Wednesday, July 31, 2013

#100: A Hundred Happy Things

Sunday brunching in the sun * Chocolate eggs * Blooming trees * Holding hands with Boyfriend * A feel-good film * Picnic in the park * Finishing my work-out routine * Getting top grades for a test * Hearing good news from people I love * Singing out loud * Skype with my little brother * Smiling * A good glass of wine * Taking beautiful pictures * 80s and 90s anime * Meeting new, interesting people * Cake at work * TENERIFE * Clean and crisp bed linen * Lavender scent * A Guiness for St Paddy * Dreams come true * An unexpected present * Nicely shaped clouds * Long weekends


Strawberries for breakfast * Cherries * Strawberries any time * Swimming in the ocean * Star gazing * Travel plans * Daytripping with the perfect companion, usually my boyfriend * Sundresses * Dancing to anything Usher or Cheryl (Cole) * Late evenings with great friends * Open-air cinema * Watching The Simpsons' oldies but goodies * A fresh summer parfum * A gorgeous sunset * Well-behaved hair, which is rarely the case * Painting my toe nails * Mountains (they remind me of my home island) * Speaking a foreign language * A first kiss * Treasured memories * Blue skies * A 70% off label in the summer sales * Walking barefoot * Early sunshine on my window * Nature wonders 


Walking over fallen leaves * Watching the rain pour from my window * A good lie-in in the weekends * Ice-cream when it's chilly * A hearty home-made meal * Looking at old photo albums * Bellydancing * A warm cup of tea with a biscuit * Autumn's thousand colours * Pumpkin cream * Learning something new * Writing * Rainbows * Coming back home * Any painting by Magritte * Piano playing * Hiking * Childhood friends * A stranded beach * Me-time * Hearing the waves crashing * A listening ear and a shoulder to lean on * Watching my favourite football team score and win * Series DVD sets for rainy evenings (Friends anyone?) * The smell of the countryside


Hot chocolate * The first snow of the season * Christmas decorations * Wrapping gifts * Homemade biscuits * Ice-skating * A good book * Meaningful conversations * Receiving a letter or postcard from friends * Sending Christmas cards to friends who are far away * LOVE * Baking cupcakes or brownies ...  simply baking anything *  Knitted scarves * Scented lip balms * Dim lights in a cosy room * Roasted chestnuts * Waking up to a white landscape * Staying in * Movie nights with Boyfriend * Winter coats * Sci-fi stories * Lenghty dinners in good company * Thermal baths * Feeling accomplished by the end of the year * Wishing for an even happier new year


Wow, writing a hundred happy things! This has been quite a difficult task but a very rewarding one! I've been struggling for a week to reach humber 100 but at the same time I've realized that there are many simple things that make me happy on a daily basis. I've also learnt that food makes me considerably happy and that I'm more and more drawn to all the beauty mother Earth has to offer. 
Writing down a hundred happy things has been a good challenge for my creative writing skills, so maybe you'd also like to give it a try. Let me know if you do so and share you link on a comment.

Have a happy Wednesday!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

3 Dutch things I love and will miss

Tic-tac, tic-tac, tic-tac ... Wow, time is really ticking out and in just one week time I'll be leaving the Netherlands behind and driving all the way down to a new life in Switzerland. Exciting! But so sad at the same time. I've lived for nearly two years in Maastricht and my love for this small and cosy city has only grown and grown, and so has my appreciation for all things Dutch. So today I've decided to talk a bit about three Dutch things that I absolutely love.I wonder how I'll survive without them!

Albert Heijn


Oh, the AH, that wonderful dutch supermarket that's in every city, town and train station in the Netherlands. A real monopolist in the most economic sense of the word, but what's not to love about it? It has an incredibly wide range of products with great quality and budget-friendly prices, though Dutch people tend to disagree on this, as they often regard it as the most expesvice supermarket in the Netherlands. Its bonus card will save you some euros on a regular basis as the AH has dozens of product on promotion every week - I've never paid full price for laundry detergent or conditioner, asI most of the time there's a suitable 2x1 offer. Another great thing of the AH is its monthly free magazine Allerhande full of recipes and cooking tips.

HEMA


An absolute life-saver! Whatever you need, you're most likely to find it in your nearest Hema shop. From bicycle lights to underwear and from biscuits to glasses and cutlery. And everything is, oh, so cheap! I especially like its stationary and make-up ranges and my last purchase was a couple of bikinis for four euros each. Bargain! Hema is a real institution in the Netherlands. Dutch people have been shopping at Hema for almost a century now and last year they even produced their own musical telling the story of an inmigrant trying to find her way in the Netherlands and working as a Hema shop assistant. The musical even featured typical Dutch sausages and cakes dacing on stage!

