Sunday, March 22, 2009

Deloitte event in Antwerp, Belgium (Feb 18 & 19)

Every once in awhile Deloitte has off site standardization meetings, where the spouses are invited along. I love going to these outings as it's fun to see some of Shannon's colleagues, plus explore another town or one I've already been to, in this case. Last year's meeting was in Ghent while this year was in Antwerp. We stayed at the Hilton right in the center of town, so everything was within walking distance. While Shannon and his colleagues went to their meeting on Wednesday afternoon, the spouses went on a mini tour of the city. Since I had been there once before, I was familiar with most of the tourist attractions, but it was still enjoyable. I felt like it was more of a 'sampling the tastes of Antwerp' tour vs. informational, but that was OK by me! Our tour guide showed us The Grote Markt (Great Market Square), Town Hall, Groenplaats (Green Square), Het Steen (Stone Castle), Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady), Fashion Street with top designers, tiny hidden alleys with cute restaurants and gave us some historical information, but not much. Every 15 minutes, we stopped for some sort of Antwerp or Belgium traditional food or drink. Some of the things we tasted were Elixir d'Anvers (74 proof liqueur), Jenever (form of gin), specialty meats, chocolates and unique raisin bread. Everything was delicious; though of course, I didn't partake in the alcohol tastings which you'll read about 'why' in a blog shortly! After our tour we met up with the Deloitte group at a nice restaurant.

It was optional to spend the night; thus, we went ahead and did so. Shannon took Thursday off, so we could enjoy the day in Antwerp. After roaming around the market squares for a short period, we decided to venture down the main shopping street (Meir Straat) towards the train station which is where the Diamond District is located. Antwerp is known as the Diamond Capital of the World. There are so many stores I couldn't count them all. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit this area was to get an idea of settings. I need to get my wedding ring fixed as the setting is slightly crooked and seems a bit loose, thanks to India's handy work which is where my husband got my ring while on a 3 month assignment for work (don't get me wrong, it's gorgeous and I am completely happy with it, but don't want the diamond to fall out, so there needs to be some slight adjustments made). In the time being, I've been wearing another band with an embedded diamond that my husband had a colleague bring back from India, and gave to me on our wedding day. I fit in perfectly with the rest of Europe with this smaller scale of a ring vs. my larger diamond ring since most people here only wear bands. Sorry, I got a little sidetracked. After touring the Diamond District we headed back down the shopping street (Meir Straat) where Shannon found a nice long sleeve shirt. Besides finding some black gloves for Shannon in an Athletic/Outdoors shop, we also found a cute set of pink gloves, mittens and a hat for our little one someday!?!

As our day was coming to an end, we stopped off briefly at an antique clock shop since we think they are rather interesting and will probably accumulate one someday. Since we hadn't eaten much all day we grabbed a durum (similar to a gyro) and a waffle which are found in abundance everywhere in Belgium. Then it was on the road back to Brussels which is only 30 minutes away.

Here is the Brabo fountain with the Town Hall located in The Grote Markt (Great Market Square). The fountain represents a legend about a giant who demanded hefty tolls from sailors who were cruising the Scheldt River. If a passing boatman was unable to pay the toll, the giant would cut of one of his hands and throw it in the river. Having had enough of this, a Roman warrior, Brabo, took it upon himself to slay this giant. Not only did he slay the giant, but he also gave him a dose of his own medicine, tossing one of his hands into the river. The Flemish word “handwerpen” translates to “throwing the hand,” which some people believe explains the theory of the city’s name, 'Antwerpen' in Dutch (called 'Anvers' in French and 'Antwerp' in English). The town adopted the hand as its symbol after that.
Ornate architecture and bustling cafes in the warmer months can be seen in the Grote Markt
Some of the guild houses with statues perched on the roofs in The Grote Markt
Stephanie and I in the Grote Markt
Leah by Het Steen (The Stone Medieval castle) near the Scheldt River. The castle used to function as a city fortification and now houses a naval museum; however, I think it might change again soon.
Leah and Stephanie enjoying a shot of Elixir d'Anvers which is a yellowish 74 proof liqueur made in Antwerp (one of our many stops on our tour)
Some of the specialty meats we tried on our tour
Interesting restaurant located in a cellar
Jenever, also called Genievre, is the juniper-flavored and strongly alcoholic liquor produced in Belgium, the Netherlands and Northern France, from which gin evolved. It comes in all flavors.
Leah sipping her cherry/blueberry Jenever which I heard was much better than the 74 proof Elixir d'Anvers they had earlier
The Bourla Theatre is a 19th century neo-classicist theatre building
Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady which towers over the city)
Dinner with the Deloitte gang on Wednesday evening at Lux
Cafe row in The Groenplaats (Green Square), notice all the beer signs on the buildings (De Koninck beer is brewed in Antwerp)
We really like these metal Belgium beer signs. We currently have a St Bernardus beer sign in our kitchen, but will end up with more by the time we move home (Westmalle, Tripel Karmeliet and La Chouffe are some of our favorites; though the others are close behind. Remember, there's a ton more Belgium beers out there!)
Interesting building, which I think is a restaurant, with a wine barrel hanging off of it
Royal Palace on Meir Street (I believe they are currently renovating the inside of it)
Meir Street is Antwerp's main shopping avenue (turns into Leysstraat de Keyserlei as you near the Central Station - train station)
Royal Opera House
The town adopted the hand as its symbol after the legend I described above and there are signs of it everywhere from this statue to cookies and chocolates in the shape of a hand (we actually had some chocolate in the shape of a hand on our tour yesterday).
Madonna and child statues are on several street corners
The beginning of the Diamond District of Antwerp
One of several window displays
Some of the diamond shapes, not sure why princess cut isn't on here.
One of the most elaborate pieces of jewelry I saw (I'm sure it cost a pretty penny, luckily Shannon didn't have to buy me anything as we toured the Diamond District, except for a bag of chocolates!)

