Antwerp … palatial train stations, precious metal overkill and a major public passageway where singing is forbidden: things to see, do and don’t in the sumptuous Flemish city

Although my hotel was just around the corner from Antwerpen Centraal station, it took me several hours after first arriving in the Belgian city, to eventually check in to it. This was not due to any difficulty finding the hotel, but because I was so mesmerised by the splendour of Antwerp’s main train station, I simply lost track (no pun intended with the use of the word ‘track’ here) of time. Centraal station is a stunning turn-of-the-twentieth-century building with an eclectic mix of architectural styles that surprisingly complement each other.

Arriving in (to eclectic) style: looking down the atrium of Antwerpen Centraal station's beautiful platform hall, where train tracks can be found on all but one level, either side of the atrium

Arriving in (to eclectic) style: looking down the atrium of Antwerpen Centraal station’s beautiful platform hall, where train tracks can be found on all but one level, either side of the atrium

The entrance into the ticket hall at the end of the platform hall

The entrance into the ticket hall at the end of the platform hall

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Centraal Station, clock and ticket hall entrance close up

A last look back at the platform hall before walking through to the ticket hall

A last look back at the platform hall before walking through to the ticket hall

The Centraal station ticket hall. Wow!

The Centraal station ticket hall. Wow!

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Centraal Station, ticket hall banister and stairway

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Centraal Station, ticket hall interior clock

Looking up at the huge glass dome over the ticket hall

Looking up at the huge glass dome over the ticket hall

Outside, the station building is just as grand

Outside, the station building is just as grand

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Centraal Station, exterior clock close up

The domed roof of Centraal station

The domed roof of Centraal station

The equally stunning entrance to Antwerp Zoo literally next door to Centraal Station

The equally stunning entrance to Antwerp Zoo literally next door to Centraal Station

It looks like one of the animals has escaped

It looks like one of the animals has escaped

Or maybe he's on guard

Or maybe he’s on guard

I eventually pulled myself away from the station and its surrounds, only to reach the start of Meir, Antwerp’s equivalent to London’s Oxford Street and New York’s Fifth Avenue. Again, I was desperately distracted by yet another delightful pic ‘n’ mix of architectural styles: Baroque, Rococo, Art Nouveau, Art Deco… such beautiful buildings, all in fantastic condition, and stealing the limelight away – for me at least – from the high street brands displayed in their windows.

Twin neo-Baroque buildings (c1904) marking the start of Meir, Belgium's grandest shopping street

Twin neo-Baroque buildings (c1904) marking the start of Meir, Belgium’s grandest shopping street

Thankfully, Meir is pedestrianised and mainly clear of bollards and street furniture, so I only ended up bumping into other pedestrians as I walked along the street looking up at the beautiful shop buildings rather than looking where I was going

Thankfully, Meir is pedestrianised and mainly clear of bollards and street furniture, so I only ended up bumping into other pedestrians as I walked along the street looking up at the beautiful shop buildings rather than looking where I was going

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Baroque building exterior along Meir

I like-y this Nike building

I like-y this Nike building

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Baroque building exterior along Meir 2

Welcome to Antwerp's Ministry of Truth: originally the Torengebouw, but fondly known as the Boerentoren (The Farmers Tower) due to its connections with the Belgian Farmers Union (the union was the biggest client of the first bank to have offices here), the KBC Tower stands proudly at the western end of Meir. It was built in 1932 (and not 1984)

Welcome to Antwerp’s Ministry of Truth: originally the Torengebouw, but fondly known as the Boerentoren (The Farmers Tower) due to its connections with the Belgian Farmers Union (the union was the biggest client of the first bank to have offices here), the KBC Tower stands proudly at the western end of Meir. It was built in 1932 (and not 1984)

The KBC building is believed to have been the first skyscraper built in Europe. It is still to this day (2016) the second tallest building in Antwerp after the Onze Lieve Vrouwkathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady) just around the corner

The KBC building is believed to have been the first skyscraper built in Europe. It is still to this day (2016) the second tallest building in Antwerp after the Onze Lieve Vrouwkathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady) just around the corner

It is certainly a fine example of Art Deco architecture. Sadly, little of the building is open to the public

It is certainly a fine example of Art Deco architecture. Sadly, little of the building is open to the public

Disappointed that I couldn’t get beyond the entrance to the Boerentoren – there used to be a viewing platform on the twenty-fifth floor, but this is now (2016) closed to the public – I consoled myself by walking into the neighbouring Stadsfeestzaal instead.

The entrance into the Stadsfeestzaal, along Meir

The entrance into the Stadsfeestzaal, along Meir

All that glisters is not gold, except in the main hall to Antwerp's Stadsfeestzaal

All that glisters is not gold, except in the main hall to Antwerp’s Stadsfeestzaal

The Stadsfeestzaal was built at the start of the twentieth century by Alex Van Mechelen, the City Architect of Antwerp. It was designed to be used as a banqueting hall and exhibition space. One hundred years later, the building had fallen into disrepair. A project to redevelop and rejuvenate the Meir district was given the green light by the city at the end of the last century, and work began in 2000 to restore the Stadsfeestzaal to its original splendour. However, just as the restoration work started, a fire ravaged the Stadsfeestzaal and almost destroyed the whole building. Although some of the historic building could not be saved, the main hall was salvaged and rebuilt. It took eighteen months alone to apply the thousands of sheets of gold leaf to the restored ceiling details. The building is now the Shopping Stadsfeestzaal hosting shopping units, offices and apartments.

