Monday the 27th
My first week has passed with such speed that I feel deprived of sleep and have fallen far behind with my journal. I am already struggling to remember what we did two days prior and am falling asleep as I try to remember and recount! A comfortable spot in the busy cafe, Sébastien is how I plan to spend a section of my afternoon catching up on writing. Having to engage in unbroken contact with others is eventually exhausting so I am pleased to have some me-time with a fresh mint tea in what has become on of my favourite coffee spots. This cafe has quickly become so popular with my parents also, such that we were here this very morning for a fresh chocolate croissant – and a speculatte of course.
By 10:00am, dad and I were in Wilrijk at Cafe Kamiel awaiting the arrival of mum and the aunties with my Moemoeke. I was tired and impatient. Last night had been very late and this morning very early hence the few hours rest I received compromised my emotional strength. The strong shot of coffee was a substantial aid to my composure yet the nerves could not be eased through caffeination. Recalling the rapid degradation I had witnessed the previous year and my shock when grandma did not remember my name, I had mentally prepared myself for the events of the morning. Some time passed before she was wheeled into the premise by her daughters (/in-law). She looked amazing! A lively smile brightened her countenance. It did not look as though she had changed in the past year and I was pleased to see her happy and healthy. Nonetheless, I fought back tears. Seeing family as frequently as once a year instills an appreciation that I experience as intermittently as I do these individuals. I have lived in Australia for sixteen of my nineteen years, hence I would mistake my kin for strangers were it not for the rare opportunities I have had to return with my parents to visit. Seeing my grandma was heartwarming and I was overjoyed when her reaction to me was replicated and she remembered my name! After coffee, cake and catch up we had to return Moemoeke to her carers with the promise to return later in the week.
We took our departure from both the extended family and from each other for the rest of the day. Usually, my parents and I stay together for the extent of our trip, but due to the discrepancies in time and interest, we went our separate ways. Mum remained with her sister in Wilrijk with the intention to spend the afternoon shopping in the city, and dad took me in the car to the hotel and then continued on his own to Noordwijk, the Netherlands, to stay with his mother. I would not describe myself as introverted, but I greatly value some time to myself hence this break was a welcome change. Cafe Sebastien is a definite favourite! I feel as though I ought to personally know the barista by now, considering the frequency with which I visit (frequently in the space of a week or two once a year) is to the point I even know the set list of the ambient music. From here, the view of the Onze Lieve Vrowekathedraal is unlike any other as the roof of the church is visible supporting the full length of the clocktower which is often otherwise obscured by the surrounding buildings. The weather may not be kind enough to sit outside but the option is always there! It is a nice place to be sitting alone.
Dinner was a whole new experience. Having spent the afternoon at my leisure, I was looking forward to a a few evening cocktails with my writing. By chance, I ran into my mum and her sister on the way to the hotel and we concluded to go for dinner nearby in the city. They asked me to introduce them to one of the places I had discovered last year but we were soon far from that idea and in a side street opposite the cathedral lined with restaurants specialising in typical Belgian eats. We settled on De Pelgrom, the namesake of the street on which it resides. We entered through a doorway painted black, above which a figurine of the Virgin Mary stood holding the cross, and this medieval theme set the standard for the rest of the restaurant which could be accessed down a set of steep stairs. Being a cellar, the venue was made entirely of bricks without natural lighting or ventilation. Thin candles cast shadows around the old wooden furniture and in the corners of the room, and the air was thick and warm with the bodies that occupied the space. At first I felt claustrophobic. I was made entirely uncomfortable by the ambience of the room and felt rather apprehensive especially considering that all I wanted was a cocktail! A glass of Kir Royale, an aperitif made of cava and cassis, quickly solved that problem and I had soon forgotten my initial discomfort. Mum, Mieke and I went with the Old Belgium theme and each chose a menu item from the specials list: respectively, rabbit in a red wine ju, a vissenpotje (fish stew) and I had a koninginnehappje (chicken vol-au-vont).
Of course, the next part of this entry is again going to be dedicated to a description of more food and drinks. Is there ever anything else? Upon returning to the hotel, we ordered a round of drinks over which to discuss our upcoming excursions. The ladies had an Irish Coffee, served with a cream-centred praline and Jules de Strooper speculoos. Mum had been yearning for an Irish Coffee since last week, when she had enjoyed it so much whilst watching the Euro Cup that she had indulged in two! I meanwhile had a Red Devil Cocktail, inspired by the winning soccer team and containing vodka, tequila, gin, cointreau, sugar syrup, lemon juice, cranberry and topped with peppercorns. I am becoming quite tired of recounting my every meal but I feel I must document it nonetheless as it is unlike anything back home! I worry for the day that I reread all my entries to find I ate my weight in chocolate and didn’t consume a single vegetable… But calories don’t count when you’re on holidays, right? Don’t expect me to be counting or caring! I’ll just wait here while you drool over my descriptions of food.