2013 – A CheeseWeb Year in Review

By alison - December 31, 2013 (Updated: November 18, 2014)

2013 was an incredible year

2013 was an incredible year… We made it to Hong Kong!

As we head into 2014, we look back at some of the highlights from the past year, and share some of our favourite blog posts from the past twelve months.

For the past few years, I’ve been doing ‘Year in Review’ posts (2012 & 2010). It’s a great way for me to take a step back and remember everything that happened as the year whizzed by. Sometimes I am so focused on writing, writing, writing; I forget that we actually get to do a lot of crazy, interesting things too. Like every year, 2013 had its highs and lows but it was definitely jam-packed.


We actually rang in 2013 in Florida, with Andrew’s family. We spent the 2012/13 holiday season with our families for the first time since we embarked on our expat adventure and it was a great way to start a new year.

Snow in Canada

We ended 2012 with this…
Sunny Florida

And began 2013 with this.

Arriving back in Belgium, we launched straight back into work mode. I wrapped up writing about our 2012 travels in Andalusia, Portugal, Prague and England with my family (Yes, I can get up to a year behind on posts these days). With that epic travel series completed, I began a new series of posts on my travels with my dear friend Jenn. Together, we visited Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin and Budapest, in 2012.

Jenn meets Europe

It was fun to re-live my travels with Jenn as I wrote about them this year.

I also wrote one of our most popular foodie posts of the past year on living gluten-free in Belgium.

I ended January with a bang – literally, and not in a good way. I slipped on my neighbour’s icy sidewalk and seriously sprained my arm. (Not good for the writing schedule, let me tell you.) It resulted in my first trip to the emergency room in Belgium.


Once my arm healed, I was back at my keyboard for another busy month of writing. I hit up some of my favourite Brussels’ based moms to find out about the best Activities for Kids (and parents) in Brussels.

In one of my favourite posts, we told you about 6 Restaurants that are worth leaving Brussels for. Another great foodie discovery was Bookalokal, a service we adore! We also hit the road to Amsterdam, for a trip to one of our favourite restaurants in the whole world (yup, we love it that much!) – Los Pilones Mexican Restaurant.

We always love our foodie finds in Belgium

We always love our foodie finds in Belgium

We attended a wine event at Britxos, where we met a couple of guys, who casually invited us to look them up in Italy… Little did they know we actually would a few months later…

I also took a quick train trip to Beersel, to meet up with a friend. She showed me 6 things to do in the Beersel area.

Castles, Roses, Beer and Food - What more could you want in the Beersel area?

Castles, Roses, Beer and Food – What more could you want in the Beersel area?


In March we discovered another ‘must do’ experience in Brussels when we toured Molenbeek with a Brussels Greeter.

We loved uncovering a new corner of Brussels on our Greeters tour

We loved uncovering a new corner of Brussels on our Greeters tour

We also had a great foodie find when we met Jean-Baptiste and tasted the toasties from his gourmet food truck, Keep On Toasting.

Keep On toasting

Mmmm… Keep on Toasting Jean-Baptiste!

It was quite a quiet month because we were gearing up for one of our biggest adventures yet. On the 30th we set off on a loooong flight to Hong Kong. We spent the last night of March holed up in the Intercontinental Hotel in Hong Kong before boarding an early morning flight…

We spent the last night of March admiring the Hong Kong skyline from the Intercontinental Hotel

We spent the last night of March admiring the Hong Kong skyline from the Intercontinental Hotel


On April 1st, we arrived in Kota Kinabalu, in Malaysian Borneo. It was unlike any place we had been before. There were many highlights (beyond the incredible food of course!): The market in KK, cruising the Klias River in search of monkeys, seeing the world’s biggest flower in Kinabalu Park, and, above all, visiting the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan.

