The Big Fat Summer Post 2019

Summer is underway!

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Well, I am taking some time off now, for a month or so, so here’s a grab-bag of useful links and information for a great Antwerp summer. I will be back in August. Until then, additional events will be posted on other social media, listed at the end of this post. For Antwerp pictures, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram!

Thank you for reading and following  Nessascityblog; do please keep sharing it with anyone who might find it handy to have this information in English, especially if they are arriving new in the city this summer -WELCOME!  -and have a fabulous summer 2019 in Antwerp.

Eat & Drink

… at Dokmarkt every Friday from 3pm until 8, and if you want to stay out later, you’re very close to summer bars like Jardim, Sommar and Bocadero -all of which are along the Schelde.

Check out Café Capital in the Stadspark if you haven’t already done so. It’s great if you IMG_20190718_174847_resized_20190718_054908004are taking kids to the play area; for an evening out try Bar Jeudi on Thursdays.

Fiesta Europa is a popular, diverse and accessible five day food festival on Groenplaats which is on until Sunday 21st July.

Flying Pig are on Steenplein on the 2nd August; drinks, music, food trucks and general revelry from 5pm.

Bollekesfeest is an annual Nessascityblog not-to-be-missed favourite, celebrating our local beer: de Koninck, or Bollekes as it is known once served in its distinctive bow-like glass. Bollekesfeest is on the 16th, 17th and 18th August, and like other Stad Antwerpen events will be cashless this year. As well as the local brew there will be lots of other foods and drinks to enjoy. If you have kids to entertain (or are hungry) then the Steenplein is the best location for you -there you will find the Kids’ Village and all the food stands.

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Bollekesfeest on Steenplein, next to the river

Visit

Experience the excitement of going around Antwerp’s best museums throughout the night on Museum Night on the 3rd August, and don’t forget that Stad Antwerpen museums are free on the last Wednesday of the month.

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MUHKA is Antwerp’s museum of contemporary art

Enjoy Lambermonmartre the largest open-air local art market: on Leopold de Waalplaats (in front of KMSKA) on the 28th July and the 25th August. For the other regular markets in Antwerp, here’s a useful list.

Take a stroll along the renewed Scheldekaaien – the banks of the river from Sint Andries to the south of the city have been renovated with open spaces, places to sit, stroll or for kids to play (pic below).

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If you are scratching your head looking for something cheap and cheerful to occupy the kids on their summer holidays, then have a look at Speel-O-Rama at the Zuiderpershuis, starting next week: it’s on from 15th July -9th August and costs only 2 euros per day, per child. It’s for kids aged 7-13, and offers workshops, activities, creative play, theatre and water games.

These Antwerp Sports Activities are for children aged 6-13. You need to register your child for a place on an activity. These usually mean a week sport sessions (Mon- Fri) in your chosen sport.

Bookish and creative kids might enjoy Bibfabriek at the Permeke library, on Wednesdays at 2pm during July.

belgium-flag-1332904_640Neighbourhood parties and festivals

The 21st of July is Belgium’s national day. Here are a few places which will be marking the formation of our relatively youthful nation.

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Antwerp Library Cafe wearing Pride colours on De Coninckplein

You can find all you need to know about Antwerp Pride, which is celebrated in Antwerp from the 7th-11th August. Of course there will be loads of Pride-related events taking place around the city, but for many the most important is the Pride Parade which takes place on Saturday 10th August, starting with a pre-parade event at midday. See here for the details, including the route of the parade.

Also taking place during Pride week (and continuing until the 18th August) is the Antwerp Queer Arts Festival. For a great general guide in English to LGBT+ life in Antwerp see this guest post from last year by Timothy Junes.

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Linkerwoofer

Sfinks Festival (25th-28th July) and Linkerwoofer (2nd -3rd August) are two popular Antwerp music festivals. Sfinks is a free four day festival, Linkerwoofer is ticketed. Both events are child-friendly.


Browse, buy & sell

Antwerp regulars-  for those in search of a second hard bargain- include Goegekregen rommelmarkt (28th July) and Permeke Boekenplein (21st July)

You can go Sunday Shopping in the shopping areas of the city on the first Sunday of the month.

Handy summer links

The complete Antwerp summer programme (Zomer van Antwerpen) was released on 28th May at http://www.zva.be/. Helpfully, there are English and French versions of the programme in downloadable pdf form.

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Summerbars.com is a really useful link with the details of all the summer bars in Antwerp for this season.

And there are a couple of open-air swimming pools in Antwerp, which can be found here.

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Wil je Nederlands leren in Antwerpen?

Would you like to learn Dutch in Antwerp?

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Jon Kemp

Hi, my name is Jon Kemp and I moved from UK to Antwerp in 2014 to work as a marine engineer for International Marine Dredging Consultancy (www.imdc.be). I had only intended to stay for one or two years but I really like the city and now it feels like home.

