Thursday, July 7, 2011

Goodbye Antwerp!

I'm back to being homeless and unemployed (temporarily)! The kids left for Thailand yesterday, finishing off a difficult week here, so now my bags are packing and I am hitting the road again. The last week has been tough, while I am really going to miss the kids, I have also been counting down the days. We've all been sick, but while everyone else camped out in bed for a few days until they were over it, I kept getting up in the mornings and looking after the kids, so I'm still struggling to get rid of this cold. Feeling really terrible and still working 14 hour days while Koi got ready to go to Thailand hasn't been fun.

I had Friday off, I went into Antwerp and met up with Simon again, a former AFS student that I've met up with before here. We spent the afternoon looking in different shops, turns out July is a month of huge sales, just like back in January when the 'Rebajas' in Spain turned my budget inside out! We checked out a lot of designer shops though, not high-end labels but the mid-range, one-off kind of stuff. Antwerp is getting a reputation for fashion that is pretty well deserved, the shops were really cool and expensive enough that I managed not to waste a whole lot of money like I would have if we'd visited cheaper stores during sale time! Then we just sat in a bar nursing a couple of beers and talking for the rest of the night. About 11pm I got a phone call from Jan asking whether or not I was coming home that evening, and when I said I was, he said it would probably be better if I didn't because the builders were coming at 6.45am. Apparently, they didn't need my room that early, but they would be making a lot of noise.

Getting advised about this so late really ticked me off, because when the builders come I really have to move all of my stuff onto my bed and cover it with plastic to protect it from the dust, so even if I had somewhere else to stay I would have had to go home to sort things out. By the time I did take the bus home and then sort everything out in my room (I was in the middle of packing so there were half-finished piles everywhere) it was 2am, and I was still so tired that I feel back asleep after the builders came in at 6.45.


An hour later, they knocked on my door and kicked me out of my room. I guess it's not the builders' fault that I was so badly warned about all of this, but I really didn't take it to well and stomped off to catch the bus back into Antwerp. This time, I did allow myself a little retail therapy but I swear I really needed what I got! I think my clothing choices have changed quite a lot here actually, in New Zealand I always wore skirts and dresses, and usually clothes that I could wear to the office, but now I actually own a pair of pants and wear shorts all the time. I nearly bought a pair of denim shorts, but then the thought of being only one step away from my first pair of jeans in four years freaked me out a little to much! I also walked around the city for ages, to find a cheap suitcase and head through a poorer area to take photos of stuff I normally see from the bus.

I got home at 3, hoping that the builders would be done in my room so that I could nap. No such luck! I was still in quite a bad mood, so I hid on the balcony of my room for the rest of the afternoon, until finally they finished up around 7.30pm. This time, even covering my stuff in plastic wasn't enough and everything I own was covered in dust. I looked around me at the dust over all of the floor, furniture and my possessions for about the sixth time in three months and just wanted to cry, it takes me hours everytime I clean and I am just over it and really couldn't face it again when I was sick and so tired. I was tempted to just push everything into a huge dust-covered pile on the floor and crawl into bed, but then I put on my big-girl panties and just got stuck into it. My stuff will never be the same again, I'll be finding dust inside things for years to come, and I even threw some stuff away because even after cleaning it wouldn't look the same. Hauke will be happy to know that a particular hat that he despises ended up in the bin!

Antwerp - propping up the gap between two houses
I really think that it was unfair of Jan not to warn me that I would be living in these kind of conditions here. For three months I've been packing up and then unpacking again, putting up with builders at all hours of the day and night, and living with all of my stuff in piles on the floor while the furniture and closet was being worked on. I'm a pretty flexible person that doesn't get too hung-up about that kind of thing, but at the same time I feel like it would have been common courtesy to warn me about it before I came and then apologize a couple of times along the way. This Saturday really pissed me off, because there was no reason why he couldn't have warned me about it earlier, and I had planned on spending the day in bed trying to get rid of this cold. I refused to get up and work early on Sunday morning, because I just really needed to sleep. This really made them mad at me in return, because they had guests coming that afternoon and didn't want to get up early and watch the kids and prepare at the same time, but I'd reached the stage where I really wanted to put myself first and say no when they were demanding too much of me, especially where my health is concerned.

Alice in the middle of lunch, at Quick
Even sleeping most of Sunday didn't shake this cold I have, its really weird, I've been sick for well over a week now. I think I'm seriously run down. Monday went pretty quickly, I took both of them for a walk to the supermarket and then to Quick so Arin could play on the playground. I think this trip really proved how much I've learnt in three months, going from someone who had never changed I diaper before to someone who could take both kids out for hours and manage feeding and changing them and dragging the stroller and Arin's scooter around and not losing anything or forgetting anyone or forgetting hats-incase-its-sunny, jackets-incase-its-cold or anything else from the massive list of what you need to take when carrying a baby around. I guess it doesn't sound like it's too difficult, but to anyone who hasn't taken a baby and a small boy with behavioral issues out alone for the afternoon before, you should try!

