Tuesday the 2nd of June
Dad and I were waiting outside Cafe Kamiel that morning before its doors had even opened. We ordered a round of coffees which were waiting at the ready spaces for my mum and her mum when they arrived from the aged care facility down the street. It was great to see the smile appear on Moemoeke’s face when she saw me – I am sure I replicated her countenance. I sat next to her and as we spoke her gaze drifted across the faces she had been unacquainted with for the three years past, soaking in each expression trying to preserve its memory. She offered me the speculaas cookie aside her coffee with a caring smile that only grew bigger when I took it. This time I had prepared myself for what I was to see; I had made myself come to terms with her reality of old age yet still focussed on the positive aspects of her being – she was happy.
Although I have explored Europe many times before whilst visiting family, I never fail to be amazed at the wonders that appear under every archway and through every door. It must have been very long ago since I last went to Brussels so my memory has made itself a clean slate with plenty of room for new impressions. Brussels is the capital city of Belgium which sits in the french-speaking region of the country. The Galleries Royale Saint Hubert was a lavish corridor inhabited by window displays of level quality that attracted the gaze of all visitors. Beautifully arranged storefronts showcased specialities of Belgium such as gorgeous leather, beautiful lace and a tempting array of sweets. The tantalising scents that wafted from these stores were what roped mum and I into buying a bag filled with marzipan stones, tiramisu almonds, speculaas hazelnuts, studentenhaaver and pralines too.
The most towns in Belgium have a central meeting point that was used in the past as the hub for trade and social interaction. The Grote Markt in Brussels was something else. This square was complete with ornate decoration from corner to corner: detailed figures stood in the alcoves of the baroque style windows that were topped with clover-like gables and frames that formed peaks like towers of miniature castles. The opposite building looked to have been plucked out of the gothic age from its black stone facade to its daunting archways. It stood out amidst the beige buildings next to it that had leaf gold panels and ornaments aside every window. Not one building was more magnificent than the other, each of equal value to the rising clock tower. These buildings predated the 1700s but retained unperturbed beauty from the day they were built centuries prior.
We met with the co-owner of the company at which dad works for lunch. As she lives in London and we were visiting Antwerp we decided to meet in the middle (a drive of two hours from both sides) to discuss business. We ate at Le Roy D’espange that was renowned for typical Belgian cuisine: our dishes included muscles in white wine and a koninginehappje also known as vol au vet, of course all accompanied by Belgian friet. The restaurant had an eerie air to it brought on by the armour clad puppets that hung limp from the ceiling. By the rounded staircase stood a taxidermy horse that made passers by look twice (and then cringe). It featured a large fireplace that stood as an island opposite the heavy entrance door that warmed both the temperature and the intimidating presence of the dolls. The sunshine from outside filtered onto the wooden furniture, yet the room was dimly lit by lamps encased in reed baskets that had inflated dehydrated haggis sacks hanging aside it as if in a makeshift attempt to imitate balloons.
The city was overrun with tourists. We were cramped amongst a bustling hub slowly inching their way to the front of the progression where the famous statue of Manneken Pis stood at attention. I imagine those who had come in anticipation of the sculpture might have been disappointed by the small figure sending a steady stream into the fountain below. But I had been here before and still laughed at this piece of cultural heritage that had become a renowned symbol of Brussels. When it was erected in the Middle Ages, the fountain was a vital element in the development of a drinking supply system but today it stands protected from the growing crowds by a bronze gate. It did not take long to satisfy our need to see the statue so we could quickly move on and cross more sightseeing off the list.