Wednesday, February 24, 2016

another trip to another place

As I sit here, sipping on instant coffee from a re-purposed glass jar that once held white beans, I feel I should explain that I actually do go to university, do assignments, struggle with my average Spanish in class and am endlessly counting how much money I've spent and trying to figure out how much tighter of a budget I should go on versus yolo-airfares-to-Morocco-are-only-30-euros... It's not all tapas and travel in my corner of the world, but everyday life isn't that exciting to write about (unless it's one of my many #mishapsinmadrid then maybe, but I haven't got around to writing about that yet).

My weekend went as follow - first of all, it's wonderful to not have any classes or work commitments on Fridays (for the first part of the semester at least). Although I had planned to get up early-ish and do some work, it ended up being a guilt-ridden sleep in then navigating the Madrid Renfe system and an unfamiliar suburb to get me to a rock climbing gym. Some of the exchange students at Carlos III had created a facebook group for those interested in outdoorsy activities, and rock climbing was on the cards for Friday. #mishapinmadrid number 300 happened, when I discovered this place (which was a 1/2 hour walk from the train station) was in fact a bouldering gym. However, the lady there was lovely (she'd also been in NZ for 2 months to climb) and me plus the two other exchange students spent several hours attempting to scale walls and not fall too far onto the padded mats underneath. The other people there were obviously pro-climbers and looked like lizards going all over the walls. I think I was more like one of those sticky ball things that's supposed to stick to windows when you through it, but that eventually loses its grip after falling on the carpet too many times and falls onto the floor after a few seconds.

Friday night was a cute dinner out with Molly, who I met at the AFS arrival camp in Chile in February 2009, and some of her friends who are in Madrid on Fullbright scholarships this year. Our little spot, that we keep returning to, is called El Buho and is in Malasaña, a trendy little neighbourhood close to the city centre. As per the Spanish way, you don't order an individual dish for each person. Between the 6 of us, we got 3 dishes (plus brownie) and divided it up on our plates. It's a much more fun way of eating and you get to try more! El Buho does the best Spanish tortilla I have tried so far, so if you're heading to Madrid I'd recommend checking it out. We ventured on to a hipster bar in Malasaña, decorated with stuffed deer and goat heads, an elaborate tiled floor and counter (if you're a Wellingtonian, think Hawthorne Lounge crossed with the bar at The Library, minus the books), spherical lightbulbs, and a very hipster clientele. The DJ was playing a range of music - from the inevitable Justin Bieber to some more alternative bands like Washed Out. The night had to end at some point, and for the next 1/2 hour I wildly navigated myself through the city streets to get to my bus stop to get back to my delightfully far away suburb of Getafe.

Saturday was Caturday - a visit to La Gatoteca aka a cat café. The concept is that you pay 6 euros for an hour, can get some coffee, tea, juice or soft drink, then take it to an area full of cats. The cats there are also up for adoption, and get free reign of the most part of the cat café plus a crowd of people petting them every day. And the people get cats, so it's a win-win situation.
La Gatoteca

With no pressing commitments, we wandered around Madrid in the afternoon, when the streets are quieter and the sunlight has a glowing golden quality to it. I can't think of a better adjective other than magic. The apartments were so beautiful - balconies with plants, elaborate hand rails, twisting alleys and the faint beat of reggaeton (in some places). We settled on getting some food from a supermarket and taking it to a park to have a picnic. I can't think of an afternoon like that last year, when I felt like I had the time and no stress to just relax and laugh for a few hours. 

