Before We Go

Our three weeks in Antwerp have come to an end. Three weeks is a long time, long enough to feel settled, to establish routines, to start feeling at home. Long enough to have specific, tangible things from daily life that you will miss when you leave.

As we get ready to go home, a few things about our life here that I will miss:

  • Drinking several small cups of coffee throughout the day instead of one big cup in the morning.
  • Walking everywhere (though I’m looking forward to a few days of NOT walking everywhere, and also to not walking the Langeleemstraat).
  • Fresh bread from various bakeries nearly every day – and walking to the bakery with the toddler while he narrates all of the trucks, trains, cars, bikes, trees, and basically everything else along the way.
  • Being outside most of the day – an artifact of being on vacation more than of Antwerp.
  • Mornings and afternoons and evenings in the garden with the family and all of the cats.
  • Coherent meals, often with multiple courses. Fish, veggies, dessert. Wine or a pintje, coffee. Dinner that takes as long to eat as to prepare.
  • Olives or other salty snacks served with drinks. Speculaas or other small sweets served with coffee.
  • Bikes everywhere all the time.
  • The toddler asking for his grandma, his uncle, and other people who were strangers when we arrived, but are now essential parts of his daily life.

So here we are. It’s good to go home. It’s hard to go home. It’s good to know we’ll be back. It’s hard to not know when we’ll be back. It’s terribly sad to know the toddler doesn’t understand that we’re leaving, and that the bedtime goodbyes will have to last us for a long time.

In Bruges

While in Belgium, we took an overnight trip to Bruges. N had been a few years earlier, but all I knew of the city was from watching In Bruges. I was prepared for a tall bell tower, canals, and not much else.

But first, a stop for waffles before boarding the train in the exquisite Station Antwerpen-Centraal:

Wafel!

Antwerpen Centraal

Two hours of knitting and map-consultation later, we were in Bruges. We checked into our remarkably compact and functional (though lacking in privacy: the bathroom was essentially a closet) hotel, and made our way into the city.

Bruges was much smaller than I imagined, with only 20,000 people living in the historic city center – and something like 200+ bed and breakfasts, so as our map informed us, on busy days, there are often more tourists than locals around. But what it lacked in size, it made up for in crazy beautiful scenery, including a few hours of some of the best weather of our entire trip.

Picturesque Brugge

First stop: lunch at Herberg Vlissinghe, the oldest pub in Bruges, functioning since 1515. We snuck scraps to the tiny dog and then felt bad for doing so when we saw signs expressly forbidding it.

Herberg Vlissinghe

And then a long walk to see WINDMILLS.

Windmolen!

Windmolen!

Can I tell you how much I love windmills?

Windmolen!

Happy

Windmolen selfie

We spent the rest of the first day wandering around as I developed an increasingly intense headache, which is evident on my face in some of N’s otherwise lovely photos.

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We had dinner at Gran Kaffee De Passage, where we enjoyed authentic and very delicious Belgian food, and where I had one of the first strong food aversions of my pregnancy – to my first taste of Advocaat. It’s noteworthy that the only other strong food aversion was also in Bruges – to the smell of mussels, which I normally love.

Gran Kaffee De Passage

We took a short walk through the beautiful grounds adjacent to the Begijnhof De Wijngaard, then it was back to our hotel for the night.

Begijnhof De Wijngaard

After a frustrating experience with hotel reception, we decided to skip the included breakfast and instead had a surprisingly good meal at a coffee shop adjacent to the train station: coffee (with cookies AND Speculaas), croissants with jam and Nutella, pistolets with ham and cheese, and tiny crocks of yogurt.

Breakfast in Brugge

The brilliant weather from our first day didn’t hold, alas, so our second day of exploring was in more characteristic Belgium weather – overcast and drizzling rain, not unlike Seattle most of the year. We headed back to the Begijnhof De Wijngaard, a 13th century monastery that is now home to Benedictine sisters. The grounds were peaceful and beautiful in the light rain.

Begijnhof De Wijngaard

Begijnhof De Wijngaard

Swans

The rest of the day was spent dodging the rain, walking too far for an overpriced lunch, and hunting down souvenirs, and kissing a frog:

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In Bruges

Kissing the frog

Our last stop on our way out of town was for €10 worth of marzipan. I’m not even joking.

