Scotland in Love

I feel slightly guilty saying this, but I went on a holiday and I didn’t blog! To be honest, I even forgot about the blog. You see, this holiday was going to be an “away from everything” one. We were staying in a cabin by Loch Ken close to Galloway Forrest Park in the south west of Scotland. There were no plugs, no phone service, no appliances. The whole cabin operated purely on solar energy and some gas for the cooker and the hot water. So it didn’t really make much sense to bring our electronics as we wouldn’t be able to charge them anyways, and as we really wanted to get away from it all!

I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been to be away from all emails and social media! I really haven’t missed it for a second. And now that we’re back home, I really notice how different my day is when I forget about social media for a while! It’s amazing! For the Boyfriend as well, since he is always checking his emails for work and is a mad social media fan. His phone was out of power for a few days and it really changed our days! Sadly, his camera was out of juice as well, so there went his planned past time. But I secretly may have liked it. At least for that big hike we did. 21kms! Booyah! Longest hike we’ve done so far. And there was NO camera, NO phone, just us two and the forest and the sea and the birds and the sun. A whole day of each others company with nothing intervening. Fun fun fun!

Especially because at that point, we had something to celebrate…

Ladies and Gentleman! The Boyfriend is now the Fiancé! He proposed at the shore of Loch Ken at sunset, with the sky all purple and pink and the most perfect peace and quiet and oh man it was SO romantic! And spontaneous! Apparently he’d had the ring for a while and planned to do it in Scotland, and that night he just felt like it was the right moment. It really was. It was perfect! I have never been so happy before in my life, blahdeeblah cliché I know, but I really don’t know how else to say it. I felt a rush of emotions I had never felt before, I was crying and laughing and jumping up and down and kissing him and felt like there were fireworks of fluffiness exploding in my chest. (My  brand new Fitbit put my heart rate at 120bpm! Madness!) I am so happy that I am going to marry this most extroardinary person who makes me smile and giggle and burst with laughter every single day! Who gives the bestest cuddles and makes me feel so comfortable and at home. Who still makes me feel so insanely in love and fluttery just by smiling one of his thousand different amazing smiles of me. And now I don’t only get to tell everyone about how perfect he is for me and how I want to share my world with him, we’ll get to show everyone by marrying each other! I AM SERIOUSLY BURSTING WITH JOY!!!!

I was going to write a whole post about our holiday and what we’ve been upto but oh well, I got distracted again. I might just leave it at this and go cuddle my FIANCÉ 😀

Tech and Games for Non-Geeks

I’ve gotten myself a Fitbit! Why? Really, it’s the boyfriend’s fault. Have I mentioned how he loves his tech toys? Not in a million years would I have guessed I’d be living in an apartment with a television that big. Or even a television at all. I always do everything with my laptop and my phone. That’s the only tech I need. I never buy anything new until one of those two falls apart completely because I don’t like spending money on that stuff. But now the boyfriend has all this fun tech that he gets so enthusiastic about and it’s so contagious!

For example: I now watch him play Playstation games. Let me tell you, I am not a gamer and don’t think I’ll ever be one, but watching those story games is just like watching a super long movie and playing a board game at the same time. It’s something really fun to do together if you also happen to have a partner with a much higher level of ‘geekiness’ (which I use in a very loving way) then you have yourself. I for example really enjoyed Firewatch, about a ranger in a national park where someone disappeared, and some weird stuff happens. I also weirdly enjoy Hitman, because it’s kinda like an interactive Bond movie. You go to different places like Bangkok, where you get a target and a bunch of information, and you spend your game trying to find ways to get to your target without being caught and all that. Great fun! I tried playing it myself once but man, those controls are tricky to use! It’s much more fun having the boyfriend do the hard work while I just watch and make suggestions. And that way he gets to do his thing and play games, and I get to do my thing, which at that point is sitting on the couch and figuring out stuff, think riddles like in escape rooms and all that.

Also, he now has this super fancy super fast gaming computer (which he got under the pretence of needing a faster computer for editing his videos, as of course, he’s a bit of a vlogger) with some really fun simulator games. (This is when I found out that name The Sims comes from the fact that it’s a simulator game 😉 ) Once in a while, I enjoy a good Cities Skylines marathon. (It’s kinda like a new Sim Cities, but better apparently.)

