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!

Mus in een Plas

The best things happen when you least expect them. Well, I stumbled upon this little gem when we were looking for a book café (blog post on that soon!). This little shop is so cute. It’s filled with notebooks, things for your house that you didn’t know you needed until you saw them, lovely greeting cards, great quotes and very pretty jewellery. Mus in een Plas can be found in the Serpentstraat in Ghent, a street that I happen to find very charming too. If you’re not convinced and are thinking that Ghent might be a bit far, they have a webshop too!

Where? Serpentstraat 22, 9000 Gent
When? Tuesday-Wednesday from 10.00 to 12.30 and 13.30 to 18, Thursday-Saturday from 10.00 to 18.00

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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 See & Do in Copenhagen

Although I’m sure that some of these are tourist traps, and I have long from seen everything there is to see in Copenhagen, I thought I’d put in my two cents and tell you about the top 10 things I enjoyed most in the Danish capital. I hope it inspires you to go and visit. 

  1. Nyhavn

    Nyhavn, or translated into English “The New Harbour”, is probably the most well-known highlight of Copenhagen and even though it can get busy, it does not disappoint. On sunny days, the colours of the houses are exquisite, in gloomy weather they can brighten up your day. It’s so nice to sit by the water and have a glass of wine or ice cream or maybe even a Danish hot dog.

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  2. Visit the Carlsberg brewery

    Carlsberg is a famous beer brand in Scandinavia and the old brewery, which is located in the city, is now partly a museum. You can find out more about the beer brewing process, the history of the brand, and on top of that you can enjoy a couple of beers and Danish food in their beer garden. Especially lovely on a sunny day.

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  3. The Church Of Our Saviour

    This church has a splendid view over the city and its colourful and warm houses. It’s one of the cheaper views too. There is a spiral staircase that goes all the way to the very top of the church. Just make sure that the weather conditions allow entrance (when it’s snowing or really rainy, they won’t open)

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  4. Enjoy the Danish pastries

    No words needed, I’ll let the picture do the talking.

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  5. Feel royal at Rosenberg Castle

    It doesn’t cost you anything to roam the park and see the castle from the outside, which I think is the best view anyways.

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  6. Enjoy the green at Botanisk Have

    This botanical garden is part of the University of Copenhagen. It has some beautiful greenhouses and it is HUGE. Even in winter it’s worth a visit.

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  7. Release your inner child at Tivoli
    I’m not much one for theme parks, but I feel Tivoli is entirely unique in its category. For every occasion, they dress up the park and it feels like an entirely different world. It’s like a light festival, a cute market, fun rides, great food and old-fashioned stalls combined and although that sounds kind of crazy, it somehow works.

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  8. Enjoy the space at Amalienborg palace

    Amalienborg palace is the official palace of the Danish king and queen and it is here that the changing of the guards takes place. I loved roaming the spacious square (which is actually a circle), plus it offers a great view on Frederiks Kirke.

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  9. Invest in some Scandinavian design

    If there’s one thing Copenhagen has enough of, it’s furniture and design shops. Personally, I’m a fan, so I could totally see my future house decorated in, well, basically everything that was sold there.

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  10. Walk (or bike!) around and enjoy the beautiful streets

    And if you’re lucky you might come across a Christmas Market. Or two. Or three. Well, Copenhagen is beautiful in every lights. Sunny or gloomy. Winter or summer. Day or night.

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#43 on the Bucket List AKA Eat Haggis in Scotland

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll probably have noticed I’ve been spamming everyone’s feed with pictures from Scotland, using the hashtag #belgeniusbackpacks. Well, good news, I am back! And I promise there will be no more Scotland pictures after this (unless of course on Throwback Thursday). Danger has subsided.

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So here goes, a full report on my solo citytrip to Edinburgh. I will be treating my day in the Highlands as a separate subject, though, just because I’d like to share more pictures. Will link it here as soon as it is up. I will not be doing the usual day-to-day blogposts about my trip, simply because I think it’s handier for you guys to read if you’re ever visiting Edinburgh yourself. Brace yourselves, a very long blog post is coming…

Where I stayed

I stayed at a hostel called Castle Rock Hostel in a 4 bed female dorm. If you’re not interested in a full review you might like to skip this part. The hostel has been chosen as the most popular hostel in Edinburgh of 2016 and was nominated in the category best large hostel worldwide, and I can see why. The staff is very friendly, mostly run by internationals staying there longterm. They have everything for hire that you could possibly need (adaptors, towels, hairdryer,..) and are very willing to give you any information you need. The hostel itself is spacious (including the rooms), with lots of rooms to explore and relax in and enough bathrooms so you never have to queue. You get a free locker and bed sheets, which is nice if you’ve been sleeping in your sleeping bag for a while. WIFI is fast, without having the hassle of a password. Showers are great and very clean (I swear, I’ve never seen such clean showers in any hostel); hot water and enough shower pressure, which is something I appreciate! The kitchen, too, is clean and spacious and has all the utensils you need if you like to cook your own meals. Also, how cool is their home page?! Location wise, it’s located right off the Royal Mile, which is the main street throughout the City and from which it is very easy to navigate to other places.

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What I saw

Arthur’s Seat is what used to be a volcanic hillside, but is now known to many as the best lookout point (from a height of around 250m) over the city of Edinburgh. The walk is relatively easy (I can attest to that, being absolutely terrible at walking uphill, hiking or anything remotely related to that), provided the weather isn’t too bad. I went on my first day and besides being blown away by the views, I almost literally got blown away by the wind. I imagine this place to be gorgeous on a crisp, sunny autumn day. It takes about an hour to go all the way up. Recommend!

