Peru – the highlights

Last month, we spent some time travelling, and it was the best thing ever. My boyfriend and I went on a group tour to Peru and Bolivia with Koning Aap for 24 days. We came back enthused and with recharged batteries from another trip of a lifetime. Because people are curious and keep asking me what the best part was, here’s a round-up of the best bits (- warning! there’s a lot!).

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Tip! Take the Lonely Planet guide: it was our go to book for recommendations on nice area’s, markets and places to eat and it’s never disappointed us.

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa

If you’re ever in Arequipa (2300m), this monastery is a must! This maze of little streets and houses is surprisingly cheerful. With the contrasting colours of blue and orange, this monastery almost made me want to move in. Almost.

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Ballestas Islands

These islands in the Pisco region just of Paracas are a must for wildlife lovers. The islands are overthrown with guano birds and it’s hard to miss them (or their poop too :) ) when visiting the islands by boat. We also spotted one Humboldt penguin, lots of fur seals and other sea birds. It’s a pretty spectacular sight to see.

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Colca Canyon

Besides the obvious highlights of the trip, this was my favourite part. This canyon is one of the deepest in the world (up to 4600 metres in depth) and is therefore mindbogglingly impressive. Highest point of the canyon is 4600 metres and breathtaking (although sometimes literally). Highlight of our days spent in the canyon was a 50 minute hike to the Cruz del Condor, a viewing platform to spot the condors. A good tip is to not necessarily hang around at the spot if you don’t see condors, because they might be a couple of metres the other way. We spotted no less than 14! Needless to say, we praised ourselves incredibly lucky!

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Huacachina

This oasis in the middle of the dessert is a peculiar sight to see. Because I’d heard the only way to properly view the oasis was from the top of the sand dunes, we didn’t hesitate to book a buggy and sand dune boarding tour. My throat was soar from screaming and I’m still not entirely sure whether it was from excitement or from terror, perhaps a bit of both. The drive was so worth it though, and I think I’ll let the photos speak for themselves here.

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Nazca lines

Nazca is a very desert-y and rocky area and there wouldn’t be much to see if it weren’t for the huge Nazca lines. These ancient drawings compose the weirdest figures but to see them from a 6 person airplane made them all the more spectacular to me. A must.

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Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Because we wanted to have the first view of Machu Picchu the right way, we decided to walk part of the Inca Trail. We enrolled ourselves for the 2 day trek. Really, it’s only one day of walking, but the 12km took no less than 7 hours and was, well, challenging. Pathways are narrow, uneven and 80% of the time, uphill. Nonetheless, there is a lot to enjoy on the way with amazing views on the way as well as the the Wiñay Wayna and the Inti Punku (Sun Gate). Even though it’s only a day worth of hiking, you can’t help but feel ecstatic when you catch that first glimpse of the impressive Inca site that is Machu Picchu. Let’s just say there’s something magical surrounding the whole site and experience.

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Cusco

Out of all the cities or towns we visited in Peru, I think this must’ve been our favourite. There’s a relaxed atmosphere and a decent amount of nice cafés and good restaurants. Don’t forget to go up the San Blas area in the city, it’s got some nice little streets in dreamy blue and white.

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I’ll be posting a blogpost on the best bits of Bolivia soon too! :) Keep an eye out for it.

Until then,

Love,

Silke

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ZOET

Zoet calls itself the tastiest candy shop in Mechelen, and I have to agree! My girlfriend and I stumble across this too cute for words sweets shop on the hunt for cool clothing shops. What we found was better! Zoet is a bright and colourful candy shop that wants to go back to the roots of the little corner candy shop with glass jars and unique products. The sweets they sell are authentic and original. What’s even cooler is that they also have an online shop so you can spoil someone you love or miss or even yourself if you are craving something sweet, without having to venture out to Mechelen. (Would recommend though!) Seriously, I get happy just looking at their website.

Where? In Mechelen, at the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwestraat 108 or online

When? Mondays-Tuesdays from 11am till 5pm, Wednesdays – Saturdays from 11am till 6pm. Closed on Sundays. Online: always open!

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Brussels from A to Z

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If there’s one place I had to pick when it comes to music, it’d definitely be the Ancienne Belgique. They constantly host some of my favourite bands and singers but are also not afraid to invite newcomers. Its location, right next-door to the famous and impressive Stock Exchange called De Beurs or La Bourse, is right in the city centre and on sunny days, this traffic free area is the place to see or be seen.

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As the palace for fine arts, Bozar is one of my favourite museums when it comes to modern art. They constantly switch up their collection and always have some temporary exhibitions going on. It’s where art is life and life is art.

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C  – Place Saint Catherine is the place to be on a sunny day when people flock to the restaurants and bars on the cozy square with the impressive church. This lively area also has lots of seafood restaurants.

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The so called hipster neighbourhood is the Dansaertstraat, where you can spot Dansaertvlamingen (Flemish speaking people that live in Brussels but don’t see themselves as Flemish but rather as from Brussels – let’s say it’s complicated). In any case, it’s where all the cool kids shop till they need a latte.