I even didn’t let my old phone fall into pieces before I got a new one! Well, new one. My phone was starting to get slow and it didn’t really have much space for all the apps I like using (most of them recommended to me by the boyfriend, of course), so naturally the boyfriend had another phone lying around that I now get to use, an LG G3. Bigger, faster, newer. It does the trick 😉

And my latest addition: a Fitbit sports watch and activity tracker! The boyfriend somehow managed to get a free upgrade from his dad’s old broken Fitbit, and ever since he’s been super conscious about his physical health. We’ve always tried to be healthy, go for walks and runs and eat decent food, but only to the point where we enjoy it. We’re definitely not fitness freaks and still love our pizza and chocolate, but we’ve found it does help us to be happy if we’re healthy. And now, we’re really trying to change our lifestyle for the better!

This Fitbit also has a great app where you can have a little energising social network. The boyfriend’s been doing these challenges with his colleagues to see who gets the most steps and all that, and it really makes him get out and about more. For me, I always enjoy going for a run but I never really know if I’m making any progress, because I always end up running longer and longer but never really any faster it seems. Also, rather than just training on cardio, I should really try to burn some fat if I want my general fitness (which isn’t bad at this point really) to get any better. I’m overweight, so the best thing for me to do is train on a slightly lower heart rate until I have a more healthy weight. And then, my general fitness should start improving like a rocket. But obviously, apart from checkin my level of ‘red face’ in the windows of the houses I run passed, I have no idea how hard I’m actually training. So finally, now, my brand new Fitbit Surge tells me all I need to know! It tells me my heart rate, how fast I’m running, and on top of all that it also does the daily activity tracking and it’s super user friendly app totally let’s me keep on top of my health, which so far, I’m really enjoying.

Whether I’m enjoying it because it’s a fun tech toy and the idea of being active is sort of game-ified or I’m just enjoying being more active, at this point I don’t think it matters. All I know is that I feel healthier, happier, and I hope I’ll keep enjoying it like I am now.

So even for people generally suspicious of tech who might think, just like I did, that ‘you don’t need any of this stuff to be who you want to be, or to be happy’, I say true. But it definitely a lot more fun to have than I expected 😉

Budapest Day 1 – The City and The Bath

What to do on your first day in any city? Well, take a free walking tour of course! It’s the perfect way to get to know the city, what’s there and what’s hot, and to figure out what main sights you really want to explore. Generally, these tours take you along all the classic tourist spots and fill you in on their standard need to knows. Not just names and dates, but also loads of interesting stories. Like for example that Disney got some if its inspiration for the castle in its opening sequence from a particular view of the towers at the Fisherman’s Bastion. Fun fact!

We started off with some beautiful sunshine, which, I’m sure you fellow way-north-of-the-equator bloggers can agree with, was everything I could’ve ever wished for on this holiday. So when the sun did disappear later during the day, I wasn’t too gutted because I really felt like I sufficiently charged my batteries for the day 🙂

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Buda Castle, as seen from the Pest side of the Danube

We walked down to the Danube and overlooked the Buda hills from the Pest side of the Danube, were told about Budapest’s ruin pubs (*added to the to do list*) and its wines and desserts (*also added to the to do list*),  had a quick stop at Saint Stephen’s Basilica which was one of the prettiest cathedrals  I’ve ever seen from the outside (I don’t know the difference between a church and a basilica, but since this one was big, I’m calling it a cathedral). Then we walked over the Buda side on the Chain Bridge and admired the Castle and the views in Buda, before strolling over to the stunning Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion, where we also had an amazing view of the Parliament (*added this one to the to do list too*). The church made me think a little bit of the city hall back home in Leuven, especially its towers, which was really quite surprising because as much as we compare new travel destinations with old ones (even though in basically all cases, it’s like comparing apples and oranges and I’m not quite sure why we do it), I had never compared new travel destinations with home. Which made me kind of proud of our little home base!

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St. Matthias Church

From there, we made our way down to the Jewish quarter where Lonely Planet had told us there would be a farmer’s market in a ruin pub. We had lunch in a tucked away book cafe at the top of a big book shop. There was no one there, but I had the yummiest cheese toastie ever! I think they put sour cream on it, together with two different kinds of cheese! Oh man! After a coffee, we were sufficiently rejuvenated to tackle on. Of course, when we got to the ruin bar, the market had already finished, but it was so worth the trip nevertheless! For those of you who haven’t heard of ruin pubs: it’s basically what the locals did to a lot of abandoned buildings. They turned ‘m into pubs. And decorated it with whatever they could find. Those who say hipsterdom started in Berlin, obviously haven’t been to  Budapest. Or actually, maybe not. Because to me, hipsters always try to hard. Whereas this place was just there the way it was because it was there the way it was. I’m probably not making much sense, but then neither did Szimpla Ruin Bar 😉

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Szimpla Ruin Pub during daytime. 

