Of course it's always enjoyable to come back to my hometown, see all my old mates again and take the opportunity to make a few new ones. The physical look of the city has been changing over the past decades: a whole swathe of the inner city has been pedestrianised, cycle ways are everywhere and many areas and streets have been renovated. There are still large building and resurfacing projects underway and all that rebuilding gives me the impression the city's general colour scheme is now more light gray than its former darker hue. Trees are also noticeably fewer in number or still too young and recently planted to make an impact on the streetscape yet. A low-cost shared cycle scheme has made the city more bike-friendly but the trams look old and tired. The public transport system in in crisis due to lack of sufficient revenue to finance new rolling stock. Decades-long planned underground tracks have still not opened. Line and change information is insufficient, confusing or completely absent, especially in metro stations.
Park Spoor Noord: The north-eastern inner suburbs of Antwerpen has always been a poor and unhip part of town. Home for the working classes working in the international harbour and domestic shipping services there has always been little in the way of attractions, open spaces or leisure areas. Narrow streets, poor housing and a focus on industrial and transport actitivies (including a large railway yard) caused the area to be ignored by the City and most of its citizens. I lived in the southern leafy suburbs most of my life so I certainly had never been there before.
Museum aan de Stroom (Museum on the River), a multi-level purpose-built museum which now houses the collections of several smaller city museums. The top floor has a great city and river view and is such a tourist magnet that surrounding streets, formerly populated with Russian trading shops and prostitutes, now house new cafes and outdoor dining areas.
Middelheim is now three times the size and is still one of my favourites. I used to go cram for exams in Summer there inspired by classics from Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin. Now they have been joined by plenty of new work in a green setting. Other old favourites, such as the Plantin Moretus and Rockoxhuis Museums are still going strong. And Museum Mayer Vandenbergh was promoting itself with a splendid exhibition of its whole Pieter Bruegel print collection, including a newly discovered drawing.
Verbeke Foundation is a fascinating collection of contemporary sculpture, artists-in-residence, nature interacting with art and visitors able to stay to spend the night with the art works. In the middle of a polder landscape near the Flanders-Zeeland border it is a private foundation set up on a farm which has renovated its sheds and adapted its glasshouses as artists' pads, exhibition spaces, plus a large cafe/entertainment area. The sculptures are integrated in the boggy landscape or are conceived to contrast with the natural world. Chickens and waterfowl abound everywhere and wandering around is like exploring an adventure trail. Highly recommended and very much worth the trip to Kemzeke.