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I wish I’d been ice skating

Everyone in Flanders was out ice skating this weekend. I am so envious. Seeing the pictures is such a throwback to my childhood and teenage years. When I was a little girl my parents would take us to the local castle pond and teach us to skate. As I grew older we met up there with our friends and spent whole afternoons on the ice racing each other, playing amateur ice hockey and just fooling around. I remember the thrill of sneaking off with a certain boy round the back, where the ice formed a loop between the reeds and the trees, a brief moment of perfect seclusion. I remember how the pale, low sunlight drew long shadows of trees on the ice, and how the frozen reeds rustled as we skated past. I wish I could have taken my skates there this weekend.

The pictures below are just there to indulge me. They are, unfortunately, not actual memories. Those exist only in my mind.

The first photo was taken by Lieven Van Assche and published on De Standaard. The second is from Panoramio.

Snow

I live in a hilly area in England, which is never prettier than when covered in snow. The snow muffles the usual sounds of daily life, making the air strangely still. I find myself in a pristine landscape, where I am the first one to leave tracks.

 

And then I get on a path that leads to a supreme sledging hill. The hushed quiet is broken with the swelling noise of all the people and dogs come out to play.

 

 

Later, I bring my feet back to life on the floor heating and pour myself a Tripel Karmeliet beer.

Bathers at Asnieres / London Olympic Park

Love this recreation of the painting!

 

Bathers at Asnieres - Seurat

Bathers at Asnieres - Seurat

Belgium revisited!

Leuven

When I landed in Brussels for the first time in 11 years I didn’t recognize anything. I had expected to feel home, the way I had when I landed here during the months of commuting between London and Belgium before making the move west. Since then I have been back and forth with cars full of family, dog, and lots of stuff (the stuff mostly of the edible and drinkable kind, strictly going west) but never by plane. This being the first business trip in all those years time was finally more valuable than space and so I found myself in a bright, busy could-be-anywhere airport.

That all changed at night. Many things do. I made it into Leuven town centre on a nostalgia trip, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The hurdles on my path were so many I had begun to believe the whole idea was jinxed. The first was: I was seriously sleep deprived and a part of me was screaming to just go to bed in that lovely loft room. Hunger however was worse so I had to have dinner. Easy: eat at the hotel, then go to bed before anyone notices. Problem number two: the hotel restaurant was closed, and the hotel was just out of town. Problem number three: I had let my colleagues, who had the good sense to go home at a reasonable time, lock my coat in the office and so had no coat to brave the frost that night. Desperation set in.

I did the lost girl thing to the hotel receptionist, which is not my usual style but desperation is the mother of resourcefulness. And hark: he could lend me a nice warm coat, only slightly oversized, a bike, and a set of bike lights; he showed me how to work the bike lock and gave me directions. The answer to all my problems! I’d forgotten how well suited a bike is to seeing a town. Just the right speed and hop on and off as you like. London is finally cottoning on, but in Belgium we’ve known this for yonks.

Leuven town centre still looks very much as I remembered it. The historic buildings of course ensure the cityscape does not change. But I even found many cafes and restaurants we used to frequent as students way back then: one where they had good spaghetti, one where we’d occasionally splash out on a steak, and many cafes that bring back memories of evenings out with fellow students. The drowning Margriet statue is still there, as is the experimental theatre cafe that still seems to attract the more obscure “Culture” fanatics.  They had huge screens in there now that were displaying some experimental video work.

I ended my pilgrimage in a restaurant with its own house brewery, enjoying a delicious pheasant with chicory and wine poached pear accompanied by the house Troubadour blond beer. Which I had never heard of but enjoyed greatly. Not a bad workday night.

Troubadour blond

Belgium

We decided to sit down with a beer and enjoy the atmosphere before strolling back along the river and rejoin the mayhem. We found a table with a marvelous view over the river and the quay opposite and ordered 2 Kriek Boon beers. One 500 ml for two – just a little bit more than if we’d ordered two separate ones. The place is cosy and a bit naff, with an old stove in the room and a few low slung oldfashioned wing chairs in the corner. Every chair is taken, many by Dutch day trippers.

When the beer arrives all of its 0.5l comes in one huge glass. The waitress, thinking of the shopping she still has to do or the party she is going to in the evening  – anything to take her mind off what she is actually doing right now, tries to argue with me that this is what I have ordered and I should just make do. All I want is for her to bring me another small Kriek Boon, and we’ll have both. Never too much of a good thing, especially one you just can’t get anywhere else. Rolling her eyes she speeds off and eventually returns with another beer for the morons. Wonderful.

When it is time to leave I shake out my smallest euro coins and build a pile that pays our bill. The Dutch guys behind us are grinning. My husband is shrinking. I pretend not to notice. I never claimed I was a nice person.