First days of house-hunting

15 04 2010

A collection of houses and interiors that we have seen over the course of this first week of house hunting:

Types of houses:

Maisons de maître in Brussels

Maisons de maître (“master’s houses”) – not actually for sale but I thought that they were just so beautiful. O’s dream is to live in such a house, but most of them are out of our price range (or in a terrible state!)…

House for sale by owner

House probably built in the 1920’s or 30’s… Sold by owner but we haven’t visited it yet

Bel-etage house

Bel-étage house with garage on ground level, usually built in the 1950’s and 60’s. I am increasingly leaning towards this type since you get garage and parking in front + fairly big gardens, and they are located in tree-lined residential streets.

House for sale

However, we visited a bel-étage house yesterday that was built “on” the pavement so only parking on the street* and in the garage (as seen on the photo) and the [maximum] 50 m2 back garden was described as “pas mal” (not bad) by the real estate agent. In other words, gardens are not very big at all and are sometimes called “jardinette” (small garden) or “cour” (courtyard). These houses are typical in urban streets with a mix of residential houses and shops with apartments above.

Various interiors:

Maison de maitre staircase

Maison de maître staircase

Wooden ceiling

Wooden ceiling in maison de maître

Ceiling in the staircase

Glass ceiling in staircase in maison de maître

Old-fashioned heating

Old-style heating in a 1920’s free-standing house**… This kind of heating is actually still in use in many houses / apartments in Brussels (and sometimes the only heating system!)

House with moldy floors

Same building as the photo above, another floor which was completely covered in mold!!

Retro wall paper

Same building, retro wallpaper

Old-style kitchen cupboards

Cool retro kitchen cupboard

Old bathroom

Old bathroom, the warm water gas boiler in the bathroom is a scary feature we don’t like!

Bathroom in the staircase (including toilet!!)

This is such a Brussels’ solution – putting the bathroom at the top of the staircase!! Oh yes, even the toilet is behind the divider!! 😕 Other creative solutions that I have seen in the past (and lived in myself): having to pass the bathroom to reach the bedroom, bathtub / shower in the kitchen… (the shower in the kitchen was actually in my flat in Geneva)

Old sink

Old sink

Garden shed

Garden shed – you can see that the land behind the shed belongs to the neighbouring house which has a much bigger garden… This property is still considered to have a big garden of almost 70 m2.

Some more house viewings tomorrow and Saturday but we are probably far from making a decision. We viewed a house in our old street (!!) today, it was very big but also in need of a lot of work in order to be brought to a liveable standard…

*) The garbage you see outside the house on the photo is normal – twice a week the garbage trucks pass and you put the garbage bags straight out on the pavement. The white bags are for normal garbage, yellow for paper and blue for recycling (plastic, carton, metal). The streets look extremely messy on garbage-days but that’s the Brussels’ system… And be aware, do not put out the garbage too early (or too late), there are garbage spies also in Belgium (like in Sweden!) and I know a few people who have been fined!

**) In house ads the number of sides (façade) of the building is always mentioned. Most houses are attached, and free-standing buildings are rare.

Back to Brussels: magnolias, round-abouts and house-hunting

14 04 2010

We have been back in Brussels since Sunday and everything is fine! The sun has been shining for the last two days, and even though we have woken up to grey skies this morning, maybe the sun will come out in a few hours (I hope). The magnolias are almost in bloom, the cherry trees definitely are and I have fallen in love with some areas of Brussels that I didn’t know before. Maybe we will end up living there…

Magnolia in bloom
Old photo of a Californian magnolia

House-hunting so far has been mostly driving around looking at different neighbourhoods and checking out houses for sale from the exterior – today we will actually visit some of them. Driving in Brussels has always been frustrating but yesterday was extreme; all the roads seemed to be either under construction (+ all the tram lines that are being refurbished all over the city) or one-way, or both… The round-abouts we enjoy though, something that don’t exist on the other side of the Atlantic*!!

Tree in spring bloom
Tree in spring bloom – cherry??

Yesterday evening we had dinner with our French-Greek group of friends, in our favourite Thai restaurant Le IIeme element. So lovely and we have already planned two weekend trips with them – Normandie at Pentecost at the end of May, just like three years ago, and then Sweden for Midsummer’s Eve in June. This is what I love about living in the middle of Europe – the trips that you can take without spending too much money! We will drive to Normandie, and the plane tickets to Copenhagen in June were 150 EUR return!

