BRUSSELS: A WEEKEND GETAWAY FOR V-DAY

karinablog
Many V-day gift guides will soon be popping up left right and centre in no time, so here is my contribution ahead of the game. A guide to one of the best gifts of all: the gift of travel. This year, Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday which makes it the perfect opportunity for a weekend getaway. If you have already ticked Paris off of your list or are looking for an alternative to the French city of love, why not give Brussels a go? I fell in love with the city and the country (and later, the guy) after having spent a year working in the heart of Europe. Below are a few places I hold close to my heart that I think are worth adding to your itinerary.

Bientôt on sera inondé d’une multitude de conseils au sujet des cadeaux à l’occasion de la Saint-Valentin: voici ma contribution pour ceux qui veulent avoir une longueur d’avance. Je vous offre un guide sur un des meilleurs cadeaux: un voyage. Cette année la Saint-Valentin a lieu un samedi, ce qui offre une chance incontournable pour une escapade de fin de semaine. Si vous connaissez déjà Paris, ou si vous voulez éviter cette fois la Ville des Amoureux, laissez-vous inspirer par Bruxelles. Moi, je suis tombée amoureuse de la ville et du pays (et, par la suite, de mon ami!) pendant l’année où j’ai travaillé au cœur de l’Europe. Je veux partager avec vous certains endroits qui m’ont chers et qui valent certainement le détour.


Friday - Arrival in Brussels
boulettes liegeoises
Whether you are arriving on the Eurostar, the TGV or the snail-rail that is the SNCB, a hearty dinner will be much needed. On one of my first nights, I decided to go out and explore on my own and ended up at the Roy D'Espagne on the Grand Place for dinner. With a fire at the centre of the dining hall, it makes for a cosy feast when paired with a plate of meatballs in a Liégeoise sauce.

Après être arrivés – soit à bord de l’Eurostar, en TGV ou à bord d’un train omnibus de la SNCB – vous aurez besoin d’un bon repas. Tout au début de mon séjour je suis sortie un soir et je me suis retrouvée à la Grand’Place où j’ai dîné au Roy d’Espagne. Avec son feu ouvert dans la salle, on mange dans la chaleur un bon plat de boulettes à la liegeoise.

Satuday - A romantic day out
What would Valentine's day be without a bit of chocolate? One of my favourite places to take friends and family is the Neuhaus Café in the Galleries Royales, right next to the very first Neuhaus store. Did you know that it was Jean Neuhaus who created the first ever praline? At the café, you can indulge in an abundance of chocolate as well as many tasty macarons. I would highly recommend the hot chocolate!

On peut fêter la Saint-Valentin sans chocolat? A Bruxelles j’ammène souvent mes proches et mes amis au Café Neuhaus aux Galeries Royales. Le café se trouve à côté du tout premier magasin Neuhaus. Saviez-vous que Jean Neuhaus a créé la première praline il y a cent ans? Au café on trouve le chocolat dans toute sa variété, et il y a aussi des macarons. Vraiment à recommander: son chocolat chaud de rêve.

Sunday - A stroll around the city
place du petit sablon
The Place du Petit Sablon is one of my favourite places. During the first few weeks of my professional training year, I spent many a lunch break sitting opposite the fountain of the Counts of Egmont. If you head on over to the Parc d'Egmont, which is located just behind The Hotel (see below), you can find the Peter Pan statue - a commemoration to the children of the UK and Belgium. The Place Poelaert is a few steps away from the park and it provides for a lovely view over Brussels. From it, you can spot the top of the spire of the Town Hall and even the Atomium far off in the distance. There is a lift right at the edge of Place Poelaert that will take you down to the Marolles area, which known for its antiques, and take a short walk towards Place de Jeu de Balle where a daily flea market runs from 7am to 2pm.

Un de mes endroits préférés, c’est la Place du Petit Sablon-Pendant les premières semaines de mon stage je suis allée plusieurs fois pendant la pause de midi m’installer sur un banc devant la Fontaine des Comtes d’Egmont. Si vous allez au Parc d’Egmont, qui se trouve derrière The Hotel, vous trouvez la statue de Peter Pan qui est témoin de l’amitié entre les enfants de la Grande Bretagne et de la Belgique. A deux pas du Parc se trouve la Place Poelaert, d’où on a une vue imprenable sur Bruxelles. On voit le sommet de l’Hôtel de Ville et, plus loin, l’Atomium. Si l’on descend de la Place Poelaert en ascenseur vers le quartier des Marolles, connu pour ses magasins d’antiquités, on peut continuer jusqu’à la Place du Jeu de Balle, où il y a un marché de puces chaque jour de 7 à 14 heures.

