Tuesday, July 31, 2012



  • By Rupali Dean

Diamond and chocolates are a woman’s best friends, with this thought I went to Brugge and Antwerp…but I discovered much more…both cities are rich with its historic past , world- famous panoramic views, centuries old squares invigorated by contemporary constructions  and a lot of Gastronomy…keep your camera handy..

Your first impression of Brugge (the way they spell it here) will be confirmed by climbing the 366 step clock tower, Belford, for a view over the town. Further confirmation that Brugge truly is a special place will be a canal tour with a very informative guide for just 7 Euros…A must do! However before you get to Brugge a beautiful, romantic little medieval town, which could possibly be described as a mix between Amsterdam and Venice, with many waterways and stone bridges Swans swim through all the canals and horses with carriages trot down the streets- it’s so cute! - You have to get to the Brussels Airport which is very organized and the station is just two levels below. From there on it is an hour north of Brussels by train.

Our Hotel was just a 2 minute walk from the market square-where all the action is.  For some culture one can visit the “Onze Likeve Vrouekerk”, which houses the remarkable art treasure, “Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child”, a small marble statue from 1504 and one of the few works of Michelangelo outside Italy. Back in the medieval times Brugge was a very wealthy place as boats used to come up the canals from the sea to trade.  Much of Bruges retained intact because there was no huge industrial revolution here. Hence the buildings and homes were not knocked down to make way for factories. Nonetheless, Bruges is everything you want in a small medieval town. Lots of fascinating buildings and homes along many streets that cross over a plethora of ivy covered stone bridges. The inner city is basically a little island with a moat surrounding the city. Chocolate and lace shops line the cobblestone streets, while tourists hop around the town by bike, foot, horse drawn buggy's or boat along the canals.. It was definitely very touristy, yet didn't seem too over flowing to bother too much. The town itself really is the attraction. I finally found some Belgium waffles after this and they were everything that I expected and maybe a little more. I tried a chocolate Vanilla one – decadent to the core. It may have tasted better just because of the fact that I was in Belgium when I ate it, but I am going to say it is possibly the best waffle I have ever had. While we were here I also visited the “fret museum” where I learnt that the Belgium actually introduced “French fries” and not the French. Every restaurant sells fries as a separate menu item.  And they prefer to serve them with mayonnaise, not ketchup. Also true beer capital, when it comes to brewing.  Belgium still has 600 actives breweries that operate like micro breweries with many following strict quality standards and consistently winning taste test award throughout the world.  I had beers here that were nothing like anything I have tried before. 

Next morning we hopped back on the train and headed to the city of Antwerp (literal translation is hand throw), after all I had not even started looking for my diamond yet. For those who do not know Antwerp is the Diamond capital of the world. A fairly large city, around 500,000 inhabitants and is the second largest city in the country.We had to walk about a mile to our Hotel from the train station and seriously we passed about 20 Diamond Jewellery shops, all right next to each other. By the way, the station is beautiful! Do grab your free copy of a witty “youth” map of the city before you start exploring its squares, cheap eats, deep and super long pedestrian tunnels, parks, second hand shopping and more. A lovely city with a mixture of new and old, modern and historic buildings and to me seemed much more like a real city than Brugge, which is like the original medieval city for tourism, and has no major industry. Situated on a massive river Antwerp’s main attraction is walking along the river, which everyone does. Touristy places are the Rockox house and the town market square with the town hall and a fountain depicting the hero of the city. Legend has it that the giant “Druoon Antigoon” who controlled the River Scheldt would levy heavy tolls on all the boats that passed. If anyone refused to pay, he would cut off one of their hands and toss it into the river. One day, a Roman centurion named Silvius Brabo killed the giant, chopped off one of his hands and threw it in the river. Thus the city of Antwerpen got its name! Werpen means “to throw”. Interestingly all throughout this city there are hands. Hand statues, hand chocolates, hand gummies, and hand pictures. A great idea is to also visit the Grote Market, a tribute to the Golden Age, a typical Frankish shape; it is dominated by the city hall, the guild halls and also by the Brabo fountain. And of course the Town Hall, surrounded by nicely decorated buildings. From here one can also see the top of the cathedral. I later went in and I must say it is the most magnificent Cathedral I have ever seen. Inside are four glorious paintings by Reubens. Surprisingly, there were no officials to protect the precious artwork. But given its enormous size - there is no chance of anyone taking one home. Antwerp is the cultural capital of Belgium with the best shopping ever and houses all the big names of all the big designers.

