11/23/2013

Travel Diaries: Antwerp


The diaries I have posted so far have focused on Paris and, well, Paris which, while beautiful, is a relatively unheard-of and untraveled city, so readers may not have been able to connect to the experiences as well as they would for more well-known tourist destinations. So it is with great pleasure that I now bring you some of my travel notes from the famous and luxurious travel destination of Antwerp, Belgium.




This statue, in beautiful downtown Antwerp, depicts another important piece of the history of this colorful city.

At the time, there were no Olympic Games, and even if there were, it would have been very difficult for citizens to travel there, since the trains did not yet exist and the nearest airport was in Brussels. So the populace devised their own Games completely by hand. That is, they came up with hand-sports, which consisted of first getting hands (usually from somewhat unwilling participants) and then throwing them as far as they could.

This hand-made sport was a precursor to the sport of "shot put", but was more easily played by the mostly peasant population because hands were easy to come by, whereas shot required metallurgy, natural resources, and picking up really heavy things. Experienced athletes could throw the projectiles quite far with a simple flick of the wrist.

Antwerp sadly closed the door on this sport in the 1800s with the Geneva convention on "Rules of Sports Played with Severed Body Parts" and contented themselves with eating waffles in the shape of hands, for old times sake.



Here is a picture of this classic statue from Antwerp, depicting the giant Antigoon peeing upon the children of the village.

The giant was revered for this act because it was felt that even warm piss was better than the cold seasonal rain. In fact, the phrase "pissing down rain" came from this story and originally had the positive connotation of "at least it's warm." Time and cross-culture usage has distorted the meaning to a more negative one, but it began in a happier time and place, when indoor plumbing and varied forms of entertainment were less common.

Note the natural beauty of the Antwerp skies which offer a stark reminder of the original legend.






The Belgian navy used to be a maritime power of monolithic proportions. With a coastline on the North Sea and the ability to withstand miserable wet and cold weather indefinitely, they had natural skills for the job.

But apparently the navy misjudged the location of the docks on several occasions, resulting in a distinct disadvantage in ship- and fire-power, and were eventually overtaken by other naval powers such as England, France, and Luxembourg.

You can see here a couple of the ships in the Antwerp harbor that were unfortunately placed, still in their "docked" positions. One thing's for sure; no other ships will be taking this bit of land anytime soon.




The Belgian tradition of community is incredible, and extends from social aspects into all walks of life.

Here you can see this poster encouraging citizens to help assemble, or fit, local fences, literally a meter at a time. With clever engineering, the pieces of fencing can be attached easily and simply pushed (or "fit") into place, as seen clearly in the picture.
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