Bruges sweets

Bruges sweets

Bolleke en Pintje

We booked our tickets to Belgium on December 11. A little over a month later, I found out I was pregnant. Let’s all observe a moment of silence for all of the amazing beers I didn’t get to drink while in the home of the best beers in the world – and of the best beer bar in the world!

There is absolutely nothing uncontroversial about alcohol and pregnancy, but after a lot of reading and discussion, we agreed that we both felt safe with me having ::a:: drink here and there on our trip. I tried whatever sips of whatever N was drinking, but limited myself to a few local specialties enjoyed after a solid meal over the weeks of our visit. I also developed a taste for good tonic water, and discovered a few places with wonderful mocktails.

De Muze

Sampling a bolleke of De Koninck at De Muze, one of N’s favorite jazz bars. We left before the jazz started, but made a second visit for drinks and music during our second week.

De Muze

De Muze

De Vagant

Trying genever at De Vagant. Not pictured: the GIANT MOUNTAIN of cheese cubes that we ordered thinking we’d have a little snack.

Nine Cocktailbar

Nine Cocktailbar

Nine Cocktailbar

A virgin shrub for me, and an amazing ginger something for N

Nine Cocktailbar

Kulminator

Kulminator

Kulminator

Kulminator Beer List

Now THIS is a beer list – a giant binder organized by style and by brewery, hand annotated in places. Some of the beers on the list weren’t available anywhere else, period.

La Trappe Quercus 2011 Batch 7

La Trappe Quercus 2011 Batch 7

La Trappe Quercus 2011 Batch 7, literally only available at Kulminator

Kulminator

Oh this? Just several cases of Westy empties.

Onder de Schelde

Riverside, golden hour

There are no bridges passing over the Scheldt in downtown Antwerp – instead, pedestrians, cyclists, and (presumably) vehicles pass through tunnels under the river. We took a particularly terrifying old wooden escalator down to this pedestrian tunnel just to say that we did.

Under the Scheldt

Under the Scheldt

Under the Scheldt

Under the Scheldt

Fietsers Afstappen!!!

Belgium, part 1 of many

It’s been three months since we got home from Belgium, and I’m just now starting to get through the hundreds of photos we took in our two weeks there. It’s strange to page through my Flickr and see day-to-day Instagram shots of the beginning of summer interspersed with photos from oh-so-cold weather and the early days of my pregnancy. Oh well – better late than never!

My first impressions of Belgium were colored by severe lack of sleep and motion sickness from our flight from Istanbul. Can I tell you how stressful it is to meet one’s partner’s family on 2 hours of sleep, having thrown up in the airport? You’ll excuse the exhaustion in my face in most of these photos.

On our first day, we didn’t manage much other than the train from Brussels to Antwerp, the tram from Antwerp to Deurne, a long nap, and a walk around Rivierenhof, a beautiful park minutes from where N** grew up. The park includes a lagoon, a terrace full of afternoon beer-drinkers, a fairy tale house (pictured below), a rose garden, and lots of wandering paths for strolling and walking.

Fairy tale house at Rivierenhof

After the first extremely tired day, our visit fell into a comfortable routine. Most mornings we would sleep until 9 or 10, and would wake to N’s mom returning from the bakery with fresh pistolets or other pastries (or bread from a vending machine!!). We would share a breakfast of pistolets, cheeses and meats, kefir with fruit and nuts, coffee, and juice before getting ready to head into the city. I only had the energy for one or two adventures per day, but then most places close by 6pm, so we would take in a few sites with a late afternoon stop for a second coffee, Speculaas, and pastries. In the evening, we would either have dinner in the city or head back out to Deurne for a quiet evening in.

Cathedral of Our Lady
The Cathedral of Our Lady, the dramatic and beautiful centerpiece of Antwerp

Vlaeykensgang
Vlaeykensgang, an alley dating to the 1590s

Via Brabantica
Imagine my surprise as we kept coming across wayfinding devices for the Camino! Apparently Antwerp (and also Bruges) sit on the Via Brabantica. Perhaps we’ll walk it one day.

