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.

Nijmegen from above

By now I have unpacked everything in Brussels and at least one corner of my attic room looks like home with all my dresses and skirts hanging there. The room still needs improving, some essential pieces of furniture are missing – but this will be fixed soon, there’s a visit to Ikea scheduled for Saturday. More about Brussels a bit later, because I first want to post some photos from the last Nijmegen days.

Since my first trip to Nijmegen I have wanted visit the tower of St. Stevenskerk, but it’s not open too often and there has always been something else to do when it finally was open to visitors. This trip was different. On Monday morning, Matthijs persuaded me to leave the bed (nooooo, nice and warm bed and pillows!), we grabbed our cameras and off we went.

Some rather tiring stair-climbing later we arrived at the topmost point where visitors were allowed to go. No, we didn’t see an awesome panorama of Nijmegen from there. We saw something that’s perhaps even more awesome: the bell-player! (If there’s a special name for that occupation in English, do enlighten me. It’s late and I’m tired and bell-player is the best I can come up with.) We sat there for a few songs, watching him in action, and later had a small chat as well.

It was quite interesting to watch him play rather difficult songs on a set of bells. The biggest ones were played with feet and others with hands. I kind of felt like I would want to try that one day, but my utter lack of coordination would not go well with that – just look at the amount of pedals! Even beginner rhythms on drums are a huge challenge for me and the number of pedals is a lot lower there.

After seeing the bell-master at work, we descended one flight of stairs to get to the viewing platform. The guard there provided tourists with loads of information about the surrounding areas. He spoke mostly in Dutch, so what I did not understand on my own, Matthijs translated for me later. One of the first things I saw was the Grote Markt, busy with cafe terraces and the Monday Market. (There’s two weekly markets in that area, one on Saturdays and one on Mondays.)

The next photo has one of the two bridges in the centre of Nijmegen. Google Maps tells me it’s called Snelbinder. De Waal (the river) will have some of its water redirected soon through a new channel, because the sharp bend in the city centre is not very safe and it’s essentially a bottleneck, creating rather widespread floods. This link has a nice explanation and if you click on the pdf-file there, you can see the changes on small maps, showing how the extra space for water is created.

You may have noticed something strange in the background. If not, you’ll see it better on the next photo. It’s a bridge on dry land with no roads underneath. Why? Because they are building an extra bridge over De Waal and they are first putting it together on land.

The traffic on the river seemed to be rather light at that time, but I did notice something I have never seen in Estonia: garbage transport on the river with an open ship. Probably nothing too exciting for most people, but I still wanted to take a photo of it.

And now it’s time for a random photo of the rooftops of Nijmegen:

This is what the platform around the tower looked like:

On our way down I took a photo of some of the biggest bells in the tower. It was really dark in there, but the photo still turned out rather decent. I really love my camera. (Canon 600D, if anyone is interested. Highly recommended, it’s brilliant!)

The last day in Nijmegen also included a trip to the market (fresh fruits!), some cooking, another board game evening and of course some new muffins. This time they were with chocolate and coffee and I had a lot of fun decorating them.

Tambourine Lady and plastic carrots – we meet again, Nijmegen!

A week ago, I had to say goodbye to Estonia for a while. Since then, I have been enjoying the Dutch summer with occasional “saunas” (read: sitting in Matthijs’ sunheated room and boiling inside). The few first days were spent in the outskirts of Nijmegen at Matthijs’ parents’ place, which was especially nice as you can have lunch in their garden, enjoying the sun and watching how their cat attempts to hunt for birds. (There is actually a lot more room in the garden than it may seem from this photo. I just wanted to show how lush the plants are.)

While Matthijs was busy with other things, I explored Nijmegen on my own, buying necessary things for moving to Brussels and seeing the Tambourine Lady everywhere. Tambourine Lady is legendary in Nijmegen. She stands on random streetcorners, just playing her tambourine and looking around a bit absentmindedly. As much as I have been told about her, she doesn’t do it for money, she just likes playing the tambourine. In addition to being an unofficial mascot for the town, she also annoys the hell out of a lot of locals on whose streets she happens to play, so if you would understand enough Dutch, you could probably hear randomers complaining to their friends that Tambourine Lady set up camp right under their window last morning.

I don’t have a photo of Tambourine Lady, but I do have this photo of a two-level shopping street in Nijmegen. Not the most typical photo you can get from that town, but it is something unique – feel free to prove me wrong though and point out other towns with a street like that, I personally haven’t encountered this anywhere else though.

In addition to gathering necessary things like towels and medication (which is a lot cheaper in Netherlands than Belgium), there has of course been some grocery shopping and cooking. This brings me to something baffling: separately packed carrots. They were huge, so that can perhaps be a small excuse for that ridiculousness, but it’s still weird. Why would you need to have your carrots separately packed in plastic? Also, I got a chuckle from the fact that a carrot is not only called wortel in Dutch as I had previously assumed, but it can also be called peen. So we made our dinner with the help of winterpeen:

Last night I had a board game night. I had been organising things like that about once a month in Estonia, because it was a good excuse to gather my friends in the same place. Also, have I mentioned how much I love board games? No? Anyway, I put three game boxes in my moving suitcase, even though I could have taken some extra shoes for example. I’m glad I took them with me: yesterday Matthijs invited a friend over here and we had a lovely evening with Settlers of Catan and Dominion, accompanied by beer and chocolate muffins.

So, if there is anyone near Nijmegen or Brussels who would want to have a board game evening or cake evening, do let me know. I would be happy to arrange a meet-up, bake something delicious and set up the games.