Although not necessary for my job, I felt it was important to learn Dutch to better integrate into my new home and I have always believed that it is good to be able to speak the language spoken in the place where you live.  So after six months of enjoying the Belgium beer, making new friends and enjoying the World Cup (although, not so much for the England performance in 2014…) I decided to enrol in a Dutch Language course and since then have tried many different courses. I felt it would be good to share my experience.

Essentially there are two main options, as explained below. These are the Linguapolis courses run by the University of Antwerp and the CVO courses (CVO Antwerpen, CVO Encora, CVO LBC & CVO Sopro), which are government subsidised courses, and so are cheaper (but not necessarily of a lesser quality).

chat-23713_640All have different options in terms of timing (day/night), number of classes per week, and locations where you can study.

Before comparing the differences in the courses, one of the main differentiators when learning Dutch is the teacher and your fellow classmates, and these can often have the biggest impact on your learning experience.

Atlas

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Image from Atlas

https://www.atlas-antwerpen.be/en

Atlas can help with integration and can find suitable courses (although they are unlikely to recommend the Linguapolis course). It should be noted that waiting times can sometimes be long or the place is busy, and if you are already working full time it can be difficult to get an appointment

 

Linguapolis

https://www.uantwerpen.be/…/taalople…/taalaanbod/nederlands/

Linguapolis runs the courses at the University of Antwerp and they state that you are supposed to have a university degree, and have learnt a second language, to enter but they don’t seem to check.

studylangGenerally their course notes are well-presented in a bound book for each of the 5 levels. These courses have a solid focus on correct grammar and generally provide excellent teaching and explanation of the grammar and the rules. The courses move quickly, and you will get quite a lot of homework, which you will need to do if you want to pass the exams and keep up with the lessons.

Their Level 1 course gets you to a Level A2 in 10 -15 weeks, which would typically take you longer if you followed the CVO courses. Although there is speaking in the class, correct speaking is a key focus (e.g. ensuring inversion is used) over general conversation and simply ‘getting by’. The method of marking exams is stringent and is called negative marking. For example, if you have 15 questions and 10 points, you get a minus point for every wrong answer, meaning you could have 5 correct answers but still score 0. The price is high compared to the CVO courses though.

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Chart showing language level equivalences. (source)

CVO Vitant

CVO stands for Centrum Voor Volwassenonderwijs, and is essentially the umbrella name for adult education. There are several CVO schools in Antwerp and all follow, more or less, the same language trajectory i.e. 1.1 to 4.2 (see image above).

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course books

In Antwerp there are four institutions operating along this style: CVO Antwerpen, CVO Encora, CVO LBC & CVO Sopro and all have various schools located around Antwerp. CVO LBC and CVO Sopro have a nice bound book from which to work, while CVO Antwerpen and CVO Encora provide a folder and A4 handouts. Focus tends to be on using the language and learning by use with less in the way of detailed explanation of grammar and rules. The quality is mainly dictated by the teacher and the experience you have is also influenced by your fellow classmates.

Useful links

CVO Antwerpen: http://www.cvoantwerpen.be/v…/nederlands-voor-anderstaligen/ (can see directly the availability of the courses, is also in English)

CVO Encora: https://www.stedelijkonderwijs.be/…/nederlands-voor-anderst…

(also have something called open classes, which include some self-study, with some workshops)

CVO LBC http://antwerpen.lbconderwijs.be/content/nederlands

CVO Sopro http://www.sopro.be/

Summary

Each course has its own advantages and disadvantages. The Linguapolis exams are more difficult (e.g. I passed level 3.2 at a CVO school with 77%, but failed Linguapolis Level 4 afterwards – they are both supposed to be to a B2 level in the European Framework of Reference for Languages).

Anyway, I hope you find this brief overview of some of the available options for learning Dutch in Antwerp useful. In addition to these options, there are private teachers and a school called Berlitz. There are also Facebook and meet-up groups that organise social meet ups where you can practise your new Dutch skills. Happy learning!

 

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Need a helping hand getting used to Antwerp life? Meet Wwelcome!

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1) Please tell us about Wwelcome: when, how and why it came to be established.

Wwelcome was established one year ago on April 1st 2018. While working for an insurance company, the two founders discovered a great need for personal assistance with the various sorts of documentation required of newcomers to Belgium.

Even though some organisations (including governmental) already provide administrative assistance, newcomers sometimes had challenging or negative experiences when trying to get their paperwork in order .

Our organisation supports immigrants to Belgium with whichever issues they bring to the table. It’s our mission to make them feel at home here: hence, Wwelcome.

2) What services do you offer and how are these funded?

Over the past year, we have noticed a great variety in the types of support that people need. Therefore we mostly operate in a Q&A style. Our members bring us letters, bills and contracts to translate and explain, or various application forms to enter. Sometimes, they ask for advice about immigration, naturalisation, buying a house or getting a divorce.

