Bianca, Brussels and lots of houses

The worst part about making new friends here is knowing that you’re only in the same town for a limited time. At some point either they leave or I leave or we both leave. I know it’s inevitable, but it doesn’t stop me from being sad that Bianca is moving back to Finland. We only got to explore two towns together! We were supposed to see so much more than Brussels and Bruges! To make sure that we would miss each other even more, we arranged a meet-up today to walk around in Brussels together and take photos. I thought it was going to be cloudy and rainy, so I left my Canon 600D home and took the tiny “soap box” instead. I regretted it dearly when the sun came out.

Palais de Justice / JustitiepaleisOur first stop was the Law Courts of Brussels (Palais de Justice / Justitiepaleis), but unfortunately the entire building was covered in scaffolding and didn’t really look that nice. The doors were open though, so we stepped inside to admire the view and check out the postcards. The prices were ridiculous and the salesperson was more interested in checking his texts than dealing with annoying customers. I still bought one though, because I haven’t sent my nephew and niece a card in ages.

the ceiling of the law courtsBiancaThe massive building stands on a hill, so we had a nice view of the town from there before descending to the lower parts in a glass elevator. There was a man playing the accordion in front of the elevator, though I didn’t even notice him at first. I have gotten so used to street musicians (though often the term “metro musician” would be more correct) that they are pretty much a normal part of town scenery to me. Most often I see them in metro trains and usually they play the accordion. I have also seen performances on flutes, violins, harmonicas and some other intruments though and the newest addition was today on my way back home when a guy walked in with speakers, put on some music and sang along.

BrusselsOur next destination was Place du Jeu de Balle / Vossenplein to lurk around at the flea market. Bianca was looking for a nice decorative glass bottle to take home with her and I wanted to find something special to get her as a present. In the end we decided on an interesting-looking hourglass that also had a compass on top of it. I hope that she will put it somewhere in her room when she is back in Finland and think of her funny little hobbit friend every now and then when she sees it.

hourglassThe golden paint is partly chipped, but that’s alright, gives it a bit more character. Bianca found a nice glass bottle as well and tried to haggle for it, as is common at a flea market. Seems like that salesman hadn’t heard of that tradition though, because his response was very snappy. I was hoping to find a nice Kriek glass from the market, but unfortunately we saw none of those. We did however see creepy skull culptures, piles of old clothes, a ton of random cups and silver spoons and some unexplainable items that we passed rather quickly.

Place du Jeu de Balle / VossenpleinPlace du Jeu de Balle / VossenpleinHappy with our findings, we continued our journey towards the south. We saw a lovely little castle and Bianca wanted a photo of me. Her request for a pose: “the most touristy pose you can think of!” I’d like to think I delivered what was asked for. I mean, I even have a bonus camera hanging from my wrist, what more can you ask for?

tourist!

I have probably mentioned it before, but I love the houses in Brussels. There are some seriously ugly ones, but in general I really like the style here. It isn’t even just one style, it’s a colourful mixture of everything you can think of. The best one from today: a house that is a tree. Or a tree that is a house. Take your pick.

house / treeThe further we got, the more expensive the houses looked. Also, the trees started looking very strange. I hope they will look more normal once spring comes and everything is green again, but at the moment they are strange bumpy creatures. Close-up, they have camouflage pattern on them.

Brussels

Brussels

bumpy camouflage tree

To finish our lovely walk, we headed back to the centre and sat down at a cafe. Unfortunately I have no idea what the name was, perhaps Bianca can help me out with that later. The prices weren’t exactly the cheapest, but everything was oh-so-good. I had a lovely quiche, apple pie and a minty mocha. I don’t normally take food photos in cafes, but this looked too good not to document. Look, my drink has fresh mint on top! Heaven.

foooodWe hugged each other and promised to try to arrange a visit this summer when she is in Finland and I have moved back to Estonia. This isn’t the last time we are seeing before she leaves though, we are going to play some board games tomorrow evening. It was how we met and it’s how we are going to say our goodbyes for now. I’m going to miss her, she has been my best friend in Brussels and I hate to see her go.

Avenue de Tervuren / TervurenlaanBecause the weather was so nice, I didn’t want to spend the entire journey back home in a metro train. So I left the underground three stops too early and had a nice walk. Notice the lack of snow! I’m so happy about that, it was a nightmare to pick Minnie up from kindergarten with the pushchair wheels doing nothing but get stuck on the snowy roads. Plus I just hate snow. But now I can have walks outside again without feeling like my nose is going to abandon me because it’s too frozen to survive. Farewell snow, glad to see you go! Actually, this was the biggest amount of snow I saw on my way back home:

farewell, snow!

Some people have still not realised that January is almost over though. There is a house on my home street with one slightly annoying christmas decoration still hanging around. And literally hanging, as you can see:

santa is fallingLet the poor santa go, he needs to return to his people. But on a different topic: I took a photo today that for me symbolises Brussels. A beautiful old building next to a construction of glass and cement next to a house being renovated next to some random house next to… and of course there’s some random stone blocks on the ground, because everything needs renovating and reconstructing. Voilà, Brussels in one image!

