Posts Tagged ‘Antwerp’

Hard facts and warm feelings, if you’ll indulge me

July 24th, 2009 Comments off

We washed and cleaned out the inside of the Mobi this morning and returned it to the dealership that sells and rents them, about an hour away from Antwerp. It poured rain, a hard, drenching rain, most of the way back. This is typical of Belgium, said Daughter’s Fiancé.

The young man who checked us out on the Mobi back on July 6 also was assigned to make sure the Mobi was intact when we returned it. It was. His boss was a bit upset that we didn’t return it until 1:30 p.m. because we had promised to return it by 10 a.m., and Mobi was going to head out later in the day with another party. I should talk to them about the propane tank’s sticky valve, and the hot-water problem. The broken door lock got the mechanics’ immediate attention.

Remember how I complained that the water-intake cap was frozen shut? It was a locking cap, the young man showed me, and if I had unlocked it, a quarter-turn would have released it.  Oh. I hadn’t noticed the key slot in the cap. That was embarrassing. I am why Americans have a bad reputation in Europe.

The young man also said that the waste-water draining problem was a common complaint, that the valves stuck open or closed, so I shouldn’t feel bad about that. And he and two mechanics discussed how it was possible that someone was able to cleanly break into the Mobi and steal Fiancé’s laptop computer when we had it parked at Bratislava, Slovakia. The crooks might have been nearby (and there was a motor home right next to where we parked), using a device that would have recorded the frequency code of our locking fob, and used it to gain entry through the front door with no problem. Hmm.  Or maybe I failed to lock one of the doors. This will forever haunt me.

Back at the front counter, the young man went through the paperwork and gave me a copy of our invoice. Some security deposit refunds were due us, and would come later in a bank transfer. He said we drove 4,800 kilometers.  I did the math: 2,982 miles.  Over 17 days, it averaged to 175 miles a day. And just one traffic ticket, thanks to those young German police officers who accepted payment with American Express (which, by the way, is not very widely accepted in Europe).

Back at Daughter’s and Fiancé’s apartment, I hit the “properties” tab on “My Photos.” Between the four of us, we took 8,766 photos.  Thank God digits are free and storage space is dirt cheap. Eight-thousand, seven hundred and sixty-six photographs, all crammed inside my little Acer netbook (and backed up every other day onto a separate hard drive).

All those miles, all those photographs, and one wonders: what was our favorite place? We loved each of them for different reasons. The frolicking beer gardens of Munich, the overwhelming history of Prague, the public spaces and monuments of Vienna, the grace of Lucerne, the dramatic setting of Luxembourg, the majestic Alps.

I decided today that my favorite place is Antwerp. We leave tomorrow at noon, and it will be so very hard because we are leaving our Daughter and her Fiancé, and won’t see them again until Christmas. Conversations on Skype are nice but you can’t hug on Skype.

We had so much fun over these three weeks but without a doubt, the most fun, the most treasured moments, the highlights of our time in Europe, are those spent with them. There was laughter, of course, and silliness (we’ve been humming the chicken dance song ever since the proposal occurred in Vienna), and there has been tears, How I wish that they, and our Son and his wonderful wife back in Las Vegas, and Jeanne and I could all live near one another. It’s every parent’s dream, I suppose, but parents also want their children to pursue their own dreams and sometimes they come true on the other side of an ocean.

I took a few photos today of Antwerp as we walked around this afternoon — a bit of window-shopping by Daughter and Fiancé for an engagement ring. (No, they did not order the one from Tiffany’s in Vienna.) The photos aren’t necessarily of the most attractive or oldest or most historically important parts of Antwerp. We’ve visited those neighborhoods on previous visits. But these photos represent the neighborhood where Daughter and Fiancé live — near the train station, not far from the diamond district and not a far walk, down from where the Moroccans claim their neighborhood, to a wonderful Chinese buffet. (We have concluded, by the way, that there are four truly international foods: Hungarian goulash, pizza, kebobs and anything served at an Irish pub.)

So it’s over, this crazy vacation of ours. Nearly three thousand miles down narrow, old-city streets, meandering country lanes and along steep mountain sides shared with bicyclists. But the hardest miles are yet to come, the drive on Saturday to the airport for our flight home.

