I was doing a little research to see which artists might be playing Paris while we were here. One of our family faves, Dua Lipa was scheduled to play on the Little’s Birthday but alas we had already booked a trip out of the city for that day. However, we saw that Miss Lipa would be playing in nearby Antwerp, just a short 2 hour Thalys train ride away. We thought, why not? We could check Belgium and Dua off our list.
We decided to just make it a quick overnight. The Thalys train is easy and fast. Within 2 hours, we were on the platform at Antwerp Centraal trying to figure out how to escape the behemoth station. We found our way out, completely missing the beautiful station above. After an almost disastrous run in with a chain of bicycles (watch out, they do not stop) we managed to hail a taxi and head for our hotel.
Antwerp is a mix of old and new together. Driving to the hotel, we were amazed at the new and old architecture intermingled. Our hotel was located conveniently in the old town. We dropped our bags and headed out on foot to check out the city. We arrived just in time for the Leather Fetish Festival! It was great to see such a liberal and LGBTQIA+ Positive city.
Old Town Antwerp is a lovely maze of cobbled streets and sidewalk cafes. No one was interested in the Moules, but we did jump in with both feet and enjoyed the Frites! We were completely flummoxed language-wise. Flemish, Dutch, French – all blended. Antwerp’s proximity to the Netherlands made it more Dutch-y… not the Tim Horton’s doughnut. We remembered our Danke’s and did our best. The only real trouble we had was back in Paris at Gare du Nord. We were trying to find our departure platform on the board, but it seemed that the two Thalys trains listed didn’t stop in Antwerp, but they did stop in Anvers. Guess what… Anvers = Antwerp in French. And don’t forget the other name, Antwerpen. Well, there was our first foray into Belgium’s multi-faceted languages.
We wound our way to the riverside and realized that in addition to being the centre of the Diamond industry, Antwerp is Europe’s second largest seaport and has a long naval history. The medieval fortress of Het Steen still standing on the shore of the Scheldt River was very impressive. Interesting to see the many new apartment buildings overlooking it as well as the statue of Lange Wapper, a local legend. Without knowing the story, it does look like a giant with two dudes looking up his skirt.
Before the concert, we needed to grab a quick dinner. With the help of Google and their reviews (our rule is to never eat anywhere without 4 stars on Google), we found a lovely Greek restaurant called Mandraki at Kaasrui 13, around the corner from the imposing Cathedral of Our Lady. The food was great and the service was fun. We even managed some light conversation with some locals who were very friendly and welcoming.
Dua was playing the second of two shows at the Sportpaleis, Antwerp’s big arena. She was fantastic and the audience was one of the most enthusiastic I’ve ever seen. Maybe its Antwerp, maybe its Dua, maybe its because people have been starved of live music for two years. I’m not sure, but it was a riot. People danced and sang along to every song from the minute she hit the stage. To be fair, Dua’s got plenty of hits so there was no need to dig into any deep album cuts to fill time. At the 90 minute mark, Dua took her encore and we made a quick escape to try and get a taxi. We had luck and 15 minutes later we were all happily tucked into bed in Antwerp.
The next morning, we had a few hours before our return train to Paris so we headed out on foot for a bit of breakfast. We found a tiny cafe called Love at First Bite, run by two lovely women and were treated to an outstanding breakfast including Belgian waffles of course! After breakfast we decided to just wander a bit and get lost. We stumbled on a fabulous market of arts and crafts in Grote Markt (Great Market Square) in front of the gorgeous Antwerp Town Hall, a stately and stunning Renaissance building. The market was great fun to explore, with unique and cool finds. We loved the beer garden area complete with a hot dog vendor and a live DJ. What a way to spend a sunny Sunday morning.
Soon, we were back on the train to Paris marvelling at how much we loved lovely Antwerp with promises to return.