THE FIRST CITY most people think about when they hear of Belgium is Brussels. This I sincerely regret—not that I want to badmouth my capital city—but this small country pressed between the big nations of France, Germany, and the Netherlands has a lot more to offer than being “just” the home of European institutions.
Instead of Brussels, let me take you on a little tour through Antwerp, the city where I have attended university for over four years. On a regular Sunday evening, I would arrive at Central Station. This breathtaking landmark, built in an eclectic style, is over a hundred years old. While pulling my suitcase behind me, I wander off toward the Meir, a long street known for its shopping opportunities. Looking up, you will recognize the aesthetic value behind the Meir’s somewhat superficial function. Statues proudly occupy the century-old buildings such as the Rubens House museum and Het Paleis (The Palace), where a vast array of different cultural performances run throughout the year. Enchanted by the gentle and vibrant atmosphere of the city center, I continue my walk toward the beautifully lit Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. Although only the northern tower was completed in the sixteenth century—due to financial reasons—this cathedral still functions as an impressive lookout over the various dining options below.
My student lodging is located alongside the river Scheldt. I have never succeeded in reading the entire two-mile-long poem that is painted in one big line on the concrete next to the former warehouses. It is considered Peter Holvoet-Hanssen’s poetical ode to the waters of Antwerp. To make your way from city center to the Left Bank, you might want to opt for a walk or bike ride through the Sint-Annatunnel. I particularly enjoy the authentic wooden escalators that travel roughly thirty meters down and the feeling of spatial infinity in the tunnel itself.
My favorite spot by far is the old port or Het Eilandje (The little isle). I consider it an area where you have space to breathe, quietly observing the various boating activities and the joggers passing by. On a meditative stroll along the cobblestoned path, I occasionally choose to go to the top of the MAS—the Museum aan de Stroom (Museum by the river) that towers above the sailboats and the yachts. The somewhat unique building provides a breathtaking view over the entire city. Once it gets dark and the city lights come on, you can secretly hum our famous Flemish song “The Lights of the Scheldt,” by Bobbejaan Schoepen.
If my little tour has not convinced you of the beauty and qualities of my university city, then perhaps you can be tempted to take a literary tour via Jeroen Olyslaegers’s recent best-seller, Will: “In front of me the Stadspark lies gleaming in white. I wait, shut my eyes for a moment.” Antwerp really does shine like a diamond.
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