Ah, this is now officially day 14 in Belgium. Yesterday, I claimed a pause for the cause and remained en la casa Brussels for the entire day save for a lovely walk in a nearby park, aptly named “The Forest”.
Some reflection on travel: one must take heed before planning a long trip that includes walking over predominantly uneven hard surfaces. Get in shape BEFORE you arrive in old Europe. If you plan to tackle some historic city centers to view paintings, sculpture, masonry, architecture, old relics, new media, mixed media, and this and that along with the arts and crafts, then you will need at least two pairs of shoes with support and a good month of workouts before your arrival.
Stairs, stairs, everywhere stairs! 4 floors up is the usual walk up in any building here in the cities of Belgium and you won’t find too many elevators. This is not a place where you find many overweight people living here as you do in every American city. With all of the bike riding and stair climbing, there is no way for one to over do it, save for a small Homer Simpson belly from the Belgian beer and chocolate. So far, among a few purchased trinkets for friends, I have acquired a further extension of my belly despite the miles of walking and climbing. I am now a mix of the look of Friar Tuck with the muscled calves of an Olympic marathon runner. Oh, joy. Oy, but the knees! The knees! My poor aching knees! I have daily pains either somewhere inside, to the side, or in the back. ooof. Yes, I’m stretching.
On why I came here: today, another day of rest and writing. Yesterday, I cooked a lunch of chicken and vegetables for the family since it is their larger meal of the day and I wanted to do something to help out since the elder Mom fell and broke her arm the other day while I was traipsing around Ghent and Bruges! Pobrecita! And poor Teresa, too, who is the most amazing host and now has so much more on her hands. So, I thought I’d help by cooking…Happy to report that it tasted great and everyone enjoyed it. “Es una comida tipica en los Estados Unidos?” asked Lala, eating with her only available left hand which is not her go to. Since it was a stir fry, I mentioned that it combines elements of Chinese cooking, but realized that, however I said it with my limited Spanish, it was misunderstood as being “Chinese food” and I had to correct. “No se si tipica en el pais, pero en mi casa, si.” (I don’t know if it’s typical in the country, but in my house, yes.)
The little shop from which I was excited to buy the fresh chicken and vegetables was closed on Thursdays (?), so Hugh and I went into the Carrefour Supermarket to obtain what we needed to make lunch. What we didn’t realize was the way one must pre-weigh and place a price sticker on each vegetable and fruit before going through the checkout line. Um, big ooops. When the cashier got to the fruits and vegetables, she said something angrily pointing behind us. I had no idea. I asked her to repeat it slowly in French. (Crap, I had never heard those verbs and nouns before.) We looked where she was pointing and wondered if there was a separate cashier one purchases the fruit and vegetables. “Should I pay for the rest of this now?” I inquired in some French perhaps mixed with Spanish. “No!” she said, still pointing. She sent us walking as we held up the line of Belgians. We found a weighing machine with a touchscreen. Voila! The words “légumes”, (vegetables) and “fruit” (fruit) were easy enough, but once you pushed that, you had to find the EXACT name of each item to price it and that’s when we started taking longer to search through the names and pictures. Damn, I knew peche is peach, but what the hell is a zucchini in French or Dutch? How about a red bell pepper? Oy. We were finally rescued by the exasperated cashier who didn’t speak English. (She was the first Belgian I have found who doesn’t speak English, btw. I guess they don’t think tourists will be shopping in the Carrefour.) She laid each piece in the basket separately and clicked on the fruit or vegetable and a little sticker popped out that she would press to the piece. We had 8 different things, so it took a bit of time. Then we had to make way back to the register after holding up the entire line all of this time, and it was 11:30a, close to lunch. Ooops.
A few other interesting asides: in Ghent, we decided to take a cab to the AirBnB condo we rented for the night because it appeared we would have some expedition to embark upon around canals to get there and I wished to save my legs for visiting the historic city center. We told the cab driver our address and poof! We were off in a flash and he drove QUITE quickly. The hundreds of bicycles that we saw parked at the train station multiplied into hundreds more speeding on the motorways nearly as fast as the cars. Our driver deftly maneuvered around all of them and it was quite a surprise that everyone remained alive. He promptly dropped us off at 25 something street, took 10 Euros and sped off. I rang the buzzer. Nothing. I knew that Andreas was awaiting our arrival since he said that he had a short window after work and before a volleyball game he was playing (between 6 and 7:30). We arrived at the safe time of 6:30. More ringing. Nada. Hugh asked his last name as there were 3 buzzers with last names, but they were not numbered. Well, I explained that AirBnB does not reveal last names for security purposes. Harumph. I tried another buzzer. A man came down. No, Andreas here. Uh-oh. Well, it was the wrong street! And when Hugh connected his map program he discovered that we were several streets over and across a canal! AYiiii! So, we dragged our luggage across several streets (which are marked oddly, btw) to where we needed to be. Andreas was there awaiting us as planned. Phew. Great condo right on a canal, but our rooms were four full flights up and I was already tired before we commenced upon the actual walking tour of Ghent.
Cafes after cafes after brasserie after brasserie after restaurant and more cafes…I’m drinking a LOT of coffee as well. One walks 500 yards, “Let’s have an espresso.” Another mile or two, “Let’s stop for a beer.” Another 100 castles, churches, rooftops, statues, and people, “More coffee…”
Sit back, drink some and watch it here.