Holyrood Palace aka the Queen’s residence in Scotland is rather a pricey place to visit, at least I think so. If you only visit the palace, it’s £11 for a concession ticket, which is around €14. If you want to visit the gallery that is attached to it as well, it’s even more. You do get a free audioguide though, which is good, because it tells you some interesting stuff about rituals they perform at the palace, what the rooms are for and a lot about the history of Mary, Queen of Scots. If you’re not all that into history, royalty or just this sorta thing, I don’t think it’s worth the ticket. Still glad I went though, it was nice and warm inside after a rather adventurous hike to Arthur’s Seat (see above picture). On the other hand, the café, which you can visit without having to pay for entrance, had really nice scones and tea.

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The Royal Mile is the main street in Edinburgh. Note, however, that this is not its official street name but rather a name for the collection of street names that make up the one mile. It goes all the way from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and it takes about 20 minutes to walk its length. There’s some really old and pretty buildings on the way, and the small shops just give it that really cozy atmosphere, even though it is a really busy street. It’s also where all the souvenir shops are located.

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On that same street you will find two churches. The first one is called St. Giles Cathedral.
This one is free to visit, but if you want to take pictures, they ask you to pay the small fee of £2, which go back into the church’s upkeep. I liked to just take a break from walking and sit there for a couple of minutes to take in the beautiful arches.

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The other church is called Tron Kirk. However, it is no longer used as a church, but now houses a very cute little hipstery market. A very cool idea, if you ask me.

Another street that is worth exploring is the bend that is Victoria Street. It’s not far from the Royal Mile and is part of what is referred to as the old town. It has a lot of nice looking restaurants and is a very colourful sight to see. A treat for the eye.

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On a rainy day, which there are many of in Scotland, let me tell you, it’s nice to go out to one of the museums. The first one I went to is the National Gallery of Scotland. Unless you stop and read every sign about every painting, it doesn’t take very long to make your way through the different rooms. But then again, it’s a free museum, which is always great. The second one I went to is called the National Museum of Scotland and this one gets a big thumbs up from me! It’s free too, which is amazing, because it’s a beautiful building on its own, filled with lots of very interesting exhibitions, mostly about history, culture and science. I honestly think I spent more time looking at the ceiling and the beautiful floors, though. This one will take you a tad longer to get through, considering it’s a lot bigger.

Edinburgh Castle is probably the most prominent feature of the city and therefore worth a visit. It’s got some good views, good exhibitions and an audio guide that lets you pick what places you want to learn more about by typing in the according number.

Where I shopped

As a fulltime shopaholic, the brand and shops that we don’t get in Belgium, was something I had also been looking forward to as part of my trip. Some of my favourites included: Space NK (for more high end make-up and skincare), Boots and Superdrug (for drugstore make-up), River Island, Next, Topshop (for the accessories), Debenhams (for its interior), Jenners (for its exterior), Paperchase (for its gorgeous notebooks), Scribbler (for its postcards. I actually didn’t buy any because it was simply too hard to choose) and last but not least Waterstones (for its book inspiration). Most of these can be found around the Princess Street, George Street area. Happy shopping!

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What and where I ate and drank

Considering the title of this blog post, I obviously had to try haggis. Although I initially wasn’t very keen on it, because I have a tendency to not like meaty things – and really, how meaty can something get? – but I did try a little bit of my new friend Viv on our Highland trip and though it wasn’t anything but salty. Later that night, we tried some more at a restaurant called The Cellar Door. The food there was divine (I had fish and chips, de – li -cious) and even the haggis wasn’t too bad. It reminded me a lot of bitterballen actually, and Viv, who lives in Amsterdam, agreed.

For some great fika (tea, coffee and cake), I’d recommend Patisserie Valerie. Probably not as British or Scottish as it gets, but the best carrot cake I’ve had in my life. For real. I initially planned on having tea at the cafe next door, The Elephant House, known for being the place where J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book, but the selection of cake next door just looked so much better, I couldn’t resist…

If you’re looking for a good place to get a traditional  High Tea (which I didn’t do, because they are always made for two or more), Holyrood Palace Café, the Signet Library or Patisserie Valerie is the place to be. These are traditionally served between 12 and 4pm.

On Sundays, it’s nice to go for a Sunday roast. Or so I had read. I found it nearly impossible to find one. I’d nearly lost all hope, when I came across the Beehive Inn. Made my day.

If you like Italian food, I recommend Bella Italia (a chain) or Pizza Express.

Oh, I also tried some whisky, because I felt I couldn’t leave Scotland without. Let’s just say it’s not my cup of tea. Haha.

 

To sum up

I really, really enjoyed Edinburgh. Especially as a solo traveller, going places can be quite intimidating at first (“Table for one, please”) and I always felt the need to sort of apologise for showing up somewhere by myself. But no more. In our current society, where “me time” is such a central objective, I don’t see why I should not be allowed to take that time somewhere public, without judgement. I feel like Edinburgh was just the place for that. I’ve never met so many solo travellers, both in and outside my hostel. And Scotland’s friendly atmosphere makes it really easy to meet people; everyone, from shopkeepers to restaurant owners and people you meet in the street, are genuinely nice people. And all of a sudden travelling solo doesn’t seem that daunting anymore, and one (solo traveller)and one (solo traveller) makes two (not so solo travellers).

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Now, go explore!

Love,

Silke

PS: For more pictures check out my Facebook album or Instagram