Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Wonderful Mother-Daughter Weekend in Brussels.

Sigh. I am currently suffering from PPLD. You know, Post Parent Leaving Depression. It’s totally a thing. Anyone who’s felt the lowness after saying goodbye to your mum or dad having had a delightful weekend together will know what I’m on about.

Yup, I’ve just said au revoir to Mama Hosie on this fine Mothers’ Day (let’s not get into a debate about the apostrophe), she’s hopped on a Eurostar and I’ve ambled home, hiding my inescapable tears behind giant sunglasses – they have more than one use, am I right, gals?

Current depression aside, we have had a truly wonderful weekend together. Brussels being that much closer to home than Bayreuth, spontaneous visits are that much more doable thanks to a little something called the Eurostar. Well, when I say spontaneous I mean booked five days in advance, but that's pretty spontaneous for we Hosies!

Having someone to visit is a great excuse to try out new restaurants, explore and show off your new city, and as we found what I consider to be a fair few gems, I figured I'd share them with you all. That OK? (Feel free to stop reading if it's not. But you'll be missing out. Trust.)

After post-work drinks on Friday evening, I practically skipped to the train station to meet Mama, and not just because Belgian beer is extra strong, honest! It was late-ish, so we simply dropped off Mum's suitcase then ventured straight out for some dinner.

Naturally, after wasting far too many hours on TripAdvisor and asking around for restaurant recommendations, I'd made five reservations - I'm a gal who likes choice, what can I say? But don't worry, we whittled down the shortlist, chose a winner and cancelled the others.

That winner was, my friends, Le Clan des Belges. And winning we were indeed.

Le Clan des Belges is a very trendy restaurant: trendy inside, trendy clientèle, trendy menu. All the hip, young things in Brussels seemed to be in there so obviously I was in my natural habitat. Ahem. But there were plenty of other ages too, worry not, parent generation.

Feeling in the need for something substanstial, the madre and I both opted for the MEGACHEEEBURGER (their use of capitals, not mine), and it was pretty epic. Even though I knew we had MEGACHEESEBURGERS coming, we couldn't resist munching on the yummy bread rolls we were brought in the surprisingly short wait.

So, MEGACHEESEBURGER time had arrived: Mama had hers with Reblochon because she's sophistiquée. I had mine with cheddar because I am a child. Cheese choice aside, this was a gooooood burger.

Juicy juicy meat in a delicious, soft sesame bun, served with a side of classic Belgian frites and some token nutrients in the form of a little pot of coleslaw.


Being a gal who can't resist a spot of research, I knew the puddings on offer were going to be awesome, but we truly were, for want of a more polite word, stuffed. That said, the Hosie gals certainly managed to find room for a little bit more...

Along with the bill we were brought a massive jar of sweeties. And yes, I proceeded to stuff my face like a fat kid in a candy shop (which is basically what I was.) How can you not love a place that brings you sweeties with the bill? So yes, I liked Le Clan des Belges and would recommend it. There seems to be a surprisingly large number of burger joints here in Brussels though so I'll of course let you know if I find any other goodies!

Mama and I practically rolled home and hit the hay ready for a packed day ahead (of course I had an itinerary...)

So, the next morning the sun was shining gloriously and I took Mama into the old centre of Brussels to show her all the best sites: the Palace, the Grand'Place, Mannequin Pis, the cathedral and more. We nattered as mothers and daughters do, and had a delightful morning soaking up the sun and seeing Brussels in all its glory.

Doesn't she look lovely? I hope I'm as stylish as the madre when I'm her age. And yes, we were both walking round with our Mulberrys, repping the UK.

Mannequin Pis was dressed up.
Over a coffee and juice outside in the sun, we felt very European and discussed our love for the Continent.

I was trying my best to impart some knowledge about Brussels, but there's still a lot I don't know. It always helps to have a backdrop of blue sky and sunshine when showing off a city though.

A new discovery for me was Place Sainte Catherine where - surprise, surprise - there was a little market going on. We sampled some local specialities and admired the pretty church.