For those in between hunger pangs do stop by for Belgian fries... which won’t be difficult, along the edge of the square, you’ll find some figurines of fries; go for the one which reads “best friets”.  How can one miss out on the best fries, the most authentic Belgian fries!  Yes, they are delicious. Another must visit is the Plantin-Moretus Museum, the current printing museum and was the first printing warehouse in Belgium. This place was not destroyed in any civil or world wars so it is practically in the same condition as when it was used hundreds of years ago. All of the original presses still exist with the original stamps. One of the highlights of the trip can be a visit to “Kulminator”, a Belgian beer bar that specializes in vintage beers. Iam sure you have heard of vintage wine, but this one offers vintage beer. The bar is replete with a full cooling room to keep the vintage beer at just the right temp.

Home to the European diamond trade, but of course there were plenty of the sparkling gems around. But naturally one has to visit the Diamond Museum, since Antwerp produces 80% of cut or carved diamonds of the world. It is a simple modern museum, not many antique jewels, more a walk through of how a Diamond is processed. Although comparatively cheaper than elsewhere; I unfortunately still came home without any. Of course, no trip to Belgium goes by without plenty of beer and chocolates, and I found one that combines the two, chocolate beer - amazing. Belgium makes about 300 types of beer and tried as I did, I couldn’t really taste it all. But my verdict of Belgium- beautiful country, nice people– it is all about the food and beer and Iam not complaining



Rubens was famed for painting full figured ladies who enjoyed life. One of the main reasons for thousands of tourists visiting Antwerp each year is this house. No other city is connected that closely to Rubens as Antwerp. One can find his paintings in the churches; his statue is on the Groenplats, his grave in St. Jacobskerk…In Rubens House, where he lived and produced over 2,500 paintings is a must visit for any tourist.

Timings- 10 am to 5pm. open on all days except Mondays. Entry Fee- Euro 1 (below 25) and Euro 6 (above 25 years of age).


The Brugge city card is a smart card with a computer chip. This digital card entitles the user free admission to or discounts on a range of attractions covered by the tourist. One saves about 200 Euros or more by buying this card. The more places you visit the more money you save and is automatically activated on first use. It can be bought for a validity of 48 hours or 72 hours. One can buy it online on www.bruggecitycard.be , at the information offices or at the railway station and at the Concertgebouw.


This museum sketches the history of the potato, fries and its various accompaniments and sauces. Housed in Saaihalle, it is one of Brugge’s most beautiful buildings.

Timings – 10 am to 5 pm on all days. Free if you are carrying the city card else Euro 6 for ages 12 upwards and between Euro 1 to Euro 5 for other age groups.


Most renowned pedestrian shopping street in Antwerp and its renovated historically valuable architecture is home to the luxurious international clothing and leather brands. One should also take a peep at the prestigious shopping mall in Stadsfeestzaal. The beautiful Rubens house and loads of brasseries are located in Wapper, off Mier.


The Bruges museum houses the world famous and unique pictures by the Flemish Primitives. You can also witness here contemporary art, poignant and romantic folklore and majestic town palaces.


Let me try and describe the awesomeness that is a Belgium waffle.  First they make the waffle, then they dip it in a sugary goodness, topped with a variation of melted chocolate, fruit, ice cream, whip cream, and sprinkles…. a must try!