Norway – the best of

A week ago, we came back from the cold north that is Norway and were blown away by the astonishing landscapes and dreamy, wintery views. We will definitely be going back in summertime someday to see the great contrast. Because I’m all about spreading the joy, I thought I’d share my favourite bits and pieces, including photos, of our trip. We stayed in Oslo for four days and took the Oslo-Bergen railway to, you guessed it, Bergen, where we spent another 3 days before heading home.

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Things you shouldn’t miss

  • Oslo Operahus. It’s undeniably one of the city’s architectural masterpieces. Impressive in winter, with the frozen harbour, I can only imagine the grandiosity it must radiate in summer, when the roof is the best place to catch some of that sparse soleil.
  • Korketrekkeren. This translates to the English equivalent of “The Corkscrew”. It used to be a winter sport practice course, but is now open to everyone for… sledding! And it’s one of the most fun things I’ve done in the snow for sure. You simply take Metro line 1 up till  Frognerseterveien, where you rent a sledge and helmet and off you go! And what’s even better is that you can take the metro back up at Midstuen and go again. Easy peasy.
  • Norsk Folkemuseum.  Although a bit chilly and slippery in winter, the peace and quiet of the outdoor museum and the colourful old houses make up for it. If you plan to go, try going on the weekends, when they have lots of activities going on, even in winter. We did some banana and chocolate grilling on the campfire.
  • Det Kongelige Slottet. The royal palace is located on a bit of a hill and offers a fantastic view over the main shopping streets and a beautiful park.

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Things you can skip

  • Vikingskipmuseet. Although the viking ships are impressive, you’ve pretty much seen everything the museum has to offer on their website. 100 NOK felt a little bit much for the size of the museum. A tourist trap, if you ask me.
  • Nasjonalmuseet. The museum itself is relatively big and provided me with an okay indoor visit, but you won’t be missing out much if you skip it.

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Places to eat

  • Gryn. A concept restaurant that specialises in porridge with typically Norwegian ingredients like brunost (brown cheese) as well as waffles (savoury and sweet). Great place for a quick lunch!
  • Munchies. With two places in Oslo, they are the best burger places. Quick, easy, delicious. Try the sweet potato fries.
  • Rent Mel. Although expensive, this pizza place next to a hotel, had a-ma-zing pizza’s. The best.
  • Taco Republica. This place has delicious taco options. You can mix and match to your liking. Make sure to book a table, though.
  • Retrolykke Kaffebar. The best place to try waffles with jelly and cream. The entire interior reminds of the 50s and 60s. I love the mismatched cutlery, cups and plates.
  • Liebling. A good place for lunch or coffee. Cozy and homey with plenty of space. Great pie. They also have a variety of colourful lattes.

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To shop

  • Norway Design. The best place for design. Also a stationary lover’s dream.
  • Ting. Cute little gadgets that you don’t need but desperately want anyways.
  • Glasmagasinet. Basically, you could’ve just left me here to live and I would’ve been perfectly happy. It’s like a dream for any design lover. They also have a fabulous Kicks department which is perfect for any make-up or skincare lover.

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Oslo – Bergen railway

A highlight of our trip was definitely the Oslo-Bergen railway. We had booked tickets 2 months in advance, which was the perfect time because that’s when you get the “minipris”, which is cheap tickets. You get to choose your seats and there is no hassle of checking in, just hop on. Bring plenty of snacks and reading or listening material because you are settling in for a 6 hour train ride. Things never get boring because after every tunnel, a new and magical scenery appears. Sit back, relax and enjoy (it’s easy).