We did some more strolling, wandering and exploring and soon realised we're actually old women and needed a good sit-down. Good thing I know just the spot then: outside the cathedral there are fixed sun loungers. So, lounge in the sun we did. For a while. And it was super blissful.

Soon though, this gal was hungry. As per. And so I dragged mum up and to a café just down from the cathedral called Delish. If the name wasn't enough to make me love this little café, the menu certainly was: I felt thoroughly spoilt for choice with all the wraps, ciabattas, bagels, sandwiches, soups and more. In fact, I'm going to have to go back because there was simply too much I want to eat. (We've all been there, right?)

I eventually decided on a roast vegetable and red pesto warm ciabatta and it was indeed delish. The staff were lovely and friendly too which is always a plus.

We spent the afternoon doing - you guessed it - more wandering. It really is the best way to see a city, and we popped into lots of lovely little shops as we went, of course. 

I saw this. I liked it. So I took a picture. Obvs.
Come the end of the afternoon though, we. were. EX. HAU. STED. Seriously, we'd been basically walking around all day, and my feet and legs just can't take that. So, we picked up an apple tart and a Belgian pastry called a Maton and headed back to mine to crash out.

A Maton
A maton is made of puff pastry and filled with a light, slightly almondy and cream cheese-like filling. Not the most amazing thing in the world but nice all the same. And you've gotta try the local delicacies, haven't you?

Oh, tea and cake. You really are the one. Multiple cups of tea, much cake (well, tart) and prolonged sitting and lying occurred. And it was goooooooooooood.

Eventually, we found the strength to venture out for some dinner. Only this time, we decided to take the tram back into the city centre. Dayum, Brussels was looking fiiiine in that almost-dark-but-not-totally light.

Grand' Place just makes me smile every time I'm there.

Now, I had a couple of dinner places in mind having done my research, but it seemed that all the best-yet-still-affordable places were unbookable, alas. I was thinking we should probably try and sample some proper Belgian cuisine - don't get me wrong, I'm loving frites and waffles, but apparently there's more to Belgian food than that.

With this in mind, top on my list was a little restaurant called Nüetnigenough. It's just off the Grand' Place yet not one of those places that clearly only caters for tourists, and when we rocked up it was packed. Bums.

However, we were in luck: there was one little table for two left outside, and seeing as it was a mild evening, Mama and I pounced. 

Yeah, I didn't know what Nüetnigenough meant either, but according to the website, ""Nüetnigenough?" Literally, in Brussels' dialect, that's the one who has never, never ever enough." Now, I think that relates to me in many a way, really!

Nüetnigenough offer lots of different Belgian specialities, but I went for the "stoemp saucisses fondue de poireaux" (AKA sausages in a leeky/tomatoey sauce with potato and vegetable mash.) I was keen to try stoemp (the mash) and it was yummy I must say. Belgian sausages aren't like German sausages, but I definitely enjoyed these too. It turns out bangers & mash is a winning combo in more countries than one!

Mama also had the stoemp but went for "boulettes de veau à la gantoise" (AKA veal meatballs in a white beer sauce.) Naturally, we tried each other's dinner, and I have to say I think I preferred the meatballs to the sausages. Next time, eh? (Oh, Daaaaaad...!)

Our food came amazingly quickly and we were given a big salad and fresh bread to share too, all included in the price! Not too shabby, eh? Eating outside is always lovely too. We gobbled up our dinners and discussed everything from gay marriage (the first ones in the UK had just occurred) to our summer holidays. As ya do.

The great thing about the centre of Brussels is there's lots still going on at night. And when I say 'lots still going on', I really mean 'lots of chocolate shops still open.' True to form, I know which ones are the best for free samples, and we obviously needed pudding. (Duhh.) Mama couldn't go home without any Belgian chocolates!

I imagine you're never more than three metres from a chocolate shop in Brussels city centre, whether a big chain like Leonidas, Neuhaus and Godiva or a little independent boutique. It. Is. AWESOME! The chains don't give out free samples though. Boo.

To do our shopping (OK, mum's shopping, my eating), we settled on Chocolaterie Elisabeth. I liked Elisabeth a lot: everything was beautifully packaged, the chocolate was DIVINE (truffles, pralines, bars, chunks, biscuits and so much more) and the friendly man let us try pretty much everything.

