Not long ago, I went with some
friends to Antwerp for the weekend. It’s ridiculously easy to get there. I
don’t know why I don’t do it more often. Just hop on the train and 90 minutes
I’m in another city, another country, even, ready to discover new and
different cultural, gastronomic, and of course, shopping ground.

Upon arriving in Antwerp, we
dropped off our bags at the hotel and met Tjonge, the mustachioed guide who
took us on a tour of the city. Mr. Movember’s revelation that he’s not only a
tour guide, but also a personal shopper and that our tour will take us through Antwerp’s fashion and design district, was met with squeals of delight. This man gets points for knowing his audience.
We began our tour at Cathedral of Our Lady in the center of Antwerp. Construction ended on the Gothic style
church in 1521 after nearly 170 years of building, and though it has never been completed,
there is plenty to see and admire, including the cathedral’s one finished tower.
The tower is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and if you climb the 500 steps to the top, you can enjoy
views of the city and the port. The tower also houses a 47-bell carillon.  We did not
climb to the top of the tower, though we should have to counter the large lunch
and dinner we would eat later that day. 
And while I did hear the bells, I’m not
sure I got a full appreciation of the carillon after having my deep slumber interrupted
early the next morning by a 15 minute carol from those 47 bells
after a long
day and late night out.
Next we took the scenic route to
the Rubenshuis, with Tjonge giving us a brief tour of fashionable Antwerp. We
walked passed designer boutiques, including Modepaleis, the fashion house
started by Antwerp native son, Dries Van
and the ModeNatie, home to the ModeMuseum (Fashion Museum), Flanders
Fashion Institute and the fashion department of a local college. 
Even though we
did poke our heads into the Diane Von Furstenberg store (another Belgian, btw), we had a schedule
to keep and so couldn’t really get our shop on. Instead, we mentally dog-eared
the shops we wanted to come back to and continued to the Rubenshuis.
Rubens helped design the 17th
century building, which served as his home and studio. Made to look like an
Italian Renaissance palace, the house also includes a portico, interior
courtyard and Baroque-style garden. There are dozens of works by Rubens and his
students throughout the house
, however his more important pieces are in the Cathedral of Our Lady.
After our morning of travel,
museums and window-shopping, we were famished and more than ready for lunch.
Graanmarkt 13 is a concept store comprised
of a boutique, gallery and a restaurant
– tucked away in the basement – where
we had lunch.
The interior of the restaurant was
sparse and stylish, as was the menu, which included an affordable 3-course lunch special. The handful of tables in the
restaurant were all full, causing the staff to be a little harried, though not
very hurried, resulting in our lunch lasting almost 3 hours.
We finally come to the shopping part of the trip, and the realization
that a big lunch is probably not what you need before going out and trying on
clothes. On the other hand, there’s nothing like a good shopping session to
burn off the calories from lunch, while working up an appetite for the big
dinner ahead at Het Nieuwe Palinghuis. 
Het Nieuwe Palinghuis is not as new as the name suggests, rather it’s a reincarnation
of the original Palinghuis, which existed from the early 1900s and is now
a bit of a culinary landmark in Antwerp. With its rustic furnishings and old
black and white photos decorating the walls, Het Nieuwe Palinghuis has an
understated charm that makes you feel right at home. 
There is nothing, however,
understated about the menu, which the chef recites to you at your table, and
consists mostly of a selection of seafood sourced from the North Sea
prepared to perfection by the chef and served in a timely manner.
The next day got of to a
not-so-early start, and since the previous day was spent in and around the city
center and the fashion district, we decided to go to the historic port area
known as Het Eilandje.
This area
stretches along the river Scheldt and is where you’ll the find Antwerp’s oldest building, Het Steen, the medieval fortress dating from the early
13th century
Medieval fortress notwithstanding,
Het Eilandje is poised to be the hot new
neighborhood in Antwerp
, anchored by the new Museum aan de Stroom (MAS),
with its modern, LEGO-esque design.
The MAS is a contemporary art museum that tells the story of port and the city. Branding
itself as a city center and Antwerp’s newest monument, the 10-story building
also houses the two Michelin-starred restaurant ‘t Zilte on its top floor, as
well as the more affordable Café Storm on the ground level.
There is also a spectacular terrace on the ninth floor of the MAS, where we spent the final moments of
our weekend in Antwerp, taking in the
panoramic view of the city, port and
river and planning our next visit.
It’s ridiculously easy to get
there. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often.
 Where’s your favorite place to go for a weekend getaway?