Antwerp is the world's capital of diamond. You can find many diamond sellers all over the city, but specially around the Central Station area.
If you have ""time"" to buy them, then it's the most tipical and exquisite souvenir you can take from this city!
visit the Jewish neighborhood....
visit the Jewish neighborhood. You should know, that after New York, Antwerp has the highest orthodox Jew population outside of Israel in the world. They own the entire diamond business. Antwerp is famous for its diamonds. It's the diamond capital! Seriously...
Anyways, do not go to the Pelikaanstraat, where all the diamond tourists go. Every single tourist thinks that the real good diamonds are there, and oh so cheap. But oh so cheap means oh so fake. You better buy your jewelry at home then. If you are looking for real jewelry, I mean an engagement ring or something in that manner, you have to go in the street BEHIND the Pelikaanstraat. You will immediately understand the difference. It won't look that fake anymore, it will look high class. Only a few jewels per store. Because a real jewel is worth a lot of money. You can find the greatest precious stones there, and you will have merchandise for your money. You also have to know that real precious stones are not cheap, but that is the case everywhere in the world. And even if you are not looking for an engagement ring, it is always fun to look at the amazing rings and bracelets and so on. And it's in a very strange neighborhood, as you will not feel in Belgium at all. You will feel like you are in the middle of the middle east, and that for only a couple of streets. My fondest memory of Antwerp is a typical Antwerp dish, that no one knows, it's not in the travel books, not even the non-antwerp people know it. I have friends who have never even tasted it, because they are not from Antwerp, and never heard of the thing. They also have it in Liege, another city in Belgium. It's called a Laqueman (say it the french way), it's a kind of flat waffle with sirup on top of it. It is sooooooooooo yummie!!! But it's not for those who are on a diet, because it is very sweet and full of sugar. The only place where you can get it, is in a place called Desiree de Lille. You go there for tea time, that's when it's fun. You drink a tea or a coffee, or a coke, or whatever you drink in the middle of the day. You can also take it as a take-out, and then it's way cheaper, but then you miss the fun of sitting inside in a cosy place. There is also a terrace inside, where you can sit and enjoy the summer, but that only works if the sun shines, otherwise you will be happy to sit inside after a rainy shopping day! But the rule in Belgium always stays the same, as soon as the sun shines, even if it's cold, go sit OUTSIDE and NOT INSIDE!!! You will miss all the fun of tasting real belgian life.
So, if you want a Lacqueman, it's at Desirée de Lille, in a walking street in the neighborhood between the Huidevettersstraat and the Boerentoren (our only so-called sky-scraped, which doesn't even get higher than our cathedral).
One of the grandest buildings...
One of the grandest buildings in Antwerp is the 'Central Station'. It welcomes visitors who arrive by train in Antwerp like a modern day cathedral. The part of the station where the platforms are is covered by an immense metal and glass dome (typical for turn-of-the-century railway stations in Europe), designed by architect Van Bogaert. The station building itself was designed between 1895 and 1905 by architect Delacenserie. Here ends the oldest railway line in Belgium (between Brussels and Antwerp over the city of Mechelen).
Madonna in Antwerp
Well, I am talking about the other Madonna, of course! Not our contemp singer!
Centuries ago, Antwerp was catholic under Spanish influence, hence the statues of Madonna the city still abunds with. Nowadays, the city still has Virgin Mary as its patron saint. Madonna statues decorate several house facades, inner courtyards and street corners.
Late 18th century, Antwerp area counted some 300 Madonna statues. Throughout centuries, and esp. when republican France ruled the area, there were some massive demolitions of statues. However, they have become parts of locals identity, beliefs and culture.
You may wander in the city, spotting 160 of them, of which 60 are of historical merit.
Efforts are made to preserve those statues. To know more about preservation activities, look at below website (Dutch only, sorry).
www.verbeelding.be It's not something I miss BUT a good striking one.
Madonna statue on this building whose name is Heilige Huisken (Little holy house). In fact, the house is a pub... Holy, they said!! *LOL*
Child benefits (Newspaper article, The Guardian, UK.)
Antwerp isn't an obvious choice for a family weekend away. But for those who take the time to visit, its delights quickly become obvious. Indeed, it is quietly and confidently pro-children.
Small playgrounds are dotted at regular intervals, just in case the urge to spin around in a tea-cup becomes overwhelming. Shops are buggy friendly, with many having ramps for easy access. Virtually everywhere has a table and chairs with crayoning books laid out for unenthusiastic shoppers, and a basket of sweets to reward the patient.
The word 'enticing' sums Antwerp up in a nutshell. One of the most striking things about the profusion of shops selling flowers, interior design, chocolates, candy, shoes, clothes, cheeses and just about anything you could wish for, is the attention to detail. Cakes turn out to be exquisitely made from flowers, chocolate is fashioned into tea-pots, houses, carriages and more. Restaurants lay out small wrought-iron tables topped with simple, elegant terracotta pots bursting with bright flowers. Window dressing is considered an art form, a feast for the eyes.
But it isn't just in the stores that this innate sense of accessorising, adorning and garnishing belongs. Coffee houses automatically provide a chocolate, a piece of waffle or a tempting square of cake with every order. In restaurants, children are given a tiny dish of smarties, a lollipop - anything to appeal or amuse - as a prelude to the meal. The first restaurant we ate at provided my six-year-old son with a salad 'garden', complete with a toadstool, ingeniously made from a boiled egg and half a seeded tomato. It was dotted with mayonnaise spots and the finishing flourish was cress grass and a couple of radish flowers. If there is a way to make presentation pristine, the people of Antwerp find it. Assuming that walking through cobbled streets awash with an exotic mix of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century Art Nouveau architecture won't keep the kids amused for ever, there is an assortment of entertainment which certainly will:
A memory game inside the entrance of this breathtaking 17th-century house gives pictures and objects for children to spot as they progress through the rooms. Surprisingly, this provided enough motivation for my kids to be enthusiastic throughout.
Cathedral of Our Lady:
The four important paintings by Rubens are virtually lost in the myriad of colours provided by the massive stained-glass windows, flickering candles, gilded side chapels, ornate wooden carvings and memorial stones.
Taking 169 years to complete, the cathedral is huge, spectacular and impressive in equal measure.
The Pilgrim's House:
A 16th-century establishment that belonged to a wealthy merchant. This tiny house was one of the first in Antwerp to have running water, and has been faithfully reproduced. A fascinating insight into life as it was, with a few surprises along the way.
Worth a visit:
The National Maritime Museum.
A waterfront fort and the oldest building in Antwerp, with a statue of Gulliver outside makes the Maritime Museum a fun place to visit. Vast and intricate hand-made models of ships and their contents are fascinating.
The light on the water of the river Scheldt has inspired and thrilled painters throughout the ages. It's pretty enough, and a delightful walk, but none of us felt moved to put brush to paper.
* Tourist Information Office, Grote Markt 15, tel: +232 01 03, www.dma.be
*Antwerpen Averechts, Bureau for Alternative City Walks and Tours Kronenburgstraat 34/1, tel +248 15 77
*Affiliation of Antwerp City Guides, tel: +232 01 03