From Post-Travel-Life to Work-Life

I have so much fun stuff to tell you but simply no time to do so!

I finished another book I wanted to review. Isabel Allende’s Japanese Lover. Not her best, but easy read.

I watched my first live comedy show ever. Nina Conti. Hi-la-ri-ous. One and a half hours of non-stop laughter.

We got our scooter fixed and now that it’s summer, it’s really nice to take it for a romantic spin with the boyfriend.

We went to England last weekend to visit the boyfriend’s family and watched Coldplay in Manchester while we were there. Holy Cow it was more than spectacular! Loved every minute of it.

I’m trying to take care of the garden as good as I can, the mint and horseradishes are doing quite well, everything else needs more looking after.

The gym has been a bit on the down-low but I keep trying. I’m also going running again, when I don’t have enough time for a full work-out.

But mostly I’m super busy at work. I have abstracts to write, papers to rewrite, presentations to practise, posters to make, lectures to prepare for, meetings with the colleagues,… This has been going for over a month now, and I don’t think it’ll stop until late September. I have no more time to work on my research, but I’m giving it my all to try to put what I have researched so far out there to discuss with other researchers. It’s bloody hard work and I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere. But hopefully it’ll start paying off soon and I’ll get some interesting feedback and meet some people who are actually interested in my work.

Until then, I’ll keep living this Post-Travel-Life. I think I’ve got it handled now. The money is coming in, I’m actually working hard for it, I manage to fill my little free time with fun stuff and try not to let work overwhelm me. The good part: I have no time to dream about travels anymore. Not for now. I guess this is it. The next chapter has well and truly started. Work-Life, I’m finally ready for you.

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Two Musical Weekends

Busy days busy days! Work is mental, the summer is starting so suddenly there are a-thousand-and-one things to do after work, and I’m still trying to go to the gym as often as possible. And I must say, it’s been a good last few weeks.

I’ve been wanting to try some new things, mostly, I’ve been wanting to get back in to culture stuff. Music, theatre, opera, and all that jazz. But Leuven isn’t really the perfect spot to do so.

For Jazz, there is a free concert every Sunday evening in the Stuk Cafe. At 9pm. I’m sorry, but Sunday evening at 9, I’m sat on  the couch in my jammies. There are two cafes that do the occasional concert. The Bebop (which is a really fun place to have a drink and play boardgames with friends too, since it’s generally nice and quiet) and the Blauwe Kater. In both, I’ve never been to a gig. Generally because it just didn’t fit into the calendar, or within our budget. The Stuk cultural centre also organises a fair bit of live music, but I never know any of the bands on and it’s kinda hard to decide to go see something if you have no idea if you’re gonna like it.

For theatre, I gave up on Leuven a long time ago. I spent two years studying theatre in Antwerp when I was still in  secondary school, and the theatre companies there, like Olympique Dramatique, are absolutely amazing. In Brussels, the KVS gives you theatre of the highest quality. The plays give you food to think, and whether they are repertoire or newly written, they are staged marvelously. In Leuven, we don’t get the big companies. Same for opera, because we simply don’t have an opera house. And also, that stuff is pricey!

So when there’s an amateur music company in town that offers cheap tickets for their yearly concert, I happily oblige. First, we went to the university alumni orchestra‘s yearly event. They played three pieces: the opening of Verdi’s Nabucco, then The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, to finish with the 8th symphony of Dvořák. All very different kind of music, especially the Chinese middle part, but absolutely glorious to listen to. Here and there you could hear it was an amateur orchestra, mostly since some of the copper instruments (I apologise for my lack of decent music terminology, I have always enjoyed music stuff in Belgium so I don’t know the words for all the instruments and such) weren’t on top of it. But I tried not to focus on that and just enjoyed the music. It worked. I didn’t realise how much I miss a good classical concert until I experienced this one. Ah, what a lovely way to spend a Saturday evening.

