Saturday, February 13, 2016

My birthday, an interview in Brighton, a red letter day for Suzy, a reunion in Brussels, remembering George, a day in Bruges and other stories.

Sunday 14th February 2016
Breakfast on my birthday on Monday, surrounded by my presents. 
Hi everyone, well what a wonderful week it has been.  It began with a bang, my birthday being on Monday.  But as I left off last Sunday morning, let me start with Sunday 7th Feb.

We had a lovely family lunch.  That morning I cooked a sort of coq au vin, making up the recipe as I went along.  The proof is in the pudding or so they say and as the family ate it all and complimented me, I knew it was a success.  Oh how I love cooking when I have plenty of time on my hands.  It’s so rewarding and therapeutic. 

That afternoon I had a long chat on the phone with Suzy.  She was full of news and seems to have turned the corner towards a more positive outlook. Life has not been easy for her in London but it seems now that all her efforts may soon be pulling off or so I hope.  She has been having interviews with a successful food supplement firm and is the process is down to the last 2 candidates and she was to have the last interview on Monday in Brighton, that lovely seaside town outside London, famous for its pier and pavilion.

She and Gabor have finally found new tenants for their room in their flat in South Bermondsey.  They have parted amicably and Suzy and three friends, including Anita, Oli’s Uni friend, were planning to move into a house together. They found one in Camden town in North London and were waiting for the ok from the landlords on Monday. I was hoping my birthday would bring luck to Suzy both for the house and for the job.

And Monday 8th came and it was my 59th birthday, the last year of my 50s.  I will be 60 next year.  How did the time pass?  How can I be this old?  But I am and don’t feel 59.  In fact I feel splendid and on top of the world. I really do think it's true that the new 50's are the old 40's and in my case the new 60's are the old 50's as when women my age when I was a child looked positively ancient.  Today women look after themselves better and look much younger, thanks mostly to the way they dress and die their hair, as opposed to leaving it grey.  In my case I am surrounded by young people at work and of course have two beautiful young daughters who help make me stay young, or at least young looking.  It's a compliment to me every time my girls want to borrow my clothes!

The day started as tradition dictates in this house with a family breakfast with Eladio, my Father and Oli who was thankfully starting late that morning.  In the photo illustrating this post I am with Pippa opening my presents.

They were lovely ones; the pearls and perfume I bought myself from Eladio and my Father and a hamper of The Body Shop mango scented set which I love. There were also two cards, one from the family and one from Jacky who I hope will be reading this.
My present from Oli and Miguel duly placed on one of my bathroom shelves.
It was just after breakfast that we received a message from Suzy to say they had got the house. Monday was soon turning into a great day for my darling daughter. The good news is that she will be moving to a nicer area, will be sharing with friends and above all will have her own room.  I’m so happy for her.  Oli and I can’t wait to go and stay after they move in on the 20th of this month.

I looked it up on google maps and this is what one of the houses on their street looks like, very London I must say.  It’s nice they will have the whole house to themselves, including a terrace as well as 2 full bathrooms, a bit of a luxury for houses for rent in the British capital but then it’s been fully refurbished, so that’s why there is probably more than one bathroom. 
The street in Camden where Suzy will be moving to on 20th February
As Oli still had some time before she had to go into work, the three of us with the three dogs went for our walk which I would repeat a bit later that morning before lunch.

