Thursday, April 29, 2010

The cutest toddler ever to toddle

Liam, of course, changed so much while we were in Brussels. As kids do at that age... When we left he was a baby. Eight months old. Now he's a full blown, hell on wheels, playing, walking, chattering toddler. Witness...

Enjoying his water table:

A cheeky smile during dinner:

And this is what the family calls his "Wild Hour":

After bath time, he gets time to play before he has to go to bed. He's usually in a great mood and uses this time to throw things, laugh, squeal, dance and run laps around the house. We have some hilarious video of the Wild Hour.

Liam has a game he likes to play with me. He'll quietly circle me and when he's behind me, he'll lean onto my back and I'll fall over wailing "Oh no! Help me! Help me!" He finds it endlessly hilarious.

When he's getting tired he lays down in the floor and kicks his leg around. And that's Liam. He's perfect. Even when he's not. And we're so happy to be back home to watch him grow some more.

On a separate note, I'm seriously considering instituting Wild Hour in our own home. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to throw things, laugh, squeal, dance and run laps around the house before bedtime.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Last Brussels Blast

In the days leading up to our departure from Brussels, we made sure to visit lots of our favorite places. Most all of which were pubs and cafes. And that's why I need to lose ten pounds now. Anyway...onward.

Even though this one is right across from Brussels' most famous tourist trap (Manneken Pis, what else?), it's a very cosy and authentic little place. We never figured out how to pronounce the name of it (see below; it's about 150 letters long) so we always just called it Camp Pokkanokkawokka.

Forestinne, one of my favorite beers there. To be honest, I first ordered it because of the little knomes/elves/mythical creatures on the logo. But, like Delerium and their pink elephant mascot, this is one that lived up to its precious label.

Notice little Pis has a place of pride inside the bar...

It's just not a real Brussels pub if there's no crap dangling from the ceiling.

One Saturday turned into Caturday when we encountered furry friends at two places in a row... First - lunch at Au Soliel, a former men's clothing shop. They still have the original signage: Specialite de Vestements pour Hommes.

Au Soleil's mascot sleeps away the afternoon, appropriately enough - with "sleep tight" graffiti across the street.

After lunch and a stroll, we hit up Al'Imaige Nostre Dame. (Estaminet translates to "tavern".)

As soon as we sat down, this guy showed up. He was all about playing coy. When I would try to call him over, he just sat there. But when I quit paying attention to him he'd come right over and put his paw on my purse, wanting to play.

And the last place on the official top pubs list was In t'Spinnekopke. (That translates to something to do with spiders...clearly.) This is a seriously authentic place. We only ever went during dinner hours so I'm not sure what it's like when it's functioning as a tavern, but the food is fantastic. And so very very Belgian.

And before we knew it, we were facing our very last weekend in town. In a huge stroke of luck, the weather was beautiful. We started our Saturday morning at one of my favorite places, Cafe Le Perroquet. While I love this cafe, sometimes I wonder if they confuse parakeets and parrots. Perroquet translates to parakeet and they have a stained glass parakeet in one of the windows. But, in another window there is a stained glass parrot. And in my citron presse, I received this parrot swizzle stick. Someone is confused. Me? Them? It's anybody's guess really.

After a piece of pie to fortify us, we started our walk to Cinquantenaire park. We passed some interesting things along you do. This was most definitely an unusual sight in a European city:

George and Elwin will be happy to know that it's not just them; Jason is an equal opportunity torturer of felines.

We finally made it to the park...

The crowning glory of the park - Brussels' very own Arc de Triomphe.

By this point, Jason had apparently worked off his portion of the pie because I totally busted him at the waffle stand.

After yet more walking, we found ourselves in front of The Hairy Canary - a proper English pub in the EU district. And seriously, BEST PUB NAME EVER.

As it was such a nice day out, I couldn't resist one of my favorite English treats. There is nothing like a Magners cider on ice on a spring day. (Actually, I think Magners is Irish but I associate it with our London days. Many Magners were consumed Thames-side.)

And Jason can never turn down a properly poured Guinness. (It's an art.)

More Brussels beauty...

After one more stop in the Grand Place at dusk, our final Saturday was in the books.

On to Sunday... We decided one last trip to Delirium was in order. The ceilings here never cease to amuse me.

One last Tremens. Because who knows when I'll ever find this stuff on tap again?

We also decided one last trip to our local frite stand was in order. Because who knows when I'll ever be able to eat fries drenched in spicy sauce out of a paper cone again? (And yes, isn't Jason clever positioning me so that the stream of pee from Manneken Pis is on my head? Snaps for Jason everyone.)

Promenade a la frites in the late afternoon sun. Glorious.

Sunday night, we went to one last Leuven Chiefs game. They were in the finals for the Brussels national championship and if they won this game, they would win the title. And since we knew the Hurricanes had a snowball's chance in hell of making the postseason, we figured we'd take the opportunity to cheer on some playoff hockey.

And boy was it ever an exciting game. I mean, standing along the boards with no glass would be exciting at even a dull hockey game but this one was exciting on all levels. Lots of lead changes, great saves, fights and power plays.

And the best part? Leuven won!

