Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Goede tijden (Good times)

Time for some catching up...We took advantage of our last few days of vacation to get into all kinds of marvelous mischief!
Thursday Julia joined me as an honorary American (after all, she does watch more American shows than I do and beat my English class score!) to hang out in Bruges with 6 other American AFSers. It was a drizzly day but we had a great time climbing the enormous belfry, wallowing in nostalgia with American food (Subway, Hershey's chocolate, and Reeses), and checking out some Van Dyck masterpieces at the Groeninge Museum. We also bought some Chocolate de Bruges---it's supposed to be the best in Belgium. I don't know if it really is the best chocolate in Belgium, but the Banana chocolate was absolutely divine. The Birthday cake chocolate was just weird. We hung out at a friterie and experimented with some new fry sauces (no mortalities, but there were some teary eyes from the Samurai sauce) and hung out at the Snuffel Backpack Hostel where we spent the night. I had never stayed at a hostel before, but I really enjoyed Snuffel's funky décor, free board games, fellow students, and cheap prices. We sat around brushing the dust off our English with some Belgian beer and a couple girls whipped up spaghetti for everyone. It was great to see some familiar American faces and find out how everyone's been doing the last 5 months. It's also great to hear some real American English, complete with Midwestern twangs. We ran into some other American tourists in Bruges too, and quite a few other students who were touring around for the holidays.
After chocolate and speculoos with breakfast Julia and I caught a train home. Two hours. We got home in time for me to struggle with some Belgian Identity card paperwork before the Hôtel de Ville closed. I love Belgians and Belgium, but their paperwork system and method of organization is about as efficient as using toothpicks to build a bonfire. It's been 5 months since we applied for our identity cards, and we still don't have them. This is slow even for Belgium. Luckily we don't actually need them for much of anything, or I would really be insane.
Saturday we met Jean-Pierre in Antwerp and he showed us around the town where he used to study. Antwerp is one of the largest cities in Belgium and a fashion center. People wear a lot more bright colors and bolder styles than here in Tournai. Tournaisiennes and Belgians in general wear almost nothing except for neutral colors (black, gray, white, beige) and in very safe, moderately cute styles. Almost everyone shops at the same stores, and they also wear the same outfit for two days in a row. In short, if you want to dress like a European, you rewear your clothes and wear nothing that will attract much attention. It did me good to see some wilder styles on the streets of Antwerp, and we also found an awesome little vintage shop. I came away with a bright green 80's sweater (it put my classmates into shock when I wore it yesterday) that I adore and Julia found some smokin' vintage sunglasses. Her optimism seems to have worked, because the rain dispersed and the sun actually came out after she bought them. We also got a taste of haute couteur in the Museum of Fashion, where we saw a collection of Stephen Jone's hats. I had no idea you could still make a living doing nothing but making hats, but this Englishman is really an artist. He had hats in the shapes of igloos, frying pans, birds, lily pads, and so many abstract shapes and designs! We had a lot of fun looking at those.
Antwerp is also Ruben's hometown. We took a tour of his home---beautiful big old house that he redesigned himself with lots of old furniture, significant paintings, and gilded leather for wall paper. Very cool. We also got to see his Descent from the Cross and Crucifixion in the Antwerp Cathedral---very powerful in person. There was a statue of Rubens in the main square too, complete with a scarf for the holidays.
Good tourists that we are, we also checked out the statue of Brabo throwing a giant's hand into the Scheldt. The story goes that a giant, Antigoon, was exacting tolls from the people who wanted to cross the river Scheldt and if they couldn't pay he cut off their hand and threw it into the river. The hero Brabo thus cut off Antigoon's hand and threw it into the river, freeing the people of this injustice. Some say that the name Antwerp comes from this story, from the word 'hand' and 'werpen' (to throw) but there is some argument on that point. At any rate, there is a large statue commemorating brave Brabo. We also admired the statue of the 'Wopper' a giant who is called on by exasperated parents to control their children. Wopper Street is also where Rubens happened to live.
After stopping by a European version of Walmart (not a sort of store that's easily found here), we spent the night at Jean-Pierre's in a small town in Flanders. We watched some ENGLISH television and visited the castle and priory of the village, and then drove to Zsomethingsomething in Holland to check out the harbor and scenery. I thought Belgium was flat, but I'd never taken Holland into consideration. Flatter than a crepe. We had a lovely stroll along the beach and learned a teensy bit of dutch (I now know how to say cheese (kaas), taste (smaak), with (wet), and the (het. Dutch is actually a lot like English. I can usually guess at what most of the words mean, and sort of pronounce them. Dutch sounds like a backwards combination of American and British English; I actually really like listening to it. Anyways, we had a lot of fun, and after all this time in Flanders I had to work a bit to switch my brain back to French. (In Flanders it is better to speak English rather than French because of the tensions between Wallonie and Flanders and just about everyone speaks English).
Today Jade came home! It's great to finally meet the person I've been talking to and whose bedroom I've been living in for the last 5 months! Touchtou now has two 'mamans' and spends his time being crazy over one or the other of us. Tonight we're going to have some nice hot raclette with Cécile and Pépé to help warm Jade up after coming back to the wet Belgian winter from the Australian summer.

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