Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day 6, April 27, 2014   Antwerp, Belgium

After a long day yesterday, it was nice to be able to relax today.  Although we were up at the usual time, there was no real pressure to “get out of the door.”  After breakfast, passengers were invited to attend a presentation in the lounge by a local chocolatier who talked about the differences in chocolate; the process for making chocolate; and some of the steps involved in making chocolate candy.  His assistant demonstrated how the liquid chocolate was molded.  There was also a film which demonstrated some of the techniques. 
According to the local expert, the ratio of cocoa to cocoa butter [both found in the cacao bean]determines both the darkness and flavor of chocolate.  The higher the cocoa content, the more bitter the taste.  Milk chocolate is sweeter because of the addition of powdered milk, and white chocolate contains no cocoa, just the natural cocoa butter; the absence of cocoa leaves the resulting mixture “white,” but not chocolate.  With milk chocolate at about 33% cocoa and dark chocolate at about 75% cocoa, he uses a mixture that is 54% cocoa to achieve a balanced flavor.  He proved his point by giving audience members samples of a dark chocolate candy filled with a milder ganache. 
Not surprisingly, he had brought product to sell even though his store was closed today.  Not surprisingly, we bought some along with many of the other addicts on board.  It should be mentioned that he was touted by Cruise Director Tessa as one of only four true chocolatiers left in Antwerp.  He and his staff of seven produce everything by hand and have just one retail location with no internet presence yet.  Because he uses no preservatives in his candy, the shelf life for freshness varies from two to four weeks depending on the type of chocolate used.
Because we were on our own lunch yesterday, our guides distributed euros for us to spend as we saw fit.   Some of the passengers bought lunch, some bought chocolate and some sampled Belgian beer.  Several times.  We did not have the time or need to buy lunch yesterday, thanks to Peter and Manu, so we pocketed the money and spent it instead on chocolate today.  Good choice on our part.
Having bought the candy on Vantage’s money, we returned to the cabin to gather our stuff for today’s expedition.  Our “stuff” includes our name cards on lanyards; radio receivers and earpieces to hear the tour guides;  jackets and David’s hat because it was only 55 degrees outside; and the camera and extra batteries [because the camera has been tempermental even with fresh batteries].
The castle that's not a castle
Once outside, the groups came together again and started walking; we were in the Green group once again with most of the same people from the past several days including the two couples with whom we have been eating dinner.
The Butchers' Guild Hall
Antwerp is not so much a tourist town, like Brugge, as it is a real city with old and interesting buildings scattered throughout the center of downtown.  We stopped first at what appeared to be a castle, based on its appearance, but discovered that it was originally a private residence and was, surprisingly, the oldest building in Antwerp.  Our guide shared some of the local folklore before we moved on.
Next was the Butchers’ Guild Hall, coincidentally the second oldest building in the city.  An imposing edifice, it was constructed of red brick with regular streaks of white.  The effect was not unlike a slab of bacon or the marbling of fat in meat.  We walked over the area where blood from the slaughtered animals ran down to the river [where our boat is moored].
Antwerp City Hall on marathon day
The Guild Halls at City Hall Plaza
We spent some time in the City Hall plaza where we heard explanations of some of the decorations on the City Hall but also of the surrounding buildings, many of which had been Guild Halls originally.  The Archers’ hall was pointed out specifically.  The large plaza was filled with tourists and marathon workers, Red Cross tents, ambulances and barriers to keep the path clear for the runners.  This was the finish line for the race and it was quite lively.
A full-color Madonna
over a door in Arnheim

Another story dealt with the legendary thriftiness of the residents of Antwerp.  Because the streets were dark many years ago, homeowners began placing lights over their doors so they could find their own houses, especially after a night at the pub.  The government thought this was a good idea because they began taxing the owners who did this.  In a parallel situation, the leaders of Bath, England, began taxing houses based on the number of windows they had so the owners bricked them up to avoid the taxes.  In Antwerp, one enterprising homeowner placed a statue Mother Mary under the light and claimed he was fulfilling a religious obligation; he was not taxed and thus began a tradition of placing statues above the doors of houses. 
The guide told the story of a local hero who taught the general population to read, a skill formerly mastered only by the rich.  His statue sits in front of the Stadbibliotecht, the city library.  Across the courtyard from the statue is a Catholic church but we did not enter because Sunday Mass was being celebrated and a group of camera-wielding tourists would not have been welcome.  More meandering through streets and alleys brought us to the Cathedral.
And here's the steeple
Here's the church...
This church is enormous.  The top of the spire is 123 meters above the surrounding plaza.  Interestingly, this is the same length as Sint Janskirk in Gouda – a massive 403.5 feet.  The tower tapered and was covered by small carvings and reminded us of the Sagrada Familia [the Gaudi Cathedral] in Barcelona because it had the appearance of a dripping candle.  Almost everywhere we went, we could see the spire which did not surprise us because the guide explained that local ordinances prohibit any building’s height from exceeding that of the Cathedral.  It literally towers over everything in Antwerp.
The tour ended around 11:30 and we were free – and required – to find our way back to the boat.  Six of us decided to sample authentic Belgian waffles and asked the guide for a good place to eat.  Following his directions, we eventually found what we hoped was his choice and went in.  We ordered waffles and strawberries with whipped cream and they were yummy.  One couple left us early to attend Mass but the remaining four people stayed and chatted for a while.  When we went to pay our bill, we were told that the first couple had paid for all of us.  We now have a week to find a way to reciprocate; we know she loves licorice and he loves Goetze’s candy, but only one of those may be available to us before we get home.
We parted ways after our early lunch and found our way back to ship after looking for tchotchkes in souvenir shops without luck; we also stopped in a chocolate shop and bought 2 pralines, the local term for filled candies.  Another major purchase on Vantage! 
With no plans until “happy hour” and tomorrow’s port talk, MA read and then took a nap while David wrote the blog and tried to upload photos to previous entries.  The process continued to annoyingly slow all afternoon but was working well after dinner, so pictures may have been added to previous entries by the time readers get this far; go back and check if you want to.

Tomorrow – Arnheim, Netherlands



1 comment:

  1. I read your blog everyday and it is fun how you describe towns that are so familiar to me. So tomorrow Arnhem. And after Arnhem? Anyway, within less than a week you are here again. Enjoy your trip!