Next to explaining and offering advice, we mediate on behalf of our members with the government, insurance and energy companies, realtors, banks, employers, schools and landlords. Though we are not lawyers or accountants, we are the link between our members and these specialists.

All of this we provide for a monthly subscription of €10 (our “All-You-Can-Eat” formula!). If people prefer, we can also service for €10 per hour.

In addition we can accompany people to the hospital, police, OCMW, or any place else in order to interpret. We offer discounts at our partner organisations and various stores such as IKEA, Carrefour and Kinepolis. The more members we have, the bigger the discounts we can offer.

For business owners, we offer the above and a number of additional services. We support them with taking the first steps in establishing their business, creating financial plans, understanding social and health requirements, applying for loans and by advertising them through our media platforms. Business owners pay a different membership fee, depending on the type and size of their business.

3) What are the most common challenges or difficulties experienced by newcomers to Antwerp?

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8 different languages are spoken by Wwelcome staff

The most common challenges that are brought to our attention are firstly,  communication and arranging matters with the government and aligned associations. Bureaucracies are not always open-minded or willing to communicate in English, and people often don’t know what they are expected to do next. Even for Dutch-speakers, it is often difficult to grasp what is meant by some of the letters newcomers receive. Secondly, problems with justifying bills: many people just pay the invoice as is, even though they could reduce a payment by giving the correct information and not have to pay the (entire) bill. This means they avoid paying for a service that they don’t receive or don’t want.

4) Many are concerned by the rise in populism across Europe at the moment, and the racism, anti-immigrant or xenophobic feelings which accompany this rise. Is this something that is a you notice here in your work, or in your personal experiences?

We don’t come across direct racism. However, many people experience discrimination at an institutional level (government or companies) due to the fact that they cannot advocate for themselves in Dutch.

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Helping clients and partners alike

We notice that sometimes organisations (also landlords, employers and even business partners) try to outsmart our members. However, when we make the call or write the mail, they are quick to respond with “sorry, yes, I understand…”.

There also happens to be a rule that for administrative *Artikel 60 work, Muslim women are required to take off their scarf. If they don’t, they are fired and lose their allowance.

5) In your line of work, what does success look like?

Everyday success for us is bringing peace of mind to our members, resolving their worries and offering an optimistic view of their future.

Long-term success would be a flourishing organisation throughout Europe where we can touch the lives of millions of immigrants; welcoming them with open arms and providing an antidote to the negative populist voices. When people feel welcome, they are keen to contribute positively to the communities that they have made their home.

Wwelcome is located at Bredabaan 371 in Merksem. If you’re coming by tram, then trams 2 & 3 stop almost outside our office at the stop called Burgemeester Nolf.

*Artikel 60 is an employment opportunity arranged by the OCMW for people on a government allowance or those who have no income at all. 
For more info see: https://www.mi-is.be/nl/artikel-60-ss-7

Useful Wwelcome links

Wwelcome website                      Facebook

 

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Special post: Leandro Targon @ Hardrock Cafe Antwerp.

 

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Leandro Targon

 

Where are you from and what brings you to Antwerp?

I’m from Mendoza, in western Argentina. My city is the proud wine capital of South America and lays at the feet of the Andes.

I first came to Belgium in June 2016 for holidays and during that trip met my spouse, who is from the Netherlands. Ten months later we were married in Antwerp!

Tell us about your job.

I’m the Sales & Marketing Manager at Hard Rock Cafe Antwerp. I simply love my job: I’m responsible for the 100% of the sales figures of our cafe (groups, leisure, corporate and individuals) and contracting with business partners. Being the spokesman and image of the brand in the Flemish region, I plan, budget and execute the yearly event calendar. I’m also responsible for the marketing communication of our cafe.

You are right at the heart of an area very popular with tourists. What’s that like and how is the tourism business faring in Antwerp at the moment?

We are indeed at the core of everything that happens in Antwerp. Tourism figures are growing considerably every year in the city, but at the moment there is a big focus on the business traveler, weekdays and weekend visitors from neighbouring areas who come mainly for shopping, people interested in the cultural aspects of the city, and plenty of foodies. Like many in the hospitality industry, we’re aiming for major growth in the long-stay leisure traveler segment, mainly the international one. That is certainly one big area of opportunity compared to other destinations in the Benelux, and hopefully with the increasing number of cruise ships calling at the port of Antwerp, there will be much better results.

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Leandro with Santa at the kids’ Christmas Breakfast

Can a place like Hard Rock be something that is both for locals and tourists, or do you think of them as being very separate demographics?

Combining the two of them is the exact key for what an authentically genuine Hard Rock Cafe must be. We are a worldwide well-known reference for tourists, and as such our cafes are an attraction. But the strength of our business resides in the local community; both Flemish and expats. Therefore our events and initiatives welcome everybody, without putting our guests into boxes. Hard Rock Cafe Antwerp is our house, and that’s how we like to be seen.

