If you’re looking to buy a diamond, Antwerp is the place but I wonder where the diamonds come from. Could they be blood diamonds?
I was once in Antwerp more than a decade ago and barely remembered what was special then. Going back for an overnight trip after 12 years gave me a different perspective of the city. The main train station as always was very striking and living up to its reputation as one of the most romantic and most photographed stations in the world. I didn’t know if there were too many changes in a decade but I noticed patches of building constructions next to monuments. Many historical cities in Europe are often struggling to keep at par with modernity while trying to attract investments. Antwerp is no different.
We chose a hotel in the middle of the diamond district, which is a walking distance between the train station and the historic city center. The hotel was quiet and inconspicuous. In front of it a shop that trades equipment for diamond and jewelry-making. The diamond district is fast becoming a tourist attraction if you are interested in buying or how they’re made. I noticed in a gridlocked of diamond shops and workshops, banks and trading offices, the place was a bit eerie, maybe because it was a Sunday. I felt someone was looking at us while wandering in the streets. Surely enough, there were cameras on almost every corner. I realized I was walking in a highly secured area where the priciest of all diamonds is sitting in some vaults here.
The old city center is another thing. It is like a dame with its magnificent Baroque churches and 16th-century guild houses. It has maintained its class and grandeur where wealthy merchants used to inhabit. Restaurants are packed with eager tourists but there was always a nice cozy bar especially in summer that serves well-known Belgian beers that come with gratis crispy shrimps.
When you only have one day in Antwerp, the city center is the only place you get your hands full. I recommend staying at least two days to appreciate the cuisine and other cultural offerings.