We arrived at Antwerp after a gruelling train trip filled with waiting in the blistering cold on open train platforms, lugging our packs and trying to find our way to our hotel. The station is huge but the staff speak English and there is a tourist desk if you’re lost. When we finally reached the Ibis Budget Antwerpen Centraal it was time for a much needed lie down and shower. The Ibis budget is definitely just that…budget. The rooms are basic and somewhat futuristic but it’s clean. We enjoyed a rather weird space capsule style shower and a plastic covered hospital style bed. We’d recommend somewhere a little closer to the action, it’s a solid fifteen minute walk into town which feels like a lifetime in 3 degree weather.
Barely able to move, yet starved completely we headed into town and stumbled across an embarrassingly touristy Italian place and overloaded on carbs and red wine. It was neither amazing or worthy of writing about but it was passable and filling. With that we stumbled home in the wind and cold, making the decision to skip Utrecht and stay another night in Antwerp to stop and unwind.
The next morning one of us stayed in bed to rest up and the other decided to have a bit of an exploration of the city. Antwerp is a buzzing little city filled with student culture and some fun fashion to boot. Head down Mier St for all the mainstream shops and get adventurous and wander down Lange Klarenstraat to check out the quirky vintage shop T2. While a lot of items are a little incredulous, they do some mean sales where you can pick up things for a few euro.
As you walk down the main stretch, look up and see some amazing architecture with beautiful mouldings and decoration. I kept heading through the main stretch, headed down Sint-Pieter-en-Paulusstraat and followed my way to La Cuisine. The concept behind La Cuisine is to bridge the employment gap for youth and get them actively learning skills they can apply later in life. The greatest part of this Antwerpen secret is you can get a soup and a main for €8.50, and it’s good…really good! I enjoyed a tasty pumpkin soup with bread and an enchilada with salad for main, if you add on a few extra euros you’ll enjoy tea or coffee and petit fours. If you want to check it out make sure you book in advance, the locals fill up reservations quickly and how could you blame them?
Next stop was the Grote Markt which was decorated perfectly for Christmas, it’s perfectly romantic. If you look one way you can see Stadhuis and then if you look the other way the impressive Olv Kathedraal. The area has plenty of options for drinking and eating however if you’re there in the evening check out the old school bar, ‘Den Engel’ or you can visit Cabron which throws live concerts and has €2 beers from time to time.
With rain impeding the exploration it was time to hightail it back to the hotel and hide away from the European winter….at least for a while.
The laziness and exhaustion was outweighed by our desperate need for food so we decided to add another country to the Mc Donald’s list and bought half the venue, chowed down then went home, packed and passed out. We feel like we owe Antwerp another shot and plan to revisit in the summer, from what we saw it was beautiful however we didn’t give it enough of our time or energy.