Today’s Blip came courtesy of a last-minute road trip to Antwerp, my first proper visit here. I know very little about Antwerp apart from the fact that it’s in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium and that it’s the so-called diamond capital of the world. More about the diamonds another time, but the Flemish bit is a something of a given as Antwerp is a stone’s throw away from the Netherlands, about 20km away. If you don’t have a good grasp of where Belgium is on the map, you’re not the only one - I didn’t have a clue before I moved here. The main reason for this is that we’re surrounded by three* A-list countries: the Netherlands to the north, France to the south west and Germany to the east. As a result, Belgium doesn’t get much opportunity to shine on the political map of Europe and matters are made worse by the fact that Brussels is the heart of European Union decision making. This means that when a new EU directive is ratified, newspaper headlines around Europe usually start off in the vein of 'Brussels decides...' as if Brussels was some sort of untamable fire-breathing dragon that wantonly expelled regulations for the sake of it. My advice: don’t shoot the messenger, people! Anyway, I digress.
Back to Antwerp. What a great city! I can’t believe I haven’t visited before now. In addition to the incredible train station, which is palatial, its historic centre is brimming with hip cafes, family-run chocolate shops, cool pop-up boutiques, used book stores, cathedrals, cobbled sidestreets and some lovely people. I ended up at really cool cafe called the Daily Roast, which is worth a trip for the quirky interior alone. And of course, there's also the Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, pictured here. It's incidentally the largest Gothic church in the Low Countries, which comprises the low-lying coastal land of both Belgium and the Netherlands.
*Oh right. I nearly forgot to mention Luxembourg, which borders Belgium to the south east. No offense to Luxembourg at all, it's supposed to be very pretty and has lots of mountains and castles which are apparently stunning. It’s also just very small, like about the size of Rhode Island, or the area of London hemmed in by the M25, if you prefer, so in geographic terms it’s basically the size of a pea...