The favoured mode of transport around Antwerp and even Flanders is undoubtedly the pushbike, however the city is equally cool for walking. I enjoyed ambling through various areas of the city on a couple of occasions, visiting the historical areas along with a few festivals along the way.
The River Scheldt divides the city in two, and both sides are accessed by a single tunnel which runs under the wide river. It takes around 10 minutes to make it from one side to the other and a return trip is usually the same way. A couple of flights of escalators take scores of visitors below the river whether on foot or bike.
It is a little like an underground without the trains or tracks, though the tiled walls unlike most public transportation systems are bare and not plastered in advertising. This may seem like an opportunity lost but although they’re not exactly exciting they still seem preferable to the alternative. It would be great to invite some really talented street artists to be creative in here, preferably able to freely express themselves. They could be provided with a suitable theme, possibly Flanders or Antwerp related, it would make the walk or ride much more interesting.
The cyclists probably wouldn’t notice anyway, rapidly weaving their way between the pedestrians. It’s fairly obvious they didn’t read the notices at either entrance informing them of the need to go slow!
The city seems to take on a different character depending which side of river you are standing. To the east is the main city with shopping precincts, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, high-rise buildings, trams, and tourists. The historical centre is also located here with impressive architecture such as the Stadhuis or Cathedral and many small squares or parks to just relax and take a break from the shopping or sight-seeing.
Shopping really isn’t something I claim any expertise in, in fact spending an afternoon browsing the many fashionable shops here would be my idea of hell. For those that enjoy their retail therapy however Antwerp appears a good option. Personally I’ll wait in one of those cool bars or coffee shops until finished. There are bars to suit all tastes, modern, funky ones, older traditional even slightly rundown pubs or theme watering holes such as Irish or African. One thing they have in common is they offer plenty of choice when it comes to beer, one offered over 280 varieties, that’s a lot of beer choice!
If walking becomes a bit of a chore there is always the option to take a tram, a form of transport which I am particularly fond of, they are common along the seafront of my hometown. The hop on, hop off bus tour is yet another possibility for those that are ambulatory challenged. It does shorten the time between worthwhile sights however, allowing more time to be spent at the attractions. Coming to think of it, should have thought of that while I was there!
If it feels a little early for a beer (really?) or café culture isn’t your scene, the squares with statues, fountains and of course benches might be. Dotted around the city, they are popular stopping off points for those exploring the city’s shops or sights. Some of the larger ones or parks are home to the many festivals that Antwerp plays host to. Food, drink or music there is a theme to suit every taste, and having spent an evening at the chilled out Jazz Middelheim Festival it’s easy to recommend a visit.
The observant may notice that many of the buildings have attractive statuettes built into the corners, they all seem unique. In common with much of the architecture they are Baroque in style and offer attractive ornamentations scattered around the city.
Emerging into a small park on the other side of the river after a short walk through a long tunnel the scene is quite different. There are none of the bustling crowds of shoppers or sight-seers. There only seem a handful of people in sitting on the grass, maybe drinking and chatting. I cannot help wondering where everybody went, the tunnel was busy enough, especially with cyclists, yet they seem to have vanished.
Admittedly my companions and I did not venture too far from the riverbank but even so the contrast was clear.
This river bank provides some great views of the city. As it is the second largest port in Europe and the fourth in the World it is a busy waterway, with all manner and size of vessel making their way up and downstream. From frame filling parcel tankers to small speed boats, there is a constant flow of assorted craft going about their business on the river.
It is the ideal place to take a break from the busy side of the city, with a mixed case of Belgium beers to try with a few friends. Watch the ships pass by, figure out where the cyclists mysteriously disappear to or enjoy a chat for a few hours before returning to the other side. It’s such a good idea I’m going to take my advice next time when next in the neighbourhood of Antwerp.
I visited Antwerp and Flanders as a guest of the Tourism Board however neither this or the many beers I consumed have influenced my opinion. Ok maybe the beers did a little!