Thursday, August 14, 2014

Long Time No See!

A lot has happened since I last wrote three months ago. Will take it in bullets. It's Thursday after all!
  • In May our dear friends Maria and Daniel visited for a short weekend to celebrate Daniel's 40th birthday. Of course that required proper celebration at a two-star restaurant! Thanks P & O for babysitting!


Cheese!

  • Later in May we flew back to Sweden for a long weekend to celebrate my mother's 60th birthday (and my parents also celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary). The weather was perfect, sunny and 28 degrees! My mother was very happy for her gift from me - a visit to Chelsea Flower Show next year (that reminds me, should probably book the tickets already now), something she has wanted to do for a very long time! My mum is also, despite her age (ha ha, though these days 60 is still very young) finally getting a driving license, so she's busy studying theory and taking lessons. Good for her!

  • A few days after Sweden we packed up the car (you can never travel light with kids!) and drove to Münich together with our friendbours P & O to visit O's brother and wife over the Ascension Day weekend. On the way there we stopped in Frankfurt (partly because we left after work on the Wednesday and partly to split the long drive - 7+ hours - for the sake of the kids) to spend the night, but on Sunday we drove home in one go. We were a bit unlucky with the weather but otherwise I really liked Münich and we had a very nice time. Unfortunately Isolde caught a fever so on Saturday she and I spent the afternoon in the hotel as well as in a local playground while the rest of the group continued their sightseeing (this meant I sadly missed the visit to the Englischer Garten, but we'll probably be back some day).
I didn't take that many pictures with the iPhone but this is what Münich is all about, right :)

  • The following weekend Peter went to Sweden again, this time for the wedding of a friend of his. We didn't feel like travelling with the children again for the third time in just two weeks, so he went by himself. Nice for him to get some child-free time as well. While he was in Sweden, the kids and I hung out with the neighbours - of course - and I packed a bit. Friday was 6 June and the Swedish National Day so P, T and I took the kids to the Swedish church for the celebrations in the evening. Sunday it was Princess Leonore's christening so we used the occasion to have a brunch with the friendbours, or at least the females of the families and the children, while the christening was on TV in the background. I also had the Monday off for Pentecoast and since Peter came back Sunday evening, we had a family day as well. 
Emily, Harald and Isolde at the National Day celebrations!

  • The following week and weekend was the big move! I took half of Thursday and all of Friday off - work gives a leave entitlement for up to two days for removal purposes. Thursday afternoon we set out to Ikea with quite a long list - wardrobes for our bedroom, for Harald (Isolde had one already coming with the lorry from Sweden) and for the entrance/downstairs hallway, crib for Harald, bookcase for the kids' room, a double bed for the large/main guest room and other bits and pieces. The movers were supposed to arrive Friday with our furniture from the Stockholm flat, but they called and said that they were arriving early and asked whether it was possible to unload already Thursday afternoon. So they arrived around the time we returned from Ikea with lots of flatpacks (we used this excellent Ikea taxi service that only costs 30 euros irrespective of how much stuff you have and they help load and unload the van and there's no waiting time). We had reserved to block the street from other parked cars for the Friday to allow room for the lorry, but since it was Thursday still they had to just park in the road. Luckily it is not a very trafficated road so it worked out fine. We had booked a window lift - very exciting for the kids - for Friday afternoon to get some of the bulky furniture upstairs, as the staircase is a bit narrow, so we still made use of our cleared street part. On Sunday the "friendbours took the kids for most of the day so we could get some unpacking done and assemble Ikea furniture. After that it started to look like a home, or at least the start of one, and from that Sunday night (15 June) we slept in the house.  
Some order but mostly disorder!


Exciting!

  • Isolde made her first school trip ever in mid-June. They went by bus to a horse farm near Leuven where they were able to ride and feed the horses, look at sheep and bake some bread (very tasty actually!). She had a really great time and asked several days in a row if she was going on an excursion that day again.  
Isolde's farm-baked bread
 
Isolde reenacts her school photo :)

  • We had guests at the new house from the start. Even before we moved in Peter had assembled the grill and the trampoline so we were ready to receive guests, big and small! The first dinner was with P & O and kids and the first BBQ with our other neighbours T & M and another friend A with her boyfriend J, without the kids as we had organised a babysitter for the evening. We had meant to watch Belgium's first match in the World Cup on big screen in the local square but there were so many people that we decided to go home instead.
First BBQ at the house!


