Could it be? Is the moment finally here? Will I – after so many exotic stories on strange and distant lands like Taiwan, Singapore and Bruges – finally talk about my very own Antwerp? Sure I will! And it was about goddamn time too. Antwerp is our only true world city, and while the rest of Flanders (read: Ghent) has some trouble accepting this fact, deep down inside, while they’re lying in their shabby little beds at night, they know it’s the bitter truth. Antwerp is a diamond on the Scheldt River. It’s the engine of our economy and the breeding ground for our biggest talents. But how do you start writing about your own city in a fresh and surprising way, for an audience that mainly exists of other people from Antwerp? Lots of my readers know the city through and through and crawled out of quite a couple of shady pubs with me in our student days. That’s why I decided to exclusively write about the few things that still genuinely surprised me last year. Places or activities I didn’t know about, and discovered by accident or during some photo assignment. Would they still be unknown to my fellow Antwerpians? We will soon find out.
“Antwerp is our only true world city, and while the rest of Flanders (read: Ghent) has some trouble accepting this fact, deep down inside, while they’re lying in their shabby little beds at night, they know it’s the bitter truth.”
And for all of you tourists looking to visit: the city hall has been in scaffolding for over a year now, and the cathedral tower is going through yet another renovation as well. Picturewise, you’re not going to have the best of times here these days. Better find something else to do then ey? Something, for example, like the four hidden spots I listed below. Enjoy!
1. Visit Michelangelo’s David
Michelangelo’s David is probably the most famous statue on the planet. You can find it in Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence and if you want to see it, you have to pay twenty euros, stand in line outside for up to two hours and then wrestle yourself past endless herds of sweaty tourists just to catch a glimpse of it. And that’s without even mentioning the fact you’ll have to fly all the way to fucking Italy for it first. You’d have to be quite a moron indeed to go through all of that, don’t you think? Especially after finding out there’s a perfect full-sized replica of the same statue in the far more beautiful Antwerp: completely free of charge, with no one around, in a random park. They even covered the always embarrassing micropenis with an artfully chiselled fig leaf. The sculpture is hidden in a corner of Park Den Brandt – which also houses one of the most beautiful castles in the city – and I never knew it was there until I randomly passed it on a walk. It’s been standing on the same spot for more than a century now, and was originally made for the 1910 World Expo in Brussels – I do my research, baby. So instead of squeezing yourself through the white socks and sandals wearing masses in Florence, buy a ticket for Jazz Middelheim this August, leisurely go there by bike and lean right on the statue with a cold beer in your hand while enjoying some jazzy tunes. Also, you can get your Italian pizza at Da Giovanni later. It’s basically the same thing.
2. Go wake-boarding on a pond
Antwerp is not exactly known for its summery water fun – let alone for its extreme water sports. We do have a small beach along the bend of the river, but it’s not allowed to swim there, and the undercurrent of the Scheldt has taken many a stumbling drunk (or mob victim) all the way to the bottom of the North Sea. Even so, you can still go for some wake-boarding on the Galgenweel basin on the city’s left bank. Last spring, WakeUpCable installed a 420m long cable track above the inlet near the Kennedy tunnel. This allows you to take your board and jump over several ramps and other obstacles at a speed of 35 km/h. When I had to take pictures there last summer – it was 32 C° – it felt like I was on a holiday. There’s a fancy club house on poles next to the track where you can get food, beers and cocktails, and next to it a floating jetty can seat over sixty people. At noon, the whole place was stacked. It looked like the perfect spot to take the love of your life (or your catch of the day – who am I to judge?) and enjoy the sunset on one of those endless summer evenings. I didn’t try out the track myself, mainly because the first few beginners I saw face-planted themselves on the water surface quite brutally almost immediately after take-off. Trying is the first step to failure, kids. www.wakeupcable.be
3. Visit a miniature museum at the university
My student days were some of the best of my life. I had fun in the University of Antwerp, which is of course the one and only reason I stayed there for eight whole years (mail me for a free master’s degree, I’ve got plenty). I have a lot of fond memories of my time at the UAntwerp, and I’m still taking pictures for their brochures today. The fact that this makes me spend more time in the auditoria than I used to as an actual student, is quite ironic indeed – but what are you going to do? In my days, the R-Building at Rodestraat was the darkest and ugliest block of the whole campus. It was a concrete dungeon where they would try and dump the least important faculties. So as a student in Communication Sciences, I obviously spent quite some time there. Everything eventually changes though, and while it’s still not the prettiest of buildings today, the place at least received a thorough makeover recently. Last year it got an even more interesting addition. The ground floor is now home to a museum with countless halls. Miniature halls that is, unless you’re a leprechaun. The project is named Museum to Scale 1/7 and it consists of a hundred little niches in the wall decorated by Belgian artists. It’s completely free of charge and can be visited during the normal opening hours. Very much worth it, even if you just do it out of nostalgia.
4. Enjoy an English high tea brunch in a baroque salon
You probably know the feeling. Sometimes you simply need to stop goofing around, let out the old ball and chain and take her somewhere nice. This means you’ll put on your best (or cleanest) shirt and go for a picnic at the riverside promenade, a nice bicycle ride on the left bank or – may God have mercy on your soul – a cosy brunch. Classy stuff for classy people, you know. Domestic at Lange Gasthuisstraat is the ideal place for inevitable stuff like this. At first sight it looks like a slightly fancy but perfectly normal bakery, but upstairs two fantastic baroque salons are hidden. Here you can enjoy a classic English high tea, including freshly baked pastries and other sweets. Spend an hour pleasantly chatting here while the tall windows let the spring sun in and you should be good for a couple of weeks on your girlfriend stuff quota. Don’t forget to raise your little pinkie while you sip your tea though, princess. www.domestic-bakkerij.be
“You probably know the feeling. Sometimes you simply need to stop goofing around, let out the old ball and chain and take her somewhere nice.”
There, that was the end of my first piece on Antwerp. How many of my tips did you already know about? Did I forget a couple you want to mention? Are you from Ghent and do you want to be a cry-baby and say your city is just as important as mine? Well stop whining, invite me and prove it. In the meantime, feel free to write about your feelings in the comments below.