Last weekend then, we went to a choir thingy. Again, an amateur company. If I would’ve googled the thing properly, I don’t think we would’ve gone. It turned out to be a church choir. But the tickets were cheap and the first half of the concert was great, so a fun evening nevertheless. The choir teamed up with a jazz big band to play Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert, a collection of jazzy church songs. Unfortunately, the acoustics of the place were a mess, and since we were sat at the side, it just didn’t sound as you would want it. Also, I didn’t particularly like the sound of the choir, and the boyfriend (being an established atheist) wasn’t too fond of all the Praise Gods. But the first half of the concert was just the big band, and that was good fun. Very cheerful. I do wish I could’ve had a little dance 😉

I hope that’s not it for our cultural events of the year. It was truly wonderful to try some new things. So far, we have two more events lined up for summer. At the end of the month we are going to watch Nina Conti perform in Brussels. She is a British comedian / ventriloquist. When the boyfriend told me about her, I have to say I wasn’t particularly fond of the idea, it sounded a bit childish / boring. But after watching a few youtube clips, I couldn’t wait to book our tickets. We’ll be sitting on the third row, I do hope she doesn’t pick us out of the audience! And not to forget, probably my favourite event of the year (nerd alert): we’re going to the Harry Potter exhibition in Brussels this summer 😀

Our First Summer Night Out!

What to do on a Friday night when summer has finally started… Well, head out of course! We slid into some nice clothes (my first dress-with-bare-legs of the year) and decided to walk into town to try a few new places. I was in a wine mood, so we had a quick google before we went out. In Leuven, it’s always dead easy to go either for a bite, or for a beer. But just a glass of wine (and not just the house wine) can be a challenge. With our newly googled options, we were ready for the night.

Our first stop was my favourite of the night. We went to Savoye, at the side of the museum. It’s a small street connecting two bigger streets in the walking zone of Leuven, I don’t come there very often. But it was so worth it. It was very peaceful considering that the whole region was probably out for drinks in Leuven with this gorgeous weather (the Belgian’s favourite hobby on summer evenings is “een terrasje doen” or “doing a little terrace / beer garden”). And they had an amazing wine list, all wines you could order by the glass. The prices were reasonable, although I do feel that when you order wine by the glass, usually you get your glass filled quite well. Now, our glass was merely filled according to etiquette as when you have a bottle, to its widest part. But still, a lovely place to sit down for a drink. (They do food as well, I saw some of it pass by, and I definitely want to go back to try.)

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(Photo from wine-searcher.com)

I went for a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, I usually do, so of course it didn’t dissappoint. The boyfriend felt adventurous and tried an Italian moscato. He allowed me a little sip, and I have to say, not bad! As moscatos go, it was very sweet, but I think it would make a lovely desert wine. Halfway our wine, we got some company from friends who happened to be in town. He went for a Belgian (!) pinot gris, very high in minerals, but quite nice for a hot night. She went for a South-African Chenin Blanc. Not really my favourite grape, I now know.

You see, I’m not a wine specialist. But my parents have raised me with a lot of love for food and drink, and I have always asked them a lot of questions about wine, so I know what to buy for which kind of food and more importantly, which ones I like. And by now, I have to admit, I would not mind becoming a wine snob 😉

Our second stop was a bit of a failure. I went to the Schrijnmakerstraat because google told me there was a nice wine bar to be found there, but instead we found the Paris inspired bistro / bar Les Paresiennes. As cool as the interior may be inside, outside it’s quite average. But worse: the drinks were way overpriced. We went for cocktails, nine euros each. Last time I went for cocktails in Leuven (I do have to admit, it’s been a while) they used to go for six euros each. So seeing the price, I was expecting something impressive. Instead, I got a sad little cosmopolitan with the smallest piece of lime. The boyfriend went for a Pimms and Ginger Ale, supposedly served with fruit but really just a wine glass with a piece of cucumber, lemon, and some old mint. Our company’s cocktails as well were unimpressive and not very high in alcohol. Mine tasted like cranberry and lime juice really.

