autumn leaves and the military museum

Autumn has arrived. It has always been one of my favourite seasons. Everything is colourful, I get to wear an array of pretty tights and sweaters and scarves and hats… though to be honest, I wear most of these during summertime as well. Hooray for chilly Estonian summers! Anyway, autumn has conquered Brussels. I was rather miserable for a week when it rained nearly constantly, so I found myself hoping every day when I had to pick the older kid up from kindergarten that those dark clouds would have mercy on me and stop raining for that hour.

Most of the time the clouds were merciful and allowed me to do the kindergarten trip safely. There was one time though where I ended up thoroughly soaked. The kids didn’t have much of a problem, Mickey was sitting in the pram and Minnie was on the pram stand, so I had to push both of them uphill for the entire way. I was soaked with rain and sweat by the time we reached home and my cheeks had morphed into tomatoes. Hey, at least I got a free workout!

Last week was my busiest one here so far. I had Monday off (so I had an extended weekend that I spent in The Netherlands with Matthijs, hooray for some couple time!), but I was working all other days. On the weekend, FrenchDad and EstMum left for a little weekend trip and I was alone with the kids. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared it would be, the kids behaved surprisingly well. I did not appreciate the 7am wake-up-call from them on Sunday morning, but I could deal with it. In any way, it was more pleasant than was was to come that day: breakfast didn’t seem to agree with Mickey and he ended up vomiting. On everything. Twice. Even after my jacket got washed, it still smells like puke. Maybe after the next wash it will be okay again. My laptop seems to be non-smelly again though, that’s good.

I made the most of the free time I had on some random mornings/evenings last week, getting out of the house as much as possible. One morning I decided to visit The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History. The Dutch and French names aren’t much shorter: Koninklijk Museum van het Leger en de Krijgsgeschiedenis / Musée royal de l’Armée et d’Histoire militaire. Anyway, the museum was in the park you can see on the two photos above and the entrance was free. The latter was the main reason why I decided to visit that particular museum as I was running out of money.

The first areas of the museum were very interesting to me. Old uniforms, swords, funky-looking helmets… what’s there not to like? I mostly walked around just looking at things, since the exhibition notes were mainly in French/Dutch and the English texts were short, if they were even there. I was in no mood for brain-twisters, so I decided to be happy with just looking and no reading.

The museum looked too cluttered to me. It seemed to devalue every piece on show, because there were too many things to look at and you couldn’t really devote your attention to one outstanding piece. It was a huge collection of everything and anything army-related, but instead of feeling like a comprehensive showcase, it just resembled a messy warehouse of random items.

Some things were showcased a bit better than others, like this tricycle that belonged to King Leopold II. One of the most fascinating parts of the museum for me happened to be a bit further away though. I loved the display of old helmets. Most of them look a bit ridiculous now, but I guess they were stylish in their own time.

I enjoyed the areas of the museum that were dedicated to older times. I can’t stand guns and rockets and bombs etc, they seem cowardly and brutal to me. A good old swordfight feels more courageous and noble, it’s an honest face-to-face fight. Unless you stab someone from behind, of course. Taking what I just wrote into account, you can probably see why I didn’t enjoy the areas with newer war machines as much. Wars with swords and bows were in the distant past, but guns and tanks are too fresh and raw even for me, though I haven’t personally experienced war.

This gas mask reminded me of Sharon, my friend from Israel. She once told me that her earliest memory was being in a bomb shelter with her family, everyone wearing gas masks. This is no distant past, this is the first memory of a young woman from Israel. So this display was too close and scary for me.

There were also some actual big tanks on display, but I chose to take a photo of this small colourful machine. Even though I tried to get a photo of a big tank (it’s just outside this picture), I couldn’t bring myself to do it, besides it happened to be too big to properly fit in the frame. Having no personal experience with tanks, that display still managed to make me feel so anxious that I pretty much fled that room in hopes of finding a display that seems a bit more safe.

While wandering around between airplanes, I kept wondering how could some people stand in front of a tank to protect their country when I couldn’t even bear standing next to an unmanned and out of use war machine. Even my own father took part in a human chain protecting Tallinn’s TV tower when Soviet powers threatened it with tanks. I already had huge respect for my dad, but after seeing an actual tank with my own eyes, I respect his bravery even more.

I didn’t stay in the museum for long after reaching the areas dedicated to modern wars. It was all making me a bit too anxious, giving me vivid mental images of what war was and is like. So after just a short hour in the museum I fled, deciding to explore the town a bit more instead. As always, I returned from my expedition with a new photo of a graffiti in Brussels:

of castles and toilets

A few weekends ago I was in France. Getting to Paris from Brussels is ridiculously easy, you take a train and in 1h 15min you’re there. That is, if your train does leave when you assume it does. When I got to the train station in Brussels, I saw that my train was delayed by 23 minutes. Alright, should be enough time to get a snack and go to the toilet! Wrong. The train arrived a few minutes after the scheduled time and left shortly after that. I’m so glad I was paranoid enough not to leave the platform, so I noticed when the train pulled in. Why on earth would they say the train is 23 minutes late when the actual delay is about two minutes?

When I arrived to Paris, things got only worse. It’s around 8pm in a major train station in the capital of a big country, so one could assume the ticket office is still open, right? Wrong. I think I finally got help from a security guard who pointed me in the right direction. After some difficulties with getting the public transport ticket from a machine and some difficulties with breathing when walking to the right stop (nothing tells you better that you have arrived in Paris than strong smell of pee), I managed to get to the other train station where I was supposed to catch a train to Fontainebleau to attend the 25th anniversary of European Youth Parliament. In the next hour or so I thought I would never get there.

