This was all planned out weeks ago, since the strike was announced far in advance. What I didn't see explained anywhere was that the widely-advertised strike on Monday, 15th December, actually started at 10 pm on Sunday, 14th. And since trains, especially crappy Belgian trains, take time to get places, I turned up to the station yesterday to find out that the 7.35 train was only going as far as Namur, since the 22.10 arrival time in Brussels would have run past the start of the strike... I mean, how ridiculous for one. And for another, I checked the times on the website at around 6.30 pm and it showed the train going to Brussels just fine. It would have still been too late to catch a different train, but at least we could have avoided a 45-minute round trip to Arlon if we'd known.
There are definitely no trains going today, so I'm hanging at Jules' apartment while he goes to work and then comes home and drives me all the way to Brussels tonight. What a champion.
Between the strikes, and rain and cold and darkness and impatiently counting down to the holidays, we all need some cheering up. That's why, in this hemisphere, we're lucky to have Christmas. At home, frankly, Christmas is badly timed. It's not far enough into summer to reliably hit good weather, then offices often close for a couple of weeks for Christmas and New Year, which means you're basically forced to take summer holidays then, rather than later in January or February, when the weather's generally better, and then there's absolutely nothing to cheer you up through winter (which admittedly is not as cold or dark as it is here, but still). But here, there's really no excuse not to warm up with a mulled wine, hot chocolate or Belgian peket and enjoy what the festive season has to offer.
My first inclination was that Brussels Christmas market probably wasn't worth bothering with. For some reason, I thought a big-city market wouldn't have any charm, and we should head to a smaller town instead. But it was recommended by people at work and it turns out to be pretty good. For starters, it's really big and spread over multiple locations, so while it's crowded, it wasn't too much of a crush. We filled up on the aforementioned beverages, and (in several different trips) tried out some wurst, raclette sandwiches and what purported to be authentic Quebecois poutine, which was disappointingly unlike what I had in Canada. (Where were the cheese curds? This one had chopped up blocks of what tasted like Emmenthal on it! Granted, I tried poutine in Toronto or Vancouver, I can't remember which, so maybe it's different in Quebec. Any poutine experts out there?)
|In front of the Grande Roue in Brussels|
|Christmas tree in the Grand Place|
Oh, and by the way, we found where you can get a fantastic view of central Brussels for free - on top of the carpark at De Brouckere! It was so full we had to go all the way to the 9th floor to find a spot, but you're rewarded with 360 degree views of the central city. They should stick a revolving restaurant up there.
|St Catherine church is lit up for the markets|
|The Brussels Christmas markets by night|
|Prost! New LBD I bought that day :)|
The day after my birthday is Sinterklass, or Niklosdaag, or Saint Nicholas's Day, in this part of the world. I'm glad it wasn't celebrated at home, since as a kid I already found my birthday to be way too close to Christmas, but this year it was fun to share a little of the tradition with Jules. In Luxembourg, the Kleeschen (Saint Nicholas) brings a Teller (plate) of chocolates to good girls and boys, while the Housecker (the equivalent to the French Pere Fouettard or Dutch Zwarte Peet) brings sticks to naughty children. I must have been good for the first time ever, because the Kleeschen brought me my first Teller.
|A partly-eaten Teller|
|Lucky the Kleeschen didn't see me being naughty at the Luxembourg Christmas market!|
|Jules's head fits perfectly into the chalet roof|
|And we had a lovely winter dinner of baked Mont d'Or cheese|
|Sunset in Luxembourg|