Sunday, December 30, 2012

Daytripping: Las Cañadas del Teide

Today I made a family trip to one of the most beautiful places in the world and probably the most beautiful place in Tenerife. We drove to the national park of Las Cañadas del Teide to hike around and take some pictures and it was a great day for pictures as the sun was shining brightly and there wasn't a single cloud in the sky. The last time I visited El Teide the area was totally dry. All bushes were greyish and thirsty and trees had no leaves and were still black due to a terrible fire that had devastated most flora from the north of Tenerife. This time El Teide volcano looking better than ever, with some little snow left on the summit, and the surrounding area was fully recovered. Tress were covered with leaves, bushes had grown back and everything was green again. Actually, the whole island is surprisingly green after a very rainy November and it looks good.

So, these are some photos taken this morning. And you can read some more about El Teide here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Four Days in Basel

My time in Basel was really brief. Four days is not a long time but I tried to make the best out of it and I had a lovely holiday in Switzerland. Luckily, as I had already lived there for a couple of months I didn't feel any pressure to do lots of sightseeing and shrink a couple of trips in such a tight schedule. Instead of that, I could simply relax and sleep as much as I wanted (much needed after a month of sleep deprivation in favor of long studying evenings) and I could just enjoy the simple things that I love and miss when not in Switzerland. And I also spent four whole days of quality time with my boyfriend and his family. But back to Basel, these are some of the charms of the city that I couldn't wait to experience again!

A couple of days I went for a walk in the city. Basel is not too big and just like many medium-sized cities in Europe is very pedestrian-friendly. The city center has some lovely cobbled alleys with small boutiques and some beautiful fountains here and there. I spent some time in a furniture store (I don't remember the name) which sells lots of cute stuff waiting to serve some wonderful tea, coffee or chocolate moments.There were so many things I wished I could have! Then I lost myself in the wonderful Thalia bookstore. It may not be charming and full of character but it has 5 or 6 stores full of books, dvd's and inspiring gifts. Once again I was left hoping that my luggage was bigger and less heavy. There was also time for a short visit to the Christmas market and to wander around the small market on the Marktplatz.

Another great experience I delighted myself with was a visit to the thermal baths in Rheinfelden. I enjoyed two hours of bubbles and steamy waters with my boyfriend and I felt totally relaxed afterwards. My favourite feature of this spa complex is the Intensiv-Solobecken, a pool filled with salty water that'll help you float effortlessly and while you're drifting carelessly you can hear relaxing music underwater. Too good to be true! 

My final treat on Basel was food. There are so many delicious things to try in Switzerland that I didn't even know where to start and the lack of time didn't make it any easy to choose. Many traditional winter treats were simply dismissed because the weather wasn't cold at all and somehow I wasn't lusting them. But there was one thing I knew that I wanted to savour again, piadina! Piadina are a sort of Italian rigid crepe-a-like which are usually filled with typical Italian salamis or cheese. As I'm very picky with these kind of foods, I usually go for veggy options and my favourite is aubergine with tomato and mozzarella. It is so delicious that I went not once but twice to the Piadina Bar. And another favourite I couldn't pass by was the Mr. Wong restaurant, an Asian on the go where food is freshly wokked in front of you.

So, that was my time in Basel, great but way too short, so I'm already looking forward to being back there again! In the meantime I'll keep on enjoying every other place I live in or visit and right now it's Tenerife time. Almost three weeks of family, friends and winter sun!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

To all of you, my dear readers, I wish you a merry, merry Christmas!

I hope that you're having a wonderful celebration and that you're indulging in some delicious food, carolling out loud, laughing and giggling and enjoying some quality time with your loved ones.

I took these photos a couple of days ago in the Christmas Market in Basel. It was really nice to wander around staring at all those bright lights and singing along to Christmas songs. The only drawback was that the weather was actually quite warm and mulled wine and bratwurst (grilled sausages) were not so appealing. But still, it was a very cosy evening and I enjoyed myself like a little child!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas lights in Maastricht

Time has finally arrived for me to be almost on holidays and in order to celebrate my first evening of freedom after a terribly hard term at uni I went for a walk to the city and I spent some time at the Christmas market for the first time this year. The Christmas market in Maastricht is quite small and not especially beautiful but still it was nice to finally let go and get in the mood for Christmas. I took some pictures of the Christmas lights and decorations in Maastricht and even though they're quite simple I really like them. Most of the decorations simply consist of small white leds hanging around naked trees of from street lamps but as ordinary as it might sound, the effect is rather beautiful on cold, dark evenings. So, I hope you like these pictures, even though they're not so good (I should play more with my camera settings and explore the night mode, any advice?) 

Tomorrow I'm flying to Switzerland and after Christmas I'll spend almost three weeks in Tenerife, so I'm really excited about being on the go again and also about being back in two of my favourite places spending time with my loved ones. So, all that's left to say by now is: bye, bye Maastricht, see you in 2013!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Enjoying Switzerland with all 5 senses

Time goes by really, really fast and I can't believe that I'll be in Switzerland just in five days! I am really looking forward to it as Switzerland quickly became one of my favourite countries and I haven't been back  there for almost a year and a half now. So, to celebrate my upcoming short visit to Switzerland I decided to reflect upon my previous trips and make a 5 senses special post about Switzerland. Switzerland is a very diverse country and it can be enjoyed in many ways, with all of the senses, so here are my top sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch experiences. I hope that you like this atypical tour through the country and get inspired to search for your own unique experiences wherever you are! And if you come up with some similar 5 senses post, let me know!

