Our Expat Adventure Comes to an End


Reflections on our Adventure

Reflections on our Adventure

There are places I remember all my life

Though some have changed

Some forever, not for better

Some have gone and some remain…

(Lennon-McCartney – In My Life)

Hard to believe four weeks have passed since Jim and I boarded a plane in Brussels for our return trip to Chicago. Returning to our house and lives after a two-year absence has been a chore. Not to mention the pangs of separation and the clutter of two major holidays. Although our furniture and other possessions are still in route from Belgium, we feel somewhat settled. Therefore, with a bit of distance, emotional and physical, as well as a sizable chunk of resettlement chores behind us, I can blog about our farewell.

Home--Forrest Avenue, Arlington Heights

Home–Forrest Avenue, Arlington Heights

Home--Rue d'Ecosse 4, Brussels

Home–Rue d’Ecosse 4, Brussels

*****

We Love Chicago,

but

We Miss Brussels!

If given a choice, we’d hop a plane back despite the ‘imminent’ or ‘probable’ terror threat. Maybe that’s natural. It’s hard to break out of a familiar orbit, especially one that delivered great adventure. We made a great life for ourselves in Belgium. Even though we left family, friends and our beloved house behind in Chicago two years ago, Brussels became our home. Or rather, we made Brussels our home. There is a difference. Left to passive indifference, a deep connection with our adopted city probably wouldn’t have happened. I’ve blogged at length about Belgeface, the scowl most natives flash as you pass them on the street. It’s an expression filled with a mix of anger, misery and contempt seeming to dare passersby to offer a spirited bonjour.  Brussels isn’t Paris, London or even Chicago. It’s sophistication is imported. As Headquarters of NATO and home to the European Commission, Council and Parliament, the city is awash with interesting foreigners. Service and infrastructure are mediocre. The Grand Place is a global treasure. But the other top tourist attraction is a small statue of little artistic merit—a perpetually peeing boy. Sidewalks are not for the feeble with doggie-doo land mines and missing pavement stones. My favorite are the pavers that protrude an inch or so above the rest of the pavement. Frankly, Brussels always looks as if it could use a good power washing. But, if you demand style and cleanliness along with sophistication, Antwerp is only a short journey away.

Yet despite Brussels’ many blemishes, Jim and I embraced the city and connected with many others who call Brussels home.

Brussels Writers Circle

Of course, I had my writer’s group, the Brussels Writers Circle (BWC) that provided great personal and professional satisfaction. The group spawned many wonderful friendships. During the last few weeks, many made a point of sending me off. I’m grateful to Ocean and Lida for coordinating my farewell gift and to Patrick and Andreas who hosted my sendoff toast and to the others who attended. Sorry to say that I don’t have pictures of that event. How unlike me!  I miss my Tuesday night chairing duties. Sessions were always entertaining, stimulating and inspiring.

BWC, Klavs

BWC, Klavs

BWC, Anne-May

BWC, Anne-May

BWC, Lida & Mimi

BWC, Lida & Mimi

***** 

Favorite Restaurants

Premier Comptoir Thai with Barbara

Premier Comptoir Thai with Barbara

Nuovo Rosso with Chicago Friends

Nuovo Rosso with Chicago Friends

Jim and I had our favorite neighborhood restaurants: Nuovo Rosso, Ma Folle de S0eur, Premier Comptoir Thai, Malte. I think we dragged every visitor to Nuovo Rosso which Jim declared the BEST pasta he’s ever eaten. Nuovo Rosso is the kind of neighborhood place (literally 10 meters out our front door) where you shake hands with the owner/chef, and where regulars can usually walk in without a reservation.

While neither flashy nor daring, the Brussels restaurant scene is excellent. Food is consistently fresh and good. We also like the Belgian dining custom. The combination of tax and tip that easily adds thirty-three percent to your restaurant bill in the USA is missing. Taxes are already included and tips aren’t expected although a small gratuity is greatly appreciated.

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Ma Folle le Soeur with Eleanor

Ma Folle le Soeur with Eleanor

Ma Folle de Soeur with Irene

Ma Folle de Soeur with Irene

Malte with Janice

Malte with Janice

Best Coffee in Brussels

After brief dalliances with the Maison du Peuple and JAT, I finally settled into my favorite cafe, Bocca Moka. I found myself walking there to write more and more. It’s a place where everyone knows your name and you can sit down at a table and get your favorite offering without ordering. I loved chatting with the friendly staff and locals. Jim considers the flat-white served up by Bocca Moka as the BEST in Brussels, if not the world. Karina, the owner/operator has an incredible passion for service and coffee. At the cafe’s sunny back table under a giant print of the Brooklyn Bridge, I edited all of my soon-to-be launched novel, None Shall Sleep and completed about eighty percent of my next project, Two Towers. The Bocca Moka team offered so much good cheer and encouragement that you’ll find an acknowledgement to Karina and her staff in None Shall Sleep. Starbucks just isn’t the same.

