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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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.

The Ardennes

Last weekend, I spent some quality time with my three best girlfriends in the Ardennes, the most well-known forested area in Belgium. To reminisce over the wonderful memories we made, I thought it’d be a cool idea to make a photo report. Here are some photos that made it to the family album. The pictures are a combination of three locations: Spa, Lierneux and La-Roche-en-Ardenne.

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5 Instagram accounts that deserve a follow

1.  @accidentallywesanderson

Although Wes Anderson’s films may seem like a different reality entirely, this instagram account proves their connection to reality. It’s a collection of picture-perfect places that are from his films or look like they could have been. To me, it’s one of the most appealing and surprising travel photo accounts that are out there.

2. @helloemilie

To keep on the theme of travel, this one I discovered only a few weeks ago, but I love it so much. These photo’s seem like they were taken years ago, in a world where there’s no one but yourself, but I’m pretty sure they are a collection of very recent travel photos by Emilie.

✨❄️ Life Aquatic vibes in @newfoundlandlabrador. #ExploreNL #IcebergsNL

A post shared by e m i l i e ✧ ☾☼ (@helloemilie) on

3. @sadanimalfacts

This so called ‘sad’ account makes me laugh every time! These illustrations combine a fact on a certain type of animal with a funny illustrated caricature. What’s not to love?

Bad news about moths. #sadanimalfacts

A post shared by sad animal facts (@sadanimalfacts) on

4. @visitscandinavia

As a scandi-lover, I can’t leave this one out. This account posts pictures from around the whole of Scandinavia and it’s the one account that makes me ache for a road trip around the continent (and right about now, please!).

5. @charrrl_iie

The Queen of pins and brooches. A visually very appealing and uplifting instagram account that makes me want to wear brooches.

Zeeland – a weekend getaway

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I took a tiny holiday to our neighbouring country, the Netherlands for some sea, sand and fun in Vlissingen, Zealand. To be honest, we didn’t have any expectations, but we were pleasantly surprised by the friendly people, the nice weather, the relaxed atmosphere and beautiful surroundings. Here’s some of the highlights of our trip for your interest, in case you are planning a trip yourself or if you’re just a nosey little creature like me who likes to know what other people do in their free time :-)

Vlissingen – the city centre

We spent quite some time hanging about in Vlissingen’s city centre. Browsed some of the shops, enjoyed the Dutch pedestrian and bike friendly environment, had a cocktail, looked around the harbour, you name it!

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A must-see or do or whatever is the book shop ‘t Spui ! The shop has some great books both in Dutch and English. They even have these surprise books (gift wrapped books that you buy without knowing which book you get) and some great cards to send to family and friends. Even better: the shop leads straight to a florist shop seeing as they are connected indoors by a huge reading table that you are allowed to sit at and read. Coffee, flowers and books: what else does a person need?

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Biking

We did a 40 kilometer bike tour through the dunes, Dishoek and part of Middelburg. Because the landscape is so flat in this part of the country, it’s ideal for biking. Really, it’s the best way to see this part of the Netherlands. It’s how we discovered how pretty this coast is.

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A day trip to Middelburg 

Whether you go by bike or car, the bigger city of Middelburg is only a short while away. Its historic centre is cozy, and if you’re in for some shopping, this is the place to be around here. Take a channel tour and soak up some of the glorious sun while you see the main sights around. A day well-spent!

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I don’t think the pictures need any more explaining, they speak for themselves. If you’re in for a short getaway, for a weekend or a couple of days, this hidden gem of a place is ideal!

Let me know what your favourite getaway place is, I’d love to know!

Until more travels,
Love,
Silke

Valencia – top 5 picks

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days in Valencia, visiting my Uruguayan host sister. Besides seeing her again after 5 years, here’s what I thought were the five main highlights and must-do’s.

            1. Enjoy the green

I had no idea, but it turns out Valencia has a lot of green spots throughout the city, which is something that I really appreciate in a city. With the mellow lifestyle and warm weather, these parks are the perfect place to enjoy an ice cream, read a book in the shade or just catch up with friends.

Jardín del Turia is now a park, but used to be the river bed of the Turia river. You can imagine it’s a huge park, twisting and turning its way through the city.

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Another good one are the Jardins del Reial, which has lots of exotic plants and trees (this goes for Valencia in general, which is quite different and enjoyable if you are from the cold cold north, namely Belgium).

             2. Take a stroll through the historic city centre 

There is just so much amazing architecture to look at. From older buildings to new ones, all of the streets look glorious. Don’t forget to climb the Miguelete tower to enjoy the view from the top too! The 209 steps are worth it. Tip: don’t wear a dress, it can get quite windy up there. Unless you want the whole of Valencia to see your bum, then by all means do like I did.

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3. Buy some fresh produce at one of the many markets

Valencia is the place for foodies with its bustling markets spread across the city. From fresh fruit and veggies to refreshing juices, spices and different types of meats, cheese and fish, it’s all there for you to enjoy. Mercado de Colòn is a renovated old market, but it’s worth a peek. For more of a real market feel, check out Mercado Central: both the inside and outside are beautiful and you can pretty much find anything here. Since Valencia is known for its oranges, try a freshly squeezed orange juice, or buy the original spices to make your own paella.

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             4. Enjoy the climate and take things slow

Because Valencia can get quite hot in the summer, people live on a completely different daily time schedule. Wake up late, take a siesta in the afternoon, go out for dinner late and stay up till the sun sets over the beautiful city. Take things slow and easy.

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           5. Don’t skip the main attraction

Although it’s the one thing that I knew Valencia for, and it does sound like quite a tourist trap, the Océanographic and the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, are both definitely worth a visit, if not for the architecture alone. The pictures don’t lie, it’s a pretty photogenic space… Don’t just skip it!

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Hasta la próxima!

Besos

Silke