Malaysian Borneo was a beautiful adventure

Malaysian Borneo was a beautiful adventure

After an incredible week in Borneo, we flew back to Hong Kong, where Andrew spent a week in classes for his MBA, and I set out to discover this amazing, diverse city. Hong Kong surprised me at every turn. My Hong Kong highlights were the fascinating markets and shopping streets and the diverse and delicious food (oh soup dumplings, how I miss you…) Despite a few obstacles (all 431 of them) I also really enjoyed our visit to the Ten Thousand Buddhas’ Monastery.

Hong Kong, China and Macau - What a feast for the senses

Hong Kong, China and Macau – What a feast for the senses


May began with one of my favourite posts of all time – The Shrimp Fishermen on Horseback of Oostduinkerke. We recently learned that this timeless tradition has been added to the UNESCO world list of intangible cultural heritage. Go Belgium!

The Shrimp Fishermen on Horseback at Oostduinkerke

The Shrimp Fishermen on Horseback at Oostduinkerke

Our good friend Sherry arrived with her friend Charlie and the 3 of us had a foodie adventure in Wallonia, including beer, berries, bread, cookies and even snails

Discovering Wallonia's food scene

Discovering Wallonia’s food scene

We also discovered a new side of Brussels and some fabulous little galleries, with a Contemporary Art Walk.

Then we were off to Umbria, to visit an on-line expat friend and her family in Spello, Italy. Andrew found an entire town dedicated to pork. Oh, and remember the guys we met at the wine event in February? Yup, we paid them a visit at a castle in Tuscany… as you do.

The delights of Umbria and Tuscany, Italy

The delights of Umbria and Tuscany, Italy

When we arrived back in Belgium, I had a makeover at the Make Me Up Workshop, in Brussels and I discovered a unique Contemporary art gallery called Maison Particuliere.


June began with great news for me. After a prolonged saga, I finally got my Belgian Nationality! Poor Andrew is still waiting…

I'm now officially Canadian/Belgian! CanaBelg?

I’m now officially Canadian/Belgian! CanaBelg?

We spent much of June chained to our desks, but we managed to escape for a weekend to Boulogne-Sur-Mer, France, where we stayed at the lovely Chateau Clery and visited the fascinating NAUSICAA aquarium.

We loved our visit to NAUSICAA in Boulogne-Sur-Mer

We loved our visit to NAUSICAA in Boulogne-Sur-Mer

In June, we also took a day trip to Durbuy in Wallonia and discovered 7 reasons you should visit Durbuy too.

Durbuy is a nice little day-trip from Brussels

Durbuy is a nice little day-trip from Brussels


Summer began with the Ommegang festival (post coming soon) and we participated in several activities surrounding this age-old Brussels tradition. We visited the Porte de Hal Museum and the much less well-known but fascinating Crossbow Guild Museum.

Ommegang activities in Brussels

Ommegang activities in Brussels

Our Belgian foodie finds for the month included Generous Gluten-Free cookies and the lovely bio and artisanal shop – Le Fraysse.

The drinks wall at Le Fraysse

The drinks wall at Le Fraysse

We had a very quick trip to Paris to meet up with some Canadian friends.

I also kicked off a huge decluttering project that is still on going. (Anyone want to buy my scrapbooking supplies?)


We began August with a visit to the Funkey Hotel – where we’ll be sending all of our guests from now on!

I was able to get my flower fix at the Floralïentime Flower Exhibition in Brussels Grand Place, a truly incredible display.

Stunning flowers in the equally stunning Brussels Town Hall

Stunning flowers in the equally stunning Brussels Town Hall

For the most part though, August was filled with work, as Andrew was wrapping up his final MBA project.

We did manage to escape for two weekends. The first was to discover Hasselt (posts are coming soon) and the second was to discover Oostende. We were surprisingly impressed, not only did we find 3 great restaurants in Oostende, we also discovered 10 reasons to visit, beyond the beach.

We had a great time exploring Oostende beyond the beach

We had a great time exploring Oostende beyond the beach


September was a crazy busy month for both of us. Andrew made the last push on his MBA and presented his final project at the end of the month.

Travel for me was in high gear. Early in the month, I visited Latvia, for the first time, with my friend and local guide Vi. (Stories to come in the new year.)

