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!

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 Weekend Away to Home

Our weekends are out of this world lately. I’m starting to find that perfect balance where the weekends are so more than lovely that I can handle the weeks a lot better. This weekend, we had a weekend away in my childhood home.

My parents are currently on holiday (the bastards went to South-Africa and didn’t take me along!) so my brother and I each got a weekend to go water the flowers. And then I thought, rather than cycling 9kms there to water some plants and then cycle back, why not make a weekend out of it?

My childhood home is located 9kms away from the city, in between 2 villages. To most people, I can imagine that sounds as if I actually grew up in the city. But with Belgium being so tiny, I can assure you I didn’t. Our street connects two big forests, Heverleebos and Meerdaelwoud, where I created some of my my fondest childhood memories.

The latter forest is one of the oldest ones in Flanders (the northern part of Belgium), also having our oldest deer colony. Heverleebos shares a lot of its history with Meerdaelwoud, however, it used to belong to the local Dukes or Counts, being their hunting grounds. Up to this day, the lay-out of the forest brings these days back to mind, with its wide lanes for the carriages lined by massive old trees that were once planted by these Lords.

Unfortunately, some of these Lords picked the wrong side of history. During the first World War, the forest belonged to the house of Arenberg, who were loyal to the Germans at the time. After the war, the government seized their property. Which is why the forest is still around now. Their castle now belongs to the university, the hunting grounds are a public forest.

So going back to my childhood home for the weekend, definitely counts as a getaway. We arrived Saturday morning, and installed ourselves in the chairs by the window looking out into the garden. Temperature-wise, spring hasn’t arrived just yet, but the flowers seem to disagree. We made ourselves a nice coffee with my parents’ super fancy coffee machine, and just let the stress drift away. No computers to tempt us, hardly any service on my mobile. Just what I needed.

In the afternoon, we went for a little walk. It took us less long than I’d anticipated. I remembered that walk as taking forever, but that’s probably because back in the day, my little legs really did take forever to get round. Back home, we enjoyed a nice sauna session and then it was back to the book. (I’m currently reading Tracks by Robyn Davidson, I’ll tell you all about it when I’ve finished it.)

To finish off our day, we cycled to the local pizza place: Il Daino. By far the best pizza in Belgium. I went for my usual: the Li Vorno: a pizza with a super thinly sliced kind of bacon, fresh tomatoes and gorgonzola. Omnomnom.

The next morning, I borrowed the parents’ car to drive down to the bakery in the next village. We made ourselves a lovely Belgian breakfast: bread rolls, cheese, bacon and eggs, and chocolate buns for my sweet tooth. To then go hiking again. Unfortunately, there are a lot of roadworks going on in the street, and cars are being redirected through the forest. A lot of the roads are now paved with gravel to make the driving easier, and the magnificent forest views are broken up completely by these grey-blue gravel veins running through the trees. So we did away with our mapped-out hike and just tried to stick to the nice unpaved paths. Not what we expected, but it definitely hit the spot.

And what better way to finish the weekend than with a massive batch of homemade pancakes?!

Next weekend, we are traveling to England to visit the boyfriend’s family and friends. So that’ll be a good one too. And the weekend after that, we celebrate our two-year anniversary! Oh my, I can’t wait for it to be weekend again!

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 🙂

 

 

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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Bye Bye Wonderful Weekend

Coming Monday, I would’ve probably written a massive post about all the fun stuff we would’ve done over the weekend. Ow boy, have I been looking forward to this weekend! Some of the boyfriend’s mates were coming to visit, spend the weekend at ours. They’re a lovely couple that like to sight see, play board games, and I bet of course they would’ve loved the Belgian beer and food we would’ve stuffed them with.

We were supposed to pick them up from the airport last night. I had arranged that I could start work slightly later today, so I could set up their first Belgian breakfast: chocolate spread, gingerbread, all sorts of yummy sweet stuff. Then I would show them how to get to the town centre and leave them to explore for a day while the boyfriend and I would be working. And tonight, we would’ve cooked for them and played some board games. Tomorrow, we would’ve taken the train to Bruges, by far the most amazing city in Belgium. It’s got history, it’s got beauty, and it’s got amazingly cute cafes and restaurants, again, with delicious food and beer. I was so happy I could go show off my cute little country again! Sunday of course we would do a big Sunday breakfast, and maybe go for a walk in one of the parks close by, or go to the Christmas Markets.

It would’ve been a weekend filled with nice food and drinks, a good dose of sight seeing, getting into the Christmas spirit, and wonderful company. Especially for the boyfriend, who has been missing his friends ever since he moved over here for me.

But yeah, none of that this weekend. Our visitors couldn’t find their passports. Bugger!