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Turning 50 in Antwerp… Part four

One thing I noticed and really liked about Antwerp is that there’s a huge variety of different types of food available there. Yes, you can find the usual Belgian inspired cuisine, with croquettes, frites, and waffles, but there are also more exotic choices. There’s plenty of Italian food, Spanish food, Greek food, Asian food, and even some fun fusion, like Peruvian-Japanese! For lunch on Saturday, we found our way to an Israeli place called Shuk. Bill and I actually ended up eating on the backside of the restaurant. The front side was facing the street we’d need to cross to get back to our hotel. It was super close!

The weather was very hot and sunny on Saturday, so the first thing we did when we sat down was order lemonade. I had a mint lemonade, and Bill had pomegranate lemonade, plus we had a large bottle of sparkling water. For lunch, I had Za’atar chicken hummus, which came with pita bread, red onions, pickles, and tomatoes. Bill had a chicken schnitzel sandwich. Of all the places we ate during our visit to Antwerp, I think I might have enjoyed the food at Shuk the best. It was very fresh, wholesome, and interesting. Service was also good; our waitresses all spoke perfect English (as did many of the people we encountered) and they were prompt about delivering the food. I’m actually remembering that lunch at Shuk and wishing I could repeat it today. We had beer for dessert, too, although they had some tempting choices for real desserts.

Shuk’s menu offered a lot of healthy options, and would have been a good stop for vegetarians or vegans. I actually felt really good about eating there. If we ever get back to Antwerp, I’d make a point of stopping there again. I think we spent about 60 euros.

After lunch, the temperature seemed to get more extreme, so we headed back to the hotel for a rest. Bill took a nap, while I did some writing, then ended up having to chat with USAA because they erroneously put a fraud alert on my credit card. I was trying to update a subscription to Internet security, of all things, and it tripped their security system. It was irritating to have to contact USAA, but I was actually glad to have the option. I would rather wait to chat than sit on the phone, listening to their God awful hold music from Hell.

As the weather got cooler, we decided to go back into the city to see what was going on. As I mentioned in part 3, there was some sort of festival going on in the Grote Markt with radio DJs playing music, lots of dancing, drinking, and merry making. We did ask two people at the hotel if they knew what the festival was about. Neither seemed to know, although it was totally free of charge to walk through and listen to the music.

There was much merriment in the market square!
I felt like dancing.

We mostly just walked around and people watched for awhile, until it got closer to dinner time, which we enjoyed at a Greek restaurant called Griekse Taverne. Again, we entered the back way, and sat inside, instead of in the huge outdoor area. Neither of us were really hungry, but Saturdays can be crazy, especially when a fest is going on. So we decided to go ahead and have dinner, just to be sure we got it before the hour got too late. The downtown area was really slammed with people!

We enjoyed the food at the Greek place, although the servers were pretty “weeded” and we kind of got forgotten sitting inside. The outdoor terrace was really hopping. Our waiter looked like a Greek God, though…

We did more people watching after dinner, watching many Belgian youths play basketball as we sipped Omer beers. As the sun went down, we headed back to the Grote Markt, where things were really wild. We thought about sticking around for some of the party, then heading back to the hotel for bed, but then I spotted the piano bar. More on that in part five.

More music!
It’s good that we didn’t have a hotel room there!

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Turning 50 in Antwerp… Part three

I got sort of a rude awakening at about 4am, on Saturday morning, as I tried to roll over. My left calf suddenly seized up in a hellacious cramp. I was still sort of asleep when it happened, so I just started whimpering pitifully. I wasn’t quite conscious enough to let out the scream that I really felt brewing. That cramp hurt like a mofo! But I was still kind of out of it, thanks to still being half asleep.

Bill woke up and asked me what was wrong. I somehow told him the back of my calf was cramping. He very calmly and gently reached over and put his hand on my spasming limb, which was healing enough. Then, he slowly forced me to stop pointing my toes. The cramp gradually went away and I was left amazed, and with a sore lump where the muscle bunched up. Yes, I know it would have gone away anyway, but there’s something about Bill’s touch that is very comforting to me. He’s very good at making my pain and discomfort vanish.

