Wednesday, September 3, 2014

July-August 2014

Summer always approaches too quickly. And then it passes too quickly. And then September rolls around and the same conversation rolls off our baffled tongues: "whoa, what happened?"

This was a markedly different summer, though. No music festivals (sacrilege, I know...), no international visitors, no major hiatuses from work (also sacrilege in Europe...). The sun shone, the walking pace slowed, aperos were drunk and after just a few blinks the summer was gone- all in the traditional fashion- but nonetheless, this summer was exceptional.

(click on photos for full size)
Cafe du Mundial

Football, of course, kicked off the summer season. The World Cup line up created a monotonous June and July: wake up, work, workout, watch football, repeat.  No negative undertones there- in my book, those are beautiful days, even more so when World Cup fever spreads and the city comes alive with patriotism and venerable respect for the game that unites the masses. Special cafes (in an old Chaquita Banana Factory, no less!) opened for the tournament, and any cafe, pub or restaurant hoping for business installed projectors.

So June and July slipped through my fingers and next thing I knew, I was to celebrate a birthday and leave for a short Grecian escape (before another exursion to "summer school", AKA math camp).

 Oostende, on the Belgian seaside

 Biking back from Beersel

Beersel Castle

What made for a banner summer was the surplus of unplanned, unexpected beauty and surprises. And oddly, this summer I felt more American than I have in the last five years. First, with nationalistic pride, gushing over the inspired play of the US men's football team in the international arena; later in more quotidian moments. A country-side bike ride sounds rather commonplace for Belgians, but the picnics in a field of tall grasses, a pace of donkeys along the kasseien road,  stops at castles and fortresses built in the 1600s are, for me, still foreign and special. The trip to Greece was to be a trip to the sun, an escape from the banal late-July rain that seems to coat Brussels with Lana's summertime sadness each year. It was just that, but also a historical lesson on Alex the Great's family, political lessons on tensions in the Balkans, lessons on cultural identities. It was a chance to touch and smell and taste things we read about between art projects and typing lessons in 5th grade.  Surprises like seeing friends I met five years back, the friends with whom I stumbled over cobblestone-lined markets and squares, who joined for my first bike adventures, who joined for my first beers in Belgium.  Surprises like finding new corners in cities I already love, or a running path lined with wildflowers and sailboats in an otherwise dreary countryside, like crossing an Orthodox priest who by chance speaks enough English to tell you secrets of the monastery's 1000+ years....

Ruins of an ancient city in Pella, Northern Greece

Seaside in Thessaloniki, Greece

 Cliff top monasteries in Meteora, Central Greece

Whiskey club in Meteora

Meteora, Greece

Kassandrino, Halkidiki, Greece

Trying to lure a vegetarian into trying the local roasted lamb...

Commemorating WWI's commencement at Tower of London

Tower Bridge

Sneaky midday Spritz behind Boroughs Market

Entering Philip's tomb, Vergina, Greece

Sunrise in Halkidiki, Greece

Seaside eats = whole fish plucked out of an ice chest

Post-Monsoon in Covent Garden, London

My non-EU citizen status is largely the bane of my European existence (time spent at city hall this year to date: 67.35 hours), but perhaps the silver lining is the unabashed and overwhelming admiration for the beauty, obvious or mundane, in the collective experience here. Certainly not lost on these Ameripean eyes.

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