Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Antwerp, Belgium [Part II of III]

With a train ticket that cost just 8.60€, I left Ghent for Antwerp Central Station. I was so pleased to realise that the hotel I booked (De Keyser Hotel) is located in the block of buildings right in front of the train station, as claimed on their website. The room was nice and breakfast was superb too. A highly recommended hotel!

Above: Antwerp Central Station and De Keyser Hotel in front of it, on the right.

What I liked about Antwerp was that it has a good mix of history and modernity, and that the city center was laid out in a manner which makes it so easy for visitors to navigate on foot.

Diamond boutiques (Antwerp is acclaimed for diamond cutting apparently) as well as their Diamond Museum are centered around the central station, so is their Zoo. And if you walk straight down from the central station via the main shopping belt (Meir Street), you'll reach the rest of their historical sites which are clustered in the western part of the city center by the Schelde River. Just 20min walking time, sweet.

Although I said it takes only 20min to walk down Meir Street, it wasn't true for me as I just had to check out the shops along the way. It's a shopper's trap alright!

Above: Inside the Urban Outfitters store. I wish for one near me soon stocked with all the LOMO goodies...

Above: Stumbled onto the Laurent Perrier Champagne Bar located in a mall on Meir I think. I thought it's not quite a champagne glass, but well, you get the idea… and it's rather cute.

Above: How nice! A wet wipes dispenser at the entrance of a supermarket! If only ALL supermarkets have this.

Making a left turn halfway through Meir Street, you can find The Rubens House. Peter Paul Rubens was a famous artist in the 17th Century who settled & built his grand baroque style home in Antwerp. Apart from just a living space, he also designed a gallery, studio, as well as a garden within his compound.

Centuries later, the municipality of Antwerp acquired & restored the property, opening it to the public as a museum. Photography is not allowed inside the museum, but visitors are given a booklet which highlights the life of Rubens and tells the story behind all 52 pieces of his artworks on display. Neat. I prefer this to audio guides.

Above: Rubens' garden

[Side Note: Rubens is to Antwerp who Michelangelo is to Florence. He was a great inspiration to several Antwerp artists and he was also involved in the publications of The Plantin-Moretus House (UNESCO World Heritage Site) - a printing & publishing house in Antwerp. It was inscribed because it's associated with the invention and spread of typography in the 16th Century, contributing towards the development of science and culture. I regret that I didn't make it to the Museum Plantin-Moretus though.]

Continuing down Meir, you'll eventually see this...

Above: The Giant's hand (from the Legend of Brabo & the Giant)

So what’s the story behind the gigantic hand? Read on, we'll get to it.

Just a little further down from Groenplaats (Green Place) stands the splendid Cathedral of Our Lady, the largest and most important Gothic church in Belgium.

Above: The main façade and the interior.

Besides being a place for the adoration of Our Lady, the Cathedral is also partially being used as a museum, housing some exquisite art pieces.

The noteworthy ones include of course, those by Rubens.

Above: Paintings by Rubens depicting Jesus in "Raising of the Cross" (top) & "Descent from the Cross" (bottom).

Just further down from the Cathedral is The Town Square (Grote Markt). Here you’ll find the Town Hall decorated with coat of arms and adorned with coloured flags. Also facing the Town Square are rows of Guild houses.

In the last picture above, the statue of the legendary hero, Brabo can be seen standing on a fountain, in the motion of tossing something.

Legend has it that Brabo, a roman soldier angered by a Giant who terrorized ships passing through the river Schelde by forcing them to pay toll, decided to put an end to his tyranny. Brabo fought hard and eventually sliced off the Giant’s hand with his sword and tossed it away in the river. So this is the story behind the giant stone sculpture of a hand seen earlier on Meir Street.

As you continue walking towards the river Schelde, you’ll eventually reach The Castle Steen. And guess what? Over there you will find the sculpture of the Giant.

Today, the Castle houses the Belgian National Maritime Museum.

Having a bit of time left, I headed to ModeNatie for the MoMu Fashion Museum – which unfortunately seemed to be closed / under some renovation. ModeNatie also houses the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the Flanders Fashion Institute, Copyright Bookshop (which I love!) as well as the largest flagship boutique of Yohji Yamamoto.

Above: The minimalist Copyright Bookshop which stocks a very cool range of art / photography / architecture books, and Yohji Yamamoto’s designs appearing like free silhouettes floating in the white & airy boutique. That’s all from Antwerp! Still more to come.

NEXT up, Brussels!

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