A January 2003 trip
to Antwerp by zabelle
Quote: Antwerp is Belgium’s second largest city yet still maintains it's small town ambience. Walking the beautiful streets you are never far from its historic past. The architecture is spectacular yet familiar. .
The Cathedral is one of the most spectacular in Europe. I can’t begin to describe its glory. It is jam packed with great pieces of art and the ceiling of the dome is so utterly magnificent that some people where literally lying on the floor to photograph it. I didn’t go that far but I certainly did my share of photo taking. There are a hand full of other churches which are also worthy of a visit.
A visit to the Rubenshuis is a must. Here you get to see not only where the master lived but also where he worked.
If you only have time to visit one museum in Antwerp make it the Mayer van der Bergh. This is the brainchild of one man, Fritz Mayer van der Bergh and is a superb collection of paintings and sculpture mostly from the Middle Ages.
The Nicholas Rockox House is another small jem and the Plantin-Moretus Museum is just fantastic.
My only disappointment was that the Diamond Museum was closed for the month of January. I guess all the sparklers need to be cleaned.
Hotel | "SAS Radisson"
Our room was bright, done in soothing colors, and was ultra-clean. It was furnished with lots of wood, a minibar, a safe, a double-mirrored door, two chairs, a desk, and a comfortable king-size bed. The bathroom was large, with big, fluffy towels and even facecloths. The large, deep tub beckoned, and I put the amenities basket to good use. This is one of those rooms where you need to put your room card into the slot to keep the lights on.
We chose this hotel because it had a health club and an indoor pool. There is nothing like a jacuzzi after a long day of walking, especially in the cold of winter. The hotel also has it own parking garage, which cost 18 euros a day
The desk help couldn’t have been nicer. Joe was looking for a particular church, and one of the girls even called her mother to find out where it was. They were all wonderful. When I asked where the closest Internet café was, they told me that I could use their business center, and it was free for guests. It was closed, but they took me up and opened it for me. Now that is helpful!
This is Antwerp’s only five-star hotel, and it certainly deserves this designation. We got a wonderful rate too. Our only gripe might be that breakfast wasn’t included, but they do offer a very overpriced breakfast buffet. The hotel has a beautiful bar and restaurant, which we used the first night we stayed here.
The location is a little out of the center, but if you like to walk or jog, you can head to the stadpark, which is right across the street. The tram is not very convenient to this hotel, so we took cabs most of the time, which the desk was happy to call for us. We were rather close to the diamond district and the rail station. I wouldn’t change anything about this hotel, and I would love to stay here again.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 20, 2003
Radisson Sas Park Lane Hotel
VAN EYCKLEI 34
We literally had the entire restaurant to ourselves for most of the evening. One disconcerting note was that I caught the men looking through the etched spots in the frosted glass at our backs, and guess what, the bikini-clad woman in the swimming pool area had caught their attention. I wonder if she knew she was dinner entertainment? It put me off wanting to take an evening swim.
I began my meal with the cream of chicory soup with bacon and chives.
It was excellent. Joe had the chicken consommé, also very tasty. They brought out a little starter plate of Parma ham and melon for us to snack on. It was a wonderful surprise.
Bob and I, as usual, were the beer testers. I had an Interbrew Pils, and Bob had a De Koninck. Mine was a much lighter beer; his was dark and full-flavored. Both very good by any standards.
They had a good selection of entrees. I had the fresh tagliatelle with shaved Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and asparagus. Al had tournedos of beef with oyster mushrooms, green beans, and pepper sauce that was everybody’s favorite. Joe had seared cod fillet with comfit of potatoes and chantarelles and Bob had pan-fried sole with garden vegetables and French fries. The food here is excellent. Every meal was delicious and the portions are not skimpy.
After the meal, they brought us a dish of Belgian chocolates.
There is always room for Belgian chocolates; actually, there was some room for dessert. Al had a chocolate tart with ice cream and pistachio sauce.
Joe had exotic sorbet and I had hot tea. The tea came with a two-tiered tray of everything you need for tea or coffee, including cookies.
We felt pampered, I want to tell you. The service was exemplary -- we could not have asked for better. He was a little stiff at first, but we are a hard bunch to resist.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 20, 2003
We were welcomed with crisp bread served with garlic butter and little ramekins filled with black and green olives. This was definitely a positive beginning. Once we had our Primus Pils, we were ready to order our meals.
We began with an Insalata Mista. This might be one of the best salads we have ever had. It was served with cruets of red wine vinegar and oil and spicy oil and balsamic vinegar, which we poured over a huge pile of lettuce, carrots, onions, olives, green beans, cucumber, and Parmesan cheese. It was excellent and the spicy oil was wonderful.
