The Perfect Lunch Celebration – Kyoto Sushi in Leuven

The boyfriend found a job! Woopteedoooooow! As soon as he got the call, we wanted to go celebrate. Turns out though, that spontaneous celebrations are hard to plan for. So we decided on lunch in town on the last day of my easter holiday. We went to Kyoto Sushi in Leuven.

I’d been to Kyoto Sushi many times before, for the sushi. Both for take away as to eat in. And every time I am more than delighted with the food. The sushi is absolutely delicious and they have all sorts of fun stuff to eat! From salmon to tuna and crab, avocado and creme cheese, crispy stuff and things that melt in your mouth in all sorts of genius combinations. All being prepared right there and then for you to watch behind the bar. I am definitely a big fan.

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Now, the restaurant isn’t located in the centre, and it doesn’t look very inviting, probably because the flooring gives it a slight cafeteria look. I think they mostly do well on their take-aways. But the few times I went their to eat, I was always happy with the super friendly service (maybe a bit slow, but I really don’t mind if you get a thousand smiles in return) and the beautiful ways they served their food, like on your typical sushi boat and all sorts of cute little plates and bowls.

The boyfriend isn’t much of a sushi eater, but last time I was here I saw one of the waiters carrying in a massive plate of noodles. Now, the boyfriend sure loves a good stir-fry or curry, so I’ve been wanting to take him here for a while now. And let me just say, it was everything we wanted it to be!

For starters, we ordered Gyoza-chicken and Gyoza-shrimp, which turned out to be some of the most delicious dumplings I’d ever had, served with a yummy sauce (something sweet-chilli like) and some salad. For mains, I went for the salmon teppanyaki with noodles, the boyfriend went for his favourite: sweet-and-sour chicken stir-fry with rice. You should’ve seen his face when he detected this on the menu. Like a little kid on Christmas morning!

My teppanyaki was served on two plates: one plate came with a delicious mountain of noodles, full of veggies and some egg, and the other plate came with the grilled salmon, baked so crispy, swimming in a pond of delicious teriyaki sauce. Also served with salad. For me, the salad wasn’t really necessary. It seemed to be a rather Belgian side to this delicious Japanese dish. Also, the food wasn’t served the traditional teppanyaki style, that is, on a burning hot sizzling dish where the food cooks while it is being brought to your table. But who am I to complain if it was all so tasty!

The boyfriend was quite happy with his sweet-and-sour too, although it was a bit thin on the sauce. In his words: more sweet than sour. But nevertheless it made for a tasty meal! And a big one at that. No more space for dessert, but we wobbled home perfectly satisfied.

Book Review – Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All, by Jonas Jonasson

Over Easter, me and the boyfriend went to visit his family and friends in England. Lovely little holiday that was. Lots of yummy food, wonderful company, a lot of playtime with the pets, and time to read my book! I started reading at the airport, and finished the book yesterday evening when we got home. It’s been a while since I’ve breezed through a book like that, and I loved it!

I’m a big Jonas Jonasson fan, I’ve read all his books so far. The first one was the international best-seller The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, which I stumbled upon in a camp site in Australia. I used to do a lot of bookswapping while backpacking, and I’ve read all sorts of stuff I usually wouldn’t look at in any bookshop or library, but when bookswapping, you can simply not be picky. And once in a while, you stumble upon a treasure, like the 100-year-old man. Hi-La-Ri-Ous. Absolutely the funniest book I’ve ever read. The main character goes on a journey of some sorts, meets new friends and enemies, and gets into a lot of trouble that he somehow manages to get out of every single time by some kind of deus ex machina.

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His other books, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, and the one about Hitman Anders that I’ve just finished, have a similar kind of story line without being a repetition of each other. Some of the characters have a fair bit of things in common, like the fact that most of them have not had the best childhood or ancestry. Or the thin line between right and wrong his characters generally are on the wrong side off, while at the same time still getting the reader’s sympathy, simply because they do not seem to know any better. Also, all his books have the same hilarious level of highly ironic and over the top. And still, Jonasson keeps coming up with inventive ways to make his characters go through some pretty crazy stuff!

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Let me quickly run you through the story of Hitman Anders, no spoilers. Jonasson’s newest book tells you the story of an unfortunate young man who happens to find himself stuck in life, being the receptionist in a shabby little hotel with guests like the rather dangerous sounding Hitman Anders. Life throws a lot of random things his way, and before you know it he is running a lucrative business with a former priest and the aforementioned hitman. Of course, it doesn’t take long before it all goes tits-up, as it is quite clear that not everyone is on their side. But nevertheless, the receptionist, priest, and hitman change plans as easily as their socks, and in such a way that you could never imagine how their story will end.