Lunch was homemade fish and chips, a family favourite.  I made the fish with beer batter and it was delicious.  Of course there was a cake afterwards, another favourite of mine, fruit, chocolate and cream from Alveran, a nice bakery in Boadilla.  Here I am just before my Father and Eladio sang Happy Birthday.
The birthday cake moment after lunch
Meanwhile Suzy was in Brighton for her last interview with the fish oil supplement company, Bare Biology which she thought had gone quite well. We would only know the outcome the next day.  She decided to make a day of it and enjoy Brighton and went to the pier of course as well as the famous streets, North Street and the Lanes (thanks Lorraine for reminding us of the street names on the go via whatsapp while she was thereJ)  Here she is by the pier where it was extremely windy as Lorraine had warned.
Suzy in blustery Brighton where she went for her interview on Monday, my birthday
That night as birthday tradition in this family again dictates, we went out to dinner.  Oli joined us and we chose to go to La Txitxarerría where Oli and I devoured this amazing piece of steak with delicious chips.  Eladio, as usual chose fish. 
Steak and chips for my birthday dinner at La Txitxarerría with Oli and Eladio 
All in all it was a super birthday, quiet but nice.  Next year I promise I will do something big to celebrate my 60th.  I should add my thanks here to so many friends who sent me birthday greetings mostly on facebook, whatsapp and by email.  I got one lone phone call which shows how much we have changed in the way we communicate around birthdays.  It was from my dear friend Julio and very much appreciated.  As I answered his call at breakfast, Eladio commented I would be in need of a secretary that day.  He made me laugh out loud, hahahaha.  But no I read them all and personally answered as many as I could; there were more than 200!!!  And I was very touched by them all. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tuesday came and it was cold and blustery on my walk.  I fasted all day as I would on Wednesday too before leaving for Brussels on Thursday. My morning was brightened up by the post which brought Suzy’s card and present with it.  Thanks darling so much.
Suzy's card and present arrived on Tuesday 
Tuesday was a blustery and cold day; poor Pippa was nearly blown over by the strong wind.  It was not the best day of the week as I had a migraine in the afternoon and had to cancel the meeting with my PR team that afternoon.  It was Pancake Tuesday (mardi gras / carnival) but I was passing on pancakes that night owing to my fasting.  I think neither Eladio nor Olivia even realized. 

If Tuesday was not a good day, Tuesday night was the best moment of the week.  It was when we heard from Suzy that she had got the job as Sales Representative for Bare Biology.  We were so pleased for her.  In the end it probably all boiled down to her wonderful personality; i.e. getting the house and the job but I like to think my birthday brought her a bit of luck.  Bare Biology is a unique supplement company set up by Melanie Lawson in Brighton which sells the best Omega 3 fish oil product called Lion Heart which is even sold at Liberty in London. It is just starting but doing extremely well.  The food supplement industry is getting bigger and bigger and I wish both Bare Biology and my darling Suzy the very best of luck. 
Bare Biology's Lion Heart Omega 3 fish oil
I love their website, but was especially impacted by the owner’s blog and the article on the day in her life as a mother of 3 small kids and an entrepreneur.  Oli and I read it and it had us in stitches.  If you have a moment, enjoy the read here.

Wednesday was a quiet day.  It was windy and cold on my walks but thankfully it didn't rain.  It was so windy that when I went to the hairdressers for a blow dry for Brussels I had to put a headscarf on to protect my hairdo.  I wasn't sure how long it would last in Belgium as rain was forecast.

Finally Thursday came, the day of our flight to Brussels.  We would be staying with Sandra, my great friend from Nottingham University and her American boyfriend Jeffer. Actually we would be sleeping at her Mother, Magda's flat, which is in the same block as Sandra's. Adele, our other bosom friend from Nottingham, would be coming on Friday with her French psychiatrist husband Bernard. The last time the 6 of us were together was at our home in Madrid in May 2014 so there was lots to catch up on.  It was going to be a fabulous 3 days away from home with our friends.

We were up at 5, left the house at 6, drove to the car park at my office and from there took a taxi to the airport.  Our flight was leaving at 08.50 and arriving in Brussels at 11.50 where dear Sandra would be picking us up.

