Shipping and shopping

DSCF1112.JPGIt was Dee’s birthday on Wednesday and we celebrated with a wee trip to Antwerp and Gent. We went into Holland for lunch – because we could – and sat in the car on a polder with our picnic and flask of licorice tea watching the cargo ships coming up the river to port. Dee remembers that George had to go to Antwerp a lot when he was in shipping – this was probably when he picked up his strong views about Belgians but that’s another story.

DSCF1105.JPGIt was bitterly cold in Antwerp, and our late afternoon trip down the main shopping streets and squares was taken rather briskly on account of a chill wind and sleet. We bought no diamonds. It’s a really interesting place, and steeped in the history of European wars and trade (and trade wars). Antwerp in the 16th century was the second largest city in Europe after Paris. It is described in one of our guidebooks as ‘a cocked pistol pointing at England’ and you can understand the English unease at having all the riches and military might of the Spanish Netherlands just a short channel-hop away. I’ve just read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (on my Kindle of course, it’s a huge fat book and far too big for currrent living conditions), which is basically about Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and includes a number of references to business in Antwerp.  In French it’s Anvers (map-reading in Belgium is usually a bilingual exercise) so there’s another literary reference – who could forget Mrs Danvers?

23022011375.jpgAfter an evening meal in a Moroccan restaurant (trading ports have eclectic communities and multiple culinary options), a very comfortable night in a hotel, and an early morning visit to all the cooking shop options central Antwerp had to offer, we went for a drive round the port (oh we do like to watch the ships “comin’ in an’ goin’ out”) and a visit to what was the largest lock in the world until the Chinese built something bigger in 2004 for the Three Gorges Dam scheme. Dee took a whole series of photos of an oil tanker being tugged in and has since been spending quite a lot of time tracking international shipping online. I was just enjoying the sea air despite the haar.

DSCF1119.JPGOur trip to Gent for lunch on vegetarian Thursday didn’t quite turn out as planned on account of spending so long in the Antwerp docks with the big ships. Also we managed to get ourselves a bit lost in Gent again – I think this may be because we keep confusing it with Bruges. We managed to find another couple of cook shops though. Another day, another northern European medieval city…

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