The Wonderful Blog World

14 06 2013

I don’t know if I have any readers left out there in cyberspace, but since I was put on sick leave on the 21st May I have been trying to spend as much time as possible in a horizontal position and it’s difficult to blog from there… However, I was told by the doctor yesterday that it looks quite ok for the moment so I am daring to be a bit adventerous and sit up for a while!

I read today on a blog friend’s blog that her son had asked her to make his favourite banana pancakes for his school summer party, and the recipe just happens to be mine!! Her blog post reminded me that I wanted to write about the wonderful blog world:

My blog turned 6 years a few weeks ago and even though I am not a very active blogger anymore, I still read all my favourite blogs and just like my pancake-making friend above, I am reminded every day of the blog community as many of the people I have met through the blog are now my friends on Facebook. Also, the blog world has meant that:

– I have met xx number of bloggers when travelling (New York, Virginia, California, Copenhagen, Stockholm, southern Sweden, and Brussels of course)! And of course this has also meant lots of great travel suggestions!
– We have hosted blog friends who came to Puerto Rico to visit!
– I still can’t believe that I missed the big Swedish blog meeting here in Brussels on the 10th September 2011 as I just happened to be in labour!
– I have had long skype talks with one dear blog friend whom I still haven’t met IRL but hoping to do so one day
– I was given advice on how to proceed to get a Swedish passport for my new-born son (born here in Brussels) by a blog reader
– and through the same blog reader I was introduced to a mother-baby group here in Brussels and through that group made new friends (and my son got some of his first friends!), got breast-feeding support when my son was losing weight at 2 months old, my new doctor was recommended through this group and today I just had a delivery of 5 books to read while resting from the wonderful midwife Jo who runs the group – all which would not have happened if I didn’t have a blog!
– My son V got lots and lots of wonderful presents when he was born from my dear blog friends, some of them I haven’t even met IRL.
– and maybe the most amazing of all: one of my blog friends is going to become OUR NEIGHBOUR!!! (I will let her announce that herself when she’s ready to go public…)

So all in all, the blog world has given me lovely friends, support and information as well as entertainment and distraction when life has been rough…

Thanks everyone and I hope to continue blogging, even if as sporadically as lately.


My Venice favourites

23 04 2013

Every now and then I get asked to give some Venice advice since I lived there for 5 months in 2000-2001. A fellow blogger, Miss Marie, recently asked for Venice tips, so I thought that I would make a blog post out of it. Venice is a magical, amazing, beautiful, smelly, frustrating tourist trap for a city and I know people who visited the city and returned home really disappointed! However, there are ways to limit the disappointments and this is what I usually recommend people to do:

Venice seen from the Lido, Italy

    • The locals drink spritz al aperol, not Bellinis. I know, I know, nowadays a drink famous all over Europe but let me tell you, in 2001 not even the Italian students in neighbouring Bologna had heard of the spritz!!
    • Favourite places for drinks: Campo San Lio close to the Rialto bridge, there is a bar, L’Olandese Volante where we always used to go. Also Campo Santa Margherita which is the square where the students hang out. I usually go to some of the bars next to the “Pizza al volo” “hole in the wall” (by the way, great pizza to eat on a park bench on the square in the middle of the night).

Spritz al aperol, Venice, Italy

    • Another Venetian drink is to order a “ombra“, small glass of wine together with some snacks (Venetian “tapas”) in a bar.
    • Tramezzini are triangular sandwiches that Italians eat for a mid-morning snack, sold in all bars
    • You pay more if you sit down to have a drink / coffee. Be careful on Piazza San Marco (the only square that is called “Piazza” in Venice, the others are “Campo”) as the coffees are VERY EXPENSIVE, especially at Caffe Florian (they add more to the bill if there is live music). Have a coffee standing at the bar instead if you really want to have a coffee there.
    • Visit the San Marco basilica and look at the mosaic FLOOR – it is beautiful and completely uneven after all the aque alte (when the water rises – an unforgettable experience if you ever have the “luck” to see it!)
    • Piazza San Marco is the most romantic and magical in the middle of the night, no tourists, no pigeons, no peddlers trying to sell you cheap souvenirs…

