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Cities

Away Days: 24 hours in Antwerp

Beers, banter and bickering were part of the package deal when we sent CJ vloggers Swaz and Sam to Antwerp to watch the Belgian champions in action during their maiden Champions League campaign

WORDS Sam Harding and Lucas ‘Swaz’ Wills

Antwerp is a lively Belgian port city, centre of the world’s diamond trade and revered for its Renaissance architecture and thriving art scene. This season, it has also been staging Champions League football for the first time, after the nation’s oldest club Royal Antwerp ended their 66-year wait for a fifth Belgian title last term. 

As befitting such an elegant, cultural city with a glittering reputation, we decided to send our own rough diamonds Swaz and Sam – one a Spurs fan the other a Chelsea supporter, neither with anything to do mid-week this season – on their first overseas assignment. Their mission: watch newcomers Antwerp tackle Portuguese heavyweights Porto.

With a clear brief in hand – visit some cultural hotspots, try not to spend too much time in pubs, and give us a full match report – they set off. We didn’t quite get what we’d bargained for, but our intrepid explorers certainly had a trip to remember.

Swaz: The flight Champions Journal booked for us was at 6:50am, so we had to be up at three in the morning to get to Heathrow airport. Nothing at Heathrow is open that early. Not even anywhere to have a pint – just the world’s most extortionate coffee. Not a great start. I was feeling optimistic about Antwerp, though. Sam was feeling… less positive. That’s why our dynamic works, you know? We’re two sides of the same coin. 

Sam: We flew to Brussels and then got a train to Antwerp. The train station was very impressive. This wasn’t the Bakerloo line – it was like a cathedral. We definitely stood out. I could just tell everyone knew we weren’t from there… I think we just dress English.

We got off the train and it was absolutely pouring. No umbrella, and six hours until we could get into our hotel. Thankfully we found a shop and got an umbrella and that was one thing down. It wasn’t like it poured for a while and stopped to give us some respite. It was all day. Torrential.

Swaz: This wasn’t rain mate, it was horrendous. Sam kept saying stuff like, “It’s completely dead here, there’s no one around.” Really cheery. I kept promising him, “You just wait till we get to the main square. The away fans will be at a bar – it’ll be buzzing.”

Sam: We got there… No. Everything was closed. I would say desolate, but the architecture was class, to be fair. It was like that Gothic style. Everything was very clean, very well laid out. It was like something out of Harry Potter – statues everywhere, on the tops of buildings and corners. 

Swaz: It was top drawer, I’d say. There were gargoyles and all that sort of stuff. It beats Mitcham hands down, I’ll tell you that. 

Sam: Yeah, puts south London to shame, for sure. It’s really distinguished. One thing that I did find quite odd – well not odd because I know this happens a lot in Europe – was the tram that goes through the square. It goes round the square and if you’re not looking and you’re not aware that that thing is there, honestly, I don’t know how people aren’t taken out by it. There’s no barriers. 

CJ vloggers Sam and Swaz (top right); and a goal to celebrate (right)

Swaz: See? This is where living in Mitcham helps. 

Sam: Well, with our trams it’s more like our train stations, but this tram kind of just stopped in the middle of the road next to the pavement and people just climbed on. So, keep your eyes peeled. 

Swaz: I wanted to go to a bar, but it took a while to find one that was open. We eventually found a nice place which had the most giant beer menu known to man. They don’t go in for pints as much in Belgium, but that turned out to be a good thing because the beer I got was about 13%. Sam doesn’t drink so he was being Sober Sally, looking at me funny. He did actually say to me, “If you get too drunk and can’t get home, I’m leaving you here,” which wasn’t very nice, but probably also sensible.

Sam: I just didn’t want to have to deal with drunk Swaz. I had a sip of one and it was quite nice, I can’t lie, but I wasn’t up for it. I was thinking: I was sent here on a mission, I’ve got a job to do. And I wanted to get some food. 

Swaz: Oh, yeah, tell them what we ate, Sam. Very authentic. Really got stuck into the local cuisine.

Sam: OK, so, this is embarrassing, but we didn’t know where to go, so we ate at McDonald’s. We actually ate there twice in 24 hours… I would say, though, it was probably the nicest McDonald’s I’ve ever been in! Does that make it better?

