Heading back from our visit to MAS, we stopped off at Grote Markt. Things were quite festive here as there was a children's festival....at least that's what I think it was, going on.
As we walked back to our apartment, there was a bit of unfinished business to take care of. We'd been in Belgium for a while already and I still hadn't had any frites. This was easy enough to resolve as Frituur No. 1 was right at the top of the street we were staying on, Hoogstraat.
I stood in line with the combination of locals and tourists and got my frites......with curry mayo, which I really didn't care for. The frites were decent, nothing amazing....in fact the Missus was totally unimpressed. Not light and crisp enough on the exterior...lacking that richness and not quite fluffy enough inside.
Still, I finally got some frites, right?
Frituur No. 1 Hoogstraat 1 Antwerp, Belgium
One thing we loved about our street was that there seemed to be a lot of local traffic on it in spite of being one of the streets leading to Grote Markt.
We could get meat, vegetables, bread, a few steps form where we were staying.
On our last evening, we decided to just relax....I used the kitchen, which like the rest of the apartment was amazingly set-up with pots, pans, seasonings, dishwashing liquid....you name it. The place is called Apartment Ahome Awayfromhome, and rightfully so. The owner Gis was so easy to deal with and all the details were just perfect.
From the De Koninck to the laundry detergent the place is probably among the top 4-5 apartments/residences we've stayed at....totally worth it, even with the 55...yes we counted them; steep steps to climb. In case you're wondering; you can find more info about the place here.
Anyway dinner was simple......ingredients from right up the street.
After dinner we took a walk. Things had kind of settled down......
We took a nice stroll, then returned to the apartment.
I watched the news, the Missus caught up on emails....I did a post, then we set out again. Like I've said many times, Antwerp is very relaxed and easy to enjoy....though it kind of gets you itching for more and I could tell the Missus was ready for a change. This was perhaps a bit too sedate for the Missus.
There is quite a diversity to the city. We especially noticed it at night. As groups of young men...and women of all ethnicities headed to their favorite watering hole.
And still, things were quite calm. The music on the street ended by 10pm. I had my Floreffe Tripel and watched the news on the television while the Missus went to sleep.
Tomorrow, we'd be back at that beautiful train station; headed to our next stop.
After our stop at The Chocolate Line, we did a short backtrack. We stopped at Wapper Sqaure and took a look at the Rubens House, the former residence of Peter Paul Rubens. In the end, the Missus really wasn't feeling much like visiting places like these so we headed back to the Grote Markt area.
We were getting hungry, it was time for lunch. We headed past the square, near the old meat hall.....I had thoughts of stopping at Hofstraat 24, but the Missus decided to try somewhere else.
On the street named Zirkstraat, the Missus found the place where She wanted to have lunch. It was named A La Ville. When the Missus asked me what that special was; Parmentier de Carnard, I told Her it was like a duck shepherd's pie.....She was sold. The Missus wanted a break from the hearty, somewhat heavy food we'd been having, so this Mediterranean - French Bistro just seemed to fit the bill.
The menu seemed very French, the hostess was quite nice, not overly friendly, but quite accommodating. The interior is the basic white and black, with concrete walls. Behind those black curtains is quite a large dining area; I guess for dinner and such.
The Missus of course, got the Parmentier de Carnard, which started with quite a sizeable salad. Dressed simply, topped with a quail egg, after days of hearty, hefty, meals in the Czech Republic and Antwerp, was something She really enjoyed.
The parmentier was without a doubt the highlite of the meal. Nicely flavored shredded duck confit, quite a bit of it actually, mixed with nicely seasoned mashed potatoes, It was the exterior was nicely browned and crisp.
It was quite rich and filling.
I ordered a couple of items, starting first with Bone Marrow and Escargot.
The sauce, which was beef based was nice and light, the bone marrow rich and buttery, and the snails were much more tender than I expected.
I also ordered the Leek with Duck Bacon and Quail Egg.
This was probably our least favorite dish; the cured duck was quite bland and dry, the leek was fine, but this is like something I'd make at home and really didn't seem to be worth 14 Euros.
As we ate, we noticed several older couples arriving. The Servers seemed to know them all, I guess they're regulars. It was kind of nice......something we don't do here in the States. Enjoying a nice leisurely lunch is a lost art it seems.
