How a Drunk Guy’s Story Brought me to Antwerp, Belgium

Maybe nine or ten years ago, I fell in love with a story told by someone who was very, very drunk. Someone who had fallen in love with the city of Antwerp in Belgium, and couldn’t stop talking about it. “I want to find a nice Belgian girl and settle down in Antwerp. I had the best time of my life there, you know. It’s a beautiful city. And the people there are so friendly, and the beer – oh my God – the beer”, he slurred and took a sip of his non-Belgian beer. “You have to go to Antwerp, you really have to”, he continued. While most other people at that party got fed up with listening to him obsessing over Antwerp and wouldn’t take his drunken slur seriously , I just wanted to know more. I wanted to fall in love with Antwerp too.

And now, many years later, I was finally on my way to Antwerp. My boyfriend and I had decided to go on a road trip to Brussels and decided to spend one night in Antwerp because of my strong desire to go there. And the city was just as amazing as I had expected it to be. I had fallen in love-  just like the drunk guy at the party.

We stayed at the Hotel Prinse, which is an old-fashioned four star hotel set in a 16th century building only a stone’s throw away from the historical center of Antwerp. When we arrived, we received welcome drinks (a glass of wine each). What a pleasant surprise. Cheers to us. Cheers to Antwerp!

The old city center of Antwerp reminded me of how much I love living in Europe. The ancient buildings and narrow streets, the stunning Cathedral of Our Lady and intimate pubs and restaurants on every corner. We grabbed a beer at Paters Vaetje and enjoyed the beautiful autumn sunshine. Tourists of all ages were taking selfies on the Grote Markt (Great Market Square), while others were hanging out drinking beer like us, or snacking on some of the Belgian specialties; chocolate, waffles or fries!

We strolled the narrow streets and tried our hardest to resist the smell of delicious waffles and the sight of tasty chocolate. I wanted to eat it all. But instead of stuffing our faces with calories, we went to see the Het Steen – a medieval fortress, built in the early middle ages. This beautiful fortress managed to get my mind off snacking – at least for a little while – until we both agreed to return to the Grote Markt to buy fries from Frituur Number One, which for some reason has become kind of famous and is always crowded with tourists. Basically, curiosity brought us there. The fries were basic, though. Nothing out of the ordinary. So don’t expect a mouthgasm – unless you already get one from whatever random fries you order anywhere else.

Dumb as we were, we hadn’t made any dinner reservations anywhere and started to panic as we got turned down by one restaurant after another. Eventually we found a nice restaurant called De Bomma , which I think translates to “at grandma’s”, which would make sense as the concept is nostalgic, traditional food –  just like from your grandma’s kitchen…if she was Flemish. The food was good. I especially loved the appetizer; cheese croquettes with fried, crispy parsley on the side. I had never tried parsley prepared in such a creative way before, but it sure was interesting and a lot better than non-fried, non-crispy parsley!

After a heavy meal at grandma’s, we made the clever decision to go to a beer bar to make our already full stomachs even fuller. According to online reviews, Cafe Kulminator was supposed to be one of the best – or THE best – beer bars in the city of Antwerp. My boyfriend was kind of scared to go there, as some reviews said the owners were not very friendly towards francophone’s. I reassured him it would be okay, and I’d do all the talking – as his french accent would give him away. The owners didn’t seem unfriendly, though. And what a fascinating establishment. Random decoration, random furniture and a whole lot of board games everywhere. It looked like my grandma’s attic. Or a flee market. Cafe Kulminator has probably every type of Belgian beer that exists, behind the counter – and the menu looked more like an enormous dictionary than a menu. We gave up on the menu and just ordered what they had on tap.

As I’m not a big fan of the coffee served in hotel breakfast buffets, I was happy to discover that there are plenty of coffee shops to choose from in Antwerp. We visited Caffe Mundi, a coffee shop specialized in roasting high quality coffee. I highly recommend this place if you’re the kind of person who want to know exactly what you’re drinking, as the menu gives you the option to choose between blends and single origin coffee – the very best coffee from different countries around the world.

I finished my coffee and thanked the barista. I silently thanked the rest of Antwerp too. For letting me enjoy this charming city. For letting it be exactly what I hoped it would be.

Thank you drunk guy, for the recommendation. You were right. You were right about everything.

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The Vegans Guide to Paris

I came up with the idea of writing a vegans guide to Paris after having spent a week exploring that side of Paris with a friend who is vegan. My friend had never been to Paris  or even France before and had been told and/or read online that she’d have a hard time finding anything to eat in France. After all, France is known for its Foie Gras, Boeuf Tartare and creamy pastries and buttered croissants. France is not exactly famous for being a veggie haven. But I did my research. And I got results. Needless to say, vegans won’t starve in Paris. Quite the contrary. I found several restaurants, a few coffee shops and even a 100% vegan supermarket!