Brussels

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the band, the crew and the hobbit

Antwerpen

Continuing with my very late blog posts in order to catch up with all the photos I wanted to share here. In December, I had a lovely day in Antwerp with Matthijs. We wanted to see Ewert and the Two Dragons in the evening and also check out the lovely Belgian city, so we went there in the morning to walk around and enjoy the sights. It was close to Christmas, so light time was limited. As we wanted to take photos, the first place we visited was Sint Annatunnel, a pedestrian tunnel to get to the other side of the river Schelde.

The escalators in Sint-AnnatunnelThe entrance to the tunnel was via old wooden escalators. They looked amazing and as I read now, they are from the 1930s. So much better than those chunks of metal everywhere else, these had the elegance of older eras. After taking the long escalator ride down, we had to walk more than half a kilometre under the river to get to the other side and ride similar old escalators back up to the daylight again.

Sint-Annatunnel

Sint-Annatunnel

The view from the other side was magnificent. Our timing was perfect as well, it was just before sundown and the colours on the river and the centre of Antwerpen were beautiful. We took photos of the town (and a few of each other – what else would two people with cameras do than torture each other with them?) and tried not to fall down from the high riverside structures we were climbing on. Considering that the temperatures were slightly below zero and everything was icy and slippery, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to slip and fall.

Matthijs in AntwerpenWhen the sun had begun to set, we walked back through the tunnel to explore the city centre a bit. That didn’t work out too well though, because it was already getting dark and we didn’t have time to see everything we wanted. So instead we only took a look at a few selected places and then headed for dinner. I wanted to meet up with my friend Karl who happens to be the tour manager of Ewert and the Two Dragons, but obviously he was a bit busy with the upcoming gig because of his work duties.

christmas market in Antwerpen

After dinner, we went back to our hotel to put some things away and check how to get to Trix, where the concert was held. Eventually we figured out what trams we had to take and where to walk, or at least we thought we did. When we stepped off the tram, we of course realised we have no idea what direction we should take. Thanks to some good guessing, we finally found our way in the dark and got to the venue. I have no photos from there, because I didn’t want to carry my camera around and left it in the hotel. Matthijs is focusing on gig photography anyway, so I left the concert cameraman duties to him.

Antwerpen and ScheldeThe gig was awesome. I managed to see Ewert and the Two Dragons four time that month, partly because I love the music and mostly because it was a good opportunity to see Karl, who is travelling around with the band and almost impossible to see in Estonia. Especially when living abroad, it’s very nice to meet up with your friends like that. The highlights of the concerts were not the relaxed atmosphere and awesome music, but the moments spent with Karl and his relative Siim (who was the merch guy for the European leg of the tour). I had missed my friends so much.

Antwerpen and ScheldeWe met up with them the next evening as well in Leuven. As usual, I have no photos of that because I’m too short anyway to see over the crowd, but Matthijs took some photos of the band during the concert and even some group photos for them after that. I managed to get my “fangirl picture” as well, after seeing them live for five times already. As Karl was already kneeling on the ground from previous group photos, I just claimed his leg as my seat for the photo. This caused some joking among the guys, with Matthijs saying he is allowing that and Karl winking and laughing that he should see the next pose then. Thanks to the guys goofing around, I have a laughing derpy-face on that photo. But I don’t care because I’m with my friends and my favourite Estonian band.

Ewert and the Two Dragons and crewSo there. The band, the crew and the hobbit, as promised in the title of this post. I’m out of photos to share for now, so next posts will appear when I’m finally not ill anymore (spent five days with a high fever and I’m slowly getting better now) and have had a chance to go out with my camera. I’m pretty sure there will be no posts this weekend, unless I decide to spend my train journey back from Nijmegen writing about long-distance relationships. Why? I’m going to Nijmegen to celebrate our second anniversary with Matthijs. Two years together and not once have we lived in the same country. Life is strange.

why I hate trains

train station

Christmas break has ended and I’m back in Brussels, working as an au pair. The journey from Charleroi airport to Brussels was a bittersweet one. On one hand, I had said goodbye to my family, friends and Estonia and it made me want to cry. On the other hand, I was going from icy Tallinn to +8 degrees in Brussels to do the job I love, so I should have been smiling. I just stared out of the window of the shuttle bus, listened to Radical Face and tried to hold the tears back.

The entire journey lasted for 12-13 hours (bus from Tallinn to Riga, waiting at the aiport, flying to Charleroi, taking the shuttle bus to Brussels), but even despite that I was still certain that flights are better than train rides. How come? Well, I can present a list of reasons.

