Our Hike of 2016: Val Gardena and the Dolomites

When we were talking about our 2016 holiday last year, the boyfriend and I were thinking of a camping-mountain holiday: three weeks with the car and the tent to Austria, finding maybe three or four fun camp sites and hiking around the mountains and lakes. But with our work situation of this year, three weeks was just not an option unfortunately. And then I arranged to go to Bolzano for work, so we figured we’d take a week off after the work thing and spend our holidays in Bolzano. A random turn of events, but one we are now super happy about. Because our holiday was absolutely spot on. And of course, one important thing to cross of our list last week, was that mountain hike we had been craving for. So we took a bus to Val Gardena…

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The bus ride itself was a good way to ease us into the different landscape. The Bolzano vineyards slowly disappeared, the mountains became higher and the deciduous forests made place for pine forests and eventually tall rocky peaks. The Dolomites.

We got off in Santa Cristina, the middle of the three villages of Val Gardena, and headed straight off to the tourist centre to pick up some maps. (Which, from now on, we will probably try doing before we actually leave on holiday so we can spend our time maximally on hiking and not on figuring out which hike to pick.) We went for a hike up to the edge of the Sassolungo, a pretty impressive peak. There was also a hike around it, but for that we’ll have to continue training a bit and try again another time.

First, we had to take two chairlifts up to the start of the hike. The boyfriend had never taken a cable cart before, let alone a chairlift, and it was hilarious to make him nervous. Every time the chairlift slowed down to let someone off, I told him it’s what they do when someone falls off. Hehe. But soon he was too distracted by the amazing views to worry about the swingy ride.  The clouds were slowly fading away and in the distance we were starting to see more and more mountains. And more. And more. They just kept coming as the sky was clearing up. By the end of our second chair lift, we found ourselves on a big grassy slope leading up to the foot of the mountain. Which is where we went.

We hiked all the way up to the Vicenza hut, built at the end of the 19th century and now still a popular spot for hikers to take a break. From way down below, we could see the tiny hut standing lonely between all the rocks. And all the little specks of hikers making their way towards it. It was a busy path, felt like playing leapfrog with other hikers: we overtake, stop to take a photo, they overtake, we overtake,… But I didn’t mind too much. I was a woman on a mission: I was gonna be the first one on top of that hill. I don’t know if you remember from my previous blogs, but when I got back into the gym, I gave myself a challenge: I wanted to be the first one on top of the mountain when we would go hiking in Austria, and prove to the boyfriend and mostly to me how much fitter I’d become. And booyah I did it! (The boyfriend would tell you it was just because I happened to be walking first at the time and that he was right behind me, but I’ll take it :p At least he didn’t have to wait for me and stuff!)

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We sort of spoiled ourselves in the hut: espresso and Kaiserschmarrn please! With a view, of course 🙂

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The way back was very different. We soon left the gravel path that we took up and walked along the side of a mountain, until we found the little path down that was going to take us into the valley. It led through a little pine forest and for the first time since we started hiking, it was just us two. Lovely hiking! When we got out of the forest, we found ourselves in troll land. You know, these kinda trolls… (Sorry for the Disney reference :p) Perfect spot for lunch. Sorry, lunch number two. We had a drink and a sandwich and just enjoyed the view. I think that’s the main reason we never manage to go on truly long hikes. We like to “enjoy the view” extensively around every bend. Which we did for the rest of our hike.

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It was gorgeous and so much fun. I totally love it when we’re adventuring. Adventuring our way. Just us against the mountains. Mission accomplished.

 

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 😀

Bolzano Week 2 – Summer schools are hard work

It is now Thursday and I am quite ready for the summerschool to be over. As opposed to most people here, I don’t really take a lot of classes. I have two sessions in the morning this week, and nothing in the afternoon. But still it’s hard work. There are evening lectures that need attending, there are social obligations. You can never just relax an evening at home, since you have to go out every evening to find food and generally at least half of the evening is work talk.

Also, I’m sort of at that point again where really I can think of a-thousand-and-one things to do next at work. Revising what I saw in the lectures and seeing how it applies to my work, reading some material that sounds very relevant for my research, preparing a presentation for the conference I’m going to in September, and not to forget doing the actual research I was planning to do over summer. And rather than getting a move on, I tend to crash. Add to that the hot Italian temperatures and a sunstroke here and there, and I am very much ready for my holiday to start. But of course that won’t make the heavy work load disappear, sigh.

So I am now trying to get some stuff done in the library (only airconditioned place in town, Halleluja!) I figured I’d start with some small bits and bobs: making sure my new literature and notes are organised well so I know where to look for the info when I need it, making sure I understand everything I’m being taught, and trying to not forget all of the new info instantly. Hopefully tomorrow I can manage to tie up the rest of the loose ends and make a schedule for when I’m back at work, so my holiday can start properly! Because the second the boyfriend arrives on Saturday, it’ll be all hikes and trips and fun nights out 🙂

Bolzano Day 2: My First Bolzano Hike, sort of

So yesterday was fun. I did do a fair bit of studying and I think I have a good idea of what’s going on in class, and for today’s class I didn’t really have much work because it’s a lot less relevant to what I’m doing, so no need to go the extra mile. I even managed to do some other work, well done me! That’s work sorted, yay.

