Welcome to Antwerp, Belgium

Welcome to Antwerp, Belgium
October 1983 – June 1993
The first words I learned to speak in Dutch were, “Mag ik een papieren zakje hebben, alstublieft?”  And then life began to move in the right direction.  It was quite a challenge to stand in line at the Delaize supermarket in Antwerp, watch my groceries transport from the cash register to a pile at the end of the counter and no bags in sight.  I tried to ask for a paper bag in English, but the only response I got was, “Ik versta u niet.”  No, the cashier does not bag your groceries.  Welcome to Europe!

Brugge 2

Brugge

Some of my favorite cities were Antwerp, Gent and Brugge, as well as the countryside of the Ardennnes.  The fascination for me in both Gent and Brugge was the architecture dating as far back as 11th century and the many canals and building structures along these canals.  Although Belgium is landlocked, it does have quite a varied landscape.  Brussels, although favored by many, was never one of my favorite cities, maybe because I don’t speak French.  I found Antwerp just as interesting for its architecture, cafes, restaurants, cathedrals, and narrow cobblestone streets.  Much of the architecture is Gothic and Flemish baroque.  Antwerp, furthermore,  proudly presents the world famous architect Pieter Paul Ruben (Reuben).  A visit to Ruben’s house in the center of the city gives a wonderful insight into the painter’s personal life.  The side streets in any of these Belgian cities/towns are a veritable treasure chest in which you can track down some of the most acclaimed churches and museums.
Contrary to some of the other cultures I have experienced, Belgians enjoy making and spending their money.  It is quite alright to drive a Jaguar if you can afford one, and why not have a most ostentatious house to go with the Jaguar if you can afford both?  It is one of the few countries in which I have lived where people dress up to go for walks and to go to cafes and restaurants, especially on the weekends.  Going out seems to be regarded as an opportunity to celebrate with good food, good wine, fine desserts, wonderful coffees, and the chocolates are to die for.  When in season, mussels are server in a variety of sauces and the “fritten” are ad libitum!

It is very popular to go to the pubs and taste any number of beers.  Each beer has its own particular glass.  It is one of the few places in the world where the monks produce some of the finest “trapisten” beers.  My favorite beer was and is the “Kriek beer” or as I called it, after acclimatizing and acculturating, “een Kriekse, aub“!  A  kriek beer includes cherries in its production, therefore, it has a pink-red color and delicious taste of sparkling cherry champagne.  Best served cold at 2-3° C.  Needless to say, it is served in its own special glass called “een bolleke“.
Naturally, I must not forget the world famous diamond center.  The center of the diamond activities is in Jewish quarter of downtown Antwerp.  And in contrast to the strict Jewish diamond center, you can head to the sailors’ quarter just north of the city center, where women sit framed in windows with red lights overhead waiting for customers.
To me,  Antwerp is a cosmopolitan city, exuding a confidence and full of contrasts.