Mum bought a few presents (including some for ourselves) and, despite being beyond exhausted, we decided strolling home might be a good call considering the day's consumption. Brussels is beyond beaut at night though, so it was really rather pleasant.

The Palace
We got home, watched the news (part of the daily routine in my family), carried on chatting and nattering as only mothers and daughters can, and went to bed.

The next day was Mothers' Day, and oh how lovely it was to be able to spend it with mine. We enjoyed a leisurely and huge buffet breakfast of croissants, pains au chocolat, fruit, yoghurt, granola, bread, cake (me, obvs), scrambled eggs, cheese, meat and juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. Because we hadn't eaten enough the day before. Ahem.

It was another sunny morning and I took mum off to show her another area of Brussels: we strolled through Place du Luxembourg (or 'Plux' if you're down with the local kids), past the European Parliament and round the beautiful Leopold Park. With it's little lake, blossom trees and grassy slopes, it was blissful.

We then wandered into Place Jourdan to find a wonderful market bustling with life. Now, I don't know about you, but Monica and Rachel Hosie are both big market fans - particularly French market fans, and the Place Jourdan market was certainly of a similar vein. 

Remember how I told you about all the free samples at the Marché du Midi last week? Well, Place Jourdan did not disappoint on that front either. Because we were obviously hungry. Ahem. (It's been scientifically proven that that calories don't count if a) you're finishing someone else's food, b) it was free, or c) no-one sees you eat it.)

Notice the Matons near the back there

Fruit and veg, meats, cheeses, baked goods, flowers, mattresses (for sure)... It was all on offer at Place Jourdan today, and it was all delightfully colourful and bright.

'Pink grapefruit' sounds better in French.
Thankfully, the market at Place Jourdan is nowhere near as busy as that of the Marché du Midi, which is much better when you want a casual peruse rather than a 'get in, buy cheap fruit, get out' experience.

After spending a fair amount of time wandering round the market, we managed to walk right into a demonstration/march by lots of nations campaigning for independence: Catalonians, Bretons, South Tirolians and yes, even a few Scots were charging through the streets of Brussels, holding placards and chanting as they went.

Not wanting to get in the way (because we're so selfless like that), Mama and I decided to pop into Paul for a sit down and a drink while they all marched by.

Ooh just look at that patisserie!
Mothers' Day selfie!
I usually walk past Paul and gaze longingly through the window, envious of those inside (because I'm a poor intern), and although I felt bad that it was mum treating me on Mothers' Day (she insisted!), it was lovely.

We walked up to my favourite park in Brussels, Parc Cinquantenaire and took a stroll and a few snaps.

I showed Mama the rest of the EU buildings as well as my office, but soon it was time to make our way back to the station. *sob* And that brings us pretty much up to now!

Mums really are the best, aren't they? It's so sad to have had to say goodbye but it was so lovely to spend this weekend with my mother. Mothers' Day may only be once a year but we must make sure to always appreciate our mothers and everything they do for us. Happy Mothers' Day to all the wonderful mums out there, and Mama, when I'm rich, the patisseries will always be on me.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

My experience of Obama's press conference at the March 2014 EU-US Summit

Today, President Obama was in Brussels. This, dear friends, was kind of a big deal. Because he is kind of a big deal.

Sure, he’s a Head of State just like all the other European leaders who arrived here last week for the EU Summit, but everything is about 10 times as crazy for the President of the United States.

For example, the security measures. Oh, good lord – I’ve never seen anything like it! Obama visited Flanders this morning and not only were shops told to close but locals who lived within a certain perimeter weren’t even allowed out of their houses.

Here in Brussels, I have never seen so many police in one place and all the roads have been closed off.

It’s pretty exciting for – to quote Obama himself – “brave little Belgium”. Yesterday evening I saw a woman walking round with an Obama ‘Yes we can’ badge, and I’ve just walked past a burger place that had ‘Obama’s Burger’ spray-painted on the window. Whether Obama has indeed had one of their burgers is doubtful, but it just shows how buzzing with Obama Brussels is.

