Sunday the 7th of June
I always envisioned an aunt as the sugar mother who treated her nieces and nephews to the things their mother never would; they were a parental figure and friend all in one. My aunt is exactly that quirky character whom I get along with so well yet somehow even cooler. Now finally I’ve had the chance to spend some quality time with Mimieke – something that has been absent from my life since I can ever remember.
Just before 10:00 in the morning, I made my way down to the lobby of the Hilton where my tante had arrived moments earlier. I had eaten breakfast only an hour earlier (a club baguette from the Panos Cafe directly across from the glass revolving hotel doors) but we were already talking food and deciding where to sit for coffee. I was full [to the point of near explosion] so kept my order to a single espresso whilst Mieke enjoyed a cappuccino and koffiekoek as we decided on the days’ itinerary. The predetermined plan was to go to the vogeltjes market and then the Mode Museum. But first: shopping. European shopping culture is substantially different to what I am used to. The cafe at which I work back home is open as of 5:30 in the morning to facilitate the rush of tradesman and exercise enthusiasts in need of their morning coffee before they start their day. This stream of thirsty customers is followed by a rush of city-goers whom are often late for the train and then the day continues with the mothers’ meetings and the cafe lovers who come by for a delicious cup of coffee. Here in Antwerp, I have not yet chanced on a cafe with this same dedication or customer pool. The same can be said for the opening hours of retail stores. On weekdays, even the most renowned shopping street will not open until 10:00 am and on Sundays are closed. The only exception to this is on the first Sunday of each month, such as today, where the shops open in the afternoon if they are part of the campaign of A’pen is Open.
A tight grip around our belongings was necessary for the next part of our excursion. The vogeltjes markt was once a centrum of agricultural trade in the city streets of Antwerp, and today it has managed to carry on with this tradition in a modern context by changing the type of stock sold. There were still “vogeltjes” including chicken, geese, parrots and lorikeets, but also handmade items of clothing and jewellery, and plentiful choice of food. The market was set up across two streets in the vicinity of the Rubens Huis on collapsible tables that were loaded to the brim with merchandise. An assortment of characters could be found amidst the crowd eyeing the tables and clientele for which we were sure to be wary of; but we saw no trouble and enjoyed this weekend speciality – and even made some purchases of our own. A pair of hanging red jewelled earrings that matched with mum’s bata de cola flamenco dancing skirt caught my attention and ended up in my handbag. As long as I can remember, dad has said when I become successful I must buy him a Porsche – so I did! (I’m sure he’ll enjoy the miniature). Lastly, some food to finish off the market experience. We bought a bag of raspberry nuisjes, a kind of sugar sweet shaped like a cone with a delicious gooey centre.
Despite our constant snacking, hunger was creeping up on us and we were lured into the restaurant Désiré de Lillie. I followed my aunt into the cozy settings with little expectations of the red alcoves and partially outdoor terrance but as soon as I opened the menu, memories of previous holidays were evoked of this lovely place. Although it served a variety of savoury meals, the speciality of this cafe was on the sweeter side. Popular options were ice cream and pancakes and battered deep-fried fruits and doughnuts and desserts and crepes and what we were there for: waffles. We both ordered a waffle with fresh strawberries and cream and were not disappointed by the light, fluffy, fresh deliciousness that was served to us on a plate (and devoured in seconds). The restaurant had a unique and memorable atmosphere that made it worth the visit. Tables underneath an outside alcove and a small indoor area was typical of most restaurants in the city of Antwerp but this place had an extended veranda featuring a koi pond and overhead shelter that protected customers from the wind and made for a most comfortable setting. And of course the waffles! That was the real reason we came back here every year.
A pair of shoes each later, we found ourselves at the Mode Museum which had on display a featured exhibit about the designer Dries Van Noten. His unique collections found inspiration from an incredible range of themes and concepts. Many garments replicated the fashion of the royal family with pieces of traditional clothing from various european monarchies. Artists such as Kurt Cobain and Jimmy Hendrix also acted as muse for designs he explained were not meant to be worn but instead should be seen as a form of art. From the organic to the psychedelic, his work has been catalyst to the modern transition of wearable fashion in the past decades and will continue to shape our perception of what is attractive. We made our way through the museum in awe of the talent of the featured artist and his work with a lasting impression that we had not expected to be so pertinent. We exited the blackened rooms only to walk into someone we were starstruck to see – it was Dries Van Noten himself introducing his exhibited to a group of what was evidently very important people. I felt I ought to shake his hand after having stared in admiration at his incredible artwork; what amazing creations this man is capable of I could never even conceptualise myself.
One last walk through the cobblestone streets found us at Appelmans Brasserie for cocktails which were well deserved after our full day of exploring the city. Mimieke ordered a passionfruit mojito and I tried my first ever Sex on the Beach! (Sex on the Beach Cocktail: eristoff vodka, amaretto and peach liqueur combined with orange and pineapple juice.) I had heard much hype about this cocktail but must admit my aunt had made the better choice. Finally we caught bus 22 into Wilrijk where we went for dinner after a quick freshen-up at the home of my aunty. Her husband, although now having retired, has long had a passion for hunting and leatherwork so showed me the revolver holder he had been working on that day. Their house was decorated with animal furs and mounted antlers which were delicately beautiful but a little bit intimidating to a lover of all things cuddly such as yours truly. Dinner was had in Park Steytelink which was a small mansion situated in a luscious green park only a short walk from their home. As asparagus are only just in season, my aunt and uncle tasted the fresh produce and I indulged in a chicken stir-fried salad of which I enjoyed every last bite. It was so great to spend time with family from whom I had been estranged for so many years. We had plenty to discuss and I even searched for some dirt on teenage mum over an Irish Coffee (made with whisky) to finish the meal. We had enjoyed the adventures of this day together so much that I was hesitating to return to the hotel on the evening bus. The adrenalin from our adventures and the many coffees kept me up late that night thinking over the conversations and activities we had made together and excited for the upcoming adventures on Tuesday. I was happy I wouldn’t have to wait long to see her again.