I had penne with spicy sauce; to call it spicy was a definite understatement. It had a blast of heat that had me grabbing my Pils. I loved it. Al and Joe had the Bolognese, and it was very meaty. Bob ordered one of their pizzas, which came with a thin crust, and it was delicious. As usual, we shared our meals.
The portions are so generous here that there is no way we could have had anything more than a decaf for dessert. Service here was fast and efficient, but not overly friendly. Who cares, the food was great and so were the prices.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 20, 2003
Graaf Van Hoornestraat 3
Restaurant | "Quick Bites"
Located on the south side of the Grote Markt this café/restaurant was a lifesaver. It was about 5pm an impossible time to find food. We had not had any lunch and were starving. What to do? We weren’t too sure by looking at the Café exactly what they might serve at this time of day, but desperation took over and we walked in. The area where we were seated is really an outdoor atrium with glass windows. I bet that in the warm weather this is outdoor dining.
People around us appeared to be having afternoon tea with dessert or beers. We ordered beer -- Leffe for Bob, De Koninck for me (Joe and Al had hot chocolate) -- and asked our waiter if they had some real food. He said, "Trust me, I will bring you something delicious."
He brought us a fabulous tray full of snack foods. It had wings, salami, cheese, egg rolls, olives, pickled onions and funky meatballs. There was more than enough for the four of us. The cost was about five euros apiece.
This is a great place to people watch both in the café and also on the Grote Markt.
Hoopstraat and Vlasmarkt
This is a small croissanterie. We had indulged in the breakfast buffet at the hotel and for 22 euros found it lacking. We decided to find somewhere else to have breakfast. This is two or three blocks south of the Grote Markt. We were getting a little desperate to find some place by the time we wandered in. There is not a breakfast restaurant on every corner in Antwerp.
I had a mokka,
which was a tiny little cup of expresso with chocolate in it. It woke me up that’s for sure. I had two pastries with it; they were very light and sweet sort of like a Danish. Al and Bob had appleflaps, which are basically apple turnovers that they warm up for you. They were delicious. Joe had pain chocolate; he always has pain chocolate. The men all had hot chocolate with their meal. We also got bottles of orange juice. This is obviously a local joint. Even at 10am, people were coming in and getting their lunches on the way to work. Their case of full of delicious looking baguettes stuffed with meat, cheese and vegetables. This was very good fast food and the price was very cheap.
Grote Markt 24
+32 03 232 82/16
Attraction | "Rubenhuis"
Your visit begins across the street, where you purchase your ticket and get your audio guide. The store is in an adjacent building also across the street. Carefully cross the street and pass through the classical portico to the gardens. This is where the audio tour begins. This is also the only area where photography is allowed. The pavilion in the garden dates from Rubens’ time, but the actual layout of the garden can only be guessed.
You will pass through several rooms recreating what typical Flemish homes of the early 17th century would have been like. The kitchen has a large open fireplace and tiled walls. Superb paintings are hung throughout these rooms. The self-portrait in the dining room is particularly worthy of a look. It is one of only a few self-portraits he painted, and as usual, he is not portrayed as an artist but as a successful businessman. In Rubens' time, this house would have been a home, academy, museum, pleasure gallery, and the workshop where art was produced.
Rubens was influenced by the Italian collectors; he somewhat imitated their style, but he also bought art as an investment and he often bought from young artists he liked. His collection was a very important part of his life; we know this from the inventory of his estate and from his extensive correspondence. Some of the oil sketches he owned are very rare today because the original works have been lost. Many of his contemporaries would have visited his home to view his collection and the art. This was a constantly changing collection that covered a wide range of subjects and mediums. There is a temple to hold his sculpture collection, with the classical art being in a classical setting.
You will pass through bedrooms with very nice pieces of Flemish furniture. After Rubens’ death, the furniture in his house was sold, so what you see is not original to the house, but it is from the correct time period. In one, you will see paintings of his grandparents Bartholomeus Rubens and Barbara Arents. This was probably the most amazing thing in the house to me, to actually have portraits from the 16th century of his family.
The tour finishes in the workshop, where there are several very fine paintings by Rubens and some of his very talented students. Rubens was certainly one of the most prolific painters ever; it explains why any museum worth its salt has a Rubens. More than 2,500 works were produced in over 40 years in this workshop.
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+ 32 3 201 15 77
Attraction | "Mayer van den Bergh"
It was built specifically to house this collection; therefore, it displays it to the best possible advantage. Mayer Van den Bergh spent the last 10 years of his life collecting treasures, both art and applied arts. His taste changed over the years, and at the time of his sudden death in 1901, he was leaning more toward the late Gothic and early Renaissance works. What the final collection would have been, had he not died so young, we can only guess. Everything on display here was purchase by Mr. Van Den Bergh during his lifetime.