At this point, our feet were starting to protest against the extensive citytripping, so we decided to try one of the famous Budapest Baths. After some extensive Lonely Planet Research, we decided to go with the Veli Vej Bath, which is one of the four baths that go back all the way to the beginning of Budapest Bath Culture under the Ottoman occupation. Most impressive feature: the octagonal pool under the old dome. Water temperature: around 38 degrees. Budapest is basically built on an area full of underground hotsprings, with temperatures of up to 80 degrees when reaching the surface. There were also a few Turkish baths and a Finnish sauna, a pool for swimming laps, a few smaller pools with varying degrees of colder to very cold water, and one of those baths where you walk over stones in cold and hot water. After the walking we did, it was the perfect kind of relaxation!

On the way home, we stopped off at the Budapest Barbecue Company, which was a gigantic hip restaurant dealing in meat, meat, and meat. We had a few cocktails and some food, but mostly we enjoyed their music. The drinks and food weren’t that impressive, but the music kept us there for a good while. One classic after another, from Queen to The Bee Gees and the Beatles. Fun ending to a great first day!

Bolzano The Holiday – Some Hikes

Our holiday is three days in now and they have been wonderful! So far: two hikes, a picnic, a museum, a pool session, some ice cream, a lot of espressos, and not to forget some wining and dining.

For our hikes we have stayed in Bolzano up to now. (Tomorrow, we are taking a bus to Val Gardena for a new challenge.) Our first one was super cute. I had planned it meticulously in the previous weeks when the boyfriend was still at home and I was filling up my free time between the classes at summerschool with scouting for our holiday.

In the afternoon of our first day, we walked along the river to the Runkelstein Castle. Sadly it was already closed, but we admired the outside and marched on. We went up quite steeply between the vineyards and had some insane views of the city, but didn’t dilly dally for too long since we were on a tight schedule: we had sunset plans. A little bit before sunset, we arrived at our planned picnic destination: a viewpoint over the city, with bench, on the Oswald Promenade. The sun was slowly sinking behind the hills, battling heavy with the clouds for an impressive sunset. We opened a bottle of Lambrusco and got out the bread cheese salami ham for a picnic Alla Italiano. We watched the sky go dark and Bolzano go light as the lights in the city came on. When the first stars came out, we put on our head torches, packed up, and headed home (where we got to enjoy a well-timed lightning storm above the hills from our hotelroom window).

For the second hike we went to the other side of town, to the Haselburg Castle. Sadly, also closed! Note for self: check castle opening hours before you plan a hike. But nevertheless, the hike was totally worth it. Very different from our picnic one. The path was a lot more challenging, and the views more forresty and less vineyardsy. And which better way to celebrate our new achievement than to head straight for ice cream on the town square: raspberry and straciatella, don’t mind if I do!

For our third one, we’re heading to unexplored territory! The Mountains of Val Gardena! I’m so super excited, I’ve been training so hard for this in the gym… We haven’t really picked a hike yet but we’re hoping the tourist office on site will sort us out. Bring it on 😀

A Book of Dreams, and a Lifetime of Dreaming Them

I think I’m gonna start making a little dream book. You know, a little note book with all sorts of ideas of things I want to do at some point in my life. Ugh I know, sounds awfully girly and cliché, it seems like the fast track to a “my-10-year-plan-scrapbook”. But it won’t be. It’ll just be a way to feel a bit less restless.

For all you fellow used-to-be-travellers, I’m sure you know what I mean. You don’t particularly feel stuck, but you just feel stuck right now. Like, you know you still have tons of time to do a lot of the stuff you dream about, but you wonder when and you have basically no patience. So, if I start writing down all my genius ideas and insane plans, maybe my wanderlustfilled mind will chill out a bit. And I can browse through my little book realising I really don’t have it that bad.

I used to do a similar thing when I was a bit younger. I don’t know where the book is right now, I probably threw it out in one of the many moves, but I remember it had things like “swim with dolphins” (check) and “get a tattoo” (check) and I should really be more proud of the things I’ve done rather than panic about all the things I haven’t done yet, like learn how to dive or take drawing classes so I can draw my travels. Seriously, I’m only 25.