What are you looking forward to in 2019?

2019 is a year full of ambitions for us as a cafe. In March we will have been open for two years and that is something we’re immensely happy about. My personal and professional goal is to enhance our fans’ experience, and create genuine experiences that rock. Undoubtedly it will be an amazing year!

What do you like best about living in Antwerp, and what do you miss about your home country?

I totally love that Antwerp is such an international city; a hub for business, its also offers plenty of heritage and culture, as well as amazing shops and museums to visit, and I love the fact that is so beautiful. I’ve lived in many countries before coming here, and been out of Argentina for more than seven years… I wouldn’t say I really  “miss” something about my country because I receive visits from friends and family at least once a month, and I go to Argentina twice a year. The nature over there is breathtaking, so I try to reconnect with that every time I’m back.

Hard Rock Cafe is on Groenplaats, Antwerp.

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Antwerp memories: buskers and street musicians in Antwerp – a guest post by Dave Llewellyn

Dave Llewellyn was part of the scenery on the streets of Antwerp between 1988 and 2012. Before the Metro played recorded music if you walked through Diamant, Plantin or Groenplaats the chances are you threw a couple of Belgian Francs (or latterly Euros) into his guitar case. Dave not only knows so many of the stories and the people who inhabit the Diamond City but is interwoven into many of them, as Antwerp became home for him and the families he started on the banks of the Schelde. Here he writes about his experiences and memories of his time in Antwerp:


My love affair with Belgium started with a portion of stoofvlees in Ieper that made it impossible to get the boat back to the UK from France, as we all got really bad food poisoning. Recovering before my family did, I realised that I really liked Belgian people so instead of heading for Oostende, I turned east towards the Diamond City arriving on a Thursday in 1988 just in time to rent a tiny flat on the Kattenberg in Borgerhout, from the priest on the Laar. I remember it was a Thursday because when I went out to get my car the next morning it had been replaced by hundreds of market stalls. Welcome to Belgium!

I had been a busker in France and looked forward to trying out some of my music for Belgian people. The first and most obvious difference I noticed was in the approach to bureaucracy and paperwork: France have a very “laissez faire” attitude to life. However, Belgian authorities need a paper for EVERYTHING, and in every “gemeente”. So having been stopped about five times by police on my first morning I found myself in the Diamant Metro where there were no police; just a couple of friendly security guards. We could finally make a living in the cultural car crash the locals call Antwaarp and become part of the blood that travels daily up the main arteries of the The Carnotstraat and the Leien, which when I arrived, still had the “kinderkopkes” on road surfaces into the centre, and the old town. 

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When I first arrived “straatmuzikanten” were  honoured as an art form and the quality was the best I have ever known; better than any other city I have ever played in. Each summer, the “terrasjes” would fill up with tourists and locals looking to be entertained whilst they relaxed in the sun with a “pintje” under the watchful gaze of Rubens who surveyed the square from his plinth in the centre of the Groenplaats.  Every busker would have their local and I settled in what at the time was called The Centra in the corner under the shadow of the Cathedral. It was run by a Dutchman who served trays of drinks on skeelers and I never witnessed him drop a thing in all the years I was there. Summers came and went, and in the winter we would go to a little buskers’ pub on the Kaai called the Muziekdoos run by Etienne who seemed to have been plucked straight out of 1967. The bar was cosy; the tables were barrels and they all had candles on them for ambience.  I remember one night when Stef Kamil Carlens in his pre Deus days had everyone dancing on the tables as he and another guy belted out a particularly bawdy Violent Femmes song. Those were the golden days.

Things changed drastically for street musicians in Antwerp and for the audiences on the terraces when new countries joined the EU. Unfortunately this caused some tension, and personally I do not think that audiences enjoyed the newly arrived musicians that much. The street music scene changed. Many of the real musicians left to go ply their craft in other cities. Others successfully formed bands: Deus, Zita Swoon, and Kiss My Jazz among others.

Me? I did something else…     

*     *     *

This picture shows a seat on The Groenplaats, informally known as “Buskers’ Bench”. Like me , you’ve probably walked past it many times without giving it a second thought. For Dave, it is strongly linked with his memories of musician and songwriter John Swift (“that was his bench”) who co-wrote the 1960s hit I Can’t Let Maggie Go. Behind the bench is a cafe/ bar called “De Kleine Post” -this was formerly Centra, mentioned above.

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10 things you shouldn’t forget when becoming an Expat in Antwerp: a special post by Laura Soave, aka Nonnative blog

10 top tips you might find handy if you are new (or newish!) to the City of Antwerp.

