Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Antwerp – The Diamond City

This city is called diamond city as world’s one of the finest diamonds are produced and more than 70% of all diamonds in the world are traded in Antwerp. Not going into statistics but do you know who does the major chunk of business here ? Well, one can find many Indians settled in Antwerp mostly from Gujarati / Marwari business community. Sorry, I don’t know the difference between them except that Gujratis are from Gujrat and Marwaris are from Marwar (something like my first logic). :) Someone please enlighten me on this. Needless to say why I was surprised initially when I saw many Indian restaurants there.

In spite of this museum being adjacent to the station, we could manage only about an hour’s quality time inside it. Again this multi-storied museum is the largest diamond museum in the world. According to me, minimum of one full day is required to do justice with it.

It is also called 'interactive museum' as there is an audio-visual guide which enables us to ‘interact’ with the museum in the select few languages of our choice and at our own pace. It is an 'image and sound' system which takes visitors through the entire procedure of diamond processing – from mines to end product including training, teaching etc. at various levels.

On each floor there are some treasure chambers whose wonderful collections of jewelry offer a treat to eyes. They have diamond jewelries from the sixteenth century till the present day including replica of the British Crown Jewels containing two of the world's largest diamonds- the Koh-I-Noor and the Cullinan I. The only other place I saw more realistic replica of British crown was in Sydney.

The museum also has section which shows us the qualities of diamonds, such as color, hardness, refraction of light etc. On some days we can see diamond cutters at work too.

The four C’s – Carat, Colour, Clarity and Cut – determine the quality and value of a polished diamond. Since this is not a place to lecture about diamonds, will tell you very little basics about these four C’s.

Carats - Weight is expressed in carats, each carat divided into 100 points.
Colour - Colourless diamonds are the most valuable ones. The more tinted colour they have, the less expensive they are.
Clarity - Clarity or purity of a diamond is determined by the number, size and location of inclusions or clouds (internal impurities). These can vary from vvs (very very small) to s(small) category.
Cut – Even if a diamond has perfect colour and clarity, a poorly cut diamond will lose sparkle, beauty and value. The cut affects brightness and classified as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair or Poor. Some common diamond cuts are round, oval, pear, heart, emerald.

Fortunately we could take some photographs without flash in some sections of this tight security museum.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Antwerp - Silvers all the Way

Next time when I went to Antwerp, I tried to explore a bit more. When you go on such short trips to a city, it is extremely difficult to take out time for doing so specially if it is a weekday. Fortunately, this time I was to go there on a Friday, decided to stay overnight. By the time we came out of office on Friday, it was above eight in the evening.
While going back to the hotel, stopped at the main shopping street, Meir
. It is around 1.5 to 2 kms stretch and connects the Central Station to the Grote Markt (No, I didn’t miss an ‘e’, that’s the correct spelling). The houses on both sides are old but gold. ;) We had our dinner in one of the restaurants and went to our hotel to decide on next day’s schedule.

So Saturday was kept to see a few things in Antwerp before returning back to Brussels in evening. Next morning I was to fly back to India from Brussels.
We (me and my two colleagues) short listed two museums to see.. Silver museum and Diamond museum. Both were very big, time consuming but we wanted to give it a go.

Silvers and diamonds.. Hmmm any female will jump with joy. When it struck to both my male colleagues, for a moment they looked at each other and were anxious to know about my likeness for jewellery and my shopping capabilities. :)) Fortunately for them, for jewellery I prefer to do only window shopping. :)

Since Diamond Museum is very near to Central Station from where we had to take the train later for Brussels, we kept it for the afternoon session.

Next morning, we visited beautiful Sterckshof Silver Museum first. From station it took us 20-25 minutes to reach by bus. Surrounded by a lush green garden, on the edge of the city, the museum is a beauty to watch. It is in a picturesque castle called Sterckshof, hence the name. It was a journey to the treasures of Belgian silver production. If I can, I will post a scanned map from the brochure I have.

The museum is full of antique silver artifacts. One floor had beautifully crafted cutlery, knife, spoons, plates, bowls, tea/coffee sets... all of different sizes. The lower floor has different theme based rooms like bedroom will have Clocks, mirror frames, photo frames, clothes hanger etc. Study room would contain different shaped pen stands, cigars, lamps etc. The other rooms had things like a chair, swords, shields.. you name it, they have it. Before visiting the museum, I had never imagined as how many things could be made out of silver.

It also shows different techniques used for processing of silver including how to take care of it.

Inside the museum, for security reasons the photography was strictly prohibited so this was the last picture taken before we made our grand entry to the museum. ;) Note the entrance door - a very heavy metal door of height till first floor.

The main entrance.

But looking at the scant crowd (there was hardly any person), I guess this museum is not very popular.

This is a very small video clip taken from the bus of our visit to the museum. I took it from my colleague to show it to you.

Once out of the museum, we again took a bus back to the station. Had a quick light lunch and went inside the Diamond Museum...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Let's start - A for Antwerp

Antwerp is a beautiful city in Belgium, around 35 - 45 minutes by train from Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Compared to giants like New York, Paris, Sydney or even Mumbai, Antwerp is very small in size but second largest city of Belgium. Have been to this place 3 times, all for very short visits... sometimes a day trip from Brussels. It is pretty convenient, since there are plenty of trains running to and fro throughout the day between the cities.

Antwerp” - First time when I went there, I neither knew nor bothered about the meaning of this name. I was in a hurry to make it on time and come back to Brussels by evening. Later, when I got to know the meaning, I wanted to go there again. :)

The original name of Antwerp is Antwerpen in Dutch, the local language. Antwerp is its adapted English name. In French it is called Anvers.

Antwerpen = Ant + werpen.
Ant = hand and werpen = thrown

The name is based on some mythological story. It is believed that there lived a giant near the river Scheldt who did not allow people to cross it without paying a toll to him. Those who refused, had to lose their right hands. He used to throw the right hands into the river after chopping them off.

Then one fine day, there came a hero like in Hindi movies (don’t remember his name at this moment) who chopped off this giant’s right hand and threw it far away. It fell at a place where today there is a gigantic statue of a man’s right hand, sitting pretty. It is surely an eye catcher in one of the city's busiest shopping streets – Meir.

People come, sit and get photographed with this stone hand. We did the same when I went there the second time. :) We, three of us had decided to take the last train back to Brussels, so had just enough time to be with giant hand. It was a wintry night, very windy and chilled. From neck to toe I was covered in layers of woolens including leather jacket but my head was enjoying the cool chilled wind. Nose had become numb but spirit was at a new high. After hectic office hours, I felt this feeling quite relaxing.

For obvious reasons, respecting the anonymity of people including me, I won’t show pictures with anyone in it. So, though I have hundreds of photos, the choice for hosting here gets filtered down to a limited few. Also, I had never imagined myself writing a weblog. Tried to blacken out one of my pictures solely for this post.

Quite strangely after that I saw many statues in Antwerp with hand, perhaps only then I had started noticing them.. a man throwing hand, just a hand and so on. Even the cookies and world famous Belgian chocolates were in the shape of hands !! And to think of it, when I had landed in Antwerp first time, I didn’t even know the existence of this hand !!

This hand has become THE symbol of Antwerp.