Saturday, 19 April 2014

A bus ride, a market and a great lunch

V. and S. came bearing birthday gifts: two lovely coasters with early 20th century seaside scenes and a box containing four different hand creams with lovely fragrances.  After a quick tour of my apartment we set out to take the bus into Leuven. We had decided on the one that took the scenic road. It takes 15 extra minutes, but at least it gives you an idea of what the countryside on the outskirts of Europe’s capital looks like. My friends seemed impressed (or were they just being kind?) with the pristine yet much diversified look of the houses and the rural features of the region. 

We arrived in Leuven at half past eleven. First on the agenda was a quick tour of the weekly open air market. We tasted and bought some goat’s cheese from a vendor who was clearly enjoying the fact that two English ladies were interested in his produce. We looked at some meat and fish stalls. Tasted and bought a dry sausage made of donkey meat and similar to the one I had served at last year’s blogger BBQ in the Loire Valley. To be honest, I think it even came from the same producer, because the label read ‘Ane’, which is French for donkey.

The 'donkey' sausage bought at the market in Leuven.

Shortly before the big bell on the university’s library tower chimed twelve o’clock we found ourselves a nice spot in the sun on a sidewalk terrace where other people were indulging in coffee, beer or some other kind of refreshment. We did what the three of us like to do: people watching. Half an hour later I gently steered my friends to the restaurant where I had taken the precaution of booking a table for lunch. The restaurant turned out to be half empty though, and we were given a nice table in the main dining room.

The sausage stall in Amboise market, June 2013.

Can you seen the similarity?

I like to take friends to this restaurant as it very ‘cocoon’, just like its name ‘Kokoon’ implies. The menu card is a nice and varied mixture of Belgian traditional dishes, Italian inspired food and Asian influences. It’s beautifully decorated (click the above link for some photos) and the young staff is very friendly and efficient. It’s really good quality and not overpriced despite its ideal location in an alley – pedestrians only – near the famous ‘Grote Markt’ and the Gothic town hall.

We all had a glass of Champagne to celebrate the occasion. V. and S. both wanted to have a typical Belgian dish and chose: rabbit’s leg with prunes in a creamy beer sauce – marinated and slowly cooked pig’s cheeks with carrots, in a gravy and beer sauce. I ignored my Belgian origin and chose a spinach and ricotta filled ravioli in a creamy curry sauce (Sorry – no photos … we were too busy enjoying our food!). We drank an excellent Chablis and some sparkling water with it. Although we didn’t take a dessert – we were really full after that main coarse which had come in very generous portions – the staff brought us a small plate containing half a dozen of slices of butter cake, in which they had stuck one of these fireworks sticks … again in honour of my birthday.  

It was almost three o’clock when we left the restaurant. Time for some exercise to walk off that lovely lunch. I had scribbled some ‘things-so-see’ on a piece of paper and let my friends choose the ones they liked best. There was one place that sounded really appealing and on which we immediately agreed. Little did we know that it would turn out to be more than just ‘some light exercise’! 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A hectic start

A few days before V. and S.’s arrival in Brussels, I sent them detailed information on how to get from their hotel to my place. They had three options. The first one was the easiest: just take a taxi, give the driver my address and he will deliver you on my doorstep in less than no time. The fare: +/- 50 euros. The second involved taking two buses; the third taking the metro (underground/subway) and a bus. In both case the fare would be between 5 and 7 euro per person. A lot cheaper than the taxi … but with the risk of getting lost!

V. mailed to me that their choice would be a spur of the moment decision. However, when she called me on Thursday night to make the final arrangements, she immediately told me that they had decided on the taxi and that they had booked one through the reception desk at their hotel. The car was scheduled to pick them up at 9.45 a.m. the next day.

On Friday morning, I got up much earlier than I usually do on my day off, rushed to the supermarket as soon as it was open (9 a.m.) to pick up a bottle of Champagne that I intended to share with my mother later that day … because that is what we usually do when we’re celebrating a birthday. Despite the early hour, there was already a queue at the checkout counter. And when I left the parking lot, I found myself behind the garbage truck on its monthly paper round, with two men running behind it, collecting the cardboard boxes that were lined up along the road and throwing them into the truck. There was no way of overtaking it without putting myself in danger. I was beginning to get nervous. What if my friends arrived before I got home and found a closed door, with nobody answering the doorbell?

A Brussels' taxi with its typical checkerboard pattern. 
The building in the back is Brussels' Central station, 
near the Grand' Place in Brussels. (Photo from the internet)

I finally made it home at about 9.45 a.m. Relieved I put my purchases in the fridge. At five to ten I casually glanced out of the kitchen window, just in time to see a Brussels’ taxi making a U-turn in front of the building. Brussels’ taxis are easily recognizable by their black colour and black and yellow checkerboard pattern on the sides. They aren't a common sight in our village, so it could only mean that my friends had arrived. I rushed downstairs to welcome them. 

(more to come)