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For me, the best part about Jonasson’s novels, including this one, is the absolute randomness. Really anything could happen to anyone, and it does. Also, Jonasson has a really fun way to introduce new characters, no matter how vital or minor they are to the story. Every new character gets introduced with a short summary of their (generally quite awful) life before, and how this lead them to end up in the story.

Also wonderful is the language Jonasson uses. The complexity of his sentences stands in sheer contrast with the simplicity of his characters (who are never really smart, on either emotional or intellectual level, or even both), which adds a hilarious layer of irony to the story that works so well.

His books are an absolute joy to read, very entertaining. And even though he has a very clear style and ideas that return in all his novels, the stories still surprise and entertain you. And they are definitely a good laugh!

Book Review – “Tracks” by Robyn Davidson

You might have heard from this book through the movie that came out in 2014. Just as this book, definitely a must-watch! Even though the image you get from the main character is very different than in the book, the story will wow you and the images amaze you. I saw the movie in Alice Springs itself, where the story starts. It was a recommendation from my parents who had read the book, and the boyfriend (who was then not the boyfriend yet) who had seen it before and decided he’d come with me to watch it again (on what he keeps insisting was our first date). Ever since, I’ve been wanting to read the book. And now I have. And it was everything I hoped for and more.

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Let me first tell you something about the story without giving away too much. It’s actually a travel report rather than a novel. The main character and writer, Robyn Davidson, decided in to cross the Australian desert with a few camels in the late 70s. Something that returns a lot in the book, is the Why of this decision. It comes down to her wanting to show that you really can do everything you want to as long as you set your mind to it, which she expands on also in the interesting postscript to the 2012 edition, full of other inspirational quotes like:

“One can choose adventure in the most ordinary of circumstances. Adventure of the mind, or to use an old-fashioned word, the spirit.”

The first part of the story tells you about her preparations in and around Alice Springs. The second part deals with the actual journey: from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to Hamelin Pool on the coastline of Western Australia; Robyn, four camels and a dog. The book includes of course a map with the route, and a few pictures taken by Rick Smolan, the photographer chosen by Robyn herself to meet her a few times on the road to document with pictures for National Geographic, the sponsor of the whole adventure.

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I think you might agree: plenty of story material there! But the book isn’t just about the story, about the amazing and also scary things that happened on the way. It gives you an interesting insight into the mind of Robyn, which you don’t get in the movie. Suddenly all of her decisions make a lot more sense, certainly if you place them against the Australian society as it was in the ’70s (as she explains in her postscript).

The book tells you a lot about the Australia of that time. What went on in people’s minds and how they perceived their country.

The openness and emptiness which had at first threatened me were now a comfort which allowed my sense of freedom and joyful aimlessness to grow. This sense of space works deep in the Australian collective consciousness. It is frightening and most of the people huddle around the eastern seaboard where life is easy and space a graspable concept, but it produces a sense of potential and possibility nevertheless that may not exist now in any European country. It will not be long, however, before the land is conquered, fenced up and beaten into submission. But here it was free, unspoilt and seemingly indestructible.

Now, to me, the book is extra special because of its setting. When I saw the movie in 2014, I was living in Alice Springs, after having spent some time visiting the red centre and before that, having spent three months in Shark Bay, right next to Hamelin Pool in Western Australia, the end point of Robyn’s journey. The images in the movie brought up beautiful memories from my trip before, but mostly the strongest feeling of amazement I have ever encountered. Somewhere in the lines of: “Oh my goodness that is the most beautiful piece of land I have ever seen, and somehow I was lucky enough to live there and enjoy it myself.” Of course I haven’t experienced that beautiful piece of land the way Robyn did, not even closely. But still I felt it was such an honour to have spent time in that amazing country.

Reading the book brought back that feeling of amazement even stronger. Because now Robyn tells you how she felt about it. What the journey did for her and brought about in her.

The two important things I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision. And I knew even then that I would forget them time and time again and would have to go back and repeat those words that had become meaningless and try to remember.

 


 

(If you are interested in my stories from Australia, check out this post I reblogged only a few weeks ago, or have a look on my original Australia blog.

