sights (and yarns) of antwerp

At the end of January I spent a long weekend in Antwerp with my parents and D. It was kind of by accident that we went there, since until the night before we left we had been planning on going to Ghent, but it turned out Ghent had some kind of festival going on that weekend, which wasn’t very accommodating of our last-minute travel plans, and Lille was similarly busy, so we went to Antwerp instead. I must admit that before we went, I wasn’t full of excitement for Antwerp, as I had been once before, aged about 13, and all we saw of the city was the red light district, the sculpture park and an Indonesian restaurant. (I imagine that might give you a funny idea of the nature of our family holidays, but it’s not as bad as it sounds – we were visiting friends who just happened to live bang in the middle of the red light district. And they were friends, not ‘friends’, honest.) Although the sculpture park was nice, we didn’t see any of the centre, and so I left without a great impression of the city. But this trip succeeded in completely reversing my feelings about Antwerp: we had an excellent time there, and I would gladly go back.

Antwerp Cathedral tower

The buildings (and especially the tops of buildings) were stunning. I loved these tall, narrow guildhall buildings in the Grote Markt, with pointy tops and so many windows. I would live there in a flash. One of the buildings on the other side of the square was up for rent, and need I mention that the idea of moving to Antwerp and setting up my own yarn store on the ground floor crossed my mind? No, I thought not. But I suspect the Belgians know how lucky they are, as I balked at the prices in one estate agent’s window, and thought it safest not to look again. We were lucky with the sunshine for these pictures, as a lot of the time we were there it poured with rain, which meant there was much cause for ducking indoors – which wasn’t strictly unfortunate, since this tended to lead to coffee, and if we were really lucky, cake.

Grote Markt, Antwerp

Antwerp came out well in terms of eating and drinking; we found a real gem of a restaurant, De Reddende Engel, near the cathedral. Despite the name, it’s actually a French restaurant, or, as the patronne explained ‘Ici, nous sommes en France!’ It felt slightly fraudulent to go to Belgium and eat authentic French food (and from southwest France, at that), but the feeling of guilt was quickly erased as soon as we started eating. We had the most exquisite meal there, and the patronne was very welcoming; I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Nearby was a highly eccentric bar, Het Elfde Gebod (The Eleventh Commandment), which was jam packed full of religious statues and artefacts, including angels dangling on chains from the ceiling. It was quite a sight inside. They had a great range of Belgian beer, and delicious moules frites, so that made for another fun night. We also found a nice bar for a late-night drink: the Brasserie Berlin, which was young and trendy and suitably replete with fancy Edison light bulbs.

Rockox House, Antwerp

There were so many different museums and galleries to visit, and the ones we saw were really first class. We went to the Rubens House, and although one wing was closed for renovations, the rest was amazing: a whole seventeenth-century ‘palazzo’, much of it designed by Rubens himself, including the garden. (Though for the David Lynch fans out there, watch out for the landing half-way round the house – I was momentarily terrified when I clocked the red velvet curtains and black-and-white tiled floor. Creepy!) Then since the Royal Museum of Fine Arts was completely closed for renovation, we saw parts of their collection in a number of different venues, including the Rockox House (above). The house was worth a visit in itself, and the Golden Cabinet exhibition was excellent. Lastly, we visited the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom), a triple museum of the historical, ethnographic and maritime collections of Antwerp, near the docks (below). It’s housed in a very striking building, which only opened in 2011, and is ten storeys high, with curvy windows in a spiral around the building and an open-air viewing platform on top. Unfortunately we didn’t get there in time to see the museum itself, but we did go up to see the view from the top. It was pretty wet and blustery up there, so we didn’t stay outside for long, but while we were up there, there was a rainbow, of the kind where you can almost see the full circle. Cool, quoi! I’m keen to go back and actually explore this museum, as we bought the guide book and it looks like it would be right up my street.

MAS, Antwerp

But of course, no trip would be complete without sampling the local yarn store. Part of the plan for going to Ghent had involved an excellent-sounding yarn and fabric store that my parents visited a little while ago, and so I was all fired up for that and sadly disappointed when I heard we were going to Antwerp instead. Luckily for us, though, Antwerp also has a beautiful little shop (I say little, but in fact it’s deceptive as it has two entrances, going round a corner) that sells yarn and fabric: Julija’s Shop. (They also have a lovely blog, albeit all in Dutch, but the pictures are great and quite inspiring all on their own.) Oh the joys of Ravelry! I am so grateful to have the ability to find a yarn store in a foreign city right at my fingertips, wherever I am.

Julija's Shop, Antwerp

My ma and I hastened to pay it a visit on the Saturday afternoon, and we had great larks there, stroking things, dreaming of future knitting and sewing projects and making plans. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if we had been left to our own devices we might have spent the whole afternoon there, but sadly we were only 50% of the group and, without naming names, not everyone was quite so keen on whiling away their holiday in a yarn shop. More fool them, I say. After we left I realised I hadn’t taken any pictures, and so I had to contrive to end up back at the shop while on a late night walk (‘Oh, look where we are!’), in order to take these rather poor-quality nighttime ones. If you’re going to Antwerp, I highly recommend a visit here!

Julija's Shop, Antwerp

Below is the booty that I brought home with me: four pretty fabric remnants (including some super cool neon yellow fabric!), and three balls of yarn, which I envisage will one day be striped together in some sort of baby outfit for one of the many babies that seem to be making an appearance around this time. I can’t get enough of the grey/cream/white with yellow combination at the moment.

Yarn and fabric booty from Julija's Shop

But oh, the imaginary booty that I would have brought home if I’d had the time to think up projects for it all… maybe it’s a good thing after all that we were taken away when we were?