Edinburgh Is Calling, Scotland
When visiting a new place big or small, the best thing to do is get out of your accomodation and explore, guided or not. Find your bearings, discover hidden places behind the major attractions and keep track of your route – As exciting as it is exploring the wonders of the world, always stay safe.
On this occasion I was in the company of a friend whom in a native of the city, so I was very lucky to get a local perspective on the town and Belguim as a whole. If you would like a more personal experience, then many major cities offer walking tours with various themes, duration and distance walked to suit everyone.
Completed in 1565, Antwerp city hall is an amazing and impressive building set in the heart of a square in the centre of Antwerp, apt as it is the centre of local government with the statue of Brabo (a Roman soldier that killed a Giant) in front of it. The building was meant to be built many years before but due to conflict and a re-design to keep with current trends, but restoration work was needed only a decade later as bing burnt to a shell in another conflict. More renovations took place to the interior in the 19th century.
I’m not really sure if I was more impressed by the buildings or the statue/fountain or maybe just enthralled by it all, the European feel tied in with it’s rich history. Whilst you are unable to go into city hall, there are walking tours available if you want to learn more about the building and of course, learn and see more of Antwerp itself.
Het Steen Fortress & Waterfront
Het Steen Fortress is Antwerp’s oldest building from the medievil period which has had many uses over its long history from a Fortress, a prison, a residence, a museum (numerous times) and now as place of children’s learning with workshops during and after school and a public meeting place for all.
We didn’t venture into the fortress but did take the opportunity to walk around the grounds, up the steps and onto the bridge which overlooks great views over the city and an opportunity to just watch the world go by with plenty of benches to sit upon. And we did 🙂
Eat & Drink
There are plenty of places to eat and drink in the centre of Antwerp catering to all cultural tastes with many independent eateries as well as the odd global brands that can be recognised on their logos alone. Many of these places can be found just off the market square and alongside the Cathedral, although many more can be found if you venture down the many streets that come off the square as well as some chocolate shops – Belguim is known for its chocolate! I recommend Nello as a place to get your chocolate fix!!
You are also only 2-2.5 hour train journeys from Paris, France; Cologne, Germany and Amsterdam in The Netherlands. Go can also get a direct train from Amsterdam Schipol Airport to Antwerp – The trains are superb with free wi-fi and decent prices too. A pleasant journey indeed!
Antwerp might not be the first city you think of when you think of Belguim but it a city that deserves to be visited at least once.
When visiting any new place visiting Museums is I find usually on the cards, learning about local culture and history are topics that always fasinate me whether it is abroad or at home.
In Antwerp, I visited two museums: ‘The Rubens House’ and ‘Museum Mayer Van Den Bergh.’ A duo ticket can be purchased to visit these two museums for 10 Euros or pay separately for 8 Euros each.
Both museums have a strict ‘No Photography’ policy and it is enforced by the staff, so none of my own photos today but please read on to learn more about these two museums.
The Rubens House Museum
The brilliant and versatile artist Rubens lived in this palazzo with his family. Here he also painted with his colleagues and assistants. He created many of his paintings in this house, in the centre of Antwerp. The museum has an interesting collection but also shows visitors how the master lived and worked.
Extract from ‘The Rubens House Museum’
The Rubens House museum is currently under-going renovation works to the entire exterior of the building as well as the gardens but inside everything is as it should be.
You start your tour in the courtyard where you begin your journey reteacing your steps after the entrance to enter the old house. A leaflet is provided as well as audio guides in a variety of languages to delve deeper into the history of the place, numbers corresponding to artwork, sculptures and furnishings.
The Old House contains artwork produced by Rubens himself including Portico and a self-portrait, as well engravings and art produced by the artists Harrewijn, Succa, Adriaenssen and a few others. There are arrows to guide you to each room of the house and in a particular order to navigate staircases which you can only travel either up or down. The house is small so you can whizz through it but you would miss all the beautiful and extravagant artwork.
Moving onto The Gallery, a room to display the impressive collection of art that was built up by wealthy Antwerpians over the centuries including Rubens himself (and his own artwork too), including oil sketches and items made out of the most interesting material. This includes Ivory, Gold, Silver, Marble, Terracotta and Oak. Artists featured consist of Rubens, Van Haecht, Petel, Faydherbe, Jordaens and many more.
The Gallery is where ou are going to spend most of your time, a large open space with interactive elements – To the art lover within in however small, will love this museum come gallery.
Museum Mayer Van Den Bergh
The museum allows you to become acquainted with the impressive and highly admired art collection formed during the last two decades of the 19th century by Fritz Mayer van den Bergh (1858-1901). The museum opened its doors in 1904, three years after the death of Fritz Mayer van den Bergh. That it exists at all is due to his mother, Henriëtte van den Bergh (1838-1920).
