July: Football, Lady Days and Breaking Down
I can give myself a big TICK in the “see more of Europe” travel ambition box after a busy July! Having visited Bruges many moons ago, it was high time I visited Belgium’s capital, Brussels, plus we made a day trip to Antwerp. Later in the month I travelled solo to France, back to my beloved Chateau de la Salle, to spend time with an old friend, doing absolutely nothing – divine! Finally at the end of July, one very early morning, Manny and I set off to visit Abruzzo. Let’s just say it was a very long day!
Brussels & Antwerp
Amid football frenzy… I do not like football… we found ourselves arriving in Brussels just in time for the semi-finals. Groan! As we were going to be staying with a friend, I hadn’t really done much research about Brussels. I knew Belgium was big on beer and… well that was about it. Arriving at the airport we found a chip van and Manny informed me this was THE thing I had to eat so we got some chips, in a cone, with lots of mayo. Tick, chips done. Tasted like chips.
We took a coach into the centre of the city where we were met by the gorgeous Mr Jorn Vanysacker who marched us through the streets to meet more friends in a bar. He insisted we grab a beer on the way and as I don’t drink beer the barman gave me… a cherry beer. What was it I said about in for a penny – disgusting!
After nearly an hour of queuing, watching the first half of the game on phones and trying, but failing, to talk our way past the doorman, we finally got into the bar, found the group and watched the game on the big screens, this time with a palatable drink! I’ll admit from this point I really got into the swing of it and let the euphoria of Brussels’ win against Brazil carry me into the night as we stormed the streets waving flags, singing along to the chants (in French!) and making friends with all sorts of people along the way.
The next day our host was sadly not feeling well and so after a bottomless brunch at vegetarian restaurant Dolma we set off to explore the city. We found the European Commission, the little pissing boy fountain (much smaller than we thought it would be) and some medieval knights. We had to try some of the famous artisan chocolates and took some back to our poorly host.
On the Sunday we took a train out to Antwerp. The station gives an impressive welcome with it’s grand arch and wandering around we enjoyed the small city on the water vibe of the place. We enjoyed a few hours in the Museum aan de Stroom and ate a late lunch at recommended “Fish A GoGo” which was tasty, but pricy and the staff were fairly dismissive.
Lazy Day & Lady Days
In October last year I fell in love with La Salle, a friend’s crumbling Chateau in France. I had been back with Dave Erasmus in March to introduce the place to the Corcovado community and tried to get a group of Poderini (those that had been to my MiPodere retreat) gals together for a bit of a weekend brainstorm. Unfortunately for various reasons the gals couldn’t make it so I invited an old friend that I hadn’t seen in too long, over for a bit of chill. We bought some groceries at the start of the weekend so we could self-cater in the club house kitchen and we moved into our glamping bell tent fitted with carpet and real beds. The days passed quickly as we filled them with the simple things in life; walks around the grounds, chatting with some of the other residents, reading our books in the long grass and getting a lot of much needed sleep.
Doing nothing often opens up the imagination and as a natural organiser with new venutre LittleRed in mind, the idea of a women’s empowerment retreat came to me, and very quickly a detailed plan for a one-week experience soon filled pages of my notebook. I jotted down the working title “Lady Days” as a play on word of lazy days as that’s what we were enjoying, but some how it’s stuck and Lady Days is now booked to take place at La Salle in May next year.
After all this travel and soul searching you’ll be concerned to read Breakdown as the final highlight of July. Fear not, I’m talking of course about Nina… our car! August is a very hot month in Italy and it’s the time when the majority of Italians leave the sweaty cities and head to the coast. Manny’s family is no different and because his grandparents are originally from Calabria, and have a house down there, we too headed South for some sun, sea and sand. We decided to drive down to take in some of Italy’s beautiful countryside on the way and made arrangements to stay with some very old friends of mine in Abruzzo.
In order to avoid traffic we were up at 4am knocking back a double espresso shot ready to start the six-plus hour drive. We jumped in the car and got as far as the main road before the engine failed. We got her started up again but by the first roundabout she’d cut out again and we knew we had to head back. Luckily we got her started and kept her running long enough to get home. We decided to try and sleep (buzzing with caffeine) until the world woke up and we could go and hire a car.
We drove tentatively to the nearest train station where fortunately we bumped into Manny’s brother and gave him the keys (their mum’s partner Tony is a mechanic so he would be able to take a look at it whilst we were away), and took a train to the airport where we could pick up a hire car we’d booked online.
Once at the airport we had to take a shuttle bus to the car hire. We started the admin necessities only to find that as the credit card holder I had to drive which certainly wasn’t the plan. We tried to find a solution but failed so headed back to the main airport to find a different car hire company. The next place we booked suggested for the best rate we book online which we did, but then there was a problem with that too and finally we queued up for option three. By this point it was 11am and we were running out of patience. I handed over my credit card and my UK driving licence as ID… but no, as a foreigner I needed two pieces of ID and whilst I was in an airport, for once I didn’t have my passport! Quick call to Manny’s mum, Karla, asking if she could go around to our house to pick up my passport, Manny got back on the train to meet her at the station, then straight back on the train to the airport.
We had hoped to arrive in Abruzzo by noon, instead this was the time we set off in our little hire car to start the journey! Luckily we managed to stay in high spirits and avoid a breakdown over a breakdown! Roll on August 🙂