It was sunny when we arrived and as soon as we exited the airport there was my darling friend Sandra who I can only describe as my soul sister.  We are so alike.  If possible she is even more bubbly than me and the most fun person to be with.  She just bursts with personality and charisma.  She remarked that even if it had been 1.5 years since we had seen each other, it didn't feel like that and she was right.  We just carried on from where we had left off.  It's always like that with her.
Sandra, my soul sister.  She's so special.
She drove us to her home in Fort Jaco, a leafy suburb of Brussels.  Up we went to her delightful and comfy flat where Jeffer her partner and Barney their new dog greeted us. It was our first meeting with little Barney and he is also lots of fun; a true lap dog like Pippa.
Little Barney.
A year ago Sandra's Mother, Magda came to live here from London and lives in the flat one floor below her daughter.  Eladio and I were to be staying with Magda in her equally beautiful flat in an ensuite bedroom with a balcony which was very comfortable.  It was good to see in what good form Magda is at the age of 90; amazing.  She was very welcoming and we found her making shepherd's pie for dinner that night.  It is a privilege to know Magda who is originally from Hungary and a Jewess who survived the Holocaust being hidden with her Mother by a local woman.  There are not many survivors like her left, so it's always very special to meet her.

Our friends Adele and Bernard were not arriving until Friday so the plan for Thursday was lunch and shopping at the recently opened M+S on the Waterloo Boulevard, one of Brussel's swankiest avenues. Indeed it was.  Lunch was good but the fish and chips Eladio and I had were not as good as those served in the UK; although I wasn't complaining. It was just great to be there.

Sandra and Eladio - lunch at M+S on the day of our arrival.
I wanted to shop; Eladio was more reluctant. He cannot understand my fixation with M+S.  However I was able to persuade him to try some jeans on and buy them.  He was then sent out for a walk on the Waterloo Boulevard and we had one hour to shop till we dropped hahaha. And indeed we did, including a trolley loaded with stuff from the food store, some to consume here and some to take home; e.g. battenberg cake, my favourite.

We came home to a cup of tea with Magda after which Eladio and I rested, or rather I unpacked, set up my pc and dealt with all my emails.

Dinner was at 8 at Sandra's.  The table was beautifully laid and we sat down to a delicious and enjoyable dinner together; friends catching up and enjoying being together.
Sitting down to dinner at Sandra's flat on Thursday night.
I think the wine and Belgian chocolates finished us off, me at least and by 9.30 both Eladio and I were ready for bed.  It had been a long day and we were very tired and Friday would be another intensive day when our other friends arrived.

Friday 12th was also my dear brother George's birthday, a date I can never forget.  He would have been in his element with us in Brussels as he spoke English, French and Spanish. He also spoke good German and could get by in Russian.  The other day Eladio commented how lucky I was to be bilingual.  I thought about it and replied that actually I was nothing compared to George or my parents, who spoke many more than I did. I still regret my Mother never having taught us Russian and I also regret never having learned French properly.  I can understand a lot of it and get by too but it's not good enough.  In any case when the 6 of us are together we always speak English, although of course there are odd incursions into both French and Spanish.  What I do love about our group though is the mix of nationalities and languages; Hungarian, Italian, French, English and Spanish. Both George and I were brought up on a totally multi cultured childhood and I think I have passed this on to my girls who love it too.

Anyway, back to our stay in Brussels.  On Friday morning I was up early, had a cup of coffee at Magda's lovely flat and wrote my blog. This week I wouldn't be able to write it on Sunday, so instead I wrote a bit each morning so it would be ready for publishing on Sunday from Belgium.
The view from Magda's terrace
Magda's open space flat, very similar to Sandra's.
 Eladio and I went down to Sandra's flat at around 8.30 and enjoyed a super breakfast with them.  Then it was time for a walk with Sandra, Jeffer and little Barney in the forest in Fort Jaco.  It was a great morning, crisp, sunny and no rain,  The weather forecast men got it wrong. There was rain forecast for the entire weekend, but on Thursday and Friday it was dry.
The walk in the forest on Friday morning.
Soon it was time for Sandra and I to go and pick up Adele and Bernard who would be arriving by train from Orleans where they live, changing trains in Paris where they would take the high speed train to Brussels which takes just 1.15h.  We picked them up at 11.30 and it was a joy to see and greet them.  We hugged as if it had been 10 years and not 2 since we saw them last. As with Sandra, we picked up with Adele just as if it had been yesterday.  They were smiling and in great form, looking forward to being together just as we were.

