The Kalmthoutse Heide is a park about half an hour drive from Antwerp and which straddles the Belgium/Holland border. It’s theoretically possible to go on a short wall which crosses over – though we chose another route this time.
The walking is on sand which makes it a bit harder work at times. This bring Belgium however it is also so flat that it’s almost hard to believe. Apparently there is also a herd of sheep that live here and some shaggy little cows too.
Middelheim Museum is an outdoor sculpture park not far from Antwerp city. Entry is free, but note that it is closed on Mondays.
You could spend a whole day or more exploring the art in the park, there is genuinely ‘something for everyone’ from hyper-modernist work, to old school traditional sculpture.
The 21 or 32 from Berchem Station will get you there, or even better go on a bike. This is Belgium so there is of course a cafe in the grounds. Stop for a borreltje of jenever and a cheesy snack.
Park Spoor Noord is an example of urban renewal done well. As so often happens, a visionary but divisive mayor is responsible. The outcome is that an abandoned railway yard in a rough part of town has been turned into a beautiful park that is changing the neighbourhood around it. Go there on a sunny day, play in the fountains and lounge on the artificial beach.
There is of course a bar (we are in Belgium after all), but of note is the only healthy vending machine I have ever seen in my life. Fruit, yoghurt, cherry tomatoes and more – wish we had one of these at my work..
There is a gallery at Park Spoor Noord that is a converted hangar of some sort. When I went they were showing the amazing PIETAS by Jan Fabre. Marble brains and a pieta with carved insects crawling all over them – and the golden base that you needed to wear special slippers to wander about on. Quite an incredible exhibition.
Antwerp is my home away from home – where much of my family live and where I spend most of my time overseas.
Many people who travel through Europe go through Belgium. They may even stop in Brussels or Bruges. What they often don’t do – and really should – is take a weekend in Antwerp. She’s a pretty city, with a lively restaurant and bar culture and just enough shopping and touristy things to find something you like, without being overwhelmed by touristy obligations.
Here are the skies above the Meir, the main shopping strip in the centre.
Wandering around town will also uncover some amazing Art Nouveau houses like this one.
Also near the centre is the famous Cogels Osylei with its amazing Nouveau and baroque grand old houses.
According to wikipedia jenever is: “the juniper-flavored and strongly alcoholic traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which gin evolved”. The monkey uncle of gin, who could resist?
A few tips:
– drink it straight. A tiny little glass will come out, mixers are frowned on.
– most good places will bring your little glasses and pour at the table right up to the rim. Sip it down, don’t shoot it.
– have some “borrel hapjes” with it – it’s strong and some cheese or other snackeroo will help you not get too sozzled..
– if you need an “entry level” jenever try a flavoured one – I like apple and violet flavoured but there are hundreds of others. One for any taste.
Arguably the best place to drink jenever in Antwerp is de vagant. Huge selection, cheerful service, 2 minutes walk from the cathedral and a cat that will come and snuggle on your lap.
It gets quite busy, so to balance the numbers of people swimming vs how the natural system can cope with cleaning the water, there is a countdown of people allowed in at any time. Your maximum time in there is about 45 minutes, but nothing to stop you going back in of course. As this is Belgium there are also change rooms and lockers (bring a euro coin to use these).
The pool itself is very natural – a little mossy, and with the freshest of water. I’d almost say you could drink it but that is probably not advised.
The filtration system is “natural” – meaning that the water runs through a series of feeder ponds.
Every Saturday and Sunday as well as the wonderful Vogelmarkt being on there is also the less well-known Sjacherbeurs. A kind of flea and junk market, held in a carpark just off the square where the market is held.
This is the place for bargain hunting and the kind of souvenirs that are not only not sold in normal shops, but often probably not allowed through customs.They even sell vintage pr0n videos for the out of date perverts out there..
How about some super creepy traditional Flemish puppets for the young person in your life who needs some assistance with a subject for their nightmares?
This cheeky stuffed squirrel is sure to delight the animal lover in your life and/or get you on that show about customs at Australian airports.
Great selection of viewfinders and photowheels. Good selection of old school Disney ones as well as ones featuring stories from the Bible.