  • SIGHT: Switzerland has landscapes for everyone's taste! Lakes, glaciers, mountains, rivers, ... All of  them are utterly beautiful and seem like a tempting invite to leave all the stress behind and get lost away from restless cities. For me, the most awesome view was the first time that I saw the Alps. I was driving to Bern (I think) when I suddenly spotted those big, shiny, snowy mountains ahead. Within seconds I was totally taken and forgot about Bern. I tried to get as close to the Alps as I could and I finally stopped at Interlaken, a tiny city by the Alps that I love. I don't think I'll ever forget the first moment I got a glimpse of the Alps and felt the sudden urge to drive ahead to take a closer look.

  • HEARING: Probably, the most quirky hearing experience is listening to and trying to understand a single word of the German dialect that is spoken in the German part of Switzerland ('Grüezi, wie göht's?' for 'Hallo, wie geht's?') However, the most impressive hearing experience was visiting Rheinfell and hearing the endless thunderous sound of the water falling down the waterfalls. I had never seen a waterfall before and, even though this one was a little one, it didn't fail to impress. When I started the walk I could hear the water in the distance , but the closer I got, the more deafening it became. And suddenly I was there, so close that the water splashed me and I couldn't even hear my own thoughts. All I heard was the water falling down non-stop and it really got me thinking of how powerful and beautiful nature is!

  • TASTE: Eating a raclette really got me! Normally I wouldn't have tried it, as I don't like cheese and I would have sworn that I wouldn't like this one as well, as it was too smelly when raw. But my boyf cooked it for me so I had to try it ... and I liked it! First of all I like the way it is done. The table is laid with raw food (bacon, sausages, gerkhins, ...) and boiled potatoes. The raclette apparat is turned on and the fun begins! Raclette is like DIY food. Cheese is melt in small spatulas and meat and vegetable are grilled above. Then cheese is pourred on potatoes, sausage and whatever you like and seasoned with raclette seasoning spices ... delicious!

  • SMELL: Well, I'm gonna carry on talking about food. Every Swiss town holds for sure at least one market throught the year. My fave is the Christmas Market, Weihnachtsmarkt. I was this year in Basels Weihnachtsmarkt and it was great. The main squares are full with stalls selling all kind of crafty gifts. The air is chilly and the market is crowded. People walk en masse heading to the food stalls and even though temperatures are probably below 0ºC I could smell many delicious things being cooked around, specially sausage and mulled wine! I love them both and I also found out that mulled wine is a very useful thing on cold days. After all, the main reason to buy yourself a warm cup of mulled wine is to warm up your hands.

  • TOUCH: It's difficult to describe touch experiences involving a landscape. However, I can say that I had a great touch experience in Switzerland, which is probably my best experience ever and the closest that one can get to Heaven on Earth. I visited some thermal baths in winter. It was in Leukerbad, right in the middles of the Alps. The bath was outside and it offered an amazing view of the Alps mountain (truly heavenly view to enjoy from a thermal bath) It was -2ºC and suddenly it started to snow. And I was there, in my swimsuit, feeling how the snowflakes landed on my face and froze but still, I felt no cold at all, as I was lounging in 35ºC or so waters. I even dared to go outside the water for a minute and felt the frozen air on my skin. Going back to the water felt like bliss!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas markets across Europe

One of my favourite things about spending the (pre)Christmas season in Europe is being able to enjoy the wonders of Christmas markets. Oh, Christmas markets, just the thought of it makes me rejoice and I start daydreaming of all those beautiful lights and the delicious smells of gingerbread and mulled wine. I think we also have Christmas markets in Spain but there's no point in comparing them to the traditional ones in Germany and neighbouring countries. Well, at least the one we have in Tenerife would not pass the test, I really don't know for the rest.

Christmas market in Basel

Christmas market in Aachen

Christmas market in Maastricht

Christmas markets are usually made of dozens of wooden stalls selling all kind of Christmas treats: sweets, toys, winter apparel, mulled wine, ... Traditional Christmas carols play all day long and there are usually some attractions for children (and the not so little ones) like carroussels and ice rinks. They originated in the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking regions of Europe but the tradition has spread all over the continent and nowadays many countries count with a couple of well renowned Christmas markets. So far, I have visited and enjoyed them in Antwerp (Belgium), Basel (Switzerland), Strasbourg (France), Aachen (Germany) and Maastricht (The Netherlands) and my favourite has been Aachen. After all, German Christmas markets still retain their original glory and usually make for the most alluring destinations among Christmas markets lovers. Unfortunately, this year I'm stuck at home with some boring books to study and I couldn't go to Germany to indulge on some seasonal shopping and Christmas snacks but I hope that I will manage to catch up later this month in Basel, once my exams are done. Until then, I hope that all of you are enjoying the countdown to Christmas! 

