It was our last day in Antwerp and I knew I had to visit an area I read about in a travel guide. I didn’t know HOW to get there…or exactly what we would find but I knew I wanted to see the art nouveau architecture of Antwerp. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much. As usual, I was wrong. Completely WRONG.
But before we go there, lets talk about GETTING there. It wasn’t easy. We couldn’t figure out how to get a bus ticket and ended up wandering outside of Antwerp Centraal for a long time! Which isn’t bad, mind you. It’s a gorgeous area. See??
The entrance to the zoo is there, too.
The Zoo may provide the explanation for WHY there is a man dressed in a banana suit and another person dressed in a bear suit standing outside Antwerp Centraal. But do we REALLY want to know the explanation for the Rent-o-Kil van??? (I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical DUTCH reason for this name. But I like Rent o kil better.)
But none of this could deter me from my mission. Not banana man, not bear dude, not even the promise of a Zoo—I wanted art nouveau glamour! Ton, being ever so resourceful and speaking Dutch in a Dutch-speaking city, procured train tickets for us. Brilliant!! And we were off to Berchem station.
Zurenborg, the area in question, is one of the most visually stunning and architecturally impressive areas I’ve ever seen. There’s not one house that can be called plain and unadorned. Built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the houses, are mainly art nouveau in design, which is probably why Ton and I loved it so very much. There’s only so much one can say, words cannot accurately describe it. Instead, I’ll let the pictures, as inadequate as they are, show you.
Viktor Horta-inspired art nouveau….
Another simply gorgeous nouveau design…
Neo-Classical or Gothic Revival?
And perhaps the oddest thing we saw on the block…A house with what appeared to be wax heads in the window. Every window in a very large house had heads peering out!
Even the water towers were impressive.
Worn out and weary from oohing and aahing, we headed back to Antwerp Centraal and our train back to Amstelveen. Train stations are curious places…everyone is in a hurry and never appears quite sure of themselves. There’s an unease there, an impending sense of, not exactly doom but definitely disquiet. While we were waiting, a man hurried by with his dog. He stopped, tied the dog to a pipe and went to the restroom. The look on the dog’s face mirrored the disquiet so perfectly…he was waiting, worried, clearly not at ease in his surroundings.
The story ends happily, though. Man and dog reunited with a pat on the head and a lick of the hand and they were off, out the door, leaving us to wait another hour for a train that didn’t want to come. It was delayed. And delayed. And delayed. Ton played with the camera. I simply got irritated. He had better results that I did. Antwerp Centraal, after all, the most beautiful train station in the world!
And how can you go wrong with gorgeous models like this?!?
That story ends happily, too. We finally got on a train, albeit an overcrowded one that left Ton standing in the aisle for over an hour of the journey while I sat next to a slightly smelly Eastern European man. He greeted me in French, I apologetically told him I’m only conversant in English. He smiled and said that was okay, he could speak English, too. Turns out, he spoke English, French, and Russian. Most likely some other Slavic language, too. Yes, I felt stupid and inadequate. He didn’t speak Dutch, though, and was afraid he would miss his stop. I was glad I could help him with that at least. We tend to think we’re smarter than the people around us. We make value judgments based on appearances, and yes, smell. Luckily, the world occasionally brings us down a peg. That is the true merit in travel: it forces us to readjust our thinking. We see the world with fresh eyes, but we also see our place in that world a bit differently. The architecture of our world changes just a bit. And that makes it all worthwhile.
The whole set of photos, including A LOT of pretty house photos can be found in the set 10-30-2009 on FLICKR.
And more Antwerp Centraal photos here.