Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sunday outing to Antwerp & Mechelen, both in Belgium (Jul 27)

One Sunday we decided to stroll out to a few cities in the Flemish region of Belgium (north half) that aren't quite as touristy, but beautiful in their own unique way. We first began in Antwerp which is only 30 minutes from Brussels. You might have heard of Antwerp being referred to as 'The Diamond City' (No, that is not the reason why I wanted to go there! Shannon was thankful!). Actually, around 70% of all the diamonds in the world come from Antwerp. Professional diamond buyers, diamond dealers, diamond brokers and jewelry manufacturers are all based here in the diamond district. Ok, enough about diamonds before I decide I need more of them!

Antwerp is the second largest port city in Europe containing a commercial, industrial and financial center and a rail junction. It lies on the Scheldt River which connects with the North Sea (our shipment from the US actually came to Antwerp). I felt Antwerp had a very relaxed setting despite its commercial activity. It has several little market squares with cafes, boutiques and other fun shops. We visited the 'Cathedral of our Lady' which has a very beautiful spiral and dominates the city's skyline. We also saw the 'Castle Steen', located on the Scheldt River, which has roots dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries; though was renovated in the 16th century. Pieter Paul Rubens, a famous Belgium painter, lived in the castle during his declining years. Now it serves as the Belgian National Maritime Museum.

As we continued exploring the city, we encountered a group of people playing Bocce Ball (aka Bocchi) which is a very big pastime here (originated in Italy and dates back to Roman times). It involves players taking turns throwing balls as close as they can to a 'pallino' or sometimes called a 'jack' (smaller ball basically). The scoring team receives one point for each of their balls that is closer to the jack than the closest ball of the other team. The winner is determined by whoever reaches 13 points first.

After having a drink at one of the many cafes and enjoying the music from the festival that happened to be going on in Antwerp, we decided we'd venture to another nearby town called Mechelen. This city is also in the Flemish region of Belgium. The highly lucrative cloth trade gained Mechelen wealth and power during the late Middle Ages. Like most cities in Belgium, it has a beautiful church referred to as, St. Rumbold's Cathedral, which has an extremely tall tower. We also really liked Mechelen's Town Hall which consisted of very unique and ornate architecture. Mechelen also boasts a good brewery, Het Anker, which I'm sure we'll go to someday.

The first nine photos were taken in Antwerp and the last three were taken in Mechelen.
The 'Castle Steen', former residence of the Count, which was later a prison, now accommodates the National Maritime Museum

Us in front of The Steen

Ornate architecture (similar to other Flemish Towns - Northern half of Belgium)

More beautiful architecture (you'll notice all restaurants have nice patio seating)

What people will do for money these days! (all are real statues except the one I'm next to)

Town Hall (located in the 'Grote Markt' - Flemish for 'Great Market Square')

More fascinating architecture with 'Cathedral of Our Lady' in background

'Bocchi Ball' Game (it's a favorite pastime here - sorry I didn't take a better photo!)

The Gothic 'Cathedral of Our Lady' built between 1352 - 1521 dominates the city's skyline

These last 3 photos were taken in Mechelen
Just some more cool architecture; I'm sure you haven't noticed that I like the buildings in Belgium!

Cathedral in background

Town Hall - extremely detailed!

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