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In 1935 Brussels hosted the World Expo and for that, our infamous balls of steel, aka the Atomium were built. Now the Heizel still has some gigantic halls left over and to date this is still the place to be for huge events and enormous shows or exhibitions.

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Place Flagey is just one of those places that everyone knows: this oasis of space contains a mixture of cultures and architectural styles and is therefore an unexpected discovery where creative spirits meet. Yet another great place to people watch and soak up the sun.

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If you’re looking for the #1 attraction for tourists, it’s definitely the Grote Markt or Grand Place. This place is the most central in Brussels and it’s where all the historic guild houses as well as the Town hall are located. Try some chocolate on your way there in one of the many praline shops.

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H is definitely for Horta, one of the most famous art nouveau architects ever.  Lots of houses and buildings in Brussels still carry his signature and his style is what makes me look up in awe from time to time. If you’re looking for another gem of an architectural creation, check out the Sint-Hubertusgalerijen, not by Horta, but nonetheless magnificent. Especially around Christmas time, with the lights covering the ceiling.

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Brussels is basically one big international food market. You can try anything here: from Italian to Moroccan, from Lebanese to Chinese, from Japanese to Indian, from French to Scandinavian, from Turkish to Mexican: it’s all here!

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We all know Manneke Pis, right? The peeing statue that is disappointingly small (“That’s it ?!”). If you’re looking for a different approach, check out Jeanneke Pis, the lesser known female version.

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The Kruidtuin, also known as the Botanique, is one of the gardens worth a visit in the city. The garden is located right next to the famous concert hall with the same name.

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If you’re looking for a place to spoil yourself with some expensive shopping, the Louizalaan is the place to be. This super duper fancy shopping streets leads to the Gulden Vlieslaan, where some of the big shops like Prada, Louis Vuitton, Furstenberg, Gucci – to name a few – are located. A girl can dream (and window-shop), right?

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One of my favourite places is definitely the Mont des Arts or Kunstberg. Besides being the hotspot for all the cool museums, this hill offers a unique viewpoint over Brussels. The perfect place to sit on the stairs and watch the world go by until the sun sets.

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The Museum of Natural Sciences or Natuurwetenschappen Museum is just one of those museums that are cool to see. Have a browse through the stuffed animals or pretend to be a dinosaur. So many options.

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For the opera lovers out there, the place to be is the Munt or La Monnaie. Besides the opera, the Muntplein is a lively place with more often than not, lots of activities going on.

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I love a good cityscape view, which is exactly what the Poelaertplein or Place Poelaert offers. It’s located right next to the Justitiepaleis. If you look closely, you might be able to spot the word “Hollywood”. Let me know if you find it!

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As the capital of Europe, it speaks for itself that there is a Quartier Européen. It’s where the big buildings are with all the European organisations. There’s some nice places to eat or have a coffee there too!

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The main shopping street is called the Rue Neuve or Nieuwstraat. It’s where the mainstream shops are. It’s located between the Munt and Rogier.

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Another one of my favourite area is Sint Gillis, which I like to think of as Hipster Central. It’s where you can find edgy beer shops, second hand stores, cool coffee bars. It’s a nice place to hang around on a sunny day and just discover.

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My favourite green area is definitely Ter Kamerenbos or Bois de la Chambre. We drive through it often, but more enjoyable is the walking and biking. It’s quite big, but that’s what makes it so nice to venture out there: there’s always a quiet spot somewhere to soak up the green. Whether it be summer, winter, autumn or spring – it always draws me in.

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As most big cities, Brussels is also a university city, with the ULB and VUB on the edge of the city. It’s pretty cool to see how the students just blend in with the inhabitants.

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If you take the elevator at Place Poelaert, it will lead you to the Marollen, a place for strolling past the second hand shops or browse the brocante market at the Vossenplein or Place du Jeu de balle, after which you can have a beer in the sun. An afternoon well spent.

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Another day, another park – The Warandepark, or more often called plainly, the Park, is the park across the Royal Palace. It makes for a nice place for a stroll and perhaps a Liege waffle?

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It seemed impossible to find something with an X until I realised what was right in front of me (e)Xpats – okay I cheated a little bit. One of the reasons I love it here so much is hearing the different languages from all over the world and hearing about people’s experiences with Belgium as a country.

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Yzer is located in the northern part of Brussels. It’s the area with Tour& Taxis, one of the biggest sites and buildings that regularly hosts events or festivals. Besides that, there is also the Kaaitheater with innovative and surprising performances. Near the water, the Kaai, in the summer there is Brussel bad – a makeshift beach with cocktail bars and Latin-American music.

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The Zavel or Sablon is located in the heart of Brussels. It’s got a market on weekends and houses COCO donuts – the best donut place in Brussels (so far). Park Egmont offers another green oasis in the busy centre.