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Belgium: food glorious food

Our Belgium holiday was fantastic!

If you’ve not seen the previous posts about our trip, check them out here. Every place we visited was full of stunning buildings and tonnes of history. But one thing that stood out for me was the food. Oh my goodness. The Belgians know how to eat!

Belgium is most well known for their chips and beer but seeing as I can’t eat chips and I don’t like beer, I wasn’t expecting much to excite me. I was so wrong. First of all, there is chocolate. EVERYWHERE. Of course I knew all about Belgian chocolate but I had no idea how popular it would be. It seemed that every other shop in Brussels was filled with the beautiful rich smell of chocolate. Many were beautifully laid out and even offered free samples – what’s not to love!

With all that solid chocolate floating around, it makes sense that their hot chocolate would be fantastic. Well it was incredible. On our very soggy day trip to Bruges, we found the most amazing little hot chocolate house to warm our bones. The hot chocolate menu was several pages long, featuring all kinds of different percent and origin chocolate. We were each presented with a giant bowl of steaming milk and a chocolate cup of chocolate chips to melt in to it. Best hot chocolate ever.

Waffle time

Other than chocolate, what food is Belgium known for? Waffles. Being a huge waffle fan, I was super excited about this. I wasn’t prepared for quite how many waffle stands and shops there would be but I loved it! The list of toppings, both sweet and savoury, was endless. And the waffles themselves were works of art! Great care is taken to create a delicious and beautiful waffle which I thought was brilliant. It even inspired me to create a waffle print design which I can’t wait to get started on later this year.

Food in Belgium - waffles

After chocolate and waffles, my food knowledge of Belgium was done. I didn’t know what else to expect but I was in for such a good surprise. One sweet treat that kept popping up was the Merveilleux. This incredible Belgian creation is a cake made of soft meringue, whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Literally all my favourite things in one dessert!

I went for the most chocolate laden one I could find and let me tell you it was pure heaven. They seemed to come in two sizes, one about 10cm tall, and miniature ones at about half that size.

Food in Belgium - Merveilleux

There were full shops dedicated to this sweet delight, as well as many bakeries having huge sections of them in varying flavours. Some had nuts in, a few had fruit in, and all were coated in either white, milk, or dark chocolate.

Like a kid in a candy store

As well as chocolatey goodness, we also discovered the interesting array of Belgian sweets on offer.

Food in Belgium - Cuberdons

Cuberdons (named after little noses because of their shape) could be found everywhere. There were carts selling stacks of the jelly sweets in every colour of the rainbow. The sweet shops were also stunning, with all kinds of interesting looking candies in various shapes and colours to choose from.

Cakes, tarts and pastries

It was interesting seeing the French influence on the food. We spotted many patisseries that would have looked right at home in any French town. The cakes, tarts and pastries are so beautifully and meticulously decorated with stunning flavours to match. As I was admiring yet another bakery window, I was inspired by the glorious treats to create a print design. Stay tuned for that coming soon!

Food in Belgium - Patisserie

But it wasn’t just fancy bakeries that provided these incredible sweet treats. We visited a food market in Antwerp which was absolutely fabulous – definitely worth a visit for any foodie. There was a bakery stall selling all kinds of traditional Belgian desserts. We went for a flan bresilienne which was a truly delicious tart made of sweet pastry, creme patissiere, whipped cream and topped with sugared chopped nuts.

Savoury delights

As well as all the wonderful sweet treats we found, we encountered many delicious savoury bites too. The food market had some great stalls, such as a cheese stall with every type of cheese you could possibly imagine.

We quickly discovered that meatballs are a popular meal in Belgium so we tested them out. We found a small meatball bar just off the main square in Brussels that offered a very reasonable lunchtime menu which was absolutely delicious.

Food in Belgium - ballekes

Another Belgium food favourite is croquetten. This dutch bread-crumbed snack is available in a variety of fillings and we found a cafe in Antwerp that had a whole menu of them. They were packed full of flavour and surprisingly filling which was just what we needed after a day of sightseeing.

Food in Belgium - Croquetten

After not expecting much I was blown away by the amazing food we discovered on our tour around Belgium. I hope you enjoyed reliving my food memories with me!