We went back to the flat for more greetings, as well as our traditional exchange of presents too!  Then we were off again. This time we took the bus into Brussels.
On the bus together. I couldn't remember the last time I had been on one.
As you can see in the photo Barney came with us.  Dogs here are allowed on public transport and into shops and restaurants too.  Spain is far less friendly about dogs in public places. The other day I was delighted to read that the new left wing Mayoress of Madrid had announced dogs would be allowed on the metro.  Hurrah I thought.  Then I read the small print.  Yes, they are allowed on but not at peak times.  Then, they have to be muzzled and are allowed only in the last carriage which I thought was pathetic.

Our destination was the area of Chatlaine.  It's a market area but it wasn't on when we went.  Adele and Bernard, being the museum types, visited the Horta house and museum whilst the rest of us walked the streets. Jeffer commented he had been there 5 times!   No way were we visiting the usual sites such as the Grande Place, although Eladio told me secretly he would have loved to.  There are some nice shops in Chatlaine and I bought 2 lovely scarves for Oli and I.  We met again at a splendid cafe which also sells home ware called Lulu.  Here we enjoyed coffee and tea and sundry cakes.
Coffee and cake at Lulu in Chatlaine.
Then it was time to go back as Sandra had to pick up her Mother from the Bridge club.  We also had to purchase the ingredients Magda would need to make us Hungarian goulash for Saturday night.

We were having an Indian take away for dinner from an Indian catering company that serves the very typical Indian tiffin lunch boxes. But before we sat down to dinner, there was time for an aperitif. Eladio took this photo of us enjoying some champagne Adele and Bernard had brought from Brussels to celebrate our reunion.
Aperitif time before our Indian dinner on Friday night.
The guys wanted a picture of the 3 girls together and here is one of the results. It's amazing to think we have now known each other for 40 years and that are friendship is still going so strong. That's the great thing about school and university, the life long friends you make.  I do just wish we lived closer and saw each other more often as I consider them among my closest friends.

Sandra left, me and Adele right.  Friends since our University days at Nottingham where we graduated in 1980.
Soon Jeffer who is very domestic, had the table laid with all the tiffin boxes laid out and we all got excited when we saw the array of amazing dishes.
Our Indian tiffin lunch box dinner on Friday night at Sandra's
It actually looked better than it tasted but even so we ate most of it.  The best thing was our being together. The M+S strawberry trifle I had bought for dessert was also disappointing.  Only Adele, Eladio and I were trifle fans and this was not up to M+S standard. The jelly hadn't set, there was not much fruit and I never found the finger biscuits inside hahaha.

Eladio and I went to bed early and were disappointed we could not watch Netflix outside Spain. Instead I continued with the book I started recently.  It's called Whiteout and is Ken Follett's latest.

On Saturday we were going to Bruges.  Eladio was really keen to go and so was I. Bruges, the medieval city of bridges is the capital and largest city of West Flanders and is a bit like a miniature Amsterdam with its canals and bridges.  It is called Bruges in English and French,  Brugge in Flemish and Brujas in Spanish. We set off in 2 cars and arrived at around midday. It was bitterly cold and unfortunately began to rain just as we arrived. We had to park the two cars which wasn't easy and met up in the beautiful Grand Place.  It seems all big Belgian towns have one.
Eladio in the Grand Place of Bruges on Saturday with the horse and carriages behind him.
The Grand Place is best known for its belfry tower, as is Bruges really and it can be seen from most view points in the city.

The Belfry in the Grand Place
But it was the lovely coloured Dutch type houses that caught my attention.  They can be seen on most of the biscuit tins on sale in Belgium.  Here I am below in front of the pretty houses.