La Place


This chain of restaurants catters fast-food with a twist, an organic twist. Everything is fresh-made and from organic ingredients. Almost every city in the Netherlands will have at least one La Place eatery, most of the time on the V&D department stores and luckily on the top floor with a terrace to enjoy. La Place serves fresh juices and smoothies, salads, soups, wok dishes, pizzas, coffee and tea, sandwiches and delicous patries. I really like its mushroom soup, the best I've ever tried and any of its cakes will do me. There are also small cafés where you can grab a quick snack and food retailers selling sweet-smelling chocolates and tasty breads and baked treats. Every month there's a new set of vouchers on its website with nice deals.

Ah, these wonderfully practical Dutch things. I will have to find a way to cope without them but in the meantime I better get packing. My appartment currently looks like a battlefield and I still have quite a lot of things to do before leaving. I've already done most of the paperwork and only the most tedious tasks remain, namely cleaning and tyding everything up and put most of my belongings into boxes. But not everything will be boring this weekend as a friend will be visiting me tomorrow and Boyfriend is coming on Thursday to help put everythinng together in the car and leave together on Saturday. And I'm so looking forward to it as we haven't seen each other in almost three months, yay!

Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lovely Leiden

It was love at first sight. I was last Saturday in Leiden and I was left speechless by its beauty. Leiden is a city of superlatives with the oldest university of the Netherlands, one of the prettiest town halls in the country, probably the most beautifully ornated church interior and home to the Netherlands' greatest painter of all time, Rembrandt. As soon as I got on the train back I texted Boyfriend to tell him that Leiden was so lovely that we would have to visit it if we ever come back to the Netherlands.


I had been reading about Leiden in the train and I had sketched an itinerary with all the sights I wanted to see. However, as soon as I started to walk towards the city centre I found it really difficult to stick to it as there was always something that would catch my attention at the most unexpected places. An impressive building here, a charming canal there or a lovely corner over there, Leiden seemed to be made of first-class daytrip material. I let myself go and just wandered aimlessly along many a street with a canal on its side, I was wowed by more houses than ever in the Netherlands and eventually realized that I had a big crush on Leiden.

It was drizzling and chilly when I arrived in Leiden so I started my day by seeking shelter in a windmill. Yes, the first thing I did was visiting a windmill dating from the 18th century. By the time I went out again the sun was beginning to shine shyly and I headed to the city centre. But as I said, I was quite unable to focus on my itinerary and I suddenly found myself staring at another windmill. Later I passed by the Morsch Poort, a surviving gate from the old city walls and followed the canals grid to the centre. Leiden was really animated, with many people enjoying some retail therapy in the shops of Haarlemmerstraat. There was a street market in the parallel street where you could buy almost anything, from clothes and textiles to exotic spices and raw herrings. It was also crowded, just like every terrace and café around. Nearby was yet another street with more than a handful of beautifully ornated buildings, among them the town hall. Walking away from the busy city centre there were many other sights to enjoy and I especially liked the Pieterskerk (St Peter's Church) with its outstanding interior. I missed a history lesson at the American Pilgrim Museum and I forgot to take a look at the old city citadel but hopefully there'll be a second time in Leiden to catch up where I left!









Sunday, July 21, 2013

Darling Delft

Oh Delft! The darling of the Netherlands! Delft is a small city between Rotterdam and The Hague and a big reminiscent of Amsterdam. With a compact city centre surrounded and crossed by canals and many cafés and terraces scattered all over the city, Delft makes a lovely day trip. However, I got the impression that everything is a bit still during the summer months as the student population is probably enjoying their holidays somewhere else. Or maybe it was only because it was Friday and I'm used to the weekend crowds.


Delft is a living history lesson itself. The city was born around 1100 and much of its city centre remains unchanged since the 17th century. Most buildings have been amazingly well preserved, the canals stand still the way they have for centuries, a few pottery artisans still make a living from the renowned Delftware china and the tower of the Old Church still leans as much as it did when it was built. Walking along any given alley may bring you back to the times when Delft's most notable resident, Jan Vermeer, was busy painting some of his masterworks - and I guess this is even more true during a freezing winter!