Overall, a nice meal and good counter-point to all the Czech and Flemish meals we'd been having.
A La Ville Zirkstraat 37 Antwerp, Belgium
After lunch, the Missus wanted to check out the view from MAS, the Museum aan de Stroom - "Museum on the River" for the views of Antwerp. Thing was, She wanted to walk through the short Red Light District.....a strangely quiet, kind of seedy couple of blocks on a pedestrian street. The Missus didn't even know we were passing through when I told Her to check out the, ahem, "window displays". Some of those women looked pretty tough.....like they could probably body slam me if I made a wrong move. The Missus suddenly realized that all the other folks walking were men......and a few, rather scantily clad women..... For some reason, the vibe just gave me the creeps.
Located on the site of the old dockyards, the Museum aan de Stroom is quite impressive looking. It celebrates Antwerp's history as a major maritime center. For more about MAS, check this out.
We had come to check out the views. Just take the 10 story escalator ride up to the viewing deck.
You can see Cathedral of Our Lady in this one.....
And here's one of the Scheldt River. That castle is called t'Steen and is the oldest building in the city.
We were having a very relaxing time in Antwerp.....
Antwerp was proving to be quite interesting.....relaxed, laid back, even more so than Brussels. There were less tourists, it had more of a urban-local feel, even though we were staying close to the Grote Markt, there were businesses like a meat market, bakery, produce stands, that served the locals.
The Missus wanted to take a nice walk on our full day in Antwerp....to the train station, which I wanted to see anyway, then back. So we set off from Grote Markt, taking some of the back streets.
We stopped at places the interested us along the way, like the very Baroque looking St Charles Borromeo Church. The most popular local citizen, the famous Baroque Painter, Peter Paul Rubens, was raised in Antwerp and spent a good part of his career in Antwerpen. Even this Jesuit Church displays the influence of Rubens who supposedly designed the decorative façade. In fact, there were 39 ceiling paintings by Rubens that were destroyed in 1718 when the church was struck by lightning.
There are wisps of Rubens everywhere, even on this plate. From what I can find, Dr Lazarus Marcquis was on of the physicians who treated Rubens, who died of heart failure due in part to chronic gout.
We eventually found ourselves in front of the beautiful train station....but first, I was distracted by this.
I have a thing about Chinatown's, whether in Lima, SF, Portland, Toronto, Kobe, or even pseudo-Chinatown's like Brussels, I just can't help myself. So I just had to check it out.
And of course, I could not resist the temptation to check out the at least one Asian Market....just to see what was being sold. Markets like this one stocked everything from Sriracha to Datu Puti and Silver Swan. And some of the prices were no joke....sheesh.
We also checked out the various menus; here are a few in case you're interested.
Chinatown is barely a street or two in Antwerp, but it's all interesting to me.
We took a turn and walked back toward the train station. At one of the streets parallel to those of Chinatown I saw one of my favorite signs. Folks, don't even think about "wildplassen" here, ok?
The Antwerpen-Centraal railway station itself is probably the grandest, most impressive train station I've ever seen. Hard to believe that this structure, finished in 1905 was once considered for demolition.
A look inside and it's quite easy to see why they call this structure the "Railway Cathedral". The restoration job on the place was completed in 2007 at a cost of 2.7 billions dollars. The glass ceilings, intricate work, marble, and stone makes a truly impressive sight.
There's actually a level which links the place to the "Diamond District" and 30 diamond shops.
It's easily my favorite site in Antwerp. I've never seen anything quite like it. When looking at my photos I still stop at the one's we took at the train station.....
We walked down the Boulevard named De Keyserlei, arriving at a large street named Frankrijklei. This was where the city walls of Antwerp once stood. Across the way you could see the beginning of the "Meir", the major shopping street of Antwerp. Here you'll run into a statue of another of Antwerp's favorite son's, the Artist Anthony van Dyck, who was a favorite of England's Charles I.
You'll pass many....well, let's just say shops we know quite well on the Meir...... H&M, Forever 21.....H&M and Zara are everywhere in case you need something in a pinch.
