On 50connect we occasionally get offered free trips to some exotic place or other. Recently, I was the proud recipient of a three day trip via Railbookers to sample the delights and fares of Antwerp.
Now I’m never one to look a ‘gift horse bearing Greeks’ but I was quietly askance when our Content Director suggested I go on this. Antwerp? What happened to Bali and Hawaii or that Mediterranean cruise. Where was I when they were being given out?
Antwerp has never been high on my list of places to visit or holiday destinations. This could be because my knowledge of the city extands only to two stock pub quiz facts: Antwerp is a large commercial port for Europe, and Antwerp was heavily bombed during the war. Amazing isn’t it, 67 years on earth and this is the sum total of my knowledge of this area of the low countries.
however, the appointed day came and off I went to St Pancras International to join up with my travelling companions and catch Eurostar to Paris (I was going with a party of journalists funded by Railbookers and the Tourism Flanders-Brussels).
As soon as we met I knew it was going to be a trip full of fun and laughter– all the journalists were lady travel writers – they all knew each other and I was the only guy!
The journey was uneventful and after the change in Paris we were quickly in Antwerp and in our rooms at the Hilton Hotel on the main square. The next three days passed without incident other than a lot of laughs, good wine and good food and most of all a few interesting surprises.
The city is very beautiful and small enough to cover on foot – even on the day it poured of rain. One thing that struck me was the Belgium obsession with buying and eating chocolate – there are chocolate shops everywhere. Now for someone who has a very sweet tooth and would happily swaps a double Scotch for a bar of Cadburys – this was more than just temptation – it quickly became indulgence! Over the three days I gained a little over four pounds in weight! One chocolatier even had Bacon and Egg and Pate de Foie flavoured chocolates -they were delicious!
On the first day we did a tour of the city and saw the main sights and visited the cathedral – which is the largest in all the Low Countries and is a masterpiece of Brabant Gothic architecture. It is home to four Peter Paul Rubens paintings, three of which were commissioned for the cathedral. In total there are thirteen amazing canvases including work by Matthyssens, Schut and Van der Voort.
On our second day we spent the morning at the Museum Aan Stroom a recently opened addition to the cultural life of the city – It’s on five floors and boasts 470,000 exhibits. Now this is nothing compared to the British Museum but it will still fascinate you and keep you busy for as long as your feet can take the walking – however there are escalators to each floor.
Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinners are abundantly catered for with more choice than anyone’s appetites can cope with – and surprisingly reasonable. The cakes are to die for!
For the wealthier of us the Diamond District is a must and for the curious there is the Diamond Museum – Antwerp has been the centre of the diamond industry for over five hundred years. If this doesn’t appeal just close by is the Antwerp Zoo.
I’m not a great shopper of fashion or anything else comes to that matter but I was told by my fellow travelers that shopping is really good! While they were shopping I was doing the museums – in this small city there are seventeen to choose from. If your time is limited concentrate on the Rubens House – locked in time from when he lived and painted there creating most of his masterpieces. Nearby is the Plantin Museum – home of the printer Christopher Plantin – the typeface is named after him. The house remained in his family for over 300 years until it was turned into a museum in 1876. Both are well worth a visit.
So what was my view as I sat on the Eurostar coming home? Would I have planned Antwerp – well no, but that is the case with most people. Did I have a good time – yes, I had a great time and the three days were crammed packed. Four would have been easier on the feet. If I go again I will make part of a wider trip to Belgium and Holland.
For details of the Railbookers short stay breaks to Antwerp and other European centres click here www.railbookers.com
For further information about visiting Antwerp please contact Tourism Flanders-Brussels on 0207 307 7738 (Live Operator Line, Mon – Fri) or visit www.visitflanders.co.uk for more details.Last modified: June 10, 2021