A Flemish Treasure
Anne & Kirk Woodyard – Music and Markets Tours
The best (and most convenient) introduction to this lesser-known Belgian gem is to arrive at grand old Antwerp Central, a fitting tribute to the glory days when trading ships brought immense riches to the city, making it the wealthiest in Europe in the 1600s.
One of the pleasures of Antwerp is how easily accessible the sights are – most within a 30 minute walk of the train station! It makes a great day trip from Brussels, but is so delightful that we enjoy staying here, so we spent a couple of days in August to refresh our memories with all the wonderful things we’ll introduce our Amsterdam and Flemish Treasures guests to next summer. A walk down the Meir, Antwerp’s elegant shopping avenue,
takes us by impressive palaces, now occupied by familiar main street emporiums, such as H & M and Benetton.
Turning left on Wapper, we step back in time a few centuries as we enter Rubens’ home and studio. Rubens acquired the house in the early 1600s and established his living quarters in the left wing – one of his few self portraits hangs in the dining room.
The shorter-than-expected beds, cozy behind curtains, were designed for sitting-up-sleeping,
the prescribed healthy way to sleep over 400 years ago.
Rubens added a new Renaissance wing to the right side, housing his studio. The simple brick façade on Wapper hides a glorious work of art in the back, facing the garden. Influenced by his years in Italy, he commissioned this sculpture-dotted courtyard and the loggia which connects the two structures.
The light-filled studio, now a gallery, is just the kind of museum we most enjoy – intimate and focused. Canvases of Rubens, his studio, and his contemporaries invite a closer look – oh how I love the intricate ruffs of his time! In the linen closet, a room beside the bedroom, the wire frame that enabled these complicated frills to stand is on display – I always wondered how starch could be enough to support those elaborate neckpieces!
I’d love to just sit and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the garden that Rubens depicted in a canvas or two, still inviting today …. but it’s time for an iconic Belgian meal.
Which would you choose – ever-popular Mussels and Frites? Or this enticing plate of seafood? A challenge of a choice!
Keep following the Meir towards the river and you’ll come to Cathedral Square, where the spire of Cathedral of Our Lady, still the tallest structure in the city, soars above the bustle of cafe life.
Rubens left his mark, of course, on the richly decorated Cathedral, with not just one, but three huge paintings, such as this Descent from the Cross.
On the other side of the cathedral is the Grote Markt square, with the hand-throwing statue (a rather gruesome Flemish folktale) in the center.Gilt-topped guild houses surround the square, the golden statues atop celebrating the trade associations of the city’s industries, or their patron saint – such as a sailing ship, a man on a rearing horse, or St. George and the dragon. The stately façade of City Hall dates from Antwerp’s Golden Age and is adorned with flags from many countries, representing the importance, even then, of international trade to the city.
When in Belgium you MUST…have some chocolate, right? We oblige, with an afternoon snack, before exploring a smaller square or twoAfter dark we head back to the shimmering Grote Markt to bid farewell to this gem of Belgium – we’ll be back next summer!
The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we’re interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We’ve visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpful people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with our Music and Markets guests.
Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and the south of France.
While both of us have experience in organizing travel and music groups Kirk’s background is in project management and competitive writing, and Anne is an accomplished pianist with over thirty years of teaching experience, and a travel and food writer specializing in France and Italy.
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