Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Orange celebration in Maastricht

Today was the day when the Netherlands dresses in orange and go crazy partying in the streets. Every year on 30th April, the Netherlands celebrates its national day and as I told you yesterday today was even more special because the prince Willem-Alexander was crowned King of the Netherlands. I followed the whole ceremony on tv and I can tell you that it was amazing! Solemnity, contained emotions, but also affection from the people, some other emotions not so hidden and many a beauitful dress! Even the sun was shining all afternoon in Amsterdam to greet the new king and queen. But besides the official events that were programmed for the coronation, the party carried on in the streets as usual. The streets were vibrant with music, people wore every orange item they own and spent a relaxed day in every city and town of the Netherlands. And Maastricht was not exception to that. Big screen had been placed in 't Vrijthof, Maastricht's main square, to follow live every minute of the ceremony in Amsterdam, there were concerts and a big thrift markt in the park. During Queen's Day everyone is allowed to sell in the streets everything that is no longer useful to them and this year the park was totally crowded and packed with piles of clothes, porcelain items laying on the floor and many cupcakes with orange icing. And there were even more people taking a look around, I don't remember having seen so many people last year!

Maastricht may not be Amsterdam but still, I wanted to show you some pics of this very special day in the Netherlands. Furthermore, this is the last year that the Queen's Day is celebrated, as from 2014 onwards it'll be the King's Day and it will be celebrated on 27th April, the date of the new king's birthday. So, if the Netherlands is on your wish list and you want to experience one of the best street party ever while enjoying a sudden immersion into the Dutch culture, you know when to book your holidays!

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Royal Note on the Netherlands

Tomorrow is a very special day in the Netherlands and I would like to share part of it with you in this special post. Every year, on 30th April a huge street party takes place in The Netherlands, specially in Amsterdam. It's the Koninginnedag, or Queen's Day, and it commemorates the Queen's birthday with a big party for all citizens of the Netherlands. Boats parade along the cannals, music bangs loud, there are thrift markets in almost every street and people have fun dressed in orange. But before going any further, I would like to introduce you to this very ordinary couple.

Posing at a random shop window

They met almost 15 years ago at a party and fell head over heels for each other. After a couple of years and some family issues they got engaged and married. She wore a very delicate and beautiful dress which would suit for a princess. They had three lovely daughters and lived happily ever after. And tomorrow they're becoming the King and Queen of the Netherlands. Ups, so ordinary are they not!

Source: Wikipedia

Willem-Alexander and Máxima met in Spain, during the famous Feria de Abril in Sevilla. It was love at first sight but not an easy start because her father had been minister for the dictatorship regime that took place in Argentina from 1976 to 1981. However, they stood against all odds and eventually got the green light to their relationship from the Dutch Monarchy and Parliament. They got engaged in 2001 and celebrated a fairytale wedding in 2002. It was almost perfect, if it wasn't becase her parents were not allowed in the country nor to attend the wedding because of her father political past. I can imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for her to be enjoying the happiest day in her life so far away from her beloved parents. And her tears that day, first in the church and later when they opened the reception's dance with a tango are fondly remembered by many Ducth people who hold Máxima close to their hearts since that day. Now Prince and Princess of the Netherlands, they have three daughters and lead quite a normal life. Last January, Queen Beatrix abdicated in favour of her son Willem-Alexander and tomorrow he will be crowned King of the Netherlands.

I have to admit that I am very impressed by all the affection and admiration the Dutch royal family receives from its people. They're highly accepted, with more than 60% of the people in favour of the monarchy and Máxima is especially loved and one of the most popular members of the family. But I don't think it's hard to love her at all! She's smart and very dedicated to her duties as a princess. She learnt Dutch very quickly and pays special attention to causes related with the integration of the inmigrant population in the Dutch society. She looks happy and healthy, has a radiant smile and a great sense of style (you can check more of her style here, sorry it's only in Dutch). So no wonder that the whole country is under her spell!

I come form a kingdom myself and I don't think I know anyone who supports the monarchic instution in the 21st century, let alone in Spain (but that's another story). I have always found fascinating the lives of kings and queens and I treasure my royal issues of Vogue and the Hello special on the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middelton. I think it's quite distinctive for a country to have a monarchy as head of the state. But I'm a rational person too and I also question what their role nowadays really is, how fair it is that a family enjoys so many privileges and how anachronical it is for these rights for pass from father to son (or to daughter in some countries). It seems more middle ages to me than modern times. But I also think that if current kings and queens have survived centuries of revolutions and upheavals there is no need to take them away now. Not as long as they really serve their countries.