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1. Don’t forget to ask for help.   
In Antwerp you’ll find so many communities for each nationality that you can easily reach on different social networks. Use these tools when you need help. Ask politely for info: you’ll find better allies here, than anywhere else.
See: Expats in Antwerp group on Facebook or go to Language café events like at
2. Keep in contact with friends and family.  
This might sound cheesy, but life doesn’t stop for them just because we’re away. They get old, have babies, they move on. You might want to ensure that you hear from them regularly. It’s just a little more effort that you have to make, than if you still lived close to them.
Try: apps like  Skype
3. Learn the local language. 
This might sound silly when living in a English-friendly country, but learning some Flemish might give you advantages you didn’t consider before…. and don’t forget that leaving a shop or the post office with a smile, is also a positive way of connecting with your new neighbours.
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4. Keep your mind open.  
Not everything you’re used to is better than the Belgian culture that is hosting you. Keep your mind open to new ideas and new ways of doing everyday things.
Find out about family support on Kind en Gezin
Get out and about with a Velo citybike
5. Make local friends too.  
Explore the international community in the city you’re living, but don’t forget to make friends with Antwerpenaars too. They don’t have to become your best friends yet, you need them to help you better understand the society, to feel less misplaced. when someone explains a local joke to you, it can help you feel more included.
Visit a local library
Join a local sports activity.
6. Learn about history. cathedral 
History is what makes a city big or small. It’s number one evaluation element to figure out whether a city is interesting or not. Never ignore this important aspect while being part of Antwerp community. It could be finding a local guide, going to a museum and reading the little guide book or reading some history books at the library, etc. History is what makes everything start.
See: Visit Antwerp website and check out the page about Antwerp Museums
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7.  Sharing is caring.  
Some people might seem less interested in you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share the traditions of your own culture. If you listen and respect Belgian culture, locals will appreciate every once in a while being introduced to an aspect of your culture too. It doesn’t have to be big; it could be something small like baking something typical for your office.
8. Avoid negative comparisons.   
If you are about to start a new journey in Antwerp, try to be positive about your new environment, and avoid negative comparisons. People around you should accept you for who you are, where you come from and what you stand for. In return, give the host culture a real chance to introduce itself.
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9. Never miss an opportunity to have new encounters. 
You are never really alone if you surround yourself with new friends. If people you don’t know well invite you for an activity or an event in the city where you live, try to attend. Even if you’re not going to have the time of your life every time, it’s important to participate in as many events as possible and meet as many people as possible.
See Uit in Vlaanderen website  for “what’s on” info, or join Internations, or a community group in Hoplr.
10. Never settle down.
Keep exploring Antwerp; never give up the chance of finding something new you weren’t aware of. Be amazed, like a child that sees everything everyday as if it’s the first time.

 

About the blogger

LauraS
Laura Soave (nonnative blog)

Laura Soave is an Antwerp blogger and designer from Italy. Check out her blog: nonnative and find her on InstagramFacebook and Twitter  

Would you like to write a guest post about your experiences (or knowledge) of Antwerp? contact me on nessascityblog@gmail.com. I’d like to hear your Antwerp story.

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This weekend in Antwerp: 18th, 19th & 20th May

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HERE’S THE GOOGLE MAP FOR THIS WEEKEND AND BEYOND …

FEATS (Festival of European Anglophone Theatrical Societies) is on over this weekend on (18th -21st). It is hosted by BATS VZW (Antwerp’s own British American Theatre Society) and takes place at the Fakkel Theatre on Hoogstraat.  Tickets are popular, so waste no time in getting yours if you would like to go. Tickets via this link will get you an evening comprising of three performances. Here is the list of participating groups, and the FEATS program.

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On Steenplein, some and enjoy another Aper’eau event next to the river from 5pm.

A little way along the river, summer bar Bocadero opens for the summer season at Waagnatie from midday.

Amorika host an evening of Greek music at ‘T Werkhuys (8pm)  for just 5 euros (pic right, courtest of Amorika).

Saturday

Cross the river for an Evening Market on Frederik Van Eedenplein from 3pm to 9pm.

Sinksenfoor (funfair) opens today in Park Spoor Oost at 2pm. Sinksenfoor is on an ongoing summer attraction, open until 24th June.

Sunday (Pentecost)

The regular second hand book market on de Coninckplein has a musical dimension this month, as it will be accompanied by a piano marathon.

For more general bargain hunters, this Rommelmarkt, free from 10am -6pm at Skate Planet.

Japan Con takes place in the Loods building (Park Spoor Noord) and brings Asian pop culture to Antwerp (animé, Manga & cosplay) from 10am -6pm. Tickets are E8.99 (free for kids under 10)

There are Pentecost services at OLV Cathedral.

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Bocadero Summer Bar

Friday will be cool/ mild (16 degrees) The weekend should be mostly dry, with temperatures warming up on Saturday (20-21 degrees, cloudy with sunny patches) when there could be a light shower. Sunnier on Sunday.

