Tag Archives: Belgium

Belgium, 2013: The Place

Our week of nights in Belgium had filled up quickly; so one afternoon my husband, daughter and I went to our friends house- Corrine and Ben- for a traditional French style lunch: our favourite. Corrine and Ben had a multi story home in the village of Tilff which was bright with all the autumn colours on the tress outside. They had two older kids of their own and I still remember how sweet Corrine was as I was distraught when our daughter fell off the couch. She was fine of course.

We walked around Dolembreux one morning, to the war memorial, the school and the fields behind the farmhouse. It was such a pretty little village and I could see why it would be a nice place to raise kids.

Another day we headed into Liege where we all enjoyed some authentic waffles and a walk around the city. We went to H&M and Mango of course and visited one of Steve’s friends who worked in a shoe shop in town.

Finding a car seat of the right age was easy with so many kids around. Although she did mange to wriggle out of it that morning as we were driving back from the city that day. Bit scary, but I think she was just trying to look out of the window rather than open the door.

We went to visit Yves in his nice house on the hill and he gave us a book of Liege photos that he had published. One lunchtime we went to the restaurant that Ben’s partner owned in Tilff. It was bright and airy and served the best baguettes.

Bill took the day off work to take us to Durbuy- reportably the most beautiful village in Belgium and a place where neither my husband or I had been before. It was ridiculously picturesque, even in the cold weather, with small cobbled streets lined with stone houses covered with red and green vines. There was an actual castle, a fort and a spa and the small town was encircled by rocks, fountains, water wheels and the river.

Our  daughter fell asleep easily in the pram as we trundled along and we kept warm by eating Chokotoffs– hard carmel treats covered in Cote d’Or chocolate. We stopped for lunch in a nice traditional French restaurant and drove home munching on sour gummies. All in all it was a day of beauty and eating.

With so many adoptive aunts and uncles, our daughter received lots of presents and hand me down clothing that necessitated a big rethink of packing the bag when we left. It was great for her to receive French speaking toys and good quality warm winter clothing, so it was an easy choice to pass on some of her clothes that we had brought that she was outgrowing anyway and we knew that they would go to a good home here.

Related posts: Belgium, 2013: The PeopleEurope, 2006, Belgium, 1997, People vs Place

Belgium, 2013: The People

My husband, daughter and I flew from Hong Kong to Brussels via Helsinki. It was a cheap flight and the worst flight we have ever had with our daughter. At one year old, she was at that in between stage where she didn’t just eat and sleep and wouldn’t just sit and watch TV, so all she wanted to do was walk up and down the aisles. She didn’t sleep the whole way, so neither did we. Lesson learned- sometimes it’s worth paying a bit more for a shorter flight with a little one.

After a 3 hour stopover in Helsinki, she finally lost it on the internal European flight to Brussels and just screamed. We were all tired and over it so I can understand her reaction and I now know what its like to be those parents that everyone tuts as at, but there was simply nothing we could do.

She finally fell asleep when we landed and slept in my arms in the brightly lit Brussels airport while we waited for our bags. Our friend Bill picked us up to take us back to the converted farmhouse that we had stayed in before and were to do so again. We hadn’t seen the family since our wedding in Thailand and it was the first time they had met our daughter.

Between them and their partners, Bill, Isabelle and Ben now had 8 children- 5 boys and 3 girls- almost all older than our daughter, so she had plenty of kids to dote over her and keep her entertained. Being a social child, she very much enjoyed being part of such a huge family. The girls were very gentle with our daughter which was lovely to see and the grandparents had a room set up especially for the grandkids with lots of toys and a cot.

The mornings were dark until 8:30am, which didn’t help with the jetlag when our daughter still got up at 4am. She gradually got later everyday, but never slept past her usual waking time of 6am, so had already been up for at least two hours by the time everyone else rose for breakfast.

Our friend Flo visited from France one evening with presents for our daughter. It was so nice to see her. Another night we went to Bill’s house for dinner. The house was lovely and interior decorated to perfection.

