Inquiring minds want to know.
21.04.2014 - 21.04.2014 18 °C
21 April 2014
Seriously, if anybody knows, please let me know. Even Wikipedia has nothing on this topic!
Today’s update is going to be in two parts, mostly because our day has been split in two parts. This morning we toured Antwerp, Belgium, then in an hour or so we’re headed out again for dinner and a tour of the museum at Flanders Field. Jeremy, the ever-efficient Tauck cruise director (although he seems like a Ben to me), has informed us that we will not be back from Monday-Part Deux until 10:30 or 11:00, at which point I will be disinclined to write a lengthy missive about the day’s adventures. So half a loaf is better than no loaf at all, yes?
We started our day docked at the quay in Antwerp, Belgium. Many of you may be somewhat familiar with Antwerp because the world’s largest diamond exchanges are here in Antwerp. (Sadly, these are closed today for Easter. Although, since many of the diamond merchants are Jewish, you’d think they might make an exception…) As Bea, our local Antwerp guide informed us, 80% of the world’s diamonds flow through the city of Antwerp, and 50% of the world’s cut diamonds return through here. Yes, per standard Tauck operating procedure, we started the day being “motorcoached” to the old city section of Antwerp for our walking tour. Now, I could craft a really interesting narrative that tries to join a bunch of disparate facts together, but it might be easier to just give you the bullet points that Julie and I remember from our tour with Bea (we have to rely on our collective memory because it is simply too hard to walk, take pictures, and write notes at the same time. Trust me. I’ve tried. Plus, you look EXTRA dorky doing that, rather than just the standard tourist dorky that comes from the camera glued to your face.)
Antwerp is located along the River Scheldt, which is a broad tidal river big enough to accommodate large (Carnival-sized) cruise ships and ocean-going freighters. The river has been straightened over time to make navigation by these behemoth ships easier. And being tidal means the level of the river rises with the ocean tides. As a result of climate change, the sea level has increased several meters, so the city is working on building a new flood wall system to protect the city from catastrophic flooding.
As a result of being on this large river, Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe (behind Rotterdam), and the 6th or 7th busiest in the world. It is also the second largest petrochemical port in the world, led only by the port of Houston.
There are several theories as to where Antwerp got its name, but the goriest one (and therefore the most exciting) is the one about the giant, Antigoon, who lived near the River Scheldt. He charged a toll for crossing the river, and for those who were unable or unwilling to pay, he cut off their right hand and threw it into the river. The name Antwerp is derived from the Dutch hand werpen, which means “hand to throw.” If you are interested in the other less-colorful stories, please consult Wikipedia. It’s free and instructive. And incidentally, the hand is now the symbol of Antwerp; in fact, we were presented with one of the city’s signature chocolates as a gift: a chocolate hand filled with marzipan and some “elixir” liquor made from herbs. (Quick Googling says maybe chartreuse? You know I am hopeless about booze. I do know that it is reputed to cure colic in horses and aid digestion in people, if that helps, and that it’s not gin…I would have remembered gin. As for aiding digestion, personally, I think I’ll stick with Pepto.)
The Cathedral of Our Lady in the old city of Antwerp is the largest cathedral in the Benelux countries and contains four paintings by Rubens: “The Descent from the Cross,” “The Elevation of the Cross,” “The Resurrection of Christ,” and “The Assumption.” Unlike most cathedrals of a similar age, the Cathedral has only one tower because the wealthy guilds donated lots of money to build the cathedral (which would have paid for a second tower), but each insisted on having their own altar (or perhaps it was chapel), so they had to use the money designated for the tower to enlarge the cathedral to build all those altars (or chapels). Incidentally, the gilded clock on the one tower is 7 meters in diameter (that’s about 23 feet for you non-metric-speaking people).
The City Hall…wait, I found it: Elixir D’Anvers…was built in the main square in the middle of all the guild halls, which blocked the lovely view that many of them had going on. They were probably pretty pissy about that! It is a lovely building, with the flags of all the countries that have consulates in Antwerp flying from the outside. There are several statues on the exterior, including one of Justice and one of Prudence. However, unlike in America, Justice here has her eyes wide open (due to the influence of trade), hence the need for prudence to temper justice. Only Ann, the lawyer, and I noticed that when asked!
Large portions of the Old City were destroyed by retreating German bombers during WWII, who were attempting to demolish the port. They missed.
We also got to see the Butcher’s Guild Hall, which is built from alternating layers of red brick and white stone called, appropriately enough, streaky bacon.
And lastly, you will see statues of the Virgin Mary on the corners of many of the houses in the Old City. Many of them contain light fixtures, because these were taxed at a lower rate than those that were just statues, the rationale being that since the Virgin was protecting the household, they were assured of getting into Heaven and the government had to get their money now!
From the Old City, it was a very short bus ride to the Red Star Line Museum. This museum depicts and honors the departure by millions of European immigrants from Europe for better lives in America and Canada. It is actually in the former shipping terminal of the Red Star Line, and is a VERY well-done museum. They have lots of video testimonials from actual persons who immigrated via the line, who talk about their struggles and reasons for wanting to emigrate. There are extensive exhibits about what the immigration process was like, including all the medical examinations and disinfection processes the potential emigres had to go through to prove they were capable of working in their new world, and to prevent the spread of lice and diseases like cholera and typhoid. Apparently, the immigrants in Antwerp were known because of their strong smell of disinfectant. There is also a good bit about what life aboard the ships (at one point, two a week were departing for America) was like. The very wealthy could afford first class accommodations, but many crossed in steerage, which was significantly less pleasant. Several famous immigrants are also discussed, including Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire, my boy Albert Einstein, and Golda Meir.
After the United States and Canada became more protectionist in the 1920s and clamped down on immigration, the Red Star Line fell into bankruptcy but was reborn as Holland American Cruise Lines! (And for everybody humming “My Heart Will Go On,” that was the WHITE Star Line, not the Red.)
So let me post this while the Internet is still (mostly) working. Expect a double dose tomorrow, with information about Flanders Field and wherever else we go (I honestly have no clue, as the itinerary for tomorrow has not yet been delivered….)
And somebody research what these Twerps are called!