Lisbon

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I took a little trip down south to experience the colourful city that is Lisbon. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and while it’s going to be hard top pick the best parts, here’s some of our favourite parts… :)

On our first day, we went to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, an old monastery in typical Portuguese style belonging to the UNESCO world heritage. It’s located in a part of Lisbon called Belém. I honestly believe that if you’d give me a book and a nice drink, I could spend all day there; reading, watching people, enjoying the scenery.

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In Belém, we skipped the long queue at Pasteis de Belém because we figured it was a tourist trap. Instead, we spent our time roaming around the severely underrated botanical gardens, Jardim Botanico Tropical.  Really, it felt like we had the entire place to ourselves, with only a few street cats lazing around and a peacock or two (three, four,…) crossing our path. If you’re an exotic plant lover like me and you love to discover hidden nooks and crannies in parks, this is your place. We felt like we were in a different continent.

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On our second day, we went to Castelo de Sào Jorge, the main fortress built on one of the seven hills that form Lisbon. It overlooks the city and the Tagus and the views do not disappoint. It’s hard to move away from the edge and stop taking pictures of the abundance of colourful houses.

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To many of the disadvantages of visiting the city built on that many hills, there is one major plus side: there is a multitude of viewpoints spread across all neighbourhoods in the city. One of my favourites included the Miradouro Portas do Sol. Sipping cocktails while overlooking the tiny streets of Alfama makes for the ultimate summer holiday vibe.

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Our third day in Lisbon took us a little bit outside the city. We’d booked a small group tour to Sintra, Cascais and Cabo da Roca. If we’d known how little time we got in Sintra, we’d have probably preferred to spend a whole day there and just skipped Cascais. Cabo da Roca was worth a visit though. Plus we were thinking the view on Pena Palace would be a best from the Moorish Castle just across. Maybe next time?

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Cabo da Roca is the most Eastern point of Europe and that means it provides anyone daring enough to look over the edge with magnificent coastal cliff views. Again, wish we could have spent more time here instead of Cascais, which was a disappointment.

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Another cool place with a little bit of an edgy vibe is LX Factory. This market is located in an industrial area between the centre of Lisbon and Belém. All shops are located in old factories. Hipster central, pretty much. My favourite included a book store (no surprise there, right?) that was set up in an old press room. Also, do not, I repeat, do not skip the Landeau chocolate cake. I still have dreams about it sometimes. From there, it’s only a short walk along the Tagus river to the cozy harbour, Doca de Recreio de Santo Amaro.

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Other than that, we spent most of our time roaming around the city, enjoying a multitude of things that are easy to find in Lisbon: eating pasteis de nata, sipping cocktails, photographing and admiring the azulejos and not minding getting lost in the small, colourful streets of the city.

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Also, one golden advice: download the Uber app and use it in this city! It’s the cheapest, easiest way to get around. We tried the public tram system, which was more expensive and waaaay too crowded. Your burning thighs will be grateful. The hills are no joke, take walking shoes (with a non-slippery sole preferably).

Are there any other places in Portugal that we need to put on our bucket list?

Love,

Silke

Unusual Paris

A couple of weeks ago we spent a weekend in Paris as an early Valentine’s celebration. Because both of us had already been to Paris before, we decided to spend the weekend visiting some of the rather unusual sights. And to be honest, they were beter than the crowded lines at Louvre. Here are some of the visits we enjoyed.

Deyrolle

Deyrolle is a big manor house that houses a taxidermist. Although it may sound a bit weird or creepy to some, it’s a delightful sight to see. The house really is FULL of stuffed animals. You can also see the taxidermist’s work place, which is interesting. And, if you really want to, you can buy that stuffed bison you’ve always dreamed of putting in your living room.

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Marché aux puces St. Ouen

This second hand market is located a little bit outside of the city centre in the North of Paris. Once you get through the dodgy looking part that sells fake everythings and (pretty sure stolen) phones, you will get to the antiquarian part. If you’re looking for LPs or cool prints and unique furniture, this is the place to be. Thoroughly enjoyed browsing this maze of oldies but goldies.

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Shakespeare and Company

Shakespeare and Company is one of the oldest book shops in Paris. En plus, it’s an English book shop, which are hard to find in France in general. This shop is literally filled with books, every nook and cranny. There’s also really cozy spots to read upstairs and a piano that people can play if they feel like it. Besides, there is also an antique book shop and a café right next door. What else does a book lover need? Am I right?

