Wednesday the 3rd of June
We’re gradually ticking all our company off our list. We’ve visited the mothers, caught up with the families, dined with the colleagues – all that is now left is to see the old friends. Goedele and Geert were waiting for us in the hotel lobby punctually on the hour. Goel and Detje (my mother) had been friends since their teenage years and had incredibly been able to maintain this friendship despite the time passed and the distance travelled. The duo picked up from where they had left off, yet I could not tell whether that was from their time together last year or their last skype conversation. Arm in arm, they were a cute couple of level height and figure with the silhouette of their former self still evident in their stride.
We made our way to the Rubens House where the painter Pieter Paul Rubens had lived for a large part of his life. The “house” could have passed for a small castle. From the leather wallpaper to the thick wooden banisters, the wealth of this place was unmistakable. Every room was constructed with elements of art which acted as a carrier of incredible paintings and more art forms again. The kitchen tiles were made of Delft Blauw where embellished pewter pots hung below a still life of hunted wildlife. A dome-ceilinged room clad with sheets of marble was reserved for collected artworks which extended to a greater hall where today his larger paintings are displayed. The house turned museum extended onto a structured garden free for the visiting public to wander amidst the framed statues of powerful gods and mythical dames.
Goedele and Geert had done some keen planning prior to our date so we were quickly impressed by the sights we went to visit, even was it only for something as simple as lunch. The large circular floorpan of the Toneelhuis of Antwerp ensured for a panoramic view of the surrounding architecture and a gorgeous ceiling! The foyer of this theatre had been converted into an elegant restaurant one would visit to view the ceiling as much as for the sake of the food. A crystal chandelier hung from the high domed ceiling which extended into a hallway allowing space for more visitors underneath the intricate pink designs. Later that day we visited a bar closer to the Groenplaats named ’T Elfde Gebod. At first it seemed an eerie pub, its shelves laden with large dolls of religious stature, yet despite its decoration it felt homely and warm. The name, meaning the eleventh commandment, poses a trivial question I did not think to ask when I was visiting but I am lead to believe it refers to our responsibility to drink, as we did in this religiously inspired pub. We could not have had a better line up of afternoon stop spots that I am sure no tourist could have chanced upon on their own.
The Vlegel had long been a favourite, a cafe we would visit as was weekly tradition for the 1.5 euro breakfast with our friends and family. It was a place I looked forward to revisiting each holiday for the half baguette, croissant, cheese, boiled egg and orange juice. The lunches and dinners were as much to look forward to (I had the best chicken wok salad of my life) as well as the good company we were to be reunited with that evening. Mum shone in her company, she was surrounded by the friends of her youth who she had become isolated from in the move to Australia, yet it was as though no time had passed between the women as they talked and laughed for hours on end. For mum especially, it was the perfect final evening to her stay in Belgium. I was falling asleep at the table long before my parents had even ordered their lasts drinks. One meagre evening to catch up with our best friends was not enough to suffice for past years of estrangement. We were made to run to catch the last train home.