If you’re museum-bound, try to plan your trip to Antwerp on Friday; admission is free at all museums. A stroll down the promenade by the Schelde River leads to the 13th-century Steen Castle, which houses the extensive collections of the National Maritime Museum. (Open Su and Tu-Sa 10am-4:45pm. 4, students 2.) The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Leopold De Waelpl. 1-9, has one of the world’s finest collections of Old Flemish Master paintings. (Open Su and Tu-Sa 10am-5pm. 8, under-25 2.) The Mayer van den Bergli Museum, Lange Gasthuisstr. 19, formerly a private collection with works from the 14th to 16th centuries, showcases Bruegel’s Mad Meg. (Open Su and Tu-Sa 10am-5pm. 4, students 2.) The Rubens Huis, Wapper 9, off Meir, was built by Antwerp’s favorite son and is fdled with his works. (Open Su and Tu-Sa 10am-5pm. 5, students 2.50.) The Diamant Museum, Kon. Astridplein 19, explores every facet of the precious gem, from its unique cre ation to Antwerp’s historic role as the world’s diamond center. (Open May-Oct. daily 10am-6pm; Nov.-Apr. 10am-5pm. 5, students 3. Audioguide included.)
Although mostly in Dutch, Weekly Up magazine (free at any tourist office) pro vides nightlife and movie information. Bars abound behind the cathedral, but a trendy scene has emerged in the southern part of the city, near the Royal Arts Museum. For live jazz and a chill atmosphere, visit De Muze, Melkmarkt 15, a bar that has remained popular since the 60s. Sample the local elixir d’Anvers (a strong, sugary drink) amidst traditionally dressed Flemish bartenders in the can dlelit, 15th-century Pelgrom, Pelgrimstr. 15. (Open daily noon-late.) Over 600 Flem ish religious figurines hang out with drinkers at‘t Elfde Gebod, Torfburg 10, next to the cathedral. (Beer 1.75-3. Open M-F noon-lam, Sa-Su noon-2am.) Gay nightlife clusters around Van Schoonhovenstraat, just north of Centraal Station.
Once the heart of the Flemish textile industry, modem Ghent (pop. 225,000) cele brates the memory of its industrial past. Awe-inspiring buildings in the city’s main square stand in proud testament to its former grandeur, and the Gentse Feesten, the “10 Days Off” celebration, commemorates the first vacation granted to laborers in 1860. During the festivities, the streets fill with performers, live music, carnival rides, great food and loads and loads of beer; the celebration also brings 11 nights of international DJs. (July 17-26, 2004. Info 269 46 00.)
TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Trains run from St- Pietersstation (accessible by tram #1 or 12) to: Antwerp (40min. 7); Brussels (40min. 6.60); and Bruges (20min. 4.80). The tourist office, Botermarkt 17A, is in the crypt of the belfry, ( 266 52 32. Open Apr.-Oct. daily 9:30am-6:30pm; Nov.-Mar. 9:30am-4:30pm.) Postal Code: 9000.
FTn ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD
To reach De Draeke (HI) 0, St-Widostr. 11, from the station, take tram #1,10, or 11 to Gravensteen (15min.). Facing the cas tle, head left over the canal, then go right on Gewad and turn right on St-Widostr. In the shadow of a castle, it’s the only hostel in town. ( 233 70 50. Breakfast and sheets included. Internet access 0.08 per min. Reception daily 7am-llpm. Dorms 16; singles 24; doubles 38. Nonmembers add 3.) For a listing of private rooms, visit the tourist office. To get to Camping Blaarmeersen O, Zuiderlaan 12, take bus #9 from St-Pietersstation and ask the driver to connect you to bus #38 to Blaarmeersen. When you get off, take the first street on your left to the end. ( 266
81 60. Open Mar. to mid-Oct. In summer, 4 per person, 4 per tent; off-season, 3.30 per person, 3.30 per tent.) Oudburg, near Patershol, has many inexpensive kebob and pita restaurants. Also try St-Pietersnieuwstraat, by the university. Maga- zyne , Penitentenstr. 24, is a great place for cheap and hearty fare, with good veg-
SIGHTS AND NIGHTLIFE
The Leie canal runs through the center of the city and wraps around the Gravensteen, St-Veerlepl. 11, a medieval fortress whose shadowy halls and spiral staircases will give you chills before you even reach the crypt, dungeon, and torture chamber. (Open Apr.-Sept. daily 9am-5:15pm; Oct.-Mar. 9am-4:15pm. 6, students 1.20.) The castle is near the historic Partershol quarter and Vrijmarkt, a network of funky and well-preserved 16th- to 18th-century houses. A block away on Limburgstr. the elaborately decorated 14th- to 16th-century UlSaint Bavo’s Cathedral boasts van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb and Rubens’s St. Bavo’s Entrance into the Monastery of Ghent. (Cathedral open Apr.-Oct. daily 8:30am-6pm; Nov.-Mar. M-Sa 8:30am-5pm, Su l-6pm. Free. Crypt and Mystic Lamb open Apr.-Oct. M-Sa 9:30am-5pm, Su l-5pm; Nov.-Mar. M-Sa 10:30am-4pm, Su 14pm. 2.50. Audioguide included.) Walk across Saint Michael’s Bridge and along the Graslei, a medieval port-street, to see the handsomely preserved guild houses. The liChurch of St. Nicholas, absolutely striking from the exterior, is also worth a look inside. (Open M 2:30-5pm, Tu-Su 10am-5pm. Free.) The Museum voor Sierkunst (Museum of Decorative Arts), nearby on Jan Breydelstr. has a large collection of Art Nouveau designs as well as more contemporary furniture. (Open Su and T-Sa 9:30am-5pm. 2.50, students 1.20.) The Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Museum of Fine Arts), in Citadel Park, has a collection of 14th- to 16th-century Flemish works. (Open Su and Tu-Sa 10am-6pm. 2.50, students 1.20.) The Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (SMAK; Municipal Museum for Contemporary Art) is also located in Citadel Park. (Open Su and Tu-Sa 10am-6pm. 5, students 2.50). Korenmarkt and Vrijdagmarkt are filled with restaurants and pubs. Beer-lovers flock to Dulle Griet, in Vrijdagmarkt, which serves over 250 types of beer. (Open M 4:30pm-12:30am, Tu-Sa noon-12:30am, Su noon-7:30pm.)