As my eyes forced themselves through the sheer horror of a 4 am wake-up call and opened, a massive smile crept across my face. The type of smile that comes from knowing you’ll be in a new country in just a few hours. It was only 12 hours before that I had booked the hotel and Eurotunnel after realising that familiarity was getting a bit too much for me. Turns out if I don’t leave the country for five months I get a bit aggy. Who knew?
I had decided upon Antwerp because it’s easy to get to and I wanted to see more after stopping there briefly a few years back. You see, the last time I stopped there was on a road trip to The Netherlands, and stopping in Antwerp was a sheer fluke. It wasn’t planned as a destination, it was just the closest place to stop when driving to The Netherlands and I realised I was hungry… So this time, I was determined to go back and discover more than just waffles!
Unfortunately, after crossing the tunnel, bad news struck. Whilst checking my email to get the hotel address, booking.com messaged me to say that the hotel I had booked with had been cancelled.
I was fifteen minutes away.
Using intermittent data on my phone I managed to find somewhere, but due to the last-minute necessity, I lost the city centre location. I was gutted. Not just because the first hotel choice was so incredibly chic with its white walls, clawfoot bathtub and loft vibe, but because Antwerp is a popular city, so all of the “good” hotels were fully booked.
After panicking that I wouldn’t find anywhere that wasn’t £300+ a night, I found a hotel that was both affordable, and situated a short walk from a tramline, so all was not lost. I mean, there wasn’t a bath in the new hotel and it looked like it hadn’t been decorated since the 1950s (and not in a cute way), but at least I was close to public transport. Driving was not an option because when in Belgium, you want Belgian beer. Or to try it at least (spoiler alert: I still don’t like beer). So the tram was a silver lining to the clouds that seemed to be hovering above the beginning of my trip.
Side Note: To this day I have no idea whether I paid the right amount for my tram rides because I couldn’t figure out how to change the language settings on the machine. In the end, I just picked a random location which kind of matched the amount I’d expected to pay and hoped for the best.
After throwing my bags down and heading into the city centre, the metaphorical clouds morphed into real ones and the heavens opened. Determined not to get drenched within minutes of arriving in the city, I nipped into a nearby waffle shop. Because ya’know. Waffles.
This one was called The Waffle Factory, and for the first time, I opted for the savoury option. Ham and cheese, if you’re curious.
After realising that the rain wasn’t going to let up, I wandered through the city centre, stopping to collect chocolates and souvenirs for the family as I went. Before eventually making my way to the river bank where I ended up at Het Steen.
Het Steen is a medieval fortress which was built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages. Formerly known as Antwerpen Burcht, Het Steen was renamed in 1520 after being rebuilt by Charles V. Het Steen’s location made it possible to control access to the river Scheldt, but between the 13-18 hundreds, it was also used as a prison.
But now, it stands as a beautiful building with a hella weird statue out front. I’m not kidding. Look at it. Art is so weird sometimes. Anyways, now that I’ve done some Googling, I can tell you that it is a bas-relief of Semini; the Scandinavian god of youth and fertility. I didn’t want to play around with fertility gods too much, because I prefer food babies to those of human origin. So I moved swiftly on, stopping in Billie’s Bier Kafétaria for a beer. I had a dark coconut IPA which was delicious, but incredibly filling.
And after that, I headed over to Cogels Osylei… But more on that in this post!