'Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more'.

We're just in from a weekend spent in Wallonia, where the temperature dropped to below zero celsius and snow fell.  And we gathered around a huge fire in a big old house and spent our time talking with good friends.

Actually, my heart has been warmed as friends have welcomed us back to Belgium after weeks spent wandering in that New Zealand summer.

Wednesday found me out with Jurjana, my truly delicious Croatian friend here in Antwerp.  She drove me to her favourite restaurant and we enjoyed a lovely lunch and catch-up session at Patrasche, in Hoboken

Thursday and Stephanie, an English friend, came over for dinner with her daughter.  Another few hours spent talking and listening.

Friday and it was Lucy, Fiona, and Ruth.  My lovely Irish and Belgian friends.  We began as an informal Nederlands class but they have become such good friends that there was something of a 'coming home' feeling as I arrived at Fiona's house.  Actually, we don't really speak in Nederlands anymore .... but, by crikey, we always have a most excellent time when we get together.

And this weekend was the icing on the cake.  We wandered over to the New Zealand/Belgian/American household, over there on the other side of Belgium, and the snow fell and our wandering souls were surely warmed.

We're back in Belgium where its winter.

The Belgian Summer ...

It's not happening this year ...the rain keeps returning, the grey skies reappear again and again.

We've had glimpses of a glorious summer but no, it disappears and is replaced by weather so foul that you forget that you had those warm and promising days.

On the bright side, the garden continues to thrive. The rhubarb, back home, has been prolific.  Here in Wallonia, the zucchinis are going crazy too.  We fight our way through a reasonably abundant supply of fresh tomatoes and beans.  The hens are all laying, so we 4 are dreaming up things to cook with those eggs. 

Peach clafoutis and pavlova are at the top of the list, quiche too.

I  have set up a work station at the dining room table, here in the light-filled kitchen, keeping company/kept company by the lovely Rwandan woman studying for her examinations.  I think we have given up on summer.  She mistook this morning's drizzle for snow. That it didn't seem impossible probably tells you how we feel about summer these days.

Anyway, here's a glimpse of the house where I'm staying ... just a corner for now.  I have to work out how to photograph it, in all its hugeness, and I need to learn the story of it more precisely.  There is a Nobel prize winner involved in its history ...

View from the MAS Museum, Antwerp

I went out into the city searching for beauty today.  It had started well this morning ... there was blue sky and sunshine but I moved too slowly and voila, by the time I left the house, it was grey.

A few weeks ago, I had made one fast family visit to Antwerp's relatively new MAS museum and had found myself wondering whether the top floor might not feed my need for a view.  It's not bad but, by crikey, it's flat here. 

Winter in Belgium, 2012

So ... Gert tells me, the last time we had more than 14 days without the temperature rising above zero degrees celsius was ... 1-17 January, 1941.

Tomorrow we hit Day 14 under zero celsius.

Back in 1987 and again 1997 there were 12 consecutive days under zero.

Zero celsius = 37 farenheit.

More often we've been down around -10 -14 celsius these mornings (converts to 7- 14 farenheit), and there have even been a couple of -20, when you factor in wind chill factor (-4 farenheit).

Nothing much in the way of snow but, by crikey, it's been cold here in Belgium lately.

Winter ...

Today, meanwhile, is a day of editing.  I have 2 big projects and a third smaller project to work through.  Miss 7 needs picked up from her new school way across the city and I foolishly just checked out the temperature.  It was -10 celsius at 9am.  The sky is grey, the ground in the backyard is white ... but more because the snow of a few days ago has frozen and frozen and frozen again.  They're talking of more today snow ... we kind of hope so because it pulls the temperature up. 

I rarely take off my thermal underwear in these days, and it's all about multiple layers when stepping outside.  The only question is whether to wear the leather and sheepskin coat, the one that weighs about as much as an adult polar bear, or the long black boiled-wool coat, with a polarfleece underneath. 

And then there's the hat, and scarf, the good gloves, and hiking boots, and woollen socks too.  Did I tell you it's cold here?  So very cold. 

But ... the days are getting longer!  We're hanging onto that.  The shortest days fell in the mild days of winter.  Now it's all down and dirty, weatherwise, but we have more light.  It makes things more bearable.

To work.

On the way home ... in Belgium

Nina’s Ornamental blog is the place I wander to when I’m in need of that feeling I found in New Zealand.

I used to live in this funny little cottage with huge windows on the edge of a harbour, and I had a beach for each mood back in Dunedin.  And there was a creek my Labrador and I ran away to when we lived in the mountains beside Fiordland National Park.  Lake Te Anau did just as well. 

There was a tiny road that twisted and turned, taking us to a small bay in Marlborough Sounds while we lived on the Airforce Base in Blenheim, and there once was a place where the mighty Clutha River flowed into a smaller quieter side-stream and that became ‘our place’ while we were living in Cromwell ... although some days we’d throw off our responsibilities and race through the Kawara Gorge to visit the Arrow River in Arrowtown. 

My dog was a wanderer too and travelled all over New Zealand with us.  She died at 16.

I always had a special place and a dog in New Zealand.  Here, in Belgium, I miss the wild peace of home.  Just ‘being’ in Nature is far more difficult, perhaps because Nature is much less powerful by virtue of so many centuries of ‘civilisation’. 

I’m looking for a golden labrador crossbred with some kind of sheepdog because I’ve had labradors since I was 9 and the best was a crossbreed.

Meanwhile I couldn’t resist parking my bike and taking this photograph because the scenery on the way from the new house to the old apartment is nothing to sneeze at ...
Tot straks from Belgium.