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Belgium: Last stop, Bruges then Ghent

After three days in Antwerp we hopped on the train again.

If you haven’t seen the first two instalments of our Belgium adventure, take a look at them here.

The last stops on our Belgium trip were Bruges and Ghent. We decided to just stop in Bruges for the day as it’s only small, then head back to Ghent for the night. Unfortunately we chose to visit Bruges on a day when it rained. All day. Luckily Bruges is so super pretty that it still looked fabulous on a dreary day.

The main square was full of horses ready to take you around Bruges

Every street was lined with beautiful buildings full of intricate details.

Literally every street is full of stunning buildings

As well as the classic Dutch style buildings, there’s a fabulous cathedral. The inside was lovely and light and had the most wonderful stained glass windows.

The whole town is surrounded by a maze of canals which gives the buildings a stunning backdrop. Even on a gloomy day the canals were looking lovely.

After spending six hours strolling around Bruges, we were completely sodden through but well and truly wowed by the beautiful town.

I just wanted to give a quick shout out to the Belgium trains company. We used several trains and they were all super nice, so reasonably priced and on time! (If you’re reading this outside the UK and you’re wondering why I was excited by that, trains in the UK are pretty rubbish.)

The final stop

Our next and final stop of our Belgium adventure was Ghent. I didn’t know much about the city before visiting but a quick google search before going revealed it was going to be a stunner.

We were really lucky to be staying in a hotel right in the centre by the cathedral so we could walk straight out of the door and start sightseeing. It’s the perfect size for walking around but there’s also a small electric minibus that takes you around the city for free. Similar to Bruges, Ghent has gorgeous canals running through the streets. The weather was much kinder to us here so the reflection of the buildings on the water was stunning.

About every two minutes I had to stop to take a photo because everywhere is so photogenic!

Sorry to keep repeating myself here, but honestly the buildings everywhere were just so beautiful!

A happy place to be

What I loved most about Ghent was the atmosphere. Bruges was lovely but it very much felt like a touristy place, whereas Ghent felt like a real city. It’s got such history to it and has overcome so much in the past and you can somehow feel that in the air.

If you’re interested in medieval history, the castle has lots of stories to tell.

The inside of the buildings are just as stunning. The cathedral interior is designed in the classic Flemish style which can be seen all over Belgium.

They had some lovely old shops in some of the buildings too. This cute building housed a fabulous sweet shop selling traditional Belgian treats. Sadly it was closed when we visited but the window display was great.

As well as all the historic architecture, there’s a contemporary edge to the city. The university city has some brilliant independent artist shops and this famous graffiti alley which will be different every time you visit.

Ghent really is such a wonderful place. If you visit anywhere in Belgium, make it Ghent! It has a slight hidden gem vibe about it so it’s not completely overrun with tourists yet.

After two days in Ghent it was back to the UK for us. If you’re thinking “But wait, what about the food you had when you were away?”, don’t worry! The food was so fabulous in Belgium I’ve decided to dedicate a whole blog post to the subject. Stay tuned for the final Belgium post all about food coming soon…

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Belgium: Next stop, Antwerp

The next stop on our Belgium adventure was Antwerp.

After a couple of days in Brussels (if you haven’t read my Brussels blog post yet, take a look here) we hopped on the train and headed to Antwerp. The first thing to say about Antwerp is that the train station is stunning. As we came off the train there was a huge traffic jam of people as we all stopped to take a photo.

Antwerp train station
The architecture of Antwerp train station is amazing

While studying fashion design at university we were told about the magical Antwerp Six. These were six super influential fashion designers that graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the 80s who had a huge impact on the avant-garde fashion world. Since hearing about them, I’ve wanted to go to Antwerp to soak up all the fashion-y goodness.

Unfortunately when we went the fashion museum was having a complete remodel and there were no fashion exhibitions on anywhere. However it was still fun to walk around all the fancy designer shops and peek through the windows.

I love a good stroll around the fashion district

Museum time

Although we found no fashion exhibitions, we did visit the brilliant Plantin-Moretus museum. It’s a museum all about printing and it was totally fascinating! The museum is based in the building where the Plantin Press made all their works and it talks through the history of printing.