Swaz: We were put up in a budget hotel… Sam was fuming.

Sam: I was not fuming. I was upset about the two single beds being pushed together.

Swaz: He immediately ripped the beds apart. I won’t lie, it hurt my feelings a bit. 

“The architecture was class, to be fair. Gothic style, like something out of Harry Potter”

Sam: We got changed ’cause we were soaked and then we went to the Bosuilstadion, Antwerp’s home ground, which is about a half-hour tram ride away. 

Swaz: As soon as we got off the tram, it was absolutely heaving. I had it on good authority that one particular bar was where the Antwerp ultras hang out, so we thought we’d go there to soak up the atmosphere. When we walked in, I realised I’d done something extremely stupid – after our outfit change, I’d put on a blue T-shirt, Porto’s colours. Big mistake. It was a bit of a weird vibe in there. They were blaring EDM and the drinks were super cheap… Hey, I loved it. But Sam felt intimidated.

Sam: They were all looking at us! They knew we didn’t belong. We left straight away. It was like that Grandpa Simpson GIF: we walked in, did a circuit and walked straight out again.

Swaz: When we got into the stadium, the Antwerp fans in the stand opposite us had a huge tifo going with Toby Alderweireld on it. I’m a Spurs fan, so obviously I loved that. Actually, the whole atmosphere was cool – the stadium had an old-school corrugated-metal roof so everything was really echoey and the fans were class. A lot of the Antwerp chants were in English, so we could sing along. We got well stuck in. 

Sam: Yeah, overall from a fan perspective, I can’t lie: it was pretty good and the atmosphere both fans created was amazing. 

Swaz: The game was definitely the best part. 

Sam: It was a good game. Antwerp were 1-0 up at half-time but ended up losing 4-1. All the goals went in right in front of us, which was great. I will say, though, once the other goals started going in, the fans got a bit deflated. At 2-1 they were all right, even at 3-1 they were still a bit lively, but when the fourth went in, it all got a bit… dejected. People did stick around, though. In English football, you’d see people leaving, but I think because it’s their first time in the Champions League, they just wanted to soak it all in.

Swaz: We didn’t, though. We were knackered and went straight back to our two single hotel beds. We’d been up for 20 hours straight, walked all over the place and done 30,000 steps. Still, that’s the good thing about Antwerp: you walk around and you just stumble across stuff. I mean, I can’t say going there was ever really on my agenda, but for a little European away day… yeah, it’s perfect.

Watch the video of Swaz and Sam’s trip to Antwerp here.

Cities
Our recommendations

Despite the rain and some less adventurous choices, we did still find a few good local spots

Drink

We lucked out by wandering into a great bar called Paters Vaetje (Blauwmoezelstraat 1, 2000 Antwerpen). The beer menu was so big that it was a bit anxiety inducing, but the waitress recommended one called Tripel D’Anvers – so good. The Belgians know what they’re doing, I’ll tell you that much.

Eat

They love their chips and mayo in Belgium. It was everywhere. But Swaz absolutely hates mayo, so it was the worst scenario for him. He was just like: “That’s not a bit of me, that.” We went to this one place that was literally like a wall of chips lined up to go into the fryer. It was called Fritkot Max (Groenplaats 12, 2000 Antwerpen). Our mate recommended we try bitterballen, which are like deep-fried meatballs. Pretty good. 

Culture

We went to a castle on the river called Het Steen (Steenplein 1, 2000 Antwerpen). There’s a weird statue there of a sort of jester guy with some kids looking up his tunic… Can’t lie, it’s odd. The view from the castle would have been lovely, if it wasn’t raining. 

Shopping

The shopping in Antwerp is unbelievable. Any shop you want, they’ve got it. There’s a main shopping street called Meir which has all your classic clothes shops, and then there’s a fancier street in the fashion district (Schuttershofstraat) with more high-end stuff.

Before the game

We went to a sort of café-bar, De Royal (Jan Welterslaan 32, 2100 Antwerpen), which had a nice social-club vibe. Pretty cheap too!