At 2pm today, the President of the world’s most powerful nation was set to give a press conference in one of the EU buildings. Along with my fellow BBC journalists, we had our accreditation passes to get into the building, but there was no particular way of reserving one of the coveted seats in the press conference. It was going to be a simple first-come-first-served system. Elbows at the ready!

Heading over to the building at 12.30pm today, we thought we’d be fiiiiine. Problematically, we ran into Belgian police who stubbornly told us all entrances to the building were closed and we were not going to be getting in. Jolly good.(We’d been told access would be closed off a whole hour later.)

Not to be put off that easily, I scampered along behind our reporter and producer, desperate to find a way into the building. (They were pretty calm. I was panicking inside.)

Luckily, we managed to squeeze in. HOORAH!

But the drama wasn’t over yet. When scanning our passes to go through security, our producer was told his pass had been declined, despite the fact that it’d worked not long earlier. WHAT!? How can they just decline him access!? But they did. And they would not budge. He was then held in the lobby for about an hour before being allowed to leave the building. Ridiculous.

I headed on through the building and round to the press room, and I was not expecting to find what I did: A long queue of journalists waiting for the doors to open, hoping to bag a place in Obama’s press conference. AN HOUR AND A HALF before it was due to start!

I duly joined the queue and waited. And waited. We saw on the screen that Obama had arrived, and the excitement went up a notch. Put it this way, I was not the only excitable journalist (can I call myself that?) acting slightly like a 1D fangirl and taking pictures of the screen. We continued to wait.

45 minutes or so later, they opened the door. Cue the queue pushing forward. It actually slightly reminded me of a much calmer version of the moshing I experienced trying to get into a tent at OktoberfestExcept with seasoned, hard-hitting reporters and their camera-clutching crews rather than Dirndl/Lederhosen-clad tourists clutching beers. (Ok, it wasn’t that similar.)

In an orderly fashion, I gradually got to the front of the queue, scanned my pass, and I was in! It wasn’t a huge room and I quickly took a seat and watched the rest of the room fill up – it didn’t take long! Camera crews lined the sides and journalists packed into the auditorium. 

Filling up
Nothing had even started happening, and already everyone was snapping away on their cameras, tweeting and taking notes.
And nothing happened for some time. I suppose when you’re the President of the United States you can be as late as you like. I didn’t mind though. I was blimmin’ excited and feeling jolly lucky to have one of those coveted seats. I did kind of need the loo though…

Just after 2pm, some important-looking people came out and everyone shushed in excitement. But no, it was a false alarm. Any minute now...

We want Obama!
couple of water glasses were filled by the podiums. The press were all ready and waiting, cameras poised. Come on, Obama. I wondered what he was doing and thinking backstage. I say ‘backstage’ as if it was a concert or a show, but it did slightly have that vibe.

Will I be judged if I send a snapchat? I thought. Meh, I'm going to. (I totally did.)

Next, the official photographers came out into the aisles.Surely it must be starting soon!

A little later, getting more and more desperate for the loo (I’m sure you really needed to know that) I realised it was half past two. I noticed a woman playing that bubble game on her iPad.The excitement was palpable.

More officials streamed in to take the reserved seats on the front row, Baroness Ashton arrived, cameras were snapping like crazy and Obama wasn’t even there yet.

Security lined the sides of the stage, and a few minutes later, out strolled Herman Van Rompuy (President of the European Council), José Manuel Barroso (President of the European Commission) and the man we were all so eager to see, Barack Obama. Three presidents stood side by side, but it’s safe to say all eyes (and cameras) were pointed at one.

There’s no point in my going into detail about what was actually said as you can find that easily peasily in the news, but it was pretty awesome to be there, I can tell you that. It was kind of weird to see in real life what is so familiar from TV.

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Obama brought his own glass of water with a lid (I guess you can never be too careful!)
  • The cameras went crazy every time he made a hand gesture.
  • Obama really is an amazing public speaker, and to me, he came across smooth, calm and confident.
  • Foreign journalists were listening to live translations into their own languages by translators who were there – as a languages student, I am in AWE of these people. (The interpreters, that is, not those listening.)