I managed to doze for a bit longer, until it was time to get up and face the day. We had told the night receptionist that we’d have breakfast at 8:00am. Breakfast at De Witte Lelie does not come with the room, and costs 30 euros a person. I suppose it’s not mandatory to have breakfast there, since the hotel is so close to the old town, but we found it convenient. The first morning, we ate outside, since it was sunny and warm outside. The manager, an Australian lady, brought out a basket of bread, fresh pressed coffee, and a bottle of fresh squeezed orange juice. I was delighted by the orange juice. That’s one thing I’ve noticed in Belgium and the Netherlands; they have great orange juice. Even if you get it at the gas station, it’s likely to be fresh!

Aside from the bread and juice, there’s also a small buffet with everything from Belgian cheeses to vegan charcuterie. I helped myself to some smoked salmon and avocado, and Bill had a ginger shot. We also had eggs and bacon, although we only did that on the first day, since it was a lot of food that neither of us needed.

As usual, we didn’t have any big plans. We almost never plan specific activities on our trips. Our style is more about going places and letting stuff happen. There are exceptions, of course. When we were in Florence a couple of months ago, we did plan to visit the Uffizi ahead of time. That was necessary, because of COVID and the number of people who want to go to the art gallery. But we didn’t have big plans for Antwerp. It didn’t find it to be the kind of place that requires a lot of planning.

We started out by heading toward the Grote Markt, which is the main attraction in Antwerp. We saw the couple who run the Brewers’ Kitchen, who were recovering from Friday night! The chef told us that he was born and raised in Antwerp and offered some tips on how to see the city. I was especially glad we stopped in to his restaurant on Friday.

Before we had a chance to explore the Grote Markt, we stopped at the Handschoenmarkt, which is where an adorable statue of a boy and his dog are located. I didn’t know anything about the 19th century novel, A Dog of Flanders, which is the heartwarming and tragic story about a little boy named Nello and his dog, Patrasche. The story, which was written by English author, Marie Louise de la Ramée, is well-known, especially in Japan, so the powers that be commissioned a statue to please tourists. The statue was created by Batiste Vermeulen (‘Tist’) and is absolutely adorable.

We went into Cathedral of our Lady, which is a huge, beautiful church in the middle of the city that dates from 1352 (with earlier churches dating from even earlier), but was consecrated in 1521. If one isn’t a child under 18 or a resident of Antwerp, there is a 12 euro charge to visit this church. We didn’t mind paying, though, since the Cathedral of our Lady is full of beautiful art, and is very much akin to a museum. We spent some time walking around, taking in the tremendous beauty of the vast cathedral itself, and the wonderful paintings and sculptures within it. We also visited the crypt, where we could see examples of the tombs buried under the church. Burials were allowed within the church until the 18th century, so as you walk through the cavernous interior, you are passing graves of people who died many years ago.

After we walked through the cathedral, we decided to visit the bistro. Yes, this church has an actual bistro, where you can get coffee, cake, and beer. We initially went in there to use the restroom (very handy), but later came back to try the excellent beer out in the courtyard.

On Saturday, we also made our way to the Scheldt River, which flows through northern France, western Belgium, and the southwestern part of the Netherlands. I wouldn’t say the Scheldt River is a particularly beautiful body of water, but it is what makes Antwerp an important port city in Europe. Next to the river is a huge ferris wheel called The Big View. I didn’t know this at the time, but our ride on the ferris wheel was Bill’s very first, ever! He’s going to be 58 years old next month, and he just now took a ride on a ferris wheel. We got three turns, which allowed us to mug for photos and get pictures of the Steenplein (Stone Square).

Bill says he had never been on a ferris wheel before Saturday, because he’s afraid of heights. He probably felt okay on the wheel in Antwerp, though, because it was completely enclosed. I wished we had an open car so I could get better photos, but this is probably a year round attraction. I’m sure enclosing it makes it usable in bad/cold weather. After we got off, Bill said he’d do it again. It always amazes me the things Bill is doing for the first time with me.

It turned out on Saturday, there was some kind of festival going on in the Grote Markt. It was quite the blowout. When we were passing at one point, an opera singer with an absolutely beautiful voice serenaded everyone. She was dressed in shorts and a short sleeved blouse, enchanting everyone with her dulcet vocals. After her first song, she was inexplicably joined by a beatboxer, who was also pretty good… although personally, I preferred her solo performance. I got some video of her singing, which I added to my first post about Antwerp. It made me cry. We also saw a guy balancing three beers on his head while riding a bike!

By the time the ferris wheel ride was finished, it was time to look for lunch. More on that in the next part, since this post is loaded with photos!

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Turning 50 in Antwerp… Part two

When Bill made the hotel reservation, he mentioned it was my birthday. De Witte Lelie Hotel offers upgrades, when available, to those who book directly. Bill booked a Junior Suite. The next step up was, of course, the Presidential Suite. I’m not sure if anyone booked it. We were given Room 9, which is pictured on the hotel’s Web site. All of the rooms are individually decorated. Room 9 really is a very unique room, accessible by a couple of flights of stairs. Room 9 has gold wallpaper that made me feel like I was in a glass of champagne.

On the back wall, there was a sliding door decorated with flowers and multi-colored holograms. Inside the bathroom, there was a huge bathtub, shower, and turquoise blue tiling with silver and shiny multi-colored flecks. One wall was decorated with Marilyn Monroe wallpaper. Another had a huge tiled mosaic of flowers. Three glass fish hung from the ceiling over the tub. It was definitely the funkiest, most stylish hotel bathroom I’ve ever seen. The toiletries were Hermes, which I loved!

The room had a king sized bed, made up with a duvet and several comfortable pillows. We brought two of our own, just in case, but we would have been very safe leaving them at home. They don’t skimp on pillows at this hotel. The bed was VERY comfortable. I wish I had thought to ask who provides the mattresses to De Witte Lelie, since we both really liked the one in Room 9. There was air conditioning that worked well, and a complimentary minibar stocked with local beer, still and sparkling water, Coke, and juice. There was also candy and applies available if we had the munchies, but if we needed anything stronger, the reception was willing to bring drinks to the room. Or, we could have hung out in the courtyard and enjoyed libations there.

Since there was no restaurant at the hotel, we did decide to venture out for food. By sheer luck, we ended up at a very cool restaurant called Brewers’ Kitchen. Open only a year, this place focuses on dishes that use beer, and it’s run almost entirely by its chef and his girlfriend, who is, herself, very knowledgeable about beer. There were only two tables outside, and both were taken, so we sat by the window. That was actually a lucky thing, since we got quite an interesting show while we dined on innovative beer inspired cuisine…

But before I get into the side show, I want to write more about the restaurant. The chef/owner quit his job in 2017, got trained to be a chef and zythologist (beer sommelier). The restaurant has a small menu, and everything is made at the moment. I liked that, since everything on Friday night’s list of main dishes included mushrooms, and I don’t eat mushrooms. Since nothing was pre-mixed, the chef was able to make my dish without fungus. The chef only buys ingredients that come from within 40 kilometers of Antwerp, to include local beers from Belgium and the Netherlands. He also told us that he is interested in buying from farmers, brewers, and suppliers who respect the planet. Everything he presented was organic, and could be matched with a beer.

Bill and I went all in with the experience. The menu changes often, since it’s based on what is available. Most days, the chef has a meat, fish, and vegetarian dish. Vegan is possible if one makes a reservation and mentions a desire for vegan cuisine at the time of booking. Brewers’ Kitchen had no fish option on Friday, since there was an issue with their supplier. However, he did have lamb chops, which Bill loves. I went for the vegetarian option, roasted celery root, which I had never had before. I have to say, I found it surprisingly enjoyable. It might have been because there was a lot of butter in it! We prefaced the main courses with a starter of white asparagus with smoked fish and a poached egg.