And back to Belgium. Some riveting observances and bloody bamboozlements and mirth makers to share.
1. (Well, this was France. But same set up applies in Belg as well as much of Europe). Early Sunday morn I went out running so as to tie in to time with the opening of the Carre Four (supermarket) across the road. You see, I thought for the final day of racing I would hustle Marky Mark and The Pedaller a piece of the quiche a'piece they liked to tin foil up in their back pockets as they ride, and delight myself with some grapes in the process.
How discombobulated ''twas I upon launching at pace at the automatic doors of entry only to find they didn't open (I had timidly approached them a few days before to make sure they worked so full force could be the carry on) (the forehead bruise has almost dimmed). In my somewhat concussed state of bewilderment, I clocked the heures d'ouverture signage; "Dimanche fermé" it declared in bold. ("Closed on Sunday").
I was rather (ok, profoundly) irritated. What was this bullshit closed business! (Literally). What a bloody inconvenience! An absolute arsehole of a blight on my being for my day.
But then I thought, why is convenience that desired way?
I mean, think about it. What is a bit of forward planning to have necessities for your Sunday when it forces you to have a bit of relaxation? To spend time with your family, rather than feel the pressure to do the supo shop? When it is closed up on the Day of Rest, you don't need to make an excuse or feel guilty for not going – you can't. You – shock, terrification – can't agonise up and down the aisles over what you'll make for dinner Tuesday night or if you should get more of the chicken on special to stock up the freezer. The very most you can do is write up a list at home, to go and load up in your trolley when the supo opens up at 1pm on Monday afternoon (as The Pedaller and I found out when we returned to Belg the next day and went to do a spot of shopping at 12.15).
I rate it. It makes Sundays that much more enjoyable when you physically cannot tend to life admin.
2. On the way home to Belg in the camper (very, very at-first-funnish-then-once-it-hit-ten-p-m-quite tedious journey) we stopped at a servo station (here they full on cater to commuters) for a snack-slash-dinner. Bas blinked at my haul (two oranges, an apple and a just-past-its-best nectarine) and said, "I've only seen you eat fruit and vegetables all week." Upon my response that I froth on fresh (and sometimes manly – nectarine case in point) produce, he turned to The Pedaller and said (quite seriously), "When you take her out for dinner you just go to the garden EH?"
I rated that also.
3. For some reason I was thinking about currency and how the majority of European nations use the communal Euro (just not Switzerland with their franc, Poland with their zloty, Denmark with their crown and so forth). And what a good name for it! The Euro. Talk about all-encompassing. I wonder if when the idea went through about going for a money that would cross-border, the elusive "they" all sat around a boardroom table brainstorming the terminology to use. Whoever came up with the concluded is a right champion in my mind.
Only thing: I am extremely disappointed that "cent" was hand-upped-for over christening it the "pean". How bloody good would that have been? Euro Pean.
4. As we drove along the race roads, when we were in Brussels and even today at the airport, I was really struck by how many young boys were wearing glasses. Like I'm talking four out of every five being bespectacled. Is astigmatism a really common occurrence in the male-under-10 European demographic? Or is it just that glasses-wearing-male-pre-teens like cycling/the Belgian capital/air travel?
I took to Google to query but, alas, I didn't get much enlightenment aside from that Buchanan Optometrists in the U.K. has a kid deal going on throughout July/August.
5. Ok, this irks me. Like really riles me up.
What the fuck is up with Belgian homes and the un-utilisation of window space?
I'm talking full sides of homes with not even a peep of outlook. Just brick, brick, brick, with maybe a 10cmx10cm on the bottom left corner if you're lucky. And then the other three walls with windowage literally have the smallest area given to glass.
I don't understand. Is Mr Muscle not available here? Are people prude and worried about Peeping Toms? Once again, questioning Google (and Siri when I was running) proved unfruitful. All I know is that is looks extremely odd and that natural Belgian sunlight bathing a home must be seriously seldom.