Must try

Two words… curry ketchup. We had that on a bratwurst at the stadium. It was unreal. Where can we get that in England? Seriously. We have to know. We did try the Belgian waffle as well. Pretty cheap too!

Antwerp is a lively Belgian port city, centre of the world’s diamond trade and revered for its Renaissance architecture and thriving art scene. This season, it has also been staging Champions League football for the first time, after the nation’s oldest club Royal Antwerp ended their 66-year wait for a fifth Belgian title last term. 

As befitting such an elegant, cultural city with a glittering reputation, we decided to send our own rough diamonds Swaz and Sam – one a Spurs fan the other a Chelsea supporter, neither with anything to do mid-week this season – on their first overseas assignment. Their mission: watch newcomers Antwerp tackle Portuguese heavyweights Porto.

With a clear brief in hand – visit some cultural hotspots, try not to spend too much time in pubs, and give us a full match report – they set off. We didn’t quite get what we’d bargained for, but our intrepid explorers certainly had a trip to remember.

Swaz: The flight Champions Journal booked for us was at 6:50am, so we had to be up at three in the morning to get to Heathrow airport. Nothing at Heathrow is open that early. Not even anywhere to have a pint – just the world’s most extortionate coffee. Not a great start. I was feeling optimistic about Antwerp, though. Sam was feeling… less positive. That’s why our dynamic works, you know? We’re two sides of the same coin. 

Sam: We flew to Brussels and then got a train to Antwerp. The train station was very impressive. This wasn’t the Bakerloo line – it was like a cathedral. We definitely stood out. I could just tell everyone knew we weren’t from there… I think we just dress English.

We got off the train and it was absolutely pouring. No umbrella, and six hours until we could get into our hotel. Thankfully we found a shop and got an umbrella and that was one thing down. It wasn’t like it poured for a while and stopped to give us some respite. It was all day. Torrential.

Swaz: This wasn’t rain mate, it was horrendous. Sam kept saying stuff like, “It’s completely dead here, there’s no one around.” Really cheery. I kept promising him, “You just wait till we get to the main square. The away fans will be at a bar – it’ll be buzzing.”

Sam: We got there… No. Everything was closed. I would say desolate, but the architecture was class, to be fair. It was like that Gothic style. Everything was very clean, very well laid out. It was like something out of Harry Potter – statues everywhere, on the tops of buildings and corners. 

Swaz: It was top drawer, I’d say. There were gargoyles and all that sort of stuff. It beats Mitcham hands down, I’ll tell you that. 

Sam: Yeah, puts south London to shame, for sure. It’s really distinguished. One thing that I did find quite odd – well not odd because I know this happens a lot in Europe – was the tram that goes through the square. It goes round the square and if you’re not looking and you’re not aware that that thing is there, honestly, I don’t know how people aren’t taken out by it. There’s no barriers. 

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CJ vloggers Sam and Swaz (top right); and a goal to celebrate (right)

Swaz: See? This is where living in Mitcham helps. 

Sam: Well, with our trams it’s more like our train stations, but this tram kind of just stopped in the middle of the road next to the pavement and people just climbed on. So, keep your eyes peeled. 

Swaz: I wanted to go to a bar, but it took a while to find one that was open. We eventually found a nice place which had the most giant beer menu known to man. They don’t go in for pints as much in Belgium, but that turned out to be a good thing because the beer I got was about 13%. Sam doesn’t drink so he was being Sober Sally, looking at me funny. He did actually say to me, “If you get too drunk and can’t get home, I’m leaving you here,” which wasn’t very nice, but probably also sensible.

Sam: I just didn’t want to have to deal with drunk Swaz. I had a sip of one and it was quite nice, I can’t lie, but I wasn’t up for it. I was thinking: I was sent here on a mission, I’ve got a job to do. And I wanted to get some food. 

Swaz: Oh, yeah, tell them what we ate, Sam. Very authentic. Really got stuck into the local cuisine.

Sam: OK, so, this is embarrassing, but we didn’t know where to go, so we ate at McDonald’s. We actually ate there twice in 24 hours… I would say, though, it was probably the nicest McDonald’s I’ve ever been in! Does that make it better?