The next night we went to Isabelle’s for dinner where they lived above her husbands personal training business. On another night we went to visit Guislane and George- another family that my husband had stayed with when he had been living here on exchange. I ate the biggest piece of foie gras I have ever seen.

We kept her in her nightly dinnertime and bath routine that has always been useful for sleep time no matter where we were. Her adoptive grandfather sometimes read her books and she always had a bed or cot to be put to sleep on wherever we were visiting for dinner. Then when we were ready to leave, we just picked her up and drove home while she kept sleeping. It was awesome.

Related posts: Europe, 2006, Belgium, 1997, Destination ThailandPeople vs Place, Belgium: On Exchange

It’s a European Thing

A trip around Europe is a backpacker right of passage, especially if you’re an Aussie. Staying in hostels, bumping into the same people on same route and exploring the other side of the world.

Most enter through the gateway of Amsterdam, a city whose liberal attitude may appear shocking to most, intriguing to some and even normal to others.

I remember the flatness of Holland and the smallness of Belgium where you could pass through it and be in 3 countries in one day. There is the beauty of the canals of Bruges and the discovery of Italy, where every city is different.

There is the history of Rome and Pompeii, the craziness of Venice and the little gems you find along the way, like Verona. And then there are more ruins in Athens.

It’s the Asian culture of Istanbul that leaves you wanting more and the bleakness of Eastern Europe on the cusp of Russia. Closely followed by the opulence of Vienna.

Then there is the gothic wonderland of Prague, before finishing off with party time in Berlin.

My first trip to Europe still lives brightly in my memory, even though it was taken a lifetime ago. Each country had a different culture, language and even a different currency.

No matter how many times I go to Europe, there always seems to be more to see.

I have never been to Scandinavia, Liechtenstein or Poland. I missed Ghent in Belgium and countless other places in Italy.

Like Cinque Terre, Siena and the Amalfi coast. I never got to properly taste wine in Tuscany, see the fountains at Tivoli or go to the island of Sicily.

I missed out on visiting an island in Greece, I’m sure Eastern Europe is quite different now to what it was then; and the Cesky Kromlov seems to be the place to go now instead of Prague.

I know there is more to Germany than just Berlin, like Dresden, seeing Sleeping Beauty’s castle and shopping at a Christmas market.

I can’t wait for my next magical European experience even if it is not in the near future, because a continent this diverse is definitely worth waiting for.

Related posts: It’s an English Thing, It’s a Spanish Thing, It’s a water thing, It’s a French Thing, Europe, 2006, Europe, 2003, England, 2002, Berlin, 1997, Part 2: To the East

Europe, 2006

When he was in high school, my husband-to-be (HTB) did a rotary exchange where he spent a year in Belgium. He lived with 3 host families over the course of the year, spending the majority of the time with the Renson family in the French speaking town of Dolembreux.

It was to this small town that we travelled next to visit the families and catch up with my HTB’s other friends while we were there. We stayed with the Renson family who lived in an old converted farmhouse. The children- Bill, Ben and Isabelle- had long since moved out and started their own families, but the dog (who only understood African dialect and French commands as she was an import from the Congo) remained.

We went to the closest city, Liege, where my HTB had attended school. The city monument was an unusual water fountain of sorts and the main square was awash with blooming flowers. I was introduced to the world of “real” chocolate at the Galler chocolate factory and the eating of much Cote’ D ‘Or, readily available in supermarkets here, but not in Australia.

One night, we went to a soccer game at Liege stadium. It was very cold, but the yummy thrice fried frites and waffles with added sugar lumps sure warmed us up!

Another night, we went to the pub where my HTB had spent many hours with other rotary exchange students and a restaurant owned by a well-known local friend of his, who took us to a night club where he had to knock on a door with a peephole for us to be let in.

I also discovered the convenience of Belgium, in that being such a small land locked country, it was close to many other European countries.

We went on a day trip to Luxembourg City and marvelled at the Grand Palace. The Grund (old city) was amazing and unlike anything I had ever seen before. From the top it looked like a little fairy tale village that you could walk down into and explore. We also had a nice lunch in a restaurant in the main square with the added company of Flo, one of my HTB’s friends who now worked in the city.

