ANTWERP - A visit to Antwerp for the day with the kids. First of all, I have to get daughter Lio’s opinion. What’s cool? Happily, we find that there is lots of cool stuff. We will be guided by fate, as there is nothing better than exploring your own city, the world in your pocket.
We depart from Park Spoor-Noord . Lio, 13, jumps onto her waveboard – a type of wiggling plank with one wheel at the front and one at the back – and is making her safe, wavy way, around the skate ramp.
This early in the morning, there is not yet much going on. “It’s great to have a bit of a jump!”
There are not too many tricks on display, but I have to admit, it is no mean feat just to retain your balance on such a contraption. We also find time to take a tour of the graffiti below the viaduct.
This early in the season, the café is not yet open. On a sunny day, you can hear the yells and screams of kids of all possible nationalities – 167 in Antwerp, or so I've been told.
We wind our way towards the Scheldt, to the Island with its proliferation of high-rise buildings such as the MAS building and the skyscrapers housing apartments at the Kattendijkdok. Anchors rust in peace on the Loodswezen quay. We are in luck. The Hansa Oldenburg has docked.
We walk past this steel giant and suddenly feel insignificant. I used to explore this area when I was a kid. The magic of such a vessel, which is about to disappear around a river bend, on its way to everywhere and nowhere… The stuff of dreams for those of us who are inclined to dream.
The riverside terraces, easily reached on foot, afford a great view of the Scheldt. We are now heading for the Grote Markt, the central market square.
Not too long ago we enjoyed a scintillating performance by the Murga street orchestras. Our eyes are now drawn upwards, to the impressive facades of the guild houses, the Town Hall and the Cathedral tower.
On the corner of Koornmarkt and Handschoenmarkt, where they used to sell grain and gloves, we can now buy a superb ice cream. Cone in hand, we look up and try to estimate the height of the tower.
We follow the Hoogstraat, which leads us to the Tunnelplaats flea market. We decide to see the city from a different viewpoint.
It’s always fun to ride the escalators towards the pedestrian underpass, which looks and smells very 1930s, then to duck below the Scheldt to view the city from the other bank and observe the busy flow of the river.
Back on the right bank, we allow ourselves a glimpse of the Plantin-Moretusmuseum, home to the city’s first printing firm. Unfortunately, we missed the weekly Friday market in the eponymous square by a day.
Every Friday, the contents of entire houses go under the hammer. Lock, stock and barrel. I am especially intrigued by the boxes labelled ‘varia’. As always, buyer beware!
On the other side of Nationalestraat you will find Kammenstraat, ‘the place to be’ for kids and to be avoided if you hate shopping. Trendy boutiques, skateboard shops, DJs... you can’t get any cooler than this.
A Green Oasis
In the popular pedestrian area 'Wilde Zee' we find Goossens the baker’s, with queues reaching outside the door. Via the Bourla and Leopoldstreet we enter the Kruidtuin (the botanic gardens), a green oasis in the middle of the city.
Lio is briefly fascinated by a tame parakeet sitting on her hand.
The greenhouse door is open and we are transported, for just a few moments, to the desert surrounded by cacti.
We are now finding our way to the Saturday market in Oude Vaartplaats, commonly known as ‘Vogelmarkt’, although the real Vogelmarkt takes place on Sundays. Can you still follow this?
Get into the Swing of Things
To finish off our day, we wind our way back to the station via the Meir and De Keyserlei. The railway cathedral attracts us like a magnet, with its endless expanse of roof on Pelikaanstraat, the monumental main building.
For once, it is not surrounded by scaffolding, and the interior offers views across a number of levels.
Nowadays the central hall hosts all sorts of events: parties, TV recordings, dance contests... I never knew that a station could be such a vibrant and swinging place. In the meantime, the zoo has closed its doors.
Perhaps have a quick Chinese at Sing Kee’s in Van Wesenbekestraat, empty the shelves at the Asian supermarket or pop over to Seefhoek and Stuivenberg with all its Moroccan and Turkish shops and tearooms?
Walk through the pedestrian tunnel to reach the left bank where you can enjoy the panorama over the city.
Explore Chinatown (Van Wesenbekestraat), try the ‘gelakte eend’ (glazed duck) at Sing Kee’s and explore the Asian supermarket.
Visit the diamond quarter (Hovenierstraat) and smile at the surveillance cameras.
Discover the completely renovated and magnificent Central Station.
Explore the Jewish quarter (Pelikaanstraat and surrounding areas) and visit the Jewish bakers, butchers and fishmongers. Have lunch at Hoffy’s in Lange Kievitstraat.
Grote Markt 13
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