Ticket offices were of course closed (welcome to Paris!), there was strong smell of wee in half the places in the train station (welcome to Paris!), the ticket machine I tried did not recognise the place I wanted to travel to and I was all alone in a big train station in a foreign country. Just when I was about to burst in tears and accept that I’ll spend the rest of my life (or at least that evening) in that smelly train station, I noticed a guy who was clearly from EYP and also about to go to Fontainebleau. Together we figured out which ticket machines to use and how to get the necessary coins to buy our tickets, because of course the machine accepted no paper money and no bank cards (welcome to Paris!).

The rest of the weekend went in a similar fashion and by Sunday I was completely fed up with the French way of (not) organising things. Also, have you ever been to a public toilet in France? Even in a big fancy theatre it’s apparently normal to:
a) lack a toilet seat
b) lack toilet paper
c) have splashes all over the toilet
d) have blood smears on the floor / wall (yes, it was ladies’ toilet!)
e) have all of the above

I was nearly crying with joy when I had coffee in a nice restaurant-cafe on Sunday and discovered they had a normal toilet. They had toilet paper! They had a toilet seat! There were no splashes of any kind anywhere and no smeared blood! It was an actual toilet! My travel-mates would have laughed at me if they wouldn’t have been too busy with rejoicing over the glorious toilet as well.

All of that aside, I actually had a nice weekend. It was great to see my old friends from EYP and have random chats on topics ranging from cakes to political issues. The concert in the evening where EYPers sang was absolutely beautiful. I think the highlight for me was meeting the creator of EYP. Bettina Carr-Allinson held a lovely speech about the difficulties she had to overcome when creating the organisation and it really touched me. I went up to her later to give her my personal thanks for creating a youth organisation that literally changed my life. It got a bit emotional, because EYP means a lot to both of us, but from different perspectives of course. For me it’s an organisation that helped me overcome my shyness, learn about the EU and political issues and find friends in every European country.

In addition to all official parts of the event we had plenty of free time to spend as we please. I chose to spend my Saturday morning in Château de Fontainebleau. Since I could find nearly no information on the castle in English, I just took a small booklet that had at least some English writings and walked around, looking at the excessively decorated rooms and hallways. This is the castle from the outside:

Every monarch who has lived in this castle has made some minor or major changes to the building. The best known part of the castle is probably the fancy staircase, ordered by Louis XII and designed by Jean Androuet du Cerceau. When I told my host family where I’m going, EstMum said she has probably been there, but the only thing she could remember was the horseshoe-shaped staircase.

Most rooms were very dimly lit, so it was difficult to get good photos inside. I can show a small selection of better photos I got, though I wish there would be more good ones.


And of course Napoleon’s throne room:

The throne looked very small and uncomfortable to me, but the room was fancy and made me think of some old children’s books with throne rooms quite similar to this. And of course I have an obligatory tourist shot with a a fellow EYPer:

That’s it for now, I used the kids’ naptime for some fast blogging and they will soon wake up. I have even survived my first night alone with the kids now! It was okay, though I kept waking up because I thought I had heard one of the kids crying. They finally did wake up at around seven in the morning. Yes, my workday started at seven on Sunday morning. But it’s okay because I think I’ll have tomorrow off, unless EstMum has a lecture she has forgotten to mark in the calendar. I might even be able to finally check out Atomium! I haven’t been in that part of Brussels yet, so I’m hoping for nice weather and a free day to explore that area as well.

a small update and photos from Leuven

(Manneken Pis with a costume. He keeps getting new ones every once in a while.)

Hello! It’s been quiet in this blog for a few weeks, the work schedule is more busy now and when I have spent most of the day with the kids, I am usually a bit too tired in the evening to write a proper blog post. I’m still happy with my job though, even if I have 10-11h workdays every now and then. It’s a lot more satisfying job than anything else I’ve done before. I can actually make a change with what I do: teach the kids new things and allow the parents some time for themselves (something they haven’t had much in the past three or so years).

I get instant feedback for things I do and there is no office gossip. Usually the biggest conflict of the day is “I DON’T WANT to sleep!” or “I DON’T WANT to wash my hands!” That I can handle. Also, I have found that the “I’m going to count to three!” method works if nothing else does. I have never had to say “three!” so far, because the problem is already solved by the time I reach “two!”. And if I don’t have to make the kids wash their hands or stop throwing things around, I’m just having fun with them and taking them to the playground or painting with them or building blanket forts or reading books or learning letters… Basically I’m doing what I did with my sisters when I was a kid myself and I’m getting paid for it. Success! (I do have some nasty bruises from climbing after Mickey on the playground though.)

Since it’s not a proper blog post without photos, I’ll show some that I took in Leuven. I can’t write about the town since I only saw it for a few hours when I went to the Saturday market with FrenchDad, Minnie and Mickey. I don’t know much about the buildings or the life in Leuven, so I will just show a few photos for now and write a proper blog post when I have managed to have a proper day trip there. For now I can only say that it’s a lovely Flemish town a short car-ride east from Brussels.
I’ll try to find some time soon to edit my photos from last weekend’s trip to France. Coming up: a fancy French palace and nasty French toilets!