Favourite Thai dish
My favourite dish at my favourite Thai restaurant – Nr 38 (fried rice with chicken and vegetables) for 11,90 EUR (remember: No tip, and the VAT is already included!!)

Unfortunately I can’t show you any photos since the hotel doesn’t have wireless in the rooms and only O’s work computer is connected to the internet. I will try to add some photos as soon as possible.

Rucola on top of a frittata
Another food favourite, hardly seen in Puerto Rico, rucola (rocket / arugula)!!

Now, a big hotel breakfast before we head out to visit some houses!

*) I think that I have seen one round-about in Puerto Rico!

Back to Europe!

6 04 2010

We have now been back in Europe, Spain to be exact, for one day and people are wondering how it feels… Well, like we are in Spain on holidays 😉 which is actually true since O is not [officially] working this week. Maybe it will feel different next week when we arrive to Brussels and start re-adapting to life in Belgium with all that it includes (bank appointments, house visits, job hunting and most important: meeting up with friends!!).

Puerto Rico road sign

It was definitely sad to leave Puerto Rico and I think that both of us felt a little numb when driving to the airport on Sunday evening after a last fika (coffee) with our best friend B. We had planned to meet up with her at Borders for our usual Sunday ritual but it was closed since it was Easter Sunday, so we had to go to La España bakery instead. O announced to the whole [Spanish] staff there that it was our last coffee in Puerto Rico!!

La España bakery, San Juan

Our last days in the Caribbean were spent relaxing on the beach & by the pool, saying goodbye to friends (and meeting two sets of French parents!), having a last stroll in the Old San Juan and the final “pollo con arroz y habichuelas” (chicken with rice and beans), and “quesito y cafe con leche” (Puerto Rican pastry with cream cheese and coffee with milk)…

Selling cotton candy on the beach Escambrón, Puerto Rico
Selling algodón de azúcar (cotton candy) on the Escambrón beach, San Juan

Playa de Escambrón with El Morro in the background
Playa de Escambrón with El Morro (the fortress) in the background

Bringing ice to the beach, San Juan
Bringing ice to the beach – a Puerto Rican beach necessity!

Newly painted mural at Playa de Escambrón, San Juan
A new mural was being painted when we visited the Escambrón beach on Saturday

Costco by night, Carolina, PR
Costco by night – O wanted to buy an emergency radio (with solar-cells and a crank handle) (for Belgium??)

Eating at the counter at La Mallorca bakery, OSJ
Eating at the counter, La Mallorca bakery, Old San Juan

Old San Juan street sign
Old San Juan street sign

O is already going back to Puerto Rico in less than two weeks’ time but I have no idea when I will be back to la isla del encanto (enchanted island)… Hopefully one day soon, because I know that I will miss both the island and our wonderful friends.

Show & Tell / Friday Theme: In my Easter egg I would like…

2 04 2010

Taina in Connecticut is the April hostess for the Show & Tell and her chosen, very challenging, themes are:
2nd April: In my Easter egg I would like…
9th april: Nails
16th April: White lies
23rd April: Power
30th April: OMG how embarrassing!

We have no Easter atmosphere at the hotel, but last year we followed both Swedish and Spanish / Catholic Easter traditions, including eating fish on Good Friday and lamb on Easter Sunday:

Dressed for the Good Friday procession
Good Friday procession in the Old San Juan – religious processions are an integral part of Spanish Easter celebrations

The Easter egg has been filled...
Swedish Easter egg

Easter decorations
Swedish Easter decorations – on a plate. Next year I would like to take in branches from [our?] garden and decorate them with these ornaments

This year there is no Swedish Easter egg filled with Swedish sweets 😦 , we are not going to the Old San Juan to look at the Easter procession (O is too tired after having worked until almost 10 o’clock last night) but we are going to eat fish today as good Catholics (Hello, I am protestant!?). O has promised me sushi, which might not be the most traditional way of eating fish on Good Friday…

Conclusion: this year since I won’t have a proper Easter egg,  I will make do with sushi at my favourite Japanese restaurant in San Juan!!

I apologise for my not-so-updated list of Show & Tell participants: Anki, Anna, Anne, Anne-Marie, Annika, Bejla, Desiree, Erica, Helena, IamAnnika, IngaBritt, Mais-oui, Musikanta, Nilla, Olgakatt, Petra H, Saltis, Simone, Sparkling, Strandmamman, Taina, and Under Ytan.

A new view…

1 04 2010

After having lived 2,5 years with an ocean view, we opted for a lagoon view at the hotel… And we are not disappointed!

