Monday, December 19, 2011

Let It Snow!

All it took was a light dusting of snow for me to get excited about the holidays (that and the arrival of my two older children two days later - my true Christmas gift)! Yes, colorful Mont des Arts with the town hall spire in the background (photo 1) was stunning to see just after Thanksgiving, and watching the Saint Nicolas procession (photo 2) was quite entertaining in early December, and the Electrabel Nights at the Grand Place (photo 3) featuring new technologies and special illuminations was exciting a week later, and the Christmas Market's ferris wheel (photo 4) next to approximately 250 chalets (selling anything and everything christmassy) and an ice rink made for a fun day, and my purchase (photo 5) at said Christmas Market was special since I buy each child one new ornament every year... but it was a little snow on our patio furniture (photo 6) that had this California girl shrieking, "It's snowing, it's snowing!". Mind you it's only the 4th or 5th time I'd seen snow fall from the sky so that may have had something to do with it...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Under the Hammer for a Holiday

With winter approaching and temperatures dropping by the day, I admit to spending one too many hours watching antique and auction shows on the BBC. I'm thankful for this British obsession, especially when I miss the English language but need a break from the EU's debt crisis according to Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron. Plus British English sounds so distinguished - I'm always delightfully entertained and well-informed when tuning into: Flog It!, Cash in the Attic, Cash in the Celebrity Attic, Antiques Road Trip, Celebrity Antiques Road Trip, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Bargain Hunt and Homes Under the Hammer. The premise for most of these shows is an antique expert and contestant rummaging through a home, car boot sale (that's British for flea market) or quaint antique shop for items to flog or go under the hammer (auction). If a profit is made, it's often used by the contestant to purchase even more antiques for his/her attic or towards a dream holiday in Spain. The educational aspect is evident when the host visits stately homes, country castles, medieval museums or other places of historical interest. All this got me thinking about a possible undiscovered treasure in my neighborhood antique shop and wondering if I could Flog It! for a dream holiday in Spain!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I experienced my first strike (manifestation) in Brussels last week. It was actually quite civilized... The STIB (Société des Transports Intercommunaux de Bruxelles) applied for a permit to shut down most metro, bus and tram lines at 11:00am on Friday, for the day. Everyone was well prepared with many people walking (me), carpooling or telecommuting. Back home, strikes typically go on for days or weeks (until concessions are gained). They don't last as long here though they are more frequent. Before moving to Brussels, I still associated the word strike with bowling to indicate all pins have been knocked down with the first ball of a frame. This brings me to today's post... It was, no surprise, a wet and gloomy evening and we, the non-natives, were getting restless! I was also on the hunt for some much-needed, albeit indoor, color. We headed to The Bowl Factory in Waterloo, complete with "cosmic bowling" (the tracks & bowling balls glow in florescent colors when the lights go down), an arcade and Chi-Chi's Mexican restaurant. Everyone bowled a strike but me - that's okay, I still had a ball ;-)   

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words?

Napoleon Bonaparte once said "Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu'un long discours" or "A good sketch is better than a long speech". This is sometimes translated today as "A picture is worth a thousand words". My photos for The Colors of Brussels, taken with my handy dandy point & shoot Canon, may not be worth a thousand words but I imagine these, below, could certainly start a conversation:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Colorful Marolles

Les Marolles, or Marollen in Dutch, is indeed colorful... it's been said that this district has "welcomed many socially fragile inhabitants" beginning with lepers that were exiled there in the Middle Ages. Later it was situated between two city walls where the working class, mostly weavers and craftsmen, resided. The wall and steep drop between the wealthier Sablon district and Les Marolles didn't stop Ladies of the Night from greeting upper echelon "gentlemen" in the alleys between the two districts. Much of the area was gutted when the Palais de Justice was built in the 19th century. Residents were satisfied when the hated architect of the project, Joseph Poelaert, died in a mental institution in 1879, some say as a result of a curse from a Marolles witch. I recently went on a walking tour of this vibrant area and was struck by the expressive wall and door art, bustling flea market, antique/junk shops on every block, art galleries galore, and multicultural restaurants as well as over 30 city-run cafes where the homeless can have a warm place to eat a good meal.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fall Foliage

