Some of you may know that I am an exiled Fleming / Belgian (pick which ever means anything to you) in England. This is not usually very relevant, I have learnt the language as any immigrant has an obligation to do and I pay my taxes. My children barely speak Dutch anymore. Now the holidays have finally arrived I am simultaneously exchanging emails with my family about Christmas preparations (they will be coming over here) in Dutch and trying to write a blog post. My brain is doing strange things to me, mixing both languages and coming out with creations that would probably appear absurd to you good readers. To me it makes sense though, I understand it all. That lovely Ciney Blonde I’ve drunk to ease me into the holidays will not have done much to unscramble the language area in my brain, I suppose. It seems to free-associate better though. More connections than clarity.
Now might be a good time to play multi-language scrabble with my kids: any language goes, as long as a dictionary can prove the word exists. Or with anyone else who cares to join. Husband hates it: he pretty much only masters English. But, we all have stuff to get done. I shall have to leave you with a picture of my lovely Belgian beer paraphernalia instead:
And here’s some Belgian humour for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OIJRMqYAA0
More is always better! Never too much of a good thing! I am finding that these are just slogans sly sales people fling at you. I had no intention of experimenting, it was put upon me. Poor me. Allow me to explain why this is plain wrong:
It was my birthday not that long ago (celebration of another year’s wisdom won), and my parents had sent me a HUGE box of fresh chocolates from a local chocolatier. Heaven! I told the rest of the family in no uncertain terms that they were to be very very nice to me if they wanted me to share. Always a bonus. There is no better chocolate than Belgian pralines, I absolutely love them. You select a few and enjoy them ideally with freshly brewed black coffee. But you can’t possibly eat half a box, they’re just too rich. So I stash the box, carefully rewrapped, with the Belgian beers (Tripel Karmeliet and Westmalle mostly) in the garage. The perfect storage temperature for both this time of year. They’ve been there a week now and there still is nearly half a box left. I have enjoyed a few every day of the week, and they don’t nearly taste as heavenly as they did anymore. They are still in mint condition, but my palate is going stale. I am beginning to consider sharing.
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.
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.