Dallas and I tagged along with my husband to Amsterdam for a fun outing while he conducted a training for his Dutch colleagues (Feb 12)

I guess I don't have too bad of a deal when I get to ride along with my husband to Amsterdam for the day while he conducts a training in the Deloitte office there. I have been there a few times and really enjoy the uniqueness of the city. Since I didn't really want to roam around Amsterdam by myself, I asked a friend of mine to join me, Dallas. She's a very outgoing and extremely nice gal who I've gotten to know over the last few months. Here is her blog on our Amsterdam outing She's much better at updating her entries on time!

Thanks to rush hour traffic it took us 3 hours instead of the normal 2 hours to drive up to Amsterdam. Oh well, we still had plenty of time to explore. Minus the mini down pour at the beginning of our day, we ended up having a pretty decent day. We did a lot of walking and saw mostly places that we haven't been to before. It's always nice just to enjoy the beautiful canals and the cool architecture that Amsterdam boasts as you stroll around the city.

Here are some of the places we visited with more details by the pictures below: Rembrandt's House, Flower Market, Flea market, Begijnhof, coffee shops (only the exterior!), Van Gogh Museum, Vondel Park, Magna Plaza Shopping Center, American food store. We didn't think it was necessary to visit the Red Light District and Sex Shops on this trip, plus we were trying to appreciate Amsterdam for its other great assets!

After a painful process of finding my husband after his meeting, without our mobile phones working properly, we headed back to Brussels. Since we were all starving and there aren't many fast food places off the interstate, we settled for McDonald's, which is sad to admit. We don't make a regular habit of eating there, only when we're in dire need of food!

This sign is close to the Van Gogh and Rijks Museums, which we thought was rather cool. (courtesy of Dallas)
One of the many canals in Amsterdam
The famous Dutch painter, Rembrandt's House (we didn't go inside)
Daily Flea Market (we noticed some cute booths, but also a lot of junk)
I thought these long decorative shirts were kind of cute at the Flea Market, but decided against buying one.
Some of the numerous house boats one can see along the canals
Clock Tower
Typical Amsterdam architecture (notice the tram creeping into my picture...they are everywhere)
Daily Flower Market where you can find cut flowers, plants, bulbs, seeds and garden supplies. Holland is a major exporter of flowers with tulips being the most popular.
Daily Flower Market
Daily Flower Market: you can't go to Holland and not witness some of their gorgeous flowers. Last year we went to Keukenhof, Holland and saw its amazing gardens of flowers in its enormous park.
Numerous flower bulbs at the market
Tiny canal
Magna Plaza Shopping Center which we actually didn't go in, but I've been in once (I believe it was used as a Post Office in its earlier days).
Tiny alley of 'Coffee Shops" (aka 'Smoke Shops' - we did not venture down this alley!)
Begijnhof: similar to an old nunnery where women have practiced their faith for several hundreds of years and still continue so today, but haven't actually take any oaths. It's a quiet courtyard lined with picturesque houses
More architecture I thought was neat!
Several small boats line the canals as well as house boats
It's not common to see Bagel Shops, so I thought I needed a picture of this cafe.
Notice the hooks at the top of the buildings; this is how people get their shipments into their house/apartment, basically via a pulley system.
American food shop where I stopped at to get Crisco, so I can make homemade pie crusts and quiche crusts; initially, I was going to buy it at a Sex Shop since I had seen it in a few of them on previous trips, but this shop came along first! Most of these products are hard to come by in Belgium and if you do run across them, they are extremely expensive!
Dallas, doing some bird watching in Vondel Park, which is a huge and lively city park popular with the Dutch.
Outside the Van Gogh Museum (no photos are permitted inside)
Night scene along one of the canals (courtesy of Dallas)