Off to the next stop! I mentioned I had never been in De Blauwe Kater before (one of the only Jazz cafes in town, but they don’t always have live music) so our company decided to take me there. We swapped from the fancy drinks to our usual beer, and us girls ended with a Newton Apple Beer. It’s a light white beer that tastes so deliciously like apple! A very refreshing drink. The guys went for a Tripel Karmeliet and a Kwak, what a way to end the evening! As for the venue, I can imagine it is really cool when there is music on, but apart from that it’s not too special. The beer garden is located in between a lot of other buildings, so it had the advantage that it was a lot quieter than the rest of town, and it was quite cosy with a few colourful lights here and there, but not the nicest summer place to hang out. Nevertheless, a good way to end the evening!

A Feast of a Day

Well today was a blast! Not anything special, just exactly how I like my days. To start: today was a bank holiday in Belgium. Ascension day. Thank you, good man Jesus!

Naturally, I slept in. I woke up before my alarm went off because the boyfriend cuddled me awake. I’m not complaining. After breakfast in bed, a friend came to pick me up to finish our DIY project. I’m not sure if I told you about this already, but we wanted to try some pimping of furniture. She was painting a cupboard in some fun patterns, I decided to sand down an old chair. As everyone, literally everyone had warned me, it was an impossible job. Even though we had a little machine to assist, I didn’t manage to get rid of all the paint. There were four layers of different colours of glossy paint on there! And of course as chairs go, there were a lot of curves and bends that the machine, even my sanding paper, could not handle. So after sort of finishing the top, I decided to go for an artsy effect for the bottom. Yes, I call it artsy rather than lazy.

So for our first DIY project, I learned that completely sanding down a chair to its wood is near to impossible. I also learned that if it would be possible, I probably wouldn’t have the patience to actually do it.

For the next project, I’d like to decorate two stools with a world map. If it works really well, I might do it for our coffee table in the living room. (I got the idea from Sarie.)

In the afternoon, I tackled the garden. I got it summer-ready once before, but the weather and the neighbour’s cat decided it was too early. After the neighbour’s cat had dug out the whole vegetable garden (no, I couldn’t shoe her away, she’s so cute and it’s nice to have a little furry friend), below zero temperatures did a number on our misplaced seeds. So I planted everything anew, and covered the whole thing in a maze of sticks and rope. Unless the cat (who I call Anne-Marie by the way) has Tom Cruise-like Mission Impossible Skills, no way she’s gonna get through there! I also tried to get rid of some of the weeds in our lawn, but not all of them, because then there wouldn’t be much lawn left. And I did all of this in the beautiful gorgeous sun! Ah, what a day!

And what better way to end that day with our first barbecue of the year! We don’t really have a barbecue, but we have an electric grill that we installed outside and did the trick. I made a potato salad, pasta salad, a greek salad, some grilled vegetables and garlic rolls, and we grilled meatballs, sausages and turkey skewers. With a glass (or two) of bubbly. Omnomnom.

We played Macchiavelli, a great card game to play with just two people, until the sun went down with a few citronella candles that successfully kept away the mozzies. And now it is time for bed. Tomorrow one more day of work and then it’ll be weekend once again. Ah, what a blast of a holiday-day!

Saturday Shopping, Burgers and Cinema

Yesterday the boyfriend and I went on a date-day. As in, an extended date night. Date night usually includes burgers at one of our favourite gourmet burger restaurants, cinema (more about that below), and a game of pool in between if we have time. Today, we took off in the early afternoon on a shoe shop mission, so sweet of the boyfriend he offered to come with! Because let me tell you, buying shoes for me is a disaster!

Since last winter, I have to wear these custom made insoles for my crooked feet, and if I don’t I get ridiculous feet and back pains. In winter it’s been okay, I hide the ugly shoes for my insoles under my pants, but now that summer is coming, I want to get back into my dresses and I need the shoes to finish the outfit! But from this year onward, no more cute little sandals, tiny little shoes, pumps in all colours. Nope, I need to find a pair of summer shoes for insoles. And as every shop I went to confirmed: shoes for insoles are ugly and generally made for 80-year-old ladies. Mission unsuccessful, so time to move on the the burgers it was. It hit the spot.