Saturday 10am to 4pm
Sunday 9am to 4pm
Entry cost is 1.50 euros
There is a cheap cafe inside if you want a cup of filter coffee and to soak up the atmosphere.
There is also a toilet inside that will set you back 40c.
As this is at the same site as the Vogelmarkt why not do them both?
For other similar markets in Belgium see here.
Whichever language you choose to say it’s name in, Gent is one of the most charming and lively cities in Flanders . It has great bars and nightlife, canals and historic squares, and more old buildings and churches than you could throw a stick at.
If you only visit one city in Belgium go to Gent. Brugge is pretty but Gent is vibrant AND pretty.
Here’s an example: art, old buildings, a canal and people drinking all in the one photo. My kind of place.
As it seemed time to do a little touristing we went to the Design Museum. It has an amazing mix of 18th and 19th Century design and art in a gorgeous old building, mixed with modern and post modern art and design pieces.
Loved this original wallpaper in one of the rooms – surprisingly modern.
And this mutant bear by Philippe Starck also took my fancy, pity he wasn’t for sale in the gift shop.
Then time for a proper coffee. This espresso from Simon Says sure hit the spot.The apple and cherry juice was also ace.
Possibly the best coffee I have ever had in Belgium. Highly recommended. This place is also a Bed and Breakfast – if I ever need to stay overnight in Gent will be at the top of my list of places.
Was served with some of the best frites I have ever had. A must try if you are in Gent.
Gentse stoverij is the local version of the more general “stoverij” or “stoofpot”. It is basically a rich beef stew with mustard and often Belgian beer in the sayce.
We couldn’t quite stomach the whole portion so asked for a doggie bag and got this. Fancy schmancy.
It is likely that this is in order to be in compliance with food serving rules, they have included the date etc on the packet.
Then at 10pm that night I did the “midzomernachtrun“. A 15 kilometre fun run through the old centre of Gent. There was also a 10 kilometer option. Total field around 3,600 runners.
My photo from the course shows some of the atmosphere but not a lot more. Amazing night and the most picturesque run I have ever done. That said cobblestones which formed quite a lot of the course are pretty horrific to run on!
The post race showbags contained the usual random product samples plus some Gulden Draak – an excellent beer from Gent.
Official tourism website for Gent If it’s your first visit you should probably at least see the Gravensteen Castle and take a tour of the canals on a boat.
Design Museum Gent is at Jan Breydelstraat 5 9000 Gent
The Sinksenfoor is an institution in Antwerp. A giant fair along the Schelde that stays for around 6 weeks each year, indicating for many young and old that Summer is starting.
We visited on the last day this year, meaning that many of the rides and even food stands were substantially discounted – bonus! (other coupons etc for specials can be found here)
The amazing ferris wheel for incredible views over Antwerp.
The Sinkenfoor is also a proper fair in the most important way – RIDES!
There seems to be a lot more fun houses and mirror houses than at similar fairs in Australia. Fun for someone like me who is a total wuss about rides like rollercoasters and pirate ships.
The amusingly named polyp. I wonder what language this actually works in – to me it is more of a medical condition than a ride.
The screaming caused by this ride is pretty universal – no Flemish language skills required.
Time for a short break and a Bitburger.
Last day of the fair means you can get two of these for 2 euros. Cheapest round I’ve bought here so far.
Then to the Desire de Lille stand for a snack.
Here they are making the apple beignets – apple slices in batter fried and then served with a dusting of icing sugar.
For me however a day at the fair means smouteballen!
Smouteballen (also known as olliebollen) are nothing more than a fried, yeasty dough. The inside remains moist and a little chewy, the outside is hot and greasy and the icing sugar always goes everywhere.
It is very tempting to eat these immediately but letting them cool down a little is advised, if difficult.
8 smouteballen for 4 euros – share between two.
One last look at the sideshow alley games – almost tempted by these Barbapapa plushies but suspect they would not fit in my check in luggage to head home.
Open weekdays and Sundays from 2-3pm till midnight
26 May 2012 – 1 July 2012
Open Friday and Saturday night from 2-3 pm till 1am.