Sunday the 26th
Back to Belgium! Were it not for the short stay mum and I had in Amsterdam, I might think it fruitless to journey across the boarder again so soon! But with things to do and people to see, I did not mind the scenic drive that would be one of many this holiday. The smooth highway took us past pastures with grazing animals adjacent to fields of closed tulips which had retired from bloom in the spring season. Windmills lined the side of the highway and the occasional factory appeared out of place in this scenic setting. Without discrediting mum’s driving skills, the journey was swift with dad behind the wheel and it was not long before we arrived at our family friends’ address. Dad and Geert are old companions, friends from their university days many years ago. We have maintained contact on every holiday home and even in between when we met in Bali together last year!
There is no difference between friends and family! Rather, friends are the family we choose and these men had chosen to maintain a relationship despite the difficulties due to distance. Warm hugs and kisses were exchanged and even Becasse the dog nibbled at our fingers with affectionate whimpers. A bottle of champagne and conversations about the year gone by lead into lunch: a simple arrangement of meats and cheeses to bedeck freshly baked baguette slices. So humble and comfortable – the only remarkable event we witnessed during our visit was HAIL IN SUMMER – but, heck, this is Belgium. No matter how long we stayed away our friends made time for us amidst their busy schedules, even taking time off work. This goes to show we don’t need extravagant receptions or big events to make time for the important people in our lives. Travelling fifteen thousand kilometres to eat sandwiches with old friends? Totally worth it.
The entirety of my mum’s bloodline had gone to the effort to welcome us home with a summer barbecue. I say summer, but we had been rained out for most of the afternoon and felt the bite of the cold through our jumpers. This arm of the family was rapidly expanding with extensions though marriage and the birth of baby cousins. My mum is one of five children and the five respective marriages had bred a total of six children, the oldest three of which had recently married and birthed five gorgeous second-cousins! Although we had visited the family one year prior, I had not yet had the chance to meet three of these beautiful babies and was delighted to see how my other second-cousins had grown since I had seem them last. It was awakening to see how Matthis, who, I remember, shone as he introduced his zoo of plastic animal figurines when we were there last, had outgrown his favourite toys and had instead provided for a game of monopoly with my cousins. He was clever and creative, but stubborn in the heat of the game which was to his advantage for it led him to win! I also got to meet Anakin who had the characteristic effervescence of my grandma in his glowing smile. Finally I met the young sibling of my friend Matthis – a beautiful toddler with warm brown hair like that of her brother and an affectionate grasp on all those from whom she demanded attention! Alijn clung to those familiar but cast a curious gaze at me when I played with her hair and tickled her side. Her shy disposition dissipated quickly and with no prodding or provocation she flung herself out of the tight grasp of her mother and around my neck like a koala. What a darling! She sat on my hip and showed off the glitter on her nails, occasionally curling back into the cranny of my neck in a loving hug. What a gorgeous girl!
After the potato salad and degustation of barbecued meats, my cousins and I took leave from the rest of the family to catch the Euro Cup game between Belgium and Hungary. We arrived at the square of Lier with just enough time to order a round of beers (cherry for myself) before the match began. Between the Belfry and Meat Hall, a plasma screen had been erected for the viewing convenience of the small town. It was nothing like the immense park we had attended last match but was more than sufficient for the patriotic people who had come to watch. Beneath the tower of the Town Hall, which contained the operations of the city dating back to 1369, we were mesmerised as the ball was juggled by the best team in Europe. The agile goal keeper saved ball after ball and a strong defence made for an exciting game! Not ten minutes had passed before the first goal was scored by Belgium. The Red Devils were barely breaking a sweat. I had heard the odds that Hungary would be an easy win however I did not expect the next sixty minutes to be so boring! The rest of the game continued at the same speed… Until… No less than twelve minutes to go aaaaaaaand GOAL! With a swift but smooth manoeuvre the ball sailed into the net to the ecstatic glee of the crowd in nothing less than the seventy-eighth minute! But what?! Again?! The Red Devils were on fire in the seventy-ninth minute which saw the score flick over to 3-0. Who could have expected such an incredible defeat in the last few minutes of the game. But there were still ten minutes to go so the show was not over! The final ten minutes ticked over in very much suspense and it was practically over – but for three more minutes of extra time. Minute ninety. Minute ninety-one. GOAAAAAAAAAAL! Belgium had smashed their opponents 4-0! Everyone erupted in celebration of the incredible performance for it had been the most suspenseful game we had witnessed yet and was a promising outlook for the semi-final the following week.