With the Bocca Moka Staff

With the Bocca Moka Staff

Bocca Moka's Sendoff to Jim and me

Bocca Moka’s Sendoff to Jim and me

With Karina, owner/operator of Bocca Moka, the BEST cafe in Brussels

With Karina owner of Bocca Moka, the BEST cafe in Brussels

We had our favorite shops, shopkeepers and neighbors, chief among these were Michelle and Barbara. Michelle operated the sandwich shop to one side of our house and Barbara and her husband, Patrick and their six cats lived on the other side. Barbara is the neighbor with whom we shared a garden wall and a cat or two including Puhi. When Puhi decided to ‘adopt’ Jim and me, Barbara was the one who recognized his desire to become an Arkenberg. She unselfishly allowed Puhi first to move from number 6 to number 4, and then to become a Yankee. Jim declares that Puhi is the BEST cat he’s ever met!

Great Neighbors

Michelle, the friendliest sandwich man in Brussels.

Michelle, the friendliest sandwich man in Brussels.

With Barbara & Puhi

With Barbara & Puhi

Scotty & Puhi

Scotty & Puhi

*****

The Markets

Parvis Saint-Gilles with Jim's parents

Parvis Saint-Gilles with Jim’s parents

Saint-Gilles, Town Hall Market

Saint-Gilles, Town Hall Market

If you read my prior posts, you know that my favorite things in Brussels were the markets: the Monday and Wednesday evening markets at Saint-Gilles Hotel de Ville and Chatelain, respectively, as well as the weekend market at the Parvis Saint-Gilles.

Chatelain with the Beirnes

Chatelain with the Beirnes

Wine at Chatelain

Wine at Chatelain

Wine at Chatelain

Wine at Chatelain

The Carnell's at Chatelain

The Carnell’s at Chatelain

Pumpkin at Chatelain

Pumpkin at Chatelain

Jim declared the rotisserie chicken served up at the Sunday market in Saint Gilles as the BEST in the world.

Final Roasted Chicken

Final Rotisserie Chicken

IMG_0748

Excursions

One of the greatest benefits of living in Brussels was the city’s central location, an easy hop by car, train or plane to any one of a number of places. We explored every nook and cranny of Belgium. The country has much to offer from Ypres to Bastogne in addition to the familiar tourist destinations of Antwerp, Brugge and Ghent. Edgar Hutte’s well-run Expat Club brought us new friends and new destinations including Koln, Kukenhof, Champagne and Trier. One of the joys of Jim’s and my life together has been the number of interesting people we’ve met around the world. They’ve enriched our lives and opened our minds. You know who you are. I’ve blogged extensively about our travels, and there isn’t room here to list every location or share many photos. What follows is a smattering of those places that meant the most to us, chiefly because we met up with friends. As those who travel with friends know all too well, sharing adventure is the BEST! Places are great, but relationships are greater.

Concert Weekend in Italy

Concert Weekend in Italy

With Scott and Bob & Pat in NYC

NYC with Scott and Bob & Pat

Jim and his folks in Brugge

Jim and his folks in Brugge

Peter & Nevi at Hampton Court

Peter & Nevi at Hampton Court

Gia, Anne & Bob at the Savoy, London

Gia, Anne & Bob at the Savoy, London

 

 

An International Melange in Melbourne

An International Melange in Melbourne

Copenhagen with Molly

Copenhagen with Molly

Annecy with Jacques & Didem

Annecy with Jacques & Didem

Stockholm with Andreas, Eva-Lotta, Ulrica & Son

Stockholm with Andreas, Eva-Lotta, Ulrica & Son

Paris Brunch with Paris Friends

Paris Brunch with Paris Friends

Wedding in the German/Austrian Alps

Wedding in the German/Austrian Alps

Houseguests and Visitors

For those familiar with my Facebook pages, you know that Jim and I didn’t lack visitors. In our two years, we had twenty-three sets of houseguests. Janice Rodgers and her boss Rae from Chicago were our first houseguests in March of 2014 while Gia was the final houseguest in November of 2015. Mixed among the houseguests were a number of other visitors. We entertained some of these visitors in our home and others we met for coffee, drinks or a meal. Many were quite generous with gifts and hosted meals. Thank for your generosity!  Coincidentally, our first visitor in February of 2014 was also our final visitor in November of 2015, our flight attendant friend, Janice D. Houseguests and visitors provided a vital supply chain of those goods not easily found in Brussels. What would we have done without American peanut butter and Sadie’s canned pumpkin?

