Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Friday April 29, 2011

The Belgium teachers definitely created an enriching, fully packed program for us while were in Brussels.  Everyday we were off to see something new and learn something new about their countries culture.  On Friday it was our day to explore Antwerp, or as they call it, Antwerpen.
    According to many Belgiums, Antwerp is a city unto itself.  People from Antwerp think they are the best and when you refer to Belgium, you must be referring to Antwerp because it is the only city worth mentioning.  I definitely got that entitled vibe while visiting the city.  Despite the arrogance of the natives, the city is a beautiful place to be.  It is located next to the port,which is and was an important port for importing and exporting goods. Most of all the fresh veggies and fruits, materials, etc come through Antwerp.
   We started our tour at the Port of Antwerp's Museum.  There we were given a detailed presentation about the history of the port and why people of Belgium should never forget their Antwerpean roots.  During WW2 Hitler tried to destroy the port because he knew that it was the life line for Belgium and luckily the port survived WW2 destruction.

After the museum tour, we met at the "Friday Market,"  where they have a huge flea market every Friday.  Since it was Friday, we were able to see the many "items" that were being auctioned off.  Last year apparently some Czech students bought a huge lamp and had to carry it with them through out the whole day. This year, the students were much smarter and saved their money for better things.  At the market, we met up with our tour guide for the day.  Bert (Belgium teacher)'s father usually gives a tour of Antwerp, since he is from there, but unfortunately he was ill in the hospital so Bert's father's best friend took his place.  Mark is a priest and a FANTASTIC story tell to boot.  He took us around Antwerp and filled us in on all the inside scoop that a normal tour guide would never tell you.  His animated gestures kept us listening to every detail ( at least).   Hopefully in this blog, I can do justice to the great stories he shared.

In the square our first story started with the weather vane.  During WW2, much of the square was destroyed by Hitler.  As a reminder to the destruction, they created a weather vane with a rocket on it.  It is a constant reminder of their endurance to succeed in the face of such horrible destruction.

After the Friday Market, we headed to the Pedestrian Passage that takes people and bicycles under the Schelt (the river).  When you enter the Passage, you take a long wooden elevator down below until you reach a long tunnel.  Because of time, we couldn't walk the passage but it was cool to see nonetheless

Then we crossed the street and went to the Castle.  The Castle looks like a typical castle.  It is situated next to the Schelt.  Mark our tour guide told us the story of Long Wapper.  Long Wapper is the huge statue that is guarding the castle.  It is said that Long Wapper condemns all those people who drink too much.  Now adays it has become an everyday idiom.   When you drink too much, you say that Long Wapper threw you in the Schelt and you lost track of time or that you "saw" Long Wapper and you were afraid to go home, so you had to stay at the pub and continue drinking, until it was safe to go home.  You can see in the picture to the right, that Long Wapper is standing tall above the drunk men, who are begging for forgiveness.  Long Wapper is lecturing them to never get drunk again.

The castle is regal in its stature and I am sure was grand in its day.  Now it is empty and a place for tourists to explore.

inside the castle

After the castle, we were led to the Cathedral.  The Cathedral (Our Beloved Wives Cathedral) stands majestic in the center of the city.  It is one of the tallest cathedrals I have seen so far, I think.  There is a story behind the cathedral as well.  Apparently many many many many many years ago when they were trying to build the cathedral, they could not build the foundation.  Every time the towns people built the foundation, it would flood and collapse.  One day, a local farmer came up with the idea of using cow hides to soak up the water.  He went to the city hall and told the officials that he knew a way to build the foundation.  Since he wanted to become rich from the idea, he would not tell him his plans.  He told them he would build the foundation, they could come see, and if they liked what they saw, they could pay him to finish the job.  Unfortunately, his son does not know how to keep a secret and told how his father was building the foundation.  When the church was built, they would not pay him for his plans since he could not "patent" it and he climbed to the top of the tower.  He jumped off the tower and his body exploded into many pieces on the ground.  On the ground is a plaque with gold dots.  It is said that is where parts of his body were found.  Believe or not to believe.....hmmmm...

Right next to the cathedral is a well made of iron.  The iron work was amazing and so detailed.  There is a story behind the well, as well.  The story is apparently is that their was a young blacksmith.  Everyday he worked with his hands so much they were covered in black soot.  The young blacksmith fell in love with a painter's daughter.  According to the painter, the blacksmith was not good enough for his daughter.  So, the blacksmith learned how to paint (and actually became a famous painter).  One day he sneaked into the painter's house and painted a fly on an unfinished portrait of the painters.  When the painter returned to his house, the blacksmith hid behind a curtain.  As the painter was finishing his painting, he noticed a fly on the painting.  He kept trying to swipe the fly awake, with no luck.  Upon closer observation, he realized that it was painted onto his portrait.  He claimed that the person that painted that fly, is a true artist.  At this point, the blacksmith came out from the curtain and took credit for the fly.  The painter granted permission for the blacksmith to marry his daughter.  The blacksmith then created the iron well as a memorial to his love.

We continued our walk and ended up at a market square.  In the middle of the market square is a statue of Brada.  The statue of Brada and the giant stands in front of the City Hall.  I love this story of Brada and the giant.  At the beginning of Antwerpen, there was a giant (Antigoon) that guarded the port.  When anyone wanted to cross the port, they had to pay Antigoon a fee.  If they didn't have any money, the giant would cut off their hand.  One day a very strong man (Brada) came upon the giant.  He wanted to cross the port but didn't have any money and of course he didn't want to lose his hand.  A huge battle began and in the end Brada won and cut off the hand of the giant.  That is how Antwerp got its name.  Ant in Dutch means "hand" and twerpen means "to throw" so Antwerpen means to "throw a hand".  There is a statue in the middle of the square to commemorate the great battle between Brada and the Giant.

We then continued our journey and came upon St. Paul's Cathedral.  From the outside, it looks like a small church with not much inside.  As you walk through the cathedral doors, you are amazed at what is behind those doors.  I have visited many churches in my exploration of Europe but so far, this has to be one of the most beautiful churches on the inside.

Next we went to explore more of the city streets of Antwerp.  We were told the story of the Madonna you see on many street corners.  Not only are they a religious symbol but they also provided light before electricity was invented.  At the top of the Madonna's cover, a lantern was placed and the cover was used to protect the lamp.

City Hall and statue of Brada and the Giant

With all the wonderful stories that I heard and learned from Antwerp, there is some negative experiences as well.  Apparently there is a rule that you cannot take someone's picture without paying them a fee for their "photo".  If someone sees you taking a picture of them, they can come up to you and ask you to pay them for the picture.  There is no set fee, it just depends on what the person thinks they are worth...

I had a interesting experience with this "rule".  Some students and I saw this beautiful old car and we walked up the "public" street to admire the car.  I wanted to take a picture of it so I could show my dad.  As I was about to take a picture, this man walked out onto his porch and told me I had to pay him for the photo.  The girls and I were stunned.  I told the rude man that I hadn't taken a picture (which I hadn't). I tried to smooth the situation by asking him what kind of car it was.  He said smugly, "well, you should know, it's English."  I stared back at him and said, "I'm not English, I am American," and he still wouldn't answer the question.  He was SOOOO rude and disrespectful.  Now I really wish I HAD taken a picture, so I could show you all, what all the fuss was about. And after all that, I still don't know what kind of car it was...oh well...sorry dad, no photo.

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