In and Around Antwerp
Trip Start Aug 02, 2013
22Trip End Dec 21, 2013
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The first thing that strikes you about Antwerp is the number of bicycles. They certainly are the
people's mode of travel. Not the modern mountain bike or racing style that we tend to favour in New Zealand but almost retro – albeit new retro. The city is geared for the bicycle [pun unintended] being very flat. They have cycle lanes on virtually every road and abundant bicycle
stands throughout the city. The city has a scheme where you can pick up a city bike from set points and you can use it for set periods of time. Up to 30 minutes it is free, after that you start to pay but at a very reasonable rate. [Taxis must hate them.] Not sure what happens if you don’t return it but no doubt they have that worked out. Would it work in NZ? I suspect our lot would spend most of their time trying to work out how to beat the system
Antwerp over the ages has been much like many other European countries - bought, sold, traded, beaten up, pillaged and then reborn. Half the country speaks Flemish [very similar to Dutch] and the other French. At one point, a few centuries ago, Antwerp was the largest port on the North Sea coast. It came into prominence again after the Normandy landings in the 2nd World War when the Allies needed a port further to the East to support the advance into Germany. Antwerp is the capital of Flanders which has memories for Kiwis from the 1st World War. The port has regained its former glory status and is one of the largest in Europe, handling over 180M tonnes of cargo a year – it is also the world’s largest banana port - so I guess that makes the monkeys in city Zoo very happy. The port itself is on the River Scheldte and is located about 50kms inland, protected against many of the tidal problems facing those on the coast itself. However, they do have to contend with the occasional flood.
Antwerp population is just over half a million and appears to be reasonably affluent [maybe able to be so because lots are not having to maintain a car]. There also appears to be a growing Muslim population [like the Netherlands next door].
While our main reason for coming to Antwerp was to watch Kieren compete in the dance competition, we did get to see some of the sights:
- Cathedral of Our Lady. Construction of this church began in the 14th century and finished about 150 years later
- MAS. The MAS is square shaped building about 10 stories high. The fašade is made of Indian red sandstone and curved glass panel construction. The latter gives the impression of sections of the building floating in the air and rippled glass lends interest the design. The MAS supposedly houses almost half a million artefacts tracing the history of Antwerp. We took their word for thatpart because for us the main attraction of the MAS was the free access to its roof for a panorama view of the city and the port.
- Mode Museum. The Mode Museum is a textile museum. Antwerp had a flourishing silk textile trade and produced material for many of the great designers – Balenciaga, Givenchy, Yves St Laurent, Dior. The museum had a display of some the materials and finished designs and even the old soldier in me was impressed. -the abraham archive Couture in colour1878 until i think 2003.
- Rubenshuis. One cannot come to Antwerp without paying homage to the grand master, Peter Paul Rubens. This guy could really paint. He spent eight years in Italy honing up his skills and on his return to Antwerp in 1608, he bought a prime piece of real estate then knocked down the house next door and put on an extension. Bloody impressive extension, it is. While the old house is in the local style, the extension is in the then Italian style - rounded arches, major sculptures, etc. He ran his artist’s school from the extension and in the style of the day, many works which have his name on them were actually collaborations with a number of junior [albeit very talented] artists
- Diamond District. Antwerp is the diamond processing capital of the world. They apply a strict code of ethics on the source of the raw uncut diamonds to try to combat the blood diamond trade out of Africa. Something like 80% of the total world trade in legitimate diamonds passes through Antwerp and it is a trade that the Belgians jealously guard. We looked around for cast offs and possible left behinds, but no such luck.
- Belgian Chocolates. Antwerp was reminiscent of Bariloche in Argentina - chocolate shops everywhere. Another must try but in moderation - our bags are already near maximum for the flight to Milan.
The other thing that the Belgians are renowned for is their beer. They say that there are over 300 different types of beer in Antwerp, ranging from their light varieties [about the same strength as NZ beers] to their strong varieties [about 12% alcohol – just below a NZ wine strength].
We found the Antwerp people generally very proud of their city, extremely friendly and keen to see that visitors have an enjoyable visit
The prime reason we came to Antwerp was the dance competition. Kieren and Emily danced on the last day of the event. It was a very full on day, starting at 9.00am and finishing almost 12 hours later. They got through the grading session in good shape and got themselves into the A Grade section. They danced extremely well but with the standard being very much higher than in Budapest last year, they knew that it was going to be no easy task. Regrettably, they were unable to make it to the final six and were knocked out in the semi-final. [Mum and Dad felt they were robbed, but then that’s w but hat Mums and Dads do.] The finals of the Women’s Standard and the Men’s Latin were absolutely amazing.
Antwerp has been a very pleasant surprise and definitely one to include on your list if you are
venturing into Europe. If you do, however, make sure you pack an umbrella. One thing you can guarantee is that at some point of your visit, it will rain.
Tomorrow we leave Antwerp and head on to Milan to start our Italian Holiday. And so on to Milan...