Museums that are open in Brussels on January 1st

Most museums are closed on 25/12 and 1/1, but not all of them! I’m pretty sure you’ll find something that will tickle your fancy. Museums open on legal holidays? The best invention since sliced bread.

For those who like cars: http://autoworld.be/home

aw

For those who like old toys:  http://www.museedujouet.eu/index.php/jouet/gestpages/pageenglish

jouet

For those who like chocolate: http://choco-story-brussels.be/en/Homepage-en

facade2

An art collection displayed in a beautiful Art Deco house – and it has a nice garden as well (my personal favourite in this list): http://www.museumvanbuuren.be/en/home.php

musee-david-et-alice

And for those of you who are still here on the 2nd of January: https://www.comicscenter.net/en/news-flash/opening-hours-during-christmas-break ==> famous Belgian comics in a wonderful Art Nouveau site by Victor Horta.

 

Enjoy you first day of the new year!

 

Kushari

kushari

I’ve just spooned away a nice portion of kushari, originally Egypt’s poor man’s dish, but now enjoyed by everyone. Real comfort food, with vermicelli, macaroni rice, lentils, chickpeas, crispy fried onions and a rich tomato sauce. I like to add some chili, to give it a nice bite. Tastes so good, especially while watching the boats pass on the river Nile. Kushari joints are everywhere in Egypt, it is the country’s street food.

As far as I know, there is only one spot in Brussels where you can get kushari. It’s at Mr Falafel, Bd. Lemonnier, a tiny restaurant which only sells 2 dishes. Fresh veggies are available, prices are low, service is friendly and – surprise! – in Dutch! It is so funny when people talk to the owner in French, and hear him answer “Wablief?”

According to an article in The Guardian, kushari was served to the protesters at the Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Guess who was in the country a few months later? Yep. And it was absolutely my best Egypt trip ever. No busloads of tourists (literally), just a handful of individual travellers. During the day we all did our thing individually, but in the evening we would meet up at a restaurant to mingle with locals, mostly people in the tourist industry, to have a meal together, and to talk Egyptian politics. Not my favourite subject, but I must say that I enjoyed sharing a freshly cooked meal with others, it is one of the joys of travelling alone. The chef would make one single dish, a nice tagine or something typical Egyptian, beer and wine were plentiful. A unique experience.

I can assure you that it is the most wonderful thing to visit the Great Hypostyle Hall almost alone, or just be 2 people in a tomb. Pictures will follow.

Why this all of a sudden craving for kushari and Egypt in general? It is all Joann Fletcher’s fault. This driven and erudite Egyptologist has made a series for the BBC, Immortal Egypt. Her enthusiasm and passion for Egyptian history, her appreciation of things of beauty and her delightful red hair make this series a true feast for the eyes and ears.

All the episodes can be found on Youtube, I listed them here. Enjoy!

1/4 The Road to the Pyramids

2/4 Chaos

3/4 Zenith

4/4 Invasion

 

 

Amsterdammed!

In any museum in Amsterdam, for 59,90€ you buy a Museumkaart, which gives you free access to 400 museums in the Netherlands. Valid for 1 year.

My favs:

Here you’ll find the list of museums with free entrance with the Museumkaart.

FOAM, a jewel specialised in photography.

Eye, the filmmuseum in an upcoing area in the city. Take the boat just behind central station to get there.

Het Rijksmuseum, a must see.

Het Stedelijk Museum, another must see.

Hermitage, not to be missed.

Museum Van Loon, a beautiful house where the happy few organise their weddings 😉

The Royal Palais, a gem.

For those of you who really like Vincent. I think the colours changed too much over time, but they are restoring the works

Tropenmuseum, nice exhibitions.

 

Happy New Year!

Explosions of colour, reflected in the water
Explosions of colour, reflected in the water

This afternoon, I had my first Kulfi of the year. No, that is a lie. I had my first kulfi in my entire life. Thing is, I always skip desert, simply because I never have enough room for it.

A new Indian restaurant opened about a month ago in the center of Brussels (Jai Ho), and today I ate there for the second time. As I entered the restaurant, I greeted the only guest present, an elderly gentleman. We started chatting about travel. He had just flown back in from Hong Kong, where he celebrated New Year’s Eve. Apparently, the fireworks are quite impressive there.  Lucky him, in Brussels everything was cancelled due to an ongoing risk of terrorist attacks.

He appeared to be an avid traveller, and had been to India on several occasions. We chatted about Indian culture, world heritage, food, … and as the conversation continued, he brought up kulfi. The staff being so charming and fun to talk to (the gent was joking with them all the time), they allowed me to eat only bits of my different dishes. Result: I have enough Indian food in the fridge to last me at least 2 days, and I finally got to taste this rich, delicious desert.