 

 

A Weekend Away to Home

Our weekends are out of this world lately. I’m starting to find that perfect balance where the weekends are so more than lovely that I can handle the weeks a lot better. This weekend, we had a weekend away in my childhood home.

My parents are currently on holiday (the bastards went to South-Africa and didn’t take me along!) so my brother and I each got a weekend to go water the flowers. And then I thought, rather than cycling 9kms there to water some plants and then cycle back, why not make a weekend out of it?

My childhood home is located 9kms away from the city, in between 2 villages. To most people, I can imagine that sounds as if I actually grew up in the city. But with Belgium being so tiny, I can assure you I didn’t. Our street connects two big forests, Heverleebos and Meerdaelwoud, where I created some of my my fondest childhood memories.

The latter forest is one of the oldest ones in Flanders (the northern part of Belgium), also having our oldest deer colony. Heverleebos shares a lot of its history with Meerdaelwoud, however, it used to belong to the local Dukes or Counts, being their hunting grounds. Up to this day, the lay-out of the forest brings these days back to mind, with its wide lanes for the carriages lined by massive old trees that were once planted by these Lords.

Unfortunately, some of these Lords picked the wrong side of history. During the first World War, the forest belonged to the house of Arenberg, who were loyal to the Germans at the time. After the war, the government seized their property. Which is why the forest is still around now. Their castle now belongs to the university, the hunting grounds are a public forest.

So going back to my childhood home for the weekend, definitely counts as a getaway. We arrived Saturday morning, and installed ourselves in the chairs by the window looking out into the garden. Temperature-wise, spring hasn’t arrived just yet, but the flowers seem to disagree. We made ourselves a nice coffee with my parents’ super fancy coffee machine, and just let the stress drift away. No computers to tempt us, hardly any service on my mobile. Just what I needed.

In the afternoon, we went for a little walk. It took us less long than I’d anticipated. I remembered that walk as taking forever, but that’s probably because back in the day, my little legs really did take forever to get round. Back home, we enjoyed a nice sauna session and then it was back to the book. (I’m currently reading Tracks by Robyn Davidson, I’ll tell you all about it when I’ve finished it.)

To finish off our day, we cycled to the local pizza place: Il Daino. By far the best pizza in Belgium. I went for my usual: the Li Vorno: a pizza with a super thinly sliced kind of bacon, fresh tomatoes and gorgonzola. Omnomnom.

The next morning, I borrowed the parents’ car to drive down to the bakery in the next village. We made ourselves a lovely Belgian breakfast: bread rolls, cheese, bacon and eggs, and chocolate buns for my sweet tooth. To then go hiking again. Unfortunately, there are a lot of roadworks going on in the street, and cars are being redirected through the forest. A lot of the roads are now paved with gravel to make the driving easier, and the magnificent forest views are broken up completely by these grey-blue gravel veins running through the trees. So we did away with our mapped-out hike and just tried to stick to the nice unpaved paths. Not what we expected, but it definitely hit the spot.

And what better way to finish the weekend than with a massive batch of homemade pancakes?!

Next weekend, we are traveling to England to visit the boyfriend’s family and friends. So that’ll be a good one too. And the weekend after that, we celebrate our two-year anniversary! Oh my, I can’t wait for it to be weekend again!

Dream time

The other day I was browsing through my old blog, out of pure nostalgia. I am currently reading “Tracks” by Robyn Davidson, a book about an Australian lady crossing the Australian desert from Alice Springs all the way to the west with three camels. I’d already seen the film, at the time I was even in Alice Springs. So naturally, reading the book brought back some memories and feelings. And these memories and feelings are written down in one of my old posts on my Australia blog. Have a read, enjoy 🙂

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(Aan de familie, bericht van mama en papa: tis een lange post, pakt junder een goeie trapist derbie en leest up junder gemak.)
(Since I have plenty to tell this post may be a bit long, so feel free to browse through and read about the places you find most interesting 🙂 )

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I cannot begin to describe the amazement I have felt on the last part of our trip. (Hmmm I think this is not the first post I’ve started with that sentence). The most beautiful views, jaw-dropping star filled skies, a landscape as vast and empty making you feel like you’re on a deserted planet, a heritage and history so massively different from anything we know, and many more things to make the red centre a truly fascinating place.

Let’s start where I left off last time: Adelaide, the big city. Bye bye people, bye bye trafic…

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A Sunny Sunday in the Zoo

Spring seems to be pushing its way back into Belgium! And I had a glorious weekend! Even though I did have to work Saturday, everything is better when the sun is out. And we more than made up for the weekend work on Sunday by going to the Zoo!