Rae & Janice, First Set of Houseguests

Rae & Janice, First Set of Houseguests

Gia, Final Houseguest

Gia, Final Houseguest

First Visitor, Janice D

First Visitor, Janice D

Final Visitor, Janice D

Final Visitor, Janice D

Aunt Mary Anne

Aunt Mary Anne

Phyllis

Phyllis

George &

Jerry & George

Time to Say Goodbye

An Empty House

An Empty House

Sadie's Final Walkabout

Sadie’s Final Walkabout

Edyta our Housecleaner

Edyta our Housecleaner

IMG_1204

Jim and I said our goodbyes over several weeks in late November and early December. We thank the many people who hosted lunches and dinners for us including Anne-May, Klavs, Andreas & Patrick, Jim’s Nielsen team of Malay, Praveen & his lovely wife, and Soundharya, Philippe & Laurent and Barbara. Your kindness and friendship meant the world to us.

Farewell Brunch hosted by Philippe & Laurent

Farewell Brunch hosted by Philippe & Laurent

Sadie Settling In

Sadie Settling In

Puhi an American Couch Potato

Puhi an American Couch Potato

*****

With a heart heavy at what we were leaving behind but also joyful at reuniting with family and old friends, we flew to O’Hare with Sadie our Golden Retriever in the cargo hold and Puhi, the once guest cat but now an Arkenberg. One adventure was over, and another may have just begun…

Christmas Eve Dinner--Moules-Frites of course!

Christmas Eve Dinner in Chicago–Moules-Frites of course!

***** 

Final Thoughts

Two years ago Jim and I welcomed the posting to Belgium. “Years from now when we look back on our lives, we’ll remember Brussels,” I said to Jim. “We’ll call it a highlight of our lives.”

We don’t have to wait that long. Recognizing our good fortune, we already recognize the people, places and things of our time in Brussels as one of life’s prized adventures.

Would we do it again? In unison, Jim and I respond with an enthusiastic YES!

By the way in case you were wondering, Jim did declare our time in Brussels as our BEST adventure yet. I happen to agree with him,

*****

An Early Selfie

Early Selfie

Last Selfie at Rue d'Ecosse

Last Selfie at Rue d’Ecosse

And I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life….

(Lennon-McCartney – In My Life)

While Jim and I will carry pieces of Brussels with us till our dying days, memories and faces will fade over time. In place of detail and sharp recollections, we will be left with gentle musings and comforting reflections of a most excellent adventure, a highlight of a life well lived and loved.

A special thanks to all who shared this adventure with us, whether in person or at a distance through social media and emails.

 

 *****

 Reflections on Visitors

I post here a few images. literal reflections taken in a mirror in the foyer of our home, of a few of the people with whom we shared our life in Brussels. I apologize if I’ve omitted someone from mention in either narrative or photo. Some adventures are TOO Big to capture everything in a single blog.

Wait for the book and movie!

With David

David

With Vickie

Vickie

Glaswegians, Irene & Eleanor

Glaswegians, Irene & Eleanor

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George & Jerry

George & Jerry

With Beth & Cliff

With Beth & Cliff

Georgia, Mary, Matthew and Tina

Georgia, Mary, Matthew and Tina

 

 

 

Tom and Cecilia

Tom & Cecilia

Ammar & Guy

Ammar & Guy

Jim's Nielsen Colleagues

Jim’s Nielsen Colleagues

 

 

Bob & Pat

Bob & Pat

Modesta & MaryEllen

Modesta & MaryEllen

Janice

Janice

Comments

comments


10 Comments

  1. Diane

    Enjoyed your blog and living vicariously through your adventures. You made the right life choices, love your books! Just starting “None Shall Sleep”.
    Thank you Todd!

    • T.D. Arkenberg

      Thanks Diane. It sure helps having supportive friends like you.

  2. Gia

    There is an Italian saying,”to leave is to die a little” and your farewell to Brussels brought a lump to my throat. Fortunately the excitement of the new outweighs the little part of you that remains behind.
    much love
    Gia

  3. auntie karen

    Absolutely beautiful and I’m so glad you both have those memories you have a life most of us will never see and only hear about I know you both work hard and you deserve the best and personally I think you two were just made for each other from the get go it’s a wonderful thing that you found each others share this with I love you both very very much but pS I’m still glad you’re home

    • T.D. Arkenberg

      As beautiful and as touching as your reply. Thanks!

  4. Jim

    Great blog of our last two years. What an adventure. And yes, I seem to think everything is the best in the world. 🙂 So glad that we had this chance and that we are in this together. 🙂 XOXO Jim

    • T.D. Arkenberg

      And you didn’t say it so I will. I have the BEST spouse in the world. Thanks for all of your hard work and tenacity to make the Brussels adventure happen in the first place. It wasn’t an easy assignment, but you pulled it off with grace and determination. So proud of you.

  5. Fran Sleezer

    Thank you for sharing your adventures.
    Really enjoyed!

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