Living in Brussels, I have been a long way from friends and family for the past 11 months. I haven’t seen my 90 year old Mum since last February. Luckily, I am here with my husband and two teenage children so not completely isolated. But life has been very different from 2019 when I took the Eurostar to London 2-3 times a month and could catch up with friends for a coffee between meetings or a sleepover if I finished work late. Anyway, I can’t complain as we have been healthy (touch wood) and Brussels is a great city to explore, with interesting architecture (especially art nouveau), and close to forests and lovely countryside to explore.
So what three things have kept me positive? The usual – being outdoors, food and pets – let me explain.
We live in a city center apartment with no outdoor space, but in Belgium we have been able to travel within the country for exercise. So last spring, we bought inflatable canoes and discovered the Dijle river which runs through the university town of Leuven (home of Stella Artois) it was wonderful; when it got colder we focused on hiking – and took advantage of circular signposted walks in the Ardennes and Brabant with excellent maps provided by the tourist office.
Each time there is a different point of interest – a castle, an old paper mill, 1930s tank defences, the most Northern vineyards in Europe, pear orchards, fortified farms, cart horses.
At home we have done lots of cooking – not bread so much but Japanese home cooking like gyoza (my husband is Japanese) or trying to make tofu and English favourites we miss like Yorkshire Pudding and coffee walnut cake.
Finally – pets – which I thought would be impossible in a rented flat . Then my husband broke his foot in January, so going for walks is on hold … and I walked past a pet shop with a tiny glass aquarium in the window and we went back and bought it. Its about 30cm high and could sit on a piece of A4 paper and we placed it at one end of the dining table. Having acclimatised the water, we bought six tiny blue and red tetra cardinal fish, two tiny black and white catfish and three minute navy blue shrimps. The fish are about 2cm long (the shrimps less than 1cm) and we have had hours of fun – watching their antics – and this distracts us from our screens – for a few moments anyway.