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


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.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

March Points in April

Oops, over a month since I last wrote. Time sure flies. Will try to sum up what has happened this past month.
  • We have had several instances of very nice weather. A weekend of 20 degrees a few weeks ago and then again this whole week. I'm very envious of Peter who is not working and is free to spend all day outside if he wants to. The kids seem to enjoy all the time outdoors too, and not having to wear a jacket.
    Harald at our local playground

Nature's beauty

  • Peter's sister with family visited in mid-March (unfortunately it was pretty cold on the Saturday but Sunday was pretty nice). It was the first time they visited us (not Brussels though) so it was nice to show them our home here and our neighbourhood. Isolde and cousin Olivia (2 years old) played really well together, and Harald was almost keeping up with their pace (it will be fun to see all three of them play together in the summer when Harald is a bit older).
    Three cousins and little artists

  • In March we made several visits to Parc Malou playground with the neighbours and also hung out at each other's place, including tapas lunch at their place and waffles at ours. P. and I also try to take the metro home from work together (in the morning she leaves earlier than me as I drop off Isolde at school).
    Hanging with the neighbours in Parc Malou

    Parc Malou


  • Our get-to-know-new-people drink on 8 March was a success. I think we were 22 adults and 12 children (under the age of four) in the end. It looked like people were enjoying themselves and I have played family match-maker following the event. I took some pictures with the regular camera (all photos in this post are with the iPhone) but haven't not uploaded them yet.
  • I went on an overnight work trip to Sweden and there was no storms or other mishaps this time! That is fortunate because otherwise I'm not sure the Commissioner would want to travel with me again! We stayed at a beautiful hotel in Uppsala that I can really recommend. Very nice name too ;)
    My room had a cosy window niche with views of Uppsala cathedral
  • Peter attended a job hunting seminar the Commission organises for spouses and met some new people at the same time. If we stay here after this year, which we hope to do, he will need to find a job here (but working remotely for his present employer could also be an option). I had the day off to take care of Harald and I chose a day of beautiful weather with 20 degrees - the next day it was miserable and raining!
    Magnolia blossom on my day off
  • Our flat in Sweden is free now from April and we're looking for a new tenant in case anyone is interested?!
  • My mother visited the very last weekend of March. My aunt was supposed to come along but unfortunately she has problems with her back and needs surgery and had to cancel. Hopefully she can visit in the autumn instead. My mum arrived on Thursday evening (a bit delayed after having been rebooked via Copenhagen) and Friday she was home with Peter and the kids (I had to work unfortunately), and while Peter took Harald for his weekly swimming session she baked cinnamon buns with Isolde. Isolde had been talking about baking with grandma for weeks, so she was very happy. They also made some Easter crafts and went to the playground. Saturday we went to Gent, a town about an hour's drive from Brussels. It was a lovely day weatherwise so perfect for an excursion. We had lunch outdoors at one of the restaurants in the square by Saint Bavo cathedral. Sunday we checked out Bois de la Cambre, another big park in Brussels, and then spent the rest of the day in our regular haunt Parc Malou where we were also joined by the neighbours.
    Story time with mormor in the balcony

    Pretty canals and houses in Gent
    More houses along canals

    A bottle in a barrel of ice can be lots of fun!
  • Isolde went to her first proper birthday party last month! She has of course celebrated little friends' birthdays before but I mean the first real kid party where she's invited and parents are only invited as chaperones really. Her classmate Félix had invited Isolde and one other girl from the class. Félix's mother tried to do a few games with them - and I was surprised that Isolde accepted to be blindfolded for one of them! - but mostly they just wanted to play freely. Isolde lasted about 75 minutes and then she wanted to go home :)  I'm really happy she was invited and I hope to organise a playdate or get-together again soon. Félix's parents seem very nice, and it would be good to know some Belgians as well (the father is Belgian and the mothre German but moved her as a child or teenager).
  • We were thinking of booking some holiday activities, so-called stages, for Isolde for next week, the first week of the Easter holiday, in order to try what it is like as we will probably need it during the summer when school's out (mainly August as we'll be in Sweden in July - school starts again in September) and Peter will have started working. However, in the end we thought about it a bit late and the most obvious one, which is held at Isolde's school (which I just found out about actually), was fully booked. So she will stay home with Peter and they will have to think of some activities on their own. 

  • Last time I wrote that we were going to do a daytrip on one of my days off, but we ended up having colds all of us so we stayed at home and also missed a colleague's carnival party. We did pop into our neighbours for their "neighbours' fika" for their friends living in (or soon moving into) our building or in the neighbourhood. Now we have at least been to Gent but we still want to go a bit further away and stay overnight somewhere. Top three on our list I think is the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Haarlem and the Hague), Luxembourg and Champagne in France. And it looks like we will be doing a roadtrip to Münich in Germany with our neighbours over the Ascension weekend at the end of May.
  • Harald is completely CRAZY about computers and he has already broken the screen of Peter's work laptop and both iPad screens, one of which had to be fixed but the other one is just a crack underneath the glass in one corner. He gets absolutely miserable if he can't play with them. It is annoying and cute at the same time. He also really likes to help out with the cleaning :)
    Favourite toy

  • My friend H. who I actually met for the first time here in Brussels almost 12 years ago was here for a work trip again and we went back to the pub where we met!
  • Lately Isolde has not wanted me to leave when I drop her off at school in the morning, but at the same time she is very happy about going to school while we are still at home in the morning and also on the way there, and everyday she tells me "it is fun in school, mummy", so I assume it is just a matter of missing me and finding it a bit difficult to say bye, even if it is just for a few hours. She's been in a very cuddly mood lately and telling me she loves me. They have a substitute teacher right now as well, who seems to be very good, but she doesn't help the children to stand in the window to wave to the parents like the regular teacher used to do. However, this week Isolde has been Miss Mischief at home and has also had trouble sleeping (I think it is partly growing pains), but she doesn't mind me leaving her at school in the morning. Maybe she's tired of us and just happy to be away from us parents for a few hours, these parents who try to rule over her and tell what she can and can't do! :)
    Bois de la Cambre
  • Finishing with a picture of Harald and me!
    Promenade Verte