Are there also Christmas markets in your countries? Do you love them as much as I do? Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It ain't called Costa del Sol for nothing

Late autumn in Malaga

Costa del Sol, meaning Coast of the Sun in Spanish, is the region in Andalusia comprising all coastal towns of the province of Malaga, including Malaga city itself. It is a very beautiful coastline plaggued by nice beaches with dark sand and pictoric towns with white houses, inhabited by friendly people, owning a rich cultural heritage and a delicious gastronomical tradition and, well, accounting for an amazingly high number of sunlight hours per year. Here the sun shines probably more than in most other places in Europe and temperatures are usually quite mild during the winter and very hot during the summer, so no wonder that many Europeans already know and love the charms of this Spanish touristic region. The only drawback are the consequences of mass tourism: tacky resorts, to many hotels and shopping malls and polluted beaches. Probably that's one of the reasons why the interior regions of the province of Malaga, and of Andalusia in general, are becoming so popular among many tourist who are looking for a peaceful and soulful place to rest, as well as seeking the sun.

Last week I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend in Malaga (perks of having a geographically disperse family) and besides all the nice things that come with family reunion I also enjoyed a couple of days under the sun without almost any worries on my mind. No studying, no coursework, no group meetings ... Just sleeping, eating, gossiping and shopping with my brother, strolling around the city and attending the illumination of Malaga's Christmas Lights. The lights were really beautiful: a huge golden and purple light tree and many more golden and purple lights along one of Malaga's main streets, Calle Larios. There was a great street party with balloons and puppet shows for children and Alex Ubago singing for the delight of many teenagers, youngsters and some of their mums. The only thing I was missing was a bit more of Christmas sfeer but I guess this is more difficult to achieve with the sun shining and the music playing is Danza Kuduro instead of traditional Christmas carols. 

I didn't have much time to do some sightseeing, but at this point I don't really need to do that much sightseeing anymore as I know Malaga quite well and I've been to quite a few lovely towns at Costa del Sol, including Marbella, Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Nerja, Ronda or Benahavis. Still, my boyfriend and I sometimes toy with the idea of doing a roadtrip around Andalusia, so we better start planning, as our wish list is growing beyond the scope of a lifetime possibilities!

More on Malaga coming soon ...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

December 2012 - Almost in the mood!

Wow! I can't believe that December is already here and that there are just 30 days left for 2012 to be over. Where did all the other 335 days go to?! Well, I know more or less the answer to that question and I can actually say that 2012 was a good year. And even better, the 30 days to come will also be great ... or at least I hope so, after all Christmas time is almost here and I love every tiny bit of Christmas! 

In Maastricht the streets are lit since a couple of weeks ago, temperatures are dropping drastically and I think the Christmas market must be about to start (if it didn't start this weekend). I'm really enjoying taking all my winter clothes out of the shelves, indulging in harty meals and pre-Christmas treats and looking forward to seeing some snow. However, before I can get in the spirit and be in full party mood, I still have to finish this study block somehow and that implies spending two long weeks in the library and studying until midnight. So, until the time comes when I can just let go and enjoy the holiday season like the inner child in me longs to, I will just fantasize about the visits I'll pay to some Christmas market, the wonderful days I'll spend in Switzerland and the cosy Christmas holidays I'll enjoy at home in Tenerife. And if I could do anything I wanted to in this December instead of just studying until my eyes ache, my top three would be:

  1. Ice-skating outdoors and have some mulled wine afterwards to warm me up.
  2. Christmas shopping for my loved ones (well, brother and boyfriend almost done!)
  3. Cosy movie evenings at home watching all sort of Christmas cringey movies.
So, what are you up to this month? Any nice plans? More cosy ideas?

Have a merry December!

Friday, November 30, 2012

An old-fashioned flight

Yesterday I flew with Transavia for the first time and it was nice experience that somehow reminded me of my flights when I was a child. When I was checking in I was assigned a seat, so I didn't have to rush and queue for hours to have a decent seat, I sat on the plane and I found a sickness bag in front of me and before taking off a tv screen played a video with the safety instructions and then, once we were up in the air we were even treated with a movie. After all these goods signs, I was even fooled into thinking that an airstewardess would pass at any moment offering us a beverage and some snack but that didn't happen. Too good to be true, I guess that plane meals are just a memory, at least on non long-haul flights and that if I ever have children they will grow up without understanding why some orange juices taste like airplane orange juice. But still, flying with Transavia was a nice experience and the movie detail was more than appreciated. The only flaw was the uniforms of the airstewardesses, which were quite eclectic and actually one of the stewardess was wearing a sort of tracksuit, designed by the company and consisting of blue pants and a green and blue stripped shirt. I had never seen a airstewardess wearing a tracksuit and it seemed weird to me.

Most of the passagers were quite aged, actually I could say that I was the youngest person of the plane and ironically the film displayed was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is about a group of elderly people who retire to India looking for adventures or simply for a cheaper residence. Maybe it was meant as inspiration for some of the other passangers  who were heading for a sunny holidays in Malaga! But coming back to the film, I had never heard of it before but I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It was a beautiful and witty film and I think it's really nice to see great actors playing great roles, despite not having a wrinkless face anymore. Besides, it was also great travel inspiration to me and India is definitely going some places up on my travel wish list.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Maastricht 2018

Image from

In 1985 Europe started a very special way of promoting cultural values across the continent. Former Greece's Minister of Culture came up with the idea of choosing every year an European city to be a cultural capital for twelve months during which the designated city will host as many art and cultural events as possible in order to promote the idiosincracy of the country and export its cultural values to the rest of Europe. The iniciative was a real success and since 1985 most European countries have taken part in the programme. In the beginning just one city was designated as European Capital of Culture per year, but nowadays the European Commission proposes two host countries per year and every city of those countries can start a bidding process to be later designated as a European Capital of Culture. The bid usually lists all qualities which make that particular city the perfect candidate as well as proposing a year-long calendarof cultural and artistic events potentially interesting for people from all over Europe.  