6. And another oddity, which in this case is an insane over-securitisation. For The Pedaller to log into internet banking, he has this little mini calculator-looking thing that he has to insert his card into when he goes to the website. On entering his access num, it sends two codes to the device which he then has to enter into his laptop. Then, the site displays a code which he has to enter into the device. Only then is permission granted to go view his accounts. By the time he's in, I've been into my BNZ, made payments, gone over to Kiwibank, shuffled coin around, caught up on the Herald lifestyle section and have watched an episode of Breaking Bad (our new series, on Mummy Deb's recommendation. I can't quite visualise her in bed swaddled in her red dressing gown back at number-two-Norfolk all engrossed in the gruesomeness – episode two's dissolved-in-acid body coming through the ceiling in particular – but then again, The Pedaller admitted he used to watch Gossip Girl with his sister which is just as unfathomable).
Talk about keeping funds safe. A hacker burgler would see the calculator and think, Fuck that! Keep the money. Not worth the hour and a half to log in.
7. Not exactly what you'd call a profound point, but how cool are these toys sold at the local Del Haize?
They've got carrot, banana, watermelon, broccoli, cauliflower, apple and mushroom. I mean, what a cool companion for a kid. Not a, "Where's my Ted the bear?" when going to bed, but a, "I need Bob the Broccoli!" I'm quite keen on the cauliflower one myself. The Pedaller wouldn't let me buy it ("It's a silly purchase and you have no room in your bag"), but I'm thinking a sneaky trip to the supo and a discreet toy-roll-up in his jeans to take back may be just the ticket.
8. It happened a fair few times in Brussels, and yesterday in Ghent proved no smarts on the Poppy-parking-meter-recognisation front: the pay machines for parking seriously look like top-hatted policemen from afar. And not even from afar; I found myself nodding to a concrete pay service thinking it was a copper from a mere two metres away back in Bruxelles. It's actually happened more times than I care to admit (about six). And every time I always ponder why the policeman is looking hard up against the wall before I realise.
9. Every morning race day, the swannys would make up baguettes for both the staff and bike boys to eat before, during and after riding. They'd wrap them in tin foil and mark the meat content with "j" for jambon (ham), "k" for kip (chicken) or "s" for salmon (salmon).
One of the afternoons in the chase car Neil pulled one out that had "m" on it. "Meat," I advised knowingly. We figured it was some part of a pig, but exactly what cut remains shrouded in mystery (we could probably have asked Johan 1 or Johan 2 – the two swannys – to clear it up, but sometimes some mystique in life adds a bit of colour. Even if it is just surrounding what meat is in your sarny).
It got me very curious; a few weeks ago when I was doing social media for a business, I did a post on defining different steak cuts. It made me realise that although I know that pork, ham, bacon, etc, all come from a pig, I had no idea what part in particular they came from.
So I took to Google (I seem to be doing that a lot). And it didn't really clear it up all too much (ditto. Get your game up Siri). Rather than a clear cut diagram pointing to a hind leg and enlightening me that such area was in fact prosciutto, all I could find were images labelling it as a leg. (Now I read that back, I wonder if potentially it meant "a leg of ham"? Once I'm off the plane and back in wifi it may require a re-search). (Fuck; if you look into something you already have again, does it become a re-research?). And then I came across this absolutely graphically disgusting image of someone slicing ham off the bottom half of a plump piglet.
I tell you what, my banana-tomato-avocado-potato medley came back up in my throat. And I was beyond grateful that I'm seven years any/pig-part free.
10. Yesterday The Pedaller and I took off to do Belgium. But it seemed Belgium "Belgiumed" us. Flanders Field was a fuckfest to find (for anyone using Maps to locate, it will first take you to the American Cemetery, then to a shopping mall 5km down the road, then point out the actual plot 37mins drive away), we got a parking ticket in Oudenarde (but sitting at the cafe downing Apeltiser as The Pedaller jammed – literally they came with raspberry – some poffertjes was glorious) and my bladder was absolutely bursting as we scoped out possible parking in Ghent (we were warily translating every sign to see if it could possibly mean "only residents". I don't know what it is about overseas travel that makes my wee ratio up ten-point-oh, but it truly happens every time. Luckily we came across a park and managed to hot foot it over the road to a mall for me to make wees. But – alas! – upon running up to the WC area I realised there was a 1 euro fee to use the facilities. Luckily The Pedaller had a few coins rolling around his wallet and could pay for my pee. After I had released the rush I made sure to thank him. "That's the nicest thing you've ever bought for me," I said).