Miscellaneous

I am proud to share this post I wrote about Antwerp for Discovering Belgium blog.

Monday is Pentecost Monday (aka Whit Monday). It’s a public holiday so most shops will be closed. Warm sunshine expected! How about this bike market on Dageraadplaats instead? Goegekregen are also holding one of their secondhand markets on Theaterplein from 9am.

Also on Monday a guest post here on Nessascityblog, from the lovely Nonnative Blog

Keep an eye on the ZVA website for the release of the Antwerp summer programme on the 22nd May (Tuesday). Tickets for events will be available from 2nd June.

I’m pleased to share this blog post: Three Great Spots For When The Sun Is Shining which was published recently on the Stad Antwerpen website and optimistically describes three places in the city you might want to check out if the weather holds out …

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Open- air swimming pool De Molen is now open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from  midday until 6pm.

Summer bars now open: Bar JardimBar Paniek and Bocadero (from 18th May).

 

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Guest Post: Laura Soave, designer and blogger from Italy writes about how there is no place like home …

Laura Soave is an Antwerp blogger and designer from Italy. Check out her blog: nonnative and find her on InstagramFacebook and Twitter  Read her story here:-

LauraS

No Place Like Home …

Breathless, I’m completely breathless, not because I’m admiring a beautiful view from a fancy skyscraper in some fancy big city like New York. No, the reason why my ex-smoker lungs are loudly screaming is because I have just ascended 65 stairs (yes, I counted) just so I could reach the top floor of a building in Kipdorpvest, a street in the heart of this small city. And all of this effort just so I could visit the last apartment available te huur (to rent). That day I made my first big decision in a foreign country: quit smoking! This is one of the first memories I have of moving to Antwerp and one of the first time I saw Leopold de Waelplaats. I thought it was one of the most charming places I had ever seen: foggy, a little grey, but incredibly charming. I remember I was sitting in this café while waiting to check the last apartment for the day. It has been a long time since I’ve thought of that first day in this strange, new land.

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Leopold de Waelplaats

My name is Laura and I am an Italian from Napoli living in Antwerp since 2011. When I moved here with my Italian husband we did it to get a better life, sure. But we weren’t running away from La Bella Italia; we were homesick everyday, and we still are. Were we leaving everything behind – family, friends, our apartment – in order to try this new experience that might get us a better job and a better future? The hope for better opportunities fused with a curiosity to explore a new culture won the battle between “shall we go?” and “we’d  better stay”.  

So the answer was yes. Even though during my first days of Belgian-life I perceived some kind of hostility, I wanted to feel part of the culture and understand the everyday mechanisms of a society that I could not yet comprehend. While observing people crossing the street I couldn’t help but wonder how could they go around with just a light t-shirt or shorts while an unstoppable rain was coming down! And as soon as a timid ray of sunlight emerged, everybody was sitting outside, no matter what temperature: that was a complete mystery to me. But yes, I now forgot cars and traffic and rode around Antwerp on my purple bike, crossing streets of a city so diverse that it can make your head spin. I noticed there is less queuing at the bank or at the post office, and less stress caused by things like late buses, however, you’ll feel the need to take advantage of enjoying a day outdoor in the sun, because it might be the last you’ll see in a long time. Due to this and many other reasons, I became passionate about this place. I started working as designer, began to attend Dutch classes and discover more of this new culture. I made both Belgian and international friends.

GroenplaatsLaura

When you live abroad for a while, you realise your life will always be split into two perfect halves. Half of me is still in my hometown; and then there is other half that has tuned out of my own culture a little, and has adjusted to a new way of life and new rules. At first, this new feeling created a sense of non-belonging, not belonging to Antwerp but also not to Napoli, because not living my culture for so long made me forget what’s it like to live there. A dawning awareness enabled me to at last realise that I do belong to both places at the same time, so to make a better record of my life here and experiences, I recently started a blog about Antwerp (nonnative.blog), which is a collective of expat voices. Nonnative is a place where people can write about this city from the expat point of view; it’s like an online home.

Sometimes I think of what Dorothy says “There is no place like home” right before clicking her heels for three times to go home. Home can be in two different places at the same time: in one place you have your heart, and in the other your have your soul. One cannot live without the other.

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Inspired to write a guest blog post telling your Antwerp story? Please get in touch via nessascityblog@gmail.com -I’d love to hear from you.

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This weekend in Antwerp: 21st & 22nd October

Feels like a post-summer lull is upon us a bit, but there are still a few things on. Here’s the map for this weekend’s picks.

dkbeerfWild Jo’s Market takes place over Saturday and Sunday at de Koninck Brouwerij It’s a nice market if you have time on your hand and like design, but it does cost 4 euros to get in, which I personally think is a bit steep (although it’s free for under 16s) as an entry charge to a place where you are likely to be spending further. There is both an inside and an outside area, and there will be local creatives and entrepreneurs selling clothes, design and household items, art, crafts, food, clothing and more. There will also be live music.

