Thursday, January 03, 2008

Belgian waif

I flew in to Brussels last New Year's Eve, and from the airport took a bus to Antwerp where I spent the final leg of the holidays. That annoying feeling of going back to reality soon is starting to creep in, especially a couple of days ago when our program director emailed our class some dates to remember for the month. I am now back in Freiburg, but still am setting those academic thoughts aside to write about the land known for its waffles and chocolates.

Ironically, I didn't get enough authentic Belgian waffles and chocolates, but nevertheless enjoyed some Pinoy fare courtesy of former colleagues and fellow scholars who are now studying in Antwerp. I was left pretty much on my own exploring the city and its environ as they fit their regressions (yes, during Christmas break!) and prepare for their exams scheduled first thing once classes resume. They had their three days of escape in Sweden earlier though.

We spent some time together in the Grote Markt (town square) an hour before the turn of the year. Joy, a colleague in the same staff where I worked for, and I stayed behind to witness the fireworks by the Scheldt river. I just stayed in their flat the whole the next day. The somber weather deterred me from going out and I assumed, at least with my experience in Freiburg, the city will be a ghost town on a holiday.

On my third day, I trusted the online weather forecast and travelled to Brugge, northwest of Antwerp. There was a meteorological aberration. The sun was high and up in Brugge, with no threatening clouds in sight. I spent five hours in the little town. It's streets are lined with chocolatiers and lace shops, with the latter as one of its major industries in the olden days. One of Michaelangelo's masterpieces, a miniature Madonna and child, is on display in the cathedral. As I wound my way through the labyrinth-ous streets, I saw a rolling clearing at the end of one alley. I thought it must be a farm. I continued walking, and the vista opened to a wide island of an avenue where two well-preserved windmills rise, like a pair of giant sentinels guarding their last stand. My camera batteries lost the battle against them, and died a few clicks after. I decided to call it a day.

I witnessed how Antwerp and its residents proved themselves as one of Europe's shopping capital the next day. It was the first day of a three-day (city-wide?) sale. All streets lead to Meir, the shopping street, come rain and snow. The wave of people almost swept me every time I went out of a shop to the main street. I retreated to the flat in the afternoon to deposit my finds, eat lunch, and deliver the good news to my hosts who were busy studying. They dropped their books and were ready for action in no time. I, the herald, joined them after reloading my supply. In the aftermath of the chaos, I brought home a gray, hooded fleece for a trophy.

My last day, yesterday, perhaps was my busiest. I soaked in Flemish art in the house of Peter Paul Rubens that has been turned into a museum of his and his students' and contemporaries' works. I am not really an artsy-fartsy person, though I am thankful to have taken the audio-guided tour of Rubenshuis. I went out feeling more appreciative of what people did during the times when there was no TV and the internet was unheard of. I headed to a waffle stand along Meir afterwards and tasted my first Belgian waffle. Its crusty shell was a contrast to its soft inner layer. It was served hot though this did not prevent me from finishing it right away. The sweet cinnamon flavor lingered in my mouth, making me ask for more. I could only manage one slab of waffle at that time, and I felt sorry for myself to have foregone eating this mana from heaven the previous days.

I walked to the other side of the city to visit the cathedral and the river, but never really arrived at the latter. I got lost along the way, saw some familiar buildings a few twists and turns later, and ended up in the flat. Joy and I went out for dinner and a round of Belgian beer before I left- one for the road. It was time to go.

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