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The thought had started to niggle us that if we wanted to continue to travel as much as we do if so we would have to consider frankly the horrible prospect taking on either a second job or a second mortgage! Not keen on either option, we decided to experiment and see how cheaply we could travel on our next city trip. We took only £65 spending money each and pay no more than £60 return on our transport, then we would see if we could not only have a really good time but make our holiday feel well… positively luxurious!
GuestToGuest was the first place we turned to, we already had a London couple interested in staying at our place, so we just needed to find ourselves a nice place somewhere in a city that was inexpensive to get to. Antwerp flights we discovered were going from our local London Southend airport for less than £30 each way, so that was a good start, we’d never been there and when we saw
Veerle and Koenraad’s lovely place available for points that matched our own since we knew where we wanted to travel to.
Veerle and Koenraad’s are both interior designers and their apartment, right in the middle of the historical center was described as their ‘business card’… we understood why…Completely renovated with style and empathy, keeping the original character of the 1850’s house, it was well… just perfect. A designer kitchen with a giant stove. A bathroom with a double shower and a huge funky designer bathtub. Two huge bedrooms with enormous comfortable beds and a massive high ceilinged lounge with deep airy windows.
The apartment had for us, just about the best location in Antwerp, really close to both the Gortemarkt and what is arguably the most glorious train station, the Art Deco Palace of Antwerp Centraal. Beneath Veerle and Koenraad’s place was an organic grocery shop where we were able to buy some really fine ingredients to cook in our similarly fine kitchen! why eat out with such a lovely kitchen and organic market under our feet and spend all our budget on food.
Next, we wanted to find out what we could do in Antwerp for free, or nearly free and here are some things we discovered? The Wooden Escalators to the St Anna Tunnel looked suitably quirky for a visit and the tunnel taking pedestrians and bicyclist under the Scheldt River was a surreal experience, to walk for over half a kilometer underneath a massive river and ride the original wooden escalators that date back to the early 30s was great fun and free.
The MAS museum – a red sandstone colossus offered us stunning free views of the dockside neighborhood. Large, undulating panes of glass and spiral-shaped boulevard created the effect of waves and climbing ten floors got us to the rooftop where we found what had to be the most dramatic view of the city. In Antwerp we discovered lots of graffiti, sometimes just tags which aren’t always the most beautiful but with some research we were able to find some really good street art, around the stations, in particular, making Antwerp one big open-air art gallery.
Berchem area was our favorite, having the strange and enchanting mix of street art graffiti alongside Cogels-Osylei, a jaw-dropping avenue of the mansion after mansion built to impress. Grand and elaborate townhouses rise up here in every ornate style imaginable, especially Art Nouveau. Park Spoor Noord on the north of the city, seemed to be Antwerp’s largest chill-out zone with the massive warehouse ‘Cargo’ housing a big bar, this became our favorite place and we treated ourselves to a really good coffee and lounged around in beach chairs, while kids splashed in the water fountains.
Walking around the beautiful Groetmarkt eating cooling icecream on a blood-boilingly hot afternoon was topped off by accidentally finding the cool of the 16th-century Vlaeykensgang – a secret looking alley that used to be the home of shoemakers and some of Antwerp’s poorest. Now inhabited by antique shops, art galleries, and a fancy restaurant.
Summer bars seemed to be everywhere in Antwerp with the combination of beach, bar, and food in the open air. We joined the cheeky habit of many locals and bought our picnic and some rather good Belgian beer from the supermarket and sat close enough to the bar to feel we were included in this artistic meeting spot with its array of greenery and happy background music. The temperature being in the high 20’s was perfect for sitting at these docks, and the spectacular view of the city made us feel we were in a very creative place.
What’s more, the magnificent view and unforgettable sunset, we’re all completely free!