Thursday, July 15, 2010

Antwerp Art Nouveau- a happy ending!

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??

Koningin Astridplein. Antwerp.

The entrance to the zoo is there, too.
Antwerp Zoo entrance. Antwerp.

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.)

Moving on. Outside Antwerp Centraal.

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….IMG_2480


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.
Water Towers. Northwest Antwerp.
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.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Antwerp twerps! Leaving Brussels behind.

Sorting through the pictures on my hard drive, I came across the last of my vacation pictures from last fall. Including the photos of my favorite place we visited in Antwerp! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

After our days in Brussels, we headed back towards the Netherlands with a two-day stop in Antwerp. Another Grote Markt! Another grand cathedral! More art by the Great Masters! And yes, more old buildings that make American buildings look like wimpy little pups!!

Speaking of the Cathedral, what can you say about such a gorgeous and imposing piece of architecture? It dominates the skyline and draws you in.
Antwerp skyline

And as you approach it, it grows more beautiful.



Inside there was a special exhibition of the religious works of Peter Paul Reubens. But honestly, the cathedral itself is so spectacular that the works of the great master paled in comparison. I have to admit, I am not a deeply religious person. But the stillness, the heavy blanket of calm that falls upon you when you enter a great church moves me. It moves me more than any religious service, any sermon.




Lots of buildings in Antwerp, especially near the cathedral, feature Madonna and child sculptures. Many of them, like this one, are finely wrought and quite beautiful!
Madonna and child.

(More Cathedral pictures available here.)

After leaving the cathedral, we wandered to the Grote Markt. And once again, as in Brussels, it is STUNNING. Smaller, more compact than what Brussels offered. A bit less grand perhaps but no less beautiful.
Grote Markt

Grote Markt


Grote Markt, detail. Antwerp

And it’s just as beautiful at night!

Grote Markt. Antwerp.

We also spent a large part of the afternoon wandering around the city. No definite destination in mind other than finding the Scheldt and seeing the waterfront. What we happened upon was ‘t Steen.
Steen on the banks of the Scheldt

It is the oldest building in Antwerp-- 800 years old! So old that above its front gate is a pagan fertility god. But when the Spanish came, they chipped away his very large penis—the Inquisition would not allow something so obscene and unholy to remain!!

Fertility symbol on the Steen.

It was closed and rather deserted. But it was beautiful and they had a boardwalk behind to watch the river barges go by. It used to house the Maritime Museum but that was being relocated into a better facility in 2010 but in the meantime was kept next door in a group of open-sided warehouses.


It, too, was absolutely deserted. I can’t imagine that every happening in the States!! A deserted warehouse FULL of boats and no one even noticing or trying to steal anything!

We then wandered back to the Grote Markt, through one of the older sections of the city. I loved the narrow, winding streets, and small doorways. It felt like being on a movie set of a medieval movie.

Medieval Antwerp.

The road that leads to the Grote Markt:
Antwerp night.

In a sense, Antwerp is an odd city. The older city center has a heart, a character that appeals. But outside the old city, a modern city sprang up that seems to have lost its spirit. Maybe it’s the diamond trade that did that? The drive of such a hungry, greedy industry has to leave its mark.

(You can see more Antwerp photos here.
One more day in Antwerp. One more chance for Antwerp to wow me!