Swaz: We were put up in a budget hotel… Sam was fuming.

Sam: I was not fuming. I was upset about the two single beds being pushed together.

Swaz: He immediately ripped the beds apart. I won’t lie, it hurt my feelings a bit. 

“The architecture was class, to be fair. Gothic style, like something out of Harry Potter”

Sam: We got changed ’cause we were soaked and then we went to the Bosuilstadion, Antwerp’s home ground, which is about a half-hour tram ride away. 

Swaz: As soon as we got off the tram, it was absolutely heaving. I had it on good authority that one particular bar was where the Antwerp ultras hang out, so we thought we’d go there to soak up the atmosphere. When we walked in, I realised I’d done something extremely stupid – after our outfit change, I’d put on a blue T-shirt, Porto’s colours. Big mistake. It was a bit of a weird vibe in there. They were blaring EDM and the drinks were super cheap… Hey, I loved it. But Sam felt intimidated.

Sam: They were all looking at us! They knew we didn’t belong. We left straight away. It was like that Grandpa Simpson GIF: we walked in, did a circuit and walked straight out again.

Swaz: When we got into the stadium, the Antwerp fans in the stand opposite us had a huge tifo going with Toby Alderweireld on it. I’m a Spurs fan, so obviously I loved that. Actually, the whole atmosphere was cool – the stadium had an old-school corrugated-metal roof so everything was really echoey and the fans were class. A lot of the Antwerp chants were in English, so we could sing along. We got well stuck in. 

Sam: Yeah, overall from a fan perspective, I can’t lie: it was pretty good and the atmosphere both fans created was amazing. 

Swaz: The game was definitely the best part. 

Sam: It was a good game. Antwerp were 1-0 up at half-time but ended up losing 4-1. All the goals went in right in front of us, which was great. I will say, though, once the other goals started going in, the fans got a bit deflated. At 2-1 they were all right, even at 3-1 they were still a bit lively, but when the fourth went in, it all got a bit… dejected. People did stick around, though. In English football, you’d see people leaving, but I think because it’s their first time in the Champions League, they just wanted to soak it all in.

Swaz: We didn’t, though. We were knackered and went straight back to our two single hotel beds. We’d been up for 20 hours straight, walked all over the place and done 30,000 steps. Still, that’s the good thing about Antwerp: you walk around and you just stumble across stuff. I mean, I can’t say going there was ever really on my agenda, but for a little European away day… yeah, it’s perfect.

Watch the video of Swaz and Sam’s trip to Antwerp here.

Cities
Our recommendations

Despite the rain and some less adventurous choices, we did still find a few good local spots

Drink

We lucked out by wandering into a great bar called Paters Vaetje (Blauwmoezelstraat 1, 2000 Antwerpen). The beer menu was so big that it was a bit anxiety inducing, but the waitress recommended one called Tripel D’Anvers – so good. The Belgians know what they’re doing, I’ll tell you that much.

Eat

They love their chips and mayo in Belgium. It was everywhere. But Swaz absolutely hates mayo, so it was the worst scenario for him. He was just like: “That’s not a bit of me, that.” We went to this one place that was literally like a wall of chips lined up to go into the fryer. It was called Fritkot Max (Groenplaats 12, 2000 Antwerpen). Our mate recommended we try bitterballen, which are like deep-fried meatballs. Pretty good. 

Culture

We went to a castle on the river called Het Steen (Steenplein 1, 2000 Antwerpen). There’s a weird statue there of a sort of jester guy with some kids looking up his tunic… Can’t lie, it’s odd. The view from the castle would have been lovely, if it wasn’t raining. 

Shopping

The shopping in Antwerp is unbelievable. Any shop you want, they’ve got it. There’s a main shopping street called Meir which has all your classic clothes shops, and then there’s a fancier street in the fashion district (Schuttershofstraat) with more high-end stuff.

Before the game

We went to a sort of café-bar, De Royal (Jan Welterslaan 32, 2100 Antwerpen), which had a nice social-club vibe. Pretty cheap too!

Must try

Two words… curry ketchup. We had that on a bratwurst at the stadium. It was unreal. Where can we get that in England? Seriously. We have to know. We did try the Belgian waffle as well. Pretty cheap too!