I was in Delft last Friday and I really enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the lovely weather. It took me an embarrassingly long time to find my way out of the station but once out I was on my way to explore the city. A couple of Netherlands' most stereotyped images can be found in Delft, namely a windmill, canals everywhere and Delft fine blue and white china. Many of the stylized buildings along the canals date from some centuries ago and their façades are unmistekably Dutch. Once in the city centre I took a look at some of Delft most celebrated buildings. The Gemeenlandhuis was my first stop, just to take a look at its baroque façade. Then I headed to the old and new churches, which are not far from each other. The Old Church (Oude Kerk) is famous for its extreme leaning tower and it has a beautiful interior. Among the many tombs spread across the floor a very humble stone marks the place where Vermeer is buried. Recently, the local government has incorporated a more grandiose tomb to honour it's beloved master. The New Church (Nieuwe Kerk) hosts a mausoleum for the king William I, Father of the Fatherland, and below the church lies the private crypt of the the Netherlands' royal family. The Grote Markt square is right at the feet of the new church and the beautifully ornated town hall stands opposite to it. The Grote Markt is a lively square with many terraces and souvenirs shops selling both fake and authentic delftware. A bit further from it is the Oostpoort, which is the only surviving gate of the former walls of the city.






Just around the corner of the Grote Markt there is a popular fish stall that has been selling fresh and curated fish since 1342! The Visbanken, as it is called, also catters all sort of fish snacks and I got my kibbeling fix there, probably for the last time before moving to Switzerland.


That was my day in Delft, a real darling of a city. However, I have to admit that it didn't fully live to my expectations. I had heard to many good things about Delft and while it was really charming and pretty, I found it a bit dull. Too many canals all looking the same and not so much going on. But as I said, it might be as well, that a hot summer Friday is not the best time to visit.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Icons of Amsterdam: The Canals

Amsterdam has often been nicknamed as the Venice of the North due to the countless canals that criss-cross the city. Amsterdam lies well below sea level and the Dutch folk spent centuries draining their land and trying to keep water at bay and nowadays their efforts are still visible in many corners of the Netherlands. From the polders - rectangular extensions of agricultural land separated by parallel canals - to the windmills; from the the traditional tall houses build on pillars to the typical urban planning that has moulded almost every city and town around a system of draining canals.


Many a cobbled street with guilded houses on both sides and a canal in the middle and a handful of bridges overlooking each canal. Amsterdam's canals are strikingly beautiful. So lively when the sun shines and dozens of boats and ships sail along, so romantic at dusk with many small lights twinkling at every bridge and so melancholic when it drizzles non-stop and there's a light mist in the air. This is probably the most quintessential image of Amsterdam and the canals, especially in the city centre, attract thousands of tourist a day.


Amsterdam is enjoying a glorious 2013 with more anniversaries and special events together that the city could ever hope for. The Rijksmuseum opening its doors again after being closed for renovation works during 10 years and the Van Gogh Museum is turning 40 - and Vincent van Gogh would be blowing out 160 candles if he would still live. The Dutch royals are celebrating their first 200 years on the throne and greeted a new king unexpectedly. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra marks its 125th anniversary, while the Artis Royal Zoo turns 225 years old. And the iconic canals will also play a lead role in all these celebrations as the canal ring has been standing there for 400 years.

The ring canal was developed in the early 17th century and the most famous canals are Herengracht (Gentlemen's canal), Keizersgracht (Emperor's canal) and Prinsesgracht (Prince's canal). Each of these canals has its own style and distinctive bridges and al of them are lined by elegant guilded houses which once belonged to wealthy Amsterdam artists and merchants. These three concentric canals surround the city center and in 2010 were added to the UNESCO's World Heritage List.





Amsterdam has long inspired many artists of all kind and its canals have been no exception as this popular Dutch song proves!

Monday, July 15, 2013

A day at the beach: Knokke-Heist

Knokke-Heist has been on my list of places to visit in Belgium for quite a while. Partly because I'm always attracted to coastal destinations, partly because I was curious about its luxurious allure. Knokke-Heist is one of the most popular towns in the Belgian coast and is the favourite place for wealthy people to spend their holidays in Belgium. Yesterday I got on a very early train to the Belgian coast and around midday I set foot on Knokke-Heist. The weather continues being terribly nice, so a trip to the coast seemed like the perfect way to enjoy a lazy Sunday.

Knokke-Heist

Knokke-Heist is the northernmost village in the Belgian coast and it actually comprises the towns of Knokke and Heist. The whole town has a really touristic vibe with wide avenues dotted with cafés, terraces and shops, which even open on Sundays. The city center is predominantly covered by apartment blocks but the outer neighbourhoods are lined with big and mostly white detached houses. The most exclusive area, Het Zoute, is home to a golf club and many, many, many boutiques of luxury labels. To name just a few, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Hermès, Agent Provocateur, 7 for all Mankind and Essentiel all have shops at Knokke-Heist. And the list goes on! There's even a Nespresso summer shop on a square facing the beach with an open-air bar.

