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 😀

Budapest Highlights

So I was going to blog day by day as me and the boyfriend citytripped our way through Budapest, but I got stuck after day 1. Not because I didn’t have loads to tell, if anything, because there was too much to tell! And before I knew it, I was back at work being busy. Sigh. But I am not quite finished with my Budapest story, so here are the two things from this holiday I will never forget, for which I thank you my dear Budapest!

The Parliament – On our second day in Budapest, we decided to explore the area we were staying at a bit more: Parliament District. One of the first things I noticed, was that it was very quiet in the neighbourhood. Which basically went for our whole stay. (I guess it wasn’t really the tourist season, but still, at some points I almost started wondering if there was a zombie apocalypse on the way that no one warned us about. So if you do want to take the risk of the weather, which for us turned out absolutely wonderful, visiting Budapest in late winter is definitely a recommendation!) We relaxed a little bit on Liberty Square (Szabadság tér) whilst sipping a coffee in the sun before we headed down to the Parliament (Országház) . And wow, what a Parliament! That is by far the most impressive building I have ever seen! We spent quite a while just walking around and around and ended up ordering some Sacher Torte (I know, not very Hungarian but very Austrian, but I couldn’t help myself) on the sunny terrace of a nearby cafe overlooking the parliament. What a peaceful and wonderful morning that was!

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The Danube – Most big cities are built around water, and I always think it’s so nice to get that other perspective by seeing the city from the water. Especially at night, when the whole city lights up. I had a chance to take an evening cruise in Saint-Petersburg six years ago now and I can still remember how impressed I was at the different feel I got of the city. So naturally, an evening boat tour on the Danube was a must do for me. It took us a while to decide what tour we wanted to take (so much choice!) but in the end we just went for it and booked a four course dinner one. Every holiday needs at least one fancy splash out, right? Well, this one made it to the top of my list of fancy!

Our boat had a top completely out of glass, and we were sat right at the side with a perfect view. In the corner, there was a small band playing some very agreeable jazz tunes. Romantic set up: check! We were welcomed with a nice glass of bubbles and off went our boat. The views were absolutely stunning! And because the boat did the same tour around three times, you didn’t have to worry about missing out when focussing on the food. Which was totally spot on as well. I started with the goose liver pate, then had a pumpkin soup and as a main both me and the boyfriend went for the duck, which was served with a berry sauce on a mountain of roasted vegetables. So very tasty! The ingredients were superb and the combinations just perfect. The desert was a bit too heavy for me (a chocolate cake), which hardly ever happens , but nothing a fresh breeze out on the deck couldn’t fix. After our coffee, we headed outside to be amazed once more. Seriously though, that parliament building!

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So to finish off my first holiday report of 2017: if you have been to Budapest before, I hope you enjoyed my little trip down Budapest memory lane. If you haven’t: you simply must go! It is such an interesting city that will surprise you in many ways, and there are a thousand and one things to do! Go to a ruin bar in the evening and drink cocktails. Visit the caves underneath the castle if you want to learn about Budapest’s slightly creepier stories. Go to not one but a few spas, because a lot of the smaller ones are just so cheap it would be silly not to end a day of walking this way and that in a hot relaxing bath. Eat, because those hipster Hungarians really know their way around the kitchen! Drink, because they also know a little something about wine! Relax, enjoy, and be amazed 🙂

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!

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 Evenings – Easy Surprises

Our time in Bolzano is coming to an end! In fact, we only have one full day left! And we just got back from our second last night in town. And let me tell you, our nights in town have been wonderful.

Since we’re staying in a hotel, we have been going out for food every night. In some towns, that can be a bit challenging depending on how picky you are. Right atmosphere, right kind of food, right price, right location, etc. But in Bolzano, it’s easy as pie. There are restaurants seriously everywhere and, unless you go onto the main square, they are all super decently prized (at least compared to Belgian food). They generally offer a wide range of Italian and Tiroler food: pizza, pasta, and deliciousness such as knödeln, spinatspätzler, schnitzel, etc. And with drinks and sometimes even starters, it never comes to more than 40 euros for two people! I’m impressed. And also super well fed. Our favourite so far: the Paulaner Restaurant. Excellent food, excellent service, and a nice variety of both wine and beer! We’ll be going back tomorrow for our last night 😉
We also sort of pigged out on pre-dinner drinks this one time (or like they call it here: aperitivo). There is this hotel, the Grifoncino Bar, that has an outside cocktail bar on their first floor where they make you feel so super fancy! Which they really should, for the price you pay. Let’s just say we spent more on our aperitivo than on the meal we had after. But it really was perfect. The staff was so very friendly without being pushy, and as soon as we sat down we received the drink menus, some water with fresh strawberries and a little bowl with olives and crisps. The cocktails were impeccable. The staff definitely wasn’t stingy on the alcohol or the quality of the ingredients, and the flavours were perfectly balanced out. For example: my first cocktail contained amongst other things ginger, but it totally didn’t overrule all the other flavours. And the boyfriend had a fruity cocktail as his second one, which I usually avoid since I’m not a fan of fruitflavoured liquors, but this one had actual real passion fruit and real raspberries, no cordials or grenadines! De-li-cious! Of course, I stole the half passion fruit that was floating around in it before the boyfriend could even blink. Tasty! The atmosphere of the bar totally finished the picture. I’d call it a lounge bar: comfortable outside longchairs, plants and cheerful lights everywhere, and some lounge music in the background. Even though I would never consider spending all that money for cocktails back home, it did make for a perfect holiday experience and it was totally worth it.
But the best part by far was the random music we found in town. I think we might have just caught the end of some Bolzano festival thingy? In any case: we’ve been having good fun! Yesterday, there was a cover band on the main square, playing songs like Mustang Sally, Jailhouse Rock, and Freedom. The band looked like they were having so much fun on stage, with little dance routines amongst the musicians and some fancy tricks here and there: proper rock ’n roll performance. Naturally, the boyfriend and I boogied the night away. Tonight, after food we went for ice cream on the main square, secretly hoping we might catch another show. No luck this time, there was only a dj playing some unimpressive dance. But then we heard some trumpets in the distance and guess what we found on a nearby square: a Tirol brass band! They were all dressed in the traditional Tirolian attire and played a wonderful variety of songs: from a Mary Poppins Medley to a Benny Goodman tribute and the Game of Thrones theme tune. And also some classical gems of which I really should’ve written down the names!
We’ve really had some amazing nights in Bolzano, without really trying to! Thank you for surprising us, Bolzano!

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 🙂