Antwerp is a lively Belgian port city, centre of the world’s diamond trade and revered for its Renaissance architecture and thriving art scene. This season, it has also been staging Champions League football for the first time, after the nation’s oldest club Royal Antwerp ended their 66-year wait for a fifth Belgian title last term. 

As befitting such an elegant, cultural city with a glittering reputation, we decided to send our own rough diamonds Swaz and Sam – one a Spurs fan the other a Chelsea supporter, neither with anything to do mid-week this season – on their first overseas assignment. Their mission: watch newcomers Antwerp tackle Portuguese heavyweights Porto.

With a clear brief in hand – visit some cultural hotspots, try not to spend too much time in pubs, and give us a full match report – they set off. We didn’t quite get what we’d bargained for, but our intrepid explorers certainly had a trip to remember.

Swaz: The flight Champions Journal booked for us was at 6:50am, so we had to be up at three in the morning to get to Heathrow airport. Nothing at Heathrow is open that early. Not even anywhere to have a pint – just the world’s most extortionate coffee. Not a great start. I was feeling optimistic about Antwerp, though. Sam was feeling… less positive. That’s why our dynamic works, you know? We’re two sides of the same coin. 

Sam: We flew to Brussels and then got a train to Antwerp. The train station was very impressive. This wasn’t the Bakerloo line – it was like a cathedral. We definitely stood out. I could just tell everyone knew we weren’t from there… I think we just dress English.

We got off the train and it was absolutely pouring. No umbrella, and six hours until we could get into our hotel. Thankfully we found a shop and got an umbrella and that was one thing down. It wasn’t like it poured for a while and stopped to give us some respite. It was all day. Torrential.

Swaz: This wasn’t rain mate, it was horrendous. Sam kept saying stuff like, “It’s completely dead here, there’s no one around.” Really cheery. I kept promising him, “You just wait till we get to the main square. The away fans will be at a bar – it’ll be buzzing.”

Sam: We got there… No. Everything was closed. I would say desolate, but the architecture was class, to be fair. It was like that Gothic style. Everything was very clean, very well laid out. It was like something out of Harry Potter – statues everywhere, on the tops of buildings and corners. 

Swaz: It was top drawer, I’d say. There were gargoyles and all that sort of stuff. It beats Mitcham hands down, I’ll tell you that. 

Sam: Yeah, puts south London to shame, for sure. It’s really distinguished. One thing that I did find quite odd – well not odd because I know this happens a lot in Europe – was the tram that goes through the square. It goes round the square and if you’re not looking and you’re not aware that that thing is there, honestly, I don’t know how people aren’t taken out by it. There’s no barriers. 

CJ vloggers Sam and Swaz (top right); and a goal to celebrate (right)

Swaz: See? This is where living in Mitcham helps. 

Sam: Well, with our trams it’s more like our train stations, but this tram kind of just stopped in the middle of the road next to the pavement and people just climbed on. So, keep your eyes peeled. 

Swaz: I wanted to go to a bar, but it took a while to find one that was open. We eventually found a nice place which had the most giant beer menu known to man. They don’t go in for pints as much in Belgium, but that turned out to be a good thing because the beer I got was about 13%. Sam doesn’t drink so he was being Sober Sally, looking at me funny. He did actually say to me, “If you get too drunk and can’t get home, I’m leaving you here,” which wasn’t very nice, but probably also sensible.

Sam: I just didn’t want to have to deal with drunk Swaz. I had a sip of one and it was quite nice, I can’t lie, but I wasn’t up for it. I was thinking: I was sent here on a mission, I’ve got a job to do. And I wanted to get some food. 

Swaz: Oh, yeah, tell them what we ate, Sam. Very authentic. Really got stuck into the local cuisine.

Sam: OK, so, this is embarrassing, but we didn’t know where to go, so we ate at McDonald’s. We actually ate there twice in 24 hours… I would say, though, it was probably the nicest McDonald’s I’ve ever been in! Does that make it better?

Swaz: We were put up in a budget hotel… Sam was fuming.