San Marco, Venice, Italy

    • In general, avoid restaurants on the Piazza San Marco-side of the Canal Grande and go towards Piazza Santa Margherita (Dorseduro) as it is cheaper and less touristy, which means better food and better value for money. You will see more “everyday Venetian life” on the other side of the canal.
    • IF you find it, and IF it still exists, check out the restaurant Arca, close to the church San Pantalon (Holy trousers?!) nearby Campo Santa Margherita. Nice pasta and pizza and not very touristy.
    • The Peggy Guggenheim museum – great museum, great location in a small palace next to the Canal Grande. I always visit the museum when I go to Venice.
    • There is a nice ice cream bar on Fondamenta Zattere, and lovely views towards La Giudecca island – also a must for me!
    • The restaurants around the Fish market, close to the Rialto bridge are quite nice
    • You don’t go to Venice to eat well – just remember that! In general Venetian food is not as great as in other regions in Italy. Lots of polenta (I am not a fan)…
    • You always get lost in Venice but it is part of the experience. Look for signs for Rialto, San Marco, Ferrovia (train station) etc, that way you always find your way eventually. Addresses are not used in Venice so ask for instructions how to find a place instead of the “street name”. Getting directions from a local is impressive: “cross two bridges and three squares, turn left, turn right…”, you will never remember it all! Bring comfy walking shoes as there is a lot of walking involved, up and down bridges…
    • If you are looking for shoe bargains – il Gran Viale / Strada nova is the only “normal” shopping street in Venice, the street from the train station Santa Lucia towards Piazza San Marco.
    • I never took a gondola ride, very touristy and expensive (and I was a single student ;-)). Take a vaporetto instead to experience the Venetian ”buses” (i.e boats).

Vaporetto No 1, Venice, Italy

  • A really sweet place for a souvenir is the Itaca Bottega Art gallery, where a very friendly artist, Monica Martin shows and sells her pretty pictures of Venice or more info here: Address: Salizzada San Lio / Calle delle Bande, Castello (close to the church Santa Maria Formosa, kind of behind Piazza San Marco). I fell in love with her art and got one of her paintings as a graduation present from my parents (our graduation ceremony was in the Palazzo Ducale – the only time I have been visited the palace!)
  • If you want to visit any other island, visit Burano for pastel coloured houses or Murano for the glass studios. Don’t bother to visit the Lido, not really worth a visit if you are short of time – believe me, I lived there for 5 months!
  • Ponte Accademia – one of three bridges over the Canal Grande and the only one in wood. Cross this bridge towards Campo Santa Margherita, at one point you might pass a veggie boat where they sell vegetables directly from the boat
  • Campo San Polo is a lovely calm “everyday” square.
  • Literature: The city of falling angels by John Berendt and Out of this century by Peggy Guggenheim.

You can also read my blog post about an unusual hen party for a groom that my friends from my studies in Venice and I organised a few years ago!

A little anecdote which describes life in Venice quite well (and might explain why I keep insisting on “the not so touristy areas…): an Italian friend from Abruzzo (another Italian region) lived and studied in Venice for 7 years. He would always go to the same bar in the morning, have his coffee and chat with the other locals (as he saw it). One day he went into the bar with a friend, a true born and bred Venetian, and guess what: the coffee was suddenly cheaper than usual! It is not official, but apparently some places have local prices, “Italian” prices and the “tourist” prices… I have seen it in a restaurant where the menu was all of a sudden much more extensive when some locals came in for dinner than for us mere mortals (i.e tourists)!

Oh, writing about Venice makes me really want to go back…

Baby’s First April

30 04 2012

Lots of things happened during the month of April, but the first part – Easter – will have to be another post. This is what I did after Easter:

My aunt (moster) J and my uncle (tío) C took care of me in April. Both took me on long walks every day and gave me lots of attention.

I have lunch everyday consisting of protein (fish / chicken / meat) and lots of veggies. The Spanish part of the family has never heard of parsnip (palsternacka / pastinaca or chirivía) nor Jerusalem artichoke (jordärtskocka / pataca or aguaturma) but I like them. And regardless of what they say, my mother will keep giving me broccoli! (despite my sometimes not very happy face).

