Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Weekend in Antwerp and Brussels

It was so great to see my brother after almost an entire year. We crammed lots of places and activities into his two weeks here and I was sad to see him go at the end of it. We went to all of the standard places (Aachen, Koln, Brussels, Amsterdam) but we also took the opportunity to see some new things.

We went to Antwerp last winter when my sister visited but it was only a brief stop on our way to a beer festival in a smaller town just outside of the city. I wanted my brother to experience Belgium fully so we decided to spend his first weekend here in Antwerp and Brussels. We rented an apartment in Antwerp for the convenience of having two full bedrooms and more space. The Coco-Mat Residence is on a busy street above the Coco-Mat furniture store. The apartment was large and bright, beautifully furnished with interesting pieces from the store. The kitchen was larger than the one in our home and I spent a few blissful moments opening cabinets and drawers, imagining what I would do with all of the space if we lived there.

The apartment was the perfect location for our wanderings around Antwerp. We went to the train station where the architecture still impressed me even though it was my second time seeing it. Based upon lots of suggestions, we also stopped by the Kulminator. It's a famous bar in Antwerp and is consistently voted as one of the top pubs in the world. We arrived at opening time so we didn't have a chance to see it busy. The owners, a husband and wife team, were cordial. The interior is decorated with lots of lush plants and there is a charming little garden at the rear. Classical music trumpeted through the speakers, giving the place a strangely refined tone. We sipped our beers introspectively and decided we were satisfied after a couple of rounds. Maybe it was just the time of day, but I wouldn't put the Kulminator ahead of Cafe Rembrandt in Tongeren. The offerings were expansive but the prices were astronomical compared to lesser-known pubs. I know the Kulminator didn't begin this way, but it's now become a mecca for tourists-- we weren't the only Americans there that afternoon. If you must, stop by for a drink but move on afterward unless you want to leave with empty pockets.

Next, we strolled along the River Scheldt. We missed this part of Antwerp the first time we were here. We ended up in the Oude Werf, Antwerp's oldest neighborhood. The Steen (stone) is all that remains of the 800-year-old Antwerp Castle.

Grote Markt
After a look at the lovely Grote Markt, we had a nice dinner at an outdoor cafe. We were lured by sounds of music and laughter to another square. By sheer luck, we had happened upon the Liberation Ball! Antwerp was liberated by Allied troops in September of 1944. The Liberation Ball is a complete recreation of that time. Some people were decked out like American soldiers while others were dressed in their swing-dance best! The performers crooned music of the era while everyone Lindy Hopped around the dance floor. It was amazing! I only wished I'd known so I could have dressed for the occasion.

Swing Dance at the Liberation Ball

We made the 25-minute drive to Brussels the next morning. We showed my brother the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis statue. Then we quenched our thirst with some lambic beers. The boys decided they wanted to go to Autoworld, a huge museum dedicated to the history of the automobile. Admittedly, I wasn't too interested in this attraction but we did manage to walk through the Cinquantenaire Park on the way. It was filled with sunbathers and picnickers and flanked by Brussels' Arc de Triomphe.

After another Belgian beer break, dinner was served and we were on the way back to Germany.

I'm glad we had another look at Antwerp. To me, the highlight of the weekend was the Liberation Ball. Maybe some swing dancing lessons are in my future.

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