  • The following weekend was Midsummer's and we had the celebrations at the house on the Saturday (Friday being a regular work day here) with 9 adults and 8 kids even though our house was in a bit of a state still. The weather was perfect and we were mostly outside anyway. We even had a proper Maypole and wreaths for the kids, thanks to T. There was so much food over so the next day almost the same crowd came over (minus 2 adults and 2 kids) for the leftovers and stayed all day. We didn't get much unpacking and organising done that weekend, but there would be time for that. Life is too short not to enjoy it fully with good friends!



  • Peter managed to trip and fall on top of our glass table in the living room in the middle of our Midsummer fun, which broke in a thousand pieces, but luckily he wasn't injured except for some minor cuts (very fortunate, it could be much worse). It was funny in a tragicomical way because P, when seeing the table for the first time the day before, had asked "is that really safe with kids?" and Peter had responded "I've had this table for almost 18 years, several grown men have fallen on it, it's very sturdy..", etc. I guess the years and all those "bumps" had taken its toll and perhaps travelling 1,500 km in a lorry from Stockholm to Brussels was the final straw. Now we're on the lookout for a new table and possibly we're going for an almost exact table from Habitat (if we dare...).  
The table that no longer is...

  • After that it was school's out for Isolde and we drove to Sweden on Friday 27 June. The trip went surprisingly well, much better than the trip to Münich a few weeks earlier. We started around 9 in the morning and took our time to Travemünde where we were going to take the ferry to Sweden. Actual driving time was just over 6 hours but we took two breaks and arrived in Lübeck around 6pm for dinner and a walk around. The ferry wasn't leaving until 22:00 and check-in was at 20:00 so we had plenty of time to kill. Once on the ferry the kids were able to play in the playroom for a while before bedtime. We had chosen one of the largest cabins so that we had proper beds (well, sort of, but at least avoid top bunks) and more space.
Great time in the ball pool!

  • The ferry arrived to Trelleborg already at 07:30 so we had to set the alarm pretty early. We had some breakfast on the boat but saved some room for a second breakfast at an old school friend who lives in the Skåne countryside. So our first stop on the Swedish side was a visit to C. in little village Stora Beddinge for some just-out-of-the-oven scones and fresh coffee. Last time I saw C. was three years ago and before then...15 years?? It was very nice meeting her sambo and children and I'm very glad that we stopped by. Around 10am we headed north and only stopped once for lunch after almost 3½ hours as the kids slept for most of the first leg. After the lunch stop we only had another two hours or so before we reached my parents' house in Södertälje in time for dinner.  
  • That weekend I had the chance to see Saltistjejen from New York who was in Sweden for the summer and meet the latest addition to the family. So glad we were able to meet up, even if only for a short fika!

  • Sunday evening I flew back to Brussels to work while Peter drove to his parents' summer house. I had to work for another two weeks, however, I flew to Sweden for the weekend, and Peter and the kids joined me in Stockholm where we stayed in his parents' apartment. That weekend I also had the opportunity to join a farewell get-together for a colleague from my old (or Swedish) job (and did karaoke for the first time in ages and "better than good" as the saying goes...). While I was on my own in Brussels for two weeks (or ten working days) I did a little unpacking and fixing but also took the opportunity to go out with colleagues and friends, for example girls' night to celebrate P's birthday. The first few days alone felt rather lonely but then got used to it and the second week I started longing for the kids (and Peter too of course) again, even though I had seen them at the weekend :) And great weather had come to Sweden while I was shivering in 14'C Brussels and had to turn the heating on as I was all alone in a big house!
  • Then on 11 July I flew to Sweden again, but this time for four weeks holiday! But more about that in a separate post!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Harald 18 Months!

Already one and a half years old, our little rascal!




This marks the return of the blog! I have a few posts planned: a recap of our life over the last few months, our summer holiday in Sweden and a "Harald report" that is well overdue. Please check back here in a few days!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Royal Greenhouses of Laeken

One of the first days of May we made an excursion to the royal greenhouses at the Palace of Laeken, Serres Royales de Laeken. The greenhouses are only open to the public for a couple of weeks every year (this year 18 April - 9 May) so it is a very popular destination. We first went there on May Day and arrived around 10:30, one hour after opening. The queue of cars to get to the parking lot was so long we gave up right away. Instead we returned two days later and made sure to get there even before it opened. In retrospect it was very good to be even some of the very first visitors, since we had the pushchair with us in the greenhouse and they can get pretty cramped when they fill up with people. Here comes a cavalcade of photos from these beautiful place (it's a shame not even the park is open all year or at least parts of the year).