In 2018 The Netherlands will host one of the European Capitals of Culture and as you might have guessed by now, Maastricht is a candidate city. I really believe that Maastricht would make an incredible capital of Culture, so I decided to write a brief post to share with you all the reasons that make Maastricht a winner.

  • Maastricht is filled with history and it can proudly claim that it is the oldest city in The Netherlands, even though some people from Nijmegen might disagree. But since the Romans went upwards to conquer Europe their roads reached Maastricht, then known as Mosae Trajectum, and established a settlement here that would survive wars and sieges. The latest achievement of the city was being the place where the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992.
  • Maastricht is an architectural gem and there's no place in The Netherlands like Maastricht! There are no cannals in Maastricht and consequently the city is lacking the lovely houses that line every cannal in every other Dutch city. But there's nothing wrong with it, as it actually means that Maastricht will offer something that no other Dutch city will, a beautiful city center with some buildings from the 11th or 12th century and city walls from the Middle Ages. Besides, there's also a newly renovated neighbourhood, Ceramique, with buildings from renowned international architects which could maybe even rival Rotterdam ... well, just maybe.
  • Maastricht celebrates culture in every possible way! With a couple of relevant museums exhibiting the rich historical patrimony of the city, a theater offering a varied programme throughout the year, an art-house cinema, many festivals and open-air concerts,specially during the summer. There's almost always something to do in the city. And sometimes even for free!
  • It's not only about Maastricht. The bid was done as the Euroregion, including Liege in Belgium and Aachen in Germany, as well as Hasselt in Belgium and Heerlen and Sittard-Geleen also in The Netherlands. So, not only one culture will be on the spotlight but three different cultures. Could there be a better way to celebrate cultural diversity in Europe?!
  • Just because! Just because Maastricht is beautiful, just because it is relaxed, just because the sun shines more than any other place in The Netherlands, just because it is surrounded by green hills, just because it is so easy to reach from Germany and Belgium, just because I am happy living here and I am sure that when the time comes to part I'll be very sad to leave this charming town behind and I can't think of a better reason to come back than to enjoy Maastricht as the European Capital of Culture in 2018.

It won't be an easy road as competition is tough. Eindhoven, The Hague, Utrecht and Leeuwarden are the other candidate cities from The Netherlands and all of them are beautiful and unique in their own way. But still, Maastricht has great arguments to be the chosen one. So, GO MAASTRICHT!

UPDATE January 2013: I'm very pleased to announced that Maastricht has made it to the second phase. Now the only contenders left, apart from Maastricht, are Eindhoven and Leeuwarden. Eindhoven is mostly known as the industrial home of Phillips and PSV, as well as a cheap entry gate to The Netherlands (thanks to Irish airline you all know) but even to Dutch people, Eindhoven is not much of a charming nor cultural city. Leeuwarden, which prides itself on being the homeplace of Mata Hari, is an enigmatic place up in Friesland, mainly a countryside province with its own language and a somewhat rich cultural heritage. It is a small beautiful city and I think that it is Maastricht's most fierce competitor. Anyways, only time (and the jury) will tell. But until then, you can go again through all the reasons why I think that Maastricht deserves winning and find many other inspirational posts about Maastricht in this blog.

UPDATE September 2013: Sadly it couldn't be. Leeuwarden has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2018. Well, it is another beautiful Dutch city with an interesting history and it is also worth a visit, though it lies far from the usual touristic routes.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sinterklaas is coming to town

Last Saturday the Dutch counterpart of Santa Claus arrived to The Netherlands in his steam boat. Sinterklaas hasn't given any present to the children yet but he's sure started to take note of their wishes and his little helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, are very busy preparing everything to fulfill as many wishes as possible of Dutch (and Belgian) children. So, last Saturday most children went to the streets to welcome Sinterklaas and follow him during the street parade collecting sweets from the Zwarte Pieten. Children also dress up like Sinterklaas or the Zwarte Piet. In fact, since late september some stores already stocked on Sint's capes and Zwarte Piet's make up set!

You might be wondering if Sinterklaas is exactly the same as Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Well, I guess the answer is yes and no. Sinterklaas is one of the many sources of inspiration of the modern Santa Claus but Sinterklaas tradition goes back to the Middle Ages. The original celebration honoured Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop who lived in the 3rd century whose relics were brought to Naples, which was part of the Spanish Kingdom during the Middle Ages. Saint Nicholas was named patron saint of school children and that's how the tradition of a Saint rewarding good children was born. According to the tradition, Sinterklaas comes every year from Spain in a steam boat. He rides a white horse and is helped by many tiny assistants with black faces and bright clothes, who are called Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes). Sinterklaas' clothes still remind of those of a bishop. He has a long, curly. white beard and wears a red cape over a white tunic and a red mitre ornated with a gold cross.

Sinterklaas is one of the most popular celebrations in The Netherlands. Families get together and usually someone dresses up as Sinterklaas to trick children into believing. Children will receive their gifts on 5th December (6th December in Belgium) and the days before they get small treats in their shoes: chocolate letters, marzipans, speculaas cookies, mandarines, ... On 5th December family and friends exchange presents and many people write poems telling funny things that happened during the last year. I really like the Sinterklaas celebration and how families enjoy it together. In Spain, the Three Wise Kings also give presents to children on 6th January and we also celebrate their arrival with a parade. However, they just arrive the day before visiting each home at night and children don't dress up to welcome them.