But it's this ornate, but rather discreet portal that caught our attention. Through this passageway is Stadsfeestzaal, which is one heck of shopping mall.....let's just say it makes South Coast Plaza look like a trailer park.... Tons of gold inlay....there's actually a champagne bar! Yikes. I understand that this was originally built as an exhibition hall completed in 1906. It was destroyed by fire in 2000. Being a historic monument, it was rebuilt using the original plans and reopened in 2007. It is something to behold.....not sure about the shops in the place, the Missus wasn't moved; but with a grand staircase and such you can't help but admire the beauty of the place.
We our way through the place until the Missus became bored (I was already there) and walked back out into the sunshine of the Meir.
Back out on the street we quickly noticed a place whose name I recalled. Dominique Persoone is a Belgian Chocolatier, whose rather audacious approach to chocolate, along with his self coined handle as the "Shock-o-latier" has earned him quite a following and reputation. He owns The Chocolate Line with shops in Bruge and Antwerp.
You really couldn't help but be impressed with the upscale boutique look of the place....my goodness.
And when the Missus saw the play on upscale shoes....well we just had to take our time in the place.
And while it's easy enough for me to dismiss the rather seemingly kitschy chocolate lipstick and edible chocolate facepaint, along with his nomme de guerre. The chocolate "snort" made me stop and reassess.
And while some of the creations like the various chocolate sculptures and such, were obviously done to impress in the name of commerce.
A snort of chocolate, hmmmm.....what would that do to my already ravaged grey matter? Perhaps I'd change my name to Cadbury? Or perhaps start a campaign to save the "chocolate bunnies"? Who knows, as my train of thought was interrupted with the Missus telling me; "ok, I've got some chocolate, let's get going. Aaaand, I didn't buy any of those chocolate shoes.......can you imagine, shoes of chocolate, like feet and eat them, ick...." And so my Chocolate Gandhi moment was permanently interrupted.
We had bought some to add to the collection for my MIL and had a few that seemed interesting ourselves.
Interesting, but we enjoyed what we got from Pierre Marcolini and Yuzu in Ghent more...... But not being a "sweets person" who's to say, right?
After walking around the Grote Markt area we headed down South. Stopping at various shops in the Fashion District, finally heading down to the area called T'Zuid, which basically mean "South".
This gentrified area is now a very trendy part of Antwerp. Eight avenues extend from Marnixplaats - Marnix Square. The statue in the square is named Schelde Vrij - Scheldt Free which commemorates the settlement with the Dutch that allowed free passage of ships on the Scheldt River.
Stopping here, we took a nice leisurely stroll back to Grote Markt via various side streets.
The weather was a bit strange, passing clouds would make it seem like rain was on the way, then a few minutes later the sun would be out. This pattern kept repeating itself the whole day.
Before we knew it, dinner time had arrived. There was a place I'd heard about, right across the street from Den Engel.
I don't quite remember how this place ended up on my list, but it did. Located on the main square, I had my doubts, but this pub/restaurant, ended up being pretty good.
There's a bar area and an attached restaurant, which looked rather rustic. The menu had a few Flemish specialties along with stuff like salads and spaghetti....spaghetti?
The Missus was overjoyed to be back in Belgium and be able to order stuff like the Oude Geuze Vieille, which She thoroughly enjoyed.
I just loved my draft Tripel Karmeliet, which seemed much lighter than here in the states. The was a definite spice-pepperiness to the flavor and it was much more carbonated and fizzy than I recalled. It was a heck of a glass!
What did the Missus get? Well, that was quite predictable...Sausage and Stoemp of course. This version came with Flemish style bacon, which was delicious.
It arrived in a nice sized pot. The flavor was nicely beefy and the sauce was pretty good...definitely beer in this one. Loved the texture of the braised chicory and the sweetness that cooking it this way brings out. The beef had kept shape but was spoon tender.
The meal came with frites, which I wasn't really impressed with...and mayo of course.
We must have been hungry as we polished off this very hearty meal.
I celebrated being back in Belgium with another beer; this time a draft La Chouffe, which was bit more hoppy than I recalled. Like the Karmeliet, this seemed really light for an 8% ABV brew. I was definitely enjoying being back....
De 7 Schaken Braderijstraat 24 Antwerp, Belgium
Dinner done, we headed west to the Riverfront....there's really not much to see here, parking lots and such.
Actually, the view of the Grote Markt area from here is much nicer.
One thing we quickly noticed about Antwerp. There were more folks riding on bicycles than anywhere else we'd seen on this trip.
