Brussels

There is no trip to Belgium that would be complete without a trip to Brussels.  It’s not my favorite city in the world, or even in Belgium, but it does have things to see, depending on your interests.

We started with a trip to the Grande Place.  It is an impressive courtyard, which occasionally has other things in there, including the Flower Carpet when the event is happening.

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There are a few museums in this area, which are supposed to be great.  Unfortunately the one we wanted  to see was closed the day we went.  Sad.

This area is also incredibly busy.  There are tourists everywhere, taking pictures of everything.  It can be annoying if you let it get to you, but it also opened up an opportunity to entertain Little One.  After all of this travel, she was getting pretty burned out and needed something fun to do.  All of these cameras led the two of us to sprint across the open area, dunking and hiding as we tried to avoid being caught.  We were security agents, working protection detail for her Grandparents.  The mission; to escort these honored guests around Brussels safely, without having our cover blown or getting caught on camera.  She took this mission very seriously.

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Forget being a princess.  Give my little one a chance to turn into a badass for the day, and she is in, every time.

After the Grand Place we took off to find a very famous statue.  I had always heard it simply called ‘the little boy peeing,’ but apparently it has a real name that is even more fun, Mannekin-Pis.

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I have heard a few different legends as to why this statue is famous, but no one knows for sure why he had a statue.  The only thing that seems to be agreed on, is that the little boy is a beloved icon now.

On a previous visit, the little boy was naked, but today he was wearing one of the 815 costumes he has in his collection, all available to view in the closed museum.  Sigh.

We spent a bit of time wandering around, just seeing the sights and shopping.

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All around the Grand Place are cute little shopping streets.  Some focus on restaurants, others on Belgian specialties.  All of them are amusing to at least walk along and see.

After a while we headed out to find Cathedrale des Saints Michel et Gudule.

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This beautiful building is Brussels largest church.  It began construction in 1226 and took around 300 years to complete, meaning there are three hundred years of architecture and art included inside.  This is also the church used for important events in Belgium, such as royal weddings or state funerals.

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I didn’t have a big wedding, but man, can you imagine walking down that aisle?

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Or having your wedding march played on that organ?

The inside of the church was of course remarkable, with stained glass windows.

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A solid oak carved pulpit.

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Beautiful statues.

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And Little One lighting a candle.

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Not long after this stop, we were back in the car making the long drive home.

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Tongeren Market

Over the last two weeks, my in-laws were in town.  We traveled a lot, slept only a little, and sent them off to the airport exhausted.  I will get all of the traveling posted, but it will take a little while, so be prepared.

They arrived Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning, we started off.  Tongeren is a city halfway-ish between where I live and Brussels.  While there are many things to do there (I am told), it is best known around here for the antiques market that takes place on Sunday mornings.  I had never visited this market before, but it sounded like the kind of thing my in-laws would love.

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This market was huge.  There were vendors going in many directions, with many different things.  Some places seemed like a glorified yard sale, while others held secret treasures.

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And Tongeren is a beautiful city on it’s own.  All along the market was this cool old wall, left over from some other time.

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Here is a view from above the market.  Stalls everywhere, and only a very small portion of the market.

We found a few hidden treasures, classic beer signs for my father-in-law, and a wooden foldout cabinet thing that reminded me of my grandmother. I’m not even certain if my grandmother had one, or if it is just a feeling, either way, I brought it home. I slightly regret not taking home a set of pewter goblets that I really liked, but knew would end up in storage for a while as I have no place to keep them.  They would have been fun for my wine last night, but sadly no, they stayed behind.  We might go back, look for my goblets or even just wander around.  We might even try to see more of the city than just the market.  It’s worth it.

Five Things About Living in an Old House

I love my house.  I really do.  I love the look of the bricks, the large backyard, the small greenhouse, the quiet neighborhood, the sunroom I use as my office.  There are so many adorable little touches that make my house charming and well, homey. 

