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I joke to everyone that came to our flat in Brussels that it was the reason I married Rasmus :) Of course, that’s not actually true but I do love that flat so much, and it’s hard to leave it behind.

It’s just a one bedroom apartment but it has a big open kitchen and living space with high ceilings. The floor is concrete (full of cracks because it wasn’t installed well, but hey, that adds to the character!) and the walls are white brick. It’s light and spacious and I really love it.

Since we got married and I moved in here, we’ve spent lots of time getting it just how we like it. We perused the flea market and antique shops for our dining table, the wine racks, the ladder. We used our wedding money to buy a new sofa and armchair. And we came up with the concept for the lamp over the dining table which Rasmus made. It’s the first home we created together and we have many happy memories here.

So since all our furniture has moved out and is moving in to our new place today, I thought I’d put up some photos of the place we’ve called home together for the last few years.

Last week they had drained the fountain and delivered the cabin pieces. Today, they’ve erected the base of the ice rink and the light fixture for the middle of it, put up all the market cabins and are erecting the cafe… Only two weeks until the market open and it is officially declared Christmas!

Yesterday morning, I met up with three girlfriends and we drove out of the city to Vieux-Genappe, a village I’d never heard of in the Belgian countryside by Waterloo. Our destination was La Ferme du Hameau du Roy, a small farm with an amazing bakery and a small cafe.

 

It was a grey, miserable day but that meant that the staff had lit the fire in the grate, so we chose the table right next to it, and ordered their “Imperial” breakfast for all four of us. It included freshly squeezed orange juice, hot coffee or tea, light fluffy scrambled eggs from the farm hens, little pots of jams and chocolate spread, also all home-made, and the most delicious assortment of their hand-baked breads and pastries. Delicious!

It was such a delicious brunch, and we devoured it all in no time, and then kept chatting and snacking on more bread until we were dangerously full! There’s really nothing quite like having brunch with friends. I feel like it should be a much more common occurrence. This was also special because our friend Sarah who used to live here was just back visiting for a week, so we had to make the most of every moment…

After we’d finished brunch, we walked back through the farm shop to see all the wonderful breads, cookies, marzipan sweets and tarts on display. They were already prepared for Christmas, and especially for Sinterklaas on 6 December, which is an important holiday here in Belgium.

It’s sad that I’m only discovering this wonderful place a few weeks before I leave. But then it does provide a great excuse to come back and visit – maybe they’ll insist on taking me out for a great brunch too :)

We live very close to the square on which the main part of the Brussels Christmas market takes place every year. Yesterday morning as we were walking through, we spotted some recent additions…

The fountain has been drained ready for the ice rink that will be installed over it in the coming weeks, and the parts of market booths are in place ready for assembly around the square.

In three and a half short weeks the market will open, complete with fake snow and the best in cheesy music, and it will be officially declared Christmas season.

Is anyone else so far from ready for all that yet?!

Today is a public holiday in Belgium, for All Saints Day. It’s also a significant day for us because it’s the single day between Rasmus’ old word contract and the new. Yesterday he had a Belgian contract, a Belgian phone number, a Belgian car. Tomorrow he’ll have a Luxumbourgish contract, phone, (rental) car…

This whole moving process seems amazingly surreal still, even though we’ve found an apartment to live in there, have given notice on all our contracts here, have invited everyone we know to our leaving party in a couple of weeks time. Today, therefore, is another step towards it become real in my mind.

We spent the morning together wandering around the city and getting noodles for lunch at one of our favourite little restaurants. we really do love Brussels. The cobbled streets that threaten to destroy your suspension (or your heels), the bizarre statues, memorials and murals hidden around corners, the simple but fantastic Belgian food, the many many good beers to choose from, the cafe culture, the multitude of nationalities, cultures and languages existing in one small capital.

It may not get the recognition of Paris or Amsterdam, but it’s a great place.

I’m working on my own farewell and thank you to Brussels in the form of my own “guide to the city”. It won’t be the ultimate to-see list for tourists and it won’t even be a list of the trendiest and coolest places to be seen. It’ll just be my own recommendations for places to enjoy the city just as it is… I’ll let you know more soon!

I went to two concerts this week which was fun.

