au pair life

In Brussels, it’s still autumn. If you compare this to my other post with autum colours, there’s been quite a change. This photo was taken a bit more than a week ago, so now the colours have changed a bit yet again, leaves are mostly orange or red (with some trees remaining yellow) and some trees have nothing left. My health seems to be the same. It’s mostly in orange or red (meaning danger-danger, ill person coming!) and sometimes retreats to yellow. I’ll probably be without any problems somewhere in spring.

My host family has been joking that they should send me to “an old people’s home, because you would suit that so much better!”… thanks! Why? Well, I either hurt my back with carrying very tired Minnie back home (15 kg is a lot for a tiny woman like me!) or some cold damp air attacked it. Anyway, I was out of business for a few days, spent it mostly in bed and crying or nearly crying from pain. When I started with work again, I had to explain to the kids that I can’t lift them or play the airplane or carousel or anything like that because my back hurts. Fortunately they didn’t test my limits much, I didn’t even have to run after Minnie with a buggy as she was kind enough to actually walk next to me when I was bringing her home from kindergarten.

How to keep kids entertained when you can’t play their favourite games and run around with them? Invent something new! Today when I bring Minnie back from kindergarten, the house will be haunted. I drew some ghosts on paper and cut them out so I could hide them all over the place and have the kids hunt for them. I have done it once before as well, they absolutely loved it. Mickey preferred daylight hunts, but for Minnie things got especially exciting when I drew the blinds and handed her a flashlight to be a proper ghost hunter. Last time there were only ten ghosts, but this time there will be ten ghosts and ten tiny colourful monsters. Minnie saw me making those last night and this morning she said she can’t wait to get home from kindergarten and gave me a big hug and a kiss. It’s great to see her so excited!

Otherwise it’s all same old. Wiping bums, emptying the potty, reading the same T’choupi book for the 54th time, running around in circles and chasing each other, watching Barbapapa cartoons for the 23rd time, drawing and painting (and of course not only on the paper…), bathing the kids and later drying the floor, cooking and then watching kids refuse eating anything because they decided they saw some carrots in the food and decided they hate carrots that day, fighting with kids over getting them dressed for going outside and later fighting over taking the jackets and mittens off… But I’m used to all that by now and usually when things start turning towards a battle of wills, I just distract them in some way or turn it into a game.

By now I have some experience in taking care of kids while I’m quite ill as well. One of the best ideas I had was to lie down on the sofa and say I’m ill, so the kids have to be doctors. I then invented some funny-sounding diseases that I had and the kids used everything they found to take my temperature, give me a lot of injections (=bumping a chestnut on me and doing a funny sound) and tie me up in bandages. All I had to do was to explain where it hurt and take the injections like a grown-up (aka making funny welping noises to make the kids giggle). And I didn’t have to move at all! Magical game.

I’m not sharing any photos of the kids, so this post has just a few random photos of Brussels. When Matthijs was visiting for the weekend, we walked around a bit and I finally saw that one canal in Brussels. It was boring. At least we saw het Kleine Kasteeltje (on the right on the photo), which is now used as accommodation for asylum seekers until their fate is decided.

We also had a nice board game evening with some people from Couchsurfing. Since we had nine people, we split in two groups to play. I was in the leading position in my group’s game (Power Grid) until the very last turn… when I realised I had made some very bad moves and ended up being the last. I’m not sure whether others were more amused by all that or pitying me. Grrh, stupid coal plants, I should have replaced them with nuclear plants earlier! The other group played Elfenland and I snapped a photo of them:

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.