Unfortunately, it is also old.  I’m not sure how old, but based on the neighborhood, very old.  My landlord is a sweet old lady who had been trying to sell the house for about three years before deciding to rent it out for a few years.  Since they were trying to unload the house, they weren’t overly concerned with making little updates.  Some of these updates would not be too hard to make, but when the house is not your own, the cost and effort can be more than the inconvenience you live with for a short time.  Of course there are other changes you wouldn’t make unless you own the house.  Living in a foreign country for a short period of time means buying a house is not an option.  Instead, I sit and I list the things that irritate me about living in an old house.

1)      Horrible hot water

Our water heater works between noon and five pm every day.  It will not heat water at any other time, even if you ask pretty please.  The unit will hold water for a short period of time, meaning I do have hot water to wash dishes at night, but it won’t hold much hot water at a time.  By the time my children take baths, and I wash dishes we are almost completely out of hot water for the day.  And there is no middle ground between boiling and freezing temperatures.  If you are in the shower and the water begins to cool, you have approximately one minute to get out before you are hit with an icy blast guaranteed to freeze your insides for the rest of the day.  It’s not too bad in the summer when the sun keeps the pipes a little warmer, but when you are in the middle of winter, and that hot shower is the warmest you will be all day, it is tragic when it turns out to be colder than if you just rubbed down with a handful of snow. 

2)      Blowing a fuse when trying to cook lunch

The electricity in my house needs a little work.  And that is being polite.  I have had the power go out in my house completely when trying to make lunch.  Running the laundry, using the stove, and listening to music over the internet can be too much for my house to run at a time, and it just gives up.  The laundry room used to go out if I tried to run the washer and the dryer at the same time.  Of course, there are other times when everyone is home, we are all running things, and the house is perfectly fine.  Maybe it just doesn’t like my selection of soup on certain days.  Either way, it can be infuriating to have the entire house turn off three times simply because I want to do some wash and heat up lunch at the same time.  It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

3)      Waking up to a flooded living room

The seals on the windows and doors can use a little work.  Not only to improve the heat efficiency in the winter, but also to prevent flooding during rainstorms.  In our living room, there is a set of large glass doors.  If the wind and rain hits them just wrong, the water sneaks in, flooding everywhere.  Usually at an alarmingly quick rate.  Over night.  Right next to several electrical hookups.

4)      Odd electrical hook up

Speaking of electrical hookups, they are weird in my house.  I’m not talking weird as in European hook ups instead of American.  You expect that when you move here.  It’s a part of living in a foreign country, you must adjust somewhat.  I’m talking about having internet and phone hookups in the basement.  Only in the basement.  I’m talking about having cable hookups in rooms we would never choose to place a television.  I’m talking about having a refrigerator and freezer in the garage. 

And that freezer?  That freezer is the most judgmental appliance I have ever met, and that is including the bathroom scale.  For some strange reason, my freezer refuses to keep ice cream in the winter.  Everything else in the freezer will be fine, but my ice cream will melt.  It can solidify water to make ice, but can’t manage to keep my ice cream from melting.  The ice cream is fine in the summer, but in the winter, when it is cold enough outside I should be able to keep my ice cream in the yard and have no problems, it melts in the freezer.  I have to drive for 45 minutes to reach the store where I can buy American style ice cream.  That is an hour and a half of driving only to have my ice cream melt before the end of the night.  Not cool freezer.

5)      No proper heating

This is probably my biggest complaint.  I hate to be cold.  REALLY hate it.  I often wish I was a dragon, simply so I could breathe fire on the ground and sleep on a bed of hot coals.  And yet, I have several rooms in my house without any decent heat source.  I was certain I would freeze to death when we moved in and I learned my bedroom had no heater.  Fortunately I live in a world with space heaters, which can help to offset the cold.