The boyfriend has moved over to Belgium exactly one year ago today, and this morning I was thinking about how far we’ve come. Most of the time I wonder about how far I still want to go, but my oh my we’ve done so much already! Exactly one year ago, we packed up as much of his stuff as we could take on the plane with us, and started moving in to our apartment. One year later, our apartment feels so homely! Last addition: we bought an awesome big new couch. Seriously, how much more settled can you get?! We’ve moved away from what we need to get by to what we want just because, and it’s a wonderful life. In the mean time, my job is progressing nicely I think, and the boyfriend found an amazing job as well, with fun colleagues who trust him and his skills, and a lot of possibilities for the future. Tonight, we’re meeting up with friends in town for some live music on the market squares, as happens in summer in Leuven. I can imagine none of this sounds very exciting, but to us it really is. I really think we can be proud of what we’ve accomplished. And what we’ve accomplished is… happiness.

So now, rather than ruining that happiness with my crazy ideas and restlessness, I’ll keep good track of all my dreams and make sure they come true. And I’ll be okay with that not happening today, or even tomorrow, or even in the next years.

Bring it on dreams, we’ll have a good run together.

Happy Home Holidays

So I belong to one of those lucky people who get to work from home. Even better, I’m not quite sure if I’m even expected to work! My campus closes for a month over summer (and also two weeks over Christmas and one week over Easter), but that doesn’t mean I automatically have a month off.  Just like any other Belgian, I have about 20 days to take off whenever it pleases me.

Now, any other PhD student will happily tell you that taking a month off isn’t the best idea. You don’t ever really want to take a clean break, as you don’t want the ideas you’ve worked so hard on to swim away as you jump in the sea from some Italian cliff, or to whizz past you as you cycle through the Black Forest in Germany, or to simply fall asleep and get left behind when you’re chilling out in some park after lunch. So no, I do not have a month of holidays. But I have to say, life has been treating me well.

Obviously I don’t work my 9 to 5, or even 10 to 4 really. I get up, go to the gym or have a glorious sunny morning run, do stuff around the house or garden, and then I get to work. Under the parasol in our little garden, because yes, it is summmeerrrrrr! And as I sit here working, once in a while, my mind drifts off. Like: I’ll go make some ice cream. Or: oh man there’s a cricket! You know what I mean right, the cicadas that make that holiday sound you just cannot escape when you go south? We don’t really get them here as much, but instant holiday feeling! I located them to the tiny bush of grass by the edge of the garden I’ve been meaning to get rid off. None of that now though, instead I might just see if it grows bigger and attracts more vacation-bugs. Because I might be home and I might be sort of working, but life is not bad at all, and I don’t mind doing this for the rest of summer at all. Who says you need to go on holiday to get the holiday feeling?!

So to summarise: here’s my recipe for a holiday at home:

  • 1 or 2 crickets
  • A parasol
  • Little ice popsicle holders (just mix some yoghurt with that fruit you were gonna throw out because it’s not that fresh anymore but really still quite tasty and stick it in the freezer)
  • A load of sunscreen

Happy holidays!

The Rush of the Adventure, The Adventure of Rush

What I miss most about traveling and adventuring can easily be described in one word: RUSH!

The rush of excitement you get when your plane touches down in a new place and you can’t wait to analyse how this place is different from whatever else you’ve seen. Which is generally quite hard because often, airports are just airports, but you always manage to find something. The red dust of South-Africa, the palm trees of Marseille, the heat of Australia.

The rush of pride when you walk around a city that used to be new to you, but after only a few days you walk around knowing where you’re going and at the same time still being super comfortable looking like a tourist. That feeling that you’re special because your tourist-self made the city your own.

The rush of surprise that you get when you see something you totally didn’t expect. That is why I generally try not to do too much research before I go anywhere. Usually I only find out about the history of a place and the main sights when I’m midway my stay, so I can be surprised to the fullest. Like the Mediterranean-like beaches in the west of Ireland. Or the coastline that doesn’t look like a line at all because of all the little tree-filled islands in Helsinki. Or the utter feeling of remoteness in the English Lake District tackling the hills around Ullswater before the start of the tourist season.

The rush of amazement… That our world is really that beautiful and special and you get to experience just another fraction of that amazing diversity. Amazement that somehow, that tiny corner of our world releases these feelings in you that you can’t even describe. You can’t pinpoint them, because your mind is racing and utterly content at the same time, and all you see breath live at that particular moment is …

RUSH