Apartments in Lavapies

The contrast between how I feel this year and the terrible time I had last year is so strong. For a number of reasons (some inevitable, some perfectly avoidable) it was a pretty crappy year and the brave face I wore 99% of the time was masking hours spent unable to function as a human. I never thought I would hit the points of having to stuff my fist in my mouth to stop myself from screaming, or that I would wear sunglasses while walking to uni to hide the fact that I was crying, or knowing if I saved my tears for the shower there would be a smaller chance of being overheard. Let alone not being able to focus on university work, or barely interact with friends at some points, all the while attempting to carry on like nothing was amiss.  The feeling of desperately wanting to tell people what was going on, but being forced to keep everything confidential was also really frustrating, and the knowledge I couldn't openly discuss the severity of it with the other people who were also affected. I thank those that I did trust with the situation with their support, and for everyone else who was there for understanding that something was wrong. I feel for anyone who is going, or has been, through something like that. Moreover, several of you will know what situation I am referring to, but many of you won't - you are welcome to ask me, but I won't disclose it on here, aside from saying it was 'workplace' issues (and general life hit home hard too last year, the death of a friend, a break-up, the usual student-stress, the 'what am I doing with my life/I will not be good enough to do anything' dilemma). From this I just want to say to everyone reading this - be nice. There's absolutely no reason or justification to cause another human being to suffer in any way.

Picnics in the park!

Anyway, Caturday was fun! The day ended with us going to a friend's apartment to cook dinner, and we were all in the same mind of what we wanted - lots of veges! So we made a pasta sauce with zucchini noodles as a substitute for pasta. It was wonderful to be able to cook with friends and share a meal, as in my apartment I am generally cooking just for myself.

Sunday is the trip to another place that the title to this blog refers to. It was an early morning start on a Sunday, and the metro was filled with runners wearing fluorescent tops for the 'Corre para Siria' charity run. Coincidentally, that was right by where the bus left from.

One hour on the bus and we had arrived in Chinchón, a small town with a town square that doubled as a bull fighting ring. We had about an hour to walk around the town and take pictures, which so ample time to visit a cathedral, a lookout point and a café to get much needed morning coffee.
Chinchón town square 
Chinchón church 
Chinchón coffee
Very candid photo

Back on the bus, and it was onto La Ciudad Encantada, a national park full of rock formations that resemble animals, objects and maybe people.  This was my favourite part of the day - after living in a city for a month, it was amazing to be outside in nature, surrounded by trees and grass and the odd black labrador. There was even a bit of snow, although it wasn't that cold. I think for the entirety of the trip the group of us was making jokes, and just generally happy to be there. It's a great feeling to be with so many other people who are also in a good mood. It was also a really sunny day.

Da nek stop was to Cuenca, where we were to spend the most time. We got a tour of the city from the tour guide; unfortunately I was too busy taking photos to really pay that much attention - I think my attention span for walking tours has decreased significantly, so please don't ask me about the history of Cuenca, I will only direct you to Wikipedia. It was a nice city though. There are houses there that are built right on the edge of the cliff, something you would never see in earthquake prone NZ! Here are some photos, to apologise for my lack of attention:

Church in Cuenca

This dog had the longest ears! They scraped along the ground when he walked <3

Church in Cuenca (another church, yes!)
The houses on the cliffs 
"Shall we get a beer after this?"
Now, it's about 5ºC in Getafe and I have a class at 1930 - it's now 1745 - and an assignment to finish before then, so I'm about to go to the library to work on it as my apartment is freezing!

Thanks for reading mah leetel blahg, chau!

I'm also too lazy to go back and properly edit, so please excuse all the grammar and spelling mistakes.

Friday, February 19, 2016


Portugal is like Spain's hip little brother. While Madrid has all the classic European characteristics, they're embodied in a classical 'this is Europe' kind of charm; whereas Portugal has managed to effortlessly juxtapose everything 'hipster' within balconied apartments, cobbled streets, street fountains and relentless February rain.

