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 😀

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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!

My Favourite Kind of Multitasking

To me, the fact that women can multitask has always been a joke. Sometimes, I like to watch some series while I’m cooking. I can only do this for recipes I can cook with my eyes closed and still it takes me twice as long. Or when I’m browsing and someone talks to me. Sorry, I’m not hearing you. Or even skipping through a magazine with some music on. I can’t do it.

Now, there is one particular kind of multitasking, however, that I excel at. The kind of multitasking where you do that one task, but you do it outside. I call it sun-enjoyment-work. Before I was writing this post, I was sat outside in the sun working like a boss. It’s been really busy for me at work, and I haven’t really had much time for my mind to wonder off during the day the last few weeks. And usually that drives me crazy. But today it is the best.

I can just keep working and working and don’t feel this need to do something else, because at the same time, I am refuelling my batteries and soaking up the vitamin D. Some people might go crazy working when the weather is nice, but since I can work from home, summer is the most productive time of year. The only breaks I take are to fill up my water bottle and reapply my sunscreen.

That being said, time to get back to it!

Happy Sunny Ramblings

Yes! Finally! It has happened! Ladies and Gentlemen, Spring Has Arrived!

My goodness you have no idea how much I’ve been craving for this. Or if you’ve been following my blog, you probably do, as I often complain about how I miss the sun. And not just the sun, but the possibilities it brings. Coming home from work when it’s still light out, it changes your whole day. I feel like doing stuff in summer after work, rather than just sitting on the couch and relaxing, I want to go for walks and do some spring cleaning and garden and cook and just listen to music in the sun. And that’s the funny bit. In winter, when I don’t do anything I get frustrated. But in summer, doing nothing is the best and makes me feel amazing.

Yesterday, it was that first day of sun-laziness. It was 19 degrees out and super sunny! So I put out the picnic blanket in our tiny little garden and just lied about. Bit of music, cup of coffee, maybe a book for a while… Ah, the life! I felt on top of this world! (And sunburnt by the evening, so I bought myself some new sunscreen.)

Today, the sun has gone again, but I am ready for its return. We went out to buy a hammock 😀 It was a bit of a disaster to build the stand, but it’s up now and ready to be used extensively! We also got some extra gardening equipment and later this week (I have a holiday from work this week) I will go to the garden centre to buy a few small plants for a hedge. Exciting! And then I can also start planting some veggies. And a berry bush!

I have a massive to-do list for this holiday week. And I feel like, if the sun does indeed stay out, I might just actually do all of it! I have to urgently clean the shower, go through my papers to see if I haven’t missed some important stuff, do that gardening, and I am planning to do some awesome cooking. I am going to try a shrimp curry, samosas, and I’ll also make a big load of chilli to put in the freezer in one-person portions for a lazy day. Painting is also on the list, some sort of super colourful paint splash out. I’m really excited to get started, but oddly enough, even though I am well excited, I am still sitting on my butt on the couch and have been doing so for the last two hours.

Time to get up! Off I go 🙂 Oh yeah, and not to forget: I’ve challenged myself to go to the gym every day of the week! Let’s see how it goes, I’m looking forward to giving you a hopefully very succesfull update 🙂

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 🙂

 

 

Life of a PhD Student – Luxury Problems

In my job I get to decide when and where I work as long as I get things done. When and where I work: I try to go for 8 hours a day at the office like a good girl. The things I need to get done: write a thesis by the end of 2018. I don’t know how it is for you, but I always achieve better with close deadlines. Bit of stress here and there can actually help.

So, this “as long as I get things done” is open for interpretation. And it’s mostly me and my boss who have to interpret. Like today, the sun is out. I don’t feel like working, have no motivation or concentration, and the coffee machine at the office is broken (!Disaster!). I am so tempted to go home and do some gardening. And maybe claim that I’ll work more in the evening then. But, can I tell this to my boss? “‘Sup Mr Bossman. I’m heading home to plant some veggies. Have a good one?”

Or do I just sneak out of the office and hope he doesn’t notice? Or at least hope he won’t wonder why I am leaving this time? Wonder if I am actually working at all?

I think it’s fairly obvious to everyone that I don’t work nearly as hard as the average PhD student. I do everything I can to avoid working weekends and evenings. I still haven’t done any conferences or written any articles. I gladly take a self proclaimed holiday when “working from home”. But so far no one has mentioned anything and I am getting away with it. I gave a presentation for our research group the other week and got loads of complements. How I already got really far in this new subject, how it’s very interesting, how I seem to have a good insight both in the literature as for the facts. So, maybe I’m not doing as bad as I think I am? Wouldn’t it be nice to think I’m just so intelligent I can get the thinking done in half the hours?

Nope, that doesn’t sound like me at all. What does sound like me, is spending a whole day at work wondering about whether or not to go home early.

 

The Beauty of Home

Have you ever noticed how it’s so much easier to be happy and amazed when your not Home? And with Home I mean the place where you grew up. Once you have travelled and moved to a new Home, you appreciate the beauty of that new place a thousand times more than the beauty of Home number one.

For example: I can imagine that if you go on holiday to for example Italy, you visit a fair bit of churches. Have you ever visited the one in your hometown? Or, when on holiday, you might go for a morning walk or run around the hotel and find some gorgeous spots that might not be in your travel guide because after all, they are just standard beauty. Have you ever noticed that kind of standard beauty and stopped to admire it when running around your Home?

I’m really trying to. It’s a part of my post-travel-life therapy. Once in a while, I stop and try to look at Home with the eyes of a tourist. This weekend, it went extremely well. Why? Because winter has arrived.

We don’t really get decent winters anymore. The ones with a lot of snow and ice skating on the lakes. But Thursday night, it started snowing. Compared to northern countries, it was nothing. But for us Belgians, it was more than we’d seen in a long time. Coming home from work in the evening, I went straight into the back garden to build a snow man! Biggest one I’ve ever made!

It hasn’t been snowing since, but it’s still cold so when out of the city, it’s winter wonderland. Sunday, me and the boyfriend had a gorgeous walk. Just around the block really, should’ve taken us less than an hour, but it was so pretty we stopped after every corner to take in the view and soak in the sunshine, just like I was craving so badly!

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And even this morning, a Monday morning of all things, I was amazed by Home. While waiting for my train, usually I am browsing Facebook or WordPress. But now, my fingers were too cold so I had to put the phone away. And I noticed an absolutely stunning sunrise.

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I feel inspired by the beauty of home, and I have extra strength now to tackle my post-travel-life this week. Thank you winter, thank you home, you have given me hope!

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