Snow falling by our apartment in Leuven, February 2009
In February 2009 we migrated to Belgium, the heart of Europe. We spent the first six months in Leuven in a central semi-furnished apartment. Adrian was able to enjoy a short commute to work, but we found the weekends a little too quiet in this student town. I obtained permanent residency and started my new job as an epidemiologist in April. We bought our first apartment together in July, and became Brusselaars / Bruxellois. In August 2009, PepperMint expanded our family from two to four. Our son was born in Brussels in July 2011.
We still love living here. Brussels continues to feel exotic and romantic. We both enjoy our jobs, and we have met some really great people. Belgium offers a great base to explore countries from Azerbaijan to Iceland to Wales.
My biggest frustration continues to be with the language. I had assumed that after three years of living here I would be fluent in French. I have taken group lessons, I have taken one-on-one lessons, I have participated in language exchange meetings, I have listened to podcasts, I have watched movies, I have listened to radio, I have completed verb text books, I have talked to neighbours, shopkeepers, strangers. Every hour that I spend learning French feels like a horrid struggle. I do not enjoy learning another language. I assumed that once I got to a certain level, I would start having fun. I have not yet reached that level. I am constantly in awe of everyone else around me who is effortlessly multilingual, when I can’t even understand my neighbour in the elevator. This is the one thing that really makes me feel apart from everyone else I see on the street, I am not a true resident of this quarter. It also makes it almost impossible to call up anyone from the electricity company to the local government. I am dreading the process of enrolling Hayden in kindergarten in September.
Happily, two of the aspects of Belgium that I complained about last year - the lack of government and the smoking in pubs – have now been rectified. Plus they even opened the shops on Sundays during the January and July sales.
Last week Hayden flew up to Newcastle to meet his grandmother and great-grandmother for the first time. In the home where I had spent many of my holidays as a child, we relaxed to the sounds of kookaburras, tawny frogmouths, and chirping frogs. He was the first baby in the house for ten years, so he was showered with attention, spending the whole day moving from one lap to another.
Every morning, mum and I would take a walk to the beach, strolling along the boulevard and watching the fierce waves crash against the shore. With oil tankers dotted across the horizon, the surf lifesavers would scout the tides every morning to determine the safest place to swim – “always swim between the flags” was one of the anthems of my childhood.
We were also able to spend some time with my Nana, Hayden’s great-grandmother. Hayden loved to watch her clap her hands, and I was able to hear her stories of raising five children while working as a journalist. With a single wriggling baby in my hands, I have no idea how she managed to balance it all, especially back in the day of cloth nappies and no dishwashers. It was so fantastic to be able to spend a week relaxing with mum Nana and Hayden playing together, and to show them our adorable baby boy.
We have received condolence messages from all around the world. It means so much to Adrian and I that so many people have reached out to us to let us know that Russell is in their thoughts. Many people have asked us if there is anything that they can help us with in this difficult time. If you share Russell’s values, you may wish to take a bike ride in the early morning air, play with a child, thank a medical worker for their efforts, support the Greens or the WWF, or tell your family that you wish to become an organ donor. The Adelaide Sunday Mail has just published a touching tribute to Russell.
I have also been touched by the kindness and thoughtfulness of my fellow Belgian residents. All pregnant women may ride first class on the trains with a second class ticket. On a bus, tram or metro, I have rarely had to wait more than a few moments before someone offers me their seat, even when it is half-empty. If I am in a queue at a sandwich store, people will often insist that I go before them. I have had a gang of youths chase after me, each holding a handful of mushrooms from a box that had fallen out of my basket. Last weekend, I noticed the security guard at my local supermarket watching me very closely, so I made sure I was holding onto my receipt as I left the store. However it turned out he just wanted to help me with my shopping and return my trolley for me.
I feel very lucky that this pregnancy has gone so smoothly so far, and I feel surrounded by a great support network from both those near and far.
One of our major renovation works for the past five months has been upgrading the spare room. First, we have removed the 1960′s wallpaper, which had been painted over repeatedly. We then washed down all the walls, filled the holes, and then made a trip to Brico to request new paint in broken French. One coat of primer on the walls and ceiling, two coats of eucalyptus Levi wall pain, two coats of white Levi ceiling paint, one trip to Ikea, a clock from San Marino, items from etsy, and we are nearing completion.
Some people have also asked about my current progress. For them, I have put together a short montage below:
Two Australian scientists who emigrated to Belgium, and are enjoying the charms and challenges of living in Europe. We were joined in our adventures by our kittens Pepper and Mint in 2009, followed by our son Hayden in 2011. Most of the time, Adrian takes the photos and Lydia writes the words. Adrian's blog can be found here. We can be contacted at