Normally there is no photography allowed, but I thought it was worth asking for permission. The receptionist was kind enough to contact the curator, and I was allowed free reign. I hope that the pictures can give just a small idea of the treasures to be seen here.
The museum is built to resemble a house, and you pass through the various rooms. The first rooms are quite dark, but the paintings are lit from above to highlight them. The first walls you see are made from gilt leather and are works of art themselves. Be sure to look at the beautifully carved room divider between rooms one and two.
I loved room two, which has a Ruben Satyr picture (the resemblance to Al is uncanny) and some lovely children’s portraits. One wall is dominated by a 15th-century fireplace, with a 14th-century virgin above the mantle.
Room four is brightly painted white and has some wonderful religious art, including a Rogier Van der Weyden of a sweet-faced Madonna and child with St. Catherine and St. Barbara. The fireplace in this room is carved wood, and on the mantle, is a carved figure of St. Martin, which is one of the finest examples of Brabant woodcarving in the world.
There are many splendid treasures upstairs, but you will have to climb quite a few stairs to see them. I particularly loved the carved statue of Jesus and St. John. It shows the Bible story of the Last Supper, when John rested his head on Jesus’ chest. It is such a warm rendering of their friendship.
Mad Meg by Pieter Brueghel the Elder is one of the treasures of this museum. It is a fascinating study, and the more you look at it, the more you see. It has a definite flavor of Heronimous Bosch. Take your time, as it’s worth a second and even a third look.
Entrance to the museum is 2.50€, and I suggest you purchase the guide to the museum in English before you go through. There is so much to see here that you will welcome the help it can offer.
We easily walked here from the Plantin Moretus Museum.
Mayer-van den Bergh Museum
Lange Gasthuisstraat 19
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+32 3 232 42 37
Attraction | "Museum Plantin-Moretus"
I wish there were an audio guide to this museum, but there isn’t. The rooms are numbered, and you get a small paper guide to help you locate the most important items in each room. You get to visit over 30 items. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to photograph the inside of the house.
Room 1 is hung with Flemish tapestries and a Rubens’ painting The Lion Hunt. The fireplace is lined with wonderful mulberry tiles, and there is a case of Chinese porcelains.
Room 2 has 10 portraits, some by Rubens and some by his school. These are all family members. There is a beautiful art cabinet made of rosewood, ebony, and tortoiseshell near the fireplace
Room 3 has two volumes of the Bible that belonged to King Wenceslas and a copy of the Froissart Chronicles. A beautifully illustrated Book of Hours, however, was my favorite piece in the room.
I am not going to list the contents of each room, but there was not a boring one among them. You have a fair share of both family rooms and all the rooms of the printing business. You visit the offices, workrooms, and the foundry, but more than that, you see examples of the finest printing techniques from as early as the 15th century.
The geography room was absolutely one of my favorites. There is a globe on a stand, but also some very early maps. I had a very hard time dragging myself away. I was fascinated at how accurate the early drawings were, especially of the East Coast of the United States. In addition, a map of Antwerp from 1565 shows even where the houses were. As a genealogist, I was intrigued. You could literally locate your ancestor’s home if they lived in Antwerp.
Allow yourself at least 1.5 hours to visit this museum. It takes quite a while to read the little descriptive cards in all the rooms. They do not have much of a gift shop.
Open: 10am to 5pm
Admission: Adult-4€; Senior-2€
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+32 3 221 14 50
There is no entrance fee, and there was a very friendly man at the little gift shop. He gave us a guide and some postcards for free. The Rubens Chapel contains his grave and the painting he created to be displayed in his chapel. It is entitled Our Lady Surrounded by Saints. There are also some very fine artworks in the church by Jacob Jordaens. I loved the carved choir stalls.
Saint Charles Boremeo
This is a Jesuit Church that, at one time, had a gorgeous collection of Van Dyke and Rubens ceiling paintings.
All of them, 39 in all, were destroyed in a fire in 1718. What a nightmare. The ceilings are plain white now, but the church still has one Rubens. Two other Rubens were taken by the Austrians during their rule, one of which is now on display in the Vienna Kunstmuseum.
The Cathedral of Our Lady
This is the largest Gothic cathedral in the Low Countries. There has been a shrine to Our Lady on this site for over 1,000 years. This cathedral is in a constant state of restoration. Although the last major renovation was completed in 1993, they are now working to uncover the medieval wall paintings in the Apse Chapels.
This is not only a national treasure, but a vibrant religious community as well. It is the seat of the bishop of Antwerp.
The cathedral is esthetically pleasing and artistically well endowed. There is a Rubens almost everywhere you look, four major works in all.
There is also the Murillo of St. Francis and the Assumption of the Virgin by Cornelis Schut in the dome. It is this painting that had photographers on their backs to capture it in a photo. You have the feeling that you can look straight up and into heaven.