Once the speeches were finished, the moderator said, ‘And now we shall take two questions.’ Yes, just two. Everyone chuckled, including Obama.

The first question came from a German man who was sitting directly behind me. I suddenly felt very exposed but I SWEAR Obama looked right at me! We had a bit of a moment (in my head.)

Considering they were only allowing two questions, if I was picked I’d feel a lot of pressure to make it a good one!

As a keen newbie in this industry, I find any old press conference interesting. However, it was definitely extra exciting to experience one given by Obama and to be so close to the man himself. He’s kind of a big deal, you know.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Exploring Brussels Markets: Antiques, frites and treats.

The more I see of Brussels, the more I like it. Not that I didn't like the city when I first arrived, oh no, but I guess I wasn't sure what to expect. It definitely has charm, yet is a bit of a grower I'd say.

I love the fact that there are so many different areas, each with a different feel, vibe and style. That said, approximately 92.6% of buildings throughout the city seem to have balconies, which I think makes them all very pretty indeed.

Sure, there are a couple of little things I'm realising are not so great about Brussels... Like what, you ask? Well, the water. It's totally drying out and messing up my skin, and it makes my tea taste weird. (A big problem, I'm sure you'll agree.)

Equally, most of the time the weather forecast seems to be simultaneously sunny, cloudy and rainy. How helpful when outfit planning (#organisedgirlproblems). The thing is, there have been occasions where I've noticed it really has been sunny, cloudy and rainy at the same time, so fair play to the forecasters, I guess.

And they're about the only negatives I can come up with about Brussels so far, so you could say I'm rather enjoying living here.

You're never far from a waffle and I love it.
As a full time working girl (get me), I obvs don't have time to go off exploring Brussels during the week - hello, who's going to be on Merkel watch for the BBC if I wasn't here? - so I'm going to really try and make the most of my weekends. Even if after a long week of work it's rather tempting to lounge around in your PJs for most of the day.

Actually, I do have weekday evenings. And the thing about living in a city is that if I just slightly alter my walk home I inevitably stumble upon interesting things. Like shops. But I digress... Back to my weekends.

After a long week and two particularly busy days covering the EU Summit, by Friday evening last week I was - to use the technical term - totally pooped. Aside from my 80 mins daily walking (to work and back - I'm not exactly going to pay for public transport now, am I?), I'm struggling to find the time and energy to exercise as much as I used to. It's actually a bit ridiculous how much effort it required to get me into my trainers after coming home from work on Friday, but I eventually did get out the door for a little jog and boy, am I glad I did.

The sun was just setting on a wonderful clear evening and I got the chance to discover some more of my new neighbourhood while getting a spot of exercise at the same time. When I wasn't stopping to take pictures that is.

That Friday evening buzz was in the air and the park was full of happy people and cute dogs.

Brussels seems to have an extremely pleasingly large number of markets - from food to flea - so after a thoroughly enjoyable lie-in the next morning, I set off to find the Marché de la Place du Grand Sablon, an antiques market, largely because it's one of the few that are open all day and I hadn't had breakfast till noon.

In a beautiful open square just down from the church (Brussels also seems to have a lot of squares and churches), the market is an antique hunter's paradise. You can find jewellery, crockery, cutlery, books, paintings, maps, furniture and more. And it's all old and pretty.

Unlike a lot of markets, everything is beautifully laid out and you don't have to elbow your way through crowds just to get a look at the wares. As far as markets go, it is très sophistiqué.

I had a lovely time rummaging through the jewellery, perusing the posters and practising my French with the friendly stall owners before wandering further into the city centre, popping into interesting boutiques and cute little places as I went. I didn't have any particular destination in mind, but isn't it wonderful just to wander, stroll and explore by yourself?

I was alas admiring the Louboutins from the window
Before I got very far though, I stumbled upon what looked like a very popular frites van by the Chapel. Considering I hadn't had lunch and disregarding the fact that I'd only had breakfast at noon, I decided a warm cone of chips was just what I needed to heat up my fingers (and tummy.)

Of course, the frites were as fantastic as you'd hope from Brussels, but can I just draw your attention to the awesomeness that is this cone with its little sauce cup?!

