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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Belgium trip - Antwerp

Antwerp - Belgium's second-largest city (population 494,000) and largest port, a place where 80% of the world's diamonds are traded, host of the 1920 Olympics, locale for one of Europe's most thriving fashion scenes and the home of baroque artist Pieter Paul Rubens. It's also one of Barbara's favorite places in all of the country, which is why she took the day off from work to join Jeff, Amber, Pamela and me on an outing to the place the Flemish call Antwerpen and which the Walloons know as Anvers.

Antwerp's main train station, Antwerpen-Centraal (1905) is a sightseeing attraction in its own right:

Although we didn't visit Rubenhuis, the 1611 home and studio of Rubens, we did have lunch at the restaurant next door. Our table overlooked the house's garden:

The day's first beer, a Corsondonk Blond:

Following lunch, Barbara and Jeff elected to stay behind at a nearby cafe, while my wife, daughter and I went off in search of Belgium's finest Gothic cathedral, the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. With its distinctive 123 meter-high (404 feet) spire, it wasn't hard to find:

Built between 1352 and 1521, the Cathedral of our Lady is even more impressive on the inside as it is from the outside. The interior is currently serving as an alternate display area for some of the collection from the KMSKA art gallery, which is currently closed for renovations until 2017:

The cathedral is also the permanent home for a number of works of art, including several by Rubens:

Descent from the Cross


The Raising of the Cross

Among the other works belonging to the cathedral is Marriage at Cana (1597) by Maerten de Vos:

Close to the cathedral is the Grote Markt, presided over by the stately Stadhuis (1566):

The statute atop the Brabo Fountain (1887) in front illustrates the legend of how Antwerp received its name. Long ago, a giant named Antigonus charged exorbitant tolls from passing ships sailing on the Scheldt. Those who didn't pay had their hands cut off by the giant. One day, Silvius Brabo came along and defeated Antigonus, cutting off his hand and throwing it into the river. Antwerp literally means "hand-throw":

Walking back through the center of the city on the way to meeting up again with Barbara and Jeff:

We'd hoped to visit the Museum Plantin-Moretus, a 16th-century mansion that was the home of a wealthy printer named Christopher Plantin. The mansion is described in my Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg as having a beautiful interior and excellent displays of tapestries, manuscripts and old books, including a Gutenberg Bible. Unfortunately, although the same guidebook stated the museum was open until 5:30 pm, it actually closes at 5, just as we got there. A pity. At least the guard was kind enough to let Amber use the restroom:

Trams ply the city center:

After meeting up with our friends, my daughter watches in awe as chocolate is made at one of Belgium's numerous chocolatiers. Later, she purchased some to bring back as gifts for her classmates:

Strolling through the center of Antwerp:

Time for another beer break before dinner. This time I had a Liefmans fruitbier. It may be a beer for girly men, but I'm confident enough in my sexuality to enjoy chick brews such as these:

Belgium - a land where the beer is brewed with fruit and the chocolate can have bacon bits inside. And it all tastes unbelievably delicious:

Following dinner at a Japanese restaurant, we returned to Antwerpen Centraal for the return trip to Leuven:

Back in Barbara and Jeff's apartment, modeling the Belgian national soccer team jersey which I had bought at a sporting goods store in central Antwerp. At the World Cup in Brazil earlier this year, the Red Devils had reached the quarterfinals before losing to Argentina 1-0:

Our nightcap was a trappist Rochefort 10:

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