After a seven hour drive to Porto in a rental car featuring:

  • me - who has the WORST sense of direction you can ever imagine - giving directions to get out of Madrid 
  • delayed GPS phone navigation app resulting in several missed turnoffs (I actually stopped saying when we went the wrong way and carried on directing the new route, it saved a lot of frustration from everyone else)
  • Justin Bieber sing alongs (too late now to say sorry)
  • panic about passports and border crossings; unnecessary when you can just drive right across to the other side
  • toll road radar confusion
  • a collection of music that spanned from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to filthy reggaeton
  • a car that had window wipers that automatically sensed when it was raining
  • me being the only one who knows how to fill a car with petrol #girlpower

We arrived at the cutest backpacker's hostel in Porto. Two brown doors greeted us from the outside, and didn't open to let us in from the drizzle for a very long time. Luckily, once we got inside and to our Ikea-chic bunkroom, all was well. It was so CLEAN, new and modern. Plywood bunks with crisp white sheets, a bathroom that looked like it had just been installed and two window/door things that showed a view of a grey sky and some rooftop cats. Just outside our hostel were dozens of vintage camera shops, vintage clothes shops, vintage record shops and vintage everything shops. As well as shops that sold cool lights/lightbulbs/lightfittings and cute cafés.

Despite the weather (it turns out February is rain season in the West), we donned our coats and umbrellas and attempted to visit something imPORTant; a winery. Porto is the city of Port, and you can't go there and not get a cheap 6 euro winery tour with 2 free samples. Actually, you can...

Several selfies later on the bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel (so it was basically a sideways Eiffel tower that cars could drive on), misdirected meanderings around the hills (finally hills, a Wellington girl misses her hills) leading down to the waterfront, we discovered that unlike in Spain, things close early here.

We came to Porto for the weather


Ah well. We'd already filled up on franceshinas for lunch, which is a heart attack in a sandwich. White bread loaded with ham, steak, chorizo, cheese, drizzled with cheese sauce and topped with a mild curry sauce, so we weren't particularly hungry. We'd mastered the tram system, so headed back into the centre of town to find a wine bar and sample some Portuguese drops.

It didn't take long to find a cute wine bar tucked into a side street, although when you're absolutely sopping wet, tired, unsure exactly what you're looking for and with a group, it feels a bit longer. But luckily we'd struck Happy Hour, and got down to business. The waiter was incredibly polite and patient with five girls ordering, and gave us a good overview of the different styles of wine from around Portugal. In a nutshell, the grapes are mixed.

It wouldn't be a trip to a wine bar without spillage. My white sweater was the victim of said spillage, and I was heartbroken that for the rest of the trip I'd be wearing (I hadn't brought any other sweater) a top that made me look like I'd been stabbed in the chest. My luck changed when one of the waiters lent some stain removal spray, so all that was left was a powdery residue and a faint blue mark.

The port was undeniably excellent, and the ham and cheese platter that we ordered later on was amazing. We returned to the hostel happy, and happier still when one of the people working there offered to order us pizza. Portuguese people lived up to their reputation of being incredibly nice.

Morning #1 in Portugal and it was breakfast time. I expected something along the lines of the meagre offerings of Spanish hostels - maybe some packet cake or bread roll and coffee. But the cute dining room (Ikea strikes again) boasted a platter of ham and cheese, three different kinds of bread (chocolate chip bread was one option), milo cereal and cornflakes, fruit salad, filter coffee, tea and fresh fruit. It was heavenly. Moreover, we met a Polish traveller who had been to Portugal several times before and gave us valuable tips on what to see and where to go in Lisbon. She also confirmed our suspicion that it wasn't worth visiting Sintra in this weather.

Our winery tour eventuated later that morning, post expert parallel park by me, the only one brave enough to attempt it in a rental car (thanks Wellington for the training). Although it was in Portuguese (the English tour was too late for us), I managed to glean that wine is stored in barrels, some barrels they send to Scotland for whisky, Port is stronger than normal wine, cute toddlers don't appreciate winery tours but you can make funny faces at them and the like that, and 6 euros is a really good price for 2 tasters and a 1/2 hour tour.

