In the Golden Age Antwerpen was one of the most important cities of commerce in Europe. Nowadays visitors will still see the traces of this rich era, Antwerpen is a beautiful city with many impeccable buildings. Strolling around in the city, take a look above, you’d see details of richly decorated facades like this one. This is one of many building along the Meir, the shopping area in the heart of the city.
An office at the start of the Meir.
As I wrote in my post about Antwerpen Centraal Station, I stayed in a hotel in the diamantbuurt (diamond district). This little part of the city houses many diamond shops, cutting and polishing companies owned by Orthodox Jews, Flemish and Indian diamantaires. Its history goes way back to the 14th century. The first diamond trade registered in Antwerpen is dated from 1447. Besides the sparkling stones, another tourist attraction is the Orthodox Jewish community. There are many kosher delicatessen shops to cater their needs. Although I have seen many of them passing by (boys, bearded (young) men and girls and women in black) I didn’t make any pictures cause it just didn’t feel right. If I did it would have felt as if I was an intruder in their life.
In my opinion the best way to explore the city is by foot. As I mentioned above, The Meir is the shopping area only 8 minutes walk from the Central Station. In the middle of it there is a mall called, Stadsfeestzaal. Go inside and admire the renovated hall. Or walk further for 5 minutes more, on the left there stands Rubenshuis. The museum of world-famous Flemish master, Peter Paul Rubens. In front of it, there is Paleis op de Meir. This city palace was built in the 18th century. Napoléon took it over from the owners, Johan Alexander van Susteren in 1811 and polished up the salons. Nowadays this palace is open for public. There is a café, a restaurant and a chocolate shop. Here are some pictures of the chocolate shop, The Chocolate Line and other places I visited.
Ceiling’s details at Stadsfeestzaal hall
A terrace at Paleis op de Meir
Show room/kitchen of the chocolatier at The Chocolate Line
Groeneplaats in front of the Hilton Hotel
The area behind the Cathedral.
Chocolate is not the only culinary reason to visit Belgium. Almost everywhere downtown you can smell the sweet aroma of Belgian wafels! I indulged myself with a natural Belgian wafel. One evening, I dined and ordered Mosselen met frites (Mussels and fries). Both my travel buddies (my sisters in law) ordered freshly harvested Asparagus. On Saturday, when we walked by the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Cathedral of Our Lady) we had lunch in a cafe nearby. When in Belgium you ought to try some beer of course. Although I don’t drink beer, I ordered one anyway. The waitress advised me to try Strawberry beer and I did. It was nice, not so sweet and it didn’t taste like beer actually.
Left: Raspberry beer Right: Strawberry beer
Me drinking the Strawberry beer which tasted like a lemonade.
Croque Monsieur, differently presented
Beside Belgian restaurants there are many Italian trattorias/pizzerias, a bunch of Thai restaurants downtown, in and around de Grote Markt, Groenemarkt and behind the Cathedral. And cafes with extensive beer menucard, pastries shops and bakeries. And all of them vary in price range from cheap to splurge. Many of them have the Gault Millau and Michelin recommendation, and these are not always the pricey ones. Take your time and compare the menu card. And consider to look at those restaurants in the small alleys too.
Dolma, Tabbouleh and many more from the Lebanese dinner
After lunch at Bakkerij Vanhelmont
After the lunch with the Strawberry beer, I headed to Fotomuseum at Zuid (the south). This is a fashionable district full of art galleries, art nouveau buildings, antique shops, cafes and luxurious lofts. From de Steen at the Schelde riverbank, it took me 20 minutes by foot to reach Fotomuseum. The exhibition at Fotomuseum was quite disturbing and confronting. Taking pictures was forbidden. En route I shot these pics. I wished I had more time to explore Zuid more.
In the morning of the last day in the city I visited the Stadspark. Despite the early hours, there were many people there, children playing football, adults (Indian or Pakistan looking guys) playing cricket and joggers.
Crossing the Frankrijklei (France lane) I reached the Vogelenmarkt (birds market). This market was originally a market for selling birds but it has expanded as a big market with sellers of plants, flowers, food and animals. My sister-in-law bought this tame parakeet. My cosy, excellent sunny weekend in Antwerpen ended with a delicious lunch at Bakkerij Vanhelmont on the corner of Rubenshuis. The car was fully loaded with our trolleys, chocolates boxes, wafels, two parakeets and a birdcage. Amai!
Antwerp World Diamond Centre