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September 26th 2008 by Tina

Posted under Italy

If you own a diamond, there is a greater than 80% chance that it was cut in Antwerp. Nicknamed Diamond City, Antwerp has 300 diamond-cutting workshops, 1500 diamond traders, and 4 of the world’s 25 diamond banks. But all of these are packed into an area of less than one square kilometer. The rest of Antwerp is a beautiful medieval city and vibrant university town. We liked it immediately.

Our hotel – one of the most comfortable of our trip and (unfortunately) priced accordingly – was located in the beautiful town square across from Antwerp’s magnificent gothic Cathedral of Our Lady. Its pretty church bells enchanted us throughout the day. Yes, we only had one day to explore Antwerp and were wishing we had more but that has been the recurring sentiment throughout our travels: there’s never enough time.

Since we overdosed on museums in Italy, we decided to do less museums and more aimless wandering in Belgium. The cool autumn air invigorated us to roam the streets, with their quaint, colorful 16th-century Guild Houses; stopping at leisure for frites, waffles and cold Belgian beers served in stemmed glasses. We are unapologetic winos on average but there is something so appealing about sitting on a sunny patio, bundled in jackets and scarves, sipping cold beers on a chilly afternoon. If we make it to 4:00 before happily indulging in our first cold one, we applaud our enormous restraint. That said, we must escape Belgium before our daily unadulterated gluttony expands our waistlines beyond the confines of our pants.

Antwerp’s most celebrated citizen is famed artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Rubens and his wife, Isabella, bought a house in Antwerp in 1610 and Rubens spent the following years enlarging and embellishing it, making it the most impressive early 17th-century home in Antwerp. Rubens’ house, with its diverse collection of art, is open to the public and we spent the better part of an hour wandering through the lavishly decorated living rooms, the artist’s studio, the portico, the pantheon of classical sculptures, and the ornamental garden. Rubens filled his home with works that he admired and from which he drew inspiration, including many still life paintings, portraits, and sculptures. Several of Rubens’ own work was displayed in the studio.

I have always loved seeing people’s homes. Regardless of size or decadence, a person’s home tells a lot about him. A home is a mini-museum of someone’s personality, full of trinkets and treasures with which that person has chosen to surround himself during the most private moments of his life. When I imagine our inevitable reintegration into American life, without a Big Texas house full of pretty things to come home to, I am warmed by the thought that whatever little place we find to call home in the near future will be filled with all of our special things: our sweet little dog; our warm, cozy bed (which we will NEVER take for granted again), our soft blankets, our kitchen stuff, and a LOT of travel photos! While we will surely welcome the return of our old, familiar things – which have hopefully fared well in their climate controlled storage unit in Texas – we take comfort in knowing that we can live happily with only the bare essentials. I have said many times throughout this journey that we feel quite at home on the road and I have meant it wholeheartedly. Our prolonged backpacking adventure has helped us to emotionally detach ourselves from our material possessions (excluding the dog). Home is where the heart is. We carry it with us and can unfold it anywhere with just a little love and creativity.

1 Comment »

One Response to “Antwerp”

  1. Andrew Leonard on 26 Sep 2008 at 7:39 am #

    If you want to bring me back a souvenir 😉