Lovely Riga, Latvia

Lovely Riga, Latvia

We were able to visit the EAT! Brussels festival (one of our favourites) with our dear visiting friends and we also shared 5 more restaurants in Brussels you have to try.

Friends, food and fun at EAT! Brussels

Friends, food and fun at EAT! Brussels

Then it was off to Antwerp, for the opening of the Red Star Line Museum – A must see in Flanders. I also was able to visit the Eugeen Van Meighem Museum inside its stunning Art Nouveau building.

A look inside the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp

A look inside the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp

From there, I went straight to the Thon Hotel EU, a beautiful green-key property, just blocks from our flat. I learned about a Belgian dinosaur discovery at the Museum of Natural Sciences and I discovered my new favourite restaurant in Brussels, La Buvette, and then headed to deepest Wallonia (stories coming in 2014).

More posts to come from my adventures in sustainable tourism with Brussels Wallonia Tourism

More posts to come from my adventures in sustainable tourism with Brussels Wallonia Tourism


We kicked October off with an Indian feast at a Brussels In Loft Dinner put on by our friends at Open Kitchen.

Brussels In Loft Indian dinner

Brussels In Loft Indian dinner from Open Kitchen.

Then, on the fifth, we celebrated Andrew’s graduation from Solvay!

Hurrah! Andrew gets his MBA!

Hurrah! Andrew gets his MBA!

Just a few days later, we were winging our way to Canada to spend a month visiting our families. It was an epic trip including a quick stop in Montreal (where we saw an exhibition by one of my favourite artists), a long flight to Brandon, Manitoba, another long flight back to Halifax, a drive to Pugwash and another drive to Saint John. Whew!

I loved the Chihuly exhibition in Montreal

I loved the Chihuly exhibition in Montreal

While we were away, our video guru, Jon, shared a two-part video series on starting a business in Belgium.

Back in Brussels, I paid a visit to the delightful Fossilmar House of Wunders shop (and you should too!)

Fossilmar House of Wunders is a treasure trove of a shop

Fossilmar House of Wunders is a treasure trove of a shop


My big news for November was the launch of my newly expanded and updated Beautiful Belgium Photography Book.

We spent a fun weekend on a smallholding in Geel, where we made mincemeat, ate cheese and hung out with a gaggle of animals.

Heaven on a plate - a selection of Debbie's goat cheeses

Heaven on a plate – a selection of Debbie’s goat cheeses

At the end of the month, I had my first solo international trip to chilly but beautiful Tuscany, to review the gorgeous Castelfalfi Resort.

The gorgeous Castelfalfi Resort, Tuscany

The gorgeous Castelfalfi Resort, Tuscany

Meanwhile, Andrew was riding around the city on two wheels, on his first Moto tour of Brussels.

We also brought you our 5 tips for meeting people in Brussels (Your most frequently asked question.)


Finally, in December, we took an iDBUS to Lille where we discovered a whole weekend full of foodie delights (post coming soon!)

Lille was lovely in December!

Lille was lovely in December!

We made the rounds to some of the Christmas Markets in Belgium, including the unique Grottes de Wonck.

Christmas in the caves at the Grottes de Wonck

Christmas in the caves at the Grottes de Wonck

Then we buckled down to get work done so we could prepare for 2014’s first adventure – our first attempt to work remotely for a month. We’ll be spending a month, with our dear friends from Married With Luggage, holed up in a flat in Tangiers, working on some big projects (we may take a wee bit of time off to sight-see… so we can share it with you dear readers!)

2013 was another crazy year of last-minute travel, interesting discoveries, delicious food, great friends, and, as always, the support and love of our families. Also, a huge thank-you to every one of our readers. Your support, visits, and feedback means the world to us and encourages us to go further.

We can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store!

Read more from


Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
One of my biggest goals in coming back to my home province was to learn as much as I could about our First... - 3 days ago


  1. Comment by Someone

    Someone January 1, 2014 at 12:27

    While making myself a cup of coffee earlier today I was wondering, have you guys switched to Belgian traditions when it comes to drinking coffee ?

