joyeux anniversaire | two years

Today is the two year anniversary of our arrival in Brussels.

It’s been silent on the blog front lately.  I’d like to say it is because I’ve been so incredibly busy that I’d fall in bed at the end of the day unable to keep my eyes open a minute longer – forget blogging, this girl needed sleep. And that wouldn’t be totally untrue. Life has been real busy.

It’s always a struggle to balance work and life and the last six months have been heavily weighted towards work. What time hasn’t been spent working has been spent doing what we love most – traveling. Work and travel, travel and work. Pretty much everything else has fallen by the wayside, including this blog. So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s return to our semi-regular blogging ways with a recap of what we’ve been up to this past year.

We (or me in some cases) visited 8 new countries this year. We:

  • tasted Guinness from the source in Ireland (tastes just the same to me),
  • ate pho for breakfast in Vietnam,
  • visited the night zoo in Singapore,
  • discovered the magic that is pasteis de nata in Portugal,
  • sipped black balsam in Latvia,
  • hiked in Switzerland (and battled some serious altitude sickness),
  • drank Mikkheller in Denmark and then drank some more, and
  • devoured the most delicious food in Czech Republic.

We celebrated our first Christmas in Brussels and first Christmas away from family. We decided to overcompensate by buying twice as many presents.

We rang in New Year’s with our friend Ben, a lot of Berliners, and David Hasselhoff (and we remember most of it). Those Germans love them some Hoff.

We spent a long weekend meandering along the Mosel Valley touring old castles and sipping wine.

We revisited some of our favorite spots (Paris is always a good idea).

We spent almost three weeks back in California this fall catching up with friends and family, eating two years’ worth of tacos, and watching some of our best friends tie the knot. It was amazing being back home and made us very excited about all the wonderful things that await us when we return.

Plus so much more.

We are now into Year Three. Our last and final year in Brussels. Cue panic.

One more year to travel (well, at least while living in Europe). So many places we still want to visit and not enough time to see them all. And so we’ve been working on narrowing our list down and prioritizing. Places we know we’ll come back and do in the future have been pushed farther down the list (i.e. Greece, Israel).  Places which we know we are unlikely to visit  once we leave have been pushed up the list (i.e. Romania, Slovakia). I’m trying to not stress.

One more Christmas season. Christmas is by far our favorite time of year and we love hitting up the Christmas markets. Drinking glühwein from tiny boot mugs. Eating sausages, pretzels, and all sorts of tasty treats. We’ll revisit some of our favorites and seek out some new ones (London, Dresden).

One more summer enjoying long days. I love that at the height of summer it stays light out until almost midnight – no matter how late we’ve had to work there is still “day” available to play.  It more than compensates for the short, dark days of winter.

One Oktoberfest. We’ve been trying to get some of our friends over to Europe for two years now, and (knock on wood) it looks like it’ll finally be happening. Oktoberfest will be our final hurrah before we head back to the states and an epic friends gathering.

The last two years have been nothing short of amazing. I have no doubt this last year will be the best yet.


joyeux anniversaire | one year

Today marks the one year anniversary of our arrival in Brussels.

We arrived here with big hopes, and even bigger plans. Brussels would be a chance to re-calibrate. It was a promise to tip the work/life balance a little bit – work a little less, live a little more. While we have haven’t perfected that balance yet, we’ve definitely enjoying discovering our weekends again.

Looking back it feels as though this year has passed in a blur. A wonderful, fantastic blur.

Over the past year, whether by plane, train, or automobile, we have had quite the adventure. In all, we visited 14 countries this year. We discovered some new favorites (hey Croatia and Iceland!) and returned to some old. Each new place has been a tick on the travel bucket list, which seems to grow exponentially faster than we can cross off. A few places found themselves in the one-and-done category, but many we have decided deserve a second or third visit.

I know it’s hard to believe based on the content of this blog so far, but we did do some other things this year aside from travel. Although, the backlog of travel to blog is intimidating.

In our unending quest to find the best Belgian beer (if that’s even possible), we have drunk liters upon liters of beer. From the sourest of sour – oh Cantillon, how we love you – to the rarest of the abbey beers, this is a quest we are in no hurry to complete.

We ate pounds of chocolate, frites, waffles, and speculoos. We now have “our favorite” places for these lovely treats. The scales can attest.

With three classes under our belts, we are officially on our way to learning French. Although a far cry from where we hoped to be at this point, we have mastered at least one important thing: how to order a beer. And really, what else do we really need to know?

After almost a year of living with an embarrassing amount of blank white walls, we finally put some paint up. One step towards making it feel less temporary and more like home.

Looking forward, Year Two will…

…find us sticking around a little closer to home. And honestly? We’re pretty excited. We are looking forward to discovering all that Brussels has to offer.  Visiting the museums and special exhibits. Spending lazy mornings in little cafés. Finally eating at all these restaurants we keep reading about.