I also went for a long walk with my roommate yesterday, just along the river. Turns out the river splits at some point. So when we crossed the river to walk back on the other side, this  appeared to be less ideal than anticipated. Not the nicest walk, but at least I got those legs moving. You see, I’ve been working super hard at the gym and gave myself this self-imposed challenge: when the boyfriend and I go hiking in the mountains (which will be in less than two weeks now, can’t wait!), I will be the first one at the top. But now the cheeky bastard has really upped his game at the gym as well so I totally have to step it up. Which I really did today. I stepped up, up the hill, and it was gorgeous.

I didn’t have too much time because I was going for this hike between classes, so I told myself: one hour in and then you have to turn back. I decided to tackle the Oswaldpromenade. (Some statistics for you: I walked 1h20, covered 5,9kms with a height difference of 150m.) It’s a lovely little path at the side of the centre going up one of the hills between all the vineyards. There were amazing views of the town centre and the mountains on the other side, and the level of the walk was the perfect little challenge for an in-between-important-stuff hike.

The path was perfectly accessible, not too steep, and relatively easy to navigate. At the end of the path (or maybe it wasn’t the end, but it was as far as time allowed me to go), there was a massive super fancy hotel, the Eberle Hotel, with an amazing view of the city and I bet it would be the ideal place for an evening cocktail (but my glass of wine in town this evening suited me just fine). The map told me the way back would just be road, but really it was quite fun! The road was super narrow, therefore, very cute. And insanely steep! It took me almost an hour to reach the top on the way in, and only 5 minutes to go down because it was simply so steep you just had to run down to make it easier on the knees. That was fun 🙂 The last part of the walk I went straight through the bustling town centre, shops and Italians eating ice cream everywhere. Back nicely in time for a shower and back to the lectures I went.

So far, this combo of work and holiday is going quite well. Bring on tomorrow!

Cure against boredom: Blog!

‘sssssup everyone! Today, I am bored. So today, I will blog.

Quick update: I am now on summerschool. That means: I’m away from home at an abroad university to take postgraduate classes for about one week, learn tons and work on my research. It’s been super interesting so far, but oddly, now that I finally get to adventure again, I can’t really remember how to!

So, I used to do a lot of things on my own. You know, travel on your own and just go do stuff because if you have to wait until you find people to do it with, it’ll probably just not happen. And I’m actually quite happy doing stuff on my own. Sometimes it annoys me to have people around. Like before, I just wanted an easy lunch. None of the polite conversations with people you don’t really know of what would you like to eat and do you know where we could go and then try to keep a conversation going while stuffing your face politely with food. I gladly had lunch on my own 🙂

But now it’s evening and I don’t really feel like studying and I’m like super duper bored. Too lazy to go for a run, so that’s out. Don’t really know anyone to hang out with. Don’t really fancy getting to know someone and having that same conversation for the millionth time: Where are you from, what do you do,… I’m also not really in town so I can’t really just go for a wander… So I blog!

Just for fun, here’s five stories of what I’ve been upto, in random order of what jumps into my mind.

  1. We went to the zoo! Had some of the boyfriend’s friends over from England, and wanted to spoil them with fun Belgian trips. Best zoo around: Pairi Daiza. We played with the monkeys and the lemurs, the boyfriend stroked a giraf, we watched someone ride an elephant, and we watched a ginormous white tiger struggle with the concept of glass as it was trying to eat the little toddlers behind it. My oh my entertaining to say the least! I’ve been to the zoo twice now, and I’d say space wise it’s not that big, but I still haven’t seen even half of it because there’s simply so much going on!
  2. I’ve also been watching some fun vloggers on Youtube. The boyfriend started vlogging as well, and I’d love to show you his video, buuuuut for some odd reason I also sorta want to keep my blog anonymous so can’t really do that. But it’s really cool though, he’s got this new camera and he’s getting really good at all the fancy stuff. I really like seeing what stuff he comes up with and it always makes me laugh. He also introduced me to these super famous vloggers that do some really cool stuff. There is of course Youtube hit Casey Neistat, who can be super fun to watch because so much fun stuff goes on in his life! He’s a moviemaker / businessman / I’mnotreallysureexactly living in New York and he really has some good things going for him! His videos can be super inspiring. But I also really like his mate Shonduras, who leads a bit more of a normal life (or at least that’s the part we get to see in the vlogs) with a lovely family and especially a lot of family fun. Always cheers me right up 🙂 They’re just so upbeat!
  3. We bought a new sofa! Well, actually, we bought it a while ago but it finally arrived. We got it in a spur of the moment so we were super happy to see how perfectly it fitted into our living room. It’s super comfy and super big and it makes the room look a lot lighter than our previous couch.
  4. I replanted the garden. The weather has been a disaster and nothing was growing so I decided to start over. So far, the neighbour cat (who we call Anne-Marie, for future reference) has only destroyed the baby leek plants. Fingers crossed for the horseradishes and spinach!
  5. I completely missed father’s day this year. My dad was abroad for father’s day so I couldn’t really do anything with him, and now we still haven’t celebrated him being the bestest dad! So this weekend he requested a brunch forest picnic. And so it shall be done.

I hope you are all having a nice summer with fun stories to tell. What’s your favourite summer story so far?

 

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!