One way of supporting your finger when sleeping in the car seat. Too bad that I don’t have such an efficient head support…

Daddy and I are trying to decode the books in Swedish, this one is about ingredients for purés… What, you don’t think that “Jerusalem artichoke” is an important first word in a baby’s vocabulary? (it’s actually the first picture / word in the book!!)

I keep getting stuck under furniture, it’s not easy when you can only go backwards – very frustrating 😦

Sometimes I wrestle with my Rabbit Oscar

My parents think that I am too big (and too strong!) for the baby gym now…

My mother says that she’s never seen a yellow rhododendron before, but I prefer looking at trees in the sky

In Copenhagen I slept really well in the fresh air in a garden full of spring flowers. The Bugaboo was actually the 6th pram that I (and my mother) have tried as we keep borrowing prams when we travel…

I skyped with French A and his mother P when we were in Copenhagen. It was really exciting to see a baby who can crawl really really fast on the computer screen. We will meet baby A who is soon turning 1, when we will hopefully go to Geneva in May

I tried baby food from a jar for the first time in Copenhagen, but I didn’t get to taste the yummy home-made pizza with gorgonzola and chorizo

Another one bites the dust 😉 I shared my quilt with Irish C but he was a bit boring, as he only lied flat on his back. Mind you, he didn’t say anything when I touched his face, which was nice as some people claimed that I left scratch marks…

A photo especially for my Swedish grandfather who hates it when people cut the cheese into a steep slope (kälkbacke?). The adults had a weird political discussion on whether it was the fault of the cheese cutter (tool), the person cutting the cheese or actually the cheese? The Danish contingent was saying that it was the stupid Swedish cheese cutter (tool or person?) or maybe the blame was put on the Swedish cheese? One way or another it was something Swedish… 😉

To pack for a baby’s first travel

24 11 2011

Almost two weeks ago now that we moved to the new apartment and this week I haven’t done much unpacking at all! I have been distracted by visitors (yesterday my three French girlfriends and I were all together again for the first time since we went to Seville in May!), activities (last postnatal class yesterday) and appointments (doctor’s on Tuesday for V’s first vaccinations and hairdresser for me today). Also, it has been “the week of the Irish pregnant friends” – my pregnant boss came to visit on Monday afternoon, I had lunch on Tuesday with a new Irish friend who is due any day now, and I chatted to Irish O on Tuesday evening and she gave birth yesterday to a little boy*!

However, tomorrow I have no excuses; I have to unpack my suitcase, full of maternity wear (where to put it??), in order to pack for V’s and my trip to Sweden on Saturday morning! I have made a list, of course. Some of the stuff is the same as I always bring when we are out and about, but the “extended version”:

  • one box of baby formula (do you think that I can change brand when we’re in Sweden or should I bring two, just to be on the safe side?)
  • bottle for travelling and will then buy one or two in Sweden
  • baby toiletries
  • cuddly toy
  • blanket, bibs and muslin squares
  • clothes – I have to sort out all his outgrown clothes at the same time. Our big little boy weighs 5 kg and is almost 60 cm! I had expected to bring thick winter clothes for both of us but the forecast promises temperatures of 6 to 9 degrees. And my mother told me to not bring too much clothes for V as she’s looking forward to some baby clothes shopping…
  • the necessary documentation: V’s “travel certificate”, letter with new Swedish coordination number (samordningsnummer istället för personnummer), declaration signed by O and certified by a friend (“witness”) to allow me to apply for a Swedish passport for V, and his birth cerificate
  • ONE (Belgian child healthcare services) booklet as we will get V weighed at the BVC (Swedish child healthcare services) when in Sweden
  • empty box of vaccine as I need to check with the BVC if a) if V can get his 2nd round of shots there in January and b) if they use the same vaccine as in Belgium. I am aware that we will have to pay for the shots but it is either that or having to fly back to Belgium from Spain just for the vaccinations instead of flying straight to Sweden from Spain after Epiphany. We might try to get him vaccinated in Spain anyway, if it is possible…
  • textiles for the quilt project – my mother and I are going to start “designing” it and then she will sew it. I know, I know, cheating!
  • BabyBjörn, which will be V’s means of transport at the airport

I am so happy that I do not have to bring: the pram, the car seat nor a “travel sleeping bag” (åkpåse) since my parents have borrowed / bought all of these bulky things!