Saturday

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Over in Park Spoor Noord, Bar Noord is closing, which confirms that summer is over and it’s definitely autumn. SNITT and Goegekregen are holding a second hand market in the shelter from 9am -6pm and over the weekend there is a program of events from Bar Noord to mark the end of their summer 2017 season.

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It’s also Kringwinkel Day – a good day to get a bargain in any one of Antwerp’s second hand stores. I like the one at St Jorispoort as it is very big -three floors of furniture, household goods, clothes, toys and well, anything, really. Here’s the program for the day (scroll down for De Kringwinkel Antwerpen -page 3/ 5- where you can see the specific themes/ specialties for each of the stores).
Sunday

There is a running event at Park Spoor Noord from 10.30 (go to the Loods Sport hall to register at 10.30). Take part in  5km, 10km or 15km run. Here’s the program for the whole day.

WP_20171018_14_42_46_RichAnd from 10am -5pm Brilliant Foodies – a food festival organised by Antwerp World Diamond Centre at Felix Pakhuis (Eilandje, near MAS). Free entry.

Miscellaneous

Temperatures are likely to be pleasant this weekend (reaching 17 degrees) but there are chances of showers on both Saturday and Sunday.

Coming Soon: I’m looking forward to pressing another guest post this time from Laura, an Italian who lives in Antwerp and is the the writer of Nonnative blog

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Don’t forget to get in touch via nessascityblog@gmail.com if you would like to write a post telling your Antwerp story.

Next Wednesday (25th) is the last Wednesday of the month so don’t forget that Stad Antwerp museums are free on that day, which is handy to know if you have kids to occupy. Also handy to know if you have kids, is that Filmhuis Klappei is showing children’s films on Wednesday afternoons, starting at 2.15. This coming Wednesday it’s Viana (in Dutch): cost -2.50 for kids and 3.50 for adults (reserve via the email link).

And one more for the kids: you may be pleased to know that the indoor playground above Mercado (Groenplaats) is reopening this weekend. It will be open on Saturdays and Sundays (and during school holidays) from 10am- 6pm and on Wednesdays from 1pm -6pm.

If you use public transport a lot in Antwerp, you may be interested in the City Pass Antwerp from De Lijn.

Good news if you want to fly from Antwerp – London

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Guest post from Refutales: Sally Ghannoum

This story appeared originally on the website Refutales which gives a voice to the personal stories of refugees in Europe, and highlights the barriers to integration that they face. Dutch readers can find the article here.This story caught my eye because of its connection to Antwerp, and also because I have been to this restaurant (Dilbi Falafel) and enjoyed the delicious food that Sally and her husband serve there. Sally’s story is reproduced here with her permission and that of Refutales. Thank you to both Sally and Refutales for allowing me to share this story on Nessascityblog.

How a Syrian Director opened a Restaurant in Antwerp

 

Posted on 27 June 2017 

Translated by Veerle Masscheleyn

 

One rarely meets people who can incite others with their strength and zeal for life. Sally Ghannoum is such a person. One year and a half after her arrival in Belgium, she managed to establish a Syrian restaurant with the help of dozens of new friends.

We met at Dilbi Falafel in Antwerp while savouring the tasty cuisine. It soon became clear that Sally had more to offer than just oriental dishes. One could refer to her as the embodiment of successful integration.

In the heart of the Arabic neighbourhood

Dilbi Falafel is not exactly a business you’ll stumble upon, but there has been a steady growth of customers through word of mouth. It’s located at Diepstraat 60, about a ten minute walk from the train station of Antwerp. Suppressing my first impulse of entering the shopping street (known as ‘De Meir’), I made my way towards the Arabic neighbourhood. Sally dreams about a big restaurant at ‘de Groenplaats’, but for the moment she settles for her cosy restaurant. And she’s right. The location might even add to its charm.

We stopped en route to buy Aleppo soap, one of the most famous body care products, and then marvelled at the shop window of Iraqi bakeries. Who would have thought that all this could be found at a stone’s throw from Antwerp Central Station?

We merrily continued our walk to Dilbi Falafel. The ‘open’ sign invited us to swing open the non-transparent door.  We were pleasantly surprised, for the modest exterior conceals a very neat space. It is so unlike the typical falafel fast food restaurants. The carefully selected interior, the wallpaper that resembles a brick wall, the Arabic lighting, the varied salad bar … everything contributes to the oriental atmosphere.

Carefully selected menu

Sally greeted us with a firm handshake. “Welcome. Have you tasted Syrian cuisine before?” Upon expressing our adoration, she began to discuss the variety of dishes that are served. “The menu is rather limited and we prefer to keep it that way”, she explained. “We only add a dish after it’s been tried and tested thoroughly. My husband, Issam Youssef, is the chef and takes pride in his work. It took us 4 months to perfect the falafel recipe. We aim at perfection in taste as well as appearance.”

