"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal and not in reaching it. " ~ Mahatma Gandhi


Antwerp : Two Year Stint

Sunil Damodar of State Bank of India was posted at Antwerp. He relives the impressions of his 2 years there.

For two years I lived in Antwerp, a city known for its diamonds, its beer and it's snacks, its waffle and frituurs. It is also a place that averages a mere 1320 hours of sunlight a year, which translates into slightly over 4 months. The brief summer, with 16 hours of sunlight sports the greenest of grasses and a variety of flowers that are a riot of colours. It is the second largest city in Belgium after Brussels. An hour and a half away, is where Napoleon met his Waterloo. When I reached Belgium, the only thing I was familiar with was the detective with the odd moustache, and the egg-shaped face - Hercule Poirot.

Extremely cold during the long winters months, it is balmy in the short summer. The summer is equivalent to the spring that Delhi experiences in February and March. Temperature of 30 degrees Celsius brings the entire city outdoors. There are essentially only two seasons in Antwerp - summer and winter. The summer days are long with daylight upto 16 hours. The rains are perennial, raining even on bright, sunny days when the skies had been a striking blue, just before the downpour.

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The people are friendly as long as you do not hope to share their umbrella during an unexpected downpour. They do not shy from eye contact with strangers and always have a ready smile, initially almost disconcerting. Barring the elderly, who on occasion wistfully complain of loneliness, beyond the smile, Belgians are not keen on a casual conversation.

The language spoken is Flemish, a Belgian variant of Dutch. However, as it is a cosmopolitan city with people from several races, English is widely understood. It was a comfort not to be compelled to learn the local language, albeit at risk of never knowing what your colleagues said about you.

Coming from India, the contrast in behaviour on the roads is noticeable. Belgians are sticklers for rules. There is strict demarcation on all public roads for bicycles, pedestrians and vehicular traffic. Traffic signals are honoured like the commandments from the Holy Book. They also abhor noise and horns. Loudspeakers are unheard off. All sounds are muted. In fact, neighbours have been known to complain at the use of a flush at an unearthly hour!

AntwerpA small city, there are several historic walkabouts past buildings that have retained their original character despite the passage of time. Particularly notable is the Cathedral, built 1000 years back. A few main thoroughfares still have centuries-old cobbled road surfaces to convey a sense of history. There is a shopping mall some 2 km long that boasts the best known brands of the retailing industry. Many shops offer glasses of wine and cheese to make shopping more pleasurable.

Flanking the city, the river Schelde flows to the North Sea, making Antwerp one of the busiest ports of Europe. From the tourist perspective, Antwerp is strategically located with the capitals of UK and France easily accessible and Netherlands barely an hours drive away.

There are numerous pubs, particularly inviting in summer, when chairs and tables are arranged outdoors. These cafes are a major attraction and because of the long summer days, with daylight up to 10 pm, lingering contentedly over glasses of beer becomes a pastime in itself. Volumes have been written about the Belgian beer, all of them well-merited. Equally delightful are the frituurs or French fries and waffles, which taste best with dollops of cream on them. The Belgian chocolates are famous. Arguably the best are those that melt without your having to bite or crunch into them. And the memories remain, long after Antwerp is left behind.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.