Yesterday we went to Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal, the oldest Gothic church in Belgium, in Antwerp's Old Town centre. Even the spikes have spikes and spinities! We couldn't take any photos inside because it's not allowed. In the evening we went to Open-air Museum for Sculpture at Middelheim (Openluchtmuseum voor Beeldhouwkunst Middelheim). A few km south of Antwerp city centre, this huge free museum has around 300 sculptures set in parkland. The park keepers ride around on bicycles, but I'm not sure whether the general public is allowed to as well (there's lots of bicycle parking outside, anyway). In June and July it's open Tuesday-Sunday until 9 pm, making it the ideal evening entertainment if you're not too tired from looking at other things. Take the no. 7 or 15 tram followed by a 15 minute walk; or the 27, 32 & 33 bus followed by a 7 minute walk; or the 21 or 33 bus followed by a 5 minute walk. There are both permanent and temporary exhibits - the current exhibition is called Long Live Sculpture! and features lots of surreal artwork.
Today we went to the Diamond Museum of the Province of Antwerp - almost next to the Centraal Station.
Diamonds were formed billions of years ago underground and are brought to the surface in volcanic eruptions. The conditions for their formation are 50 kbar pressure and 1200-1400 degrees C temperature. The main rock surrounding them is called kimberlite.
The four precious stones are diamond, emerald, ruby and sapphire. (Let's play Spot the Pokemon game!)
Pure diamonds are colourless, but other atoms in the lattice can cause them to have a colour. The most common impurity is nitrogen, which colours them yellow or brown. Boron makes them blue, and radioactive substances such as uranium make them green. Pink and red diamonds are caused by "a combination" of factors. Red are the rarest colour.
There exists such a thing as "ethically" traded diamonds - there's an official certification that confirms rough diamonds are not "conflict diamonds". They are probably still not fair trade, as most of the sites are still in countries with unstable politics like South Africa and the Congo - though apparently Canada now has diamond mines and people are looking for deposits in Finland. I'm guessing that diamond miners in Canada are not horribly exploited.
Later in the afternoon we went to Antwerp zoo, and in the evening we went for dinner at Ilha Formosa - the only real vegetarian restaurant in Antwerp- all the others are snackbars. There were lots of vegan options on the menu. I had a sweetcorn soup (basically just creamed sweetcorn with vegetable stock) followed by fried soya strips with peppers in black bean sauce and banana fritters. Richard had spring rolls and soya steak in black pepper sauce. Everything was very, very good. Unfortunately, they're only open from 18:15 to 20:30, so you have to get there quickly if you want to eat there!
OK, going to bed now.