After our delightful time in Brugge, we needed to make our way up to Haarlem, the third home base of our BeNeLux week. On a bucket list trip, I find it difficult to simply going from point A to point B. It’s imperative to squeeze in one or two stops along the way.
I considered taking breaks in both Rotterdam (the largest port in Europe) and Antwerpen (the second largest). In the end, I realistically thought we’d only have time for one. Research showed that Antwerpen is prettier, and its cathedral is the tallest in BeNeLux. I had my winner.Despite my best planning efforts, we almost scrapped our Antwerpen visit. The GPS in our car is notoriously unreliable (it’s one of those built-in kinds with CDs and we haven’t gotten around to getting a new one), and even the printed directions I used landed us far beyond the city center.
We stopped at a petrol station to fill up and take a closer look at the map. An older gentlemen was refueling his car and staring at us. Instead of getting annoyed (my usual response to staring), I decided to ask his opinion on which autobahn was the best route to take north into the Netherlands. He didn’t want to speak English, so I mustered up my best German and hoped for the best.
Well, the best is what I got. Not only did this kind stranger advise me on the next road to take, but he offered to personally lead us to the city center when he found out we were (kind of) lost.
At least, that’s what I thought he said. Everything was in German, after all…
Luckily for us, my baby brain did not fail, and we followed this gentleman along a harbor route with great views of giant ships right to the parking garage in the center of town. Thank you, whoever you are!
My list for our two hours in Antwerpen consisted of three things: gaze at ginormous freighters, wonder at the beauty of the Cathedral of Our Lady, and put Fritkot Max‘s best-fries-in-the-whole-of-Belgium claim to the test.
With one down and two to go, we ooh-ed and ahh-ed through Antwerpen’s town square on the way to the church. We savored an eyeful of the sheer mass of the Cathedral of Our Lady, and then slipped inside for a few moments. The Cathedral of Our Lady charges admission (probably because of all the Peter Paul Rubens works on display), but you can stand in the prayer area for free.
Just around the corner from the cathedral, we found Fritkot Max. Doc Sci ordered a large for our family to share. The fries aren’t salted, and that affected the taste for us. So, in order to be truly scientific about it, Doc Sci thought we needed another large. Even after consuming a few kilos of potatoes from Fritkot Max, we still voted Fritland in Brussels the best fries in Belgium.
While in Brugge, I had stumbled upon a super fun shop called Oil & Vinegar. Doc Sci and I love to eat bread dipped in olive oil, and homemade salad dressing is a current obsession of mine. We didn’t have time to shop in Brugge, so we hurried over to the Antwerpen location in the few minutes we had left.
As luck would have it, we discovered a small playground right around the corner from the store! Score for us (we bagged some delicious bruschetta mix and basil olive oil), score for the boys (they let most of the willies out before we had to continue driving).
On the way back to the car, we quickly had a look at the water, but it was not possible to see many ships from the city center. The best views came from the earlier detour guided by our new friend. Serendipitous events make for the most memorable travel moments!
My snapshot of Antwerpen: industrial but beautiful, decadent but hardworking, fashionable but fun.