Dog Groomers in Belgium

IMG_0037Meet Piper, a three year old “Goldendoodle” from America.  Her mom is a medium size poodle and her dad is a pretty large golden retreiver.  We got lucky and she is a non-shedding hybrid.  As you can see from the photo of her on our couch, she is a big lazy mop of fur.  She’s a very loved part of our family, but since she has hair instead of fur she has to go for regular hair cuts.

 

We had quite a difficult time finding a grooming place in Gent, Belgium.  We really wanted a groomer close to our house, but using Google to search for these types of businesses is more difficult than it should be here in Belgium.  I telephoned several independent businesses, left messages, and ultimately never got a call back.  These numbers we found in passing signs while driving around.  Looking back, not all of the numbers called were necessarily groomers.  One in particular, I later found out was actually a restaurant and their use of dogs on signs was more random than anything else.IMG_0013

Ultimately we settled on using Tom & Co, a larger chain business.  It’s quite a bit more expensive than what we were paying a private lady in the U.S. (roughly double the cost) and appointments must be made well ahead of time.

 

Piper’s most recent grooming was November 12, 2015 and is almost identical to the North American snow fulled photograph above.  Please comment below if you have thoughts on dog grooming or training!

DIY stores

When living abroad one of the first things you will probably need are DIY supplies, especially if like me, you like to do stuff with your hands, so here’s a short list of places where you can find your hammers and wrenches and wall paints. I come from a country dominated by local and German DIY chains, so it took a bit of digging and getting used to how things are done here. In fact, even after 6 years in Belgium, it’s still a work in progress, also because Belgians like to do to stuff with their hands too and therefore local and national shops that offer help in that department are a booming business.

I started as a single expat with no permanent plans for settling, so my first shopping trip was, unsurprisingly, to Ikea. The market specialist in flat-pack furniture also has a small selection of DIY tools that can help you with your basic needs. Since I didn’t bring anything with me, I bought their basic toolboPainting wallsx 10 years ago and still use it regularly, so definitely well spent 5 euro (at the time).

One place I always go to is Brico. It’s a chain and you can find it all over Belgium, including some city centres (in Ghent there’s one at the Vrijdagmarkt and open also on Sundays), plus they also have a budding online shop. I really like Brico, but I’m female, so maybe the fact that its logo has nice colours, its home decoration section is really big and their store layout follows my way of thinking, all have something to do with it. Also, they do these great annual catalogues, that are really mouthwatering for a home improver like me. But experience of other shoppers show you might not get all the advice and help you need. It is also the more expensive brand, however, it has the advantage of having large stores with plenty of basic items in stock.

If you’re looking for cheaper chains, there’s Hubo and Gamma, while Brico Plan-It looks like a much larger and somewhat cheaper version of Brico (in Ghent, you will find it next to the football stadium Ghelamco Arena). Some of these chains also provide additional services, like cutting wood bought at their store to your specifications (sometimes on the spot, sometimes on order).

Additionally, you can find in Belgium local, family-run shops that tend to specialise, such as construction materials company Van De Velde in Zwijnaarde (e.g. to get gravel for your driveway, but also terrace tiles). They have the advantage of being able to offer you expert advice and additional services. For example, the wood specialist Hanssens Hout also cuts wood pieces to your specifications and provides free delivery for orders over a certain sum, or can advise which oil or varnish to use with certain wood type, while paint shop (and a country-wide chain) Colora offers colour advice for your home (payable but then deducted from your order).

Another thing you might be looking for are some electric tools and DIY machinery, especially if you’re thinking of buying property. There are two big chains dealing in rentals of construction equipment (and I mean, you can really get anything there): Huurland and Boels. Boels also rents out smaller items through Brico. Both Boels and Huurland also offer advice.

For those into doing up their home in more natural materials, there’s a few places around Ghent. If you come from a country where lime paint is the cheapest options in the shop, get ready for a shock. Lime paint is considered posh and/or tree-hugging alternative here, so get ready to dish out for imported goods (although Belgium has no shortage of limestone). There’s one great advantage to “natural” shops – they offer good advice. See for yourself at the local pioneer in green business Ecostore (in Merelbeke, they also have workshops and rent out some tools to be used with their products), the more insulation oriented Eurabo, and the paint and plaster specialists: Tintelijn and newcomer Huus. Most of these shops will also happily give you a list of contractors that work with their products, and with some of them you can agree for a fairer price if they let you do half the work.

Free-Time’s Sports and Culture Event – April 19, 2015

Official information (in Dutch): http://www.freetime.be/over-free-time/25jaar-free-time/

The non-profit Gent organisationa3fe010f63-domeinplan, Free-Time, is hosting an anniversary event in at Gent’s Blaarmeersen (click here to visit their website), which is a pond and sport/nature area.

Face painting and all sorts of other activities are planned.  For the very little ones, they offer “de kunstfabriek”, an art activity or some music in the afternoon (Muziek voor kleuters).  And for the more brave ones (over 1 meter and 40 cm), you can try the “Hoogteparcours” and get over your fear of heights.  Play some baseball, tennis, or take out a kayak or canoe.  For a full list of activities, click here.