But back to the Netherlands, tomorrow is a big day and I would like to wish Willem-Alexander and Máxima all the best for their upcoming years as king and queen. I wish them strenght to meet their royal duties and to never compromise their morals; I wish them wisdom to get through these difficult times we are all facing and to overcome the difficulties any monarchy will encounter on the 21st century; I wish them kindness to keep their people as close to their hearts as they have done so far; and I wish them happiness to continue smiling the same way they have as prince and princess. And of course, all the best for Queen Beatrix, who has been a good and caring queen and sure has have a rough last year since the accident of her son Prince Friso. May she enjoy many years of happiness and rest with her beloved family. Lang leve de Koningin! Lang leve de Koning!

Source: Flaironline.nl

Friday, April 26, 2013

30 before 30

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." 
Mark Twain

Let's all sail away from the safe harbour.

Recently I have started to reflect upon my life as I'm turning 30 in exactly a year and a half. That's a big milestone and I feel the sudden urge to evaluate of what I've achieved until now and what's still missing and I'm happy to say that despite a row of tough years in the past I'm quite satisfied with the balance so far. Especially the last five years have been amazing! I went to study abroad for the first time, started working, to earn some money of my own and to travel around Europe as much as I could and in between I even met my missing puzzle piece (as Katy Perry would sing in Teenage Dream). Then, one day not long ago I stumbled upon this quote by Mark Twain and I knew that I still had a lot more to do and so much left to see. Slowly, I started putting together my bucket list and among finally learning Russian and finding a job I like, I know that one of the things I want to keep on doing in the years to come is traveling. Traveling is probably one of the most fulfilling and rewarding hobbies anyone could have. It teaches you more than any book could about the world we live in and the people we share it with; it provides you with memories that will last a lifetime and you get the very satisfying feeling that you are actually making the most of your limited time on Earth. That's why I decided to set up myself the challenge of visiting 30 new places before turning 30. That's it, 18 months from today on to see 30 places I've never seen before. Because 18 months is not that much time and my life is quite unsettled at the moment, making it difficult to plan ahead, I've decided to keep options quite open. I will not write any list of dream destinations and I will not make a strict definition of place. Maybe it's a new country, maybe an underrated village just round the corner of my current home or maybe a national park waiting to be discovered. I'm hoping to be surprised in 18 months with the list I put together, which probably won't take me outside Europe yet. So, the only requisite for a place to fulfill the challenge is that I've never been there before. You can take a look at the list of places I've been before here and I will tag all posts about new places with 30before30.

I hope that you get inspired by this quote as well and maybe you even decide to join me with your very own challenge. Rules are loose, so just go for what want. Follow your dreams and reach for the stars!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spring Happiness in Maastricht

It's taken a while but it seems that spring is finally settling down with us in Maastricht. After a long winter temperatures are beginning to rise, the sun shines and the sky is an amazing light shade of blue, flowers are blooming and newly-born animals are taking their first steps on the greenest grass. Despite my penchant for autumn colours and winter snow I have to recognise that this sudden spring boom has put a big smile on my face. Perhaps it's the sun on my face or perhaps the ballet flats on my feet but I am defintely happy that spring is finally here and I'm looking forward to more sunny days! So, here's a little list of 'happy spring things'.

Early sunshine on my window
Dresses and ballet flats
Picnic for two
Walking barefoot on the grass
Laying on the sun
Home-made ice tea
Daytrips to the coast

Just some ideas, what about you? What makes you happy in spring?
Have a wonderful week!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Roman Ruins in Switzerland

"What we do in life echoes in eternity"

Some of you might recognize this quote from the film Gladiator. Ah, Gladiator, what a masterpiece! I like everything about it: the plot, the luscious costumes, the reconstruction of the Roman settlements and of ancient Rome itself, the twisted relation of Commodus with his father and sister, Maximus' thirst for vengeance and the subtle hints to its shattered romance with Lucilla. The film has so many meaningful words that I could quote half of the script here but I chose this line because I think it is comforting knowing that somehow what we are now will endure the centuries to come. Romans probably kept those words in mind too and luckily for them, even though their empire perished long time ago, an important part of their legacy still lives with us. I am not especially keen on history but as Gladiator is my favourite film I jump at every opportunity of seeing some remains of the ancient Roman Empire. I was really excited when I visited the Colisseum four years ago and I would like to visit Pompeii some day.