This is exactly what I love about Brussels. You can enter a place, and start a conversation with a perfect stranger. Most of the time they are even happy to do so. A very open minded, multi cultural city, I can only hope this will never cease to exist. The kindness of strangers. Stranger than kindness. I can not imagine living anywhere else in this country.

Where else in this country can you have your eyebrows done by threading, for only a few euros? I first got to know this technique in my student years, must have been 1994, on a 6 week trip through Egypt. Waxing your eyebrows can lead to nasty accidents, and don’t even start about tweezers! The address? Oria is located in the centre of Brussels, not far from La Bourse. They do good haircuts too, for half the price you pay elsewhere. The place is divided into two different salons, one for men, and one for women. The atmosphere is warm and amicable; I recommend Saturday afternoon, if you like to see a bunch of beautiful young Arab women getting ready for an evening out. Coming to think of it, I never saw another “real Belgian” woman there. Inexplicable.

So why all this fuss about eyebrows and hairdos and Brussels? Well, tomorrow, I’m starting a new job, as a language trainer, right here in my city. Done with the daily 3 (or more) hour commute to some place in the Walloon Region. I’ll finally be a true “Bruxelesse”, and I’m looking forward to exploring my city, something I never had the time to do before. When you arrive home at 18:15 every day of the week, there is no time to volunteer in a school, or to engage in other activities that can help you truly understand our capital city.

I get a great start in this New Year. I wish you all a joyful, healthy and peaceful 2016. Some words of advice here:

  • be nice, everybody is fighting a fight you know nothing about
  • stay away from toxic people, toxic relationships, toxic places
  • there are a few tricks to slow down time, try them (safety first, of course)

I wish you all the best for 2016. Take good care.

 

 

 

 

The climb to The Eyes of the Mountains

I didn’t do the hike. And I have no regrets about not having seen the lakes. They’re going nowhere, so I can visit them whenever I want in the future, in a different season.

What happened? They’d sent me the same driver, a guy who doesn’t speak a word of English and who reminded me of Manuel, the clumsy and chaotic waiter from Fawlty Towers. Even if the man’s intentions were good, he did not drop me off where I wanted to start the hike.

  

On the road, He had aleady asked several villagers where the starting point was. Not really something one expects of a taxi driver. Because it looked nothing Elena’s description, I called her and put her on the phone with the driver and the neighbour. They insisted that they were right and Elena was wrong, there was no path that fit her description. This man had lived in de village for more than 20 years, if such a path existed, they would have known.

There are 3 ways to the top:

  • the rocky trail, which I hope to hike one day, it a big big challenge and it’s very scenic (but dangerous, also)
  • the ski lift trail, which is comforable and is Elena’s favourite
  • the goat’s trail, as I call it, which is really the oficial one – it is marked.

I did start to follow the red dots, but soon it became more of a pain than a pleasure. After walking for 30 minutes, a steep climb, in the sun (hardly any shade!), goat’s steps in the sand, goat’s and other animals’ dung on the track – not to mention the flies, I decided to all it quits. The beginning was pretty, though.

  
My water supply had diminished way too fast, I realised the view wouldn’t be worth the effert I’d have to put in. On my way back (fast, because happy to get out of there), I bumped into two young, enthusiastic well equipped hikers. Hikers always come in pairs. For safety. I’m patient. That mountain will still be there in 20 years. Take my time (and excercise more).

I followed the road for cars, much easier, walked a bit uphill, the prettiest of mountain landscapes rolling out in front of me.  To make it better, a nice red Mini Cooper convertable is all it takes. And big shade and a scarf for your hair.

That day, I walked the full 20 km back to Bitola. Well yes, I had booked a massage, so there was no excuse not to get some excercise. Gigantic mountain houses with lots of land, a restaurant with a view, some goats (on a walk up to the mountains, ladies? Your track starts right there. Watch your steps though.)

   
    
    
    
   

Pelister, really worth a detour. 

My last stop in Macedonia was Kruševo, a paragliders’ paradise with the best of sunrises. Skopje-Ohrid-Bitola-Kruševo. What a country. Warm, friendly people who will always offer you their help.

Today I am in Sofia, I arrived yesterday after a trip that took 9 hours,  from 5 AM to 14 AM. I’m bit tired, so I chill out in Rd. Vitosha, there are shops, boutiques, restaurants, loung bars. All wih air conditioning! Not that bad. 

Tomorrow hopefully get to the Rila Monastery, than continue to Plovdiv.

