Quel bon weekend!
For the last weekend of summer vacation, my host family went all out in finding things for us to do. On Friday, we went with two friends of my brothers to some sort of nature/adventure park in the country, where we met my Maman's friend and her daughter Céline, who is my age. We walked through a mini zoo, with a bear, wolf, porcupine, etc. before getting to the forest, where there was a giant ropes course set up. There was a series of loops, getting progressively harder, that we could go on, each coinciding with the name of an animal. We started out on the possum(?), which was easy and relatively low to the ground, although Maman seemed to think it was rather scary. From there we moved on to the grizzly, which required more strength (by starting out with a climb up a rope ladder) and skill (by walking across a slack cable while being relatively high off the ground). Hugues really wanted to do the most difficult course, the puma, and somehow convinced me and his friend Nathan to do it with him. This course was really difficult and included having to cross a series of cable loops (UUU) and a line of stirrups hanging from ropes, all while being 17m (55 feet) off the ground. We were fortunately rewarded with a 200-meter (if I understood correctly) zipline to the ground, which was worth the effort even though I landed badly and got dirt all down my pants. We went to "boire un verre" at the little restaurant and play on the playground (much more exciting i.e. dangerous than playgrounds in the states) for about an hour before going back to Liège. We stopped at a café, where we met up with Céline's family and my Papa, for another drink and croques messieurs (I have no idea if that is the correct plural form) for us kids. We sat and socialized for an hour or two, and I went home with Céline and her younger sister Leslie for my first sleepover in Belgium. We stopped at a grocery store on the way home and bought some junk food-- ghost shaped chips, cheese-filled crackers, and Maltesers-- which we ate while watching bad television (E! dubbed into French and a French reality show called Secret Story) before bed.
I left Céline's house at around 10:30 Saturday morning to go home and quickly pack up some clothes for the weekend before I left with Maman, Côme, and Hugues for a trip to the sea. We stopped in Brussels for a couple hours for Hugues' field hockey game, which was neat to watch, especially from the shade and while eating a sandwich on baguette. We got to the little town of Knokke, where we were staying for the weekend, around 6:00, and we biked up and down the shore for a while before dinner. It was really strange to me, there was a wide boardwalk with lots of built-up shops and restaurants, and the beach had lots of storage huts and boat rentals; it was something I would have expected to see in Florida or Hawaii, not on the North Sea. There were lots of people walking, biking, rollerblading, and pedaling little cars, which made navigating the bicycles more interesting. We stopped at a little restaurant with outdoor seating for a meal of seafood (little shrimp and sauce baked into some sort of pastry for an entrée and little filets of sole (I don't know the English translation, but a flat fish) for a main dish), which of course came with fries. I learned that my host family was not entirely biased when they said that Walloon fries are better than Flemish ones; even though the Flemish serve you fries more often (I think there were some with every meal in Knokke), they were more like those you can get in the states.
On Sunday, we biked to the port near Knokke, Zeebrugge. We had to wait 15 minutes or so because the bridge was raised for a giant cargo boat, but we did eventually make it. Zeebrugge, while it had its fair share of little shops and restaurants (we stopped at one for a lunch of more sole, which came with a little (raw?) salmon appetizer, and coffee, which came with a cute tray of mini desserts), was not as pretty and cute as Knokke. We did get to look at all the sailboats in the harbor, and toured an old Russian submarine and war boat, which was pretty neat. I'm not sure how anyone ever survived a 90-day tour in a submarine, as I was dying for fresh air after only about 20 - 30 minutes inside. After looking around the boats and reading the signs (in Dutch, French, German and English), we biked back to Knokke and did some shopping. It was fun to look at all the fashionable clothes, even if they were ridiculously expensive (e.g. 300 Euro for a sweater). We met up with Papa and the dog, Flicka, and walked on the beach a little bit. I was the only one to brave the water (including Flicka, who seemed to be afraid of it), taking off my shoes and wading in up to my mid-calf. It wasn't nearly as cold as I expected it to be-- it's got nothing on the water at the beaches in Maine. We went back to the hotel when it started to rain, and went out for dinner at a seafood restaurant recommended to us by the hotel owner. We got there and had a bottle of wine bought for us by the hotel owner, which I enjoyed with an appetizer of crayfish and some sort of fish main dish, which of course came with fries. I impressed myself with being adventurous with all the seafood, which I normally don't eat a lot of at home, and I even tried one of Papa's oysters (kind of slimy, but much better than I expected). We got back to the hotel and Côme and Hugues and I took a brief night bike ride along the shore and took a couple handfuls of candies from the bowl in the lobby before going to bed.
We all slept in this morning, due in part to a violent thunderstorm which blew my windows open and woke everyone up except Côme. We had a leisurely (i.e. large) breakfast at the hotel and did some more looking around in Knokke before heading out relatively early (it's apparently Côme's girlfriend's birthday, so we had to get home in time for him to visit). We stopped on the road for "un bon Quick" (that is, a meal at Belgian fast-food restaurant Quick), which, as my Belgian family explained to me, is "like McDonalds, but Belgian, so it's better." Everyone was refreshingly clueless about how to use the drive through, but we eventually got our burgers and fries and little tubs of mayonnaise and were on our way. We got back to Liège in time for me to go to field hockey practice (I have my first game on Saturday) and Côme to have his visit, so everyone was happy.
Tomorrow I start start school (for two hours anyway) at Liège 1. Everybody's been asking my if I've been stressing about it a lot... I haven't, but but does this mean I should be?