I was lucky enough to have the view from the Place Poelaert as one of my pit stops on the way to work. If I had enough time, I would sometimes take 5mins to sit on a bench before I started my day.

J’avais la chance de passer par la Place de Poelaert en allant au travail. Si j’avais quelques minutes, j’avais l’habitude de m’installer sur un banc afin d’apprécier le panorama de la ville.

This building, the Palais de Justice, quickly became one of my favourites. It was the first thing I saw whenever I left work and took the lift up to catch a metro at Louise to go home.

Le Palais de Justice est vite devenu un bâtiment que j’aimais bien à Bruxelles. Il était la première chose que je voyais en sortant du bureau et en allant vers la station Louise du métro

parc du cinquantenaire
If you have time to wander over to the European quarter go to the Parc du Cinquantenaire at the Metro stop "Merode" on the lines 1 and 5 and climb to the top of the Arc du Cinquantenaire for a fantastic view over the park. Stop for lunch at La Terasse and sit outside under the overhead heaters, snuggling up to your other half.

Si vous avez le temps de visiter le quartier de l’Europe, prenez le métro (ligne 1 ou 5) jusqu’à Merode et montez en haut de l’Arc du Cinquantenaire pour une vue superbe du Parc. Allez manger à La Terrasse, où vous pouver vous blottir, vous jeunes amoureux, sous le système de chauffage suspendu.

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Hotel options
The Hotel Brussels - Boulevard de Waterloo 38 (Area: Ave. Louise)
Price points: 140-450 EUR/night
If a luxurious weekend away is what you are after, The Hotel is your perfect escape. The Hotel boasts absolutely stunning views from its rooms and even the sauna up in the fitness area. Read more about the tea-time they have to offer here in one of our old blog posts.

Si vous cherchez un weekend de luxe, The Hotel répond à tous vos besoins. Les chambres, et même le sauna au 23e étage, offrent des vues spectaculaires sur la ville. Cliquez ici pour de plus amples détails de l’Heure du Thé à l’hôtel.

Hotel Bloom - Rue Royale 250 (Area: Botanique)
Price points: 85-137 EUR/night
This mid-range hotel has a wonderfully modern twist and is located by the Botanical Gardens in Brussels. Staying true to its name, the hotel strongly supports the flourishing of young Belgian artists by having their art covering the walls of all 287 rooms. If you love waffles, just wait and see what breakfast has in store for you... There is a waffle truck inside the hotel!

Cet hôtel de classe intermédiaire, à l’air contemporain et original, se trouve près du Jardin Botanique. L’hôtel encourage de jeunes artistes belges en mettant leurs œuvres dans les 287 chambres. Si vous aimez les gaufres, une bonne surprise vous attend au petit déjeuner: il y a une camionette gaufres à l’întérieur de l’hôtel!

Photo via hotel website
Getting around
Much of what there is to be seen can all be done on foot but you happen to want to move around a little faster I would highly recommend taking the metro. Take a look at this map here.

Déplacements
On peut aller à pied à la plupart des endroits que j’ai mentionnés. Pour ceux qui veulent se déplacer plus rapidement, je vous conseille de prendre le métro (cliquez ici pour la carte du réseau).

#ComeToKerala - PALACE & TEMPLE

Turtle on the beach hotel
After a much needed rest at the Turtle on the Beach Hotel on Kovalam Beach, we hopped on our minibus for a day of cultural exploration in Tamil Nadu, Kerala's neighbouring state. Manoj, our guide, took us out to see the Padmanabhapuram Palace which is one of the biggest wooden palaces in India and explained the meaning behind the palace by breaking down its name. Padma = man with lotus; Nabha = flower in hand; Puram = land - one of the aspects of the Hindu deity, Vishnu. This day trip fell on a Sunday, so it was so interesting to see large groups of people pouring out of churches from Sunday mass. Prior to the trip, I had no idea that there was such a large community of christians in Kerala!

The walk around the palace was followed by lunch at the Travancore Heritage Hotel and a visit to the Padmanabhaswamy temple. We were of course not allowed to enter the temple, as we were not followers of the Hindu religion, but we were able to get up close to see the intricate details of the Gopuram (an ornate tower to signify the entrance of a temple).