Do you also exchange Xmas gifts? Who brings presents to children in your countries?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dreaming of Switzerland

I am very happy because I finally booked my tickets for Christmas. I will spend almost three weeks in Tenerife, a very long time considereing that this year I've just been for 6 days in my home island. And even better, before flying back to Tenerife I will also spend a couple of days in Switzerland, which is a perfect Christmas treat! I lived in Switzerland for half a year and now I haven't been back for almost a year and a half, so you can imagine how excited I am about being back there and spending some lovely mini holidays with my boyfriend in his home country.

Love took me to Switzerland three years ago and even though Switzerland wasn't on top of my list I fell in love again, but this time with all the charming cities and towns I visited and the breathtaking nature that shapes the country. High mountains covered in snow all year long, green valleys adorned with colourful flowers, small waterfalls, transparent lakes and creeks, everything is amazingly beautiful and picture perfect. Every city and town and also unique, full of history and with compact city centers lined by short elegant buildings with its own style and many a cobbled street which make a walk a town really enjoyable. And then you have the food: chocolate, cheese, many sweet treats and many different and delicious types of bread, my mouth is watering just at the thought if it! And my mind is also drifting away amid all the lovely memories of this small and yet surprising alpine country. It's still five weeks to go and in the meantime I still have lot of hard work to do, and oh, exams again. But having something so good to look forward to will make it a bit easier ... just a bit!

So far I've seen quite a lot in Switzerland. I've lived in Basel and I've been to Zurich, Bern, Geneva, Lucerne, Interlaken, Zermatt, Winterthur, Shaffhausen, Rheinfelden, Sion, Leukerbad, Thun, Visp and Kaiseraugst. But my list of places to see isn't completely crossed out!


  • Discover the most southern part of Switzerland, the Italian-speaking Tessin, or Ticino, just like the locals call it.
  • Make a trip to the Aletsch Glacier, which is not only on my Switzerland to see list but also on my Top Ten places to go to.
  • Visit the Einstein Museum in Bern and enjoy the Swiss capital once again.
  • Practice some winter sport for the first time in my life. Why not?!
  • Daytrip to St. Gallen,a city in the eastern part of the country included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

11 van de 11de - Carnival in November

Today was again 11th November and in Maastricht that means that the Carnaval season has just begun. Every year, on 11th November people in the region put on their costumes and and get ready to down beers while singing and dancing to traditional folk Limburgs music (which resembles a bit to the music you would expect at the Oktoberfest but sung in Dutch). At 11:11 am people count down out loud and the big carnival party starts! However, it only lasts for a day, tomorrow the city will get back to work and carnival won't be back in town until the usual carnival dates in mid-february-mid-march.

Coming from Tenerife I'm used to big, colourful and crazy carnivals celebrations. We have the second biggest carnival in the world, right after Rio de Janeiro, or at least our politicians make us believe so. I remember that in 2000 there was even an extra carnival weekend in May to celebrate the beginning of the new millenium. But still, I find it incredibly unusual to start the carnival season in the middle of November, when the air gets chilly and teh days gets shorter ... maybe it's just a nice way to wave goodbye to warmer days! And the nicest thing about carnival in Maastricht is that everyone joins in: young people, parents and their children, groups of more aged people. Some people wear really wondeful costumes and some others just put on some feathers and sequins and equally enjoy themselves. So, if you feel tempted to join the party any 11th November, or maybe later for the regular carnival, start planning the most outreageous costume. Or simply throw in some golden or sequinned leggings, which prove to be really popular year after year. And if everything else fails, just get something red, yellow and green, which are the colours of Limburg and are proudly worn by anyone in scarfs, leg warmers, hats, feather boas and so on. Whichever way you choose it, enjoy the party!

You can find an overview of celebrations in The Netherlands here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Kruidennoten! It's that time of the year again!

I have been wanting to write this post for a while now because the holiday season is my favourite time of the year and I love everything related to Christmas. But for that same reason I've held back as I believe that too much of a good thing can actually take the fun out of it. But now, the city is so full of signs that I simply cannot ignore anymore the fact that we're on the countdown to Christmas! It's getting chilly, streets are already decorated and lit, Sinterklaas and his little helpers are taking over every shop window in The Netherlands and kruidennoten are back in the supermarket since 3rd September! I personally found it a bit weird that they started selling seasonal chocolates and sweets so soon, but nevertheless I was happy to see them back.

Kruidennoten are tiny, crunchy cookies with a spicy taste that are eaten in The Netherlands for the Sinterklaas holiday. You can find them in almost every Dutch shop for three months before the saint gives presents to all Dutch children on 5th December. Nowadays, kruidennoten are sold in different sizes and flavours and kruidennoten covered in chocolate are especially popular and delicious! Besides kruidennoten, chocolate letters are another popular sweet in The Netherlands and if you're good enough throughout the year Sinterklaas will leave a chocolate letter with the initial letter of your name in your shoes ... otherwise you can choose your own at any Dutch supermarket or department store and you'll be spoilt for choice with dark, milk or white chocolate, luxe letter with nuts or marzipan and the list goes on.

