Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter warmers

I'm, unexpectedly, writing this tucked up in bed in Luxembourg on a Monday afternoon. Unexpectedly because, although (thankfully) I had already taken the day off work today, I had planned to be back home in Brussels chilling out, rather than here. I took the day off because today is a nationwide strike in Belgium, and I thought I'd rather deal with that from the comfort of my bed than struggle to try to get to work and back. It's maybe 5 km between my house and work, so not really comfortable walking distance and I can't ride (and don't have) a bike, so seeing that I have around 7 leave days left for this year, it seemed easier to just call it a long weekend and opt out of the whole mess.

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
One of the occasions we visited the Brussels Christmas market was on my birthday. We both had the day off, and we celebrated pretty quietly, just shopping and visiting the markets by day and then champagne at home followed by a trip to the same local restaurant we visited for Jules's birthday.

Prost! New LBD I bought that day :)

Birthday dinner
While I was waiting for the bathroom at the restaurant, I got chatting with two women who were smoking in the lobby. Normally that would annoy me, but I was in a good mood, and somehow ended up confessing that it was my birthday. The guy using the bathroom before me overheard and said happy birthday to me, and he then went inside and told the restaurant owner that it was my birthday. She ended up bringing me out a birthday moelleux while the bathroom guy sang me a (strangely ballad-y and intense) Mexican birthday song, and then the whole restaurant (a dozen or so people) sang happy birthday to me. I was really quite touched!

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
That brings us (finally) to this weekend, which of course was spent here in Luxembourg, mainly shopping and visiting the Christmas market in town for souvenir mulled wine mugs and gromperekischelcher.

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
Just six working days to go for the year before a nice long break and my first Christmas with Jules's family (prepare the champagne). I hope you're all finding ways to cope with the cold and gloom too (even in Auckland, where I hear it's miserable too!)


  1. Happy belated birthday! Sounds like you had a very lovely birthday! And free dessert and a serenade!

    I visited the Brussels Christmas market in 2011, and I really liked it! It's so much bigger and better than Lille's and yet not as commercial as the one in Paris (and Lille for that matter). I would love to go back again. This Christmas season has gotten away from us, but maybe next year!


    1. Thanks! I meant to go to more too, but doesn't seem to be happening. Shame when I'm so close to Germany!

  2. I want one of those mugs!

    Happy belated birthday!

    1. They're mass-produced, but the nice thing is they have the year and "luxembourg christmas market" on them, with a picture of luxembourg, so it's a nice little souvenir (and they come full of wine!)

  3. Are you really counting down the days to the holidays? I feel like there’s not enough time!

    I had poutine in Quebec, and there were cheese curds in it.

    Happy Birthday!

    1. Not to christmas, but I'm looking forward to a break from work! I haven't had a ton of time off since I just joined in July, so it's time for some R&R :)

  4. Some nice blue skies going on there in Brussels! And warm enough for a cardigan, not a coat! Jules is soooooooooooooo good taking you all that way home! Big hug for him from me. xxx

  5. I used to play football with a bloke who one of the scousers in the team described as having a head like a biscuit tin. Jules has gone one better!

  6. Yes Jules is a champion indeed! And WHAT IS A RACLETTE SANDWICH ??????

    1. Raclette on a sandwich ;) on top of shaved ham in this case, yum yum

  7. I think my original comment got lost in cyberspace. Darn it. I'm too lazy to type it again, so here's a summary: northern hemisphere Christmas is so much better, real poutine definitely has cheese curds on it, and you're really making me miss living in Europe.

    1. Ha ha, thanks for the confirmation! Even growing up with a summer Christmas, it never felt quite authentic as all the Christmas tv/movies/cards/carols rtc etc are wintery. And it is much nicer to have something to look forward to in the dark and the cold! It's not even the best summer weather yet in NZ, don't know about Aus.


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