…find us making new friends, and reconnecting with old (yo friends – please come visit us, we promise you’ll love it!).

…be the year of family. With Jared’s parents in town next week and mine making the visit in May, we are excited to introduce them to “our” Brussels.

…see us continuing to work on that travel bucket list. On the docket? In a week we’re heading to Ireland – Dublin, Belfast, and the northeast coast. I’ve got a trip planned to Vietnam and Singapore in December. Other plans have us sipping scotch in Scotland, traversing through the blue city in Morocco, seeing the beauty that is Prague, exploring the walls of Carcassonne, and following the sun down to the coast of Spain and Portugal. Oh, the places we will go.

…have us revisiting some of the places we have fallen in love with during the past year. The pull of these places is one we don’t want to resist.

Year One has been one hell of a year. Year Two – let’s do this.

Learning French

Or rather (more appropriately) NOT learning French.

We arrived in Belgium at the end of October in 2013, geared up and ready to dominate this French language thing. Much to our dismay, the school year was already a couple of months in, so our preferred French language class was closed to us until the following school year. Not ideal, but okay. We’ll use duolingo and speak with the locals to try to learn until we can start the class.

So fast forward to now. Remember the plan to duolingo? Yeah, a few false starts, but it never happened (for me at least). And talking to the locals? Ha! This is the problem with working in an English-speaking office – no one speaks French to you. And really, as if I expected to osmosis that language in…

Now that registration is open for the new school year, I went to register myself for Level 1 and guess what? IT’S COMPLETELY FULL! So I am on a list, waiting with fingers crossed, that someone will either level up because they are much more proficient than they thought or someone decides they actually hate the French language and were crazy to sign up for the class.

Wish me luck!

Brussels • Belgium | Flower Carpet 2014

Flower Carpet - Grand Place

Last weekend was a big deal here in Brussels – something that only happens once for a very brief period of time every two years: the Flower Carpet.

For one long weekend in August of every even year, the Grand Place is completely transformed with almost the entirety of the square covered with one massive flower carpet. The flower carpet is about 75 meters in length and 25 meters in width. That’s about 1,800 square meters of flowers. It takes around 750,000 flowers and more than 120 volunteers to put the carpet together. The flowers are apparently packed in so tightly that no soil needs to be used and the wind won’t blow them away. It’s pretty crazy to think of all the work that goes into building this carpet and to have it gone again in the blink of an eye.

The first flower carpet to be laid was in 1971, and after a few more additional flower carpets over the years, the biennial installation began in 1986. Each year has a different theme, and prior themes have included garden “à la française”, Brussels’ lace, Mozart, and Versailles. 2014 is the 50th anniversary of a convention which allowed Turkish immigration into Brussels; therefore, the carpet this year celebrated that anniversary. The Grand Place’s flower carpet was fashioned into a pattern resembling a Turkish rug.

You can walk along the perimeter of the flower carpet and get a good look at how tightly packed those flowers are. To get the best view though, I recommend paying the small fee (€5/person for 2014) to go up into City Hall and get the bird’s-eye view from the balcony. It’s the best way to get a true appreciation for the size and the detail of the pattern. It does get fairly crowded, so I would aim to get there either early or late in the day.

Flower Carpet - View from City Hall

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say you should travel here just for this, that is unless you are a super flower enthusiast. But if it sounds like something that interests you, and you’re planning a trip to Brussels in August of 2016, I’d mark it on your calendar.

Anything unique or fun your city does?

BRUSSELS: Comic Strip Route Part I

I have a long list of favorite television shows from my childhood.  Oh how I wished I had Evie’s ability to freeze time.  Admittedly, it is still something I find myself wishing for on the occasional Sunday night in anticipation of a long work week or during a late night spent reading an impossible-to-put-down book.  There was always something special though about Saturday morning cartoons.  One of my Saturday morning favorites was The Smurfs.  Apparently I and all of Belgium share the same fondness for those funny little blue creatures.  You see, Belgians LOVE their comics.  The Smurfs was created by a Belgian, as was Tintin, and they are very proud of these national treasures.

When we were visiting Brussels a few years ago, we decided to check out the Belgian Comic Strip Center.  The museum was… not our cup of tea.  It’s often sarcastically referred to in our conversations as being the bar for all other museums and tourist attractions.  The museums’ one highlight?  Getting to pose with this awesome little dude:


A few months ago I stumbled upon the Brussels Comic Strip Route.  It’s the result of a collaborative project started in 1991 by the city of Brussels and the Belgian Comic Strip Center.  There are more than 50 mural paintings around the city of Brussels (as well as the two neighborhoods of Laeken and Auderghem), although most of these murals can be found within the main city center.  We decided to spend one Saturday tackling half of the route.  Most were relatively easy to find, although some had us backtracking a few streets and gazing up at buildings and around corners like crazy people.  This was our reward:

Comic Strip Route 1 Continue reading