But it was so funny and fun. "Well today was a fuck," The Pedaller said. "Yes," I agreed. "But these are the things we'll remember in ten years time when you're 31 and I'm 65."
(Just to clarify, it is only five years difference, not 34).
And it all got eons better when we pulled over for dinner at a restaurant in the main Ghent square. His steak with salade and frites and my "exotic salade" with scampi and fruit atop with some kind of mini crustacean (I tried to eat his innards but the brown that filled my mouth suggested I might not have been meant to) (the crustacean, not The Pedaller's) were insanely delicious and we went home well satedly sufficient.
11. And today we fly to Girona. (Well, fly to Barcelona and then train the further hour up, but the plane is the main mode of transport). After our wee morning routine (me cardio, The Pedaller ride) we paired up to pack (my goodness I bought far too many clothing items over. Particularly when in conjunction with the large amount I have bought since being here) and had a little lunch before hitting the road.
We walked 2km to the station (bike bag, two backpacks, a duffle and a handbag between us, through cabbage fields and gravel grounds and little winding lanes), caught one train, then another (following a furiously fast last-minute platform switch) to the airport, checked in and what not (requiring a dart to the snaplock bag dispenser to encase my Hypnotic Poison, foundation and sanitiser I thought I'd put in the checked-in bike bag) and camped up at a cafe to do some schoolwork (him) (as in Uni work, he's not that young) and life admin (Herald catch-upping and newly-downloaded palmistry app reading for me) before we boarded.
I love airports. Like love love love them. I'd go and hang out in duty free all the time if you didn't need a flight to get in. (It's discrimination!). I find them so calming (because I'm always so early for my flight and thus have no stress). I love to watch and observe and walk around. Both in and outside. (Just the first two for the second there, as in watching and observing the planes take off – I don't trot about the Tarmac).
And Brussels Airport is like Belgium itself; clean, efficient and no nonsense. I didn't really get a good look around when I flew in from Delhi (the thought of seeing The Pedaller for the first time in two months just slightly prioritised over checking out the spread at Relay), but I had a semi good look around this afternoon (The Pedaller was immersed in his reading on media economy and my constant, "Ooo! Queenstown has overtaken Auckland as the most expensive place to buy a house" and such tosh was starting to interrupt his immersion) and I'm pleased to report it didn't disappoint. And they have toilet seat sanitiser at your disposal in every cubicle; I mean, why is that not a thing everywhere?!
I am now on the plane in my 16D seat (alas, not bra) (though I actually wouldn't like such big bombyknockers, it must be said), Girona-bound. (Well, Barce). Unfortunately I am not siting with The Pedaller (we only booked the flights last Wednesday, meaning a seated-together-pair-purchase was un-go-able) but I'm having fun leaning out and checking him out up the aisle (4D). Plus, when lining up for the toilet (that blasted bladder) I made friends with a girl. She couldn't speak English, she was about six years old, and our banter consisted of me trying to explain to her the facilities were engaged (pointing at the red and shaking my head then gesturing at the green in a poster and giving the thumbs up), but it was good chat.
Plus The Pedaller has challenged me to a game – "who can name the most airlines by the time we land". It got my competitive air out; he caught me Googling the top 100 airlines in the world (for once Google turned up trumps) before we boarded and made me promise to not do pre-study. "It has to be from memory," he said. I thus felt compelled to delete my sneaky screenshot listing Star Alliance members before starting. (Really regretting that decision; I'm only at 21 and my careful embedding of different countries followed by "Air" or "Airlines" is starting to look suss. I might tell him I lost my pen and couldn't continue). (Fuck. He'll ask why I didn't use notes in my phone). (Dammit, tried searching through the in-flight magazine for more before realising they wouldn't advertise a rival airline in their Ryan Air mag). (Update: just asked the girl in the seat next to me for aid and she gave me KLM. Plus when we land I'll have a rapid scope out of surrounding planes. We'll be good). (The girl just gifted me Transavia. What a goldmine!). I'll let you know who wins.
I'm looking forward to some Girona living for the next two weeks (wish I could've put "months" there). Apparently it's going to be 37 degrees tomorrow. And I'm incredibly up for some sangria.
Life is good. (Even if I really need to wee and I can't stop thinking about ham).