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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A visit to Antwerp, the diamond city

The plan was not to visit Antwerp on Diwali, but it just so happened that a friend of mine from India, who now lives in the US came to attend a conference in France! phew! So I met her half way through in Belgium. Lying in the north east of Belgium, about 2 hours away by train from Eindhoven, is Antwerp, the second largest city in Belgium. Well known as the international center of diamond trade and as one of the busiest ports in Europe, Antwerp has a lot more to offer than just that.

To begin with, the Antwerp Centraal Station is a sight in itself, with four levels and trains zipping above and under you. Sipping a hot cup of coffee we waited for my friend to arrive. Even the coffee seemed to taste better in such an exotic city! :) It turned out that she was a tad late, so we decided to walk out a bit before she came. As soon as you step outside the station, you have a feeling that you are traveling back in time. The cobbled streets with the narrow alleys, the many many cafes and restaurants, the unique architecture of the buildings, antique shops, art galleries and the constant smell of chocolate and waffles that drifts through the air. You just fall in love with such things.

We went back to the station to meet my friend and headed straight for lunch. We treated ourselves to some awesome Indian food for just 9 euro at a Jain restraunt called Aahaar. Everybody was so stuffed up after lunch that it took us a few minutes to convince ourselves that we had barely seen anything and hence must go on..:). We started walking through the Grote Markt which seemed to be in the middle of it all.

Lined with what can only be called a shopper's paradise, we tried not to sway into a store before reaching the Onze Lieve Vrowekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady). Unfortunately we made it 5 minutes after the closing time! So we had to be satisfied with a sneak peak inside and of course the majestic Gothic structure that it is from the outside.

We decided that we should visit the Provinciaal Diamantmuseum before it closes as well. The museum describes the history, mining and the finishing touches made to diamonds in a very interactive way with several actual tools and samples. Frankly, before polishing, a diamond looks like any ordinary stone that you would walk on without a second glance! The museum also has a range of exquisite jewelery and art pieces made of diamonds.

After the museum we couldn't contain ourselves any more. We decided it was shopping time. One stop was naturally reserved for the incredible Belgian chocolates at Leonidas and fresh warm waffles with ice cream. yummmm!!

We went back to the station, said our good byes to my friend who was heading back to Tucson the next day and settled our bills while waiting for the train to Eindhoven. As we were traveling back, I was thinking that Antwerp is one such place where you really don't have to visit places to be entertained. You just have to walk through the city and that is quite a bit for a day!

After coming home, my neighbor called me to her place for a mini celebration. In the small space we live in, she had made some pretty authentic decorations for Diwali. The day ended well for me.

On that note, much belated Deepavali wishes to everybody! May the year ahead bring in prosperity and good health.

Picture Courtesy - Abhinav Rohit & Prasad Perlekar (Yes, I agree the camera and the photographer both matter..;) )


mub said...

That looks like a fun trip! We've been into random places in Belgium since I've been here but not to Antwerp yet. I'm dying to go =D

I'm not really familiar with Indian holidays, if you get bored one day and decide to write a post about them I'd love it ;)

Presépio no Canal said...

Great pics!
Oh, the chocolates....mnhmnhmnh
I love indian food too :) Historical connections between India and Portugal ;) that we can see in both cuisines...
Have a nice week :)

Invader_Stu said...

I was supposed to Antwerp a few weeks ago but things did not work out. I still want to go though.

thamarai said...

mub, you should most certainly visit! may be it inspires you for new dessert recipes..;) Indeed, a cool idea! I will write on the typical Indian festivals soon..:)

Presepio no Canal, thank you so much!! :) I am glad you enjoy Indian food, many find it a little too spicy for their tastes..

Hey Stuart, thanks for visiting my blog...I am sure Antwerp would be great for a visit..(I shd be made the city's brand ambassador..;))

Nithya said...

:) :)
It was a great trip! And totally agree that just walking around the place would be enough to make a great day and also about the great photographers! :)

Presépio no Canal said...

We love indian food! We used to live in Lisbon. Nearby Praça da Figueira (Figueira Square), we went several times in a very small but very good Indian Restaurant. I think the name is Caxemira. I will confirm with my husband. One day, if you go there, please try it. It is not expensive and very good.
If you want to recommend us a good Indian restaurant here in Nederlands, please do.
The spices...After Vasco da Gama discover the maritime way to India in XV century, Lisbon became internationaly very important because of Indian Spices trade.
Goa and Bombaim cuisine has got portuguese influences and our cuisine of course has got Indian influences. Bombaim became english colony after the marriage of a portuguese princess with an english king and it was she, Catarina de Bragança, who has introduced five o`clock tea in England. Because the Americans loved her so much, Queens was founded in her honour.
Excuse some english mistakes ;)

Cheers :)

thamarai said...

Nithya, awesome uh! I think our shopping time was quite cool too! :D

Presépio no Canal, hey thats definitely news to me!!! I really din't know that. Are you a history major? If I happen to go to Lisbon, I will give Caxemira a shot for sure..The info on Portuguese princess was quite fascinating..I have never tried Portuguese food as such...I will give it a shot sometime..Are there vegetarian dishes as well?

Presépio no Canal said...

We have everything :) but the most important dishes are heavy....the foreigners love our food very much...the food and the sun )) Our cuisine is very rich and plenty of variety...with various influences, including arabish influences...Portugal is the oldest country in Europe...
In Windsor Castle (London), some rooms are dedicated to Catarina de Braganca.
Vasco da Gama is a very impostant person in Universal History, like Fernao de Magalhaes, Pedro Alvares Cabral, Bartolomeu Dias...the first maritime empire was portuguese...the first globalization was made by can see in wikipedia...
One day, I would like very much to go to India...such a rich history...
I love History and I read many books about it :)
Do you like fish? Portugal has got very good fish :)


thamarai said...

Presépio no Canal, thanks again for enriching my knowledge!How the work of one man, vasco da gama changes our lives!Nope, unfortunately since I am a vegetarian I can't eat your awesome fish based dishes..I have a Portuguese friend who constantly reminds me of them! :)

~Lopa said...

Ohhh i was not sure when i had clicked post my comment had it actually posted, as i was in hurry...but now i see it hadnt !

And now i dont remember it exactly...hehehe
We had been to Antwerp on the way back from Brussels, we could spend only half day morning to eve there, and really are thinking to visit back but not happening !

Reading this comment section was fun as well... Regarding portugal and India, they have historical connections and so food shares influences... I heard many Portugese people like indian food, and may be indians too but havent tried, so do not know :)

I dont find any indian restaurant in Netherlands that great ! Taste is compromised to suit local taste... but i find "Maharani"and "Bombay Palace" in Den Haag better ones and also "Moti Mahel" and "Mayur" "Maurya" in Amsterdam a bit better than rest of them !

Ya ya we both love eating out :D

thamarai said...

hey Lopa, ya, you must have closed the window too soon maybe before the comment got published...I guess the other thing is that sincethere are som many other places to visit, you never end up going back to the same place again, unless its on your way or yu are visiting someone often...

I agree, I haven't been to many Indian restaraunts here and plus they are sooooo over prized. There is one here called Touch of India. Really average food, but the price is just incredibly high!

Sigh, I love eating out too but being a student I am unable to go out often..:(

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