Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Travels to Antwerp, Belgium

http://www.ireland.com/en-us/?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=TI%7CUS%7CIreland%7CExact&utm_term=visiting%20ireland&utm_content=Ireland%7CPlaces%20to%20Visit&gclid=CKDH2aTgmdMCFYejNwodk_0KQw&gclsrc=dsAntwerp is a port city on Belgium's River Scheldt, with history dating to the Middle Ages.  In its center, the centuries-old Diamond District houses thousands of diamond traders, cutters and polishers. Antwerp's Flemish Renaissance architecture is typified by the Grote Markt, a central square in the old town. Antwerp is also home to one of the oldest zoos in the world, which opened in 1843.

Antwerp Central Station
Keith and I took the train into Antwerp from Amsterdam to continue our European tour. Erected in 1905 to reflect Belgium's transportation prowess, the Antwerp Central Station is one of the world's foremost railway beauties. Especially striking is its collage of styles. Louis Delacenserie, who earned a name for himself by sprucing up much of Bruges and returning the city to former glory, clad the ticket hall in gold and marble to recall the Renaissance. Meanwhile, railway engineer Clément van Bogaert used the materials of the industrial revolution to create a state-of-the-art train shed. The architecture of the newly renovated central train station is amazing.

The Grote Markt (Great Market Square) of Antwerp is a town square situated in the heart of the old city quarter. It is filled with an extravagant city hall, numerous elaborate 16th century guildhalls, many restaurants and cafés. Lying within walking distance of the Scheldt river, it hosts a Christmas market and ice rink in Winter.

Beautiful churches anchor many of the city squares, such as the Cathedral of Our Lady. Construction started in 1352 and, although the first stage of construction was ended in 1521, has never been 'completed'. In Gothic style, its architects were Jan and Pieter Appelmans. It contains a number of significant works by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, as well as paintings by artists such as Otto van Veen, Jacob de Backer and Marten de Vos. The belfry of the cathedral is included in the Belfries of Belgium and France entry in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Antwerp has quite a few hidden gems.  One is Vlaaikensgang - the smallest street of Antwerp. Use your imagination as a time machine to go back to the Middle Ages and meander through this alley that dates back to 1591.  The easiest entrance is via the street Oude Koornmarkt 16.

Another spot to find is an official monument of the oldest house in Antwerp dating back to 1480 called The Wooden Facade.

The Old Wooden Escalator leads to the tunnel that crosses under the Scheldt River. People with bicycles, dogs, kids, strollers, etc., use this means to get to the other side easily. It is just another of the quirky hidden gems of Antwerp.

Antwerp has always been a ‘market town’ with a tradition of open markets. This relaxed way of shopping reveals the real Antwerp for inhabitants and visitors alike. Local everyday markets are dotted around the city and over weekends themed markets offer an abundance of produce and things for sale. We grabbed snacks at the Vogelenmarkt (Birds market) before exploring more of the city.  For more Antwerp eats check out my restaurant reviews.

Along with snacks, one must try the beer in Belgium. De Koninck Brewery is a Belgian brewery based in Antwerp. The glass in which De Koninck's flagship beer is served is called a bolleke, although this term is most colloquially used to refer to a glass filled with the beer itself and is the way the beer is ordered in bars.  We visited the brewery experience and explore 10 interactive rooms, then ended with tasting various brews. My favorite was Lost in Spice. Instead of hops, they loaded the hop gun with spices. At which point dry hopping made way for “dry spicing” with ginger and cardamom. In addition, orange peel, coriander and lemon were also added to the mash tun, resulting in a refreshing, pithy blond beer of 5.2% alcohol with fruity notes of citrus and a spicy aftertaste.

At the 17th-century Rubens House, period rooms display works by the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. The artist was also a diplomat, scholar, and — as proven by the Antwerp villa he left behind — a talented architect. The residence and atelier he designed for himself heavily draws on the palazzos he saw during his long stint in Italy.  We especially enjoyed learning about the early printing press methods.

View of the Scheldt River
We spent three full days in Antwerp, which was more that enough time.  Have you visited Antwerp before? What are some of your favorites things to do and places to eat? Please share in the comments below!

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