New Delhi is just about as far from California as one can get on the globe. Therefore, price-wise, it didn't really matter which way around I traveled. So, I decide to continue traveling west and to visit some old friends in Europe. My first stop was Belgium to visit Vinciane and Reinout.
I met Vinciane way, way back during my senior year of college in 1992. I was going to UC Irvine at the time and living in Newport Beach, just a few houses away from the sand. Francis, one of my roommates that year, was from Belgium. Francis' sister, Cecile and two of her friends ended up coming to the states for a visit and we took them all on a tour of Los Angeles. Vinciane was one of those two friends.
When I graduated, my buddy, Derek and I decided to do a post college European tour. After seeing Stonehenge and wandering across Wales we decided to make a b-line to Ghent to meet up with Cecile and to have dinner with Francis's parents. There at dinner we saw Vinciane again. She mentioned that a friend of hers was driving to Italy for business in the morning and asked if we would like to join him. "It's all on expense account." So, 5am the next morning all 4 of us were crammed into an Opal speeding towards Italy. There is a lot more to this story including an elderly town historian, a mad hunter, an eaten ATM card, and a murdered judge, but I'm not going into that here. Derek and I ended up using Vinciane's apartment in Brussels as our European hub and we became very good friends with Vinciane.
A lot has happened since that summer. I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Malawi, Africa. Vinciane met and married Rienout. After a stop in Zimbabwe on their around the world honeymoon, they fell in love with Africa and started working out a plan to build a lodge in Zambia. On the way back home from Malawi, I made another stop in Belgium and ended up staying with V&R for almost a month. After that, we found many excuses to cross paths. They built the lodge in Zambia and made it extremely successful. It's a beautiful place. Check out the link to their website here:
Anyways, about a year and a half ago Vinciane and Reinout had their first child, Mathieu. Reinout was able to make it to our going away beach party, but it had been a few years since I saw Vinciane (Amsterdam?). It was time to make another visit to Belgium.
Vinciane and Reinout are now living about 30 minutes outside of Brussels in a small country town named Huldenberg. They have found a beautiful place with a great view. It needs a little work and Vinciane is using her skills as an architect to plan some modifications to it. While I was there Reinout was having the heating system replaced with a much more modern, efficient and environment-friendly system. They only problem I had was that it wasn't done yet. When I left New Delhi on October 16th the temps were hovering around 35C (95F). Arriving in Belgium it was hard to get used to an unheated house while the outside temps were staying around 9C (48F). Brrrr. I took many a hot bath to warm up...until they shut off the hot water to replace the boiler.
Besides just catching up with V&R, my main reason for being there was to meat Mathieu, their new little one. They wasted no time in introducing us and quickly I became the live-in babysitter. With the house repairs, an upcoming trip to the Zambia lodge for Vinciane and a business trip to the states for Reinout, plus chiropractic appointments and family visits, they were plenty busy and kept me moving. Somewhere in between the errand running and baby sitting I did manage to get out and see a bit of Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels and of course Huldenberg (plenty of photos in the slideshow).
Here are a few highlights:
- College kids playing guitar (La Bamba) along the Graslei in Ghent.
- Noses. Weird purple candies that I had a hard time deciding if I liked or not.
- Shopping for apple trees. Who knew there were so many varieties to taste test? Who know how often you would have to retest to get the right tree?
- Frites...and frite sauce.
- Cooking Chinese food for Vinciane's sister's three kids who had never had Chinese food. We made due with some chopped veggies and soy sauce and made our own chop sticks. They really liked it.
- Showing the kids how to make s'mores. Although we used nice Belgium chocolate and biscuits, the kids didn't take to well to the artificialness of the marshmallows. They did like the coat hanger cooking process in the living room fireplace.
- Learning why there is a pile of dirt with a lion on it in Waterloo.
- Turning 39.
- Waffles. Nothing like our version of the "Belgium Waffle." Much more addictive.
- Discussing the merits of a lifetime in insurance with Vinciane's father.
- Fall. The color of the trees were incredible.
- Watching a country run without a government for 100+ days.
- Hot water, a thick comforter and the wool sweater Vinciane lent me.
- Hanging with Mathieu!
Check out the slide show here: