My next destination after Lille was supposed to be the Netherlands, but since I was going that way I thought I might as well stop in Antwerp for a day. I arrived at night, slept in a hostel and then left the following night.
I was up bright and early and my first was a wild goose chase orchestrated by Joon (previously of Antwerp now of Reykjavik). I was told to visit a certain square and “look to the ground”. What I supposed to be looking for was the image of a nude woman laid into the stonework of the plaza. Presumably by a few smug bricklayers quietly chortling to each other. I never found it though. Partially because my search was somewhat hampered by a ongoing funeral. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable asking the pallbearers to move aside so I could examine the ground at their feet!
I then moseyed over to visit a water feature and a cathedral. Both of which are contenders for prestigious Best-Water-Feature-Robbie-Has-Seen-In-Europe-So-Far and Best-Cathedral-Robbie-Has-Seen-In-Europe-So-Far awards respectively.
Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal is much lighter and brighter than all the other Cathedrals that I’ve been in. I think that’s why I like it. It’s less gloomy. Slightly related observation: Antwerp is full of Christian symbology.
I wondered around a little more and passed by some rather pretty buildings and a small castle by the water. Antwerp is a port city, and as such, it has a very big river flowing through the middle. A real river, not like those baby wannabe rivers in Paris or Amsterdam. Anyway, to get across the river there is a pedestrian tunnel 30m below the ground. I went through the tunnel and went for an unexpectedly long walk on the other side.
The reason the walk was so unexpectedly long was because I discovered that the “bridge” that I had planned to use in order to get back to the west bank was in fact, an underground tunnel for cars. YES I KNOW I COULD’VE JUST LOOKED AT THE RIVER AND SEEN THAT THERE WASNT A BRIDGE THERE BUT I DIDN’T DO THAT OKAY!?
Not feeling like immediately retracing my steps back to the pedestrian tunnel, I looked at Google maps and saw that I was close to what was marked “beach”. Seeing as it was perfect weather (if you’re British maybe) I paid the beach a visit.
After tiring of the golden sands and crystal blue tide gently lapping at my toes I made my way back under the river and started heading for the MAS museum. On my way I also managed to pass through the Red Light District of Antwerp. That is to say I walked down a street featuring various scantily clad sex workers behind glass prodding and tapping on their cellphones. I don’t know if we have this kind of thing in South Africa (probably somewhere), but it was certainly the first time I’ve seen human beings literally on display as purchasable objects in shop windows. I felt uneasy about it for sure.
Anyway, the MAS was great and didn’t have any prostitutes at all. It’s a big modern and fancy lookin’ building with rooftop panorama to see the city and a different exhibition on each floor.
I really liked the museum itself too. It was much more interactive and alive than the others I’ve been too. All the exhibits are dark and moody, with unique ambient sounds to set the tone for each section. It felt much more modern than something like the Louvre. Not in terms of the content of the exhibits, but because of the way they used light, sound and technology to create an experience rather than just having a bunch of static objects to admire.
After descending the MAS one floor at a time I made my way to Het Bos, the venue of Screenshake and the home of The House of Indie. A cool collective that runs game events and does weird games related things.
I spent the rest of the day with the HoI guys, they are good fun and do interesting stuff. For lunch I had a Martino sandwhich, which is basically raw meat and spicy sauce on bread. It’s a very Belgian thing and also a very delicious thing.
For supper we had Belgian (fries) of course! Mine were extra Belgian becuase I had them with Stofvleis sauce. The chips were above average, but not unequivocally better than chips I’ve had elsewhere. Sorry Belgain dudes!
After getting a little rained on and parting with my new Belgian friends I caught a late night bus to Utrecht. More time in Belgium might have been nice, but I’m glad I visited it for at least a short while. My assessment of Antwerp as a city is that it felt a bit more… industrial? I dunno.