A Two-Minute Tour Of Antwerp

He worked the morning after the Groezrock Festival.  With afternoon flights, we didn’t have much time to enjoy Belgium.  Regardless, he wanted to see a little something on the way to the airport and we had to transfer trains in Antwerp.  He’d never been before and wanted to check it out.  We got off the train, headed to the tourist information office for a map and headed on a whirlwind walking tour of Antwerp.

Antwerp’s famous zoo is immediately outside the grand train station.  The diamond district and the Antwerp Diamond Museum are also there (Antwerp is the world’s main center for cutting and polishing diamonds).  It was an easy walk through the main shopping district to the old town.  It was a nice walk although I would have preferred a stroll and window shopping to hoofing it.  Antwerp is trendy and has tons of shops from all over.  You could spend a lot of time and money shopping there.

It was a gorgeous day and everyone was trying to take advantage of the wonderful weather.  It is in Belgium after all.   They looked like they were having a delightful time.  Passing tons of cafes, fry places, praline shops, we soooooo wanted to stop.

Unfortunately, this was the closest we got.  We had to keep moving, see the city and catch a train to get to the airport.   There was no time.  Curses!

If you look hard at the top of this picture, you can tell that only one of the two planned towers was completed. You can see it in some of the photos below.

Instead of having a wonderful Belgian beer, we went to church.  The Cathedral of Our Lady was old and pretty with a lot of paintings that we didn’t have time to properly appreciate.  They have a fair number of works by Peter Paul Rubens (whose house/studio in Antwerp is now a museum), as well as paintings by artists such as Otto van VeenJacob de Backer and Marten de Vos.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Next on the list, the Grote Markt.  It’s a jewel of a main square.  It has the Brabo fountain which has a statue of a guy throwing a hand.  I’m not kidding.  Check it out.

According to legend, a mean, nasty giant controlled the nearby river traffic.  He extorted ridiculous tolls and cut a hand off hose who refused to pay.  Silvius Brabo, a Roman soldier, managed to kill the giant by cutting off his hand and throwing it in the river.  Wonderfully ornate guild houses in the Flemish Renaissance style surround the square.

Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe.  I would have loved to sit and watch the river traffic.  We could see workers readying boats for river cruises.   I think you could spend a nice afternoon strolling the river walk or taking a cruise.  Instead, we headed back to the train station.

Heading back to the train station, we passed The Steen.  Unfortunately, this is all we got to see of t’Steen, what remains of Antwerp’s old castle.  All in all, it was a wonderful little detour.  Although there were a lot of things we didn’t get to see and do in Antwerp, we are lucky to have been able to see the things we did, especially on such a nice day.

Oh yeah, we saw a Spartan too.  Rock on.

Advertisements

Kinds Of Belgian Beers

Belgium is known for many different kinds of beer. They include:
Abbey Beers – Abbey beers are generally brewed from traditional recipes under a license by a commercial breweries. Maredesous, Leffe and Grimbergen are good ones that are easy to find in the US. Some can be found in the Trippel and/or Dubbel styles.  Many American (and Canadian) microbrews emulate these.
Amber Ales – Belgium’s Amber Ales are similar to British Pale Ales, but are less hoppy. They are slightly spicy which is balanced by a bit of a yeasty taste.
De Koninck

De Koninck (Photo credit: Schlüsselbein2007)

Belgium’s Brown Ales are a specialty of eastern Flanders. They are complex, lack acidity, usually have a caramel-like malty sweetness and have strong flavors (often a sourness from several months of maturation). They tend to have a high alcohol content (notice the start of a pattern and consider this the first of many warnings). One that I have seen in the US is De Koninck.
Français : Delirium Tremens (bière)

Français : Delirium Tremens (bière) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Belgian Golden Ales are not the run of the mill golden ale that you get in the US. They have a higher alcohol content than many of the US ales (you were warned) but not as high as the Belgian Dubbels and Trippels.
Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel and Hopsinjoor

Het Anker Gouden Carolus Tripel and Hopsinjoor (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Belgian Golden Ales are clear with a clean taste and are maltier and hoppier instead of fruity or yeasty.  Quality ones that are easily available in the US include: Delirium Tremens, Duvel and Delerium Tremens.
English: Exterior of Délirium Café

English: Exterior of Délirium Café (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blanche/Whit/White Beers – These wheat beers are light, cloudy, and with a hint of citrus. They are similar to a German HefeWiessen, but have coriander and orange peel. The White Beers that are best known in the US include: Hoegaarden St. Bernadus and Blue Moon (not Belgian, but I thought it would help explain the style).
Lambic Beers – Lambics are pretty unique so they get their own day.  For the Lambic post, click here.
English: Maes pils

English: Maes pils (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pils – Pils are generally mass produced beers that are widely found in Belgium. Common ones there include: Jupiler, Maes and Stella Artois (which is easily found in the US).

English: Brewery Gaverhopke, Belgian beers

English: Brewery Gaverhopke, Belgian beers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Red Beers – This style comes from western Flanders. Red Beers are produced from red barley, aged in oak and highly fermented. They are refreshing, fruity, sweet and sour. Make sure that you drink it cold (not as much of an issue in the US as it is in other parts of Europe).  Rodenbach and Duchess de Bourgogne are two good examples of this style.

