It’s been a while since my last post, been crazy busy trying to figure things out here! But anyway, here’s what’s been going on in the last little while.
In the first couple weeks I was in Belgium, we got some pretty crazy snow! It came down quite hard for a few days, it was super beautiful. Considering I had no where to go by car, I loved it and didn’t want it to end. It really made it feel like the winter holiday season. This was around the time that “Sinterklaas” came to give all of the children presents. Sinterklaas is a Belgian tradition and he comes December 6th every year and delivers presents to all of the good children. But he himself does not go down the chimney, he gets on top on the roof (somehow?) with his one horse (whose name is “Bad Weather Today”) and sends his helper “Black Pete” down, who then becomes covered in soot (hence, “Black” Pete), and he opens the door for Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas then leaves you chocolates, mandarin oranges, speculoos cookies, and other various sweets before he leaves behind the real gifts. There are no stockings, but instead you leave out a shoe and you fill it with carrots, sugar cubes, and other goodies for Bad Weather Today (the horse) to enjoy. There is controversy with Black Pete, many saying this tradition is just a “racist Christmas” because he’s “sending a black slave down the chimney”, but realistically this is just a harmless tradition with no racial implications whatsoever. So on December 6th, we awoke to little Sinterklaas chocolates being spread around the kitchen table as well as a small gift each from Sinterklaas (of course Harry’s parents). It felt nice to experience a new tradition that I had never heard of before and it was great to spend that time with a family that has been so good to me.
So later on Harry and I went out to enjoy the snow. We walked around the area he lives in, Deinze, and enjoyed the powdery white stuff while we could. We walked to the river nearby where there is this platform you can use to cross the water when you turn the wheel by hand, no electrical aids. In Canada or America, I don’t think you would see that in too many places, not in a big enough city like Deinze, maybe in the boonies. Most places there would have been something electrical put in years ago because who actually does manual labour these days…
Anyway, we ended up in this cute little coffee house that served warm drinks, beer, and wine (everywhere serves beer and wine), and we warmed up by the fire for a bit. There, we watched out the window as the polar bear swimmers were out in the river turning blue in their bathing suits. This is apparently common, and even some children do it with their parents. I’ve seen it in Canada before but always for the official polar bear dip, not just for fun, so this to me was crazy. I got cold again just looking at them! We drank some more of our warm hot chocolates before gearing up and turning around to make it back for dinner. We walked through the small farm areas where there are lots of adorable ponies and sheep to say hello to. Some of the ponies even wanted to say hello back and came right up to us for pets (and I’m sure they were hoping for carrots as well).
A few weeks later, Christmas happened. We spent Christmas eve with the immediate family; Harry’s parents, Linda and Yves, as well as his three brothers, Lennart, Rikkert, and Jochen, and one final addition of a family friend who joins them every year. It was certainly not like a Christmas I’m used to with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and brussel sprouts. Instead we had appetizers of little cheese pastries in phyllo dough, chips, and escargot. Our main dish was cheese fondue with cherry tomatoes, green grapes, and bread. Couldn’t say I was sad missing a year of turkey for cheese fondue, I’m drooling thinking about it. For dessert, we had a log of ice cream that was much better quality than I’m used to, and made to look very presentable instead of just coming out of a tub.
The next morning we had a light breakfast and got ready for lunch with the whole family. Everyone dressed up to go to a restaurant they go to every year, one that is privately catered in a fancy, old house. There were about 25 of us, but normally there are 40. The Dutch side from Holland did not come this year, making it a much smaller event than usual. I met all of Harry’s closest cousins, aunts, and uncles. I had already met his lovely grandmother from before, and it was a pleasure to see her again. After we had some appetizers brought around on silver platters, we sat down Grandma made a speech. Being the only English-only speaking person there, I couldn’t understand it, but it was translated to me. Next, one of Harry’s aunts read a nice poem to everyone. Then we got to have our appetizers and main courses. The main course was very good, I’m not sure exactly what it’s called, but I would say one of the items was a whole, candied pear, and it went along with a slice of very carefully cut turkey, fresh apple sauce, cranberry sauce, and three croquettes (fancy tater tots). Still drooling. Dessert today was individual portions of nugget, also amazing.
By the time we were done all of the food and talking, it was around 4pm. We went to Grandma’s house then to open presents. Harry’s family does a “secret santa” styled gift giving, but minus the secret part because everyone knows who bought who what. Afterwards, at least for those of use that were actually hungry after the lunch meal, we had mini sandwiches and small desserts to munch on. I had one and a bit of tiramisu, but I couldn’t fit much more in my stomach.
Overall, it was a wonderful Christmas. I did miss my family during it, but I’m glad I got to spend it with another loving family.
A few days ago, my good friend Mia messaged me saying she was thinking about coming to Belgium the next day on a mini road trip with her husband before her baby is born. She lives only 2.5-3 hours away in Dusseldorf, Germany, not too far. We welcomed her over, and the next day she actually came! It was such a nice surprise to have her over before the year ended. Similar to when we met up in Italy last year, she was wearing a very similar outfit to me again. How does that keep happening? You can check it out in the photo, the hat and braids may have been faked, but everything else was legit.
When they arrived, we went to Ghent to check out the Christmas market and just walk around. We found a great vegan restaurant because both Mia and Chris are vegan, and had an incredible meal. Super tasty and much more sustainable for the environment (because my plate didn’t contain soy, which is actually really bad for the environment). I had a dish with chickpeas, brown rice, spinach, and other things I can’t remembered that was covered in the most delightful peanut, curry sauce. We after checked out some of the best bars and Chris tried out some Belgian beers he had never had before.
The next day we went to Bruges together. We arrived a bit after lunch and walked around and enjoyed playing the role of tourists for a while. It is a really magical place, but unfortunately it’s overrun by tourists with giant cameras, even during the cold months. Still, we basked in the glory of the historical centres and the architectural details. We didn’t have a whole lot of time there because Mia and Chris had to run off to their next destination before nightfall, but we really enjoyed our time together and hopefully will see them near the end of January!
Tonight Harry and I are getting ready for the new year. We’re preparing some food for a couple guests of ours, and later on will be heading to another friends house. So for now, happy new years eve folks! Wish you all the best in 2018, and I hope you all can achieve your new year goals. Cheers, Salud, Prost, Schol, Kanpai, etc, talk to you again when it’s 2018.