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The rooftop view at Galleries de Lafayette

Although Galleries de Lafayette is a pretty well-known shopping centre, most people don’t know about their amazing rooftop view. You can spot tiny people and a pretty cool view of the Eiffel Tower. Well worth a visit around sunset.

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Feel free to let me know what your hidden gems are in Paris (or anywhere, really).

Love,

Silke

Vienna

A week ago, I left on a last-minute solo trip to Vienna. I decided to spend my few last free days doing something that I love, namely travelling. So, I booked a ticket and a hostel and a week later I was on my way. Here’s a play by play of what my trip was like.

First off, I arrived late in the evening at my hostel, the Wombats City Hostel. I believe it is one of the very, very few hostels in the city, which means you are bound to make friends there if you travel solo. There were lots of solo travellers there, which was nice. Overall, great hostel, would definitely recommend.

One other tip is to buy a 24 or 72 hour pass for the metro (the U-Bahn), an easy way to get around in Vienna. Or you can walk if you like that, which is very doable too.

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The first place I went to is pictured above: Karlsplatz with its famous Karlskirche. Entrance for students was only 4 euros, and that includes an elevator ride up to the dome and a view over the city (behind bars, unfotunately). Nonetheless, the outside is more spectacular than the inside, unless you are into baroque dome paintings and lots and lots of gold.

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Next up was Schönbrunn, one of the most famous palaces in Vienna. And you could tell by the number of people there, so touristy. I originally only intended to visit the gardens, but due to unfortunate stormy weather, they were closed. So I took the shorter tour of the inside rooms (there is a long one with 44 rooms, and a short one with around 20 rooms). And let’s be honest, if you’ve seen one of those castles, you’ve seen them all. I was truly impressed by the length of Princess Sissi’s hair though. I’m sure she could’ve donated her hair for about 20 wigs to ThinkPink.

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That same night, I went back to the castle because I’d let some weirdly dressed guy that kept calling me “milady”convince me to go to a classical concert there at the Orangerie. When you’re travelling solo and you don’t really have much to do in the evenings, your brain is bound to think YOLO and say yes to things you usually wouldn’t say yes to. So I went, and it was great! The concert consisted of two 40 minute parts, one with music from Mozart and one with music from Strauss, both accompanied by dance and opera singing. It’s strange how much classical music you recognise without even realising you know it! I thoroughly enjoyed watching some of the guests come to the concert in proper ball gowns and taking place front row while I was sitting there in my jeans at the back row, with the plebs. So, if you get the chance to see ANY concert in Vienna, it’s a must do.

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The next morning, I was meeting some friends that I’d met over the summer in Canada. They were kind enough to meet me in Café Central, one of the most famous coffee houses in Vienna, and if I may believe so, the most beautiful. It dates back to the fin-de-siècle coffee culture that was prominent in Vienna at that time. It was known to be the place for Austrian writers like Peter Altenberg and other famous visitors like Freud and Trotski. It’s a great place to go in the morning as there is still room to sit (not so much in the afternoons, I was told by my personal guides), the breakfast is great and it’s a perfect departure point to go visit other main attractions the rest of the day.

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One of my next visits was to the Hundertwasserhaus, a series of apartments that remind me a little bit of Gaudi, but are a work by the architect, you guessed it, Hundertwasser. They’re a bit out of the way, but I found them interesting enough to put in the effort. Also, it was a nice break from the rather busy and “touristy” areas of Vienna. One of my favourites parts of the trip.

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Next up, I went to Stephansplatz, a central part of the town, with lots of (souvenir) shops and people. The main attraction of the square is the Stephansdom, which you can enter for free. Although the interior, again, didn’t really speak to me, I find the roof kind of interesting and pretty. It reminds me of the Matthias church in Budapest. Being neighbours, I guess it’s logical that they would have some influence on one another. With the Christmas lights still up, Stephansplatz was a nice area to wander around though. Two places I recommend going are, firstly, the Haas&Haas Tea shop, only for the smell if not to buy something. The second place is a good one for dinner and another recommendation by my friends, who called it “very Austrian”. It’s a place called Jonathan&Sieglinde and all of their dishes are made with apples or potatoes. Sometimes both. The food I had there was divine.