Have I forgotten anything?

*) Irish O is one of my four dear friends from my Master’s, and three of us have had baby boys this year!!

Priorities and Privilege: Holidays and Travels

13 08 2010

A few weeks ago a blog reader asked me: how do you manage to travel so often and to so many places? Quite a pertinent question, especially as I am on holidays at the moment – in Spain!

Wadi Rum, Jordan
When I was in Israel for work in 2006, I spent a long weekend in Jordan visiting the desert of Wadi Rum and the city of Petra

I would say that my travels are thanks to both priorities and privilege, and my answer to the blog reader went something like this:

  1.  Geographic location! Living in Belgium it is quite easy (and cheap) to travel to the neighbouring countries – France, the Netherlands and Germany. Our day trip to Germany and The Netherlands last Sunday didn’t actually cost us a cent since we don’t pay for fuel for the car and our friends invited us for brunch and the drinks (in other words, we didn’t “go Dutch” with our Dutch friends 😉 ).
  2. Also as I have studied and lived in so many different countries (7 so far) and as I stay in contact with my friends, it means that when travelling we rarely stay in hotels. Of course it isn’t completely free to stay with friends – we always bring gifts and make sure that we take them out for dinner at least once – and offer to pay for groceries etc. And we are always willing to house visiting friends (except for at the moment as our apartment is tiny).
  3. Malta
    Malta – another place I visited through work in 2006

  4. Being married to a Spaniard means that I “have to” go to Spain 2-4 times a year, and of course I go to Sweden as many times since I am Swedish. We stay with our families and don’t have to spend money on expensive hotels and meals out.
  5. When we lived in Puerto Rico, thanks to O’s work, we usually combined his business trips to the US with holidays and used his air miles for my plane tickets (he still complains about not having any air miles left over). It is actually also the way we used to travel in my family when I was a child – my mother and us kids would sometimes tag along when my father went on work-related trips. In the summer of 1982 we visited Paris where my father had a conference (or training) and then we continued [driving] to Bretagne (Brittany) and back home via Switzerland to visit my father’s uncle and his Swiss wife.
  6. In Europe we usually drive or use low-cost airlines – planning ahead and booking tickets when they are cheap. When I was a student I criss-crossed Europe by train and it is still one of my favourite ways of travelling. In the BeNeLux*-countries there are (I hope still!) reductions in train ticket prices on the weekends.
  7. I am a sucker for the Lonely Planet guide books!
    There is always room in the travel budget for a Lonely Planet guide (for the record: I haven’t been in South America, Argentina, Egypt, or East Africa – the books have been gifts or in anticipation for travels that have fallen through)

  8. Plan your holidays around the public holidays! A colleague of mine used to complain that I seemed to have more holidays than him – it was just because I combined public holidays with taking [fewer] days off. Every year in January I used to check when Easter, 1st May, Ascension, Pentecost, 21st July, 15th August and 1st November would fall (weekday and dates) and then plan the holidays accordingly.
  9. In conclusion: it’s all about budgeting, visiting friends and family and using long weekends for shorter trips…

Street in Venice
I lived and studied in Venice in 2000-2001

When I check my old calendar, I notice that pre-Puerto Rico-move I used to have at least one trip or visit from family or friends per month. I don’t feel that we have fully taken advantage of living back in Brussels yet but fortunately I have the following trips planned for the rest of the year:

August: Currently in Spain staying with O’s sister and niece in an apartment my sister-in-law has rented by the seaside (south of Barcelona). On Sunday we will head to Aragón, O’s region in Spain where we will stay with his parents for a week. We drove down to Spain, staying overnight with my Swedish friend L and her French boyfriend in Provence.

September: Girls’ weekend in Geneva with my French, Irish, Danish and Swedish girlfriends. Staying with French P and checking out her husband’s new cool bar! I am flying in and out of Geneva really early on Friday and Monday morning, the cheapest tickets mean getting to the airport before 06. Later on in the month O and I are going to a secret location for the weekend – staying with friends and flying with a low-cost airline meant that our tickets were about 100 EUR for two (and are my birthday present for O, hence the secrecy even though he might not read this post…).

