Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

She couldn’t have been more surprised

After a disappointing phone call to a woman who clearly wasn’t Marleen and didn’t have the faintest idea who I was, I tried to figure out another way to find my old-time friend. The most obvious place to look these days is the internet, starting with social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Blogger. None of these offered a conclusive result. At one point I thought that I had found her. I found a Facebook page of someone with the same name, although I must say that Marleen’s family name is quite common in Belgium and even Holland.

A recently added photo looked promising too. It showed a 50-something, fair-haired woman in a summer frock, posing with two teenage girls against a turquoise, cloudless sky. I racked my brain trying to find some resemblance with the twenty year old Marleen that I had known in the late 80ties, early 90ties. The longer I stared at the photo, the less convinced I became.

Why not try it the old-fashioned way? The online telephone directory. And … bingo! No, I didn’t find Marleen. That would have been too easy. However, I stumbled across her father’s name. He and her mother apparently still lived in the village where Marleen grew up. I remember her parents rather well, especially her father. When my husband died he was working with an insurance company and he gave me some very useful tips and help while going through the inevitable red-tape one has to deal with when a near one passes away.

I called the number and Marleen’s father picked up. I identified myself, hoping he would still remember me. After all, both her parents must be in their late seventies by now. After the usual preliminaries he told me that Marleen was now living in Kos. The line was rather bad and I mistook Kos for Koersel, a village not far from their home. At my request he gave me her telephone number, which turned out to be much longer than the usual 9 digits. The 0030 prefix indicated that it was a Greek number …

Runway of Corfu airport on the left. (photo from the internet)
ooks small from the sky, doesn't it. Hope my Airbus a319 pilot knows what he's doing. 

I hesitated before dialing it. In the past a telephone conversation with Marleen had usually lasted several hours. Telephone calls in Belgium are free of charge between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. and during weekends and official holidays. This rule doesn’t apply to calls to other countries though. Our former calling habits in mind, an unprepared conversation would probably cost me a fortune.

I quickly ran the intended conversation through my head and dialed the number. The phone at the other end was ringing bright and clear: “Marleen speaking” – “Hi Marleen …” Before I had the chance to say another word, she chanted “Martine?!” It was heart-warming to discover that – after all these years – she immediately recognized my voice …

Friday, 24 April 2015

Back to the future

Yes, you were right, of course ... my holiday destination is Corfu. It'll be my first beach holiday since 1983 when I visited Malta with my late husband.

Spring sky on April 14th: plane tracks over Brussels.
Looks like it's pretty busy up there !

The last time I took an airplane was in 1995 or 1996. I'm not quite sure. If it was 1995, my destination was Sweden, If it was in 1996, it was Geneva (Switzerland). In both cases I went on a business trip. 

I'm not really a beach or pool person. So what takes me to Corfu, you may ask? Well, it's a long, long story. I'll try and squeeze it into a nutshell. I'm going to visit a relative, who - all things considered - isn't really a relative. Her name is Marleen. She was once married to my brother-in-law, who by the time they got married in 1987, was already my ex-brother-in-law, as my husband had passed away in 1983. Marleen and I always got on like a house on fire, despite our age difference (about 7 or 8 years I think). Marleen's marriage wasn't a success and ended in a divorce. So I guess that makes her my ex-ex SIL. 

We stayed in touch after her divorce until about 18-20 years ago when she got involved with an unsavoury bunch of people. After that I lost all track of her. We stopped exchanging birthday and Christmas cards. So that was the end of it ... or at least that is what we both thought.

Last January while cleaning out some drawers, I came across an old address book. I was about to throw it out, when I decided to leaf through it ... just in case. Suddenly I came across Marleen's last known address and telephone number. Intrigued, curious and slightly nervous I dialed the number. How would she react after all these years? The phone rang - once, twice,  ... 'Hallo?' a creaky old voice said. OMG, I thought, if this is Marleen, life certainly hadn't been kind on her. 'Marleen?' I tentatively inquired. 'No, sorry dear, you must have the wrong number.'

I apologized and hung up. At that point I could have given up. But I didn't. I put on my Sherlock Holmes cap and continued my search ... A little voice in my head said that I had to find her.

(more to come ...)

P.S. April 14th, the day on which I shot the above photo, was special and unique! More about that to come too. Two cliffhangers in one post! :)

Friday, 10 April 2015

Not France

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had some important expenses coming up. Some of you were kind enough to suggest that you hoped they would be travel expenses. And yes, you were right!

Since 1984 my yearly vacation took me to France. Our means of locomotion being the car, it gave us a lot of freedom, but had an impact on the distance. When you take only a week's vacation, you don't want to spend too much time travelling to and fro. So the limit quickly became the Loire Valley. Which was perfect! Leaving Brussels at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning, we were sipping our aperitif at the 'Café du Château' at the foot of Amboise castle at 11 a.m.

It became an annual ritual from 1999 till 2009. I made the same trip in 2010 and 2013 with my friends B. and J.L. And in 2012 with my Swedish friends M. and V. In 2011 I took a short break to visit Deal in the U.K. where I used to spend my vacations in the seventies to practice my English.

Last year - 2014 - I wanted to travel to Amboise by train to spend a few days in my beloved Loire Valley. But then my mother started having serious mobility problems, and I had to cancel my trip. Luckily the SNCF (France's train company) almost totally refunded the tickets that I had already paid for. 

I wasn't sure about what I would do this year, considering my mother's health. But then, in November last year we received the excellent news that she could move into a service flat. As you will remember, we signed the lease on Dec. 5th, 2014, started packing up over Christmas, had the flat painted in January. On January 30th my mother moved into her new home, which she thoroughly enjoys. She has made new friends, attends the on-site gymnastics class on Thursday morning ... and feels as snug as a bug in a rug.

Between January 30th and February 21st, our loyal and brilliant cleaning lady and I emptied most of our family home and on the latter date, the real estate agent put up the 'for sale' sign. Five weeks later, we accepted an offer of a potential buyer and are now in the process of getting all the papers ready for the actual sale.

Any idea what my destination is?
Note to B. in the US, please don't tell - because you already know!

After the 'for sale' went up I realized that I was dead tired and that I needed a break. A stress-less short stay in friendly surroundings, without too much transport issues. How I came to pick this island out of all the nice holiday destinations in Europe, is another (long) story, which will be the topic of my next post.

Btw, tomorrow is my birthday. We will be celebrating it on Sunday, cracking open a small bottle of Champagne, followed by a nice home-cooked lunch.