Monday, December 30, 2013

Antwerp 2013 - The Museum aan de Stroom (MAS)

Another building that we were very interested to visit in Antwerp was the MAS Museum - designed by Dutch architects Willem Jan Neutelings and Michiel Riedijk. This is a new museum completed in 2011 and it brought together several collections from the Ethnographic Museum, the National Maritime Museum and the Folklore Museum and other institutions. We were more interested in the building which looked like it was made of orange-coloured lego bricks stacked together to form a cubic tower. A series of public spaces spiral up the building and these form the main circulation route which which take visitors all the way to the roof top - where there is an open sky terrace offering great views of the city.

The iconic shape of the building is certainly interesting, and the curved glass panels facing the public spaces are impressive feats of material engineering.

If you look carefully at the building facade, what at first looked like decorative dots on the stone walls are actually life-size hands carved out of stone. This is no doubt meant as an allusion to the legend which gave Antwerp its name.

There is a 2-Michelin-starred restaurant at the top of the museum which has a 6 week waiting list - but if you are not in the mood to splash out on food - there is a more affordable cafe called Storm on the ground floor which is quite nice. It is a very fitting name as after visiting the museum we were caught in a heavy storm -  so this was where we killed some time while enjoying nice coffee and free wifi.

The appropriately named Storm Cafe where we took our refuge from the "storm".

Friday, December 27, 2013

Antwerp 2013 - Antwerp Law Courts

One of the main reasons for our visit to Antwerp was to see a major work by Richard Rogers - the Antwerp Law Courts. Completed in 2006, this huge building complex is one of the number of ambitious projects built to revitalize the city.

From the outside, the building at first looked a bit ordinary. The low-rise design look like many other modern office building projects around the World. Once you get to the main entrance - you begin to see something unusual. The first thing that catches your eye are the soaring roof structures which anchor the main entrance plaza. They look a bit like sails of a boat. 

It is when you enter the large entrance lobby that you can begin to appreciate the beauty of the design. The high-tech structures, clarity of planning and rigorous detailing are hallmarks of Richard Roger's designs.

The internal roof lining of the law courts is a marvel of wood engineering, and is the most impressive feature of the design.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Antwerp 2013 - Antwerp City

Belgium is a country with a long history in Europe - though most people probably know the country through its chocolate - and the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot from Agatha christie's novels. Antwerp is the 2nd largest city in Belgium, and surprisingly only has a population of around 1/2 million. It is the leading diamond trading centre in the World - with more then 70% of the diamonds in the World traded here. 

I had totally no impression of the city before going there - but based on my research it is in fact a very interesting city. The name itself is associated to an interesting legend of a giant who used to cut off people's hands when they refused to pay the toll for crossing the Scheldt River. Later the giant was killed by a young local hero - who in turn cut off the giant's hand and threw it in the river. Today there is a statue commemorating this legend in the centre of the town square. 

Antwerp actually received quite a bit of bombing during the 2nd World War, and it is amazing that many of the old buildings have survived including the Cathedral of our Lady at the Old Town Square. Only one tower of the cathedral was completed. 

The beautiful heritage buildings of Antwerp.

The streets of Antwerp have a charming old world feel.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Between Amsterdam and Antwerp 2013 - Pit Stop

When touring around Europe chances are you will end up on the highways as that is often the easiest way to get from one place to another. Good thing is the highways are really good - and not as congested as those in most Asian cities. Another bonus is the scenery is usually very nice - an occasionally you see something interesting - like a windmill.

You will also inevitably end up in a pit stop at one time or another. Some of them are quite elaborate - like a mini departmental store, while others are just simple petrol stations with additional services. With the great volume of business that they no doubt get every day, the offerings are usually quite good. You can usually get good coffee, tea, great selection of beverages, snacks, and even cooked food.

This was a pit stop between Amsterdam and Belgium. It looked pretty simple on the outside.

Once you enter it is actually a pretty decent minimart. 

And they sell these irresistible bacon chunks. One cup is probably not enough.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - IAMSTERAM

If you walk around Amsterdam enough, you are bound to run into the IAMSTERDAM sign. It seems to be everywhere. We first saw it when we visited the EYE Film Institute, and now it just popped up at the Museumplein. Turns out that it is just one sign which they truck around the city for different occasions. 

The sign being trucked onto the Museumplein and assembled.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city - in fact one of the most photogenic cities I have visited. The people are friendly and seem to be very happy. The food is great - and if you like spicy they even have some of the best Indonesian food outside of Indonesia. It is to me one of the best cities in Europe to visit for a nice relaxing holiday.

For my next post I will be moving on to Belgium - so it is "toht zeens" for now to Amsterdam.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - Small Talk Eating House

The area around the Museumplein is one of the most upscale neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. There are lots of nice houses in perfectly manicured gardens, and here you will also find many interesting shops, cafes and restaurants. We bumped into a nice cafe called the Small Talk Eating House. It is the sort of cafe I really like - with a slightly quirky interior, lots of character, many interesting nooks and cranny to explore, and lots of different seating corners for loners, couples or small groups.

Since it was still quite cold outside, we decided to stay for a while waiting for the sun to come up. I ordered a cappuccino which they served with some really interesting sugar crystals that were good enough to eat on their own.

 The apple pie was really nice with a generous filling of apple and raisins and a light crumbly crust.

This is a great place to enjoy a cuppa before or after you visit the museums. I really recommend that you seek it out - it is just opposite the Stedelijk Museum. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Amsterdam 2013 - Museumplein (The Museum District)

Amsterdam has some of the most popular and important museums in Europe, and conveniently they are all concentrated in an area called the  Museumplein (Museum District), in the South-Western fringe of the city. Here you will find the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, the Diamond Museum, the Concertgebouw (Concert Hall), and the famous and formidable Rijksmuseum.

The Van Gogh Museum old wing.

The new wing of the Van Gogh Museum was designed by Japanese Architect Kisho Kurokawa.

The Rijksmuseum has been closed for over 10 years for a renovation that was supposed to have lasted 5. We missed the grand reopening by just a few days - while we were there the city was busy preparing for the opening ceremony by the Queen.

The Stedelijk Museum has a new wing which is nicknamed "The Big Bathtub". I think you can see why.

The Concertgebouw faces the large grass plaza that anchors the whole Museum District. It was here that we saw the preparations for the opening of the Rijksmuseum. A few big trucks were literally dropping tulips onto the pavement.

Even though it was quite a cold day, quite a lot of people were out enjoying the park. I don't know why, but it reminded me of the song by Noel Coward - Mad Dogs and Englishmen.