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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Antwerp The Beautiful Top Travel Destinations




Antwerp The Beautiful
Diamond In the Crown of Belgium

13.07.2007 - 15.07.2007

Antwerp is one of my favorite cities in Europe. I would like to go there every weekend, just for a few glasses of dark and cold Effe Beer, in one of the corner restaurants in The Meir, the beautiful and fashionable city center. Antwerp is at a distance of 260 kilometers from where I live in Germany and to my regret I can go there only infrequently. In fact the last time I was there was in July 2007 and me and my wife stayed there three days.

My wife found an hotel offer to stay at Ramadan Inn for 50.00 euros for a double bedroom for the first night and 150.00 euros for the next night. So we booked a double room for one night and on a sunny Friday morning started by car. It being a weekend, there was not much traffic on the roads and we made it to the hotel in three hours. A part of the hotel was being renovated and we were given a very large room with a view of the street, with a large double bed. Very well decorated and comfortable room it was. Well, we parked the car in the underground hotel parking (10 euros per night) and came out of the hotel and took a trolley bus to the Central Station (1.70 euros pp).

At the entrance of the city of Antwerp, is a castle, The Steen ( The Stone in English) a small fortress, one of the earliest buildings made of stone. That is why the name The Steen. In front of this fortress is a large statue of a man with his legs spread apart. This statue of a man used to have a large Penis and infertile women of the city used to venerate the statue. However, the Jesuit priests of the time found this endowment the most offending and cut it off. That is why I believe that Religion is for Sinners.

We came out of the Central station, a grand and imposing building which reminds you of a Cathedral, its interior made of marble and with its imposing Staircase, making every visitor's arrival a grand entrance in the city. The Meir (the shopping center) starts from the station itself which goes all the way to the Groen Plaats (The Town Square). The whole street is pedestrian, no motorized traffic and it was full of people from all parts of the world. Young people from Asia, Africa and the Middle East thronged the street. The summer breeze was filled with the perfume of youth and tantalizing goods displayed in the windows of shops. The shops were full as there was Summer Sale on, goods reduced up to 40-50%. We walked on, window shopping, looking in the bakeries selling fresh bread, rolls and croissants and chocolate in the shape of Hands.

In the Town square is Brabo Fountain. The statue of Brabo was sculpted by Jef Lombeaux in 1887. The legend about Brabo says that a terrible giant called Anti goon lived on the shores of river Scheldt, the mother of the City of Antwerp. This giant demanded a toll from every sailor who crossed the river and on refusal to do so, cut off the sailor's hand. This shows you that the practice of exerting Toll is not new. Well, to continue the legend, a Roman Centurion named Brabo who was passing through the city, refused to pay the Toll and on being threatened, cut off the hand of the giant and threw it in the river. Hence the name of the city is Hand-Werpen. You will see the Hand in the shape of sweets, chocolates and even on the City Flag. Every ancient city needs a legend and the beautiful city of Antwerp deserves one too.

The Town Square in the heart of Old City is the most popular place to hang out. In summer on sweltering hot days the Square is full of tourists, visitors and students, sitting around the statue of Brabo, on the terraces of restaurants surrounding the Square, drinking cold beers, chatting, looking at the passers by and having a good time. In Belgium there are 185 different brands of beer brewed, and like Belgian chocolates, Belgian Beer is famous. In the Square there is the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady. And the statue of Baroque Master artist Rubens, who lived there for many years.

Antwerp is full of museums, art galleries and fine old buildings. Its Latin district, Jewish district and Diamond street are world famous. The Jews who settled here in the 16th century, came from Spain and Portugal, mostly Hassidic Jews who were expelled from there and settled in Antwerp. However, even in Belgium they were persecuted and prosecuted and many of them resettled in Holland. Jews are mostly in the Diamond Trade but even today they live a very quiet life, as if they do not want to draw any attention to themselves.

For the next two days we had booked hotel room with Ibis Hotels, at the rate of 70.00 euros for a double bed. However, the hotel staff had made a mistake and booked us for the day after. So when we went there to check-in, we were told that the hotel was full and we could come the next day. But the hotel receptionist arranged that we could stay at another nearby hotel at the rate of 50.00 euros for a double bedroom. This was perfect.

It was Saturday and outside the Hotel Ibis is the Saturday Market, a must for every visitor to Antwerp. You will find a wide variety of antique goods, jewelry, ethnic clothes and wood carvings and much more.

Antwerp offers a wide range of food, the national cuisine tends to be French, but you will find many Pizza restaurants,
Argentine Grills and restaurants selling fast food. On our first day we both had pizza with soft drink and a beer and paid 9.00 euros. The owners and waiters are Italian, talkative and very friendly and the beer and soft drink was served with fresh bread, garlic butter and fresh olives. Large pizzas with salad. The Argentinian Grill served Beef Steak with baked potatoes and salad and we paid 18.00 euros for the food and drinks apart. Near the square, there used to be a small place selling hot dishes, soup etc, for 0.85 cents, this time we found the place closed. They always served fresh food and was very popular with young and old crowd.

Antwerp is the second largest container port in the world and this is thanks to river Scheldt. You can travel by boat from Holland to Antwerp and go to France and reach Paris. U.S.A. General George Patten, who liberated Belgium and Luxembourg from Nazi Germany is buried in Hamm, Luxembourg. He suffered mortal injuries in a road accident and died there.

We have planned to go to Antwerp in the month of May this year, when the weather is warmer and I can enjoy a few glasses of Effe, my favorite beer.
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