Sunday the 31st of May
I am amazed at how quickly time passes. I was the first to wake this morning, relieved to immediately realise where I was rather than disoriented as happens all too often when away from my own bed. Not long hereafter, the birds made their morning call and soon the rest of the house was awake to sit together to fresh bread and condiments. Shortly after breakfast, we reviewed the first game of cryptic place names – Maaike and I had won! With no thanks to yours truly.
The house, although comfortable, had one very irritating design flaw. To the annoyance of the residents, low hanging lamps were positioned above the dining table which proved to be problematic for anyone above five foot ten inches – namely everyone – who kept hitting their heads as they went to sit down. It looked as though an episode of a cheesy television gag was unfolding before our eyes, and I must admit a snicker or two escaped my composed countenance. The family reunion was coming to a close. Our time together had been “kort en krachtig” – short and strong in twenty-four hours was de Groot family style. The same can be said of my parents’ short week in Belgium and the Netherlands. We found the expression “op zijn Pieter’s” (meaning in the style of my father Pieter) being substituted into the context of our holiday.
Although a short period of time had transpired in the company of my father’s side of the family, we found difficulty parting with our parents and brothers and cousins. Three kisses on the cheek and a warm smile, the final image of these people, preserved for the first years to come. After an enthusiastic cuddle, the four year old youngest, Karlijn, reached for the embrace of Roelof-Jan to then bury her sad head into the crook of his neck. I could not shake the feeling of disappointment that we could stay no longer.
The following two hours were spent with my legs stretched across the backseat of our europcar and gaze fixated out of the window. A single road stretched from the Netherlands through to Belgium, a stiff and undeviating line through the flat countryside bordered by green pastures and fields of tulips. Modern white windmills rose from the roadside at intervals with the three armed propellors turning at a sustained rate as if it were moving despite the wind. These structures drastically contrasted the traditional wooden windmills with their liveable bases, many of which were clearly no longer in operation. Finally we entered Belgium, the tall and intricately decorated apartments looked an architect’s sweetest dream. Cobblestone roads made the drive somewhat more uncomfortable but were evidence of the rich culture in this old country. In this manner we wound through the streets of my birthplace until we arrived at the hotel.
The Old Town Antwerp Hilton Hotel. We moved with the turn of the revolving door out of the cold and into the white marble lobby of the prestigious hotel. A dark carpet filled the centre of the room with emerald stone pillars at its corners. This area was reserved for high tea and stood across from the elegant reception desk to which we wandered for check in. The hotel was built within what once was the Grand Bazar Shopping Mall hence the shell of the building still maintained the facade of a castle. At first I was embarrassed of the extravagance of my room for the next eleven evenings yet as soon as I settled in, I never wanted to leave!
Half an hour later, we were expected in the lobby in the hotel by our family friends, the Peeters family, whom we had recently engaged with on our previous holiday to Bali. They lead us through the streets of Antwerp to a white-walled apartment near the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Cathedral that was to become their new home from Monday through Friday. Dust had settled over the floorboards and electrical wires hung frayed from their sockets in the wall. So far, it was but a skeleton of a home. The short tour had provided us with an impression of their future part-time living space and was an insight to city living in these age old apartment buildings.
Our company of seven wound through the cobblestone streets once again, past the looming Stadshuis with its many multinational flags blowing in the wind, and to the Italian restaurant Arte. Wood fire pizzas and freshly handmade pasta was speciality in this trendy venue – I scraped clean every last drop of pasta sauce from my plate, having slowly savoured every bite of my cannelloni. We indulged in the delicious food as we spoke about the happenings of the past months – I spoke mainly with Cedric, the oldest son of the same age with whom I shared a history of play time with Teletubbies toys and baby pools. We discussed university, drinking, culture and future plans; we had picked up from where we left off in Bali but both had much more to discuss.
Tonight, more than ever, I feel how quickly the last few days have sped by. Each day has been laden with catch-ups and touristic activities to the point that we’ve had little time left to rest. Dinner this evening was by no means sufficient time with our family-friends and I felt disappointed we could spend no longer together. I hope the following weeks don’t pass too quickly – I will be sure to make the most of my time whilst I am here.