Plantin-Moretus museum in Antwerp
It was really interesting to see the old printing machines

As well as being able to walk through the old printing studios, there were thousands of examples of their printed works. They made everything from maps, to bibles, to scientific textbooks. They also had a section about the history of different fonts which was super interesting to me having studied typography as part of my degree.

Plantin-Moretus museum in Antwerp
I was completely nerding out in the printing museum

We spent so much longer there than we expected so if you ever visit Antwerp I would 100% recommend visiting the Plantin-Moretus museum (even if you’re not a printing nerd like me).

Another museum we visited was the MAS museum. I’m not going to lie to you, we went here more for the building than for the exhibitions.

MAS museum Antwerp
The MAS museum is a really interesting building

The building itself is this crazy mix of styles. Plus if you can face a whole heap of escalators, the view from the top is one of the best in Antwerp.

Bird's eye view of Antwerp
You can see the whole of Antwerp from the top

Even better, it’s free to get to the viewing platform at the top! It’s super windy up there so hold on to your hat.

I don’t know who felt the need to attach these huge climbers to the side of this building but I love them.

You also get a great view of these fab fellas climbing a building opposite the museum.

The old town

Speaking of architecture, the buildings in the old town are stunning. The whole main square is edged with beautiful buildings like this. Each one has different little features that represent what used to be made in them when they were first built.

Antwerp old town main square
The main square in the old town had the most wonderful buildings

The main square is also home to the famous Brabo fountain statue. The figure is throwing a giant’s hand which is the basis story of how Antwerp got its name. Don’t you just love folklore.

Brabo fountain statue and cathedral
The brabo fountain statue and cathedral in the background

Mixed in with all this super old historic architecture there are little splashes of fun modern sculptures. My personal favourite was this guy. No explanation as to why it’s there but I love it.

How cute is this sculpture?!

After walking almost every single street over the three days we were there, we moved on to our next stop. Stay tuned for the next instalment of our Belgium adventure coming soon!

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Belgium: First stop, Brussels

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Belgium.

It’s a country I’d never been to before but I had wanted to visit for a long time. We flew out from Manchester to Charleroi airport and our first stop on the tour was Brussels.

The first thing that struck me about Brussels was how beautiful the architecture was! I had always thought of Brussels as a business city but of course there is an old town with incredible buildings. The main square is a great place to start; you could even do a tour in a horse and carriage.

One of the main icons of the city is this peeing statue. There seem to be many stories as to how it became such a famous landmark, but whatever the reason is, he’s a very popular guy. You’ll see the crowd of people as you walk up the street so you can’t miss him. We were lucky to catch him in a special outfit which was really fun to see.
There’s even a huge street art shrine to him just around the corner…

Speaking of street art, this fab Tintin mural is hidden in plain sight on the main route through the old town.

Step in to a museum

Just up from the statue is the fashion and lace museum. This is well worth a visit if you’re at all interested in fashion. While we were there they had an exhibition on about the back of garments which was an interesting take on fashion that I hadn’t seen before. It was great that you could get up so close to the designer clothes and see the progression through history.

This exhibition is a temporary collection but the main lace exhibition is also fascinating. You would not believe how many different types of lace there are! Most of the exhibits have an English explanation if you’re French isn’t up to much and there are loads of examples to see.

Moving on from the museum, there’s so much to explore in the older part of town. Belgium has some amazing churches and cathedrals with stunning stained glass windows. The colours are so bold and bright.

Another place that I would recommend visiting is the museum of musical instruments. This is a fascinating place if you’re in to your music, or even if you only have a vague interest in music. The place is chockablock full of instruments from all over the world, going back years. Just resist the urge to play any of them!

If nothing else, it’s worth visiting for the view over Brussels. Even on a cloudy day it was great!

After two days of walking our feet off, it was on to Antwerp next. Stay tuned for the Antwerp blog post coming soon!

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The highs and lows of running a small business

Spoiler alert: it’s a real roller coaster.

I love my job. I have always wanted to work for myself but I can tell you for free that running a small business is not easy. I’ve been running Drawn by Rhiannon for three years now and pretty much every day is a struggle. However, for me nothing beats being your own boss. Today is a beautifully sunny summer’s day so I’m writing this blog post with an old fashioned pen and paper outside in the garden. Of course I will have to type this up later but that’s a job for this evening when the sun goes down. And that’s one of the first things I love about running my own business – the flexibility.