On the left wall as you walk in are a row of exceptionally carved confessionals. These are of the pre-Vatican II variety and are almost beautiful enough to make me overcome my aversion to this particular mode of confession.
In Our Lady of Praise Chapel, you will find the Antwerp Madonna.
This is a polychrome wood statue from the 16th century. Every year on the Feast of the Assumption, the statue is placed in the center of the cathedral dressed in her finest robes. Like many devotional statues, she has her own wardrobe.
There is a 2€ entrance fee, which we all gladly paid. I felt privileged to be able to help maintain this great cathedral.
Churches in Antwerp
Attraction | "Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten"
We got to the museum just before 4pm. Be warned: at 4:45pm, you are hounded until you leave the museum. I was quite appalled actually. At 4:55, I could understand, but I lost 10 minutes of museum time because the staff wants to leave early. They follow you around until you finally surrender.
There is an audio guide to the museum and it was wonderful. I decided I would rather learn a lot about a few painting than run through the museum to see everything and learn nothing. You can decide for yourself.
The tour begins with Van Eyke and the fascinating St. Barbara. This work is done in gray and white and shows St. Barbara before an unfinished tower. I believe that legend has it that her father wanted her to marry a pagan and when she refused he locked her in a tower. I assume this is what is being alluded to in this painting. Two other of my favorites Rogier van der Weyden and Lucas Cranach are also well represented.
All of Antwerp’s alumnae get very good press here. There is a room of Brughel family paintings, Jacob Jordaens, Anton Van Dyke and of course Antwerp’s favorite son P.P. Rubens. The first floor is devoted to paintings that are more modern from 1800 on but because of the time constraints, we were not able to visit there.
The building itself is worth a second look. The facade is lined with Corinthian Columns and done in a Neo-Classical style. Allow at least two hours to see this museum. I now have an excellent reason to return to Antwerp.
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (KMSKA)
Leopold de Waelplaats 1-9
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+32 3 238 78 09
What interests us most today, however, is that he was also a great collector of artworks. His home was opened as a museum in 1977, and it is a delightful house to visit. Great care and research has gone into the restoration of the house. An inventory was taken at the time of his death that lists all of his possessions, even the contents of his wardrobe. This has been a great help in recreating the interior of the house. <<p>
The entrance fee is 2.50€, and for an additional 2.50€, you can take an audio tour (I highly recommend that you do). It is very well done and adds greatly to your appreciation of all the rooms in the house. It is set up to resemble how the art might have been presented in his day, though all the artwork did not belong to him personally. One that did, however, is a work by Anthony Van Dyke.
Among the art of particular interest is a Madonna and child by Quinten Metsijs. It is a small circular panel that shows Mary with her hair down, which was the style for young unmarried girls in the Middle Ages. Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s copy of his father's work, Proverbs, has over 100 proverbs, which are acted out in this painting.
We see a woman wrap her husband in a blue cloak, which means she is deceiving him. This painting is a window into the world of Brueghel’s time. We spent quite a lot of time trying to locate the different proverbs.
The house is packed with furniture, but of particular interest are the art cabinets.
These cabinets were used to store small treasures in the homes of the upper classes. I loved one that was decorated with silk embroidery and pearls. It shows the tree of knowledge and the serpent from the Garden of Eden. It also has a secret drawer. It is very rare for an art cabinet of this size to have survived. There are several other beautiful ones in the house, one of rosewood and ebony with ivory plates and another of ebony and copper sheets, which has painted scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses on the panels.
This is not a large or elaborate museum, but it is very enjoyable and takes perhaps an hour and 15 minutes to visit. It is an easy walk from the Grote Place.
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+32 3 231 47 10
Founded in 1552, the Maagdenhuis girls orphanage remained open until 1882, when the children were moved to a more modern facility. Today it houses an interesting collection of art and applied arts. We came here to see the Van Dyke and the Rubens, which are certainly are worthy of a visit, but what would make me want to come back are the many souvenirs and mementos of the children who have passed through its doors.
This is a small museum; you get to visit several rooms that have the paintings and some beautiful furniture. What you don’t get to see are the rooms where the children would have been housed--too bad, as that would have been interesting.
The chapel has been converted into a museum to house the mementos of the actual orphanage. There is a case with 203 foundling tokens,
These are often playing cards or religious images that have been given a jagged-cut edge. One half was kept by the mother and the other half was left with the baby. This way the mother could come back, and if they cards fit together, they could identify their child. How many were able to come back we will never know, but at least 203 didn’t. Other cases show the typical uniforms worn by the foundlings. Amid all these very emotional souvenirs, a beautiful case of faience seems almost out of place.
Entrance is 2.50€. I had a very mixed reaction to this museum. First you see the obvious wealth of those who ran the home and then you see how very spartan the lives of the foundlings were. A sad contrast indeed.