Kruševo is waking up

Away from the noise of the city, the city that I love so dearly. Sunrise in the mountains, there is nothing like it. To hear the bells toll down in the village, the birds, … no need for music in your ears here. And look as this. Can it get any better? 

  
I’ve been sitting here since six in the morning. An hour of beauty. And then they say the golden hour is in the evening, at sundown. Sunrise is quieter. 

I remember in Myanmar, a whole crowd had gathered near a stupa in the mountains for sundown. Nobody spoke a word. As if the sun was an actress on stage. She even got applause after dissapearing in the distance. 

Things not to be missed in Bitola

A friendly place to stay: Goldy Hostel

The day before yesterday I spent most of the day reading, writing and photo editing at Zlatko and Elena’s kitchen table in Goldy’s Hostel. Around five, Elena started cooking up a meal. We chatted a bit, Zlatko was off to the market for some grilled fish. If it was possible to bring me some too? Normally you have to order one day on beforehand, but she’d try to call him and see what he could do. Zlatko came back with three grilled fish. If I liked the head of the fish on my plate? Naah, not really. They neither. The salad Elena had made was absolutely delicious and its souery taste went very well with the smokey grilled flavour. Cold cooked potatoes, raw onion rings, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Simple and good. 

  

I planned on two, but finally stayed there for four nights. I had a gigantic double bed all for myself, for 15€/night (22€ when you’re two). Elena and Zlatko have great taste in music, never heard anything I disliked really. When I told Elena that my favourite musician is Prince, she replied: “It is impossible for any girl or woman NOT to be a Prince fan”. We got along fine. 

We talked Macedonian politics, future plans (Elena, a nutrician, is taking up German classes), women’s stuff (yes, your eyebrows do continue to grow when you are on a holiday), and food, of course. Zlatko is right when he says our vegetables in Europe taste like plastic. Impossible to imitate a shopska salad in Brussels. The greens are not as tasty, and the cheese that goes on top is simple unavailable outside Macedonia. Feta cheese is not a worthy replacement. The real thing is richer, creamier and is less sharp than feta. Delicious.

This is the country’s richness: the taste of sunlight in your veggies and fruits. Millions of peaches, peaches for me. Millions of peaches, peaches for free.

  

The secret tip Elene gave me, the Viola Beauty Center, was exactly what I needed after my hikes (long walks, really). A beauty parlour and a fitness studio in one, with jacuzzis, a sauna, massages, and every possible beauty treatment you can think of, even botox shots I think, if you ask ‘m nicely. The massage I got after my supposed hike to The Eyes of the Mountain (see next post) was as good as the ones you get in Asia. Firm hands, kneading away the last bits if pain you went through during your day. These women know what they’re doing. Sorry guys, it is ladies only 😎

Bitola has two good reasons for a stop: as said, it’s near Pelister National Park, and there is the beautifully preserved mosaic of Heraclea. As you walk up there from Goldy Hostel, you can’t miss the Širok Sokak “wide lane”, oficcially called Maršal Tito. It’s vibrant with life, lounge bars, shops and restaurants. My favourite one is Jagoda, you’ll recognise it by the gigantic strawberry (jagoda) on the terrace, and the colourful red and white chequered table cloths. 

  

Before getting to Heraclea, you should stop at the Bitola Museum, located in the former military academy where once Atatürk went to school. What I found much more interesting than the dozens of pictures, heroic stories and even the school grades of Atatürk , was this love letter from “The Girl from Bitola”.

  
A bit further, just follow the leafy park and then turn left (it’s well indicated), is the archeological site of Heraclea, 400 BC. Wikipedia is your friend. 

When you see this lady, you know you’re on the right track.

  
The mosaics are so beautifully preserved, with still vibrant colours. When you pay a little extra for photography (100 dinars entry fee and 100 extra is what I paid), the guy behinds the counters advises you to climb on the ancient stones for the best shots. So I did. Here’s my Indiana Jones 😎

   

According to my guidebook, Bitola is the city of embassies, beautifully restored or beautifully faded buildings. I had no time for a walk about town; the view from my hostel was enough for me. As if I were in France!

  

I regret not bringing some Côte d’Or back from Brussels. Should think of that for my next trip. Luckily and against all odds, I found a big pot of Nutella chocolate paste, a product made in Belgium, at the Ferrero factory in Arlon, in the very south. Elena’s reaction was: “This is exactly what the house needed.”

Everybody happy. Meanwhile I’m in Kruševo, the town is packed with paragliders. There is a competition going on in a few days. No Dutch of Belgian people spotted yet. No mountains in our countries.