 

Buying Groceries

Are you a baker?  Or just want a taste of home?  Well, going to the grocery store is one of the most profoundly intimidating experiences for an expat.  The language barrier becomes enormous at this point, and that translation app on your phone just doesn’t work fast enough or worse – you don’t know the proper home language words for what you need.

Belgium is much more of a single serving country than America or UK.  That one canister of baking powder you bought years ago is running low, and now you’re living in damp Belgium.  Baking powder does exist, but you’ll most commonly find it in sachets.  You can buy a multi-pack or just a little for a handful of euro cents.  This is, assuming you can find where in the shops such a product is shelved.  Baking needs are not grouped together.  You’ll find flour and cereals in one aisle, sugar elsewhere, and baking powder could be in a completely different area.

Looking for tissues to aid in fighting off that cold?  Don’t assume they’re with the toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes, diapers and tampons as the local Spar has paper products arranged.  No, in this case the Kleenex tissues are with the pasta.  It’s Belgium!

There are some larger grocery shops that you should be aware of:

  • Delhaize – This chain operates in a variety of sizes, including a Shop&Go which is actually a really nice quality convenience store that might be attached to a Q8 fuel station.
  • Carrefour – From smaller Express shops to the large Hypermarkets, it is the most Walmart like shop you can find here that you can buy underpants, bread, a HDTV, wine, soda, and beer.  They are pretty great at meats.
  • Colruyt – If you’re from California you probably know Smart & Final.  Colruyt is a box store without membership that is incredibly efficient but also very limited (or focused perhaps) on what they sell.
  • Albert Heijn – This Dutch company offers a lot more of a selection for different products.  It is one of the few places that hot & spicy sauces and things are available.
  • Spar – Associated with Colruyt in Belgium, Spar is a well known chain in Europe.  But if you’re from the UK and expecting the same Spar experience, stop those thoughts now.
  • Makro – A big box chain that you could compare to Costco, but not quite as big and bulk.  If you’ve been to Makro before in South Africa, don’t expect it to be quite the same.
  • Lidl – A company with a really interesting history, Lidle has some random deals for things like lawn gear and baby swim outfits.  It’s not a one stop shop, it’s more for a good deal.
  • Aldi – Another global chain, somewhat related to Lidl, this shop is also a place to get a good deal but won’t necessarily have the brands you’re seeking.
  • Red Market – A concept chain from Delhaize, intended to provide lower prices with more automation.

Winter Tires For Your Car – Not Really Optional

One of the more strange email messages I received was from the auto leasing company to request that I take my car in for a winter tire change in October/November.  Now, in April, the reverse shift is happening as the weather finally warms up.

The insurance systems mandate the winter tires, despite their negative impact on fuel efficiency.  So if you don’t comply, you will learn a lot more about the Belgian legal system than you probably ever want to.

If you’re living in a temperate region, it can seem a bit silly when all winter you might only see a few centimetres of snow.  But one of the ways it is reasoned is simple.  Belgium is a small country and going to some snowy parts of Germany or France are strong possibilities, so be prepared.

The only advice I can give you is be careful what shop you select for your car.  You’ll likely be expected to go back to that same one every time as they store your off-season tires.  So give this some thought, and maybe bring up the topic, if you haven’t selected long term housing.

Spring Activities

It is the first long weekend of 2015, Easter Weekend. The Easter Bunny (Paashaas in Dutch) will be coming to my house, but it is also a bit of a difficult time to be an expat. Typically this is a time to be with family, but unless your family is elsewhere in Europe it is not something I normally would consider travelling for. As a bachelor living thousands of kilometers/miles from family it typically meant get together with other unattached people and have a party. This year, married and with a one year old toddler, we’ll be heading off to a friend’s Little Farm for an Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday and have a Sunday dinner with more expats.

The most difficult day of the weekend is Monday because so many of the shops and restaurants are closed for Easter Monday. I was very surprised to see that on Sunday morning, in the city the usual Sunday markets were pretty active. The highways were pretty busy as we drove by them, but overall the roads were extremely quiet.  But Easter Monday is a great day to kick off the spring and enjoy some of the activities in Belgium.

Some things to consider doing:

  • SpringTij in Oostende – www.springtij-oostende.be
    Here’s hoping the 2016 weather is nicer than 2015 and a day at the Belgian coast will be nice indeed!
  • Japanese Tuintoerisme.hasselt.be
    If 2016 is anything like 2015, the Japanese Garden in Hasselt is gorgeous.
  • Floralia Brusselsfloralia-brussels.be
    Open from April 3 until May 3 in 2015, the Floralia is an international flower exhibition. Tulips, orchids and more with a 13th century castle complete with a moat!
  • Food Truck Festival – barriocantina.be
    Starting in April 2015 and continuing in various locations (mostly Gent) into September, the Food Truck Festival is a delicious way to enjoy the outdoors.

Welcome

The objective of this site is to gather information to assist other expats with adjusting to life in Belgium.  Not everything is available online, especially not in English.  When moving, a lot of the little things that were once simple can become very complicated and intimidating.  From grocery shopping to navigating through the maze of government bureaucracy.

Contributions are also wanted.  Please contact us if you have any interest in sharing your own experiences and stories.