooseveldplaat down to Groeneplaat or main square where the closing festival for Antwerp Pride was being set up for later in the day. We found a wonderful bakery/cafe one street away from the main square. We could sit and watch the baker at work at the back of the cafe while enjoying a glass of prosecco with my breakfast. A pity this isn’t possible in Australia with it’s liquor laws! There was also an abundance of Belgium pubs and Belgium chocolate shops.
We joined a small group on a two hour free walking tour and our guide Bart was excellent in showing us the most historically important parts of the city as well as giving us much information of the history of Antwerp and it’s legends involving giants,demons and their deeds.
At the end of the tour Bart our guide gave us coupons for a free beer and I wanted to try a Belgian beer so we made our way to ‘Elfde Gebod’ beer restaurant which was covered inside with the most amazing collection of religious statues. Very unusual to say the least but the blonde beer I had was excellent. There was a lot of music in the main square from 1.30pm and in various locations which made for a festival atmosphere. There were thousands of people in the city but it was still comfortable walking along the main shopping street which was very wide.

We retraced our steps to spend more time exploring the Unesco museum of the publishing house of Plantin/Moretus which was fascinating and very opulent with leather embossed wall coverings and extensive wood panelling in the myriad of rooms and to Pedro Paolo Reubens beautiful house with many of his works. We bought some Belgium chocolate from ‘The Chocolate Line’ a very
expensive establishment which was previously a rich merchant’s house until Napoleon took it over and had it remodelled as the Royal Palace however he never lived there. There was also a cafe with a lovely outdoor area and the chocolate shop and a room where you could see the chocolate being made.

We found it interesting that Van Gogh had to learn how to paint and with mental illness had a sad life with little reward whereas Rembrandt was a naturally talented artist who taught many students and was very successful as was Ruebens who had to refuse many students because he was so sought after and whose students after the initial sketch worked extensively on the painting only to be retouched by Ruebens. Only the more important commissions were done exclusively by him. His house was enormous with a beautiful garden which had been carefully recreated.

Our guide told us that he thought the most beautiful train station in Europe was the one in Antwerp so after taking the metro in the wrong direction and then missing the stop (as it was not called ‘Central station’ on the platform but ‘Astrid”) we finally ended up in the station which was not only a magnificent building but it had platforms on three levels. One peculiar aspect on some of the metro lines was the use of trams. It did seem odd to see a tram on the underground.

Antwerp was definately a city worth visiting for it’s friendly people, the architecture and an interesting historical city centre.

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