Meir, the main street in the centre of Antwerp, is just like Swanston Street or Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD. The biggest difference is that Meir has lots of shoe shops and lingerie stores. Other than that, being there was like being home.
There are small cafes and bistros skirting the edges of the town squares: at Groen Plaats (where a large statue of hero artist Rubens takes pride of place) are a couple of Italian restaurants that remind me of Lygon Street. The owner of one is even standing at the entrance attempting to entice people in for a pizza, gelati or a glass of vino. I ignore him and make a beeline for McDs next door as I desperately need to visit the Ladies’. There were signs at Antwerp Central station indicating that toilet facilities exist, but following the signs proved to be fruitless.
A countdown of Antwerp’s top 3 (from what I saw):
3. Het Steen/Steen Plein
Originally a fortress built in around 1200, Het Steen later became a prison and then a shipping museum. It’s not nearly as cool as Gravensteen in Ghent, but it’s impressive enough. Walk along the Scheldt River foreshore at Steen Plein to read the legendary story of the giant who chopped off hands and threw them in the river.
Thirty-two metres below the river runs an incredible art-deco era tunnel that takes you to the Linkeroever (‘left bank’) of the Scheldt. I was too cold and tired to walk the five minutes to reach the far side, but apparently once you get there, it’s a great view of the city skyline. I really like the simplicity of the white tiles, the rickety old wooden escalators and the potential to create a noisy echo as you watch cyclists and pedestrians disappear down the tunnel.
1. Antwerp Central Station
The station building is another example of brilliant European architecture. Marble columns and the magnificent iron and glass vaulted ceiling are among the reasons this is considered one of the greatest train stations in the world. The station entrance hall was the scene for a flash mob performance of ‘Do Re Mi’ from ‘The Sound of Music’ in 2009. If you haven’t already seen it, you can check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EYAUazLI9k