It's still a month to celebrate Sinterklaas in The Netherlands and a bit more until Christmas but until then, I'll keep on enjoying all the wonderful treats that this country has to offer. Oh, and I'll be writing more on Sinterklaas soon, in you case you're wondering who this Dutch version of Santa Claus is. 
As I said, I really love the holidays season and I'm always curious about how it is celebrated in different countries, so what about your countries? Do you also have some specials Christmas traditions? And delicious Christmas treats?

p.s. The best way to enjoy kruidennoten is with a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate, sitting on the couch and watching a nice movie. If you want the whole Dutch experience (and dare to expose your ears to the Dutch language) you can try Alles Is Liefde, a sort of Dutch version of Love Actually get loved up just in time to celebrate Sinterklaas. Extra points for great friends around!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Five years ago ...

... I embarked on a journey that changed my life forever. Five years ago I spent a year in Antwerp, Belgium as part of the ERASMUS programme. The Erasmus Project is a student exchange programme run by the European Union that enables students from all member states plus Norway, Lichtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland and Turkey to spend one or two semesters abroad as part of your study programme. As you can imagine, if you've ever taken part in any student exchange, studying is just a small part of it, and probably not the most important. Living abroad on your own, getting to know a different culture and maybe even learning a foreign language, meeting people from all over the world and, of course, travelling and partying are also important ingredients for a satisfying student exchange.

Six years ago I started planning my year abroad and my first choice was Germany. After five years learning German it seemed like a logical step to spend a year in Germany consolidating my German skills. However, my university offered quite limited choices at the moment and the only cities I could go to in Germany where Braunschweig and Bielefeld, which according to a German friend of mine were such boring industrial cities that I would better start looking for somewhere else to go. Next option was Ireland, which wouldn't be much of a language trouble either, but coming from an island I was kind of looking forward to going to the old continent and travel happily all accross Europe. Rumours of Maynouth being expensive and boring also played a part in my decision. And last choice was Antwerp. Back then I had no clue about what Antwerp was. The Spanish name Amberes differs a bit from the original and the website of the uni, written in a weird language full of k, w and ij, didn't ring a bell for me. So, after some doing some research I eventually linked Antwerp to Amberes and I knew that Antwerp had one of the most important fashion academies in the world, that it is the world center of diamonds, that Antwerp has the largest Orthodox Jewish community in Europe and that Antwerp was once under the Spanish rule. Enough! I had made up my mind and five years ago I flew to Antwerp and spent there one of the best years of my life.

Taking part in the ERASMUS programme was one of the best decissions of my life and I still remember fondly every minute of it. University was incredibly hard and I really needed to learn Dutch, as all my courses were in Dutch. But besides the study difficulties, every other thing was simply great! I met great people from all over the world, I travelled quite a lot around Belgium and I also visited 6 other countries, even if just for a weekend, I partied like never before and I also profited from the chance of learning a language in a country where it is spoken, something I hadn't had the chance to do before. And little did I know that learning Dutch would prove so useful for the years to come after my ERASMUS exachange!

I really believe that it is an experience that everyone should have. Ok, not everyone can afford it and not everyone want to, but if it was possible for everyone to take part of it I would just recommend it to everyone to go ahead and spend some time abroad because the outcomes are more than worthy and the memories will last a lifetime. What do you think? Have you taken part in an student exchange programme? Did you have an amazing time as well? 

Back in 't Stad, five years later

p.s. That was five years ago but right now, the newest thing is that I've just added pages to my blog. I was never good at programming and I was kind of struggling with the HTML/CSS stuff to make it look as neat as possible, but I think it's a good starting point!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November 2012 - Of Birthdays And Men

I know some people who totally disike their birthday. They start worrying weeks in advance about the consequences of being one year older, instead of just indulging in the pleasures of being spoilt during one very special day or focusing on the rather amazing fact that you've made another year on Earth and probably built on quite a lot of beautiful memories. I really think that these reasons are more than enough to celebrate and to be glad that, for another year, this special day has arrived. This year I've enjoyed my b'day a lot. First because I had just done my exams two days earlier, so for the first time after eight hectic weeks I could just sit on the couch, catch up with The Big Bang Theory and relax. Then, I spent four awesome days in Belgium with my boyfriend and I was really spoilt! I spent Friday window shopping in Brussels and I went to Antwerp on Saturday. And yesterday, I celebrated at home with my girlfriends in Maastricht and it was the nicest of celebrations! I cooked some Indian food and then we watched a girly movie while savouring some ice-cream and chocolates, perfect! As far as my birthday is concerned, celebrations are now over and I'm back to my books, but some other person's birthday will bring me some joy in the upcoming month. At the end of the month I'm flying to Malaga for my grandma's birthday, who's turning 97, or 98, or maybe just 96 (anyways, whichever age it is, I cannot complain about my gene pool at all, as both my grandmothers are over 95 and in top condition!). 

So, these are my thoughts for this November. Don't moan about being one year older and enjoy your b'days as much as I enjoyed mine. Now I just have to get used to the fact that I am already 28 ...

 Have a hopefully not too cold November!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Back in Antwerp for a day!

