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.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Icons of Brussels (part 1): The Atomium

Brussels is somewhat a schezophrenic city where many beautiful antique houses stand façade to façade to modern and not so elegant buildings, where the neoclassical royal palace gives way to the almost futuristic European quartier made up of glass and steel buildings, a city whose most iconic sites epitomize the past and the future of the city ... or at least they try to. This post is dedicated to one of those icons, the Atomium, the futuristic icon, even if the future it once intended to represent will never come. 

The Atomium was originally constructed for the World's Fair of 1958, which took place in Brussels. It is a big set of stainless steel and glass spheres shaped as a unit cell of iron crystal. Thus all speheres are connected and can be reached from some other sphere by means of an elevator or stairs. Nowadays, more than 50 years after its construction, the Atomium is a non-negligable touristic site of Brussels and thousands of visitors acome everyday, even if it's just to take a picture from afar. It is also possible to visit the inside and get the impression of being into some out of this world building or aircraft. Every sphere hosts a different theme from a 50s inspired living-room to an exposition on the Expo '58 or a retro café. 

Entrance tickets are not that cheap and the collections are probably not so worthy if you're not interested in retro sci-fi and the like, so probably that's the reason why most people just come to take some pictures and then head back to the centre of Brussels or visit the neighbouring mini-Europa park. But if you're wishing to be whisked away to another time where optimism was the norm propelled by a period of non-stop growth and people looked forward to conquering other planets and to contacting with other civilizations, then step in! And the views of Brussels from the upper spheres are also a good reason to go inside.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Impressions of Brussels

This morning I arrived back in Maastricht after having spent a very nice weekend in Brussels. Many people dislike Brussels because it is a rather chaotic city and is usually quite dirty, even having some stinky alleys right in the middle of the city center. But despite these unattractive features I really like the Belgian capital. I fell in love with it since the first time I visited five years ago and where people see chaos, contradiction or ugliness I just see the irreverence and dichotomy that somehow define Belgium. After all, Belgium is an artificial country  with three very differenciated parts and three different language groups that totally isolate from each other while keeping the country going all together, even in the long recurrent periods without government.

Being back in Belgium was great! Ever since I stpped out of the train I felt at home and I really enjoyed wandering along the many streets I already knew, letting go without the possibility of getting lost and taking notice of new stores or cafés waiting to be discovered. All of a sudden I also realized all the Belgian things I had been missing without even knowing: the famous and tasty frites, the delicious Liege waffles, the craziness of hearing so many different languages at the same time, including the soft accent Belgians have when speaking Dutch (even if that's not common to hear in Brussels), the Delhaize, once my fave supermarket, and the list goes on! I also noticed the little things I hadn't missed that much: the filthy streets and the never-stopping Belgian rain. But still, the sun was shining brightly on Sunday and I could enjoy a wonderful walk to the city center and take some pictures on the way. 

This time I just stuck to my known and beloved spots in the city center, as I didn't have that much free time but next time I'll try to be more adventurous and discover some new favourite places in Brussels, so hopefully in the last weekend of October I'll take some more photos. But until then, I'll write some other posts about Brussel's icons.

Bye, bye Brussels, see you next time!

Monday, October 1, 2012

October 2012 - Keep your head up

October is one of my favourite months of the year. I like the way October is a relaxed month after a September full of changes, I like the way autumn takes over with its hundred hues of yellow, orange and red, I like the way cosy jumpers and warm scarfs gradually leave the closet they've been sleeping in for months, I like the way shorter days invite for longer dinners indoor lit by tealights, oh, and I kind of like the way I turn one year older by the end of the month. 

This year's October won't be as relaxed as usually as I have three hectic weeks ahead to prepare for my exams but I also have some nice trips planned to look forward to and hopefully this will make my study duties easier! I'll be spending the first and the last weekend of October in Brussels and I'm really happy to be going back to Belgium, as I haven't been there for a long time and I can't wait to enjoy some time in the country I lived in and loved five years ago. I specially look forward to celebrate my brithday with a trip to Antwerp, my cool and lovely home five years ago. And maybe I'll also visit Düsseldorf on the first weekend of November, which is also exciting as I've never been there before and I really like discovering new cities. There's something special about stepping out in some place and walking a random street for the first time while taking a look at monuments and sights unknown to me until that moment. Anyways, before indulging in those travel treats I'll have to keep my head up and work hard. Probably next weekend I'll spend most of the time studying but I'll try to make some time to take some nice photos to post here.

And what about you? Any nice plans for this month ahead? Have a nice October and let me know if you have cool tips for Brussels, Antwerp or Düsseldorf!
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