Monday, April 13, 2009

Waterways of Holland and Belgium - Day 5

Another morning, another city. This time it was Antwerpen (we know it as Antwerp), in Belgium. We started out the morning with a walking tour and a great guide who was both knowledgeable and had a wonderful sense of humor. When he met us just outside the ship he informed us that we would be climbing a wall and a mountain, in very short order. Photos 5 & 6, in that order are the wall and the 'mountain'. We walked past the butchers' guild building, built of brick that alternated in red and white stripes, representative of bacon. Also visible, in photo 7 is part of the town wall that was built in the 10th century! The highlight of the walking tour was the St. Mary Cathedral, which houses three major paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. The cathedral is in the gorgeous Gothic style.

We saw the flood gate which is closed when the river rises. The town hall is gorgeous. Even more gorgeous was the Stadsfeestzaal shopping mall. We have never seen anything quite like it before. With all the wonderful tile work, gold filigree and a floating champagne bar, it was magnificent. Antwerpen is a nice combination of old and newer architecture. The old bears a lot of resemblance to Dutch architecture, but with its own twist. It was here that we learned that the strangely pruned (what we call butchered) trees are Lindens, for the reasons described in an earlier episode.

In the afternoon, Harry & I wallked back into town. After our morning tour we had an on board demonstration of chocolate making by Burie chocolatiers, the current generation owner of the business. We learned a lot about how to judge the quality of chocolate from this demonstration, and also were intrigued by the description of the window displays they do for the store. So our initial goal was to find the shop, which we did quite easily. We learned that better chocolate has 23% cocoa butter; if the chocolate has a waxy texture it is because the manufacturer has used other fats to prolong the shelf life.

Our stop at the Stadsfeestaal shopping center was part of this walk. We watched part of an act on the street by a man who was possibly a juggler or fire eater. We walked past the Opera House, a very stately building, and then decided it was time to find our way back to the ship. We stopped to look at our map, and a man walked up and asked if we needed help. He showed us on our map where we were and then gave us directions on how to get back to the cathedral (we knew how to get to the ship from there). When we got to the large green square, we ended up deciding to stop at a cafe to try some Belgian beer. That was a very pleasant and relaxing time. While there we saw a double decker wagon pulled by draft horses

The green square is where there is a large statue of Brabo, who is famous for cutting off the hand of a giant and throwing it into the sea. That is the reason for the hand sculpture in the photo, and the reason why you will find chocolates made in the shape of a hand (Antwerpen is the only place you will find those).

Here, as in all the other cities and towns we'd been to, the streets were paved in cobblestones and/or narrow bricks. There were statues of the Virgin Mary on the corners of many buildings, always with a canopy over them to protect them from the elements.

In the evening our four program managers gave us an evening of Dutch entertainment. They taught us a song, and we played Liars' Club, with the meaning of four very strange-sounding Dutch words. Harry managed to figure out who was telling the truth for all four words. I was only able to figure out two of them. The only one I remember was "wildrooster", which means deviation or detour!

This was a great day. It was nice to discover a city as comfortable as Antwerpen is, and the day ended with a great deal of laughter. It doesn't get much better than that.

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