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The next day was already my last day, and because it was so cold (-11°C, but with windchill about -20°C), I decided to spend it visiting a few museums. The first place I went to was not a museum, though, but a secret, hidden gem called the Ferstel Passage, right behind Café Central. It’s a gorgeous gallery that goes past a tiny square with a fountain (you’d think it’s outside, but there is a huge glass dome). It looked like something out of a movie.

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Onwards, I walked past the Hofburg and went to the National Library, a definite must-see for any book lover. I was suffering a serious case of library envy (yes, that is a thing and if it’s not, it should be). I tried to take some pictures but they don’t do the place justice.

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My next stop was the Museum Quartier, where I went to the Leopold Museum. If you like paintings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, this is the museum for you. Also, the building has some cool windows which offer good views of the city. (I seem to have developed a love for museum buildings rather than the artefacts themselves, is that strange?) Also the MQ shop has some really cute stuff, worth a visit.

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My last stop was the Secession, a very small museum, but with one of the most fun exhibitions by Francis Alÿs. His art pieces are tiny, tiny works of art on pieces of wood of about 10 by 15 cm. You get a magnifying glass to look at the art pieces. At first glance, each art piece represents a very mundane habit, but if you look closely, each piece is absurd. In between each piece there is text. The text doesn’t necessarily say anything about the picture, but nonetheless, the pieces and text are interactive. Loved it!

Back to Naschmarkt I went, to pack my bags to go home. If you’re in that neighbourhood, there is a good burrito bar called El Burro. Cheap, cozy and delicious.

Now, that’s that. Auf Wiedersehen!

Eindhoven

Last weekend my boyfriend and I took a small trip to Eindhoven to see how our neighbours live. Eindhoven is a short drive away and yet radiates a different atmosphere entirely . What we discovered was a city known for its good food, lots (and lots and lots) of shops and design. Here’s a few photos of what we enjoyed and what I believe you might too if you ever end up there.

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Boekenhandel Van Piere. If you love books and magazines as much as I do, you will love this bookshop. It’s got Dutch as well as English books, a little café in the back and some very cute book-related home decor that I didn’t need but couldn’t resist nonetheless. More info here.
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Walking the streets. We were blessed with two gorgeous autumn days, which allowed us to fully enjoy the quietness of the city. Lots of bikes, which means less cars, which means a very enjoyable city to explore on foot. 

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Enjoying all the trees around and how they capture the light. 

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Visit the Van Abbemuseum. Although I initially was disappointed that this museum was not an ABBA museum (which is in Stockholm), I enjoyed sniffing a bit of culture in this museum about modern art. More info here
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What’s even nicer is the fact that the museum is located in a pretty nice area. It’s situated on top of/in the river de Dommel and downstairs there are glass area’s that give you the feeling of hanging out in your veranda and allow you to watch the trees, the river and the complementary ducks. 

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It even had this art piece that told you to take off your shoes and cozy up in this suspended car. What’s not to love, right?
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Finally, the museum has a pretty cool design, capturing lots of light. It is clear from its outlook that Eindhoven is a design hub. The many design stores in town (some of the side streets of the main shopping streets are the best places to check out) are proof of that.
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Last, but certainly not least, did I mention our awesome breakfast we had at Meneer de Boer, a cozy cafe with good coffee (according to Gillian) and to die for pancakes (according to myself). More info here

Happy travels,

Silke

10 Things To Do in Vancouver

1. Lynn Canyon 

Basically the Capilano Suspension Bridge’s little sister. A tad smaller, but without the big groups of tourists. Plus the area feels less like a tourist attraction, but more like a national park.

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2. Bike around Stanley Park

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s best known and biggest park. It’s kind of located on a peninsula, which makes that it is surrounded by water. Although it’s doable, the park is best explored by bike. The tour around the island is only 8km, it’s very easy and a bike can get you from one sight to the other all under the time limit of one day. Make sure to get off your bike and explore the park: it is GORGEOUS.

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3. Vancouver Aquarium

Located in Stanley Park, it’s an easy stopover on the way and it makes for a nice break from cycling. It’s a very nice and informative place to learn more about aquatic life, however, it is crowded.

