Amelie, manager of the InterNations Ambassadors & Events team, recently seized the opportunity to meet up with some of our Ambassadors and visit one of the most beautiful towns in northwestern Europe.
Diamonds are a girl’s best friends? If that quote from a classic Marilyn Monroe movie should contain a grain of truth, I definitely came to the right place last weekend: On Saturday, in the early hours of the morning, I set out for Antwerp – Belgium’s second largest city, famous for its role in the international diamond trade. Sadly, however, my trip didn’t involve even the slightest bit of jewelry shopping.
In fact, I was looking forward to meeting the InterNations Ambassadors from our Local Communities in the Belgian cities of Antwerp, Brussels, and Gent, as well as Eindhoven just across the Dutch border. We had agreed to have dinner together in Antwerp on Saturday night, and that’s why I found myself on a flight to Brussels and then on a train bound to Antwerp.
At Brussels Airport, I felt rather proud of myself when I could make good use of my slightly rusty French skills from my high school days. However, since Antwerp belongs to Belgium’s Flemish community, I was a bit lost with the language there. I grew up in the west of Germany, fairly close to the Dutch border. But the kind of Dutch I used to know as a kid turned out to be quite different from Flemish, especially regarding pronunciation. Fortunately, as a tourist, you can safely stick to English!
I checked in at my hotel, which was not far from Antwerp’s impressive central station. I’ve never given much thought to railway architecture, or thought that a train station, of all places, could be particularly pretty, but that was one of the most beautiful station buildings I’d ever seen. Antwerp’s historical center in general is highly picturesque, and I appreciated that it was within walking distance of the hotel. So was the famous Antwerp Zoo, but I couldn’t squeeze a visit into my busy schedule.
Instead, I took a stroll through the historical part of town, past the Rubens House, to Grote Markt, the main square, with its monumental Renaissance city hall, a stunning Gothic cathedral, and the many guildhouses testifying to the wealth of Antwerp’s merchants and burghers. Of course, there are also plenty of cafés and bakeries selling delicious Belgian-style waffles. No visit would be complete without having a bite.
After my mid-morning snack, I briefly refreshed back at the hotel, and then I met Rachele and Caterina, the InterNations Antwerp Ambassadors, for coffee and Flemish appeltaart at a nearby shopping mall. Both of these friendly ladies gave up their native Italy for Belgium a while ago, and they are now taking good care of our expat community in Antwerp. We chatted about local life, sharing tips and tricks for developing the rapidly growing InterNations Community even further.
After our pleasant “coffee klatch”, I headed straight for the dinner venue in the southern part of town. The restaurant, Bizie Lizie, was a trendy brasserie in the best Belgian tradition, and I waited to welcome Praxedes and Joaquim from Gent for a little pre-dinner aperitif.
Praxedes, a Filipino-American lady, and Joaquim, a Spanish consultant from Catalonia’s capital, both settled in Gent around the same time, back in February 2013. They are very much interested in supporting other new arrivals and new members of our Local Community. Gent is one of the “rising stars” among our smaller communities, and we therefore discussed the next steps for community development.
While we were still talking, we were joined by InterNations Ambassadors Eric and Maria from our bustling, 22,000-member (!) community in Brussels. Later on, our little group was complete when Caterina and Rachele returned, and Anthonius arrived from Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Our party of eight even had a room of our own for a private dinner at Bizie Lizie.
The brasserie’s menu introduced me to such typical Flemish/Dutch starters as vleeskroket and kaaskroket, croquettes filled with meat ragout or cheese. Over local specialties – lots of savory dishes with meat, fish, and, of course, French fries – we exchanged feedback on InterNations and general thoughts on community life.
It was great to finally meet so many Ambassadors in person and to participate in such a lively exchange of ideas! I’ve already assembled a “to do” list for my own work, my team, and others at the InterNations office. My head was nearly buzzing with so much input and so many impressions when I got back to my hotel for the night.
On the following morning, I was up bright and (relatively) early to have breakfast with Anthonius, part of our Ambassador team in the dynamic city of Eindhoven. Just like Gent, Eindhoven belongs to our “rising stars” in Europe, and we talked a lot about best practice tips for moving forward with a changing community. After breakfast, Anthonius kindly offered me a ride to the station, so I could catch my train back to Brussels and my plane to Munich.
All in all, I really enjoyed the opportunity to touch base with so many Ambassadors at once. For your energy and effort, as well as for your warm welcome to Belgium, a heart-felt “thank you”, “danke schön”, “merci” and “dank u wel”!
I also had a lovely first impression of Antwerp, a city I really recommend for a weekend trip or mini-break. I’d have loved to stay longer and would like to be back some day. The diamonds will just have to wait until next time!
(Image credit: 1) Public Domain 2)-5) Amelie Dinges/InterNations)