Another day trip took us to Aachen in Germany. We took in the gothic style cathedral, amusing fountains and quirky shops. We also had a nice lunch in a restaurant in the main square with added German steins.

We went on an overnight trip to The Netherlands to visit one of my HTB’s friends Jacqui and her husband. They picked us up in a BMW which had self-park and took us to Williamsted fishing village for dinner. The next day, we all went to Zeeland to see the dyke at Neeltje Jan (Waterland) where we enjoyed being kids for the day. There were seals, a fabulous water playground, sand sculptures and a windy hurricane tunnel.

Related posts: England, 2006

The Fashion Files

As I have previously stated, I am not much of a consumer. I don’t keep up with fashion and prefer to wear the styles and colours that suit me. I detest the societal pressure to look model thin and the requisite downsizing of sizes that goes with it.

That being said, I am so excited about the new H&M store that is opening in Sydney’s Macquarie Centre this Thursday. I haven’t been this excited since…well, since the first Australian store opened in Melbourne and I went to that one- currently the biggest H&M in the world as the young helpful sales assistant informed me. My favourite section is the comfy casual Logg clothing that I recently found in the Orchard Rd store in Singapore.

I first discovered H&M when I travelled to England to visit my grandparents. I just found that the pants fitted me better in European clothing brand shops. I was also taken to Zara on Oxford St, purchased a black ruffled skirt and a love affair with Spanish clothing brands commenced. Every overseas trip since then has included a trip to Zara and H&M in Europe, Asia and the Americas wherever possible.

After purchasing a t-shirt with an underwater fish scene in Las Vegas, I found the sub-brand Trafaluc and it is now my favourite section in a Zara store. When Zara opened in Sydney I was ecstatic, but this enthusiasm quickly turned to disappointment as I realised that in the tradition of many fashion outlets in Australia, we were at least one year behind all the European fashion.

The same could be said of the Sydney Mango shop, which went one step further and held leftover stock from Europe as far as I could tell as I found the exact same pair of black high heels that I had bought the previous year in Belgium. They used to have a great shop on the Gold Coast, but have now closed this along with all their other shops except for the flagship store in Melbourne and now distribute through David Jones.

On a recent trip to Barcelona, I saw the Desigual label. Very pretty and colourful, but a little too young and hip for me!

Now if I could just take a mental picture of my wardrobe so that I don’t end up buying the EXACT same top twice that would be great.

Related posts: O-P-I- don’t mind if I do, Kicking goals

Belgium, 1997

Sarah and I arrived in Antwerp and to see the huge Cathedral of Our Lady which was an overwhelming sight. I don’t think I had ever seen a cathedral that big before.

We strolled through the famous Grote Markt to the Brabo fountain.

In Brussels, we stayed in a tall house with friends of our friends from Zwagg. They took us to the Hotel de Ville (town hall) and the Brewers buildings in the Grand Palace for a cheery beer at the King of Spain. The first of many different flavoured beers that we tried in Belgium.

The famous Manneken Pis was so small that we almost missed him as we walked through the town square and we rubbed the Everard ‘t Serclaes for luck.

We visited the bizarre Atonium in Bruparck- a monument to the discovery of the atom which was shaped like an atom. The grounds had a miniature Europe, which looked even smaller from the top of the monument.

Whenever I go to a new city, I always like to go to a high viewpoint so I can get an idea of the layout of the place. So when we travelled to Brugge- a miniature city surrounded by canals- we climbed the 366 steps up the Belfry to the carillon bells. Nothing but flat land and orange rooves as far as the eye could see.

We found the Church of Our Lady with it’s a famous marble statue of Madonna and Child.

Every town in Belgium seemed to have a town square with town hall and a tall church.

We had our fill of waffles and headed from the small country of Belgium to the big city of Paris.

Related posts: Holland, 1997, England, 1997, I first started travelling, By special request, Home is where you make it, I first started writing