Our ship was berthed at quay 20 on the River Scheldt, just a stone’s throw from the cathedral and the historic core of this fine city. We were there for two days, a Sunday and Monday, and since most museums are closed on Mondays we made the Sunday our museum visiting day. We chose to visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum, very close to the ship’s berth. This is nominally a museum of printing but it is sited in a beautiful old building with a peaceful central cloister. The entry fee is 8 Euros, and we thought it was worth it. We then visited the very modern MAS (Museum aan de Stroom), which is built on eleven levels with a differently-themed mini-museum on seven of the levels and a rooftop panorama of the city. Entry to the rooftop is free, but there is a 5 Euro charge for the permanent exhibitions and an extra 5 Euros for the temporary exhibitions. In the afternoon we visited two more museums, the Rubens House and the Museum Mayer Van den Bergh. Entry to each of these museums costs 8 Euros, but a combined ticket is available for 10 Euros. The Rubens House contains many fine works of art and is a fine old building with a pretty courtyard garden. The Van den Bergh Museum is also good, but possibly not worth the separate admission charge. We bought the combined ticket which was good value, especially on a rainy Sunday when few shops are open.
Antwerp offers great opportunities for shopping in the areas of Grote Markt, Groenplaats and (especially) Meir, with particularly tempting chocolate shops. There is also the diamond district which has a certain fascination but is not very picturesque. We are not natural shoppers, and chose to spend our second day admiring the architectural gems that Antwerp abounds in. Foremost among these is the cathedral, Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal, one of the finest Gothic cathedrals you will see anywhere. Another place worth visiting for its fine architecture is Centraal Station, magnificent inside and out. We spent most of a morning exploring two residential areas, Zurenborg and Zuid, packed with striking buildings, many in Art Nouveau style. This involved taking trams and buses, which are easy to use and cheap if you buy a day ticket for 5 Euros from the tourist office in Grote Markt (or 7 Euros if bought from the driver).
Many of our travelling companions chose to spend their time on tours to Brussels or Ghent, both great places, but I think we did better staying in the fine city of Antwerp.
Rouen is a fascinating city, with a magnificent cathedral, strong historical connections to Joan of Arc and quaint half-timbered buildings seemingly at every turn. If you are there on a summer evening, don’t miss the fantastic son et lumiere show projected onto the west front of the cathedral. Don’t waste your time on a tour to Paris. It’s a long way on the coach, you won’t have time to do it justice and it’s very easy to visit in other ways. If you have already seen Rouen, then a shorter tour to Monet’s house and garden at Giverny or the picturesque harbour town of Honfleur may be a good bet.
The cruise terminal at Rouen is at the edge of the city, a two mile walk from the cathedral in the heart of the city centre. Shuttle buses will probably be available and are probably the best way for independent explorers to access the city. Rouen has a good public transport system, but the nearest bus stop is 1300 metres from the cruise terminal. Those who choose to make the long walk to the city centre can do so along a pleasant riverside walkway.
We were initially puzzled that our departure from Rouen was scheduled for 10.15am, giving almost 20 hours to cover the relatively short leg to Dover and depriving us of a morning’s sightseeing in Rouen, but the six-hour run down the Seine during the main part of the day proved to be a highlight of the cruise. Although some stretches of the river are industrial, most of it is lined with cliffs and pretty countryside and villages, with three transits under high-level bridges including the spectacular Pont de Normandie, a special farewell to a special cruise call.