Scroll down for more photos 

kerala tourism
The Man, the Manoj! Our trip to Kerala would not have been the same with this fellow. He is so incredibly knowledgeable and as a professional photographer, he was more than understanding and patient when we wanted to stop to take a multitude of photos from several angles.

padmanabhapuram palace
It is common courtesy to remove footwear when entering homes and religious places.
   
padmanabhapuram palace
It was interesting to see such a great amount of Chinese influence throughout the palace. Each of these lotus flowers on the ceiling here have been carved uniquely.

padmanabhapuram palace
I felt like I had been transported to another point in history when we were walking through this particular part of the palace.

padmanabhapuram palace
The king who lived in this palace was known to be a very generous man. He would host over 2000 people in these great halls and provide a sumptuous feast for them.


the travancore heritage
Roti - similar to a tortilla wrap - quickly became one of my favourite things to have with a meal

the travancore heritage
Exploring the gardens of the Travancore Heritage Hotel

Entrance of Padmanabhaswamy temple - photo by Kim Ekman 

padmanabhaswamy temple
Padmanabhaswamy temple

UPLIFT - a documentary series

UPLIFT documentary
UPLIFT documentary
The tragic attack on Charlie Hebdo has opened 2015 with a period of intense mourning and global solidarity. When Mankind turns against its own in such a vicious attack, one can be often left close to speechlessness and, as a blogger, questioning the purpose of running a fashion blog when there are those who tirelessly remind us of global issues. Even though the majority of this blog is fashion, it is primarily my own little corner of the internet, as fellow Luxembourg blogger, Gabriella, also mentions in her post (here).

With such grief and fear dominating the headlines, it can be difficult to see and appreciate the progress  and innovations that we have made as people, and this is exactly what Barnabe Geis and Nisha Toomey have set out to change. Their projet UPLIFT is a documentary series where the two hosts will travel to different parts of the world affected by a conflict or a complex issue and highlight the work , solutions and innovations of key gamechangers.

"We’ll visit communities and meet people from different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and we’ll ask them to recount their firsthand experiences with the issue. Our goal is to understand the problem or conflict from multiple perspectives, respecting the fact that as outsiders we cannot know all the intricacies."

Following a successful kickstarter campaign (view their video below), the team have decided to film their pilot in Burma - the country where Nisha spent two years living in a refugee camp.

As the news stories regarding the suspects of the Charlie Hebdo attack continue to pour in, and with anger and profound sadness continuing to spread as thoughts and hearts go out to those who lost their lives standing up for what they believed in, I remind myself of what Nisha has said of the people she worked with: the "changemakers who channelled their outrage into helping others."

Media:
Gif via Upworthy
Video and collage via Kickstarter


#ComeToKerala: Kumarakom Lake Resort

cometokerala
Photo by Mary Narvasa

One of the most memorable parts of the trip to Kerala has to have been the houseboat ride through the backwaters from Alappuzha to Vembanad Lake where we stayed one night at the peacefully secluded Kumarakom Lake Resort.

After a long drive up from Kovalam beach, we hopped onto a beautiful houseboat that took us to the resort. The sound of the water lapping over the sides of the boat as well as the humming of the engine momentarily brought me back to my blissful summer of sailing in Sardinia earlier this year. Before boarding our houseboat, some of the guys and I bought a couple of Kingfisher beers to compliment the delicious seafood lunch that we ate as we meandered up the shimmering backwaters.

Along the way, the palm trees were aplenty and we saw a couple of lakeside churches that cater to the small communities which live in the area. Some chapels were so small that only the priest could fit inside it! Speaking of churches, I previously had no idea what a large Christian community exists in this part of India. Our tour guide told us that around 20% of the population in this state is Christian which is down to the arrival of the Portuguese followed by the Dutch hundreds of years ago.

Shortly after checking in, and a quick Skype call to my dad to express just how overcome with delight I was, Mary and I hurried off to the infinity pool overlooking the lake where rays of the golden-hour sun coated the swaying backwaters. As darkness covered the lake resort, and after a few attempts at taking underwater selfies which turned out less than flattering, we got ready to have dinner at the Ettekettu Restaurant where we also saw a short Kathakali performance with elaborate make-up which reminded me a lot of the traditionally Japanese theatre, Kabuki.

We did not have that much time to enjoy all that the resort had to offer, but amongst the activities that they offered was fishing and pottery making classes - a nifty way to have a special souvenir to bring back home. They also had a seafood restaurant on the compound which I can only imagine would have been absolutely mouthwateringly delicious. You cannot #ComeToKerala without having a seafood meal!