Before departing to Lisbon, we also visited the oldest bookstore in the world and an incredible cathedral, got ham and cheese sandwiches that made 4/5 of us queasy, and had all our umbrellas blown inside out at least 5 times. The library was Hogwarts-chic, a cute staircase, stacked with books and probably had enough tourists in there to populate a small nation. But it was worth the visit nonetheless. The cathedral was something else. Exquisite detailing in every part, but we couldn't get a proper look as it was also a Sunday (edit, it was a Saturday) and there were services taking place there.

Livreria Lello

Lisbon was the next stop, a four hour drive away from Porto. All went smoothly, except for the fact that our reserved park was being hijacked by a random car and in order to park, we had to wait for the police to tow away the offending vehicle. Luckily that happened before we had to pay 90 euros for overnight parking in downtown Lisbon.

This hostel boasted a huge social/kitchen area, only a few rooms but some cool roommates, and also had amazing breakfasts. I don't think I'll be able to eat bread or cheese for a while.

It had been two days since I said goodbye to my toothbrush in Madrid, and at about 10pm at night I decided it was a good idea to perhaps scout out a supermarket or a pharmacy and get my dental hygiene routine back in order. It didn't happen. Everything was shut, and somehow magically ended up eating icecream at a hip food market downtown. As my friend Rhys would say, 'new latitude, new attitude'. I tried to put the scolding I would get from my dental hygienist to the back of my mind, it was hard enough confessing the sin of not flossing every day.

One of the things that the Polish traveller recommended we do was check out the Pink Street. We kidnapped an Australian backpacker and headed towards town. It's nothing like NZ or even Spain here. The Pink street is a road painted pink, where anyone in the bars that line the street can openly gather on the road to consume their beers or wine. The atmosphere is buzzy - the closest thing I can compare it to is like a 7's street party, minus the costumes, with a classier vibe (aka people are drinking more responsibly). The bars were all unpretentious and cheap. They're not there to attract people with fancy decor, rather, attract people who want to socialise in large groups and enjoy the night, then maybe go onto a club.

Sunday was spent sightseeing around Lisbon, unfortunately in the rain as well. We didn't get off to a great start by waiting at the wrong tram stop, but eventually managed to get to where we wanted to go, to a castle. A visit to the actual castle was given a miss because of budgetary concerns, so we wandered the streets and turned up to a lookout over the city. The terracotta tile companies must make a fortune in Lisbon, because roofs are made of nothing else.


After selfie-stick lessons and waiting for the rain to stop to get photos, it was down to the main gate of Lisbon (an impressive sight) then on the bus to the neighbourhood to Belém, to try the famed Pasteis de Belem, a portuguese custard tart.

The line for the custard tart place was mindblowing - it was obviously a tourist hotspot. Somehow we managed to line up in the take-away line, then also enter the restaurant and order more custard tarts and coffee from the kitchen once seated. The restaurant boasted 400 seats, and they had the machinery down to a fine art. Although the line to be seated was huge, it moved rapidly and before we knew it, we were sitting down and trying to get warm.

The custard tarts lived up to the hype; warm, goey, with crisp pastry and delicious with cinnamon sprinkled on top. I still have to discover a decent place to get coffee from, however.

The next stop on the itinerary was the Torre de Belém. I expected to be climbing up hills to get there, but in actual fact it's on the sea, surrounded by sea. It had some mythical quality to it, even when it was somewhere that prisoners were once housed, in the cells nearly below sea level.

There were several levels to the towner (as one would expect) and our visits to each level were split between trying to take photos in the sun, then hiding from the rain in the downpours. It really felt like a magical place, and unfortunately that's all the knowledge I have on it because we didn't get a tour or anything #ignoranttourist.

Leaving the tower was also breathtaking - you can see the sunset coloured buildings climbing up the hills, some covered with mosaic tiles, all with little balconies and shutters.

The market was next - a cheap option to get some Portuguese food. My cod soup was delicious, and I forgot about getting dessert because we were involved in a very heated yet friendly discussion about the legal systems in Colombia, Brazil and NZ (yay for common law) and trying to explain the rules of cricket with a coast, an umbrella and a fork.