October: Swedish-Cypriot wedding in Cyprus! We are going for one week and renting a house with friends, which is cheaper than staying a hotel.

November: Nothing concrete yet, but might go back to Provence for a weekend to visit our friends who are becoming parents in a few weeks’ time. Will either travel by train or low-cost airline, depending on what is cheapest…

December: We are celebrating Christmas in Sweden and will probably drive the 1000 km to my parents’ home.

We should also try to squeeze in visiting my German sister-in-law in Munich, American-Italian friends in London, friends in Ireland and in Amsterdam, Swedish-Norwegian friends in Oslo etc but some of those travels will probably just have to wait until 2011….

Swiss flag
My father’s uncle lived in Switzerland for over 50 years and we would go there every summer to visit him and his wife. One of my best friends lives in Geneva and I will always have a space on her sofa (or floor)…

That is how I can manage to travel so much and often! I don’t deny that I am privileged, with having a maybe generous travel budget, as well as wonderful hospitable families and friends, that permit this lifestyle. However, don’t make the mistake to think that I am used to 5-star hotels and all-inclusive resorts – I have only been on one charter (package) holiday in my life (to Marrakesh in Morocco). Oh, and the Caribbean cruise we went on last December? A last minute deal – travelling just before the school holidays, not having to pay for the plane ticket to Puerto Rico (geographic location again), not drinking any expensive cocktails or doing any gambling meant that we didn’t spend that much money.

*) The BeNeLux countries are Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Show & Tell / Friday theme: How embarrassing!

30 04 2010

The last day of April and Taina‘s last Friday theme is: How embarrassing! That was not an easy subject, especially not to illustrate… However, I will tell you one of the most embarrassing things that have ever happened to me:

The summer of 2006 I had a very intense travel and work period; we had a wedding in Zaragoza at the end of June, in July a visit from my Swedish best friends to Brussels plus one week in Sweden, back to Spain in August for one week’s holiday and a wedding, one week later a 24-hour trip to Italy for a wedding, three days later I went to Malta for a week for work, one or two days after coming home from Malta we headed to the north of Sweden for another wedding (actually my 5th wedding that year as I had also been to one in France in May) and spent one week in Lapland and Lofoten (in Norway), and one day after that holiday I was supposed to go to Israel for a 3-week mission* for work.

A fishing (?) hole in the floor, Lofoten, Norway
Is it possible to do laundry here? A hole in the floor in the house we stayed in at Svolvaer, Lofoten, Norway

As you can imagine it was a bit stressful with all this travelling, but also fun. However, between Malta – the north of Europe – Israel I only had 2-3 days at home and this posed a certain laundry challenge! The first stage of the unpacking, washing laundry, drying and repacking went smoothly, especially as the temperature difference between the Mediterranean and above the polar circle is quite high so the same clothes were not needed. When it came to underwear I was running out though and had to pack some old pairs (that I had not brought to Malta).  

When coming back from Lapland I managed to wash everything but since we didn’t have a tumble dryer, not all my laundry was dry when I had to repack the next day… I decided to pack all the wet items in a plastic bag and to try to remember to hang them up once I had arrived to the hotel in Jerusalem. Since I was going for three weeks and I knew that it wouldn’t really be possible to do a lot of washing, I really had to bring all my underwear but with a mental note of throwing the oldest ones away at the end of my stay in Israel.

Laundry in Venice
Laundry hanging to dry in Venice

Monday morning, I went to the office with my suitcase and met up with my French boss with whom I was travelling. He had been travelling back and forth between Brussels and Jerusalem for a few months already and had left most of his stuff at the hotel, and was just bringing a half-empty bag. When he saw my big suitcase, he offered to take some of my things so I wouldn’t have to risk paying for an over-weight bag at the airport. I opened my suitcase and since my wet laundry was on top in a plastic bag, I gave this to him and explained that I hadn’t had time to dry my clean clothes.