The Palace, on our way to the greenhouses

I think the greenhouses as buildings are really beautiful. Design by architect Alphonse Balat.

At a distance I thought the greenhouses were made of copper that was covered by verdigris but it is actually green paint that has flaked off and worn down by wind and rain.

The devil is in the detail?

Cool tree

It seems like all royal parks has an Asian garden.

Inside the green houses

No access to this one except a peak in the window.

More plants than flowers in this section.

Entrance to the secret garden

Chasing a curious one-year-old.


No caption necessary

You can't see it in the photos but many flowers had begun to wither. I think the best time to go is the first week.

The only thing that was perhaps missing were signs with names of plants and flowers.

I like these flowers on both sides of a staircase.

The path ended in the big greenhouse.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

House

As I mentioned in my previous post we are moving to new accommodation here in Brussels next month. Since we arrived last autumn we have been renting a flat - and it is a very nice flat which we like a lot - but now we would like to see what it is like to live in a house with more space and a garden (and the family who normally lives in the flat is returning at the end of the summer anyway). We only looked at three houses (I viewed two and Peter a third house on his own) before deciding to go for this house, but having looked at quite a lot of properties online we knew this one was a good "catch"*. It ticked several of the boxes: location (same neighbourhood, not more than 10 minute-walk to school/crêche/metro), good condition (especially the bathrooms and to some extent the kitchen), three or four bedrooms (it has four), around the rent we were willing to pay, and immediate or near availability. On our wishlist were also a free-standing/detached house and not too many (steep) stairs (compared to the very common Belgian townhouses) and a laundry room on one of the main floors rather than in the basement (especially if there are steep stone steps to the basement, which it often is). A bonus is that this house also has a working fireplace.

On the negative side the garden is perhaps a bit small but it will be sufficient for our young children (we can fit a trampoline and still play a game of badminton) and that there is no evening sun in the garden. There is a possibility to put up a plank to make a sitting area on the front of the house (in order to get some privacy from the road) though I think we will make do with the back veranda to start with. There is an awning (markis) and if we buy an infraheater we can probably sit there many evenings.

Here are some pictures! They are the realtor's so not the most exciting photos (but these are quite good compared to most Belgian real estate ads!) and they are not complete as we don't have photos of all rooms and spaces.

The house from the street. The kitchen is the bottom right and upstairs is the main guestroom to the left and the second guestroom to the right (the two other bedrooms are at the back). The extension to the right of the kitchen is the laundry room (the old laundry room was in the basement where there is still a stone sink) with an exit to the garden. In addition to the garage the basement has three (I think) rooms as well as a pantry but none of the rooms are furbished so will mainly be used for storage.

Garden view of the house. To the left it is the laundry room as mentioned with an entrance to the basement underneath. Downstairs the living room is to the left and the dining room to the right with doors to the veranda both from living room and the dining room. Upstairs, our bedroom is on the left side with an ensuite bathroom behind the small window, and to the right is the children's room.


The veranda/porch is not very big but will fit the furniture we had in our balcony in Stockholm at least.


View of the garden from the porch. We will put the trampoline in that corner.


And the garden from the other side.


The living room with windows to the garden (and a door to the porch to the left of the picture). Behind the camera is the dining room and to the right the door to the hallway. There are wooden floors (parquet) in the living room and the dining room and tiles in the kitchen and hallways. Upstairs are also wooden floors but not parquet.


The dining room with doors to the porch to the right and I think there is also a door to the hallway to the left. I like the shaped window.


The kitchen has not been renovated now (looks like it is from the 90s?) but at least it is white and in good condition, and the cooker, fridge/freezer and dishwasher is completely new, as well as the washing machine and dryer next to the kitchen. I think the kitchen will look nicer with a table, perhaps a rug underneath and a few gadgets such as my red KitchenAid! The fridge is very small so we will probably end up buying a freezer box and put in the basement.

Before we move upstairs, downstairs is also the entrance and hallway as well as a toilet with a sink as well as some space for wardrobes. Underneath the stairs is the door to the basement, which I don't currently have any pictures of either.


Our bedroom with garden view. There is a little bit of a niche so we are a bit unsure how to place our bed but I think it will fit in that space and still allow us to put a bedside table on the left side of the bed and also be able walk between the bed and the window. There is also space to the right of the picture but I would prefer to put the bed in the alcove if possible. To the left of the windows is the ensuite bathroom, however the toilet is in the hallway (very common in Belgium).


The ensuite bathroom. I like that there are two sinks, much needed!


