While I have been bouncing around Belgium I have also been exploring my base town of Antwerp. I am renting an apartment in the area that was formerly where all the docks were. It is now full of apartments in converted warehouses – and is similar to the meatpacking district as it was 20 years ago – so not yet overrun or in any way touristy – yet. It is also close to the red light district which I stumbled into on my first day – all wares are in the windows (rather than the street) – lots of make-up; not much clothing – no photos allowed but I smiled and waved at a few of them and they waved back – it is all very jolly and not at all seedy – this was at 4pm though:). The police station is right in the middle of the two streets where most of these ladies are to be seen and it is considered the safest place in Antwerp!
The are is being regenerated and it also houses two of the cities museums – so nice easy walk for me. The first is MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom) which means Museum on the river apparently. This is a very interesting building in its own right and has a broad range of art – mostly temporary exhibits but also some permanent.
The section below was about festivals and celebrations – the camera is actually a designed coffin – there is a company in the Caribbean who make these in any shape or design – whatever was of interest to the deceased. The giant dolls are used in annual parades in Belgium and the wedding sofa is for a Moroccan bride – definitely eclectic.
At the top are the giant dance machines – used in Belgium through to the early 60s – they played music and had lights and other effects. They were beautifully detailed but eventually DJs took over:(. Strange porcelain figures plus a sailing couple sculpture make for a fun visit.
Then at the very top of the building I came across and excellent collection of pre Colombian art. A very rich lady (Dora Jannssen) collected these pieces over the years based on aesthetics ie. what she liked and then became fascinated by the culture and its art. They were subsequently gifted to the state. It is considered on of the best collections of its kind and I really liked the pieces from an artistic perspective – would have been great to have an expert to explain all the cultural links bearing in mind this era was about 700-900 years BC. Very cool
And now for a view of the city buildings. A lot is under construction and renovation at the moment but I’ve focussed on the buildings that are scaffolding free whenever I can.
As a regular day tripper I have spend a lot of time at the station which is very grand and very big. The zoo is right next door which is why the Ferris wheel has a few gorillas on it!
The evening light shows off the sandstone of the buildings on a warm summer’s evening
And of course there is some street art plus I was impressed with the imaginative and colourful hoarding for new town hall building.
On Sunday it was the day of Kultur Markt in Antwerp. Every last Sunday of the summer months all forms of theatre, music and drama is taking place all over the downtown area. I even got a burst of Mamma Mia. This is all to encourage the locals sign up for various arts groups and it is very popular. They also drop all museum charges on this day so I had to make sure I took advantage of that!
First stop was the nearby Red Star Line museum. The Red Star Line (which included the Titanic) had about 15 ships at its peak and while it acted as a pleasure cruiser this museum is all about what it was like to emigrate from all over Europe to the US or Canada. It is full of great interviews and stories about families from Russia, the Ukraine, Germany etc who all found their way to Antwerp so they could get a ticket on the red star line and this museum is on the site where all the admin was done and where people checked onto the ship. Some of the migration experiences were more successful than others and some even came back as they missed home so much. I lost two hours in here.
The Vlees Huis below is typical of what are known as “speck” buildings in this part of the world. Speck means fat and they are so called because the colouring looks like butcher’s meat with alternating meat and fat streaks.
After a burst of listening to ABBA songs I dived into another free entry museum – the Plantin-Moretus (such catchy names they have here!). This is the house where the printer Christophe Plantin spent his life – with his family, books, paintings and printing equipment.
The famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens left a lot of impressive art in this house – which shows how wealthy Mr Plantin was,
And the best one of all – in my opinion – this Rubens portrait of Seneca.
That’s it for Antwerp for the time being.