Experience

Published on December 30th, 2017 | by Brussels In View

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Diamond life: Time to visit Antwerp

Martin Banks heads out of Brussels and across to the jewel of Flanders   The holiday season is a great opportunity to get out and explore parts of Belgium and where better than Antwerp, the country’s second city?

Arguably best-known for its diamonds, this fine Flemish city has an awful lot going for it. And, this being Belgium, that includes something rarely found in the middle of a big, bustling city – a theme park.

Comics Station Antwerp is an indoor theme park boasting 60 attractions and activities, all starring Belgium’s popular comic heroes such as Spike and Suzy, Jommeke, the Kiekeboes, Smurfs and  Lucky Luke.

If all that wasn’t enough it also has what is said to be the world’s highest indoor slide (a height of 22.5 meters) and is the first park anywhere located in an international train station.

At Comics Station you do another kind of travelling – through six different themed zones, each time stepping into the world of a different cartoon character. The idea is that you become part of your favourite cartoon story.

There are fun mechanical rides, a 3D short film featuring Lucky Luke, and all kinds of interactive features and challenging activities.

The story of Comics Station is fascinating in itself, starting with Jeroen Jespers, Mark Kiekens and Wim Hubrechtsen, three go-ahead Belgilan entrepreneurs who joined forces to launch a project dedicated to their mutual love of comic books.

The decision to locate it in a city centre train station (Antwerp central station is, in fact, an attraction all on its own) was a very deliberate choice as the owners wanted to make the attraction as easily accessible to all groups, from grandparents to children. And architects Wollaert & Partners have created an impressive state-of-the art visitor attraction.

Spread over four floors on a surface of more than 6,000 square metres, this really is a fun way to spend a few hours.

In child-friendly Antwerp, children under 12 receive free admission in various museums across the city and there are a couple of “must-see” ones here.

The Museum aan de Stroom – or MAS as it is commonly known – is located along the river Scheldt in the Eilandje district of Antwerp. Opened in May 2011, it’s the largest museum and probably the most visually arresting in the city.

With its multiple, staggered red sandstone levels rising 60m into the air, MAS is a sight to behold, It houses nearly half a million items, with about 180,000 on display, all focusing on the city of Antwerp. While explanations are in Dutch, the spectacular city views over the busy industrial port  and many gorgeous historical buildings need no translating and is worth a visit on its own.

After expending all that energy you’ll have worked up an appetite and another top thing to do in Antwerp is a visit to Bia Mara, a fish and chip restaurant with a difference (and spicy twist!).

The business was launched on the streets of Dublin with one simple idea, to take what can sometimes be a humdrum food – fish and chips – and turn it into something quite different. The idea? To show that fish and chips can be made using any species in the sea, including many underrated fish, and to get people eating more fish, no bad thing in itself.

Combined with the pairing of Belgian beers, you can see why the owners now believe they’ve elevated the concept to a whole new level.

The owners have now created over 60 recipes, including lemon and basil infused tempura of sea bream with garlic truffle and lime mint and wasabi infused tempura of flounder with a basil and chilli sauce (certainly very different from the fish ’n’ chips often served back in the UK where the dish is most famous).

Riccardo, the Italian-born manager of the Antwerp Bia Mara, said, “We have not stopped creating and will never settle for anything other than responsibly sourced, seasonal, fresh fish. We only work with forward thinking fisheries to ensure an honest product to complement our vision which is to diversify the species so future generations will not expect one or two kinds of fish at their local fish and chip shop.”

Antwerp has a terrific Chinatown and, if you’re a fan of Asian food then Win’s, located in the shadow of the Lambermontplaats, has got to be the place to head for.

It offers great Thai and Chinese fusion cuisine which, at this delightful restaurant, comes in many different flavours ranging from mild and sweet to sharp and incredibly spicy. While stir-frying is the chef’s preference, there’s a great choice of traditional fish, vegetable and rice dishes. The equally excellent wine list includes a nice selection of both world wines and French wines.

This wonderfully diverse cuisine can all be enjoyed in a homely atmosphere. The food is very tasty, not too hot, and, considering the quality, represents real value for money! Like the carefully-prepared dishes, the service is top notch.

If you happen to visit the city over the current holiday period, try to catch China Light Zoo” at Antwerp Zoo which has been totally transformed by a kaleidoscope of Chinese lanterns and lights. Partly timed to coincide with the Chinese New Year, the festival features hundreds of impressive light sculptures which give the visitor a chance to learn about ancient China, with all the mythical animals, symbolism and legends that go with it.

So, if you are looking for things to do with the kids before the new school term starts (or just after a great day out at any time of the year, come to that) the second biggest city in Belgium really does make for an ideal choice.

Further info available via these links:
www.comicsstation.be

www.mas.be

www.redstarline.be

www.biamara.com

www.zooantwerpen.be/nl/china-light-zoo

www.visitantwerpen.be

www.facebook.com/visitantwerp 

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