But the very best part? Jason took a puck for me! Seriously. We watched the whole game leaning on the boards and one is definitely risking personal injury in doing that. And sure enough, at one point a deflected slap shot was hurtling towards us. Specifically, hurtling towards MY FACE. But Jason, like he saw it coming in slow motion or something, turned and angled himself in front of me so that the puck hit him in the back of his shoulder. He was so proud of his injury and really hoping for a bruise the next day but no dice.

Now, since I did this when we left London and I'm OCD which means if I did it for one, I have to do it for the's a look at our time in Brussels, by the numbers:

7 months
3 extensions on Jason's assignment
4 months longer than the original plan
1 apartment
1 house sold
2 storage units filled
3 trips back to Raleigh
8 Hurricanes home games attended
35 Hurricanes home games missed
19 trips around Europe
39 cities, towns, villages (33 new, 6 repeats)
6 countries (1 new, 5 repeats)

And countless beers, frites, miles driven, emotional breakdowns, highs, lows, laughs and tears...

But unlike London, there were no tears on the morning I left. I just didn't get attached to Brussels the way I did London. It could have been a very different experience. But when you leave home expecting to be away for three months, you have a difficult time processing things when you keep getting asked to extend a little bit more and a little bit more and still a little bit more.

What I won't miss:
Living across the street from a very loud bar
Playing Dodge the Dog Shit every time I walk outside
The ridiculous bureaucracy
Having only a tiny handful of English tv channels
Stressing about a language barrier every time I go to the store
Paying 7 euro per shirt for drycleaning

What I will miss:
The soujouk salad at the Israeli restaurant down the street
The beautiful Belgian countryside
No billboards cluttering up the highways
Speculoos ice cream and biscuits
Gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture everywhere
And what may be the most beautiful square anywhere in the world....

(Okay, I promise. No more photos of the Grand Place.)

So there you have it. Another chapter written. Brussels...fin.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Get over yourself, lady

So, yesterday I went through the drive through at our new drycleaner, which happens to sit about 100 yards from our new apartment building. (Yes, DRIVE THROUGH. Meaning: I did not even have to drag my fat ass out of the driver's seat of my Prius at any point of this transaction. This will be more relevant in a minute.) When the guy brought our stuff to the car, this conversation transpired.

Me: We just moved in at XYZ Apartments over there. {I point.} Do you guys have a service set up with them? I think they mentioned something about it when we signed the lease.

Guy: Ummm, I don't think so. I haven't heard of anything.

Me: Huh. That's funny. I really thought they said there was some kind of pick up/drop off service provided. {Because evidently, your DRIVE THROUGH service is not nearly convenient enough for me and my sedentary lifestyle. GOD.}

Guy: Well... I don't think there's anything specially set up for residents of XYZ Apartments or anything. Because, well, you know, a lot of Hurricanes players live there and they all just come in.

Now, he was very polite but I took that to mean this:

Get over yourself, lady. If professional athletes who earn sums of money in the millions can drag themselves over here to drop off and pick up their own drycleaning, then I'm pretty sure you can manage it too.

I think I just got served.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Quirky Brussels

For all the grace and beauty of the Grand Place and the Art Nouveau architectural gems scattered around the city, Brussels definitely has a lighter side. I went through my photos and rounded up a few of my favorite examples.

Brussels is known for comics and you'll find them al fresco all over the city. This one is next door to our building, at Platesteen cafe. Since we live in the heart of what's known to be the gay district (surrounded by bars with names like Boys Boudoir and Homo-Erectus), for the longest time we assumed it was two guys. But after a closer inspection, I think the dark-haired one is actually meant to be a girl. I'm basing this on a few things. One, accessories: the shoes and the earring. And B, curves: the slight one in the chest area and the more pronounced one in the rear area. Quite honestly, I liked it better when I thought it was two guys.

I noticed a trail of these smiley faces on the sidewalk one day and I was dying to follow them to see where they led. Alas, I had to get to the drycleaner before it closed and didn't have the time. It will forever remain a mystery. But I like to imagine that at the end of the trail, there was a huge party with unicorns and pixies and free ice cream.

A mannequin outside a hipster clothing shop on Rue l'Hopital. RAWR.

The famous Manneken Pis... The only statue I know who has more outfits than me. Here are just two examples of his finery.

The less famous, but equally quirky, Jeanneke Pis. She's located at the end of an alley by Delirium Cafe. Sadly, she has no outfits.

And if you just can't get enough of urinating statues, why not check out Zinneke Pis. (Zinneke roughly translates to mongrel.) I haven't done the research but I figure you'd be hard-pressed to find another city with a statue of a dog eternally peeing on a sidewalk marker.

Then of course, there's this beauty. A lovely monument to road construction. Though it's certainly an eyesore, it's not entirely inappropriate since the neighboring street has been ripped up the whole time I've been here.

Umm, I have no words for this. Make up your own commentary.

Ok, clearly this is not intentionally cheeky...but...omg you guys, it's Cafe Doudou! (Sorry. The 3rd grader in me could not let this one go.)

And my personal favorite, this painting in the window of an art gallery in Sablon. So many questions. Did the cat actually catch that fish? Or did he nick it from a fisherman down at the docks? Is that why he looks so happy? Because he outsmarted a grizzly old fisherman? Does Brussels even have "docks"? Where did he get that awesome hat? Is it his? Or did he nick that too? Either way, WANT!

Seriously. WANT.