Bon Année!

Wow… so Friendsgiving is the last update you guys got? My apologies. The holiday season came fast, hit us hard, and went fast. The whole month of December was basically a whirlwind so I’ll try to recap and catch everybody up as best I can:

Ben & Halli

-The week of Thanksgiving, our best man, Ben, and his wife, Halli came for a visit. They started their trip in Amsterdam, and then arrived to Brussels on Thanksgiving via a day or 2 in Antwerp. We had a great time catching up (Ben & Alex have been friends since high school band) and showing them our city. They were our first visitors so we were excited to have them! We even did some things we’ve never done before like a trip to the Palais de Justice, which has amazing views over the city, and to Sablon for some Pierre Marcolini drinking chocolate and antiquing (mostly for Ben 😉 heh).

 

-My last day of teaching for 2014 was December 17 so I had a few days to relax but also prepare for my parents’ arrival. My mom & dad arrived the following Monday morning without a hitch and we proceeded to run them ragged for 2 weeks. 🙂 The day after their arrival, we put them on a train to Koln, Germany for a day trip of Christmas Markets. They have 6 or 7 different themed markets (1 that is REALLY close to the main station) and we were able to easily see 5 of the markets on top of a hike up the 533 steps to the top of the Dom. We got lots of goodies (honey liquer, an ornament for our international collection) and treatsies (sausage sandwich, mulled wine, hot chocolate). My parents loved it and filled their backpack with goodies as well.

-We spent a quiet Christmas at home, sleeping in, opening a few gifts (I got a Kate Spade watch and Alex got a year of Belgian beer delivered to our door!), and watching a movie or 2. I made guinea hens for everybody along with roasted carrots & Brussels sprouts (of course…) and a zucchini gratin. Pumpkin pie & a buche de Noel for dessert was a perfect combination of our old and new home. The highlight was easily the Kinder Surprise Eggs (which are illegal to import to the US due to a choking hazard).

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-The day after Christmas, we left for jolly old London to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday. As to be expected, it was raining, so we took a cold & damp walk around Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and then went an hour early (whoops! thanks time change!) for our reservation at Grazing Goat. The food was homey, English comfort foods and they took good care of my mom for her birthday. Alex tried a tea & jam cocktail that had a small piece of buttered toast in it. Weird. The next day we started with a walk around Big Ben and then made our way to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. It was difficult to get a good spot even though we were there early but I think we saw and heard enough to get the general gist. We headed to a pub for sandwiches and beers (for a sweet 80pounds) for lunch and then had a tour of Parliament. Originally, I wasn’t so keen on this (the audio tour is something like 18L for an adult!) but I was SO glad we did it. It was really interesting to walk through the House of Lords & the House of Commons and compare a little to the American system.  We got to the Eye just as the sun was going down and all the lights were coming on. It was a little overcast but mostly clear so we had great visibility of the city.

-The next day was gorgeous and sunny and we started with a Magical Mystery Walking Tour to see all the Beatles hotspots. It was awesome to be in the same places as some of my favorite musicians but I was a little let down by 2 things:

1. 3 Savile row, where the Beatles played their last live performance on the roof and the home of Apple headquarters is now an Abercrombie Kids. All the UGH…

2. Abbey Road is still a functioning road with lots of traffic (tourists on foot and cars). EVERYBODY wants to take the iconic intersection picture but it is damn near impossible and really unsafe. I set my dad up with my camera on continuous shutter and just told him to keep his finger on the trigger when our opportunity came. This is the best we could do:

Anyway, we got fish & chips for lunch (another bank breaker) and walked Regent Street for some shopping (hello, new boots!). We endured the insanity at Hamley’s to get some gifts for our nephews and niece.

-Dec 29 we started early at Westminster Abbey and did the full audio tour. My favorite part was Poet’s Corner and getting to see some of my favorite wordsmiths. We left on the train for Paris that afternoon.

-I have ALL the feels for Paris. It was great to be back on the Euro, there are crepe stands everywhere, and it is just gosh darn adorable. We hit up the Pompidou Centre which is open late (minus a hiccup with the info… everything I read said 10pm and then we got there to pay and find out it was 9pm). We hurried and were able to get to the top to see Paris from above. My first sighting of the Tour Eiffel… le sigh. Funky art and cool exhibits. Definitely going back there!

-30th, AM, we slept in started at the Eiffel Tower. The lines were absolutely insane so we forwent climbing and AJ & I will save it for another trip. We did however climb the Arc de Triomphe for what I’m assuming is an equally insane view of the city and I got to play with my camera on top for a bit. We found another great creperie with a super helpful waiter and then headed into the Galeries LaFayette. I had been saving up to make an iconic Chanel purchase IN the Galeries IN Paris so I finally got my moment. A memory I will never forget!

-On NYE, we started super dark and early for breakfast at Claus (so good but make sure to make a reservation!). We queued up at the Louvre which was horribly organized and directed. After about 1.5hours in line we got in and started trying to squeeze through the crowds to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Marathon and more. I don’t want to hate on Paris at all because she was so good to us but Peter, Paul, and Mary would not want to receive art in this way. There were SO SO many people and you get bumped and shoved and pushed the whole way through. NOT at all the way I prefer to take in classic works of art. I was glad to get out of that place which I hated to admit because I have waited my whole life to go there. I’ve talked to friends who have confirmed that it is basically always like that… no matter the day of the week, time of day, time of year. Bummer. After lunch, we napped & rallied for New Years fetes. We actually ended up doing a prix fixe menu from the brasserie across the street from our AirBNB, Bouillon Racine. Y’all… the art deco details in this place made my heart absolutely swoon. Gorgeous details and fabulous food. We bundled up back at the apartment and headed down to Champs Mars for some Eiffel Tower festivities. Lovely light show at midnight and some rogue fireworks with a minimal crowd made for a great night.

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-Jan 1, we decided to walk the 5 minutes from our apartment to Notre Dame. I want to be honest and say that I find the inside of the Dom in Koln far more impressive. After watching years and years of Disney movies, I was underwhelmed when I walked in. Can’t really blame myself for falling for a Disney interpretation but it seemed quite simple compared to other cathedrals I’ve been in. The other big bummer was they had closed the stairs for the day. Another climb saved for later I suppose. The train ride was just over an hour back to Brussels and we had a chill day.

Sorry for such a long post! It feels good to be caught up! It feels even better to say we are truly living our dream by being so close and accessible to so many locations. We have planned our whole life for this and so we feel very fortunate to be able to make the most of each holiday and even just some regular weekends!

Happy 2015 to everyone! Did you make resolutions? What are your plans for the year? Hopefully to come for a visit! My resolutions are to learn some French and to hit 10 more countries. Easy peasy right? 😉

Love & light to all!

<3 – T