Recommend’s Asia/South Pacific editor is exploring the Flemish city of Antwerp, Belgium, taking in daily life and culture with the help of his photographic lens.
A statue honoring Anthony Van Dyck, the Flemish Baroque master and Antwerp native, looms over ultra-modern and chic Antwerp, a town that remains as cutting edge as it was in his day.
An assistant prepares an eerie treat in the kitchen of Dominique Persoone, a young Flemish chocolatier who specializes in mixing chocolate with outlandish flavors like wasabi, marijuana, curry and tobacco. Belgium has elevated chocolate making — and diamond cutting — into an art and Persoone is the maker of choice to celebrities like the Rolling Stones and various movie stars who order his treats from around the world.
Antwerp's central district is reminiscent of Milan where ultra chic designers display their wares from magnificent and historic buildings.
Antwerp's Central Station is a masterpiece dating to 1905 when it was built during the reign of King Leopold I to become one of the more beautiful rail depots in the world. Signs around the station show the city celebrating the opening of the Red Star Line Museum, the cruise ship company that played an important part in Antwerp's development as one of the foremost seaports in Europe.
The airy lobby of the Radisson Blu Astrid, across the square from Antwerp's Central Rail Station, is eye-catching in both design and style. The hotel may have what just might be the most enviable location for those who come to experience the charm of the great Flemish city.
The Radisson Blu Astrid was designed by architect Michael Graves to reflect the city's landmark rail station in modern lines. The hotel is a stone throw away from attractions like the Diamond District and chic shopping areas like De Keyserlei and Meir, where Antwerp's radical fashionistas reign.
The men's bathroom in the Radisson Blu Astrid's lobby reflects the whimsical sense of humor that has been a trademark of Antwerp for centuries.
Antwerp's Central Station is reflected in the mirror of one of dozens of bicycles throughout the historic central district where two-wheelers are available for rent every few blocks to make exploring the city easier.
The old Antwerp City Hall (Stadsfeestzaal) is a neoclassical masterpiece built in 1908 on Meir, the city's main shopping street. Following its destruction by fire in 2000 it was rebuilt to original specs seven years later as a luxury shopping center featuring a floating champagne bar exclusively pouring Laurent Perrier.
In the 1600s, the Rubens House was the great Baroque painter's residence for more than 25 years. Today, the house is a museum-memorial to the Antwerp native who revolutionized art. Visitors may see his workshop, studio and beloved gardens in addition to some of his masterpieces.
Bicycles, cobbled streets, sidewalk cafes and shop windows displaying upscale items present a typical Antwerp scene near the Opera House.
A chocolatier's window displays an impressive "still life" made entirely of chocolate in a small shop in central Antwerp.
Het Steen, a medieval fortress in Antwerp, was built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages. It is the port's oldest building and at one time was its urban center.
Antwerp's rich history as an artistic mecca is evident in the many monuments dedicated to its native sons, such as this statue of painter David Tenters in the center of town.
Art lovers flock to Antwerp's Cathedral of Our Lady, a Gothic jewel that began construction in 1352 and has never been completed, to study priceless masterpieces such as Rubens' "The Raising of the Cross" and numerous other examples of Flemish art.
Diamonds are as ubiquitous to Antwerp as French fries drenched in mayonnaise, waffles and fine chocolates.
The old buildings on Antwerp's waterfront that once housed the defunct Red Star LIne—a legendary cruise ship company that plied North Atlantic waters between Europe and America and transported more than two million immigrants mostly from Eastern Europe to the New World between 1875 and the 1930's—has gained new life as a modern museum celebrating human migration. The museum is the latest addition to a city already known for its great museums.
Antwerp's vice mayor, Philip Heylen, and Sonia Pressman Fuentes, who migrated to the U.S. as an infant on board a Red Star vessel to escape the Nazis in 1932, stand in front of a photograph showing Eastern European immigrants boarding ship in Antwerp at the Red Star Museum's opening.