Antwerp MAS

Antwerp is the city of diamonds, the city of fashion, the city of cool, the city where dreams do come true ... at least for me! Five years ago I went to live in Antwerp as part of my study exchange and it was an unforgettable experience. It was the first time I lived outside my parents and the first time I lived abroad and five years later I still cherish every memory of that wonderful time. For that reason, Antwerp is a very special place for me and I love going back there. So, last weekend, as I was a b'day girl, I was in for a treat and decided to spend a day in Antwerp with my boyfriend and it was simply great!

Antwerp Centraal Station

As we already knew the city we didn't bother to get up so early and didn't stress about sightseeing. Anyways, the train from Brussels to Antwerp only takes 35 minutes, so it is a really relaxed trip. As soon as I stepped out of the train in the Central Station I felt a rush of excitement and when I saw the bluest sky I had ever seen in Belgium I knew that it would be an amazing day, even though it was incredibly cold! I spent the morning doing some window shopping in the many stores along the Meir, one of the best and most beautiful shopping streets I've seen so far. We stopped at Wagamama to indulge in some nice oriental food, which might not be a traditional choice, but we had had enough of frites, waffles and chocolate. And once our stomachs were full and the window shopping cravings fulfilled we wandered around the cobbled streets of the city center, went to take some pictures by the river and finally headed to Antwerp's newest attraction: the  MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom). The MAS was opened in 2011 and it's a high building with ondulating windows spiralling along the façade to allow visitors to view the city from every possible angle. I didn't check the collection but I went up till the 10th floor (no need to walk, there are escalators) and I enjoyed there from the panoramic view of the city that the open air roof-floor has to offer. As I mentioned before, the sky was incredibly blue, with no clouds at all, so actually, it was the perfect day to take a look at the city from above, even if temperatures had suddenly dropped down to 0ºC. After that, we walked back to the station and took a train back to Brussels. It was not the longest daytrip, but it was for sure one of the best! And that's also a good thing of going back to a place you already know, that you don't have to rush to see everything or to stress about not missing unmissable touristic spots, you can simply relax and enjoy!



Antwerp Grote Markt

Antwerp MAS

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Icons of Brussels (& part 2): Manneken Pis

Manneken Pis means literally little peeing man in Dutch (or in a dutch dialect, to be more precise). It is a bit weird to think of a statue of a tiny boy peeing as the symbol of a city or even of a whole country but at the same time, such an icon really suits the irreverent and relaxed attitude that many Belgian people have and that allows the country to keep on going even without government for more than a year!

The first Manneken Pis statue was made in the 17th century and the current one is a replica from 1965, as the statue of the tiny boy has been stolen several times. There are many stories trying to explain the origin of this bizarre icon, the most popular goes back to the Middle Ages and says that the statue commemorates a little boy who helped supressing a fire just by peeing and hence saving Brussels from being eaten up by the fire. Nowadays, the statue is probably one of the most visited and popular sites of Brussels. There's a non-profit association who takes care of the small boy in cold days providing him with thousands of costumes inspired in all sort of traditions, celebrations or jobs. They schedule the themed appearance of the Manneken Pis and that's another attraction itself: checking the schedule to see if you can catch him in an original costume during your visit to Brussels. Manneken Pis also has a peeing sister in Brussels, known as Jeanneke Pis. I still haven't found her (I haven't bothered that much, anyways). The first time I saw the Manneken Pis I was a bit deceived by his small size. After having seen so many close up photos and having heard so much of it, I was expecting a bigger and more impressive statue. Back then, the area was also a bit let down, with many a tacky souvenir shop after one another. The last time I visited him 3 or 4 weeks ago I was surprised that the area seemed to be getting better with all Belgian fine chocolate retailers opening stores just opposite the Manneken Pis: Leonidas, Godiva and Neuhaus all decided to come closer to Brussels' most famous sight. Oh, and the way to the Manneken Pis you also come accross another Belgian icon: Tintin, who's watching the city from a huge painting of him with captain Haddock on a façade. 

I think Manneken Pis and the Atomium are the most iconic sights of Brussels, what does not mean most beautiful or interesting. Probably, Brussels' most beautiful site is the Grande Place and chocolate, bier and comic heroes are for sure unofficial icons of the city. So, maybe I'll keep on getting blogging inspiration from Brussels in the future. But right now I'm just packing to take a train to Brussels and spend a cold weekend in Belgium, as temperatures are expected to drop to 0ºC this weekend. Anyways, it doesn't matter. Tomorrow I'm turning 28 and on Saturday I'm going to Antwerp to celebrate, so hopefully I'll have many nice pictures to post here next week.

Have a wonderful weekend you too!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Random Autumn Beauty in Maastricht

Autumn is my favourite season of the year, specially since I discovered the true meaning of autumn in Europe. Coming from a subtropical island I had never fully enjoyed the change of seasons until I went to live abroad for the first time. In Tenerife trees don't lose their leaves, rain is scarce throughout the year, temperatures hardly ever go below 10ºC and even snow in the mountains is becoming something rare. So, it wasn't until I was living in Antwerp that I could actually delight myself in the beauty of autumn, in its warm colours, in its cosy ways. And ever since that time I usually feel the need to go out with my camera and take hundreds of pictures of all the transformations that are happenig day after day, specially if the sun is shining! Ever since, I'm still amazed by the way trees go from green to naked, the way days get colder and shorter and the way my metabolism changes making me always feel sleepy and needy of chocolate!