Me, very warmly dressed up, by the pretty coloured houses in the Grand Place in Bruges
After the Grand Place our destination was the church of Our Lady to see the Madonna and child (pietà) statue by Michael Angelo.  We walked through pretty streets bustling with tourists from all over the world and went past numerous canals and walked over some of the countless bridges to get there.
Sandra and I by one of the countless bridges overlooking the canal in Bruges
We soon got to the church of Our Lady and went in to see the work of art by Michael Angelo created in 1504.  I thought we were looking for a painting but it turned out to be a statue.  This particular statue made by Italian marble from Carrara was originally destined for the Cathedral in Sienna but it was bought by the Flemish family of Mouscron and brought to Bruges.  It is one of the very few works by the Italian master to be found outside Italy.
Michael Angelo's Madonna and child in the church of Our Lady in Bruges
From the church we made our way to the restaurant where we would be having lunch.  It was called Zwart Huis (black house in Dutch) and believe it or not it was originally a church. We had a superb lunch and enjoyed the warmth and atmosphere at this unique restaurant.  Here we are in the picture just before we were served the very good food on offer at Zwart Huis.
Lunch in Bruges on Saturday
As the weather was so bad, after lunch we were to put an end to our day in Bruges.  We really had lots more to see but we shall have to come back another time, preferably in the spring or summer. Eladio and I feel in love with Bruges and we know we will be back sometime to see it in its splendor. However before we left, there was one important thing to do and that was to buy Belgian chocolate which was on sale everywhere. There are 60 chocolate shops in Bruges and Sandra told us only 11 of them actually made their own chocolate on site.  Eladio and I wondered into one called La Belgique Gourmande. Sandra said it sold trashy touristy chocolate but it looked great to me.  I felt like a child in a sweet shop, wanting to buy everything.  Here I am below happy to be in a chocolate shop. I bought loads to take back home for my Father, Olivia and Salud.  We had some of it after dinner that night and it didn't taste trashy to me, quite the contrary it was exquisite.
Me in the chocolate shop in Bruges
The  journey back was much longer as the weather was foul. It rained all the way back.  I was dying to get back to Magda's flat for a hot bath and to change into my lounge pyjamas and have a cup of tea. Before dinner, we watched some of the Bollywood film, PK, which was party filmed in Bruges and in which Sandra had a speaking part.  We loved every moment of it.  It's a satire on life and religion and has a wonderfully comical script.

We were to have dinner again at Sandra's flat and at my request Magda made us Hungarian goulash for dinner.  I love goulash and remember having it every day when I was once in Budapest with Eladio many years ago. To have goulash made by a real Hungarian who knows how to make it would be the best possible treat from Magda.  And she is a good cook I can tell you.  Here she is sitting down at the dinner table last night, not looking 90 but more like 80. Thanks Magda, it was delicious. It came accompanied by a cucumber salad with yoghurt.
Magda at dinner last night
Magda's delicious homemade goulash which she made for us for dinner last night

After dinner which was followed by the chocolate we had bought in Bruges and wonderful ice cream, including my favourite flavour, pistachio, we continued watching PK, waiting for Sandra's part to come on. I had seen her part on FB but was looking forward to watching it on the TV together with my friends.  But that was not to be as unfortunately and to my shame I fell asleep, spoiling the party of course.  But it was 10.30 pm and I had been up at 06.30 so hopefully my friends understood.

And today is Sunday, our last day together in Brussels and it is still raining.  Our flight is later this evening so we have nearly a full day left to enjoy our stay with our friends.  I am now writing from Magda's flat, as I have been every morning since we arrived, so as to be able to publish this week's post early and be free to enjoy our last day here. Thus I will leave you now to get on with my day. You will hear all about the end of our stay here in next week's post.

Meanwhile, friends and readers, I hope you have enjoyed this post and I look forward to writing again next week.

Cheers from Brussels

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