Back in Belgium, safe and mostly sound

July 23rd, 2009 Comments off

We arrived back in Antwerp Thursday evening, around 8 o’clock, our RV trip through Europe now completed. We are intact, healthy (physically at least) and now braced to having to clean up Mobi so we can return it today (Friday, in Belgium).

Mobi failed us one last time, and thankfully it happened on the last day of our travel: Somehow, the side-door lock is now permanently locked, and the door cannot be opened, either from the outside or from the inside.

This means that after parking Mobi in front of Daughter and Fiancé’s apartment in downtown Antwerp, we had to unload all of our stuff through  the front passenger door.  That sucked in a big way. We have added this to our list of other complaints for the dealership — how the wastewater tank valve doesn’t work, that the water-intake cap is frozen and we had to fill the water tank by dragging a hose inside the vehicle and accessing the tank below the dinette table seat, that we could never figure out how to turn on the radio speakers in the back part of the vehicle so passengers could listen to music, that the hot water boiler didn’t perform for more than a week…

But we are safe, and in awe of all that we saw and did, and wishing that we could spend more time here. Looking back, the trip seems to have gone way too quickly. On the other hand, in some respects, it seems we have been here for months. We lost track of what day of the week it was, which is a good thing when you are on vacation.

We will go through our notes and write a lot more about what we saw, what we learned, what we felt and what our advice will be to others. This will have to wait a few days, after we are refreshed and back home in Las Vegas.

But we are proud to say that we never used two of the more decadent features of our Mobi. We never used the shower.  We used the campgrounds’ showers. And except for the first night of our vacation when we turned it on to see if it would work, we never watched satellite TV in our Mobi.

When it comes to roughing it, the Gormans know how to camp. Watch TV? Hah! Yeah, right. Not us. That’s not camping.

But we do wish Mobi had a microwave and an icemaker. 

Getting sauced in Belgium

July 6th, 2009 Comments off

After just a day in Belgium, you learn two things very quickly.  One: people love their beers and, well, they’re pretty good. Monica, my health coach, will kill me. I had three in one day.

The other thing you discover quickly is that Belgians love their sauces. And, they’re good.

Now, for the record, I’m not a big sauce person. I prefer lighter meals, like this antipasto appetizer plate that Daughter put out before our evening walk.

But when in Antwerp, eventually you have to do what Antwerpians do. For dinner, Daughter and Boyfriend suggested what they refer to as the Chicken House, one of a dozen or so restaurants and sidewalk cafes at what is called the Grand Marketplace, or the historic square in downtown Antwerp.

There are other things on the menu but the moment you walk in and see, smell and feel (the heat) of the wall of chickens on the rotisseries behind the hostess, you figure you’ve got to do chicken.  The chicken can come plain, but the menu offers various sauces and that is clearly  the intention: you want chicken? Then you get it with sauce.

Red wine-and-mushroom sauce. Mushroom pepper sauce. Stroganoff sauce. Provencal, curry, Bordelaise, béarnaise, compote… All sorts of sauces.

And you chose between fries or skillet country potatoes. But there don’t seem to be any vegetables in the house, and just one side-salad offering.

But there are lots of beers.

Getting ready for the house sitters

June 2nd, 2009 Comments off

Preparing for our European RV trip means making the house habitable for the house sitters. You can hide things for a weekend but over the course of three weeks, they’ll come to know us intimately.

The lucky couple is Tom’s boss and his wife. They have a newborn and two dogs. Tom says I need to make some room in the closets for their things. Make room? Everything is so simple for a man who owns eight pairs of pants, a dozen shirts and five pairs of shoes.

Tom doesn’t take into account that I have 30 years of clothing stuffed in the closet, in five different sizes. You don’t just shove a few things out of the way. You’ve got to sort through what’s there — and factor in that you’re trying to lose weight so this is a good time to toss the big sizes.

It’s not that I can’t live with myself as I am. But visiting our daughter and her boyfriend in Belgium is like a week on the treadmill at a gym. You walk around Antwerp. You walk around Brugge. You walk around Brussels. You walk around Ghent. You walk to the grocery store, to the clothing store, to the Irish pub. Europeans walk. So we need to lose weight.

And that gets us back to the closet. I’m filling several large bags with clothes that are now too big and outdated and yet the remaining items seem to be reproducing like bunnies in there behind my back. I swear there’s more in there now!!!!  I’m ready for a vacation.