This is a first collection of autumn random pictures taken until now here in Maastricht, hope you like them :-)


Going out to take pictures
Singing under the rain
Drinking hot chocolate
Rediscovering my autumn/winter wardrobe ... and shopping for what I still need!
Watching endless movies at home
Laying under the duvet until late
Planning a city daytrip before it gets really cold
Learning to cook new delicious meals
Thinking about Christmas gifts
Enjoying the last sunny days of the year

What about you? Do you like autumn as much as I do or do you prefer some other season of the year?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My Travel Wish List

Now that autumn is definitely here, that days are getting shorter and shoter and winter is on its way, it's just the perfect time to stay in, enjoy a hot cup of tea with nice biscuits and daydream about all the great things that I will do when the sun finally shines again. And travelling and daytripping are usually better if it is not raining incesantly, so I've decided to compile a list of my dream destinations to cheer me up in the grey days that begin to be the usual thing for this time of the year. Just like Germans say, "Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude" (anticipation is the nicest joy) so I think it is always a great idea to have something special to look forward to. Not only does it help to make hard times more endurable, but anticipating can be a pleasure itself. Besides, I also found a cool Travel List Challenge post at Our Jorney to Everywhere blog and I thought it was a good thing to do! I'll try to keep the challenge short and I'll just list 10 places which I really, really would love to visit. Of course, there are more than 10 places on my travel wish list but these 10 would be real milestones for me. So, hopefully, one day I'll take a look back at this list and I'll be able to cross them all out!

1. Australia

Australia has been top on my list since I was a child. I cannot even remember where this fascination came from, but I'm sure it came really early as I got my first Australia travel guide when I was just 10. Many years later I still haven't been there but my desire to visit this magic and huge country has only grown. Uluru, Blue Mountains, Coober Pedy, Queensland and the Sunshine Coast, Tasmania and the list goes on. In my dreams I plan to spend a whole year there travelling with a van across the country; in real life ... we'll see!

2. Sydney

Keeping on with Australia, I'm sure that Sydney is an unmissable stop there. I used to have a citymap of Sydney in my bedroom in my parents' home where I highlighted all the touristic spots that I would love to visit someday and I even fantasized about learning to surf in some of its popular beaches.

3. Iceland

From a huge island to another big island, Iceland has also been under my radar for a while now. There's something very appealing about this isolated island covered in snow and full of thermal waters. Besides, its viking past seems really interesting to me. I actually started learning Icelandic hoping that someday I might be able to read the famous Sagas. Tough work, so I cannot think of a better reward than a steamy bath among the snow and under the moon.

4. Berlin

Just because is cool, just because is filled with history and bakeries full of delicious treats, just because I love Germany. And also to finally see with my own eyes all the places I once had to memorize in my German lessons, when I was unable to distinguish east from west and I ended up making a very poor description of Berlin to my teacher (anyways, what a stupid exercise!).

5. Moscow

Russia has always been a very attractive country to me and I also started learning Russian once to be able to find my way among all those signs written in cyrillic characters if I ever set foot on Russian territory. I think the landscapes must be amazing, just like the history, the food, the music or the literature of the country and the architecture in the imperial cities. Saint Petersburg and the Baikal Lake would also be on my list.

6. Barcelona

Sometimes I get the feeling that I don't know enough of my own country, despite having lived there for 25 years. I have only been for a year in Belgium, in The Netherlands or in Switzerland, but I think I've travelled quite a lot more around. And while I love discovering new countries and cities, I think it is also nice to get to know one's own country and Barcelona makes a wonderful entry door to Spain framed by that genius who was Gaudi. And as a bonus, I'll try and see a match of my beloved FC Barcelona in its own stadium!

7. Lanzarote

It's been a while now that I have been willing to visit Lanzarote. My favourite book, Mararía, takes place there and I've been mesemerized by its magical descriptions of the island since I read it for the first time: a stranded island of red and black, of orange and brown, of green and purple, burning under the sun, with dogs owning the streets while people waited for the chill of the evening inside their homes, an island with just one car in an undetermined time. Sounds mystic to me and I'm sure that reality is more than far away of the poetic descriptions that Rafael Arozarena wrote in the book but still it must be beautiful. So close to my home island and I've never been there. Shame on me!

8. Aletsch Glacier

I would love to see a glacier some time and the only reason for choosing this one is a practical one: it is the closest glacier to my boyfriend's hometown at just 3 hours drive, more or less. So, chances are, that if I ever visit a glacier, this one is the most likely to be chosen.

9. The Maldives

This is another childhood dream of mine. Somehow, I once got my hands in a travel brochure completely dedicated to the Maldives and I was totally amazed by the beauty of those turquoise waters and white sands. And also at the confort and luxe of the hotels. Actually, I think that the Maldives need no explanation to feature in any wish list, they just deserve to be there!

10. New York

Probably the most cliché place on my list but I also think this one deserves to be in any wish list! New York promises everything: 24/7 fun, take-aways from all over the world, superb architecture and great art, nice rests in green parks, beautiful sunrises, fashion and musicals. I usually love movies set in New York and I can't get enough to the awesome views the city has to offer.

So, that's my list, short and beautiful. Taking a look at it I can tell two things about me: I have a penchant for islands and I really like cold places with snow. And what about you? Do you also have a travel wish list? If so, let me know about your dream destinations. After all, it is always good to get some inspiration to keep on dreaming.

Disclaimer - All pictures are taken from Wikimedia Commons. Hopefully, one day I'll be able to replace them with my own photos.

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