There were others socialising in our hostel that night, and we had a hilarious game of Celebrity Heads (but with objects as well) before my RA skills were put to use later on #tpv15.

I'm going to wind it up now as my fingers are frozen (it's 3ºC here and my apartment has no heating) but we got back to Madrid safe and sound and in conclusion, it was fun. The end.

Tourist monk-eying around in front of a monastery in Belém

Monday, February 8, 2016

donald, where's your troooosers?

It's 12.30am on a Tuesday morning and I'm listening to Mexican music; about an hour ago I arrived back from the city centre after having unlimited sushi with a Belgian and a Hungarian in Madrid. Yesterday I arrived back from a cheeky little jaunt to the land of porridge, kilts, bagpipes and haggis.

Scotland wasn't originally on my list of must see places in Europe - that is, until some friends of mine moved there and managed to convince me to come over for Waitangi weekend/her birthday/because another friend was there. The time spent searching for the cheapest flights instead of listening to my lecturer was well worth it. Europe just keeps getting better and better. It couldn't sound any more cheesy, but it's so much fun meeting all these incredible new people and seeing so many amazing places.

Of course, before I left, everything was an absolute disaster. Aside from meeting a lovely friend of a friend from Spain, nothing on Thursday went right. Hospital visit (only an eye infection), delayed appointment - not quite knowing if I was supposed to be knocking on the door or still sitting in the waiting room, coming home at 4pm after not eating all day and being famished, then having a bleeding nose while needing to pack (tampons are actually great for shoving up bleeding noses), putting money on my travel card and having the sum leave by bank account but not go on the card like it was supposed to, not being able to withdraw money from an ATM either, getting on the wrong train to the airport... honestly, the odds were not in my favour at all.

But once in Edinburgh everything was a treat. And moreover, an English speaking treat. Although my Spanish is good enough to understand signs, most conversation, etc, it's so much more comfortable when you're not subconsciously making an extra effort to figure out what's going on.

As per my travel standard, the first day in Edinburgh began with a walking tour. Our tour guide was one of a kind. He didn't just explain the history/monument/architecture/random sidestreet alley, he acted it. He was all over the place - jumping up and down stairs, pretending to chop off his head, lying on the ground, you name it. It made for a very interesting, yet bitterly cold from all the standing, walking tour. The absolute coolest thing was seeing the cafe where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, it being across the road from a cemetery with a view of a school that looked like a castle, and an actual castle (Edinburgh Castle). Even a muggle like me thought that was a bit magic.

Our tour guide doing his thing

That 'castle' in the background is actually a private school (Hogwarts)

Edinburgh Castle
That afternoon, we visited Edinburgh Castle, which was right in the middle of the city. It was chilly, raining and windy, but the views were clear and the audio-guided tour interesting and not too long. There was a massacre at the castle called the Black Dinner (or something) which is what everyone's favourite GOT episode, The Red Wedding, was based on. Being typical Scotland, we then ran through a torrential downpour and I was thinking to myself what terrible weather for summer, before realising Scotland was also in the Northern Hemisphere so it was winter.

Saturday was more like being in Wellington on a typical weekend than being a tourist, which was also so nice, especially since so much time travelling is spent trying to cram as much as possible into the time you're in a place. We walked up Carlton Hill in the morning and got some great vistas of the city. One of my must-do's while there was get a flat white from a place called Wellington Coffee, a coffee shop owned by Wellingtonian's (if I recall correctly). There's nothing quite like walking into a café and realising how similar it felt to home - even the interior layout of places in Spain is different. The coffee was great - I miss my flat whites and long blacks!

Carlton Hill
mmmmm coffee
The chance to sample haggis came upon us when we visited some markets in the afternoon, but unfortunately (or fortunately) none of the quaint little stalls actually sold haggis. Just haggis dumplings or haggis samosas. Not authentic enough, sorry.