    Up until a few years ago, filtered coffee using a percolator and a paper funnel was the most common way households drank their coffee. Café’s have their expresso machines. In a lot of households senseo machines with patches are now taking over. Those nespresso things (appart from the George Clooney commersials) doing less well.

    In television we usually see Americans with paper cups of coffee from starbucks .. nut flavored ? using milk made from soy beans ? Adding peppermint ? How is Canada when it comes to coffee ? is it the same as the US ? What kind of coffee do Americans drink at home all day?? Or do they really put on their clothes to walk to a starbucks to get a cup .. somehow that seems unrealistic.

    Are you guys using a Nespresso / Senseo machine ? A percolator ? Or maybe bought an expresso machine? What brand of coffee do you buy in Belgium ? Douwe Egberts ? Zwarte Kat ? Illy ? Rombouts ? The aldi brand ?

    A significant part of a Belgian’s movie itake comes from America I’m sure that what we see that’s coffee related is not what happens in every day life. What are the major differences when it comes to drinking coffee? How about in comparison to South America , Canada ..

    In France or Spain traditions when it comes to coffee are somewhat different as well.. Are there differences between let’s say New York and Miami when it comes to drinking coffee ?

    Any reply from anyone reading would be welcome.

    Friendly Reagrds

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 2, 2014 at 10:42

      Heh, this is interestingly random 🙂 We got hooked on stronger European coffee back in 2005 when we were living in Amsterdam. We actually bought a Senseo machine and took it back to Canada with us. (We had to use one of those ‘fill your own’ style filters with it as we couldn’t buy the coffee pads then.) When we moved back to Belgium we continued with Senseo for a few years then upgraded to Nespresso, which is what we still use now.

      Pre-Europe, we had a drip coffeemaker which was pretty much what everyone had back then. We got take-away coffee every morning from the Tim Horton’s drive-thru (like good Canadians) and drank it at work. (I was up to 3 large coffees a day for a while…)

      I can only speak to my friends and family in Eastern Canada, but now the coffee rage seems to be the Keurig style machines. The coffee is in a little cup, like Nespresso but bigger, which you just drop in and push a button. In terms of regional differences, in my experience there aren’t many, at least not to the extremes there are in Europe. There are cities that have stronger coffee cultures than others, but for the most part it’s basically the same.

      Hope that answers your questions!

      • Comment by Someone

        Someone January 2, 2014 at 14:50

        Thank you for taking the time. I had a look at those Keurig machines , they look interesting. Being a regular coffee drinker I have to wonder about the price per capsule though.

        I also just looked at the different coffee available for Nespresso and see Douwe Egberts is making capsules for it! My main reluctance has always been the fact I hate nescafé soluble coffee with a passion. In the beginning I even thought the capsules were full of concentrated coffee liquid or even instant coffee. Now I know there’s actual ground coffee in the pads I might reconsider. Like most here , I am pretty brand loyal when it comes to coffee. To me a lot of brands have too sour coffee.

        Currently I am using a Senseo and Douwe Egberts dessert patches.. but due to the high concentration of -very healthy for humans but less so for machines- calcium in the water here , my machine is dying.

        Friendly regards

        • Comment by Alison


          Alison January 3, 2014 at 12:05

          The price per capsule is definitely higher than buying a can/bag of coffee however you don’t have to make a whole pot, which is nice. It’s also infinitely cheaper than Starbucks 🙂 We went through two Senseo’s and are on our second Nespresso machine because of the hard water. i buy the descaling kits and try to clean them regularly but they still die in the end.

  2. Comment by Someone

    Someone January 1, 2014 at 12:29

    Oh and , Best wishes for 2014.

  3. Comment by Someone

    Someone January 2, 2014 at 16:04

    Keeping it random … cough…

    I can’t help it , I genuinely think about these things , and I am curious at how people experience living here.

