Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Twerps in Antwerp

Just my luck, the one day the darn sun shines in London, I’ve made plans to leave town. Blue toy plane took me to Antwerp airport on a rare sunny Friday afternoon.

45 minute flights are pretty perfect when they have only 15 people onboard, lounging in the 50 seats. The seatbelt ON sign stays on the first 20 minutes while toy plane attempts to defy gravity and rise to glide above the clouds. At 19 minutes the pilot gives up and we just plateau out, below said clouds and not far enough above the ground to no longer be able to see the fields and scattering of houses. We pass over the English Channel and I see a wind farm swirling vigorously in the brisk sea air. Rows of wind turbines make up a diamond shape, standing proud and tall against the sea of blue. Apt, wouldn’t you say, seeing as I am heading to the diamond capital of the world. The plane is level for just about 5 minutes before the descent must begin. This means that the stewardess has to wheel her trolley down the aisle pretty fast, chucking sandwiches and chocolate at us en route to the galley. The plane dives down towards its destination and comes to land on a tiny airstrip. The airport is very tiny and basic. And that sums up the city as well.

My mama (let’s call him Sam) and his family have moved to Antwerp 6 months ago on a posting and as I had not seen any of them in the past 5 years I decided to make amends by making this short and easy journey. So Sam and his kid (let's call him Sprout) are at the airport to meet me. And true to his name, my cousin Sprout has grown a few feet since I last saw him. Of course he was 7 at the time and is now 12. But which 12 year old towers over their 31 year old cousin? Sprout is nearly at the 6 foot mark, his still child-like face topping a tall and gangly frame. Its official: I am the shortest person in my mother’s ENTIRE family. And possibly the universe. Gah!

My nani also lives with them, and after battles for her visa she has joined them. (The Belgians do not consider single, older parents to be dependents on their son). I saw her when we went to India last October and she was all upset at being parted from her son and running around trying to rectify the situation. Seeing her again and this time in better circumstances, reunited with her precious son, was the cherry on an already rich and sweet cake.

Spent Saturday out and about, sitting in trams and buses, walking miles, taking in Antwerp, talking nineteen to the dozen. It was lovely to do all that catching up, exchanging gup-shup and baat-shaat. It must be said though that Antwerp is not a terribly exciting city and there are only a few things worth mentioning from all that touring:

1. A very large building sits empty on a road called Bolivarplaats. This is the new court house that has been built to bring together all the disparate courts in the Antwerp area. Although its very innovative ceiling is a series of fin like appenditures, the overall look of the building is quite monsterous.

2. As with its big sister city of Bruxelles just 48 kilometers away, Antwerp has a Grote Markt or Market Square. The buildings surrounding the square are not very impressive but the central statue is not half bad. Legend has it that a giant would cut off the hands of sailors who used the Sheldt river and refused to pay taxes. That statue is of Silvius Brabo, a Roman who defeated the giant and let sailors pass through with their hands on. Of course I didn’t get any pictures because I did not bother to carry my camera.

3. There are plenty of roads and buildings named after Antwerp’s greatest resident – Reuben’s. The main cathedral has four of his paintings and his house is a museum. The cathedral is missing a tower and the stained glass was unimpressive but the hushed silence within and the main hall of prayer was sublime. I didn’t go see the museum but I did pass more that a few roads and buildings named after him. Does that count?

4. Went to big electronic chain Media Markt to buy the Sprout a birthday present to cover the past 12 years of ignoring it. Passed by the largest ever collection of coffee making machines in one spot. I guess Belgians do take their coffee seriously. The store is right near the Central Station which is a magnificent building, far more pleasing than any other sight I saw. It’s lovingly called the Railway Cathedral and it’s easy to see why with its iron and glass dome, majestic stairs and gold decorations. In appearance it seems more a historical building than a utilitarian one but I am reliably told that it is a station that prides itself on being the perfect meld of both beauty and functionality.

5. I ate a lot of waffles. Again. We would stop every couple of hours and at every opportunity to wolf down hot hot waffles. We walked the length of the Meir, which is a very long pedestrian-ised length of street which serves as the main shopping attraction. It has every brand imaginable on either side of the road and I had to maintain great ‘won’t power’ to abstain from going in and shopping myself silly. On Sunday we wandered around the local market that sprung up on the roads nearby and got caught in a sharp shower while watching the bird sellers train little budgies and parrots. Picked up some very tasty cheese from a smiling lady behind a very large cheese counter and helped choose some climbers for their apartment.

6. Wandered all over the diamond district and saw the branch of ABN Amro where the great bank robbery recently happened. It all looked ordinary and unassuming enough. No sign of the diamonds either.

After that short and sweet trip to Antwerp came back on the most turbulent flight ever, rocking and swaying violently all the way from Antwerp to London. Couldn't bear to catch the sandwich being chucked at me or drink a drop of water.

And seriously, there were no twerps. I just couldn't think of any catchy titles.


  1. gup-shup and baat-shaat rock!

  2. You tricked me! I read the whole post looking for what "The Twerp" did!!

    Anyway, nice post. Catching up with family after a long time, gup-shup, baat-shaat - things that make life in these far-flung places better. Dontcha think?!

  3. Anonymous1:07 PM

    speaking of height...your favorite nice #1 is 5ft tall and growing!!!40in2006

  4. There was a lot of travelling to Antwerp in Agatha Christie books and I always for some reason thought it was in Turkey when I was a kid.
    Random thought.
    Thanks for that post :)

  5. Musta been some ants, though, surely! :D

  6. Hey, great piece of writing, I won't call it a travelogue as it also has a warm, personal touch to it!!

    Thanks for the personalised tour of Antwerp, as well as the one of Bruxelles in December 2006! Which reminds me, my wife gifted me the entire set of Tintin comics just after our wedding in Nov 2004!

    Do visit my blog when you can. Cheers!

  7. Anonymous6:24 AM

    The sun's gone again so you haven't come back to much. if you hadn't guessed already-the weather's put me in a really foul mood.

  8. Beks: Gup shup is the thing you live for when you move abroad!

    CK: Sorry, I just couldn't think of anything catchy! And yes I completely agree with far flung equalling loving gup-shup, baat-shaat!

    40in2006: I'm avoiding knowing that because soon I shall be shortest on both sides of my family and then I shall have to invest in stilts!

    Me: Yeah Antwerp was in a load of Agatha Chritie because Poirot was Belgian!

    Shyam: No ants even - utterly boring place.....

    Sachin: Thanks

    MG: It's back out today 26th March but it's only passing I'm sure.....