Monday, 14 November 2016

in the midnight hour

Wednesday 26 to Sunday 31 October - 'Five go to Antwerp and Rotterdam'

So we set off in the dead of night (well almost!!) on Wednesday, leaving behind the buzz and street-piano strains of St Pancras and catching the last train to Brussels. Hot-footed it across Brussels Nord from platform 1 to platform 22, narrowly caught our train to Antwerp, landing there in the early hours of Thursday morning and headed to our fabulous base for the next three nights - JVR108.
Waking to a stunning breakfast on Thursday morning and confirming what a fab find this was
We emerged onto Jan van Rijswijcklaan in time for our 9.30 taxi to Waasmunster (nestled between Antwerp and Ghent) and our pre-booked tour of the amazing Roosenberg Abbey
in a swirling, cold mist
excitedly await our guide - the architect Caroline Voet
for a fascinating tour of the whole abbey, which was designed by the Dutch Benedictine monk/architect Dom Hans van der Laan and built in 1975.  His design of the abbey was a complete work, including the landscaping of the gardens and all the furniture and lighting.  And we were intrigued with the mathematical ratio 3:4 he employed for every doorway, window and proportion of space.  He called this his 'plastic ratio' and Caroline has written a very interesting article on this: Dom van der Laan's Plastic Number. It was an incredibly calm and wonderful place and a privilege to have visited.
and I know this looks a bit harsh after that peaceful chapel - but this is the reality of being back on the streets!  An incredibly modern and immaculate butchers shop and deli!!
which was down in the dock area of Antwerp, mist still swirling around us.  You can just see the new Zaha Hadid Port House building in the middle distance.
but hunger was beckoning and we fell upon the amazing Balls and Glory 
for a beautifully hand crafted lunch
before we venture back onto the streets, cameras at the ready
I loved the trend of decorating bikes with flowers, in fact I just loved the bikes fullstop!

And here's the great MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) designed by Willem Jan Neutelings
with it's spectacular curvy glass viewing platforms - and we were able to get to the very top and out onto the roof for a spectacular view of the whole of the city.
We were now entering the Het Eilandje, the old inner dock area, but not all the new developments were being appreciated - judging by this graffiti on this David Chipperfield apartment block - but we did find a great coffee house nearby to keep us fuelled 
and we all loved the brick work on this block by Tony Fretton
The Red Star Line looks like a great museum to visit when we have more time - good excuse for a second visit . . .
Loved the old buildings and historic cranes down on the water front - never quite worked out what this one was for except maybe some sort of unloading/warehousing area but a quick google confirms the magnificent Waagnatie has indeed played a part in the loading and unloading of cargo over the years.
great artwork too
We wandered about the lovely streets laid out in higgledy piggly mediaeval street patterns, trams and bikes zotting about to all sides of us, and we finally reached the Grote Markt - a beautiful square lined with tall grand guildhouses topped with gold statues and the town hall itself.
we catch a glimpse of the Cathedral . . .
. . . but we are actually rushing through to find the best Belgian waffle cafe in town before it closes - and we make it for a totally exquisite feast with a welcoming cuppa. Don't miss Désiré De Lille if you are ever in Antwerp!
Full and refreshed we are soon off again happily wandering the streets and come across this new and luxurious youth hostel designed by Vincent van Duysen - manage to get a sneak inside and it's more like a luxury boutique hotel!!
Then, using our great 3 day bus/tram passes, we trammed it back to our B&B to doll ourselves up for the evening and ventured out again to town on the No7 tram for our totally stunning meal at Graanmarkt 13 - the beautiful interior designed again by Vincent van Duysen (who we later discover is a friend of the owner of our B&B).  Everything was perfect, the menu choices, the delicious food, the friendly service, the buzzy atmosphere and most of all the great company.

We walked back to our tram through the vibrant, well-lit boulevards full of life and so pretty.  Such a great city.

End of a perfect day.

(And, with my current fad of activity monitoring, you might like to know we covered over 5 miles - 15,000+ steps!!)

And if you want to hear about our second day in Antwerp carry on to chocolate and chips 

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