View from the window: coffee & food in Antwerp
Whereas Bruges and Brussels felt more french, Antwerp is very much Dutch, so I expected to see a few of my beloved Hema stores. What I hadn't factored in is a Hema store with a cafe which gave me the same frisson of excitement as seeing restaurants in Tokyo's Muji stores!
However, the first coffee shop we landed in on day one was on our doorstep. The Playground is situated in what is probably quite rightly labelled the most beautiful train station in the world. As the name suggests, this coffee shop is full of games and although it's seen on the outside wall of the station, the entrance is inside the stunning building itself. We took any opportunity to go in to Antwerpen Centraal station every day of our stay; it was a rather wonderful sight from our hotel window.
Noodles are one of my comfort foods so I'm pleased to see Thai Wok Express. This is one of those places that quickly cooks up your choice of noodles from fresh ingredients in minutes. This is not chopsticks country though - we had to ask for those!
Also around the corner from us is the much raved about Beer Lovers Bar. Dear reader, you will know I am not a big drinker but when in Belgium, do as the locals do. I discovered a new love of beer in Bruges, my first visit to the country but as we don't have the same culture of serving beer in small quantities in the UK (how do I drink that much liquid in one go?) I never persevered with it. So it was great to be back in a country where they most certainly do beer well, in a huge variety of flavours and you know, I saw no-one getting raving drunk on it. It's all entirely civilised and I love it. Enough to go back to this bar on a quiet Sunday evening too.
Saturdays we eat breakfast out anyway so were on the hunt for a good brunch spot after coffee & pastries in our room. We hadn't intended it, given the temperature quickly rising, but walked for an hour through a couple of beautiful neighbourhoods before we reached 28c. Brunch at Moss consisted of pancakes & bacon for me and platter of cheeses/meat/salmon for him which would have been delightful if it wasn't for the accompanying wasps flying around desperate to share the plates with us. We knew that Antwerp is (also) unaccustomed to this heatwave which is perhaps why they still kept their doors open for these pests to come and disturb us at every breakfast of the trip. Most people ate outside; maybe they had less hassle from the wasps who had more room to fly around?
We did manage to sit outside for some wonderfully named Flat Barry Whites at Coffee & Vinyl around the corner afterwards .
Saturday night was museum night (more of that here) and we just wanted to grab a quick bite in between and eventually found a branch of Manhattan Burger which took us away from the tourist-priced restaurants we wanted to avoid in the main city centre area. Service was slow and lacking but food and ambience OK.
Monday was spent avoiding wasps at Esco Bar where I was served freshly made croissant, even ordering a second one which came pretty promptly - I want their oven. [Wasp note - door remained closed but one wasp was inside, staying mostly around the window. The beloved is allergic to wasp stings, hence the added level of cautiousness].
This being the day of our anniversary, we spent it in the amazing zoo which again, we could see from our window. One of the best I have been to in my never-ending search to make best friends with apes and gorillas, or gorilli, as I have called them since Prague zoo in 2013. It's so good that this fantastic place is bang in the centre of the city and they have gone to great lengths to ensure we can see the animals no matter what the weather. Which is a good job as they understandably weren't moving much as we approached 35c.
Today's coffee shop - it was way too hot to make it more than one a day - is the lovely Normo. We had filters but completely forgot to take photos. That's the affect of the heat.
Any finally, we had our anniversary meal at Bourla which turned out to be a good choice. Again, most of the diners were outside while we elected to sit upstairs looking out to them from the first floor. My cod had a little Thai kick going on and was a delight along with the little glass of rose (which unfortunately got swiped whilst I was waiting to savour the last sip but they wouldn't have known). We shared a Moelleux at chocolat as we couldn't resist their excellent service with a smile.
Tuesday felt like a bonus day as we elected against another day trip when the heat reached it's peak. After fighting the inevitable wasps, which this time really did spoil breakfast for me at Charlies, we had a couple of beers during the amazing De Koninck brewery tour. Looking for shelter, this seemed a good day to go to a shopping centre in the afternoon although Wijnegem was pretty dull other than more comforting noodles at YouWok. The centre surprisingly lacked coffee shops except for those incredibly pricey old-fashioned cafes with their tiny cups of push-button coffee machines. We relented and went to McDonalds who we find weren't serving hot drinks that day! So we left.
We ended on our trip on a high with dinner at Balls & Glory where we were given a choice of filled meatballs served with mashed vegetables or salad. Happily, this was in the beautifully redeveloped port area, Het Eilandje, which included the MAS, guaranteeing to end our anniversary trip perfectly. This was the night I finally had a waffle (I knew it would be on the last day) from Australian Ice Cream Co to take fully advantage of actually being able to be outside.
I am so looking forward to going back to fantastic Anterwerpen.