Riverside, golden hour

Antwerp
Sunset over the Scheldt

**You may have noticed that there aren’t many photos of N on this site. It is his preference to keep much of his life offline, and I’ve tried to respect that here. I hope to include a few photos of him in this series of posts, but will for the most part be sharing photos of the city, our adventures, or photos he took of me.

2013 At The Races

In preparing for this weekend’s I-Challenge, I realized I never posted ANYTHING here about all of last year’s running. Which, given last year’s running, is a serious omission.

January 2013: Polar Dash half marathon in Chicago

Fired up?

Don’t ask me why, exactly, it seemed like a good idea to run a half marathon in Chicago in January. Maybe Megan and I just weren’t thinking when we signed up in the early fall? Thankfully, we were blessed with unseasonably good weather – in the low 50s! in January! in Chicago!. In the two weeks leading up to the race, I was also blessed with some sort of chest cold that I simply couldn’t shake, which made the race challenging. I felt great for the first portion, picking up a pace buddy somewhere around the 6 mile mark. We stayed together until miles 11-12, when I started having trouble breathing. A buddy of his had jumped in around mile 8, and the two of them encouraged me to stick it out, but I eventually told them to go on ahead, and took a short walking break. I’d hoped to catch up with him at the finish line to thank him for keeping me going, but I never saw him again. Thanks, random pace buddy! You got me through a tough spot.

I finished in 2:04:19, 5 minutes off my Monster Dash finish in October, but not bad for being sick.

Silver and blue

April 2013: Illinois Marathon I-Challenge 5K and half marathon in Champaign

My second year doing the I-Challenge, and my second year with back-to-back PRs. I rolled into Champaign with an incredibly full bladder and just enough time to get through the race expo and queue up for the 5K Friday night. A 5K has the potential to feel like small potatoes, particularly after distance training for the half, but it was a great way to start off the weekend. I started off on the slower side, but as I rounded the corner from Green to head back to the stadium, I punched the Go button and kicked up to a pace that I didn’t know I had in me. I ran the last half mile with a woman who was also doing the I-Challenge – the marathon for her – and while we agreed that neither of us should be going out that hard with a race in the morning, that didn’t stop us from powering around the corner and into the stadium. I finished in 24:55, taking more than a minute off my PR from the previous year.

With a 7am race, there was no time for fun – just a quick beer and a grilled mushroom sandwich at the Esquire, then an early bedtime at my Airbnb. I was out the door not long after 6, but still barely made it to meet Stephen at the starting line Saturday morning! We were both aiming for a 9:15 pace, so did the first half of the race together – through campus and into Urbana, where I spotted my friend Lucy taking photos in her front yard. At around mile 6.5, I got a side stitch and dropped back a bit. Water and a gel perked me up, but not enough to catch Stephen as he went on to finish the marathon. The most joyous part of the race for me was the trip through Meadowbrook Park which, while congested, provided a brief glimpse of a deer bounding through the prairie grass. I noticed at mile 10 that I would easily PR, but didn’t use that as an excuse to slack when, as usual, my energy flagged around mile 11. Thankfully, the music and the crowds spurred me on as we reentered campus, and I powered through to another PR: 1:56:59, nearly 3 minutes faster than the previous year.

Back to back PRs.

Fucken medals

May 2013: Rockford half marathon

This race was a totally different animal for me. Instead of pushing myself to PR, I was supporting my sister in her first half. The race started and finished downtown, weaving along both sides of the river through both affluent and modest neighborhoods. We ran the whole thing at her pace, enjoying the rare occasion for solo sister time. At one point, we were heckled by an older woman, who observed as she passed us that I was barely running! When we approached the heckler again, Jenn suggested that we gun it, and so we blew past her and kept up the pace for a few more minutes, eventually slowing back down to a comfortable finishing pace. The heckler caught up with us again, and I mentioned that Jenn had given birth less than a year previously, and that this was her first half marathon. We parted ways without further heckling. With the finish line in sight, Jenn picked up the pace, and we were happy to see our family at the finish line, though Jenn’s husband and kids were still on their way. We earned every last bite of the belated Mother’s Day picnic enjoyed that afternoon. Finishing time: 2:29:57