Trappist Beers – They are so wonderful and unique that they get their own day! Click here for the post.

Saisons – Saison Beers are a specialty of Walloon (the southern French-speaking part of Belgium). They are typically brewed in smaller breweries and have an artisanal quality. They are hoppier, spicier, have stronger flavors than many other beers and can be a bit tart. Most likely, they won’t have the extremely high alcohol content of other Belgian beers. They are brewed in smaller batches and you can taste it.  Some of the better ones that you can find in the US are: Dupont and Fantome Pissenlit.
Categorie:Afbeelding bier

Categorie:Afbeelding bier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Special Belgian Beers are some of the country’s best.  They are have a gravity of .060 to .095, use various herbs and spices and doesn’t clearly fall into any other category (more or less).  They offer a unique taste that is not easily replicated.  You can usually find some brands in the US: Golden Draak (similar in style to Piraat and a friend’s favorite), Kwak, Piraat (blonde, have a high alcohol content and amazing flavor), Dupont (I know that it is listed more than once here, try it and decide how you would categorize it) and La Chouffe (dark amber, rich, herbal, a great winter beer).

Sour ales from Belgium

Sour ales from Belgium (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Congratulations Belgium! After 541 Days, You Have A Government.

English: Flanders (red) in Belgium and the Eur...

English: Flanders (red) in Belgium and the European Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Belgium was unable to form a government for 541 days! What?  How can they have been governmentless for so long? There was an ethnic standoff in Belgium’s parliament. The French and Flemish (Dutch) speaking communities* were divided and were not able to form a government… for about 18 consecutive months (demolishing Iraq’s record).

 

 

English: A graphical representation of the six...

English: A graphical representation of the six biggest Flemish political parties and their results for the House of Representatives (Kamer). From 1978 to 2010, in percentages for the complete ‘Kingdom’. Nederlands: Een grafische voorstelling van de 6 grootste Vlaamse partijen en hun behaalde resultaten voor de Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers. Van 1978 tot en met 2010, uitgedrukt in procenten voor ‘Het Rijk’. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Why didn’t they hold new elections. Few people believes calling new elections would help. The Belgians don’t have any truly national political parties, only regional (i.e., Flemish, French, etc.) parties. The Flemish-speaking separatist party (New Flemish Alliance) is quite popular and there are deep divisions between the parties. If they held new elections, the results would likely have been the same (as the one that created the stalemate) or the more extreme populist parties would have gained ground.

 

Things continued to function, more or less, on auto-pilot. Civil servants showed up to work. Governmental power was already somewhat decentralized from the national government to the French and Flemish speaking parts of the country. These separate divisions continued to function. Also, Belgium is part of the European Union which exerted power (ironically from Brussels).

Elio Di Rupo

Elio Di Rupo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was finally resolved when a Flemish separatist party left negotiations in the hope of provoking new elections. The move backfired when another party managed to cobble together a new government when Belgium’s debt was downgraded last month. Their new leader is Elio Di Rupo.

I love Belgium. It is a fantastic country. To celebrate Belgium’s new government (and aid you in your holiday beverage selections), I am declaring this coming week Belgian Beer Week. Cheers! Sante! Op uw gezondheid! Proust!

Français : Etape 19 (L'Alpe d'Huez) du Tour de...

*Cyclist Philippe Gilbert just won an award for his bravery uniting his fellow Belgians, both Flemish and French.

**Mr. Di Rupo is the country’s first openly gay leader and the second openly gay leader of a country (after Johanna Sigurdardottir of Iceland).

**********************************************************
I was going to post this early last week. On the way home, I heard on the radio that a gunman in Liege, Belgium opened fire on a crowd. The gunman killed six (seven including himself), and injured 121 people. Words can’t properly express the tragedy and sorrow created by this senseless act.

 

 

I Apologized for Saying Merci Beaucoup (Thank You)

It is sometimes difficult to explain the relationship between the Flemish speaking and the French speaking parts of Belgium to other Americans. Heck, I’m not sure I understand it and I have been trying to for decades now.
While I was in Belgium, we went to see the ruins of an amazing castle. It was both interesting and beautiful. If you want to read more about it, here is the link: http://www.montaigle.be/  Since it is in French, here is another link to see information about the ruins (this time in English) medieval-castle-ruins-of-montaigle.

I wanted a picture of all of us with the castle behind us and asked a passer-by exiting the castle if they could please take our picture (in French). They did so and I thanked them. When they found out I spoke English they switched to it immediately and so did I.  This is because they were from the north of Belgium and Flemish is their mother tongue.* They made it clear that they preferred English to French.

When they left, I reflexively said “merci beaucoup” without thinking and then, immediately apologized for having spoken in French. To make reparations, I attempted a “dank u”.

*I have always been advised when meeting Belgians who speak Flemish to speak English not French (one of their country’s languages and mandatory in school from an early age). I was told that they could feel slighted that I had chosen to learn one of their countries other languages before Flemish. I have always done so and found their English to be excellent.