THE BELGIAN DIARIES: ANTWERP – HOME TO QUIRKY SHOPS, CRAFT BEERS AND A CHOCOLATE PALACE
On Saturday I made plans with my Belgian friend Philippe to meet in Antwerp, a city near his home town and one which I had been looking forward to touring. I didn’t really know what to expect from the city bar a giant cathedral and a large shopping street. I did find both quite easily (hard to miss once you land in at the station and walk straight ahead) but thankfully having Philippe around we managed to discover a few quirkier little places that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to see.
It turns out that Antwerp is home to many little bars and quaint clothes and home ware shops – Dille and Kamille being a firm favourite for all things household/garden/toy/cooking related. It reminded me a little of a Belgian Avoca. In fact, that’s pretty much the closest description I could possibly give it.
We also stopped to have some drinks at a little bar called Le Pélican, which is the local haunt for old men who smoke pipes and spend their evenings lounging. It’s the best place in Antwerp to get craft beers apparently, so naturally we had to test it out. I’m not a beer drinker, that’s a well known fact at this stage, but there was even a beer there for the likes of me. I’ve discovered the one and only beer that I like – cherry beer. Yes, it’s super sweet. Yes, I’m incredibly predictable. Yes, I’ve two bottles currently in the fridge.
I think the absolute highlight of the day though was the Chocolate Palace.
Having once been the residence of Napoleon as well as King Leopold II, this palace is now put to use as a modern day chocolate shop, kitchens and exhibitions included. The decor still resembles the lavish palace that once was, but the chocolate busts and tiered chocolate exhibits add a delicious twist to the place. As soon as you walk in through the large gold doors, you’re greeted by the aroma of cocoa.
I wandered about inside and admired all the chocolate art on display. The most obnoxious (and possibly one of my favourites) was a bust of the chef behind the chocolate palace – even his brains were sugar coated. I kid you not.
Another wonderful piece on exhibition was a chocolate dress made with both great care and exceptional detail – see the photo. It was created especially for Miss Belgium, although I genuinely have no idea how she’s going to wear it.
So that was Antwerp – a fleeting visit, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. If a person ever needed to go shopping, the streets are lined with high street brands and once you’ve worn yourself out from that, you can grab some beers/chips and head to the pier. There were plenty back streets full of vintage shops and the likes, but sadly I think you need to be with a local (or at least get advice from one) before venturing in their direction.Next up, Bruges!