Running

After

June 2013: Rock n Roll half marathon in Seattle

Annette and I decided earlier in the year that we wanted to do a destination race, and Seattle provided a beautiful destination! I don’t think either of us were really prepared for the hills or the sun, but that didn’t stop us from having an enjoyable race. I didn’t have a goal in mind, but as we walked to the starting line, I decided I’d aim for two hours, a relatively reasonable goal given the last few races. I’m not super familiar with Seattle’s geography, but I can tell you that we ran through Chinatown with Mount Rainier looming in the distance, along two beautiful bodies of water, and on a couple of highways normally closed to pedestrians. I felt great and was on track for a PR until mile 12, when I suddenly got a crippling side cramp and had to walk. And walk. And cry. And walk. So much for my goal. It was a bitter finish, but not the end of the world, particularly since I hadn’t set a goal for myself until shortly before race start. We spent the rest of the day getting sunburned in Fremont with a grade school friend, watching a naked bike ride, and destroying giant burgers at the top of Queen Anne Hill. I finished the race at 2:04:27, and finished the day with a ridiculous sunburn.

July 2013: Rock n Roll half marathon in Chicago

I’m not sure what to say about this race exactly. In June, shortly after returning from Seattle, I took a hard fall on my bike which left me badly bruised for several weeks after, which made it hard to really train. I was averaging 20-25 miles per week, including a few long runs with N and speedwork with a running group, but I wasn’t making any improvements in pace or distance. Of all of the races, this is the one that I should have skipped. But I didn’t! Megan and I queued up on a beautiful summer’s morning, and the race got off to an interesting start, as my Garmin struggled to get a satellite lock between the skyscrapers and tunnels downtown. The course was great, covering both city and lakefront, and several of our friends came out to cheer at different points, but as the race went on, the mercury rose, and the sun became a little unbearable. At mile 10.5, crews were handing out sponges soaked in very cold water. I think you were supposed to squeeze the water on yourself and then toss the sponge, but I didn’t. In fact, the sponge became my lifeline. When I bonked half a mile later, I held the sponge to my face, cooling my forehead and inhaling the moisture. The sponge makes a prominent appearance in all of the official race photos, and in the group photos taken by friends later. I don’t think I set the sponge down until we got back to the car. It is my new lucky charm. The following photo should tell you everything you need to know about this race. Finishing time: 2:02:23

An accurate representation of today's half marathon as taken by Nicolas, and featuring my new best friend, the sponge. #project365 10/365

September 2013: Chicago half marathon

Megan and I were up and out early, arriving in Hyde Park as the sun was still coming up for our third half marathon in a third season in Chicago in 2013. I had sincerely hoped that after a 6 week break from racing, I would be in better shape for this one. I’m not sure exactly where I went wrong, but my energy started flagging as we made our way up Lakeshore Drive to the turnaround at 31st St. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t walk until I saw Annette, waiting at the top of the bridge with high fives and a slap on the ass. I made it to about mile 9 before I had to slow down a bit, and to mile 12 before the pain in my hip really kicked in. I swore LOUDLY as I slowed to a walk, despite the encouragement of the pacers I’d been running with for awhile. Another 2 hour goal slipped away as I limpingly ran through Jackson Park to the finish line, coming in at 2:01:41.

Go time.

September 2013: Women Rock half marathon in Chicago

This was really the right way to finish the racing season: a just-for-fun half on the lakefront with my sister. After the frustration and injury of the last two races, it was great to enjoy the scenery and her company on a beautiful fall day. I don’t know if it was the pace group or the fact that the race was only open to women, but it was definitely the most friendly race I’ve done, with lots of smiles and encouragement from other runners. I was only minorly bothered by what would later be diagnosed as a hypermobile SI joint. The post race swag? Necklaces (instead of medals) and a flute of cheap champagne. Finishing time: 2:32:37.

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A girl, her sponge, and post race cheap champagne.

2013 at the races: 7 half marathons and 1 5K in 4 cities and 2 states with 3 PRs. Not bad, but definitely too much for one year.