It’s great to be flexible.

I have never particularly been a morning person so starting work at 8am every day isn’t an ideal situation for me. I find I’m much more productive later on and in to the evening so I love that I’m able to start work at 10am and work until after tea instead. Sometimes I can be working until two in the morning if that’s when inspiration has struck and that works great for me.

Drawn by Rhiannon studio
I’m lucky to have a great studio at the bottom of my garden

On the flip side, the negative aspect of working from home is that you’re never able to switch off. I’m lucky to have a fabulous studio at the bottom of my garden where I do all my sewing and most my designing. Unfortunately my internet doesn’t stretch to the studio so all the website designing, marketing and general computer work has to be done inside the house. There’s always a never ending to do list so the temptation to just quickly finish off a few things soon turns in to several hours of work when I’m supposed to be taking some time off. The work life balance is something I’m constantly battling with to prevent me from spiralling in to a full blown burnout.

Freedom is liberating

The main thing I love about running a small business is being able to design what I want. You wouldn’t believe the amount of junior designer jobs that mainly consist of making coffee and doing dry cleaning runs. I didn’t go to university for four years to do that! This is part of the reason that I wanted to work for myself because I didn’t want to lose my creativity or all the skills I worked so hard to learn. I love taking inspiration trips and deciding what prints to design next. And I love not having to work to a trend brief or having to stick to a restricted colour palette.

Drawn by Rhiannon watercolour painting
I love being able to be super creative in my job

On the other hand, not having anyone to bounce ideas off can be difficult too. When you’ve spent several hours working on a new print design, staring at the screen and nudging layouts a millimetre here and there, it becomes impossible to know what looks good any more. As the business grows I plan to take on a couple of staff to help with the workload which would be a huge bonus (and would hopefully stop me going stir crazy and asking my pet rabbit which colour background she thinks works the best). Until then I rely on all you lovely lot to keep me sane so I really appreciate you replying to my questions and commenting on my social media posts.

Money talks

Now for some serious talk – money. As much as I love what I do, at the end of the day I can’t keep doing it if it doesn’t make money. I’m fortunate to have a part time job in a craft shop which ensures my house and bills are paid for each month so I don’t have to worry about becoming homeless. However, if you’re working 30-40 hours a week running a small business, you kind of want to see some profit return on that right? This is something I still find very tricky to manage, especially as the gift-orientated things I make are really quite seasonal.

I was on such a high at the end of 2018 as I’d had my best Christmas ever and was actually taking a full time wage. Obviously this was due to a huge amount of work and I spent most of the Christmas break in complete brain dead zombie mode but that’s how it is. I even earned enough to book a holiday in February to Belgium (check out the blog posts about that trip here) which I was absolutely over the moon with.

The Christmas markets were a huge success and it was brilliant seeing people wanting to buy my items for special gifts for loved ones.

However after all the buzz of Christmas, the start of 2019 hit me like a tonne of bricks. I barely made any sales and at Easter time I almost packed the whole thing in. Which brings me to my final point.

Confidence and motivation

Without a doubt the hardest thing about running a business is having the confidence and motivation to keep it going. There are times when I’m consistently working 12-14 hour days and only seeing pocket money in return. When you put your heart and soul in to something and people don’t really seem that interested it can destroy you. Sometimes I just have to keep ploughing on because I know if I stop and really take a look at things I might not be able to carry on (sometimes doing the books at the end of the month can be really devastating).

The words ‘I can’t do this any more’ have gone through my head more in the past three years than in the rest of my life combined, but so have the words ‘I love my job’. The minute I receive a message from a customer saying how much they love their order, or see someone smile at a print I’ve designed on my market stall, it makes it all seem worthwhile.

Running a small business is hard. By supporting a small business you are supporting a dream
Every purchase you make really does make a huge difference

I would love to say that Drawn by Rhiannon has been an overnight success and every day is better than the last but that wouldn’t be true. It would mean the world to me if you could all support me to help me achieve my dream by shopping small and interacting with the brand on social media. One day I hope that I can do this full time and employ some wonderful people to work alongside me but I’m not there yet. After all, nothing good in life comes easy does it?