The Last of 2018 and Back to Business in Brussels

With busy-season kicking off last week, I figured I could squeeze in one last blog post before stepping away for a little while. Dan’s Top Five of 2018 post was a great recap of our first six months in Belgium, but we did have one last big trip before ringing in 2019- back to Wisconsin for the holidays!

In order to take advantage of the flight deals, we actually flew roundtrip via Heathrow Airport in London. We decided this would work even better for us since it meant we could spend a few nights enjoying London on the front-end before heading back to the US. To get to the UK on the Saturday before Christmas, we rode the speedy Eurostar train from Brussels to London via the Chunnel. It’s a two hour comfortable ride before you arrive at the centrally located St. Pancras station. For Christmas, Dan actually surprised me with Saturday night tickets to see The Book of Mormon musical at The Prince of Wales Theatre and dinner at the very festively decorated Kaspar’s at the Savoy.

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Dan and Kaitlan in St. James’s Park, London. We took this photo in the exact same spot where we took one on our 2017 trip to the UK- we’re going to make this a tradition!

On our full day in London we spent our morning and afternoon sipping mulled wine and eating mince pies in St. James’s Park, strolling past Buckingham Palace, and watching the madness of the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland from afar. I was expecting to meander through quaint Christmas market stalls in Hyde Park, but as we approached and caught a glimpse of the rollercoasters and heard kids screaming, we decided to observe from a safe distance.

Instead, we wandered around the quieter areas of the park a bit longer before making our way to the National Portrait Gallery for afternoon tea at the Portrait restaurant, another Christmas surprise from Dan. It’s important to note that while sounding like it is of little substance, afternoon tea is actually more of a three-course late lunch. The sandwiches, scones, and pastries are very filling and with unlimited refills on tea, it’s easy to relax and enjoy yourself, pinky up or not. Dan had selected the Portrait restaurant given it’s wall of windows offering a view of the London sky-line, and even with the overcast and rainy weather, it was beautiful.

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Tea for two with a view at the Portrait Restaurant

Our next stop that evening was the Sky Garden, London’s highest public garden, located on the 43rd floor of 20 Fenchurch St. in a building with a shape resembling a walkie-talkie, or so they say. Drinks at the Sky Garden had been recommended to me by one of my clients when he found out we were traveling through London over the holidays. He suggested it as a unique place to grab a drink given the incredible view of the London skyline from the three story tall floor to ceiling windows. Admission is free but we had to reserve our tickets online ahead of time, two weeks in advance- the tickets seem to go fast! We sipped on more mulled wine and made a lap around the 43rd floor in order to experience the full 365-degree views. Even in the rain, the Sky Garden offers incredible views, plus the garden is huge and spaced out so you can find a place to stand or sit without feeling like your personal space is being invaded.

We treated ourselves to what was actually very tasty British pub fare, at a restaurant where I sadly cannot recall the name, before calling it a night. The next morning, ahead of departing for Heathrow, we made time for a morning Thames River run, past Big Bend, who was unfortunately undergoing a facelift. For all the fret associated with travelling during the holidays, our trip from London to Chicago was uneventful and felt very quick.

We arrived back in the US on Christmas Eve and were greeted by my parents and Christmas cookies for the drive back from O’Hare airport. With a little over a week back in Wisconsin, highlights included snow on Christmas, family fitness classes, our first Bucks game at the Fiserv Forum (a win!), my bridal shower, more wedding planning, and plenty of time with family and friends!

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First Bucks game at the Fiserv Forum!
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The best wedding shower planners

After a not so restful, but very fulfilling visit home, we headed back to Belgium, finally arriving in Brussels on the afternoon of January 3rd. United gifted me with delayed luggage on my birthday as we learned upon arriving in London that our bags didn’t make it out of Chicago on our flight. After being told they would be dropped off at our front door in the early afternoon that same day, we instead ended up picking them up ourselves at the Brussels airport at 10 PM that evening when they finally arrived. It was a hassle and not the birthday gift I had hoped for, as we were a bit loopy after not sleeping for what felt like a very long time, but the long travel hours were worth it. I celebrated my birthday by enjoying homemade spaghetti courtesy of Dan, which was especially rewarding to wake up to after a nap.

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Birthday dinner courtesy of Chef Dan

Our first Monday back in Brussels and at work was an eventful one. I worked in a rather unusual setting at one of my client sites- a shipping container without a bathroom and only a space heater to keep us warm in early January. At home later than evening, our apartment maintenance man came over to deliver our new washing machine. He and Dan got a brutal scolding from our neighbor when she saw they were using the elevator to remove our old faulty washing machine down a floor. I was in the apartment with the door open and could hear her furious yelling first in French, then in English, and then again in French, as she explained that the elevator is old and precious and not meant to move furniture, only people. The maintenance man took it all in stride taking the blame and laughing her rudeness off. It’s great to have a functioning washing machine again, but I’m now avoiding eye contact with the apartment tenants.

Our next travel plans have not yet been mapped out, but I am sure we will be looking to escape the dreary skies and rainy days of Brussels’ winter in the near term. I am hoping for a visit to Portugal and Dan has Champagne, France on his list. But even if our long hours keep us grounded in Brussels, we’ll still be exploring new parts of the city in the coming weeks.

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