Some notes to myself on Antwerp.
Honestly although I'm sure I'd heard the name before I don't think I'd ever really thought about Antwerp. When I mentioned to a friend I was visiting Europe she invited me to her wedding party in Antwerp so I headed on over.
Antwerp is a pretty nice place to visit for a few days. It's relatively small. You can pretty much walk all of it with no transportation although there are trams, subways, and busses if you'd prefer not to walk too far.
When I first got there I was a little unsure. I stayed at the Leonardo hotel which I actually booked by mistake. I did some research online and planned to book the Leopold hotel. When I went to book it on some travel site I mistook "Leonardo" for "Leopold" and I didn't notice the mistake until after I booked it. One of my criteria for a hotel is free internet in the rooms. The Leopold has that. The Leonardo does not. But, it was already booked and no refunds so...
The hotel is directly across from the Antwerp Central Station. The most interesting thing for me was the bathroom has large low windows that look directly at the station. Yes, you can see into the bathroom from the outside as easily as you can see out from the inside.
My first impression coming right out of the station was not that favorable. The station itself is gorgeous but the couple of blocks directly north west of the station seem a little sketchy for some reason. But I quickly got over that feeling. The street leading directly out of the station is like the main tourist street. From the station there's couple of blocks of restaurants followed by several blocks of shopping. Those end near a giant tall church in the center of town and everything pretty much radiates out from there. Pretty old buildings, lots of shopping, lots of outdoor restaurants.
Antwerp is in Belgium and Belgium is loosely divided into 2 bigger parts, the northern part which includes Antwerp where they speak Dutch and the Southern part which includes Brussels where they speak French. Apparently there's a lot of tension between the two.
Belgium invented French Fries. Yep, someone in history mis−labeled them and the name stuck. Like it said in "Pulp Fiction" then French eat their fries with mayo. So do the Belgians. That's the way they were meant to be IMO. I love mayo. Actually it seemed like all the fry stores has 10 to 30 sauces including ketchup and other things like spicy sauces, tartar sauce. Anything you can imagine dipping fried stuff in. According to my friend's husband Koen the traditional way of eating them is with a meat sauce that seemed like beef gravy with shredded beef in it. Yum!
Given that French Fries are pretty much common the world over at this point that's a pretty big cultural win for Belgium. Belgium is also famous for Belgian Waffles which are pretty dang yummy.
I stumbled into the red light district of Antwerp. That's when I found out many countries in Europe have legalized prostitution. If I remember correctly it's legal in general in Belgium but standing in windows soliciting like the famous red light district in Amsterdam is only legal in a small section on the north part of the city. Apparently Brussels has a similar area.