The first was to see KT Tunstall who has been one of my favourites for a long longtime. I just bought her newest album about a month ago and already love it. And she’s a great performer – clearly having a lot of fun but not full of herself and her voice is so so good. Love listening to her sing.

That concert was made a bit more exciting by a near-fainting episode on my part. Half way through her quietest, most reflective song I was suddenly and painfully aware that I would not make it to the end of the song on my feet. As the room started to sway I whispered a loud “HELP ME” to my friend Marissa who barged a pathway through the highly annoyed crowd towards the exit with me staggering behind like a drunken blind person. Which is kinda how I felt.

Three songs later, having drunk (drank? drunken?) a bottle of water and sat with my head on my knees in the corridor for a while, I made it back inside and enjoyed the rest of the show sitting on the floor at the back of the hall. She still sounded as good from down there!

 

photo taken by Rasmus on his phone

Yesterday was the second of the week’s concerts and despite feeling somewhat poorly I convinced Rasmus I was ok to go because it was a seated concert rather than standing. We had tickets to see Tina Dico, a Danish singer that Rasmus liked. I hadn’t heard anything by her before we bought the tickets but it was a good purchase.

She was really really good. She played the Orangerie at Botanique which is a much smaller venue and I liked the more intimate feel of the show. She sang a song called “Copenhagen” about, unsurprisingly, Copenhagen (I think she moved back there from London recently) and it made me want to move there tomorrow. And a lot of songs about the contradiction of emotions – wanting something and yet not wanting it, loving something yet not choosing it…

It was also the biggest number of Danish people I’ve ever seen all in one place outside of Denmark. I got quite excited, exclaiming in hushed tones “ooh and they’re speaking danish too!” every 30 seconds to a bemused Rasmus.

I really enjoy going to concerts. Well, with some prerequisites. We went to an Iron&Wine concert last month and I was honestly a little (gasp!) bored through most of the show. But when it’s someone I’ve listened to for a while, when it’s an artist who has good stage presence and knows how to enjoy the music while also entertaining the audience, when there’s good lyrics to think about or upbeat music that gets me tapping my feet (and the woman in front of me at the KT Tunstall concert dancing in her wonderful “I’m well above the average age here and dance like your auntie Pat but I’m having fun” way) then I just love hearing music live.

Anyone been to any good concerts recently? Or found new music you want to recommend?

Yesterday the STIB (metro, bus, tram company) went on strike for the second time in two weeks. I’m not sure what they were striking about this time because not speaking good (read: any) French or Flemish I never read the local news. I was late to work in the morning anyway because I needed to tidy up a bit in the morning (Rasmus goes away for a few days and I turn back into a messy teenager apparently) so the metro was not crowded.

But in the evening I got down to the metro platform to a disturbing amount of people waiting for the metro. They were only running every 12 minutes or so through the Friday evening rush hour so you can imagine how frantic everyone was to get on. I did my usual trick of standing right at the front of the train (always less people there. always) and managed to force myself into a non-existant space next to the door. But I got half way home and was fed up of having so many angry and sweaty people standing in my personal space so I forced myself off the metro and walked the rest of the way home.

Which was actually lovely. The sun was out but it’s still a low in the sky blueish light sun which made the city, even the many shabby parts, look beautiful. I walked down past Grand Place and then past St Catherine church which is currently covered in scaffolding which honestly fills my heart with joy because I love that building and the site of trees growing out of the stonework half way up just made me want to cry.

I really do enjoy this city so much. My walk home took me past most of the bars, boutiques and restaurants that we visit regularly and I realised again that despite not speaking the language or understanding much of the culture, this place has become home. That that is even possible is bizarre and yet I really do feel comfortable in this part of the city. I know places, I recognise people.

I stayed here beyond my initial 10 month internship because I was so tired of moving around so much and having to start over in each new place. I haven’t lost my itchy feet and we won’t stay here forever. But I am enjoying the experience of feeling like a local.

After my last post when I started to panic about how much I haven’t crossed off my list of 26 things yet (maybe you missed that – it might have come right after I pressed “publish” :) life decided to be super nice to be me and give me a hand with the list.

