Viewing: Antwerp

Let’s Do Brunch in… Antwerp

I’ve been grounded for almost five months and I’m itching to travel again! With the baby, our trips need to be short and easy, so I’m looking at cities within a short train ride from Amsterdam.

One of them is Antwerp, where Marlon and I went last year for a half-day trip. That just wasn’t enough to fully explore this beautiful, design-savvy city, and I’d love to return. When I do, I’ll make it a point to stop by this month’s brunch place, recommended by guest blogger Noortje Emmerink of Peppermint, who has lived and worked in Antwerp as a fashion designer and stylist.

Although I only met Noortje very briefly at the Meet the Blogger last year, it’s easy to keep in touch with someone in blogland. I’ve kept up with Noortje’s blog because of her eye for design, cool and colorful style and fun, light feel.

True to her style, she’s chosen a place that’s as cool, colorful, fun and light as her blog. Find out what it is, after the jump!

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Shock-o-latier

Just off the Meir, Antwerp’s most important shopping street, is the one of the city’s most important monuments: the Rubenshuis. (Note: in Dutch, the vowel pairing ui is pronounced “au,” so you literally say Rubens’ house.) I was surprised at how massive it was; clearly, unlike other famous Dutch artists—Van Gogh comes to mind—Peter Paul Rubens enjoyed commercial success during his lifetime.
Unfortunately, with all the eating and shopping, Marlon, Yeho and I didn’t catch up to the Rubenshuis before closing time. To console ourselves, we backtracked to an interesting building just around the corner from the Rubenshuis—the Paleis op de Meir
A 250 year-old building with an illustrious list of owners from Napoleon to William I of the Netherlands to the Belgian Royal family, the Paleis now houses a brasserie, heritage foundation, ballroom-turned-party-venue, and a chocolate shop. A visit to Belgium is not complete without a box of Belgian chocolates to take home, so we stepped into the latter for a visit. 
The Chocolate Line is a Michelin-listed chocolatier established by Fabienne DeStaerke and Dominique Persoone in Brugge. This second shop in Antwerp works out of Napoleon’s former kitchen, which you can step into for a view of the chocolatiers in action. 

Also on display in the the kitchen was a gown created for Miss Belgium entirely out of Belgian chocolate. I immediately notified our resident pageant expert, but he was unable to ID the candidate and year. If it were me, this dress would probably not have made it out of my boudoir. #nomnomnom 

Dominique Persoone calls himself a “shock-o-latier” due to the unique and inventive flavor combinations used in his chocolates. The only thing I really found shocking in his shop was this giant photograph of nude models strewn in an alley, like corpses drizzled in chocolate. It reminded me of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre as depicted in the French film Queen Margot with Isabelle Adjani. Yikes.

Naturally, we couldn’t leave without sampling the goods. We settled on a box of 250 grams, or about 14 pieces, for €14.50.

Our box included such flavors as mocha ganache, coriander and salted peanut, basil with olives and sun-dried tomato chutney, and lavender.

What’s left of our box now: pralines with sake, wasabi, saffron and curry powder, and bacon. Yes, bacon. I’m saving that for last.

Shopping in Antwerp

A few days ago, Marlon said to me, “If we lived in Belgium, we’d be really fat and really poor.” Because there’s nothing I want to do on my return trip to Antwerp except eat and shop, eat and shop, eat and shop. I didn’t quite get enough of that during our day trip a few weeks ago!
I would have liked to step into Het Modepaleis, housed in a lovely Art Deco building on shopping street Nationalestraat, to pay obeisance to Dries Van Noten. But being a couchwife with an irregular income doesn’t afford me that luxury, so I had to be content with snapping a photo.
Slightly closer to, but still nowhere within my meager means was Allsaints Spitalfields, a brand that’s completely new to me.

Its shop window, with its massive collection of vintage sewing machines, was the kind of display that promises all sorts of awesomeness inside.


I wanted to take home everything, but sadly, it was not to be. I did put some of my favorites up on my Pinterest board for future reference. I’ll be back for one of you, my pretties. 

Afterwards, we headed to the Meir, a wide pedestrian boulevard that is Antwerp’s biggest and most famous shopping street. I haven’t been to a mall since my last trip home, but the Stadfeestzal (City Festival Hall), a turn-of-the-century government building converted into a shopping center, beckoned with its stately grandeur.

Inside: glass-domed ceilings, mosaic floors, and marble staircases. Sumptuous! But that’s not what sent my jaw crashing to the floor.

What really got me was the presence of an Urban Outfitters in the building. Urban Outfitters! Three floors! Why do we not have this in Holland?!