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Bergen

Things you shouldn’t miss

  • Bryggen. The row of old Hanse houses is one colourful sight to say the least. If you’re lucky the sun will come out and the harbour view will be one to never forget. (Or very lucky, because apparently there’s 320 days of rain in Bergen!)
  • Fjord tour. You can simply not leave Bergen without exploring the fjords a bit more. Even in winter, there’s tours running. Although I’m pretty sure the Norway in a Nutshell tour is better (but our budget didn’t allow for it), we did the Mostraumen fjord tour. Nonetheless spectacular! We booked ours through Fjord Tours.
  • Fløibanen. Take up the funicular (with a 26 degree slope!) to Fløyen and you will be rewarded with an amazing view over the city and the harbour as well as the surrounding mountains. It’s when you realise why Bergen is called Bergen! If possible, go for a hike or a ski. We got stuck knee-deep in the snow, but had an enjoyable walk nonetheless. And the hot chocolate afterwards with that view is just the best.
  • Audhild Viken. An all-year-round Christmas shop. I didn’t know it was a thing, but I am so glad that it is! You’ll come out cheery, singing “Jingle Bells” in no time.

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Places to eat

  • Pingvinen. The best restaurant we went to for the entirety of the trip! Also very popular with the locals, which says a lot. They have daily specials, of which we tried the Plukkfisk and the Raspeballer. Typical Norwegian flavours assured.
  • Blom. If you’re looking for a strong, specialty coffee, Blom is the place to be. Clean, crisp, cozy.
  • Alléhjørnet Thai. Also very popular with the locals, we had some delicious pad thai at this place. Can’t go wrong.

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Where to sleep

  • Citybox Oslo. A very easy and new concept hotel. You do everything yourself: from check-in, payment to luggage storage and check-out. If you really need help or more towels, you can go to the management office, but we loved this hassle-free and easy stay. Also very close to the train station and the city centre!

 

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Next up…? I’ll leave that to be a surprise! :)

 

Rotterdam – a shopping guide

Between Christmas and New Years, my boyfriend and I took a little getaway to Rotterdam. We took things slow and explored some of the great architectural constructions like the Markthal, saw some art at the Kunsthal and wandered the city’s streets. There were definitely too many nice looking shops and cozy cafés, but we managed to squeeze in quite a few! I’m giving you an overview below so you can enjoy some of the best ones. The shopping must go on!

PLEK – concept store

Where? 

What? This concept store is a design lover’s dream. From clothes to homeware, this place has everything in its own style, from Scandi chic to German retro. They also have a great selection of fragrances. My favourite – the Bon Parfumeur in the scent 301 – a woody scent with sandalwood, amber and cardamom. It was love at first smell.

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STEK – de stadstuinwinkel

Where? Nieuwe Binnenweg 195B

What? It’s the urban jungle lover’s dream. You walk into the shop and immediately get that jungle vibe: there’s literally plants everywhere! If your love of plants exceeds the plants itself, like me, you  will also like the botanical greeting cards and lovely ceramic pots as decoration. The shop owner is also really helpful! Basically, I could live in this store and be perfectly happy.

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HAY

Where? Haagseveer 99

What?  Anyone that knows me, knows I absolutely love this brand. It’s a Danish design brand that distinguishes itself from others by using unique shapes and colours. Regular scissors, clothing hooks and towels become objects of marvel. Time and time again, I end up buying nothing at all because I want everything and my budget just doesn’t allow for that to happen.

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VOORLOPIG

Where? Nieuwe Binnenweg 165

What? Everything you didn’t know you needed. There’s not really anything you couldn’t live without at this store, but there’s A LOT of things that you don’t feel like you want to live without. It’s got a wide selection of greeting cards, children’s books and posters. And I mean, who doesn’t love a store that makes a Christmas tree out of books! Out of books! Right.

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Hutspot

Where? Karel Doormanstraat 317

What? Really cool and edgy clothes and accessories that are comparably very affordable. From basic items to some pieces to stand out with.  I especially liked their jewellery collection, which as on point. You can kind of get the vibe of the store by looking at their website.

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Markthal

Where? Dominee Jan Scharpstraat 298

What? Only the most amazing architectural construction in Rotterdam, with a combination of apartments and a huge glass market hall. This really is the place to be for food lovers. If you’re not already hungry by the thought of the market hall, you will definitely get some cravings when you see al the glorious food stands. A must if you’re ever in Rotterdam!

