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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..;) )
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