Some friends of friends were having a leaving party that night, so we went along to their lovely flat to watch the England v Scotland rugby came (not a good result for Scotland, unfortunately), and farewell them. Guitars came out, and one of the songs that they all got really into was one I sang in my primary school choir (don't know why I was in a choir, I can't sing) - 'Donald, Where's Your Trousers'. So I got to hear an authentic version of the song two decades later. Small world syndrome struck again, when two of the people at the party turned out also to be exchange students studying in Madrid for the semester.

I was surprised at how many people actually wore kilts around the streets (maybe it was because it was the weekend of a rugby match?), how prominent tartan and tweed was in everything, and also the fact that they invented a macaroni and cheese pie which was delicious. One weekend wasn't long enough to tick off all the boxes in Scotland, but now it's on my list of places that I'll have to come back to.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Toledo: castles, underground tunnels, and a terrible steak

European students are incredibly lucky to have Erasmus, a scholarship/grant which pays for them to study abroad in another EU country. It's really common as well, and stemming from that commonality is a network of Erasmus students, called, surprisingly, Erasmus Student Network. It's really prominent in universities in Madrid, and I have been to several of the event hosted by the Carlos III ESN (as well as hijacking one hosted by another university ...)

A few Sundays ago, I went to Toledo with the Carlos III ESN. 9am on a Sunday morning is very early to meet, especially as I was still staying at a backpackers which was very loud that night! Only to be expected.

Unlike Madrid, which is flat (especially for a Wellingtonian), Toledo is very steep and hilly. The cobbled streets and narrow alleyways slope upwards or downwards, and around a series of hills. A river runs along the side of the city and you can walk on an ancient bridge.

The first photo opportunity in Toledo
One of the world's oldest cathedrals

This cat was just happily basking in the sun

Taken from one of the old bridges

Lowlight of the trip was getting served a very underwhelming meal at a very slow restaurant.

Highlight of the trip was when we were just strolling around and an old man came out of his house and spontaneously gave us a tour of the underground tunnels, where the Jewish people hid out during the inquisition. (NB, historical information may not be entirely accurate). Of course, not being a planned tour, we were a bit skeptical of his motives at first. Especially when we went through barred doors which could be locked from the outside. But out of respect for him, we tried not to voice our anxiety and instead listened intently to his stories. He inherited the house from his father, who had started restoring it and all the underground work. One part of the house had a 5 metre deep tunnel! It was an amazing piece of history. And this secret little tour was also completely free.

The Jewish Quarter

One of the underground sections

The really deep tunnel

Telling his stories

Another highlight was making our way up to a playground with a spectacular view and cute kids. One of the boys (approx 4 yrs old) exclaimed 'we're in paradise!' when he got to see the view.

That's a castle

In sum - good trip, historical, interesting.

The busses left from the bottom of the hill. But we didn't need to walk down - instead there was a series of elevators going down the side of the city. Very unique for a kiwi who isn't afraid of walking up and down a bit of hill!

Monday, February 1, 2016

When you go to Belgium and they're famous for waffles but you only eat half of a waffle

You can kind of get a feel for what a country is like by learning about a) what it's famous landmarks are and b) what food it is famous for. I guess that's why I liked Belgium so much. Landmarks - a statue of a boy peeing, named one of the most underwhelming monuments in the world. Food - waffles, fries, beer, chocolate. Belgium was cool (like -6ºC cool).

Arrived - got food. Ashamed to say it was McDonalds because there was literally nowhere else to go. Impressions: 
  • Why are there so many soldiers carrying guns around? 
  • Pyjama pants are not warm enough to wear outside for long periods of time
  • New Balances (they only shoes I had) are very unwaterproof
  • Puffer jackets are also unwaterproof ---> it still took me 2 days to buy an umbrella
  • Cobbled streets are not ideal to walk on
Walking tours are the way to go - our tour guide was from Slovenia and happily chatted away to the Argentinian psychologist in our tour group in Spanish, then turned to us in English. We met in the square (aka tourist metropolis #1) and she gave us a run down of the history there. Interesting fact - the Communist Manifesto was written in the square where we were. Little evidence of communism here though - most of the (circa 1600) buildings were gilded in gold and Starbucks was prominently vending its 'coffee' nearby.