The movie we went to watch was The Jungle Book. As we went into the screen, I was getting a bit worried because they’re were so many children. Ow dear, the boyfriend was gonna hate this. When I saw the trailer, it looked like a really grim and scary. As trailers go, the movie couldn’t be any more different. It was lovely! Even the boyfriend thought so.

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The imagery was amazing. For a change, we decided to watch in 3D, which was really cool for the first 10 minutes until our eyes got used to it. But still, the animation in this movie was through the roof. I’d love to see a making off. The animals looked so real, but their eyes and mouth were so human! And of course the scenery was spectacular.

The story leaned quite closely to the old Disney movie, at least for as much as I can remember. Some characters were a lot less prominent, like the elephants and Kaa. And I also think the ending was slightly different. But I loved the hints to the old movie through the old songs. Little bit of Baloo, little bit of Kind Louie,… It was hardly the full song, but it hinted back at that childhood nostalgia I love so much.

The movie had good suspense in parts, fun humour, and was more than pleasing to the eye. It wasn’t all nostalgia, neither was it all new. But remake or not, it was a really fun and good movie to watch and the ending to a lovely date-day!

A Girly Afternoon – High Tea at Nosh in Leuven

Last weekend it was time to try one of those places in town you keep walking by thinking it’s a good idea, but you never manage to make the plans to do so. I went to the café called Nosh to try their High Tea!

I really liked the idea. Nosh is generally one of the only places you can find open in Leuven between lunch and dinner time for something other than pancakes (which I do love, but I was wanting something more special). We had to make a reservation before, which made total sense if you saw all the stuff they gave us.

We were sat at a table a lot bigger than necessary for our company, but it turned out to be a good plan when all the food started showing up. First we were brought, one by one, a glass of cava to start with, then a pepper and cream soup, a piece of quiche and some finger sandwiches. And then it was time for the sweets tray! A feast on the eye just as much as on the tummy! Not to forget the all-you-can-drink offer on the tea.

The tea menu really took my fancy, and apparently they are extending it soon to 20 different kinds of teas, so I’ll definitely be back. I first had a green tea mix with some extra herbs, then I had a herbal tea with mint and elderberries. My friend, more into the sweet kind of teas, started with a strawberry and lime infusion, which was surprisingly fresh while at the same time still sweet, and finished with a rooibos and caramel tea. I do like rooibos, but the caramel was definitely to sweet for me. I can imagine that for proper tea specialists (if such a thing exists) it might be a bit weird that we were switching teas between our snacking, but it was just so much fun to try out all the different flavours.

The whole experience was perfect for a girlfriend afternoon, it wasn’t too loud so we could have a proper chat, we were surrounded by nice little bits and bobs totally finishing off the cosy decor, and between every story we told we could fill our bellies with cute little yummy thingies. The sweet tray held little marzipan cakes, gingerbread, scones, tiny biscuit cakes, vanilla rice, a sort of raspberry bavarois cake, and lots more.

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The only downside of the place is the price. I would never go in there for a normal coffee or tea stop. The teas go for 3 euros, bagels are easily 7 euros, and the English breakfast goes for 16 euros! I guess the location plays a part in the pricing, as it’s located right in the centre, very close to the two main squares in town. But for me as a local, I can think of other places in town where all of this is a lot cheaper. However, for the High Tea it is different. It is 25 euro a person, and even though it is a bit much for an afternoon snack, you do get a lot of value for your money. Consider the tea being all-you-can-drink, the glass of bubbly, and all the little treats. And also, the fact that this really is a unique experience in Leuven.

So if you’re in want for a fun girlie afternoon in Leuven, and you don’t mind eating a crazy amount of food in front of these girlfriends, this is definitely your thing! The table next to us was a nice crowd of ladies in their early 30s, but they seemed to be very concerned with being judged by each other and didn’t eat even half of the food! What a waste! We all know it, girls, we really can eat that much. And we would. If no one was watching. So make sure that when you do come here, you enjoy it to the fullest! And if you don’t, I’ll come have your leftovers, thankyouverymuch.

 

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.