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4. Walk along the city’s Waterfront

All the way from Yaletown to False Creek, there is a boardwalk that gives you a view of the city from the waterfront. It’s peaceful, has lots of things to see on the way and especially good to pay a visit around sunset.

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5. Capilano Suspension Bridge 

Although I did mention Lynn Valley (and Canyon) as well, I still really enjoyed Capilano. I wouldn’t just trade one for the other. They’re both pretty cool. Capilano is easily accessible from the city with the free shuttle bus service provided by the park.

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6. Eat poutine

We had our poutine at Fritz, and I have to say it was the best one on my whole Canada trip (I had two more in the 3 weeks that followed, sorry not sorry). It’s probably the greasiest, unhealthiest and most disgusting national dish I’ve ever seen and I can pretty much feel my arteries clog up by simply looking at the picture below, but this just goes to show that you should not judge a book by its cover. It’s pretty good.

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7. Take the cable cart (or hike up) to Grouse Mountain

Unfortunately we had booked our tickets for a very, very foggy day. I was, we couldn’t see the view of Vancouver and the sky lift that we had booked was pretty much useless because we couldn’t see anything. Bad luck, but I’m guessing the mountain is a pretty spectacular place on a sunny day (so maybe, pro tip: wait to book your tickets!). Nonetheless, we still had a great day with the Lumberjack show, trying to spot the bears (but seeing a wild deer instead) and watching all the hikers reach the top of the mountain hot and sweaty after doing what is called The Grind (a hiking trail of 2.9 km consisting almost solely out of stairs having thus an elevation gain of 853 metres).

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8. Enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life

Despite being one of Canada’s biggest cities, Vancouver is one of the most enjoyable cities I’ve been to. It’s green,it breaths open-mindedness and is colourful in every way possible. (Window-)shop, enjoy the varieties of food,…

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9. Visit the Vancouver Art Gallery

It’s not very big, but if you’re lucky there will be some nice exhibitions on. What I would definitely recommend is visiting the museum’s café, though. It’s like a secret garden, away from everything right in the centre of the city AND their food is pretty great.

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10. Walk around on Granville Island

Granville Island has everything you need if you are looking for a relaxing afternoon or a good lunch spot. It’s got the waterfront, cute shops, a nice atmosphere and a great food market. If you weren’t hungry before going in, you definitely will be by the time you come out.

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What are you waiting for?

Seattle

Up until a few days ago, Seattle to me was the city of Grey’s Anatomy, rain and ferries. It was all I knew about it, but I was keen to discover what else this place had to offer besides its iconic Space Needle. So here’s an overview of what I’ve been up to these past 4 days.

I arrived late Monday evening, after a 7 hour flight from Reykjavik, where I had my layover, after a 3 hour flight from Brussels. Relatively short compared to other flights I’ve taken to Asia or Australia. I sat in between two really nice blokes from the US on the way there. One was from California, was married to a Norwegian woman and was on his way back from travelling through Scandinavia. The other guy was a local Seattle guy working for Microsoft, excited to be reunited with his girlfriend after 30 days of travelling through Tanzania, Kroatia, Slovenia, The Netherlands and Iceland. He gave me some great tips of places to eat and sightsee in Seattle and told me a bit more about the city. Off to a good start.

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It’s a short and easy ride from the airport to the city and so without any trouble I arrived in my hostel about 7.30pm. Despite being really tired, I didn’t get much sleep on the first night. Jetlag, I guess.

The next day, I was up by 5am, but lay in bed until 7 before heading out to the Space Needle. I thought I’d start by going to see the touristic highlights first before deciding what else I wanted to do. But first I want to mention something else, a part of travelling that not a lot of people talk about. I’m sure it seems that I was having a great time by the looks of my Instagram feed or Facebook, but somehow the first day I was overcome by anxiety and homesickness. I wanted to go home. Why? I don’t know. It’s never happened before, but I guess it’s part of travelling too. I just let it happen and let it pass. But anyways, I went to the Space Needle and it seemed I was the first one there. It was a cloudy and cold morning, a typical occurrence in Seattle, I’ve learned (the hard way, by slowly turning into an ice cube myself every morning). The view was good, but as far as loving city life, I’d have to say it’s not my cup of tea. Gimme flowers, the green, the water. Turns out I need my daily portion of grass (That doesn’t make me a cow, now, does it?). So, the view was good, but I’m not much for the concrete, urban jungle.