    Somewhat more related to 2014 and the elections coming up .. Permanent residents get to vote . Since living here have you decided on a political party ? (if yes please don’t answer which, I would not want to be indirectly responsible for loss of followers) Do you feel more or less connected to one or more political parties , since the issues they fight are the issues in your current environment now.
    Are left/right/center/extremes in broad lines the same as what you experienced in the US and Canada about them ? Are you of the same political views here and there? (Again , please please be as vague as you are comfortable with answering. If at all.)
    Is it all just all something you can put beside you for the natives to quarrel over?

    Do you vote in general, will you in 2014, did you vote here before?

    I don’t even know if voting will be mandatory for you guys now that you have Belgian identity papers. Will you need to plan your vacations around it?

    I am not at all interested in either of your political views as such , more of the level of how attached/involved you both feel in these matters.

    Friendly Regards

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 3, 2014 at 12:13

      Interesting question and topical for this year as I will have to vote now that I have nationality. I’ll try to answer your questions in order:
      -I haven’t yet decided on a party and if it’s anything like how I voted in Canada, my vote will likely be based more on the individual than the party.
      -I think that already answered question two, but I tend to vote for a person rather than a party… of course this depends. If the party has a position on something I don’t believe in than I wont vote for the person, but I don’t feel tied to one particular party normally.
      -There are more extreme parties here than in Canada. Canadian politics is all basically a shade of centre other than a few extremist nuts who never actually gain any traction.
      -I think my political views would be the same anywhere…the party names may change but my views would stay the same.
      -In the past, I’ve let Belgian’s deal with their own politics… not because I wasn’t interested but more because I felt I didn’t know enough about it to make an educated vote. Now I will have to vote so I’ll have to educate myself 🙂
      -I always voted in Canada (even though it isn’t mandatory) but not here for the reason above.
      -I’m assuming like most countries there is an absentee ballot here. We’ll have to investigate… I feel a post on voting in Belgium may be in order.

      What about you? How attached to local politics do you feel?

      • Comment by Someone

        Someone January 3, 2014 at 15:24

        Me .. well , although it’s mandatory I haven’t voted for the last 2 elections. Not because I can’t be bothered to wake up in the morning but because our current political parties never fail to disappoint me.

        In Belgium it’s really less about the individual than in the US/Canada I think though individuals lose a lot of votes because of what they let happen on their watch.
        Belgian politicians have a very low sense of shame. It is very rare for one caught with his proverbial hand in the cookie jar to say anything more than “so what”. This in sharp contrast to presidents in the US who apparently loose their ability to govern after having had some cheeky office fun.

        If they take two years to form a government after people having voted they should not be surprised less people turn up. If they decide to go kafka-esque on my behind I could end up with a fine or even prison time though.

        On the other hand, having followed elections in other countries I have to say a true multi party system where they have to form coalitions to get a majority and really have to learn and “play nice together” is the way to go. Granted extremist parties get some votes, but they only end up in the opposition. It reflects the views of a part of the country as a democracy should.

        I might vote this year though, the party that will most make a point about privacy will get my vote. We are too exposed on the internet and in real life. Companies keep personal information about us but don’t have the decency to keep it to themselves not the security to keep it locked up properly. I am also not a fan of our telecom operators having to keep records of our calls for over a year. Our ISP’s also keep logs of our DNS resolves. All at the request of the government. If a party clearly states it will do something about such matters I will take the time to go vote for them.

  4. Comment by Chriss Opus

    Chriss Opus January 26, 2014 at 16:41

    This is a bit off-subject, but I find your website and posts most interesting. I am an American living in Stockholm and preparing for other assignments overseas. In 2010 you mentioned Internations website. Is it still a good resource?

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 27, 2014 at 10:39

      Hi Chriss, Internations is still worth checking out although it’s more active in some areas than others. You can test drive the free aspects of the site before committing to the extra add ons with the paid version. To be honest I haven’t been active there much myself in the past few years however it is a good resource when you are first getting to know a place. Good luck with your move!

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