The first time I went to Switzerland my boyfriend took me to visit the Roman ruins of Kaiseraugst and I was totally surprised to find such a well preserved Roman city over the Alps. I know that Italy has plenty and Roman ruins, and so does Spain, France, the north coast of Africa and even England! But Switzerland? Oh yes, Maximum was actually fighting in Germania before becoming a gladiator. So, once again I was very glad to visit some place which might have been relevant in the whole Gladiator story (I know, it's just fiction and Helvetia is not Germania). Back to the Swiss Roman ruins, they are located in the old city of Augusta Raurica and the whole complex has been set as an open-air museum. Some excavations have revealed part of the ancient city, including a temple, a theatre, and old bath house and an ampitheatre, among other buildings. The historical site is totally integrated with the environment and it can be visited any time. There is also a museum exhibiting a collection of everyday objects found on the site and a small animal park where you can learn about the importance of domestic animals in the Roman empire.

Augusta Raurica is located in Kaiseraugst and is 10 minutes away from Basel by car. Entry is free (except for the museum, which costs 8 CHF. I haven't been to it so I cannot tell you if it's worth it). It is a great place to spend a lazy sunny morning and it is also possible to eat in the picnic areas around or some pizzeria nearby. 

Following the Gladiator's steps to the Elysium

Do you also like historical sites? Any suggestion?
Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, April 15, 2013

A traintrip across Germany

There's something very appealing about train journeys. Perhaps it's the old-fashion allure that surround traintrips, perhaps it's the fact that you can simply drop at any time in any train station and take (almost) any train to any destination you fancy or perhaps it's the charm of many a encounter by chance that could take place in a lengthy journey (think of Before Sunrise). I love train trips and I'm always excited just at the possibility of taking a train that would take me on a wonderful journey. Yesterday I came back from Switzerland and I had 6 hours of train ahead of me so I took my camera out to take some pictures and an old lady sitting opposite me looked at me and said 'Good idea on such a wonderful day! It had never occurred to me'. The lady didn't seem to mind my bad German nor to be bothered that I didn't follow her conversation steadily and she showed me some photos she made and a paper cut about her. She had started  taking photos back in the 40s when she was just a girl and now, at 83 she is still being featured in local exhibitions in her hometown Koblenz and other German towns. What a lovely and inspiring elder lady! In Kblenz we did part ways, as she stepped out of the train and I was left wishing that I will still be travelling and photographing the world at 80 just like she does!

These are some snapshots of my train journey yesterday that took me from Basel to Maastricht all over through Germany, stopping at Freiburg, Baden-Baden, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Mainz, Koblenz and Bonn and then changing trains in Cologne and Aachen. The sun was shining and the blooms seemed to be finally blooming, just like they're meant to in spring. There was still some snow near Freiburg and many trees coveres by white and lila flowers. And the trail was especially beautiful between Mainz and Koblenz, when the train was zigzagging along the Rhine.

While on the go I listened to my favourite German singer, Xavier Naidoo, who has a very soft, beautiful voice and writes really touching lyrics. This is probably my favourite song from him, Abschied nehmen. Very sad but, oh, so beautiful!

I am now the happy owner of a 25 Bahncard, which means that I can travel with 25% discount on the German rail network during a year so I am already indulging in the thought of many a trip I would do around Germany, or at least around the neighbouring land of North-Rhine-Westefalia. I am really looking forwrd to having some free time and take a train to discover more of the charms of Germany. And what about you? Do you also like train trips? Or do you prefer other transport form?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hiking around Maastricht

Yesterday there was finally a lovely spring day, maybe the first of this year. The sun was shining brightly and it was even warm enough to spend some time sipping an ice-tea on a terrace. I didn't hesitate for a moment and decided to spend the day outside enjoying the long awaited nice weather. I went hiking to the St Pieter Mount and eventually made it Belgium and back. It was a lovely and lengthy walk starting at Sint-Pieter Fort and and going southwards amid hills and coming back along the Maas river. The whole path accounts for 10.5 Km and is well signaled; there are also some shoter paths which can be done in an hour. The landscape was beautiful but not really outstanding, especially now that trees are still naked and grass is not as lush as it could be. But still, it was a really nice hike and it felt so good to be out in the sun surrounded by the nature and yet so close to home at the same time.