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After visiting Seattle’s iconic landmark, I went next door to the EMP Museum. Basically, it’s a museum that exhibits pop culture, ranging from music to science fiction, horror and fantasy. I especially enjoyed the great music hall they had so I sat there for half an hour watching music videos. Seriously, I’ve never seen a screen that big!

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That same day, I went to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition. Although I originally had booked a 3pm ticket, the lady at the front desk was nice enough to let me go in sooner, so I didn’t have to sit around and wait. I don’t know if it was the beautiful glass works or finally seeing some flowers and green stuff (plants! grass! trees!) that made my mood that much better, no more homesickness, yay! Or maybe I’m just really influenced by the weather, because the sun had come out too.

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I decided I had more than enough spare time to take the Monorail into the city centre to do some Sephora make up shopping. Just a tiny bit of heaven for any make up lover. All the brand that we don’t get in Belgium, amazing! Needless to say a bit of damage was done. At least I’ll look good when I’m broke.

After that I went back to my hostel, the City Hostel Seattle, which I would recommend. I stayed in a four bedroom all female dorm with a bathroom attached (what a luxury, really, it’s so convenient not having to drag all your clothes and toiletries down the hall and having to go back half-naked when you realise you forgot your shampoo (yes, that’s happened to me)). The staff was very friendly and helpful, breakfast was good (toast, fruit, cereal, free coffee and tea) and linens (except for towels) were included. Plus it is located walking distance from pretty much all the sights.

I decided that the day shouldn’t be over yet, so I grabbed my book and walked towards the Waterfront, where I took a stroll on the boardwalk, before basking in the sun whilst reading my book. The water always has a calming effect on me for some reason. Perhaps I was a mermaid once, who knows. In any case, I enjoyed some people-watching, some reading, some walking, before heading back to my hostel, where I met a girl from LA, Tanya.

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She and I  started chatting and when I suggested to have dinner together, we ended up planning an entire night. We had dinner downtown, took an Uber (Thank you, Tanya, for introducing me to the wonderful world of Uber) to the Columbia Centre (Thanks, Heleen, for the recommendation!). One of the highlights of my stay in Seattle to say the least. We made it well in time before sunset and with a 360° view over the city, the water and mountains (you can see mount Rainier from up there) from the 73rd floor, we had quite the spectacular evening in store for us.

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Taking advantage of having a like-minded friend, Tanya and I decided to take an Uber to Fremont the next morning. It’s supposed to be this more artsy, relaxed and alternative area North of Seattle. We went to Gas Works Park, where I turned into an ice cube again, walked up underneath the bridge to see the Fremont troll (it’s pretty cool, I like it a lot), before realising that that was pretty much it and heading back to our hostel. I took some time to edit my photos, have a little nap before saying goodbye to Tanya, who was headed back to LA.

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I took another stroll down to the water because I liked it so much the day before and this time I bought myself a ticket for the Seattle Great Wheel. I got one of the booths all to myself and the staff was kind of making fun of me for going on the wheel all by myself, but I couldn’t have cared less. YOLO. If I wanna go on the ferris wheel, I’ll go on the ferris wheel.

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The third full day, also my last day, I went to one of the other must-sees of Seattle, Pike Place Market. It sounded very touristy, so I wasn’t too keen, but I actually really enjoyed it. It was busy, but I enjoyed seeing the crowds, smelling the different foods and I loved how colourful the market is. If you’re into trying new foods, or want to get some cool souvenirs, this is the place to be. I spent a good amount of time in Starbucks (not the first and therefore oldest one,that one was way too crowded) sipping a mango carrot smoothie before heading to the Seattle Art Museum, which was big, but didn’t have any art that really sparked my interest.

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Finally, I went to see the Gum Wall, which is located in a tiny alley near the market. It’s both gross as well as intriguing. It’s so disgusting you can’t look away and you decide to take  a selfie instead of questioning this “art form”.

 

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And that’s pretty much what I did with my time. I spent the final afternoon relaxing in my room, talking to my new roomies, who joined me for dinner too (from Korea and Germany), and packing. I also found out my final exam results ever! I passed everything, so that calls for a celebration when I get to Vancouver (I’m on the train writing this). I’m happy.

Happy travelling!

Until the next stop :-)