Travel Through Antwerp - The Pleasant Surprise of Belgium

I continue with the stories of the trip to Flanders. Antwerp is a beautiful city located in the north of Belgium. It is a city that I discovered almost by chance. It is presumed to have been the home of the painter Rubens during the development of most of his career. The Scheldt river has also been the second most important port in Europe.

After the huge mess at the Brussels airport to buy train tickets because luck made me choose a machine without the option to change the language, I got on the train loaded with suitcases. When I got off the train and left the station I saw that I have arrived in Antwerp. I could not yet imagine that I had made a mistake in the city and, indeed, I was not in Brussels.

Nothing was close to the thousand images in my head of the Belgian capital. But thanks to a wonderful mistake due to total ignorance of the Flemish language, I ended up wandering and discovering Antwerp. I quickly learned that visiting this city would not disappoint me. If you are thinking about what to see in Antwerp in a day, this post will solve your doubts.

Upon arrival, the magnificent Central Station of Antwerp welcomed me. But while it is true that the Antwerpen Centraal was not the center of Brussels, it allowed me to see the amazing Antwerp Central Station. The Central Station of Antwerp opened in 1905. It is a stone building, with a metal and glass structure by the Belgian architect Louis Delacenserie. When I get off the train I was surprised by the glass roof. Once inside the lobby, the large dome of the waiting room made me speechless.

I headed towards the center of the city taking a walk along the De Keyserlei avenue. It is a wide boulevard with terraces and shops, and those that attracted the most attention were those of diamonds. Antwerp is famous worldwide for diamond cutting. Near the central station, I see dozens of shops with beautiful bright ones in their windows.

The historic center of Antwerp is only a fifteen-minute walk away. But instead of going to the cathedral or the Grote Markt, I start by visiting the beautiful square of Conscienceplein. It is the city's first pedestrian square, named after the writer Hendrik Conscience. The square is full of lime trees and some small restaurants with terraces where you can sit and have a quiet drink. A building in the square stands out above all. It is the church of San Carlos Borromeo, an imposing baroque church that has 43 paintings and numerous sculptures created by the famous painter Rubens.

In fact, Antwerp and Rubens almost go hand in hand. In addition to the church of San Carlos Borromeo, I also find masterpieces of the painter in the Cathedral of Our Lady. This is the most outstanding building in the center of Antwerp. It has no less than seven naves and the bell tower measures 123 meters in height. They say that from the top you can see the Brussels Atomium.

For me, the Cathedral of Antwerp brought back memories of childhood, as I saw the series of drawings The Dog of Flanders, which went from a very poor child named Nello who had a dog named Patrasche. He liked painting very much and his greatest hope in life was to see the painting 'The Descent' from the Rubens Cross. The poor man goes through many hardships, but he finally gets to see the painting in the cathedral. Although the story ends up having one of those outcomes makes me traumatized. However, upon entering the cathedral and contemplating the works of Rubens I understood why Nello insisted on crossing half the country to see them.

A few meters from the cathedral is another of the nerve centers of Antwerp. It is the Grote Mark or Plaza Mayor. This square exudes charm on all sides. On one side stands the City Hall, which is a beautiful Renaissance-style building. In other two sides are the typical flamenco guild houses, in this case, built in the XVI and XVII century. In the center, the statue of Brabo in the central fountain reminds me of the legend of the hand of Antwerp.

Legend has it that a giant once lived on the Scheldt. And each time a ship passed, the giant demanded an excessive toll. If they did not pay, the giant would cut off the captain's hand and throw it into the river. Silvio Brabo, a brave Roman centurion, mustered the courage to fight the giant, killed him and then threw the monster's huge hand at the Scheldt. That is why it is said that the place name "Antwerp" comes from the expression "throw the hand" and thus, the hand has become the symbol of the city.

Precisely one of the sweets that you simply have to try if you visit Antwerp are the hands of Antwerp, which are made of chocolate or biscuit. Then, I leave the Grote Markt behind Oude Koornmarkt. I enter the number 16 to cross a kind of time tunnel and appear in a typical sixteenth-century alley.

The Vlaeykensgang alley seems to have been frozen in time. Although I no longer find the shoemakers who worked there, nor the most powerful inhabitants of the city. Currently, it is a charming alley, a haven of peace (when groups of visitors do not prevent it) a few meters from the bustling center of the city. It is a corner so beautiful that it is hard to imagine that in the past it was a dark and smelly alley.

If before I told you that the typical sweet of the city were the hands of Antwerp, at lunchtime I did not hesitate twice and decided to eat the most typical dish of the city. It is the steak with pepper sauce and chips. Near the Grote Markt, there are many restaurants where you can taste this and other typical dishes of Flanders. It was the middle of August and the heat accompanied me during the whole trip to Flanders. So I wanted to eat al fresco in one of the terraces that flooded the city.

After lunch, I decided to move to the Scheldt River, passing by the Meat Museum, which in ancient times was the guild house of the butchers of the city. I went along the river promenade until I reach the Het Steen, a stone fortress built in the thirteenth century. It reminded me of the Gravensteen of Ghent. It was the perfect way to end our day in Antwerp.

I walked the streets of the center back to the station, lamenting the error while thanking it because the visit to this beautiful Belgian city was not in our itinerary. After walking for a while, I finally see in the distance the Central Station of Antwerp, next to a big Ferris wheel and the zoo of the city, one of the oldest and most cared for in the world. After my detour ended, I returned to the planned route on the way to Brussels.
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