Walking tour then led us to some famous monuments which were very close by each other. Mannekin Pis was one of them - there are many stories behind the fame, including the fact that a small boy saved the country by accidentally peeing on a bomb (or something). In the picture you can see some of the people from the tour group posing for photos, which is what tourists do. The Indian man on the right kindly gave us an Indian treat at the end of the tour, it was like peanut brittle, and very yum, so he deserves a special mention. Also it shows the perspective of how small the statue actually is.

Swedes from the tour group in front of the statute of the boy peeing
Obviously someone had to copy the famous statue, and #equality, so the owner of a bar replicated it, this time of a girl popping a squat. Not as old as the Mannikin Pis. What other country would have that as a monument? It was also across from Delirium, a famous beer bar with many beers, of which the menu is something like 1000 pages long. We went there expecting it, and only got a double sided A4 page.

Janneke Pis
 The Galerie du Roix was the first undercover mall in the world (I think). Good work, because it rains a lot in Belgium! It hosted beautiful window displays of chocolates and goods, and also a lovely cafe which we visited twice because the omelettes were delicious and made for a very budget-friendly brunch.
Galerie du Roix
 Belgian people were very friendly and welcoming - nobody seemed to be tired of the fact that you were just another tourist. They're also very adaptable - this king allowed a law to be passed making him not the king for a day, so the government could pass legislation allowing abortion. Good on him - and the statue is right in front of a church.
A cool king
The Belgian flag is also supposed to be sideways, as it is shown here in front of the Royal Palace.
The sideways flag
 The tour ended with a view of the city - no skyscrapers (the tallest building was the cathedral), just tiled rooftops and gloomy grey sky.
Gr8 weather
 As it was a few weeks after Christmas, some of the streets still had their pretty street lights up, and here you can see Mollie and a new friend #yayfortravel Ria appreciating the beauty of these lights.
Appreciating the pretty street lights

They're so rich they paint their buildings in gold

Somewhere super close to where the communist manifesto was written

Rooftops in Ixelles
The tour on the first day finished with some new friends made, and we went and got fries at a place recommended by the tour guide, then later on, responsibly sampled some of the Belgian beers and then shared some waffles. Belgian waffles definitely take the cake, they're gooey and crispy and not too sweet and nutella is the ideal accompaniment. It's a pity I could only eat half because I am craving one now!

I was really looking forward to catching up with some friends while in Europe, and one of the first people I got to see was an exchange student my family hosted several years ago. Maud is Swiss but studying in Brussels, and I was lucky to be able to stay in her apartment for a couple of nights. We went to a weekend market and a comic book store, and got to see the cool view from her apartment. In reality, there really wasn't enough time to catch up properly because I was heading to Bruge the next day and to an old friend of Mum's that afternoon. But hopefully there will be another chance!

I had been in touch with one of Mum's friends who lived near Belgium, and managed to take a train south to Brain-le-comte to meet her and her lovely family. I somehow managed to get lost in the centre of town while searching for wi-fi and directions. Getting lost means seeing things you don't expect to see. Right in the town square, there were two groups of people dressed up in crazy costumes - animal onesies, and fluorescent clothes, with brass band instruments, who began marching up and down the street. It was quirky and cool, and I would have missed it had I not got lost. Just a few minutes walk out of the city centre was her home. I was recognised instantly as my mother's daughter when I knocked on the front door, and spend a cozy afternoon talking to her friend and her family about travel, Europe, New Zealand, etc. I absolutely love the chance to meet locals when I travel, and it was well worth it. 

Brussels might not have been on my list of travel destination originally, but I really loved it and would definitely go back. 

Next up on the blog - Bruges!