After a 3-hour train ride from Rotterdam, I arrived in Antwerp, Belgium.
Centraal Station in Antwerp:
There was about 20 minutes of very mild panic during which my phone was dead and I had no idea where to go, having not booked a hostel ahead of time. After a brief stop and phone charge at the Starbucks in the Centraal Station, though, I was good to go! Don’t get me wrong – generally, I’m against eating familiar, American fast food while travelling. When possible, I always try to eat the local fare. However, there are times when Starbucks, with its electrical outlets and free wifi, is a true blessing.
My initial plan in Antwerp was to stay at the hostel that was located closer to the city center and many of the attractions I wanted to see. However, before I left on solo adventuring, Sjaak gave me some advice: stay in the smaller hostels whenever possible, as they’re usually much more personal and nicer than the larger or chain hostels. Deciding to take this advice, I headed instead for the AB Hostel, and ended up really glad that I did.
I showed up at the AB Hostel and (thank goodness) they took me in. Part of the reason I didn’t book ahead was that on their website, you had to book for a minimum of two nights at a time, and I only wanted to stay one. I showed up, asked for one night, and it was totally fine. Lesson learned: sometimes the answer is different in person.
My room at AB Hostel. Theme was “music”.
The AB Hostel was small, unique, and wonderful. Of the hostels I stayed in along the way, AB definitely ranks as my favourite. I got there at about six o’clock, and decided to hang out there and pursue sightseeing the next day. I started out by taking a much-needed shower (personal hygiene is not the best when you’re living out of a backpack) and then relaxing in one of the hammocks.
In the evening, the Australian working at the in-hostel bar helped me select a drink from their wide selection of Belgian beers. I spent the rest of the evening hanging out and playing cards with two guys from Ireland, another solo girl traveller from Germany, and another girl from Canada! One thing I was surprised about in the past week is how easy it is to make friends in hostels, especially at this one – people were all around, eager and happy to hang out and share adventure stories.
The next morning, the hostel supplied a delicious breakfast of pancakes and a great assortment of jams and spreads, including the hostel’s own homemade version of Nutella. After breakfast I sadly waved goodbye to the AB hostel and set out for my day of sightseeing.
I started by buying a day pass for a velo bike. For just 4 euro, I was able to bike all around the city, dropping off the bike and picking up a new one as needed at one of the many locations around the city.
On the recommendation of one of the hostel’s workers (who was from Spain), I started my sightseeing with Antwerp’s International Graffiti Festival. This was awesome. It took me a while to find it, because Antwerp is not an easy city to navigate and also because I have a pretty poor sense of direction, but it was definitely worth the effort. There was a whole block covered in the most amazing artwork.
After the graffiti, I biked to Antwerp’s central area. There I saw Het Steen, the castle, with the statue of Lange Wapper outside of it. The statue is rather funny; Lange Wapper is a folklore character, a giant and a trickster, and the statue depicts him showing off his codpiece to two onlookers. During the time of the iconoclastic fury, his codpiece was cut off.
Lange Wapper Statue
Following that I went to see the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady). It was built between 1352-1521 and the interior is absolutely chock-full of beautiful artwork in all forms. Truly gorgeous.
I finished off my sightseeing at the Museum Plantin-Moretus, which is home to the world’s oldest printing press, among many other treasures. It’s also the only museum in the world that’s recognized as a Unesco World Heritage sight. The museum offered a fantastic look into the lives of people back then and the knowledge that was in circulation. It was also fascinating to see how this one family, and in particular Christoffel Plantijn, had ties in so many different realms of knowledge. As if running the world’s first industrial printing works wasn’t enough, he was also involved in areas of science, linguistics, nature, botany, geography, and map-making.
Courtyard at the Museum Plantin-Moretus.
The two oldest surviving printing presses in the world! They are over 400 years old.
The Museum Plantin-Moretus was my final stop before leaving Belgium and moving on to Maastricht. While I did really enjoy the things I saw in Antwerp, and loved the hostel there, I really disliked how confusing the city was to navigate, and probably spent about 2 or more hours that day wandering around lost. I did accidentally find a really cool building though, so worth it in the end?
Yeah, it was.
Next stop: Maastricht.