Off we went to Israel, flying via Vienna and arriving in Tel Aviv after midnight. A driver picked us up and drove us to the beautiful hotel, The American Colony, that would be my home for the next 3 weeks in Jerusalem (I will have to write about it one day). Arriving at the hotel at 03 in the morning, and considering that in the last 3 days I had travelled by boat from the Lofoten islands in Norway, plane from above the Polar Circle to Stockholm, attended a 30th birthday party in the Swedish capital, back to Brussels to unpack/repack, and then to Israel I was quite knackered to say the least. I checked in, got the key for my hotel room and said goodnight to my boss who was staying in another part of the hotel.

Hotel room with Swedish decor in the American Colony, Jerusalem
The painting above the bed says in Swedish “Joseph becomes king in Egypt”, the photos on the wall show Swedish missionaries / Christians at the American Colony at the turn of the century

Just when I had climbed into bed, under a traditional Swedish painting (!!), I realised “Oh no, my wet laundry!!!”. Oh well, there wasn’t much to do, I had no idea which room number my boss had, I was in my PJ’s and I was very, very tired. With a little prayer that my boss wouldn’t open the bag of wet laundry, I fell asleep. The next morning I met with my boss for breakfast and I had forgotten about my clothes… We walked to the hotel across the street where our offices were and then I remembered the bag that I hadn’t recovered from the other one’s suitcase!

A little embarrassed I said to my boss; Hey I need to get my laundry back from your suitcase because it is still wet and I need to hang it up so it doesn’t smell… What do you think he answered me? “Pas de problème, j’ai étendu tes vetements dans ma salle de bain” (No problem, I have hung up your clothes in my bathroom). OMG, I wanted to die, how embarrassing!! My BOSS has been hanging up my OLD UNDERWEAR!!!!

Can you imagine my embarrassment – this was not any new and shiny underwear**, these were my old cotton underwear that I was going to throw away before going back to Europe!! Of course I felt a need to explain my old, not so white anymore panties and mumbled something about it all going in la poubelle (garbage) at the end of the mission, and hoped that he hadn’t inspected them too closely. I actually don’t even remember how I got them back, but I guess neatly folded and dry, ha ha!

Beduin camp, Wadi Rum
How do you think the beduin families do their laundry? The desert Wadi Rum, Jordan

The same evening we went out for dinner and my boss suggested that I should start stop saying vous (polite form of you, “ni” in Swedish) to him and that on peut se tutoyer, non? (use the more informal form of you (“du”). I refused!! It was enough that he had seen my underwear and I guess I was trying to draw a line at the intimacy between us… a bit too late though.

We did sleep in a beduin tent together in the Jordanian desert a few weeks later but fortunately there were some German tourists sharing it with us and I avoided (??) another embarrassing situation when in the middle of the night I tried to sneak out for a pee under the stars (no toilets of course), and my boss asked me if he should go with me – NON MERCI!!  

Other embarrassed Friday theme participants:
Anki, Anna, Anne, Anne-Marie, Annika, Bejla, Desiree, Erica, Helena, IamAnnika, IngaBritt, Jenny, Mais-oui, Mrs Clapper, Musikanta, Nilla, Olgakatt, Petra H, Pettas, Saltis, Strandmamman, Sunflake and Taina.

And speaking of embarrassing, I just read in the Swedish newspaper that more than 100 drunken and unruly Swedes had been rounded up and sent back to Sweden from Denmark tonight. How embarrassing!! People used to do this in the 1980’s when the alcohol was so much cheaper in Denmark, but it is 2010 for goodness sake!

*)  A so-called mission as it is called in international organisation lingo… My father always questioned if we are missionaries 😀

**) The question is: if it had been sexy – would that have been more or less embarrassing?? I mean he could have wondered why I was bringing sexy underwear for a work trip!? Oh well, the best would have been if he had never seen my underwear, full stop!!

Absolutely love “Dave goes to Skåne”

19 01 2010

Have you heard of the “Dave goes to Skåne”-campaign? Absolutely brilliant!!

Watch this:

and this one:

I am such an Anglophile and can’t resist any kind of British accent and / or sense of humour…  Read more about the campaign here – the films are official ads to tempt Brits to visit Skåne!

And by the way, I agree – you should go to Skåne in 2010 😉