Belguim: Antwerp – A Walk In The City

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.


City Hall

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!!


Also…

As mentioned in previous posts, you can visit Antwerp Zoo, Antwerp Catherdral and two museums in the city, The Rubens House and Mayer Van Den Bergh.

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.

 

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Belguim: Antwerp – Museums

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

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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

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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.

Germany: Cologne – A Day In The City

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!


Koln Catherdral

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…

 

germany17A 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 😀

Yorkshire: Red House Museum

We ended up here by chance, as upon arrival at our intended destination we discovered that it was closed to the public for a private event, this information missing from the website when we checked the night before. Luckily, a staff member helpfully recommended the Red House Museum just down the road, that was to open in only 10 minutes and because it is the Open Heritage Weekend, entrance was free.

A very short drive later, we were in the car park and ready to enter the Red House Museum and Gardens. Normally £2.50 to enter the museum, the cafe and gardens are free to enter at any time of year.

A Grade II* Listed 1830s cloth merchant’s home with fascinating Brontë connections. Charlotte Brontë visited often and featured Red House in her novel Shirley. Includes period rooms, enchanting recreated gardens and exhibitions in restored outbuildings.

Except from: Red House Museum website

Entering through the Red House front door you immediately enter into a large, high ceiling hallway, a staircase to your right, a small gift shop towards the back and the Parlour Room to your left. Museum volunteers are dressed in accordance to the style of the 1830’s and are available throughout the house to give you information about the house, including the history of the owners, changes to the house and its connection to Charlotte Brontë. The Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne) were born and breed in the village of Haworth, West Yorkshire, their childhood home now a museum and it is no surprise that their strong literaturary history is strong through the entire county. If you ever get the chance to visit Brontë Country, I strongly recommend it from my own experiences, as well as the history, the incredible landscape and as a Yorkshire person through and through!

*Back to the Red House Museum…* So, we were very lucky as a group to get a personal, informative tour around the house by one of the volunteers. Our tour started in the Parlour, moving smoothly on into the Scullery-Wash Kitchen and the main kitchen itself. All rooms are dressed to the time period including the wallpaper, furniture and even the windows! Passing the shop, the house leads you into the Dining Room and Study before the stairs await you to whisk you upstairs.

Upstairs from the landing, you can take any route you like either going from the first exhibition gallery on your right, going anti-clockwise around the first floor, or continue the journey in a clockwise direction visiting the Main Bedchamber, Girl’s Bedchamber, Governess Room followed by the two Exhibition Gallieries.

Don’t worry if this doesn’t happen on your visit, leaflets are available to take around and read room by room, as well as additional information in each room retaining to the history, unique objects etc and if you like a quiz, grab a quiz sheet before you start your tour of the house, looking out for the objects and trying to figure out what they are from the clues provided.

At the time of writing, the Museum is currently presenting two exhibitions. The first is a history of the Taylor family, former owners of the Red House from their humble beginnings, their following success and wealth, to the reasons why the house is no longer in the family. The second exhibition is about the First World War with the centenary anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in 2014, this exhibition details the local area, the people who were affected (with focus on individuals, as well as families), with artifacts discovered in the area to the propaganda that the nation experienced during this time.

No photography is allowed inside the museum, hence no photos to share of my experience, but for £2.50 this is a good price for this small museum, noting that the gardens are free regardless. With the weather being incredibly horrible on our visit, we didn’t see much as we were already drowned rats.

In addition to the museum just up a small path, an additional exhibition is on display titled ‘The Secrets Out,’ which provides a detailed account and history of Charlotte Brontës connection to Red House and the local area. The exhibition is very interactive with audio, displays to touch and games to discover.

Opposite the ‘Secrets Out’ exhibition building is the cafe and education area used by schools to learn more about the area, particularly the local history with audio account from residences on all aspects of life including jobs, socialising, education and toys. The cafe provides hot and cold drinks alongside cold snacks for reasonable prices.

In all, we all enjoyed our time at the museum so if you are ever in the area and have some time to spare, do pay a visit 🙂