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Antwerp Delivers...
A melange of museums, mussels, diamonds and dolls


Evelyn Hannon


Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world, is a large city on a mini scale. For the sophisticated traveller, it has it all - museums, cafes, cathedrals, antiques, and sparkling jewelry galore. The pace is easy, systems are modern, and the ambiance is strictly old world elegance. A charming combination!

Be sure to pack a sturdy pair of shoes. Antwerp is a walking city par excellence - and what a pleasure that walking is! Especially, as a woman travelling solo, you'll appreciate being left completely alone. There are no panhandlers asking for your help, no touts offering to find you an hotel, and no aggressive types asking "if the lady wants company." You're free to wander at will - exploring the shopping boulevards, historic squares, and the maze of tiny little streets lined with cafes in the old-city center.

Art abounds with variety galore in Antwerp! Some super stops include the Peter Paul Reubens House, where the great Flemish master lived and worked. Look for his "Adam and Eve in Paradise" hanging in the great studio. Like his style? Then look for more in the many museums and churches around the city. The Royal Museum is a must. JW is impressed with the woman charioteers outside and the Belgian masters inside. Try to get to the modern Photography museum where, along with the male greats like Steiglitz and Adams, you'll learn about Julia Margaret Cameron, a pioneering art photographer circa 1800. And finally, see "Mad Meg" painted by Breugel the Elder, hanging in the petite but perfect Museum van den Bergh. If film is your forte, find the Film Museum (50 Meir), housed in an 18th century building, once a royal palace. Very extra bonus - during the summer, order your wine, sit back and enjoy night screenings on the Film Terrace. A real pleasure!

For window shopping and great street life, meander on "Meir." Follow this pedestrian-only boulevard right to the old city center. It's crammed with scores of delicious shops, department stores housed in 19th century neo-Baroque buildings and inviting mini malls. But remember, shopping aficionados never stick to the straight and narrow. When a side street beckons, follow your hunch. If you're lucky you'll come upon such treasures as Pen and Pencil (Melkmarkt 35) where the name says it all, Premaman (Meir 21) selling all things wonderful for expecting mamas and their expected babies, Somers (Eirmarkt 33) for truly innovative eyeglasses, and Bigor Fredero, (Meir 46) which is hair clip heaven.

Close to the Central train station is Pelikaanstraat, hub of the thriving diamond district. Here, sparkling goodies are displayed in just about every shop window. But buyer beware! If you're not an expert you can easily be fooled. Play it safe! If you're in buying mode, make your purchase at Diamondland (33a Appelmansstraat) Antwerp's largest diamond showroom. Here, each diamond comes with a certificate of authenticity. Just looking? Then the Diamond Museum (31-33 Lange Heretalsestraat) lets you browse to your heart's content.

Put calorie counting aside! There are terrific taste treats in Antwerp. Don't leave without trying Belgian chocolates, frites served with mayonnaise, or waffles served with or without toppings. Mussels are a must. Try them at world-famous Leons, where the selection is large but the price is small. Finally, Belgium boasts 350 different types of beer. Antwerp women favour the white beer, Hoegaarden. Want to impress your waiter? Ask him to add some lemon. He'll think you're a local.

For female-friendliness in accommodation, look to the four star Plaza Hotel at Charlottalei 43-49. Located in the diamond district with its heightened security in place, you'll feel safe on the streets both day and night. Journeywoman gives them ten out of ten for their spacious rooms, pleasant service and breakfast buffet featuring smoked salmon treats. (fax ++32 (0)3 218 92 40)

Finally, our vote for the most charming spot in Antwerp goes to the Doll Gallery - a cafe cum offbeat museum. Located just around the corner from the Reubens house, this special spot exhibits one-of-a-kind dolls so lifelike they're referred to as "children." Popular with artist types as well as ladies who lunch, the coffee and side orders of individual chocolates served here are superb. If you're as lucky as I was, the owners will allow you to hold one of their international creations. But please be careful! Asking prices range in the thousands!

Belgian Gossip

GiftBelgian Gifts Under $5.00

Stop in at the supermarket located on the lower level of the Grand Bazaar Shopping Arcade. Grocers shelves hold products that make perfect inexpensive and easily packable presents. JW recommends: Pirouline chocolate dipped biscuits; Galler chocolate bars;Stroopwafels (tea biscuits)

Kanthuis Dupon is a shop featuring exquisitely made lace objects. A perfect take-me-home choice are their dainty bookmarks. Ideal for the bookwormette who has everything!

Female-friendly Food Stop in Antwerp

I wandered into this cafe by chance - a neighbourhood spot run by Paul and his family. I loved the opulance of decor - red velvet swag drapes, crystal chandeliers, and white tableclothes. It worked well with the relaxed informal service and the very reasonable prices on Paul's menu. Shrimp dishes and grilled meats topped the list of specialties. I chose a "lighter" alternative and was served a made-from-scratch vegetable soup, an omelet, salade and wonderful Belgian frites. Of course, there was lots of  red wine and fresh baguette. Paul stopped by the table to chat from time to time. It was lovely. When the time came to pay my bill, I gave him my credit card. For some reason it was not compatible with his billing system. I offered to leave my card and go back to the hotel, 5 minutes away, to get some cash. "No", said Paul."You are my guest and I wish you bon voyage."

Need I say more? Restaurant Paul has my respect for his winning ways, great fries and female-friendly attitude. Look him up when you're in Antwerp! Restaurant Paul, Isabellalei 61. Tel: (03) 230.02.55

Ed. note: Once you're in this part of the world, you might want to visit Amsterdam, a perfectly lovely female-friendly city.





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