Extract from ‘Museum Mayer Van Den Bergh’
Another museum come gallery that I accidentally came across whilst wandering around the city and what a little find it was. After paying for your ticket there is a cloakroom to store all your belongings before entering into the main part of the museum itself. The museum is divided into 14 areas spanning many floors and rooms, the areas either named after the room itself, genre, the type of art is contains whether portraits or named after an artist whom works are displayed there.
This museum is a lot larger than the Rubens House museum mentioned above so if you don’t have enough time, I would suggest you go here to fill your art craving. I had to cut my visit short as I was due to meet up with a friend but I could have easily stayed here longer.
I always seem to be drawn to buildings whether it is at home or abroad, modern or old yet it seems places such as Cathedral and Churches are the ones I seem to frequent most. Not only do they boast great architecture and attention to detail, they also contain artworks from paintings to scultures from across a time period spanning decades.
Most of all they are history, local history, traditions and versed in the reglion to which they represent. I have always loved history and so I often staying a lot longer than intended at such places taking in information and the atmosphere; this trip was no different.
The site where the Cathedral sits has a long history of being the seat of the Roman Catholic Church from a small chapel from the 9th-12th century, later given the status of a church and then replaced with a larger church in its place. It was later in 1352 that construction on the current Cathedral would begin yet at the time still having the status of a church, taking almost 170 years to complete the first stage of construction. Between fires, war damage (including the 80 years war and French Revolution), thefts, Antwerp coming under Protestant administration, as well as gaining, losing then regaining Cathedral status, restorations and refurnishings – You can’t say that it hasn’t had an eventful history!
All and all, I spent around 45 minutes exploring the Cathedral at a leisurely pace but many of you could complete the self-guided tour at a quicker pace. There is so much to explore, so many siderooms to gaze at and visit, including the opportunity to visit the crypts. The building is well-worth a visit if you ever fnd yourself in Antwerp – Check out my photographs below if you don’t believe me!
The Interior: Windows & Floors
The Interior: Paintings and Designs
The Interior: Side Rooms
The entrance fee to enter is 6 euros for individuals, 4 euros for students, aged 60+ and groups of 20 or more, whilst those 12 years and under go free. All proceeds go to the conservation and maintenance of the Cathedral. For more information about the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp you can visit there website here.
Windows To The Soul, Antwerp Cathedral, Belguim
Antwerp Zoo (Dutch: ZOO Antwerpen) is a zoo in the centre of Antwerp, Belgium, located right next to the Antwerpen-Centraal railway station. It is the oldest animal park in the country, and one of the oldest in the world, established on 21 July 1843.
Extract from ‘Wikipedia’
Antwerp Zoo is a place where you can easily spend your entire day exploring this beautiful place with plenty of creatures from near and far, amazing gardens to sit and enjoy the scenary (and to picnic too!) as well as a cafe and shop to check out. The zoo has plenty of seating throughout the park to admire the animals around you and if you’re fortunate some good weather too.
If you ever get a chance to visit this wonderful place, be sure to check out times for talks, feeding times etc but be aware the staff will be talking in Dutch throughout these talks.
At the time of my visit, the zoo was busy expanding into more land as well as new exhibitions, so lots of construction about. This inconvience was compensated by a lower admission piece but luck would have it as we arrived to pay our entrance was 5 Euros less due to a promo that had not been advertised – 19 Euros!
Below are my photos from the day – Enjoy!
Monkeys, Meerkats and Koalas
Big Cats, Zebras and Everything Else
A day in the city of Cologne, Germany involved a train journey of just over 2 hours to get there and a lot of walking there after, with very little advance planning. I’m usually a planner, I’ll admit that so the day wasn’t as action-packed as it could have been but instead, a relaxing yet lots of walking alongside the river taking in the sights. We visited a couple places and even enjoyed a tourist train ride in and around the city.
Keep reading to view the two main attractions that we visited!
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is at the centre of the city and only a stone’s throw from the train station means that you can’t avoid this spectacular structure from your arrival (if you arrive by train of course), as you exit the train station and it is immediately to your left. Breathtaking and that is only from the outside, it’s height towering over you from all across the city.
Koln Catherdral houses the remains of the Three Wise Men which the building decorated in the gothic style with large, bright stained glass windows with many additional artworks depicting the life of Christ and other important figures in the Church. The structure is vast and upon entering you are met by clergymen that welcome up as well as ensuring you are appropriately dressed with hats removed. The space opens up in front of you in all directions and whilst you could not get lost, you could spend some time just taking in the detailed art works and famous relics. However, the Catherdral is extremely busy even in the off-peak season so expect your movement to be slow going, waiting turns to gleam at the artworks and waiting your turn behind others to get passage from one point to another. It can make you feel rushed and claustrophobic but don’t let it spoil your trip here, stay nd take your time as it is a worthwhile experience.
