Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Parallel Parking

I have mentioned before we live smack in the heart of downtown Brussels. And Brussels is a major metropolitan city. Probably the most challenging part of living where we do is circling the narrow cobbled streets trying to find a parking space. It takes patience and usually gives me white knuckles by the time I find a spot big, legal and safe enough for our car. As city residents we don't have to pay if we are parked in Secteur 1...but this adds another layer to the adventure...since we are limited to certain streets. I have become quite good at the parallel parking task. Thankfully it wasn't a required skill when I got my driver license at age 16. But man I could ace it now after all this practice. It is not for the faint of heart! It is usually a tight squeeze and requires love taps on the cars on either side.
You can therefore imagine our dismay when with this perfect parking job we awoke and found our car with this massive dent and scrape one Saturday morning. Someone must have misjudged their front end when backing into a spot across the narrow street. And of course, no note.
Kirk filed a police report and thankfully his work's insurance covers the damage. Still 100% driveable, just one of those nuisances of living downtown.
I am looking forward to a driveway when we are back in the USA!


The Grand Place during the Christmas market, Plaisirs d'Hiver, is a magical experience. We took Connor right before Christmas to soak it all in. We were particularly inspired by the snowflakes in the light show against the magnificent City Hall. So inspired that we decided to give snowflake making a try in our home...

Before you are too impressed know that I used this online template to make our snowflakes. And cut them one night after Connor's bedtime. She is not quite ready for the patience scissors require. Glittering however, that is right up her alley! I was pleased with how they came out and Connor was instantly intrigued by the white patterns! Which is always a good start!
Our cheap pink IKEA table makes the perfect little crafting station for these indoor crafts.We were ready to glue and glitter. We first tried to paint the glue on the flakes directly, but that didn't make for very efficient glitter-shaking and our fingers ended up sticking to the paper!
So in the end we went with glue swirls, dots and other designs. There is glitter in every square inch of our apartment now, but we had fun. And now we live in a winter wonderland!
Connor is quick to point out and shriek at her creations when bounding into our living room. The paper snowflakes must have cast their spell too. Because within a couple of days Brussels was covered by an uncharacteristic blanket of real snow!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Every other year Belgium hosts "Europalia" - a 4 month extravaganza highlighting a country's arts and culture. As I understand it, this event is a way to learn and experience another country. The Europalia series started back in 1969 and this year, during its 40th anniversary, the art festival features CHINA. Chinese customs, sounds and sights have filled Brussels.I have been fascinated by China ever since my grandparents visited when I was a young girl. The photo of them with the Great Wall had me hooked. Fingers crossed our travels take us there one day......but for now we have Europalia China lending an Asian feel throughout our city. There are Chinese puppet shows, film festivals, operas, dance and theatre. The four month agenda is vast and mind boggling!
It is hard to miss the costuming of the Mont des Arts square with the Chinese lanterns wrapping the building. Right before Thanksgiving our new friend, Joe, met us at the "lanterned" Chinese tea house for lunch.Joe was an instant favorite friend for Connor. He brought homemade M&M cookies for her. Yum! Check out Connor's face. Does that expression say "These are mine, so don't even think of touching them?!?" or what!?!?We had fun - an American trio in Brussels in a Chinese tea house. Talk about a cultural cross-section!Connor is a big fan of bamboo. The plant adorned the tea house decor. She loved the touch of the wood and the sound of the word. It is kinda a fun word to say, I agree. BambOOOOO!After a great lunch we left Joe and headed to Ali's for a playdate with baby Reagan. I turned over the little camera to Connor who had fun snapping away along the trek. My budding photographer! Brussels through her lens looks much different and lower than I am used to.There is one dress shop on the way to Chausee d'Ixelles (near Toison d'Or) that I just cannot pass without drooling. If I win the lottery one day I am going to shop here. They have many, many gorgeous frocks. I look forward to seeing the new window dressings each week.And such is a day in our life.
I am trying to navigate the rest of the Europalia China agenda to find more to see and do. I love the idea. We should do something similar in the States. It is one way to knit the world closer together.
Click here to learn more about this year's Europalia

Monday, December 28, 2009

Retiro Park

We played for hours in Madrid's Retiro Park the week we spent in Spain's capital city. The park is massive - one of the world's great urban green spaces. Retiro provided the perfect spot not just to "retire" but also to run and jump and play. We saw birds, puppies, and lots of stray cats. The menagerie added to the thrill!
We waltzed around like Disney princesses inside the park's Crystal Palace. Autumn leaves provided a stunning backdrop.In front of the Crystal Palace we brought stale bread from breakfast to feed the birds and ducks.Thank you Retiro Park! Your embrace filled our senses with nature in the heart of a booming metropolis.
So long, farewell, and ADIOS Madrid!
Click here for full album photos of our week in and around Madrid while Kirk worked

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Prado and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

I never thought I would be an art museum person.
They always seemed too static to hold my attention for long.
Since moving to Europe I am an art museum convert.

In Madrid we stayed down the street from the famous Prado Art Museum. We went to the Prado a year ago when we first visited Madrid. It did not go well that first time. Connor melted down in the security line. We willed ourselves into the first gallery but Connor's wails were piercing so we gave up and admitted art museum defeat. Who would have guessed we would have had the opportunity to see Madrid for a second time?!? And therefore another attempt at The Prado!!! We again went during the free admission evening hours. Connor displayed more patience this time and the two of us had a lovely mother-daughter date at the Prado. I was surprised at how much of the Prado focused on portraits. I would guess at least three quarters of the exhibits were royal portraits. Not exactly subjects and settings that reach out and grab me. But I did fall head over heels for the El Greco paintings. Most of his works depicted Biblical scenes. There was unique life and motion in them.
El Greco's color and detail were magnetic.
My very favorite was The Adoration of the Shepherds. It is like baby Jesus is staring at you while this gorgeous gathering of angels and shepherds praise their newborn King.
I wish these were bigger e-images because honestly the work in person was magnificent. Especially at Christmas!
We visited the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, also a few blocks away. It is a world class modern art museum. Even the exterior was funky and made a statement. I went in a bit skeptical but quickly got into the modern groove and found the place fascinating. I ended up liking this place even better than the Prado.When you think about it there are a lot of Spanish modern artists - Miro, Dali, and Picasso.The works throw you off balance. They certainly are not serene and calming. They make you a little uncomfortable.
The most famous piece in Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is Picasso's Guernica. Depicting the emotions of war.
Art, art, art. What an enduring way to communicate. Yep - Madrid confirmed it - we are art museum converts.