Last Friday after work, I left my apron, oven and baking tins behind for the weekend and went to Belgium for a quick family visit and a (tiny) bit of retail therapy. Whenever I’m in Belgium I like to spend a day in Antwerp, where S and I used to live. And so on Saturday, I dragged S out of the warm coziness of my parents’ home to a grey and rainy city. Antwerp is a really small town – certainly if you’re used to cities like New York or London – and it is very easy and manageable to walk everywhere. While the main shopping street (the Meir) is like a mini-Oxford Street, with all the big chains and identikit shops, Antwerp does have a lot of small, independent shops and boutiques, which are worth a visit. But you have to know where to find them of course.
One of my favourite shops in Antwerp is Huis A. Boon (Lombardenvest 2-4), a delightfully old-fashioned looking timewarp of a boutique that has been around since 1884. They sell gloves in every shape, material and colour imaginable – long opera gloves, fingerless ones, buttery soft leather gloves that fit like a second skin, lined with cashmere or satin, from neutral browns and greys to the most exuberant colours – all neatly stacked away in little labelled boxes that line the shop walls. I buy a new pair there every other year or so and I’d say if you don’t find what you’re looking for there, it probably doesn’t exist.
Bazar Bizar (Steenhouwersvest 18) is a veritable Aladdin’s cave, full of little trinkets that you absolutely don’t need but that would be so nice to have. Their ever-changing assortment ranges from Moroccan tea glasses and tagines to Vietnamese lacquer bowls and Indian textiles. Above the shop is a tiny B&B, quite unlike any other. They do have a website and even an on-line shop (which is rather unusual for Belgium – even Ikea in Belgium has no on-line ordering), but it’s in Flemish only. Bazar Bizar is in the street where S and I used to live, in a beautiful old flat with high ceilings, wooden floors, marble fireplaces and an amazing view of the cathedral from our bath. There are lots of other interesting shops in the street – one specialising in cognac, another one dealing in 20th century design classics, a few art nouveau specialists and more – but there’s only so much you can do in one day.
I also like a good rummage around the ‘juntique’ shops of the Kloosterstraat (most of the shops here don’t open until 2pm though). S always patiently undergoes my browsing – interior-wise, he really likes clean lines, modern and minimal stuff, while I love old junk and am always on the lookout for bargains. Or things that have ‘potential’. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately – for S) there was no way I could get that giant wardrobe, lovely cabinet, or Victorian school desk from Antwerp to my parents’ place, let alone pack them in my tiny suitcase and drag them onto Eurostar back to London. What I did manage to bring back were three glass jars for the princely sum of €2.25.
One of Antwerp’s little drinking holes, where I have spent many a pleasant evening, is ‘jenever café’ De Vagant (Reyndersstraat 25). This café serves more than 200 ‘jenevers’ (schnapps), all sourced from about 40 producers in either Belgium or northern France. They have numerous sorts of grain-distilled schnapps, ranging from very strong to even stronger, but they also have fruit schnapps (apple is a traditional one), creamy schnapps and liqueurs (chocolate, coffee and vanilla) and even more exotic things such as cactus or rose schnapps. All their schnapps are listed on a menu of which, by the way, copies are sold, because their menus used to ‘disappear’ all the time. The café has a few large communal tables that will most likely be sticky, as the only ‘right’ way to serve schnapps is to put a shot glass on the table and fill it to the rim. De Vagant also has a shop, located right opposite the café, which sells practically everything you’ll find on the café’s menu, in different sized bottles. I still had to drive that day and drinking driving is never a good combination, so we skipped the café, but we did buy a bottle of chocolate schnapps for a cocktail loving, chocoholic friend’s birthday.
All that running around Antwerp made us really hungry, and we ended the day at ‘our’ old Italian neighbourhood restaurant, Verona (Oude Koornmarkt 28). Nothing spectacular, but they do pretty decent pizza and pasta at very reasonable prices. And they still recognise us and treat us like regulars, even though we moved away more than five years ago.
Of course there are so much more nice places to shop, eat and drink in Antwerp (if anyone needs recommendations, I’d be more than happy to e-mail some suggestions), but we couldn’t possibly fit all those in one day . And we had to leave some room in our tummies for my granny’s birthday lunch the day after...
p.s. I got a comment on my previous post, yay!