I am actually really proud of myself for having managed to complete the 10 Km hike (12 actually, as I had to walk first to the St Pieter's Fort and back home). And after such a great achievement I rewarded myself with a delicious meal in a nice café in the center of Maastricht. There's a nice café in 't Vrijthof (the main square in Maastricht) which looks like an old heater inside and it serves this delicious hamburguer for just 6.5€! I still can't believe it, as most cafés arouns already charge 7€ for a simple sandwich. So, if you're around, Grandcafe Momus is the place to order this!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A photo-tour of Switzerland

Tickets are booked! I'm really happy that I'll be spending next week in my favourite country so far. Not only I love it because it is home to tons of sweet chocolate and the even sweeter Boyfriend, but also because it is utterly beautiful. The first time I went to Switzerland I was totally mesmerized by its white mountains, crystal lakes, lush countryside and charming cities. And somehow Switzerland changed me and my view of the world and it also changed my way of travelling. Until then I just tried to pin major cities and urban attractions in my travels: London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid, Rome. And the Boyfriend took me to his home country and my eyes opened to a whole new world made of the most wonderful nature I had ever seen. I had been neglecting such a beautiful side of the world for so long! Switzerland changed that and now I look further than cool cities and I also want to get to know the natural beauty of places I visit as well.

These are some photos taken during my previous trips to Switzerland. Hopefully you'll see what I mean when I say that Switzerland is really breathtaking! And you can read about some other reasons to love Switzerland here.

I arrived in Basel and fell instantly in love with it.

I was mesmerized by the mighty Alps and found my favourite Swiss spot in Interlaken.

I strolled along quiet Bern ....

... I walked along the wooden bridges of charming Lucerne ...

... and I discovered cool Zurich.

I was left speechless by the power of water at the waterfalls in Rheinfell.

It took a while but eventually I made it to Geneve.

I took a closer look of the Alps in Zermatt ...

... and was even closer to these snowy giants in Leukerbad.

I hope you all enjoyed this quick trip round Switzerland.
Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, April 1, 2013

April 2013: The things to come ...

Warning - This post contains some details about the first and second season of Game of Thrones

Last month I became seriously addicted to Game of Thrones. That Daenerys "the Stormborn" Targaryen have cast a powerful spell on me and I sorrowed with her when she lost her husband, I was filled with hope when her dragons were born and I feared the worst when she was betrayed in the city of Qarth. But right now I'm really expectant about what will happen next and wishing that she will make it to the Iron Throne. Yesterday was finally the day when the third season started, so the first thing I will do once I've done the exam I have to take this wednesday will be to catch up with GoT.

And just like that, that things that are bound to happen eventually happen, I am also expectant about all the things to come in the next months when I finally finish my studies and leave Maastricht. I don't know yet where I'll be going or what I'll be doing but I'm really looking forward to it, whatever it is. But until then I still have a couple of things to accomplish here and also some places left to see, so I will do my best to enjoy my last four months here as much as possible.

Last month was a not so easy month for my 365 project as I spent too much time at home and too little outside. It was cold, I was sick and I also deliberately locked myself inside to study so I was short on inspiration for many days. Still, this is the first time that I have more than one favourite photo so it's been a difficult task to pick just one to show here, but this is it.

A serene snowy landscape, I love the lines and the stillness. Now that spring seems to be finally on its way, I will miss the snow but anyways, I'm already looking forward to wearing summer dresses again on sunny days! You can view my whole month of March here.

Finally, I'm happy not only because the end of this burden called MSc study is drawing near, but also because after a month without leaving Maastricht I am planning some daytrips again. This month I will be visiting the famous tulip fields in Holland and also spend some days in Switzerland (well, at least that's the plan but maybe I'll have to reschedule it if the weather turns nasty). And what about you? Are you already making plans to enjoy the nice weather outside? Are you also addicted to GoT? Or do you have some other series to suggest?

Hope you had a happy easter and wish you an even happier April!

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