Laguna del Condado
Laguna del Condado at 07 in the morning… The small planes’ airport in San Juan is to the far right – you can see the landing strip if you look really hard. The Old San Juan is to the West of the lagoon.

Laguna del Condado II
Laguna del Condado towards the East – we used to live further East facing the Atlantic Ocean (North). The lagoon is South of the Condado peninsula.

I woke up this morning when O was getting ready for work / or at least for his “cleaning out the office”-day. The lagoon was completely calm and people were paddling in kayaks and standing on top of surf-boards (what’s the word again for that sport / board-paddling or something??). So peaceful…

Moving days

30 03 2010

The movers have just left (for the second day, they didn’t manage to finish yesterday!) and I am about to start cleaning the apartment while O is off to the office. Tomorrow we move out of the apartment, which has been our home for 2,5 years, and check into the Condado Plaza Hotel*. It will be nice with some luxury: relaxing by the pool, eating out (after having eaten left-overs for the last couple of days) and meeting up with friends for the last time [for now].

Living room with the stuff being air-shipped in the middle
Living room with our stuff that will be air-shipped in the middle, 438 lbs in total (mostly clothes packed in air-tight SpaceBags). The furniture belongs to the apartment, except for the leather arm chair seen on the right (we have two).

Result of the move: 100 items! The movers were complaining about the amount of books we (actually I) have and O threatened to sell them all on eBay 😦

Kitchen full of boxes
Kitchen full of boxes

To sum up our feelings right now, as expressed by O yesterday evening: [I] can’t believe that we are actually leaving, and [I] feel homeless… Who knows when we will have a proper home again!? Hopefully in a few months’ time…

TV- & guest room with moving boxes
TV- and guest room, also full of boxes…

We wanted to stay in Puerto Rico until Monday but when Iberia suggested us flying San Juan – New York – Barcelona – Madrid, we decided that Sunday was good enough (with a DIRECT flight to Madrid!)! We will spend a week with O’s family in Spain and then we head to Brussels, and I am already lining up dinners with friends 🙂

*) Features in the [crap] film Men who stare at goats with George Clooney, as a hotel in Kuwait in the 1980’s! (I haven’t liked any of George’s so-called comedies, he’s just not funny!)

Show & Tell / Friday theme: Change

26 03 2010

I really have to apologise for my sporadic participation in the Show & Tell / Friday theme, but here’s at least an interpretation of today’s theme which is CHANGE, chosen by Saltis.

Our lives, as I have mentioned so many times before, will change in a week’s time (or so, probably Easter Sunday to be specific) when we leave Puerto Rico and move back to Brussels.

Here are some photos to show the way our everday views will change from living in San Juan to re-making a life in Brussels. It is probably not an entirely fair comparison, but I want to underline that I love both cities and just like I have missed Brussels, I will miss San Juan and our life here.

Viejo San Juan
Street life in Old San Juan

Brussels street view
Brussels street view

A rainy (midsummer's) day in San Juan
A rainy (Midsummer’s) day in San Juan

Belgian rain on Belgian National Day
Brussels on a rainy (National) day

Punta Escambrón, San Juan
Punta / Playa Escambrón, San Juan

Parc Leopold
Parc Leopold, behind the European Parliament, Brussels

The city wall in Old San Juan
The City Wall in the Old San Juan

Brussels City wall
The old City Wall in Brussels – not much left of it…

Plazuela de la Rogativa, San Juan
Plazuela de la Rogativa, San Juan

Manneken Pis on the National Day
Manneken Pis on Belgium’s National Day (21st July), Brussels

Raíces fountain in the Old San Juan
The Raíces (Roots) fountain in the Old San Juan (usually spraying passers-by with water)

Fountain in Parc Royal
Fountain in the Parc Royal, Brussels

Old San Juan by night
Old San Juan by night (seen from our departing cruise ship)

Grand' Place by night
Brussels Town Hall at the Grand’ Place, by night

I will try to make the blog round today but I can’t promise anything with all the things I need to do before the movers arrive on Monday morning…
Anki, Anna, Anne, Anne-Marie, Annika, Bejla, Desiree, Erica, Helena, IamAnnika, IngaBritt, Mais-oui, Musikanta, Nilla, Olgakatt, Petra H, Saltis, Simone, Sparkling, Strandmamman, Taina, and Under Ytan.

PS I did a similiar post comparing a Swedish autumn with autumn in Puerto Rico – click on the link.