We decided to go on a little day trip to Antwerp. The boyfriend had only been there once before, and we didn’t make it any further than the train station and the opera building that time. This time, I took him for a quick walk in the city. We walked De Meir, the main shopping street of Antwerp, went by the Rubenshuis (a museum dedicated to the life and work of the famous Belgian painter Rubens) which we decided we will definitely come back for another time, walked down to the Groenplaats and the Grote Markt (your usual squares like in every city in Belgium, and I still think the Leuven Grote Markt is the prettiest), I told him the story of Brabo and how Antwerp got its name (in an nutshell: the hero Brabo fought the giant Antigoon, chopped off his hand and threw it in the river Schelde: therefore, Antwerpen, Hand-Werpen, i.e. Hand-Throwing), and we enjoyed the sun down by the river Schelde.

Walking back towards the Zoo (right next to the train station, definitely the most impressive station in Belgium), we stopped at Wagamama’s for lunch. Maybe not the most Antwerp-like place to go for lunch, but truth is this restaurant chain has not made its way to Leuven yet and I absolutely LOVE their food! And their juices, like the carrot and ginger one! So I ordered the Phad Thai which was as delicious as I remember it from Bangkok itself. As sides, we ordered the chilly squid and some fried shrimp. Oh My Lord. Heaven! The boyfriend went for a curry and he was on cloud nine. I think during the whole lunch, he must have said “Oh boy, I love my curries” at least 20 times. We finished off with a delicious cup of strong coffee, thanked the friendly waiting staff, and off to the Zoo it was!

The boyfriend and I LOVE Zoos. (Although I do have to admit, I feel a bit bad going to the zoo sometimes. Those poor animals, away from their natural habitat locked in cages… If Zoos will ever be closed down, I will support that move without a doubt, but for now, I am being an utter hypocrite because I still love watching all the cute furry creatures. And I keep telling myself the Zoo people are taking really good care of them.) Our first Zoo together was the one in Chester, where my favourite parts were the elephants (because there were so many of them) and the bat cave. The bats whizz right passed you and we spent ages in there for that rush of bat-excitment. Oh and not to forget the lions, who happened to be having a roaring competition just as we walked past.

The other Zoo we went to was the one in the south of Belgium: Pairi Daiza. Best. Zoo. Ever. It’s super interactive! They have two monkey islands which you have to go to during feeding times. On the first one they have Squirrel Monkeys, absolutely tiny little cutie pies that love to run about. You get to feed them little worms (ew!) and they just jump all over you. Nothing to be scared off, because their little hands look very clawy but are actuallt super soft.

The second island is the Lemur Island. The lemurs are a bit less sociable, they grab the food of your hand and hop straight the next visitor. When they’re all satisfied, they chill out on the roof and stare at us as if we’re the animals in the Zoo. But not for the boyfriend. No, he made a friend. This one lemur decided the boyfriend’s shoulder was a perfectly good spot to spend his afternoon. He was playing with the boyfriend’s hair a little, or just hugging his head, while posing beautifully for all the other tourists that now have photos of the boyfriend in their travel albums. I was starting to think we would never get off the island, because when the lemur finally decided to move on, the bridge off the island had a bit of a pelican congestion situation.

The giraffes are also super cool, because the viewing platform is basically at the same height as their heads. You get to be so close to them, it’s an amazing experience.

The Zoo in Antwerp is the oldest one in Belgium, open since mid-19th century. The architecture of some of the buildings is pretty impressive, but unfortunately there were a lot of construction works going on. We didn’t mind, since we got our tickets half price!

The most fun, again, were the monkeys. I think it’s just because the boyfriend and I adore monkeys. There was a whole building full of all sorts of funny looking tiny monkeys. One of them even had a moustache! I call it the moustache monkey, although I think its real name is the Emperor Tamarin.

They also had a whole section for apes: gorillas and chimpansees. They were so close, they were so beautiful, and they were having so much fun!

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We also happened to be at the baboon enclosure at the right time, they were just being fed and were going absolutely wild. Hi-La-Ri-Ous!

And of course I really liked the penguins. They’re just so much fun to watch walk (aka wobble) around, I penguined around myself for a while after that.

It was such a fun day, and I really can’t wait to go back once they’ve finished all the new things they were working on. And there’s still one more Zoo we haven’t done in Belgium, Planckendael. That’ll be for summer 🙂