The following day, I decided to spring out of bed extra early to join a 7am yoga session at the Pool Pavilion with a view of Vembanad lake. I was in such a beautiful part of the country so I wanted to soak up every possible moment. After breakfast, the team and I headed on over to the small village of Aymanam which is also where Arundhati Roy's Booker prize-winning "The God of Small Things" was set. We had such a lovely afternoon discovering the livelihoods of people living there. We were shown how Toddy (palm wine) was made and we even got to have a sip. If the fermented sap is extracted earlier in the day it tends to be sweet whilst if it is left until the evening the taste is a lot more bitter. One of the highlights of the day was being able to try out palm tree climbing. I didn't go to the very top and I certainly was not as skilled as the local man who speeded to the top as briskly as walking up a flight of stairs.

Those 24h that included the houseboat tour, staying at Kumarakom Lake Resort and discovering the village of Aymanam was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Kerala. I would definitely recommend including these things on your itinerary if you ever plan an escape to this part of the world!

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Un des souvenirs marquants de mon voyage au Kerala a été le transfert en bateau de la ville d’Alappuzha au Lac Vembanad, où nous avons logé une nuit – au calme et à l’écart – au Kumarakom Lake Resort.

Après être arrivés en minibus en provenance de Kovalam, nous sommes montés à bord d’une embarcation splendide qui nous a amenés au Resort. Le rythme apaisant du clapotis de l’eau le long des côtés du bateau et le ronronnement du moteur m’ont rappelé les moments heureux que j’ai passés à la voile en Sardaigne il y a quelques mois.

Au cours du voyage nous avons vu au bord du lac de nombreux palmiers, et aussi quelques églises qui servent les petites collectivités de la région. Certaines chapelles sont tellement petites que seul le prêtre peut y entrer! Je ne savais pas auparavant que cette région de l’Inde abrite un grand nombre de chrétiens; le guide nous a dit que le 20% de la population du Kerala est chrétien, conséquence de l’arrivée des portugais et ensuite des néerlandais il y a quelque centaines d’années.

Après être arrivée à l’hôtel et après avoir parlé par Skype à mon père - je voulais lui expliquer mes sentiments de grande joie! – je suis sortie avec Mary, un de mes compagnons de voyage, à la recherche de la piscine à débordement à côté du lac, où les eaux tranquilles avaient une teinte dorée au coucher du soleil. La nuit tombait et nous avons essayé de faire des photos – peu flatteuses – sous l’eau de la piscine. Pendant le dîner au Restaurant Ettekettu on nous a présenté un spectacle Kathakali, dont le maquillage élaboré m’a rappelé le Kabuki, théâtre traditionnel japonais.

Nous n’avions pas assez de temps pour profiter de l’éventail d’activités offertes par le Kumarakom Lake Resort. Parmi ces activités il y avait la pêche et aussi la poterie, moyen astucieux de se procurer un souvenir un peu différent. Il y a aussi un restaurant de fruits de mer, qui offre des mets succulents. On ne peut pas #ComeToKerala – venir au Kerala – sans manger des fruits de mer!

Le lendemain j’ai sauté du lit très tôt afin de participer à la séance de yoga au bord du lac. Le Kerala est tellement idyllique que je voulais absorber chaque moment de mon séjour. Après le petit déjeuner nous sommes allés au petit village d’Aymanan, endroit où se déroule l’action du roman "The God of Small Things", œuvre pour lequel Arundhati Roy a décerné le Prix Booker. Nous y avons passé un bel après-midi en découvrant les métiers des habitants. On nous a montré la fabrication du vin de palme (toddy) et nous l’avons aussi goûté. Si l’on extrait la sève au matin, le goût est plus doux et sucré; si l’on la laisse jusqu’au soir, le goût devient plus âpre. Un des moments marquants de la journée, c’était ma tentative de monter en haut d’un palmier. Je ne suis pas arrivée au sommet, et certainement je n’avais pas l’agilité de l’homme du village qui a grimpé en haut comme s’il montait un escalier.

Pendant 24 heures j’ai fait un voyage sur le lac, logé au Kumarakom Lake Resort et découvert le village d’Aymanan: souvenirs inoubliables de mon voyage au Kerala. Je te conseille fortement d’inclure ces activités dans ton programme si jamais tu as la possibilité d’aller là-bas.

cometokerala
1. Sipping on a Kingfisher beer // 2. Lunch on board the houseboat // 3. Heading out to the pool

kumarakom lake resort
4. Chilling in a hammock // 5. Sunset over Lake Vembanad // 6. With Mary visiting Aymanam

kumarakom lake resort
7. Catching fish (photo by Melo) // 8. On the backwaters // 9. Climbing a palm tree (Photo by Kim)