Knokke-Heist

Knokke-Heist street art gallery

Knokke-Heist

The shore is divided in five golden sand beaches: Heist, Duinbergen, Albertstrand, Knokke and Het Zoute. The long promenade is lined with cafés and restaurant and many an art gallery. I don't think I had ever seen so many art galleries together in the same place! It is possible to hire pedal cars and tandem bikes and many people ride bikes. I totally liked the careless summer feeling of the place. Walking further than Het Zoute beach, there is a natural reserve, het Zwin, formed by dunes and mudlands, covered by sea lavender plants. The Zwin Nature Reserve is popular among bird watchers and if the tide is low it can be reached directly from the beach.

Knokke-Heist beach

Knokke-Heist beach

Knokke-Heist beach

Knokke-Heist beach

Knokke-Heist also seems to be popular among artists. Not only is there an art gallery in almost every corner but Knokke-Heist also hosts a cartoon festival every summer. Entry is free and the exhibition is located just opposite the casino building - which might be the dullest casino building in the world. I took a look at the exhibition and it was interesting. The exhibition was dedicated this year to the cute boy and girl cartoons of 'Love is ...'. Besides a wide collection of 'Love is ...' cartoons, there were also cartoons by many amateur cartoon drawers which have been submitted to the annual cartoon competion organized by Knokke-Heist. If you have a a drawing artist inside of you you may want to take a chance next year!

Knokke-Heist cartoon festival

It was a pleasant day in Knokke-Heist and I quite liked the town. It seemed a nice place to spend a couple of relaxing days. Strolling along the beach, doing some down-to-earth shopping - I'll leave Gucci and LV for the wealthy crowds with golden locks and Polo shirts - riding a bike, flying a kite or even trying some mud walking. Maybe one day I'll be back; probably not, as this is the kind of underrated destination which you only visit if you live nearby. Now I'll have to come to terms with the fact that I'm moving to a land-locked country, so coastal adventures will be only possible during real holidays. Switzerland, just three weeks to go!

Have a lovely week!


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Brunch at Coffeelovers

There aren't many things better than a lazy weekend morning with an extended brunch. I love getting up a couple of hours later than during weekdays and I like taking the time to prepare something special for breakfast, which will not actually be much of a breakfast anymore because it'll be eaten almost at lunch time and it's usually more elaborated than my average cup of tea with some bread or cake slice. Sometimes, I even treat myself to a proper brunch at some café and Coffeelovers is probably one of the best places in Maastricht to do so.


Coffeelovers is a very popular local brand with at least five cafés in Maastricht and several retailers which sell its own coffee and tea melanges, as well as home-made biscuits and Coffeelovers mugs. I am so lucky that I don't have only on Coffeelovers near my appartment, but two - actually, Maastricht is quite small, so I could count all of them close to my appartment. Still, I've only been to the biggest of them. This Coffeelovers has a very cosy interior, with different-sized tables and some comfortable armchairs to enjoy a while there, as well as regular chairs and long stools. On the frontside there is a bookshelf holding some eye-pleasing books about art, photography, travel and film and some fashion and design magazines are also scattered around the place. As soon as the sun begins to shine, they also lay some tables outside and their terraces are always fully packed.


Coffeelovers main business is indeed coffee but they also serve a great variety of teas and other cold drinks and they catter for delicious food as well. My faves are the French Breakfast, which includes two croissants with butter and jam and a cup of coffee or tea. I also like their chicken sandwichs and ciabattas and to drink I usually go for their special 'Droum vaan Mestreecht' tea (which means Dream of Maastricht in the local Limburg dialect). I don't drink coffee but I've heard that they serve very good coffee and their pastries also look delicious. It is a bit pricey, but not more than any Starbucks will be.




I had never blogged about cafés or restaurants before and I don't think I'll be doing it very often, mostly because I rarely eat out. Boyfriend and I both like cooking and we usually enjoy a home-made meal more than eating at any fancy restaurant. But there are always exceptions and we've found a couple of great places in Maastricht I would like to show you before leaving -sigh - with Coffeelovers being one of them. If you ever happen to visit Maastricht, this is sure a place to stop by for a cuppa coffee or tea.

Have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Learning to love Amsterdam


"I don't really like Amsterdam" I often hear myself saying whenever someone mentions the Dutch capital, "It's too crowded, chaotic and not that beautiful. It only has canals with guilded houses on both sides and after half an hour of walking they all look the same." I guess this is quite a controversial statement to start a post with but that's the plain truth. Or at least it was for the last five years.