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Stadsfeestzaal Meir, gilded interior detail

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Stadsfeestzaal Meir, gilded interior stairs detail

I wonder if there was a security camera hidden behind that mask. His eyes did seem to follow me around the room

I wonder if there was a security camera hidden behind that mask. His eyes did seem to follow me around the room

He looks like Brian Blessed's Prince Vultan. Very flash

He looks like Brian Blessed’s Prince Vultan. Very flash

Almost nothing appears to have escaped being gilded in the new Stadsfeestzaal. Even the corridor leading to the public toilets glistens, although the cubicles were not so sumptuous.

The most decadent entrance to a public toilet I have come across to date

The most decadent entrance to a public toilet I have come across to date

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Stadsfeestzaal Meir, gilded entrance to the public toilets close up

Looking up at a golden ceiling whilst... ahem...

Looking up at a golden ceiling whilst… ahem…

At this point I realised it had been nearly four hours since my train pulled into Centraal station and I still hadn’t checked in to my hotel. As I left the Stadsfeestzaal, I mistakenly turned left instead of right and instead of walking back towards the station, I walked past the Boerentoren, past the beautiful gothic Cathedral of Our Lady (and couldn’t resist popping in to have a look inside), crossed Grote Markt (spending several minutes marveling its Brabo Fountain) and ended up by the banks of the Scheldt where another building caught my attention. It was the Art Deco entrance to the innovative Sint-Annatunnel (Saint Anna’s Tunnel), a tunnel built underneath the Scheldt in 1933 to give pedestrians unlimited access to and from the left bank of the river. It is still used by walkers and cyclists today, is opened twenty-four hours a day and entrance to it is free. I just had to go down and take a look.

The right bank entrance to Sint-Annatunnel

The right bank entrance to Sint-Annatunnel

The tunnel is like an Art Deco time capsule

The tunnel is like an Art Deco time capsule

Although there are lifts/elevators that will take pedestrians, cyclists and their bicycles down to the tunnel, the original and rather gorgeous escalators are still in operation and are the preferred means of decent ...

Although there are lifts/elevators that will take pedestrians, cyclists and their bicycles down to the tunnel, the original and rather gorgeous escalators are still in operation and are the preferred means of decent…

... by both pedestrians, cyclists and their bicycles

…by both pedestrians, cyclists and their bicycles

This would never be allowed on the London Underground. He's not standing on the right for a start

This would never be allowed on the London Underground. He’s not standing on the right for a start

Antwerp, things to do in Antwerp, Art Deco architecture, Sint-Annatunnel, bottom of the escalator with cyclist

The tunnel itself is just over half a kilometre long

The tunnel itself is just over half a kilometre long

Cyclists conform to the Belgian highway code down in the tunnel and cycle on the right, keeping a safe distance from their fellow pedestrians (I felt it was safe to walk in the middle)

Cyclists conform to the Belgian highway code down in the tunnel and cycle on the right, keeping a safe distance from their fellow pedestrians (I felt it was safe to walk in the middle)

However, the odd cyclist wanted to use my path to overtake

However, the odd cyclist wanted to use my path to overtake

And some cyclists were going far too fast for my liking

And some cyclists were going far too fast for my liking

Some of the original 1930s warning and information signs can still be seen inside St Anna's Tunnel

Some of the original 1930s warning and information signs can still be seen inside St Anna’s Tunnel

Original proposed designs for the tunnel are on display by the left bank entrance. This design illustrates the possibility of motor vehicles using the tunnel

Original proposed designs for the tunnel are on display by the left bank entrance. This design illustrates the possibility of motor vehicles using the tunnel

Well, I agree with rule number 4 (No Spitting), but to not be allowed to sing in the tunnel (part of rule number 3), surely that's too tempting a rule to break, especially with the acoustics down there. That would explain why I didn't spot any buskers

Well, I agree with rule number 4 (No Spitting), but to not be allowed to sing in the tunnel (part of rule number 3), surely that’s too tempting a rule to break, especially with the acoustics down there. That would explain why I didn’t spot any buskers

The left bank entrance to Saint Anna's tunnel

The left bank entrance to Saint Anna’s tunnel

Stunning views of the cathedral (centre), the Boerentoren (right) and the Old City can be enjoyed - even on a drizzly, grey day in March - just by the left bank entrance to the tunnel. Hang on, isn't my hotel over there somewhere?

Stunning views of the cathedral (centre), the Boerentoren (right) and the Old City can be enjoyed – even on a drizzly, grey day in March – just by the left bank entrance to the tunnel. Hang on, isn’t my hotel over there somewhere?

Thankfully, Van Eeden station was just a short walk away from the left bank entrance to Saint Anna’s tunnel, so I didn’t have to drag my suitcase all the way back along the tunnel to the right bank. A tram brought me back to Centraal station direct within fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, for my weary feet and suitcase, once I stepped off that tram I just couldn’t resist looking around Centraal station once again.

I did eventually check-in to my hotel, just a five minute walk away, but six hours after my first arrival into Centraal station.

TLT x

 

The figure of Silvius Brabo at the top of the fountain, seen in the process of throwing the severed hand of Antigoon into the river Scheldt and giving Antwerp its name. The only problem here is, the river is actually in the other direction, behind the Stadhuis

How Antwerp avoided being named after a fancy detail on a woman’s bra, and how the Virgin Mary helped some Antwerpians to avoid paying tax (allegedly)

 

 

 

 

 

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