Where To Get Your Vegan Coffee

Oatmeal Paris in the 5th arrondissement (metro: Censier-Daubenton, line 7) is a 100% vegan cafe. They offer coffee-drinks and other hot drinks, “sandwich du moment”, oatmeal of the week and different desserts. I tried their tarte tout chocolat, a rich chocolate mousse tarte. It was delicious! My cappuccino was good too, and so was the matcha latte that my friend ordered. Besides, this place is great for Instagram-snapshots!

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Las Vegans in the 10th arrondissement (metro: Bonne Nouvelle, line 8 and 9) is a 100% vegan take-out place. They offer hot coffee drinks, smoothies and are mostly known for their delicious doughnuts and ice cream. They also offer salads and vegan kebabs if you’d rather have something savory. Both me and my friend ordered a banana caramel doughnut. Good place for a quick takeout!

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Le Pain Quotidien is a restaurant and bakery franchise located in different parts of Paris. I didn’t take my friend there, but I’ve been there several times on my own and I know they have a lot of vegan options on the menu. They offer coffee, pastries, salads, fruit juice, tasty sandwiches and more. I usually order the hummus or the avocado tartine (open sandwich) when I’m there. They’re both vegan and delicious!

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Where To Get Your Vegan Sweet Treats

Vegan Folie’s in the 5th arrondissement (metro: Place Monge, line 7) is a 100% vegan bakery. I have heard a lot of positive things about this place, but was unable to go there as they were closed for the week while my friend was here. I’ll definitely check it out one day, though!

Ara Chocolat in the 9th arrondissement (metro: Anvers, line 2) is a vegan-friendly artisan chocolate shop. I only found out about this place today – so it’s yet another place I need to visit.

Where To Have Lunch/Dinner

Gentle Gourmet in the 12th arrondissement (metro: Bastille 1, 5 and 8) is a 100% vegan bistro-style restaurant. This restaurant is a perfect place for a date/romantic meal and for those of you who love and appreciate modern french gastronomy. I started with a faux gras with raspberry jelly and sauce, accompanied with bread and decorative, eatable flowers. The server recommended the portobello mushroom burger with polenta sticks as a main course, so I ordered it. Sadly, I didn’t order any dessert as I was too full. I will definitely return to this restaurant….and order a dessert – no matter how full I am.

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42 Degrés in the 9th arrondissement (metro: Poissonnière, line 7) is the first 100% raw food restaurant in France. This vegan raw food restaurant is – like Gentle Gourmet – for those who appreciate modern bistro-style dining. I haven’t been to this chic raw food place just yet, but would love to go one day!

Hank Burger in the 3rd arrondissement (metro: Rambuteau, line 11) is a 100% vegan burger restaurant. If you’re in the mood for fast food rather than fine dining, you should definitely check out this place!

Végét’Halles in the 1st arrondissement (metro: Châtelet, line 1, 4, 7 and 14) is a vegan/vegetarian restaurant that I’ve heard great things about, but have yet to visit. They have a large menu with plenty of options and I’m sure even the pickiest eater will find something they like there.

Where To Get Your Vegan Groceries

Un Monde Vegan in the 3rd arrondissement (metro: Strasbourg – Saint-Denis, line 4, 8 and 9) is a 100% vegan supermarket. It doesn’t look that big from the outside, but they have absolutely everything you need. And more. Everything you need for a vegan barbecue, cookbooks (in French), cereals and oatmeal, cheese and spreads, faux gras, vegan rillette, pizzas, different kinds of pasta and sauces, candy and chocolate, biscuits, ice cream – you name it.

…And last but not least, tips to non-vegans like myself, who are planning to host a vegan friend:

  • Cater to their needs. All supermarkets have basic things like soy milk and cereals without honey or traces of milk. And obviously fruit and fruit juice. So even if you don’t want to cook a proper vegan dinner, at least serve them a good breakfast.
  • However, if you do want to cook them dinner, ask them what they like. Just because someone is vegan, doesn’t mean they like absolutely every single vegetable. And it doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to serve them dry lettuce just because you want steak and they can’t eat it. Be nice. Make an effort.
  • Don’t ask them annoying questions like “Why did you go vegan? Do you think you’ll be able to stay that way for a long time? Don’t you think it’s just a phase?”. I got the exact same questions about having tattoos, and about moving to France. And I’m sure vegans get those questions even more often than I did, and I’m sure they’re sick and tired of hearing it.
  • Be open-minded. Take your friend to a vegan restaurant. Have a good time!