  • You can close your eyes once you have boarded an airplane and wake up when you land, thus making the journey seem extremely short. On the train you have to keep an eye on where you are or you might wake up in a random town in the middle of nowhere.
  •  You don’t have to stare at your belongings all the time, fearing they might get stolen. On a plane, you put most of your stuff away and the things you keep on you are under the chair and quite difficult for others to reach. On a train someone can just walk by, snatch your suitcase and jump off the train just as the doors are closing, leaving you staring at the thief while the train takes you away.
  • You don’t have to navigate the labyrinth called “a train station”. Seriously, airports are so much easier. Though this might be because I have had more flights than train journeys.
  • You can always get information in English (I’m talking about European airports though, I haven’t travelled outside Europe much). This eliminates the possibility of a situation where you’re standing in the middle of a huge train station in Paris, tired and close to tears, and still have to be able to speak perfect French because nobody understands you otherwise. Or hey, Italian train stations are fun as well! (Not.)

Want another reason for why I hate trains? I’ll tell you a story. In December I had to take a train trip from Ghent to Brussels. It’s a short trip, 35 minutes max. Worrying that I’d be late for work, I took an earlier train than I had planned. Well, that plan backfired majorly. I got on the train, it started moving… only to stop about 15 minutes later. And then there was an avalanche of announcements, each giving different information.

According to the announcements, there is a short delay, the train is returning to Ghent, the train is going to Brussels, there will be replacement transport, the train will go back to Ghent, the replacement transport is on the way, there is a disturbance on the tracks, the train will continue to Brussels, the train will take everyone to the next stop where we could catch a new train, there is a serious problem and the delay may be another hour, the police is evacuating half of the train, the train will take everyone to a different Brussels station than planned. Now try to understand that! And all the time, other trains were passing by on the tracks next to us…

Later I read from the news that three wagons got detached from a train between Ghent and Brussels. Guess which train I was on! By the way, I may have been in one of the detached wagons that was later left on the tracks, because I was asked to change wagons after we had been sitting for a bit. Everything was in Dutch though and I hadn’t slept much (I had been to a Muse concert the previous night), so it was difficult for me to grasp all the details.

Anyway, I got home three hours later than planned, cold and hungry and thirsty and needing to pee (because the train had no toilets) and I was completely late for work. I vowed then to never start liking trains, because trains suck. An airport has never reduced me to tears because I have no idea where my flight is departing from or what time it goes. It has happened several times in train stations though and I’m normally pretty good at figuring out where I have to go.

For those who want to practise Dutch and/or just see a video of that unfortunate train incident, here’s the news item: http://www.deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws/regio/oostvlaanderen/1.1507813

of christmas trees and snow

Head uut aastat! Happy new year! Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! Bonne Année!

fireworksI’m back in Estonia for my christmas break. New year has arrived, tons of fireworks photos have been taken. But last year’s posts have not appeared here yet, so I’ll first introduce you to the monstrosity that posed as Brussels’ official christmas tree. Some may start thinking about pharmacies when seeing that. You’ll see why:

Brussels' christmas tree

Apparently this is the first year Brussels has been experimenting like that with the official christmas tree. After the reception from the general public, I’m not sure they will want to pull stunts like that again. It really does look horrid, but it did provide me with some entertainment: just stand at the edge of the square and chuckle at the reactions from random tourists who have just noticed the giant apothecary sign pretending to be a tree. Hilarious, I can tell you. In comparison, I can show you my family’s lovely christmas tree in my Tallinn home:

christmas treeNow this is a christmas tree! And yes, there are tiny elves and not-so-tiny mice on the tree. All handmade by my awesome mum (who, my the way, decided to knit me a cardigan before I have to return to Brussels. I’ll link her blog once she finishes it and gets the photos up). I have been enjoying my time with the family and I celebrated returning to my home kitchen by making this festive pumpkin cake:

pumpkin cakeIt’s wonderful to be back home, but there is one thing I definitely did not miss in Brussels: snow. I have never been a big fan of winter. It shouldn’t really be surprising – it’s a miracle if you can still enjoy it after spending your entire life in Estonia and having to dive into knee-deep snow every day for five (sometimes even six) months every year to fight your way to the bus and then finding that the next bus has been cancelled and you are forced to wait for 20 minutes in -20 degrees. Yeah, I’m not that fond of winter.

christmas tree

Nearly two years ago, when I had a trip to England in January, I kept exclaiming “It’s so GREEN!”, amusing Matthijs with it. He didn’t see anything special in finding green grass in January. I didn’t even know it was possible for grass to stay green throughout winter! In Estonia it gets brown and yellow and ugly near the end of autumn and then disappears under the snow, so seeing the first green patch of grass when spring arrives is always a very happy day for me. Having lived in Brussels for a bit now, I can see why it was so amusing to Matthijs. Even if there is snow on the ground for a little bit, the grass stays green! What is that sorcery!? I miss colours during wintertime. Jumping back to the topic of that England trip… this is what greeted me the day I got back to Estonia:

January in Estonia

Yes, it can be pretty. But for now I’ll just enjoy knowing that after my lovely vacation in Tallinn, I’ll return to Brussels where temperatures should still be at +10 degrees and the grass is green. I love Estonia, but I can’t stand winter.