We were going to Antwerp to attend an English wedding – our first!
The Thalys high speed train took less than an hour and 15 minutes to take us the 140 odd kilometers into Antwerp. When the train went past Rotterdam, the song from The Beautiful South kept playing back in my mind! The countryside looked beautiful but the train moved too fast for me to click any pictures through the glass windows.
After the biting cold of almost zero degrees at Amsterdam, Antwerp was ‘warmer’ at 8 degrees, though I still needed the coat to keep me warm. The Antwerp Central station is housed in a fine stone clad historical building from the 19th Century.
I found out from Wiki that Antwerpen-Centraal was judged the world’s fourth greatest train station in the year 2009. The platform we arrived at was at two levels underground and it took as a while to figure how to exit. Our attempt at asking for the exit received a shrug from a local as if to say, ‘go figure’ and that is exactly what we did.
Just as we were about to ask another person for help, we saw two people waving at us. Ah, the joy of seeing friends in a foreign land. Mamy and KP, our friends, were almost like locals, having lived there for three years before they moved back to India.
Consider this. The father of the bride was also there to receive us at the station. That character in Indian wedding settings is the busiest on the day of his daughter’s wedding. And here he was, his usual cheerful self, meeting us and driving us to our hotel. I knew at that moment, that I was going to experience a wedding that is so different from what I have seen up until then.
The Holiday Inn Express turned out to be another travelers hotel with basic amenities. No restaurants at the hotel but there was a kiosk that stocked cold sandwiches and drinks. The room was much bigger than the Ibis at Amsterdam. The hosts had left an envelope with instructions, addresses and maps for the Wedding guests. From that we found out that we were due to meet the wedding party a few hours later. It gave us enough time to rest and freshen up. The venue of the wedding was a few hundred meters away and so the hotel was at a great location.
We had decided to attend the event in traditional Indian attire. The silk sari I chose to wear also had an added benefit of keeping me warm in the cold winter. Other than Mamy and us, everyone else was in western wedding finery. Women with stylish hats and black cocktail dresses and gowns, men in suits, ties and tuxedos. Even though I saw many black dresses, I was glad that I had checked with the hosts if wearing black to the wedding was allowed. Corinne, the bride’s mom, wore a beautiful silk hat that was sitting at an angle to the crown of her head. The hat worn by mother of the bride is a feature at an English wedding.
The venue was an enchanted Old Norwegian Seamen’s church. Even though it did not look imposing from the outside, it was warm, cozy and just right for the gathering of a select group of family and friends. It was my first English wedding even though it seemed like I knew the format from the many movies I have watched and the books I have read! The bride’s maids and flower girls wore cheerful dresses in purple with large white floral prints.
The bride was herself in a longish crème silk- chiffon- satin dress and the groom in a smartly tailored suit.
The bride and groom looked blissfully happy and eager to be married. The bridal march played and watching the bride with her father was surreal. Something about the tune makes my eyes fill with tears! I missed Akank so much then since she loves the tune and plays it on her piano. When the groom and bride exchanged rings, I could almost hear the catch of breath in everyone’s throats waiting for them to kiss (or maybe it was just my imagination)!
The ceremony was short, peaceful and personal compared to the noisy, gregarious, long weddings back home in India.
The best part of the wedding (for the guests at least ) was just beginning! The guests were chauffeured to The Ark, a banquet hall, which is attached to a classy restaurant, which was once a pump house to the Antwerp fire station! The ride was in two vintage London Ceremony buses.
The toasts were the highlight of the evening. The father of the bride was on a roll! He managed to find a few pauses between laughter bouts to keep the mood of the gathering, upbeat and cheerful.
It was a beautiful seated dinner. The staff, the ambience, the company, the wine and food (I had the world’s best pumpkin soup with orange zest that evening!) competed with each other vying to be the best.
We signed the guest book and along with our picture taken with a Polaroid camera, expressed how delighted we were to be there.
Our day came to an end on such a cheerful note and while the rest of the gathering stayed back for the dance, we left for the hotel, late in the evening.