This week started with the grayest and gloomiest weather I've experienced since moving to Brussels. I've come to expect the sky to be gray but not the space between the ground and the sky! Yesterday the clouds parted and the bright blue sky made an appearance (along with higher temps)! Whatever the weather has in store, I love the beautiful, picturesque colors of fall. Some trees in my neighborhood are still green while many are brown, seemingly to have skipped the color changing process altogether. Here and there, I've found enormous poplars and maples showing off their bright yellow leaves, green bushes with bits of red peeking out, golden leaves covering the ground, trees with several colors on a single branch and my favorite, beautiful red maple trees!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Four Seasons of October

October arrived with summer-like temperatures in the 80s but has since seen winter-like weather (at least for this California girl), spring-like rain with the last flowers in bloom and lastly, autumn leaves just beginning to change color. Last weekend was sunny but near freezing - it would've been a shame not to make the most of the clear blue skies (not that rain stops Belgians from being outside). So, armed in three layers of clothing, we walked to the impressive Porte de Hal/Hallepoort tower. It's in a bustling area, between the Midi train station and busy Avenue Louise, yet it appears that few people notice this historic monument. Porte de Hal/Hallepoort is the last remaining gateway of the city's 14th century second perimeter wall. It was later used as a prison and now as a museum dedicated to fortifications and medieval cities. Although the sun was shining outside, we took our own sweet time inside, enjoying the comfortably warm museum!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Home Sweet (temporary) Home

Home will always be Northern California but it didn't take me long to feel welcome in Brussels. Take, for example, the baker around the corner who doesn't seem to mind that I'm barely able to spit out the words to order a baguette (so much for my high school French). She smiles at me as I walk in saying, "Bonjour, je prendrai... " (pointing to what I want). She then gives me a mini French lesson as I direct her attention to the raisin snails, which I'm pretty sure are not called escargot de raisin sec. She says "couque Suisse", I repeat "couque Suisse", she smiles, I smile, I pay her and I walk out with my raisin snail (I mean couque Suisse). Yesterday I walked in and what did my eyes behold but a beautiful rainbow of colorful tarts. Before I knew it, I blurted out, "Bonjour, je prendrai toutes les tartes colorées"! I'm starting to fit in pretty well here!  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Parc du Cinquantenaire/Jubelpark

October's here and, it appears, so is summer! Today was one of those days when all of Brussels was outdoors, very befitting for a day at Parc du Cinquantenaire/Jubelpark. This park and palace were built in 1880, under King Leopold II's reign, for the Golden Jubilee in celebration of Belgian's independence. It took another 50 years to complete the grounds and triumphal arch between the two large exhibition halls. The halls held trade fairs, horse races and stored homing pigeons while the grounds were used to grow vegetables during the war. Fast forward to 2011... Parc du Cinquantenaire/Jubelpark is a beautiful place to enjoy a picnic, visit Autoworld (one of the world's best collections of cars), Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Musée Royal de l'Armée et d'Histoire Militaire and the Great Mosque of Brussels. Today we found sunbathers, the finish line for the Brussels Marathon, flowers in full bloom and even Snow White! What a memorable day!      

Finished in 1905, this arch was based on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Quick! Heads Up!

I've come up with four reasons why most Brusseleers don't look up when they walk along the city streets:
1) They'll step in dog mess.
2) They'll trip over piles of carefully wrapped and color-coded recycling garbage bags (there are no residential and not many commercial garbage cans in the heart of the city).
3) They're not tourists with cameras and/or money wallets hanging around their necks.
4) They'll stumble on the cobblestones (that was me)!
But if you look up every now and then, you're bound to see the most amazing architecture, colorful window flower boxes, larger than life cartoon murals and of course, the Belgian flag (among others) blowing in the wind. Just be forewarned - there are a LOT of dogs in this city!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Colorful Chocolatiers

Everyone knows Belgium is world famous for its finest and most delectable chocolate! Although chocolate comes in just two shades of brown and one shade of white, the shops they're sold in are beautifully colorful and always a delight to enter. Shop owners and chocolate companies probably don't need to work so hard when it comes to selling their goods but I'm always impressed by their attractive displays. I'll take this opportunity to recommend my friend Arturo's favorite chocolatier, Leonidas, proudly serving chocolate since 1913. Whether you have the pleasure of visiting one of the 1400 shops worldwide or ordering via email, finicky chocoholics (an oxymoron?) can choose from: decorative ballotins, butter creams, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, pralines, nougats, cream liquors, truffles, fruit-flavored jellies, Napolitains, Manon blanc/cafés, orangettes, Gianduja and Giantinas, mendiants, marzipan, assorted chocolate bars, confectioneries, chocolate subscriptions/gift cards and party favors. If you're like me, not finicky whatsoever, you'll simply take one of each, thank you very much :-)