Sam: I was not fuming. I was upset about the two single beds being pushed together.

Swaz: He immediately ripped the beds apart. I won’t lie, it hurt my feelings a bit. 

“The architecture was class, to be fair. Gothic style, like something out of Harry Potter”

Sam: We got changed ’cause we were soaked and then we went to the Bosuilstadion, Antwerp’s home ground, which is about a half-hour tram ride away. 

Swaz: As soon as we got off the tram, it was absolutely heaving. I had it on good authority that one particular bar was where the Antwerp ultras hang out, so we thought we’d go there to soak up the atmosphere. When we walked in, I realised I’d done something extremely stupid – after our outfit change, I’d put on a blue T-shirt, Porto’s colours. Big mistake. It was a bit of a weird vibe in there. They were blaring EDM and the drinks were super cheap… Hey, I loved it. But Sam felt intimidated.

Sam: They were all looking at us! They knew we didn’t belong. We left straight away. It was like that Grandpa Simpson GIF: we walked in, did a circuit and walked straight out again.

Swaz: When we got into the stadium, the Antwerp fans in the stand opposite us had a huge tifo going with Toby Alderweireld on it. I’m a Spurs fan, so obviously I loved that. Actually, the whole atmosphere was cool – the stadium had an old-school corrugated-metal roof so everything was really echoey and the fans were class. A lot of the Antwerp chants were in English, so we could sing along. We got well stuck in. 

Sam: Yeah, overall from a fan perspective, I can’t lie: it was pretty good and the atmosphere both fans created was amazing. 

Swaz: The game was definitely the best part. 

Sam: It was a good game. Antwerp were 1-0 up at half-time but ended up losing 4-1. All the goals went in right in front of us, which was great. I will say, though, once the other goals started going in, the fans got a bit deflated. At 2-1 they were all right, even at 3-1 they were still a bit lively, but when the fourth went in, it all got a bit… dejected. People did stick around, though. In English football, you’d see people leaving, but I think because it’s their first time in the Champions League, they just wanted to soak it all in.

Swaz: We didn’t, though. We were knackered and went straight back to our two single hotel beds. We’d been up for 20 hours straight, walked all over the place and done 30,000 steps. Still, that’s the good thing about Antwerp: you walk around and you just stumble across stuff. I mean, I can’t say going there was ever really on my agenda, but for a little European away day… yeah, it’s perfect.

Watch the video of Swaz and Sam’s trip to Antwerp here.

Cities
Our recommendations

Despite the rain and some less adventurous choices, we did still find a few good local spots

Drink

We lucked out by wandering into a great bar called Paters Vaetje (Blauwmoezelstraat 1, 2000 Antwerpen). The beer menu was so big that it was a bit anxiety inducing, but the waitress recommended one called Tripel D’Anvers – so good. The Belgians know what they’re doing, I’ll tell you that much.

Eat

They love their chips and mayo in Belgium. It was everywhere. But Swaz absolutely hates mayo, so it was the worst scenario for him. He was just like: “That’s not a bit of me, that.” We went to this one place that was literally like a wall of chips lined up to go into the fryer. It was called Fritkot Max (Groenplaats 12, 2000 Antwerpen). Our mate recommended we try bitterballen, which are like deep-fried meatballs. Pretty good. 

Culture

We went to a castle on the river called Het Steen (Steenplein 1, 2000 Antwerpen). There’s a weird statue there of a sort of jester guy with some kids looking up his tunic… Can’t lie, it’s odd. The view from the castle would have been lovely, if it wasn’t raining. 

Shopping

The shopping in Antwerp is unbelievable. Any shop you want, they’ve got it. There’s a main shopping street called Meir which has all your classic clothes shops, and then there’s a fancier street in the fashion district (Schuttershofstraat) with more high-end stuff.

Before the game

We went to a sort of café-bar, De Royal (Jan Welterslaan 32, 2100 Antwerpen), which had a nice social-club vibe. Pretty cheap too!

Must try

Two words… curry ketchup. We had that on a bratwurst at the stadium. It was unreal. Where can we get that in England? Seriously. We have to know. We did try the Belgian waffle as well. Pretty cheap too!

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