The main guestroom with a small balcony. This room may be somewhat bigger than our bedroom and has a better layout, but the main bedroom has the ensuite and is also facing the garden, and is probably quieter than the rooms towards the street (though all windows are double-glacing).


The second guest room (which is likely to double as playroom for the children) which is facing the street. I think this room, or it might be the main guestroom, has a fireplace, not a working one but a place to put some candles for some atmosphere.


For some reason there was no picture of the fourth bedroom, the children's bedroom, but it is very similar to the other rooms: white walls, wooden floors, same type of windows.

The shower room in the hallway upstairs is also brand new like the bathroom with the same type and colour tiles. The separare loo is also very similar in style.

So this will be our home for the next few years! I will post new pictures once we we have moved in and made ourselves at home. We look forward to having guests occupy the guest rooms and jump on the trampoline with Isolde!

* If we were buying I am certain we would look at many more houses and taken our time but now when we are "only" renting it's easier to take a quick decision.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

April's Gone

May already and more than a month since I last wrote, so time for a little recap.
  • Lots of work for me. This time of the year, March-May, will always be very busy, even though the busy period started already in January.
  • But at the same time, April means Easter and we were able to spend almost 10 days in Sweden. We had a much more relaxing schedule than last time we were home at Christmas and spent most of the time with family but met with a few sets of friends. We also ticked off a few "duties" on our list, dentist for Peter and Isolde (first ever visit for her - it went well and she opened her mouth long enough for them to count her teeth), vaccination shots for Isolde, belated one-year check-up at BVC for Harald, and doctor's appointment for me to get migraine medicine (here in Belgium they only have these huge packs that only holds three pills while I can get a pack of 30 in Sweden).
Traditional Finnish Easter eggs and Finnish (Danish?) smørrebrød at Thomas & Minna's new flat on Easter Saturday.

Easter decoration à la Isolde

Harald is enjoying that all playgrounds in Sweden have swings

Easter cake helper

Eating corn snacks in his sleep...

Time to fly back to Brussels

  • Spring comes earlier here than in Sweden (and this year it is an usually early spring apparently) and in mid-April it looked and smelled like Sweden in May. You know those flowers you associate with the last few weeks of school before summer vacation. But here that is very much April rather than May. Now it is completely green. The cherry trees blossomed at in mid-March and the magnolia was almost withering by the end of March. The lilac are still in bloom though.
  • We finished the month of April with Walpurgis Eve / Valborg celebrations at the Scandinavian School in Waterloo on 30 April together with our new neighbours, Swedish T., Welsh M. and their daughter E.

  • E. also started attending Isolde's school at the end of April. They are not in the same class but the two classes spend the afternoons together.
Off to school on E's first day

  • We have also made some more definite plans for our continued stay here in Belgium. Peter will be working for his Swedish employer until the end of the year - still on parental leave until August and after that, remote working either from home or from his company's office here in Brussels. That will give him more time to find a job here.
  • We also started looking for houses to rent here in April, and this week Tuesday we signed for a very nice house in the same neighbourhood where we live now (so we don't have to change schools/crêche)! We are so excited! We will get access at the beginning of June so now we are looking into moving our furniture from Sweden here. As our tenants in the Stockholm flat have moved out and we are looking for new tenants we have the opportunity to move the furniture and then let it unfurnished instead.
Our new house!

  • In the saga that is Harald's computer addiction he managed to break my iPhone screeen while we were in Sweden but luckily it didn't cost me too much to fix it. Unnecessary of course but it is very difficult to say no to him sometimes! Now I have problems with the LCD screen under the glass and sometimes I can hardly see what I'm doing so it's time to buy a new one (and I should probably complain to the repair place in Sweden but I don't think I kept the receipt...)!
Must. Get. The. Computer.

  • We have hung out with the neighbours and been to one housewarming party of an old acquaintance from my stagiaire days who also lives here now (they came to our drink in March as well). Unfortunately in April we had to say goodbye to our good friends Chris & Jacqui who moved back to the UK after four years in Belgium (after before that four years in Sweden where we first met them). We miss them so much! Luckily it is not too far to the UK from here and especially not to Kent in south England where they live now.
We will miss little Emilie and her brother Daniel, and their parents of course!

  • Our dear friends and neighbours P & O brought back some shoes for our kids from Spain where they spent Easter. Shoes are so much cheaper there! And it's good quality leather shoes! We will need to put in another order for their next visit! :)

  • And the kids are growing and learning new things! Isolde is drawing cars and Harald is practising his fine motor skills.