One thing we noticed while traveling through Belgium with VisitFlanders was that no matter where we went, the people absolutely loved their own cities. It was actually very charming to see how excited they were about their home and how much they enjoyed living here – they all thought that “their” city was the best in Belgium – but nothing could compare to what we found in Antwerp. Other Belgians tend to think of Antwerp locals as snobby and arrogant, but we decided not to make judgements before we had seen it first hand.
Belgium Antwerp is a City of Old and New
It turns out that the people in Antwerp really do love their city, but in their opinion they’re not arrogant – they’re just telling the truth.
There is a famous saying that goes “There is Antwerp – and the rest of Belgium is just a parking lot”.
But jokes aside, we could see why they liked it so much – Antwerp, also nicknamed “T Staad” (The city, another arrogant nickname), has the best of both worlds, the best of old and new. It’s a vibrant city which is always looking for the latest trends and newest ideas, but their history and traditions will always stay close to the peoples’ hearts. Antwerp is not as beautiful as Bruges or Ghent where the Old Towns look the same as they did several hundred years ago, but Antwerp has an interesting mixture of everything, with new and modern buildings standing next to old and traditional ones.
The people of Antwerp are, just like in the rest of Flanders, very proud of their city and history. “Antwerp is always looking for something new – whatever is new, Antwerp wants it”, says Rick, our guide who has taken us on a “fashion tour” through Antwerp’s trendiest streets, where there is a cafe in every clothing shop, and young children go to fashion academy studios to learn about fashion. There is no doubt that the people here are brought up from an early age to think in new and different ways.
He explains that because Antwerp was occupied and suppressed for such a long time, people found their liberty in other ways, like design and art, something which has stayed with them.
In between the fashion shops and high-end bakeries that Rick shows us, we find out more about the people of Antwerp and their history, from their struggles to their fortunes, legends and heroes.
Meeting The Locals
We had been paired up with a couple in Antwerp through “Comme Chez Moi”, a new website with a concept to connect travelers with locals living in the city.
After all, one of the most memorable experiences are always the people you meet. In Belgium, we had met so many wonderful and charismatic people, and Isabelle, her boyfriend and their friend were no different.
It was really fun and interesting to get a different angle of Antwerp from the one you get through guides and what you read, and getting to know the people on a different level – we definitely suggest you try the concept next time you visit Belgium.
Feest In Het Park … Bikes & Beats In Belgium
At first sight, you wouldn’t think that the small town of Oudenaarde is a popular stop for visitors, but it has two big main draws that attract people from all over the world: the world famous road biking routes, and the music festival Feest in Het Park.
When arriving at the B&B we quickly got the hint: this town was all about biking – the walls were covered with photos, t-shirts and autographs from famous bikers, and when sitting down for breakfast we shared table with the entire Australian national youth team, who told us that two other national teams from UK and USA were also staying there. The team, along with a handful of other teams, were living in Oudenaarde for the next few months to train.
This place was a serious road biking mekka, and equipped with over 15 pages of biking maps, we were off to explore the routes.
Nathan would take care of the camera, and I was in charge of directions – this, naturally, turned out into us having great photos, but getting lost after only five minutes…
I don’t know where I get these ideas from that I’m so great at biking and orienteering, because every time I prove myself otherwise. After 10 minutes trying to find the right way, the map was no longer useful, so we “decided” to just bike around.
You probably know the famous quote “not all those who wander are lost”. I think it’s more like “when you’re lost, you might as well enjoy it”.
I’m not going to deny that I was completely lost, but it doesn’t always matter so much when the surroundings are beautiful anyway.
Part of the enjoyment of new places is to not really know where you are or where you’re going – I remember someone who once told me that you can’t be lost if you don’t care where you’re going … and you may just stumble upon a “frites” shop that has the biggest servings you’ve ever seen..! (see the picture above!)
Feest In Het Park (Party in the Park)!
The same evening, we biked down to Feest in het park, a festival that has developed from being a small, free event for locals, to a famous festival which people travel from all over Europe to visit. Feest in het Park is not the biggest festival in Flanders, but the people we talked to preferred it over the others because it was much cozier and had a friendlier vibe. With the sun setting over the lake, and the ferris wheel switching on its red lights, the festival park took on that very special cozy atmosphere they all had been talking about.
Unlike festivals like MetalTown in Sweden – Feest in het park was a very mixed festival, which naturally attracted a very mixed crowd – each tent had its own music genre, from House to Reggae to Rock.
The best part was that you got to explore different styles of music, and nobody stuck to their “genre” – you would see an audience with Goths and Rasta Farians listening to House music – this place was awesome!
Not only does it bring people together, but people with different tastes and likes who might not otherwise have met at other festivals. We had a great time, and found some new bands we really liked, which is always the best thing about festivals. We had no idea how many festivals Belgium had until we went on this trip, and in the future we’ll definitely look into other festivals to visit in Belgium.
Exploring Antwerp’s Diamond District
Antwerp is a city of industrial progress and abundant historic heritage – there is no way that a tourist will be bored while walking along the streets of this city or visiting this or that museum – there are too many places to explore and to distinguish and, therefore, a trip to Antwerp should be planned carefully.
The first thing to point out is that the history of Antwerp goes back to the beginning of the Middle Ages period, which is why a big number of monuments and sightseeing spots are guaranteed.
Secondly, this city gave home for numerous Belgian painters, sculptors and artists, such as Antoon van Dyck, Jos van Immerseel, Jacob Jordaens and, of course, Peter Paul Rubens.
Thirdly, it is a world-famous diamond industry center, which draws an attention of both curious tourists and rich businessmen – so, the statement that Antwerp is a pearl of Flanders is truly justified.
Antwerp Diamond District (Diamantkwartier) is a fashionable, luxurious and expensive place to visit – there is a whole set of exchanges and workshops, where everyone is engaged in the diamond industry, including the manufacture, the trade, the gem-cutting or simple jewelry-making.
In particular, there are four diamond exchange houses in function, nearly 400 workshops dealing with precious gems and 12 thousand workers engaged – hence, it is no surprise that Antwerp’s gem-cutting is recognized as the best one in the world, which preconditioned a large share of this city on the global diamond market.
All in all, Anwerp quarter is a gorgeous and magnificent place to visit.
The history of diamond manufacture started in the 15th century, when the first precious gems were exported from India.
To date, the diamond businessmen of Antwerp are occupied with estimating the best gems from India and South Africa.
During its entire lifetime Antwerp was an important transport point and just like Amsterdam became a big center of this industry.
The whole history of diamonds might be observed in the Diamond Museum (Diamantmuseum Provincie Antwerpen), where rich and elegant exhibitions are introduced, including those diamonds and accessories worn by the famous women of the 20th century (Marylyn Monroe, Sophie Lauren, etc.).
Moreover, there are some diamond shows arranged on Saturdays, where professionals demonstrate their gem-cutting skills to the audience.
Diamond District starts with streets, with numerous cafes and restaurants set on one side and jewelry stores on the other. As a rule, one should pass a face-control procedure to get inside. As one could guess, being a leading center of a diamond trade makes a salesman abide by safety rules.
While a shop-assistant is looking for the best gem or jewelry to satisfy the client’s desire, the last one is gladly offered coffee with a traditional Belgian chocolate in a cozy atmosphere.
Usually the trade hall of Diamond District is called the kingdom of four “C” – color, carat, cut, clarity; hence, all the gem characteristics are taken into account accurately.
It is also might be referred to salesmen, who trade through the windows of their houses within Antwerp Diamond District.
(photo credit: 1)