I may not be able to afford Dries Van Noten or even, Allsaints, but I can definitely cough up enough change for Urban Outfitters. So I disappeared into the madness and found a few pretty things to take home. Check out my goodies, after the cut!


Purchase number one: gray velvet mullet dress (short in front, long in back), on sale for €20 (Php 1,200). I can’t wait for warmer weather so I can wear it out with just a black leather jacket.

For some reason, I’ve had velvet on the brain lately. So I also picked up a pencil skirt in a magenta stretch velvet, to go with all my black tops and a favorite gray sweatshirt from Muji.  This was a bargain at €10 (about Php 600). 

 

There was a time when I thought if I saw another thing shaped like a heart (or even the comment “Heart this!”) on Pinterest, I would vomit. I really have to choke back the hurl now, because I fell for these emerald green patent loafers with… a tiny heart cutout. *hangs head*

The cherry on my shopping sundae (or dame blanche, since this is Belgium we’re talking about) was the abundance of affordable vintage clothes in Antwerp. In a small vintage store called Sussies on Kammenstraat (with a great selection of pieces), my inner magpie/old lady was drawn to this glittery cardigan with a Missoni-esque pattern for just €10, or Php 600. Faithful jeans and white tank top, meet your newest friend.

I barely scratched the surface, but just by ducking into a few more stores it was easy to establish that vintage shopping here is way, way cheaper than it is in Amsterdam.

And that is why I can’t wait to go back to Antwerp. Next time, I’m taking all my pennies with me!

Antwerp by day, Antwerp by night

Marlon and I recently had a weekend visit from his cousin Yeho, who lives in Heidelberg, Germany. At her behest (and with her car), we drove down to Antwerp for the day. I’ve always wanted to go, and the car was the catalyst for me to finally overcome my inertia. Clocking in at just 2.5 hours, it’s a really easy drive. Yes, Belgium is the new Batangas.

We left at around noon and arrived in the center of town in time for a late lunch, and started the drive back a little after dinnertime. Having two meals in Antwerp was of paramount importance, since Belgium smacks the Netherlands to the ground in terms of cuisine.

For me, a visit to Belgium is not complete without a large pot of mussels, a Belgian beer, and a fantastic dessert—usually a dame blanche (“white lady”), a childhood favorite of mine and the Belgian equivalent of a hot fudge sundae. Some say it’s a Catholic vs Protestant thing, while others ascribe it to proximity to France, but whatever the reason is, I am gobsmacked by how meals can be so radically different just across the border!

In between meals, we strolled, shopped and saw a few sights. With only a few hours at our disposal, we barely scratched the surface. Luckily, we were parked right in the center of town, so leaving the car in the afternoon and returning to it at in the evening gave us the opportunity to see some of Antwerp’s iconic buildings in two distinct lights.

The Cathedral of Our Lady was closed, so we missed out on some of Peter Paul Rubens’ most famous works housed within. We did get nice day vs night views of this impressive Gothic structure…

… as well Grote Markt, or Old Market Square. It was a smaller-scale version of Brussels’ Grand Place, with similar gabled guild houses. A big difference is in what it’s called; I didn’t see any signs pointing to a Grand Place here. Being so close to the Netherlands, Dutch is more widely spoken in Antwerp than French; our smattering of Nederlands actually helped us get around and read menus. Here’s the Grote Markt by day… 
… and by night. If the perpetual rain is good for anything, it’s for making cobblestones gleam. 
On one side of the Grote Markt is the Stadhuis, or City Hall. Again, by day… 
… and by night. 
Driving into the city, our curiosities were piqued by this stunning building. It turned out to be the Museum aan de Stroom, or MAS, a museum about the city of Antwerp “and its relationship with the world.”  (Iiiiiinteresting.) Built by famous Belgian architects Neutelings Riedijk, Antwerp’s history as an important port city inspired this design of shipping containers stacked in a spiral. We returned in the evening, but the museum was already closed; this definitely warrants a return trip! 

Fortunately, the surrounding quayside, Het Eilandje (“The Islet”), was also a good area to end up in, being a former port area with interesting bars and restaurants. It was hard to get into a restaurant without a reservation, but we managed to find a table at a great bar called Het Duvels Genot (literally, “The Duvel Enjoyment”… kind of like the Heineken Experience, I guess). 
I’ve learned to expect crappy food when I walk into a bar in Amsterdam, but Belgium thoroughly has a leg up in this area. We had an awesome meal cooked with a variety of beers from the Duvel brewery, with hearty portions and reasonable prices. It was another one of those times where I was so involved with my food, I totally forgot to take pictures. Definitely a good reason (of many!) to make a return trip.