The Missus quickly got into the habit of taking photos of bikes parked around Grote Markt. Here are a few from Her collection.
That little splash of color just makes them look so cheerful.....
While walking back to our flat, I noticed this beer store. I talked the Missus into taking a look. I love the collections some of these places had. While looking in the back of the store a name got my attention......well, it actually screamed out at me.
If you're a beer nerd, it would do the same to you....though probably more intense that what I experienced.
For some, the Westvleteren 12 is the holy grail of beer. It is often mentioned as being the "Best Beer in the World". I asked the clerk behind the counter about this and he sheepishly looked at me and said, "yes, it is the twelve.....have just come in today and I have not put away." He immediately grabbed the case and put it behind the counter. But not before I got a bottle. I was interested because I had worked this beer into a part of our itinerary later on during this trip.
So later in the evening, I opened the bottle.....and my goodness....now I like quads, but this was really boozy and bready....with sweet tones.....it was a bit much even for me. Needless to say, I started having doubts about what I had planned.
Still, we were enjoying our time in Antwerp. It was not overly touristy, the folks rather relaxed, the food decent.....there was nothing to not like.
*** No food in this one....just more beer. Wouldn't mind at all if you just decided to come back tomorrow!
When I mentioned we were going to Antwerp to some folks who had been to Belgium I was asked "why"? Why? I dunno....doing the Brussels - Ghent - Bruge thing sounded fine, but I wanted more and it just seemed like Antwerpen would be a rather nice, laidback destination after Prague. It was a total slamdunk getting to Antwerp. Get the train from the airport and in an hour or so, you are checking out the beautiful vaulted glass ceilings of Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station.
It's a stunning site; no wonder they call this the "Railway Cathedral". Until arriving here, São Bento Station in Porto had been the most impressive.
We soon figured things out and caught the metro, getting out at Groenplaats. The apartment we were staying at turned out to be awesome. In spite of the 55 narrow and steep stairs, it was equipped with everything we could want and the small things were taken care of, stuff like laundry detergent, even a couple of bottles of de Koninck, the local beer as a welcome. The woman running things was also a joy. The location was amazing, on Hoogstraat one of the main arteries leading to the main square, Grote Markt. The street had a mini-mart, bakery, produce stand, and meat market.
The Grote Markt is lined with Guild Houses, each one topped with a gold statue or emblem. The City Hall, adorned with flags of different nations really stands out. As does the interesting fountain in the center of the square. Is that really someone throwing a severed arm? You bet..... The Brabo fountain depicts the end of the legendary and feared giant Druon Antigoon who guarded the Scheldt River the main river that flows through Antwerp. The giant would demand a toll for anyone crossing the river. If he was refused, the giant would sever the hand of the person and throw it in the river. Silvius Brabo a Roman soldier vanquished the giant and severed the arm of the giant, flinging it into the river.
Such a story called for....well. a drink of course! We were happy to be back in Belgium and were in dire need of some liquid refreshment.
There were two places that I'd heard of right on the square....in fact, they were right next to each other....and looked almost exactly the same. Strange this city where arms are flung into rivers and two different bars next to each other look like twins.
We chose the one on the left; Den Engel. Why? I dunno...maybe because I'm left handed, or because my left leg is lsightly shorter than my right leg so I just tend to lean left?
The was Antwerp, so we both had a De Koninck. It's a bit dry and almost like a lager....in fact, I would have never thought this was Belgian. The Missus didn't care for it very much, though I thought it was fine.
Den Engel Grote Markt 3 Antwerp, Belgium
The one great thing about having a drink here was the view of the square and especially the 400 foot tall Cathedral of Our Lady.
Walking over to the cathedral, we noticed this plaque written in Japanese.
I was intrigued....what was this all about? Upon returning I did a little bit of research. This plaque, donated by Toyota is to commemorate at story, written by an English author, about a Flemish boy, that's become a classic in Japan. The story? A Dog of Flanders. If you're interested in the who/what/where/why, I really like this post, it covers the story about the story....about the story.
The day was starting to pass us by....it was time to "hele" as we would say back home......
Upon returning home, I noticed a set of photos of an elderly couple making their way through Grote Markt that the Missus took.
I found the photos sweet and touching......with the hope that perhaps this would be the Missus and I someday......