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GROOS

Where? Achterklooster 13

What? A really basic but artsy store that is enjoyable by the way it’s been set up alone. It’s kind of like a mix between a warehouse and an art or design gallery. We bought some local beer (with lime) there and socks with an unbearably cute print. It’s a great place to get a gift for the ungiftable person.

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KEET

Where? Oppert 2a

What? A gift store that doubles up as a café. The perfect place to go snoop around when the weather isn’t that great. They have a great selection of ceramics and jewellery. Again, you’ll need nothing but end up wanting everything.

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Coffeelicious

Where? Nieuwe Binnenweg 174

What? After all the shopping, it’s nice to bop in somewhere to grab a cup of coffee or tea. This place’s interior looks like Alice in Wonderland had a baby with a Scandinavian designer (not my favourite combo) but the cake here was the bomb.com and all was forgiven quickly. Try the carrot cake!

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This is only a grasp of the many, many more shops and cool places in Rotterdam and I’m pretty sure I’ll have to go back in summer one day, but I feel like these are a solid list to get your started. If you’re into one of a kind shops and laid back wandering around the city, Rotterdam is definitely the place for you.

Please be sure to let me know if you have any questions or comments! I’d love to tell you more about it.

Until the next shopping spree! :-)

Bolivia – the highlights

After the blogpost I wrote on the best bits of Peru, it’s only fair I should dedicate an equal amount on my blog to the other South American country we spent some time in, Bolivia. Here’s what we enjoyed most…

Copacabana

It sounds like an exotic beach place but really, the beach isn’t that “beachy” nor “exotic”, but nevertheless Copacabana’s water formed a nice change from all the desert landscapes we had driven through. And it made for a nice sunset too. I would also highly recommend hiking up the Calvari mountain. The hike takes approximately 40 minutes and offers stunning views over the coastline and the colourful rooftops of the town. Another one you shouldn’t skip is the cathedral. When we were there, there was a celebration going on where people could have their new car blessed and decorated with flowers – absolutely beautiful!

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La Paz

This city that is not the capital definitely has that cosmopolitan, big city-life vibe to it. It’s hard to breathe here, due to the altitude, but more so because of the exhaust fumes all over (that goes for the whole of Bolivia, by the way). Nevertheless, there’s something really fun about this city: whether it is from visiting the Witches Market, a must-see, or finding the most gringo hotspot in town to sitting at the steps of the cathedral and watching the street vendors come by with the weirdest looking foods, there’s something for everyone. Also, don’t skip the Valley of the Moon, a little outside the city centre; it’s like a different world entirely.

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Salar de Uyuni

This HUGE salt plain is incredible. I knew I would be amazed by the nothing-ness of the place, but it exceeded expectations. Definitely take sunglasses when you go, because the white of the plain hurts the eyes. We couldn’t help ourselves and took some classic salt plain photos, because if you don’t, have you really actually been there? My favourite part was the Inca Huasi, cactus island. The hike around the island takes about 30-40 minutes.

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On the road

If you’re into wildlife (lama’s, vicuñas, alpacas, etc), look out for them when you’re on the road. Also, the views were always amazing. Here’s some of the best ones.

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I hope this inspires you to also visit this wonderful country. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll go back, because there’s definitely plenty more to see.

Happy travels,

Silke

 

Cafe Vida

During our stay in La Paz, Bolivia, we were desperate for a good café and as of wonder, out of nowhere came Cafe Vida, a vegan café on a small interior square that was calm and had an outdoor seating area. It was perfect. The apple pie we had was divine and the Chaï Lattes tasted like home. Service was also really quick and friendly. And English-speaking!

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Where? Calle Sagarnaga 213, La Paz

When? Monday – Friday from 9.30 am till 7 pm, Saturdays from 9.30 am till 5 pm

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

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.