It’s my second week in Antwerp and nothing is going according to plan. The main culprit is the weather. Based on my previous visits that had both taken place in August, I came prepared for heavy rain and wind. Instead, we’re slouching through the hottest temperatures in 100 years.
As you can imagine, heat is not conducive to exploring the city. I spend more time refreshing weather forecast pages hoping for a cold front than actually being outside. When I want to go somewhere, I hop on a bike, which leads to the second problem: major roadworks everywhere. When Google Maps shows me a bike route, I know that’s where I will not be able to cycle due to countless diversions, disappearing roads and bike paths.
Despite these drawbacks, I was able to find and enjoy some fantastic places in my second week:
Sint-Annatunel is an underpass under the river Scheldt. It connects Antwerp’s center to the quiet and residential left bank, Linkeroever. The original wooden escalator from the 1930s is still in use, so for a moment I felt like I’d entered an eerie time machine. But then a loud gang of cyclists and pedestrians approached from the other side and gone was the moment. It’s chilly down there, so the walk was a welcome respite from the heat.
This street and the surrounding area is the mecca of over-the-top Art Nouveau and other architectural styles. Wealthy Antwerpians commissioned these stately palaces in the 1900s. The architects’ imagination roamed wild and free in this district. There’s a house depicting the battle of Waterloo, four houses representing the four seasons, intricate balconies, mosaics, flowy lettering …
These buildings functioned as status symbols, but their originality made them art. Cogels Osylei is one of my favorite displays of conspicuous consumption.
Museum De Reede
This is a new museum displaying graphic works by Francisco Goya, Edvard Munch and Félicien Rops. I’m the kind of person who runs out of the Louvre after an hour confused and overwhelmed, but will spend three hours in a small museum like De Reede, taking in every detail and going through the catalog. The curator(s) did an excellent job weaving together the motifs of three artists who at first glance seem not to have all that much in common.
Port Authority building (Havenhuis)
I flock to this iconic building by Zaha Hadid Architects (that Zaha Hadid herself sadly did not live to see) every time I’m in Antwerp. It’s the perfect testament to the magnificence of the sea and the shipping industry. The port looking rather dreary, this building adds the much needed romance and glamour.
There was an outcry when they revealed the project. Many people thought that the glass extension clashed too hard with the old building underneath. I find it a shrewd decision on behalf of the city. Antwerp’s skyline, as seen from Linkeroever, is unremarkable. Yes, the cathedral is beautiful, but can you really tell it apart from those in Ghent and Bruges? No other city boasts this diamond grasshopper, as the building has been nicknamed. I won’t be surprised when it becomes widely recognized as the symbol of Antwerp.