In the States we refer to those bustling couple of weeks at the end of August as “back to school”. It means the return of aisles and aisles of notebooks, gel pens and Elmers glue. A plethora of cheap plastic furniture, mini-fridges, and box fans make their way to front of Target, ready to furnish the dorm rooms and apartments of college kids everywhere. While “la rentrée” can refer to the return to school for kids here in Belgium its also used as a general way to say “welcome back to real life” at the end of the summer holidays. Brussels is all but a ghost town (other than the tourists) during summer, as the much of the population says “au revoir” to the grey skies and rain of Brussels and “bonjour” to the warmer climes of Italy, southern France, Greece or Spain. On top of this mass exodus, or perhaps because of it, many of the local businesses are shut down as well. As the city slowly wakes up in those last days of August you’re apt to hear and see tidings of “la rentree” in more places than school hallways. Continue reading
I was strolling down Avenue de la Toison d’Or a couple of days ago, window shopping and daydreaming on my way to E’s play group, when I realized that we’ve officially been expats for 6 months. Half a year. On one hand, our life in Milwaukee feels like it happened a million years ago. The pain of leaving our house has slowly faded, and I can barely even remember what an Egg McMuffin tastes like. But yet it feels like we just got here. I’m not sure how those two feelings coexist, yet somehow they do. Much has changed in those 6 months though, that is certain. And yesterday, as I was walking along that busy shopping street in the heart of the city I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. This is my life and its pretty fucking amazing. Continue reading
An hour after low tide on a beautifully sunny and warm September day I kicked off my sandals and walked quickly through the sand to the shoreline of the North Sea. Just down the beach, about 20 feet off the shore, I could spot the bright yellow slickers of two fishermen mounted on stocky Brabant draft horses. Shoulder deep in the cold water, the horses walked with apparent ease as they steadily dragged their nets along behind. Perched on simple wooden saddles, the fishermen smoked cigarettes and joked with each other, just a classic couple-of-dudes-fishing situation. Except for that whole part where they are the last of just 15 people who are carrying on a 500 year old tradition. No biggie.
If you are in Belgium you are no more than 3 hours from Bruges. So you have no great excuse not to get your ass there and see it. Situated in West Flanders about 20 minutes from the shores of the North Sea, this little gem is often referred to as the “Venice of the North”. If you’re in Brussels it’s about an hour and 15 minutes via car, and slightly longer via train.
We spent a whopping 4 days/3 nights in a charming Airbnb just outside of the city center. I’ll be honest, I initially thought this would be far too much time to spend in such a tiny city, but it actually worked out quite nicely. We had time to discover the city at our own pace and just relax and enjoy some quiet time away from the hustle & bustle of Brussels.
Normally I’m all about the architecture (which was stunning, and I will discuss in another post) but the highlight of this trip had to be the shopping. SO many wonderfully quaint and unique little shops fill the town center it’s practically impossible to leave the house and not come back with another souvenir. So here is how we spent an absurd amount of cash in a short amount of time.
1) The Bear Necessities
This tiny shop is located a little off the beaten path, just south of the heart of the city. If someone told you Belgians aren’t friendly they haven’t met Frank Devlieghere, the shop owner and I’m assuming sole employee. Dressed in his sharpest suit, Frank took the time to explain to us that all the teddy bears we were looking at had been handmade by his wife Maria. Made with mohair and stuffed with wood shavings, each bear was unique and clearly of the utmost quality. We chose a little fellow named “Quince”, and he’s the 4th of only 7 bears of his kind. It’s something we will always treasure and a unique and truly “Belgian” souvenir. The price tag was a tad shocking but most definitely worth every euro.Because Quince was clearly not a toy, we also got E this adorable stuffed bunny. It was made in Italy, so nothing decidedly Belgian about it but I thought it was pretty darn cute and she was such a good little traveler that we wanted her to have a souvenir as well.
2) Bubbles at Home
Conveniently nestled between the Bruges Beer Museum and the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments you’ll find Bubbles at Home. I don’t know exactly why but as soon as I saw it I had a burning desire to own some Belgian soap. So I had my husband make a mental note of it (he is much better at remembering, well…pretty much everything) and we returned the next day. It’s a small shop but they had a lovely assortment of handmade Belgian soaps, as well other cute bath trinkets, bath salts, bath bombs…you know, lots of bath-y stuff. I got a bar of Mango scented soap and it’s heavenly. There really is such a difference between commercial soaps and those made by hand with quality ingredients.
3). ‘t Apostelientje
If you know me at all you know I’m OBSESSED with lace. Because basically I’m an 80 year old lady in a 33 year olds body. If left to my own devices my house would be a shrine to all that is lace, floral, and antique. But I live with a man. And apparently I love him enough to care just a little that he would hate it. So I try to keep a fair 75% “old lady”, 25% “Dru approved” ratio in all decor-related decisions. I mean, I AM an interior designer. So clearly I still get to call most of the shots. Needless to say, the lace shop was a big highlight for me. It was a tiny little place but packed full of the most beautiful lace you’ve ever seen. I found a lovely framed bit of handmade “point de rose” lace from the late 1800’s for me and the most perfect handkerchief with an embroidered “E” to give to our little girl on her wedding day.
4) B by B
I’ve always been more of a Sour Patch Kids kind of gal. Until I had Belgian chocolate. Game over. So of course our trip wouldn’t have been complete without trying some new chocolate. The company was started by Michelin-star chef Bart Desmidt, whose Babelutte-style praline desert was so popular he decided to make his own brand of chocolates. B by B has a beautiful store and we opted for the “make your own” box, which included 5 different types of chocolates (5 pieces of each). Dark Chocolate/Raspberry/Lemon, Dark Chocolate/Ginger, White Chocolate/Raspberry/Roses, Dark Chocolate/Rhubarb/Violet, and Dark Chocolate/Babelutte/Seasalt. We’ve tried 3 of them so far and…they. are. delicious.
5) The Chocolate Line
I mean if a place has “fried onion” flavored chocolate you just have to give it a go. Run by a husband/wife duo, these passionate chocolatiers actually own a plantation in Mexico where they grow all their own cocoa beans. We have yet to dive into this box, I guess an edit to this post will be necessary!So happy with what we found and can’t wait to get back to Bruges again with any guests we have!