People, this is a SMALL!
Ingenious frite serving from the Belgians. It holds just the right amount of sauce too. While it may look like I was having curry sauce, this is in fact Belgian barbecue sauce. Who knew it was different to ours? Curry sauce is, unsurprisingly, one of the dozens of sauces on offer though.

Next, I of course needed a little something sweet for pudding (duhh.) Good thing I'm fast becoming an expert on the best chocolate shops in Brussels for free samples! It's slightly ridiculous how much you can eat if you know where to look - I don't think I want to see all the chocolate I ate piled up on one plate!

Easter here is going to be epic.

Happily full of chocolate and chips (I had a healthier dinner, don't woz), I carried on exploring, most pleased to find a fair few vintage shops.

As the afternoon wore on, I started heading in the homeward direction, conveniently walking down one of the main shopping streets in the city. Just look how that worked out...

I love the Zara look, but I never usually actually buy anything in there. I've just always thought I'm not quite at that stage of my life yet. However, now that I'm (temporarily) a working girl, all those sleek, chic coats, blouses and tailored trousers suddenly seem more appealing.

Having nearly but not quite bought various little things over the course of the afternoon, I figured it was much better to treat myself to just one item - more expensive but beautiful, well-made and which I really love. Behold:
I don't know who this gal is but she models it far better than me.
It's made of lovely moleskin in a totally me and super springy shade of pink, with a lovely stripey lining and brown leather elbow patches. Over a floaty blouse and skinny trousers, once the weather's warm enough, I can see it becoming a staple in my work wardrobe.

Big fan.

Sorry guys, I can only seem to find it in blue on the website, should you be interesting in getting the same one! (But it is a very tempting blue, I must say...)

Another sunny day, another market to discover. On Sunday I had a very different market experience from the sophisticated antiques of Saturday.

First up, I accidentally stumbled upon the market at Parvis St Gilles. Largely food, here I found tons of fresh fruit and veg, baked goods, cheeses and meats as well as flowers and your classic market clothes that I swear no-one buys.

Naturally, I strolled through eating all the free samples, and compared to supermarket prices, everything seemed super cheap, YAY!

I just couldn't resist the temptation of a punnet of big, bright, luscious strawberries, and the kind man even added a few extra on top. Win.

Little did I know I was about to encounter even cheaper prices at one of Brussels' biggest markets, the Marché du Midi.

Oh my days, this place is crazy. There are so many people, all barely moving, the stall-holders are shouting out at you as you pass and, put it this way, I felt like I wanted to hold on to my bag.

All that considered, there really are some fabulous bargains to be had on a massive array of fresh fruit and veg. And my favourite part? SO MANY FREE TASTERS! I kid you not, I must've had at least three fruit salad portions' worth of pineapple, mango, orange, clementines, pears, plums, strawberries and sharon fruit.

And speaking of sharon fruit, I for some reason was drawn into buying 15 of them for 3€. No-one could say that isn't a great deal (especially considering I used to see them for over 3€ each in Germany!), but who on earth wants 15 sharon fruit? What am I going to do with them?! Well, it's a good thing I like sharon fruit. I've eaten three today so far and it ain't bedtime yet!

The challenge will be to eat them all up before they go off - my strawberries turned very quickly but I assume that's because they aren't sprayed with goodness-knows-what.

When confronted with so much delicious and bargainous fruit and veg, I had to try seriously hard to resist buying a whole fridge worth (which would've been awkward considering all I have is an eighth of a fridge.)

I'll have to go back for the roses...
I did, however, allow myself to indulge my love of pink flowers, buying a beautiful bunch of tulips and a big speckly orchid to add some more colour and personality to my new room. Both were total bargs as well.

Arms full of lovely things (who knew sharon fruit were so heavy?), I pushed through the crowds and headed home.

According to my housemate, the trick is actually to go riiight at the end of the market when the prices are slashed even further, so I think that's what I'll try to do in future.

I am a huge market fan, and I cannot wait to discover the many more Brussels has to offer along with even more of the city. You know I'll keep you posted on any gems I find!

I heart Bruxelles
A tout à l'heure!
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