I first went to Amsterdam five or six years ago with some friends. It was a rainy day in November and I didn't know that much about Amsterdam. Ah, my first traveling steps during which I didn't bothered to prepare for my trips neither did I do any research. As a result I was just following someone else under the rain, unable to get my bearings and after a while I was totally lost in yet another street with a canal in the middle which looked exactly the same as the previous one. Add to that a quick stroll around the red light district, lunch at Burger King and tea at McDonalds and more than probably you have already figured out what went wrong. Still, I've been back more than a handful of times and eventually Amsterdam began to charm me in the way it had charmed many others before me.


Last Saturday I went to Amsterdam with a couple of friends and I had an amazing time there - the weather played its part as it was really sunny and hot! For the first time I grabbed the map and faced my fears of getting lost in Amsterdam and surprisingly, I managed to find my way among many a street bisected by a canal. Becuase we were there just for one day and we didn't have that much time we sticked to the basics: the Dam square, the 'I Amsterdam' sign, the New Markt square, the canals (you guessed it!) and another quick stroll around the Red Light District. We decided not to waste spend time in any museum because we wanted to see as much as possible and enjoy the nice weather, which is kind of a gift in the Netherlands.

We tried to make the most of our only day in Amsterdam and had a great time there. We walked as much as we could along the canals and at the end of the day our sore feet confirmed that it has been a well spent day. I know that we neglected too many interesting sights but that's the downside of daytrips, having to choose what to see and what not. Anyways, I'm already planning a trip to Amsterdam in spring 2014 because Boyfriend has never been there - ok, not totally true, we were once there last year when I had to take my GRE test but he didn't see almost anything of the city. Hopefull, we'll manage to go back next year and I already have a couple of places on my to-do list, including the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House or the Vondelpark. Maybe I'll even dare to hire a bike!

I haven't liked Amsterdam for years but now I can finally see why so many people fall prey of her charms and I'm slowly falling for her as well. I still despise the city centre but once you start to walk away from it you'll find a very different city. A laid-back Amsterdam with lovely narrow houses, cosy cafés, canals that come to live when the sun shines and many markets selling hundreds of colourful flowers. I don't think that Amsterdam can look any more beautiful than she did on Saturday under the sun.











Sunday, July 7, 2013

A day in Cologne


Cologne is a big city with a population over one million. This fact was in my head but I had somehow overlooked it and only realised how big Cologne really is when I saw hundreds, thousands of tourists around her cathedral. Therewere probably more tourists there than the total number of people I see on any average day in Maastricht. I realized how big it was when I lost count of the many H&M and Esprit shops I passed by and I think I saw at least four or five Starbucks. At some point I really thought that I was walking around in circles, but no, I had simply underestimated Cologne's size and by the end of the day my feet were hurting badly after so much walking. And still, I have the feeling that I only scratched the surface of everything that Cologne has to offer.

I had already been once to Cologne but only for a couple of hours. I had only taken a quick tour around the cathedral, the main shopping street and cought a glompse of the Rhine. Last Saturday I decided to go there again and to spend a whole day in Cologne. I had done a bit of research and I knew that there were a couple of interesting museums  - Chocolate Museum and Early Roman History among others - but at 8€ the cheapest ticket I found them all a bit pricey so I decided to skip that cultural part of the city all together and enjoy the open-air charms of Cologne. Anyways, a day is not too much time to explore around, especially in such a big city as I soon found out.


It was cloudy and quite cold when I took the train, but luckily the weather improved notably and after midday I was really regretting wearing black skinny jeans. The first sight to admire is Cologne's impressive cathedral. It stands proudly besides the main train station and it's always surrounded my hordes of tourists and many locals who sit on the steps of the square making the most of the nice summer weather, especially in the evening. The most important museums are on an adjacent square on the backside of the cathedral and the main shopping street also radiates from the cathedral and goes on and on and then links to another shopping street which links to another shopping street and so on.


If Cologne's cathedral is the city's most visible face, the Rhine river is surely is beating heart. Both sides of the river appear to be full of live. Both banks are lined with long promenades and the west side has many cafés and bars nearby the city centre, while the east side has a big park, the Rheinpark, which can be reached crossing the Hohenzollern Bridge - or any other bridge - or by cable car. Rheinpark is a relaxing, green spot with a concert hall and some bars where you can lounge on a sunbed over white sand. Actually, the city centre is totally surrounded by several parks.

This is all I had time to discover about Cologne. A day is really not that much time but it was a enough to get to know Cologne a bit better and it left me wanting more. I seriouly wish I could do a longer tour around Germany. In the meantime, I'll keep on enjoying short daytrips and the photos afterwards.







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