Issam is a trained engineer and a reputed poet. “He composes his dishes like poems”, she smiled, “so that both can nourish the soul.”

“[My husband] composes his dishes like poems, so that both can nourish the soul.”

Some customers entered. Sally jumped to her feet and greeted them. She went over the menu while explaining everything extensively. After they had made their choices, she joined us at the table. “Sorry about that”, she apologised, “but I always like to welcome new customers myself. Every dish has its specific background. In order to savour it fully, one needs to eat it our way.”

Her eyes started sparkling. “I may exaggerate at times. It happens that customers have a particular sandwich in mind. ‘Add this or leave that out’. Belgians do have a tendency to try out something new, but Syrians … they are quite traditional when it comes to how to eat their falafel (depending their city of origin).” Whenever she starts talking about Syrian habits, it’s impossible not to hang on her every word.

“I invariably answer that they should try out our sandwich first. We left nothing to chance when we were composing it. Our falafel recipe is a blend of various regions. Every ingredient is essential. Whenever a customer does prefer another sandwich, we simple add ours free of charge. The customer is always king, but even a king should sometimes dare to take the plunge.” It was clear: they serve an experience on top of a meal.

“The customer is always king, but even a king should sometimes dare to take the plunge.”

Time to try it out ourselves! Issam conjured up all his dishes on the table which we shared among each other. I highly recommend this formula! The portions are rather big and they can easily be combined. I personally adored the Sujukh sandwich, a bun filled with spicy minced meat. It was a true taste explosion. It would probably be impossible for me to devour a full portion, but its taste was perfectly complemented by Msabaha, a type of chickpea soup.

All meals are examples of Syrian street food culture. “Even though we are Christians, we make sure our food is halal”, explained Sally. “Special requests can be made. And we do get various orders during Ramadan.”

Freshness and hygiene are their hallmark. Every day, they spend about three to four hours cleaning and sterilising. Every morning, fresh vegetables are bought. All sauces are prepared by hand to ensure their authentic flavour. With Dilby Falafel they can put their country in a positive light.

How everything started

“At first I had no idea of what I wanted to do, but it was certain I wasn’t going to give up. I simply refused to succumb to depression.”, she said passionately. She used to be a music teacher in Syria and soon felt like widening her passion for art. In Dubai she studied to become a film director, while she helped her husband to run his business. The economic crisis forced her to leave the country and she got entangled in Syria’s war again.

“I had no idea of what I wanted to do, but it was certain I wasn’t going to give up.”

“We arrived in Europe by the regular route, in essence by boat.” She spoke about her journey as if it was the most common thing in the world, like going to buy bread at your local bakery on a Sunday morning.

“And then those attacks at Brussels took place”, there was an uncomfortable silence, “I was so angry! YOU DO NOT DO SUCH A THING. If you don’t love this country, simply leave!”

She would have loved to start her own business upon arrival, but that was not allowed. She could however study. Sally went to the International Academy of Film and Television Belgium. “I explained that I have nothing, except my willingness to work hard. I managed to get hold of a scholarship.”, she explained.

While they were recording, she always brought along a meal prepared by her husband. She let her fellow students have a taste. They were so impressed that it didn’t take long before Issam started to cater for the film crew. “That’s how we got the idea to start a restaurant.”

Once they had their residence permits, they started to look for a proper location. Sally coincidentally stumbled upon a restaurant for rent in the Diepstraat at Antwerp. “I immediately took it”, she said with a gloominess in her voice, “although this decision turned out to be quite costly.”

Apparently, the building did not have the official status of a restaurant. Through word of mouth they found out how to apply for such a license. It subsequently took five months before they received an answer. “We ended up paying rent and utilities for quite some time, without having an income.” That was quite a tough period. They did not qualify for a bank loan. Sally praises her friends. “Whoever we talk to, people are always confident. They believe in our project. I receive both monetary and practical support. And I always keep my promises to pay back.”

Home is where you’re welcome

What has mostly stuck with me from my meeting with Sally is her definition of ‘home’. “I’m very proud of my Syrian-Aramaic roots. But Belgium is my home. I arrived, received a warm welcome and was treated respectfully. If I would happen to leave for Africa and receive the same welcome there, then that would be my home.”

“In my opinion, only death is inevitable.”

She looked at me insistently. “Whatever happens in life, you’ll always have a home. Nothing is impossible. In my opinion, only death is inevitable. Never give up hope.”


Want to discover Issam’s kitchen and Sally’s hospitality?
Dilbi Falafel, Diepestraat 60, 2060 Antwerpen


Translated by: Veerle Masscheleyn
Photo credit: Just Alvaro Photography

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