The Lindt World of Chocolate Museum
To all you chocolate lovers out there, we have a museum! Set alongside the River Rhine and about a 20-25 minute walk from Cologne train station, you must cross the river to gain access to the museum with the nearest bridge that rotates to allow passing boats through before returning to allow pedestrians across once more.
Welcomed by a large inflatible rabbit, as you enter the building you relise the grand scale of the museum across many floors and how busy it is. Be prepared to queue but despite the crowds we only waited up to 15 minutes – Entrance fees are 9 Euros per adults with other costs/discounts available for children, families, students, seniors and groups. Once you’ve paid (and which you receive some chocolate), you will need to check in your bags and coats to the cloakroom which is free of charge.
The museum is an interactive, informative and tasteful experience detailing the history of chocolate from its discovery to how is spread across the globe over the centuries to the success it is today. You can learn about how the advertising has changed over the years as well as sample some of the chocolate throughout the museum offered to you from staff as well as witnessing how the chocolate is processed from beginning to end including witnessing the many chocolate mould on display. That small bit of chocolate doesnt stop those cravings I assure you…
A lot of the upper floor is dedicated to the history of chocolate from its humble beginnings, what it was used for beyond consumption and cultural beliefs. It is a long and detailed history and information boards throughout the museum are in both English and German with audio guides available on request. There are so many boards that if you read them all (and you should) will take time but they are complimented by artifacts from different periods and places across the world, older than you think when you think of chocolate, seemingly such a modern product.
As you go on, you can access the top balcony of a room which houses a mini rainforest which gives you an experience as to the climate that chocolate grows in from the humidity to the rain, with flauna to compliment the conditions. The room can be accessed on the ground floor but seeing it from above is a different perspective and whilst the doors resemble automatic doors, they open at a frequent level to ensure the numbers of people stay low, constant whilst keeping the delicate conditions of the environment intact. So if the doors don’t open straight away (and it is small corridor to protect the environment, so two sets of doors) don’t panic, just wait.
If you have ever been annoyed by brands changing the names of products, there is an entire room dedicated to advertising with the change names and packaging designs of well known products from their beginnings to the present. Some you may remember whilst others are before your time but it is fasinating to witness the changes in branding and tactics to buy chocolate from keepsakes to toys.
You can easily spend at least 2 hours here if you take your time, interacting with the many enhibitions, witnessing chocolate on the production line, experiencing a rain forest and learning all about chocolate! It is certainly worth the price of admission 😀
C’anal’ Cruises, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Ah Geocaching – You may have never heard of it, or have and don’t play it or you are a GEOCACHER! You can be a Geocacher from any country and it is a global game which means you can play it at home or abroad: How awesome is that?
Now to answer the question you might be asking, Yes I am a Geocacher but I’m nowhere near prolific compared to many others. I often hunt out geocaches when I travel abroad as many are placed in areas of significance but not the norm for a tourist to visit, exploring a place of interest and/or beauty. Of course, I have found geocaches in my local area and actually own one myself after adopting it from a fellow geocacher – I walk pass the location 2-3 times a week and I do not live far that any maintenance/replacement can be done fairly quickly.
If you have watched the video at the top of the video then you have learned what geocaching is and if you haven’t – Go watch it! It is an activity for all abilities, whether you play regularly or not. I am able but I have also been out with groups of people with a range of disabilities from being blind, in a wheelchair, learning and mental – It really is an inclusive activity.
Geocache containers and their hiding places
As the video states, geocaches range in size, containers and difficulty. Thy can be small nano containers which are magentic, or large containers with treasures that a pirate would be proud of. You can be taken into the centre of a city filled with lots of people or into the hills, where there are less people. Those whom don’t know of this game are known as “Muggles” and the aim is to grab a geocache (cache for short), sign the logbook and return it as exactly as you found it without being discovered – Trickier than you think! However, whilst many find enjoyment of being a ninja, if you get the odd look, lack subtlety or just want to celebrate your acheivement, it is okay! (Seriously, it is.) Just remember, other geocachers maybe near by and you want them to have the same journey or discovery as you did, as it’s all part of the fun. Some of the hiding places are very ingenious, so if you think something might be a little crazy, check it!
On the hunt for geocaches…
What do you need? The answer is is the video, either a phone with GPS or a GPS device and many people find that the latter are often more accurate but both devices will encounter similiar problems and that is mainly sateillite coverage. If you go to find a cache in the woodlands and their is a lot of folliage, expect the ‘distance’ to be off and when you get within 30ft of the cache location, start looking. I have got 2ft within a cache location before according to the GPS and the cache itself was actually about another 10ft away. These things like many aspects of the game will come to you in time, also learning new little things that build up your experience, skills and knowledge of the game.
There are many tips out there and a large community to support and share stories. Each geocache will have a little information on them about the cache itself, maybe a handy hint (if you are struggling) but it is also handy to read previous logged comments by other geocachers too.
Come on… join us!