And then it was Tuesday and the kids and Koi were leaving for Thailand. I got up early when Arin excitedly prodded me in bed, telling me we had to get ready 'quick fast' to catch their (7pm!) plane, and spent the morning feeding, bathing and clothing the kids, washing their bedding and cleaning their rooms ready for their return, keeping them entertained and packing their stuff, and toys and snacks as carry-on, because Koi had told me that she would be too busy getting herself ready. She got up around midday, went for a swim, got dressed, loaded the car and managed to leave Alice's food behind. So I really wonder how she coped with both kids alone on the international flight, and how she will manage the next six weeks by herself with them. Jan really surprised me, I had thought that as he wouldn't see the kids for six weeks he would have made an effort to spend the morning with them, but he didn't even touch Alice once, it was really sad to see. Goodbyes were quite awkward, Arin doesn't really understand and never displays affection anyway, Koi barely said goodbye at all, and I had given myself a lot of last-cuddles with Alice throughout the day, she is the one I will miss the most.

Random building, Antwerp
So suddenly I was alone in an empty house! I walked into the village to go to the supermarket and tried to bake muffins to take to Luxembourg and Gent, adapting a chocolate muffin recipe I already had to include speculoos and finding an apple-speculoos one on the internet. Neither were a real success, I threw out as many muffins as I ended up with, but in the end I think it's actually the oven that's the problem, it seems to cook only or more from the top, so that the tops are overcooked and the bottoms undercooked. I will try both types again in a different oven before I post the recipes on here. I finished up my packing, in the end I seem to have a lot less stuff than I thought, just one huge suitcase and a backpack to drop off in Luxembourg, and my huge backpack and a smaller bag to take with me for July. Packing this bag for summer backpacking was much more fun that packing for backpacking during winter was, I keep looking at my piles of clothing wondering why it seems like not enough! I also celebrated the beginning of my time off working with kids by painting my nails, straightening my hair and putting on a dress, I feel like a different person!

Houses in Antwerp
Wednesday I headed to Luxembourg, to drop things off at my new house and meet the family I was going to live with. I got an awkward ride to the station with Jan, trained into Brussels and then realized that I had forgotten my passport, it just doesn't seem like I'm visiting another country when I just jump on a train for a day trip. I'm not sure if my spanish ID card would be enough if I get checked somewhere, but luckily nothing happened. It took another three hours from Brussels to Luxembourg, not a very fun trip because its now summer holidays here and heaps of scouts were on the train on the way to their different camps. I'm not sure I've written about scouts in Europe too much before, its a phenomenon that I don't really understand, but scouts are cool here. Like everyone in Belgium does scouts, and its pretty big in the other european countries too. They do normal scout stuff like camping and skiing, but also weird stuff like running all over the city wearing weird clothes. I don't get it, scouts in NZ are really small and really geeky. These scouts were really annoying, some boys had water guns and I kept getting splashed with water, so I was too scared to take out my laptop to make the trip go faster! It was also a difficult trip because I had the world's largest suitcase with me, and it weighed so much that it was off my (40kg max) travel scale. Both times the escalator to the train platform was broken and I had to drag the damn thing up the stairs, after the one I got in London I don't have much faith in cheap suitcases and I'm surprised it lasted the trip.

The family are lovely (and I'm not just saying that because they read my blog!), like a real family rather than a bunch of people living in the same house but never doing anything together like in Antwerp, and the openess and honesty from Rogier and Jacqueline is really relieving. I also think that their Dutch sense of humor is really similar to kiwi humor, its nice to be around people who laugh for a change! It's also a completely different feeling going there and meeting them three weeks before I move there and after having talked to so many families and thought about it so much, to when I made a quick decision and just jumped on a plane to go to Antwerp, and I'm sure it will work out differently. The kids are really cute, Pepijn is about 3 1/2 and Olivier is 1 1/2. You can really notice the difference between then and Arin and Alice in how they interact, Alice hates strangers and cries when anyone is even in the same room as her, and Arin would never just start to play and chat with someone new. It will take me a little while to get adjusted to Pepijn's way of speaking and accent, just as it took me some time to work out what Arin was trying to say, but they both seem pretty good at making you understand what they want! The house is in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Luxembourg, so you look out the living room windows onto paddocks with cows, its great, like being back in NZ. And of course, amazing to be in a house that is clean and has no dust, plastic or building supplies anywhere! So I'm happy!


The train ride home was much more straightforward without any luggage. Summer means that it now stays really light well into the evening, and leaving Brussels North station at 7.30pm I noticed for the first time the row of buildings with underwear-clad girls in the window. I've been in and out of that station half a dozen times in the evening and never noticed that before! I also noticed that the people who clean the train stations and empty the trash wear white, kinda stupid right?

Tomorrow I'm off to Gent, here in Belgium, to stay with Anais for a couple of days, she was an AFS student in Christchurch and stayed with me when she visited Wellington. I've heard good things about Gent so it will be cool to visit. I'll post a mini-itinerary for July on here, so mum and grandma you can keep track of where I am!

Photos are here.

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