My brother just arrived in Switzerland a few days ago for a study abroad trip. So far he has taken a train to his hostel and found a place to eat a pizza and drink a beer. I’m sad to admit that alone has made me the slightest bit jealous as I fondly look back on my train-riding, pizza-eating, beer-drinking days in Europe.
Monday- our first full day in Antwerp
We woke up (some of us earlier than others) and enjoyed a simple breakfast of pastries and coffee while overlooking the busyness of a Monday morning on the Meir. Afterwards we set off and I received a personal walking tour of the city from my mom’s point of view. After having lived there for about a month, she had been able to locate the places I had to see, as well as establishing a few of her own preferences. Having my own travel experience however, I had done a bit of research (aka I flipped through a book during my breakfast an hour before and identified several sites and restaurants I’d like to stop by) and before long it was actually me leading my mom on the tour in search of the locations I had only just learned about that she had never heard of.
One of these stops was an art nouveau building titled The Five Continents, that features the bow of an old (real) ship. This building, while extremely unique and located in a not very obscure spot, is ranked at a mere #93 out of #154 “Things to Do in Antwerp” on TripAdvisor. I suspect this is simply because it is not well known enough to be ranked higher, because there is no way people would know about this incredible architectural site and not want to go see for themselves. We would have loved to go inside and see the interior, but it is indeed a functioning building and currently houses several offices. For what and whom, we do not know. What we do know is that it is well worth seeking out for its sheer unexpectedness.
One place that we did know about ahead of time was the Botanical Gardens. There was a sculpture I had seen a picture of years before, and as it turned out, was located right there in Antwerp. As it was February, the gardens did not have a lot on display at the time, but I did get to see the sculpture and mom got to see a bit of ~nature~
We walked further along and came across Cafe Zurich, another one of those unanticipated gems that I had only just read about a few hours before as one of the ‘Top 5 Best Places for Lunch’ in Antwerp. Because I recognized the name, we stopped in. It features a retro environment inside with black and white checked floors, mirror walls covered with the lyrics to the Bob Dylan classic “Forever Young,” and an old-time milkshake-diner style bar and stools. The menu was simple yet the food was good, making it a perfect lunchtime pit stop. We got some light sandwiches and hot mint tea- one of my favorite beverages that while I will order every chance I get, will never top what we endlessly consumed in Morocco.
We left Zurich and continued on our stroll, slowly meandering our way back to the Meir. We came across a street, but not just any street. This particular street turned out to be the best street, the greatest street in Antwerp, perhaps even in all of Belgium. This street, known as Kloosterstraat, featured seemingly never ending antique shops, retro boutiques, tiny cafes, street art, salvage stores, and the coolest old bookstore you could imagine. This street was so full of culture, flavor, and hipster vibes, yet was so unobtrusive and undemanding that one would never expect the amazing finds awaiting them a few yards away.
Of course it was Monday, so not many of these magical buildings were actually open and available to us, as shops in Europe are frequently closed on Mondays instead of Saturdays, but we were able to go into the aforementioned bookstore, Eric Tonen Books, and whoo boy were we in for a treat. We found postcards, books old and new, art, gifts, and perhaps the best of all, maps from the 1800s depicting various Belgian cities, being sold for 5euros! 5EUROS. We scooped up a handful of those right away, marveling at the amazing history we had stumbled across.
After getting our fill of Belgian book bargains, we meandered our way back to the apartment. Mom had a meeting to get to, seeing as she was indeed there for work and had ~responsibilities~ to attend to. I decided to take myself down memory lane and go into some shops that I liked to visit in Malta and then hit up a local coffee shop, CoffeeLabs, that my mom liked to spend some time at. It had a great atmosphere, some creative drinks (like a Golden Latte- hot ginger!) and really catered to working professionals.
For dinner, we wandered down multiple streets, unsure of what we wanted to eat and not really liking anywhere we came across. We almost gave up and went back for cheese and crackers at the apartment when we came across ViaVia and let me just tell you, it was worth the search. My exact words at the time to describe the atmosphere were “a super cool funky-looking place with lights and bikes.” We got a couple appetizers and the food was so well flavored and unique that we immediately fell in love.
Stay tuned for our Day 3 adventure coming up, as well as some guest writing from my brother in Switzerland!