I can now cross off number 8: Finally go to that American diner in Brussels. Finally is really the appropriate word here since it’s a whole 11 and a half months since I wrote that. But it was worth the wait…

Rasmus and I had visited another church on Sunday morning where I’d been invited to speak for a few minutes about my heart for the women asylum seekers I’ve been getting to know (another point on the list improving weekly) and we were driving home discussing what to do for lunch and he (wonderful man that he is) said “what about that diner place?”

YES! Fabulous idea. We managed to find a parking space in the crazy busy square that is Place Brugmann and then only had to wait for 15 minutes despite not having a reservation. Clearly it was a divinely inspired idea to go there.

We both went for tex-mex options since we’d done burgers the day before at the Irish pub (I know I know, our healthy diet got kinda put on hold this weekend), all washed down with dessert-in-a-glass banana milkshakes.

I loved it! The decor is pink, yellow and turquoise with vintage coca cola signs and pictures of curvy 60’s women on the wall. There’s proper chrome bar stools and even one of those fun barber signs that spins. The food was good too. I got the enchiladas and when they first arrived I though “that’s not very big” but then I started eating and realised I have only ever eaten enchiladas either a) in America or b) cooked by Americans, i.e. large portion sizes! This was actually the perfect amount and combined with the thick milkshake I definitely had no excuse to order dessert.

Which is frankly a shame since they have an exciting menu of ice cream sundaes and brownies. So although I can officially cross this one off the list, I am leaving it uncrossed-out in the hope that someone will take me back again for dessert before my birthday :)

(No photos sadly coz it was an impulse visit and we didn’t have a camera… the photo here is from the website)

Yes, that’s a mouthful of a post title.

Let me explain.

Thursday was Marissa’s birthday. Marissa is one of my bestest friends. We have grill-outs on her terrace, she keeps a stock of kriek for me in her fridge, she has an infectious laugh and she forgives me for not liking orange, her favourite colour.

We had a fun evening of food, games and laughter together. And Sarah (she’s also amazing) and I plotted our plan for her birthday surprise…

A January weekend trip to Italy!

The details are not quite figured out yet. Like the “where in Italy” question, and the “which weekend” question. But January is that horrid time of the year when Christmas is over, New Year is past, and you have just the all-consuming depression that is Brussels weather in the winter. Cold. Wet. Dark. Windy. By the 1st February you have officially lost the will to live and you still have another two months until the first signs that this might not be the eternal winter of Narnia that you had feared (clearly I should never live in Russia or Canada).

Our answer to this problem is to escape to Italy. So it won’t quite be soaring temperatures, but it will not be Belgium. And there will be pizza and wine and pasta and pretty things to look at. Which is good enough for us. :)

This is the weekend of the annual Brussels Beer Festival, when just under thirty breweries descend on the Grand Place to enable all the tourists to get drunk just a little bit faster… :)

We went out at lunch to take a look and came across the parade of brewery carts with their beautiful big horses getting ready to depart in front of St Catherine’s church. Every time I see these horses it reminds me of trips to the Shire Horse Centre in Cornwall or the Clydesdale Farm in Scotland as a child. I think we even had a book about them!

The beer festival was your average display of Belgian organisation – hundreds of punters queuing at just three booths to get their “cork crowns” to pay for the beer with. Finally we had our currency in hand and headed into the chaos to find some beer.

Of course, if you know me at all well you know I am not actually a fan of beer. I managed once to drink a whole glass of Delirium beer, and have occasionally tried some of Rasmus’ and thought it not too horrendous. But I tend to stick to the “girly beers” which in Belgium are most commonly Kriek (cherry flavour beer) or Framboise (raspberry flavour beer).

So to be a little adventurous this time I tried the Strawberry beer, the Banana beer and the Blackcurrant beer. Yes, you read that right. Banana flavour beer. It was actually not so bad. I wasn’t expecting much because come on, I know I don’t drink “real” beer but that’s just taking it a bit too far. But aside from reminding us a little of those banana sweets you get, it was quite good. There was a bitterness to it which balanced out the tastes-like-penny-sweets effect.

The festival is still on until tomorrow evening so if you’re one of my Brussels readers, you should head that way and check it out yourselves.