 

I know you are probably thinking I am nothing but a whiner here.  Maybe even thinking, if the house is that miserable, I should just move.  But the truth is, I really do love my house.  I kind of wish I owned it, just so I could fix the things I dislike.  I love having a tree that my daughter can climb.  I love that we have our first real live Christmas tree here, now planted in the backyard.  Our Christmas tree will still be here in 20 years.  How cool is that?   I love having my gardening space where we grow fresh vegetables all summer.  I love having a landlord whose 85 year old father comes over to teach me how to make jelly from the tree in my yard.  I still don’t know exactly what kind of fruit it is, but the jelly is fantastic.  I love having my space, a bright and cheerful sunroom to work in.  I even love the oddity of having elderly neighbors randomly stand in my backyard and stare into my sun room space.  Yes, sometimes I rant and rave, and make lists of everything I hate about my house.  But it is our home. 

Five Things About Living in Belgium

My husband’s job has had us traveling for a while.  We were fortunate enough to stay in Okinawa for eight years, but it has been almost a decade since we lived in the United States.  Strangely enough, my children don’t really remember living in America, and one of them hasn’t lived there, only visited.  Sometimes it is really hard living far away from family and when that happens, I try hard to remind myself of the good things about being far away. 

1)      The People

I have not met a single local person who has not been kind and understanding.  I don’t speak much Dutch, and as I am horrible with learning new languages, I don’t imagine I will learn much more than I know now.  I am able to read more Dutch than I speak, and that is mostly due to similar words used in English.  Fortunately for me, most places I go people speak English.  What’s more, they don’t make me feel bad about not knowing their language, they just want to help. 

2)      Traveling

My husband and I wanted to live in Europe so that we would have the opportunity to show our children everything.  While my husband saw some of this stuff when he was a child, it’s all new to my daughters and I.  Belgium is beautiful on its own, but it’s location in the middle of several other countries allows us to drive for a short period of time and see a couple countries.  We have driven around Germany, to Paris, and the Netherlands.  On one LONG road trip we drove to England and up to the Scottish highlands, though next time we decided to fly to Scotland.

3)      The Countryside

Of course traveling to other countries on a road trip is fun, but Belgium has plenty to see and share on its own.  Driving down a road here, I feel like in am in an old movie.  The roads are lined with tall trees; the nature has been preserved as much as possible.  It’s almost as if the roads were new.  Additionally, there is so much farm land near where we live, we are fortunate enough to drive through open spaces everywhere. 

4)      Markets

One of the classic markets here is of course, the Christmas markets.  From the end of November through the beginning of January, there are Christmas markets all around.  As nice as those are, I am just as excited for the weekly markets.  At first I thought it would be like the farmers markets that were around during the summer and fall where I grew up, with local farmers and people with small home businesses bringing their fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade jams, and candles to sell to people who wanted the freshest food.  Here, the markets are just as much of a business as anything else is.  I’m not sure if any of the fruit and vegetable vendors grows their own, but they pull up in large trucks open to reveal a well-stocked stall, easily opened and closed to display a large variety of foods.  More fun than the food, are the clothing stalls; one stall will be stocking conservative clothing my Grandmother would have worn, and right down the way will be jeans worn by a mannequin, and cut almost low enough to still use the bathroom while wearing them.  There is very little middle ground between them.  The ugly sweater stall is a favorite of mine; large, thick sweaters with ghastly designs, each for 5 euro.  I will wear an ugly sweater in the house to stay warm.

5)      The Food

Ah, the food.  My favorite part of traveling anywhere is always the food.  I loved living in Japan for the sushi and fresh fish.  When we visited England, I had fish and chips at least four times (and I’m thinking of returning just for good fish and chips).  In Belgium, for many people it’s the beer; I am not a beer drinker however.  Instead, I live for the frites, and chocolate.  Don’t let anyone fool you, fries came from Belgium, and they make them wonderfully.  Even the frozen bags from the store taste great.  But the chocolate, the chocolate is a miracle.  I had had Belgian chocolate before, but coming here, it is wonderful.  The chocolate shops are wonderful, filled with the best chocolate I could imagine.  However it is not just the chocolate shops.  There is a quality that is legally required of all chocolate here, meaning even the candy bars at the corner store are amazing.  I am very excited that tomorrow, I get to go to a chocolate class at one of the stores here.  I have no idea what we are learning, only that it has to do with the process of making chocolate, and I get to take some home.  I think it will be my favorite class I have ever taken.