Small is sometimes better…

As we travel and explore the world it is rather seldom, that we venture into, and get to see and feel the life in the small towns. Big cities and the tourist destinations we do go to,  they are easy to find, everybody is talking about them and of course, normally a city is just has more live into it. More things to see, do and experience.

But that is by no means a reason not to go to the small towns and villages. I might be a little bit biased in this matter. I have somewhat an allergy towards city trips. Cities do not usually end up into mine or Waffle’s travel “to do” lists. But there are just so many hidden jewels in those small, sleepy towns in every single country I have traveled to. Often in those places, in my opinion, you get to see the real culture and the real people, life is less global in these places. And in a way, the culture of the capital and cities, it stems from the villages and countryside.

Take Italy for example, at best, you find a remarkably different cuisine from one village to another. France is not left far behind. Do I need to even mention cheeses and wine? Not forgetting the ever changing architecture from coast to the mountains and back? Not forgetting Belgium, every single village here has a brewery to visit, sometimes even a good one. I am pretty sure the small towns in every country have something similar to surprise people with.

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We have traveled through dozens of cute little villages, some downright ugly ones too, but what would life be without good contrasts! Some of the nicest lingering memories from our travels we have collected for a village here or there. Like the unbeatable surveillance system of Romanian villages: grannies sitting by the road. Or the vines in the pergolas of almost every house in Montenegro. And the faint smell of smoke in winter lingering around the mountain villages of France, when people are keeping their toes warm. All in all, the atmosphere is different in towns compared to bigger communities. Everybody more or less knows each other and a traveler is always a stranger.

These things don’t end up in travel guides. Which is understandable, no bureau of travel has the time or resources to go through and discover an endless amount of small places people have chosen to live in. It can indeed be time consuming.

The way me and Waffle travel, almost always takes us to these places. Sometimes randomly, sometimes by planning.  I like these small strolls we have in towns. It gets me into the mood of being abroad.

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How do we manage to end up in the small places then? A car. A car is the answer. Unfortunately relying on public transport would be time consuming in this business. Most every time when we head abroad we leave the airport or harbor in a car. Then as we plan on crossing half a country in that said vehicle it is more or less inevitable to pass some villages. Bit of magic on the Google maps will often help us to get started and lessen the randomness factor. Sometimes we even manage to take a photo or two of them, before disappearing for days into the shrubbery.

I guess there needs to be a purpose of this rambling. Let it be an intro to the pictures we actually managed to capture of the villages we have passed during our travels. Maybe this will be an inspiration too, to some of you out there, to take a break of your city/beach/nature holiday and take a step towards a small town somewhere. Sometimes it is worth it to go explore these places in your home country, trust me!

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Just passing, but for how long….

I think many expats go through thoughts like these every once in a while. How permanent is the situation of living abroad? How permanent is the current location? Should I return home or not, if yes, when? I know I have posted something similar to this before, but it seems to pop up every now and then in my thoughts.

I have a small existential crisis – again, so I have been pondering and chewing on these questions quite a bit in my own head.  There never was a plan laid out for the future after moving abroad. I did not seem to need it back then. You know, I was moving into the center of Europe, with the best traveling possibilities imaginable. To live with a Waffle so close to perfection I could cry. Not much consideration or deep thoughts were involved in this process.

So far, it has been fabulous. We are traveling around Europe as I always was dreaming of doing. And there is still plenty to explore. But there are other life goals too, some of which require settling down, to somewhere, for some time. So it would be kind of nice to have a vision of where we would like to settle down to.

Belgium has some pros and cons. The ease of travel being one of the best points, as well as high living standard and delicious beer! But for a person who loves nature and mountains, peace and quiet, it is not exactly a heaven. Flanders is the most densely populated area in Europe which makes nature, peace or quietness pretty difficult things to find. Belgium has never been seen as the forever home for us.

But for now, we are building our lives in here. We both have a stable job, a nice circle of mostly lunatic friends and so forth. Despite these things I find myself hesitant to get committed into anything that would force us to stay put for a long time in this country. One of the main things bugging me is studying. Although I have a comfortable position in working life now, I don’t see myself having it as my life career. I want to jump onto another field of profession completely. But that would mean jumping out of a paid job – and sticking to this country for 5 – 6 years, cutting quite q big junk out of the travel budget, not to mention a putting a huge strain on Waffle. Then again, Belgium does have some of the top ranking Uni’s and I am not getting any younger…

This desire of studying would of course hinder some other dreams from coming true. I have been planning to buy a horse now for a while. But owning a horse, going to school and traveling every month to somewhere might be a difficult combo to pull off.

Seems like I have a dilemma here.

And then there is the whole Finland question. I think both me and Waffle want to go live there at some point. That wonderful, evasive point of time called “some”. Now that we have a piece of property there that point became less urgent, I have he possibility to get to my roots even if my parents needed to let go of the farm. It does make hunting down the right “some point” more difficult though. At least we have some traveling to do before going to Finland more permanently.

If there needs to be a conclusion to all this, I think it is that we are  going to live just like we have done so far; in the moment. I am not big on making lists or going through a problem logically, figuring out all the pros and cons of each alternative. I prefer just jumping after any interesting enough opportunity that presents itself. Not really too mature way of looking at life, I know, but it seems to be working, as long as there are not many too strict goals in sight.

I just hope I don’t have to do any job interviews where I need to answer the threaded question: “Where do you see yourself within 5 years?” Because I have absolutely no clue, could be in Belgium or Mars as a nurse or a circus director, who knows? I just have to learn to love this randomness of our life a bit better.

Baltic sea, archipelago, sunset

 

 

 

Oh lala! C’est Paris!

Mon Dieu! My dear dear friend Miia came visiting again. Before her holiday we worked up a brainstorm, popping out ideas of destinations and things to do there. As I told her about the possibility to go visit Paris, I could hear her exited yelp all the way from Finland. There was not much discussion after that.

Brussels showed its best when Miia landed. The weather was grey, wet and windy as random demonstrations passed by every now and then. Waffle was still stuck at work so he just shoved us into an Izy train, which is the cheap alternative for Thalys, a very nice thing!

A good 2 hours we shot through the darkness, until finally we started to see the lights of the outskirts of Paris. Soon enough the train came to stop at the North Station and we were greeted by the most Parisian sight imaginable: A young, passionate and extremely tangled French kiss performed by a young couple.

We quickly made our way through the streets of the 10th arrondissement, in search of our hotel, which my dear Waffle had arranged for us. The entrance was in between shabby hair salons, at the end of a long and narrow corridor. There we had a tiny, but tidy, room and excitement. A girly holiday in Paris was ’bout to start!

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We only had one day to spend in the city, so some rigor was needed when planning the route which would lead us to all the most important sights. Stubborn and sporty as we were, using the metro was out of question, completely.

After a filling breakfast we headed out. The first stop being Moulin Rouge, which was a couple of kilometers away from where we were staying. Paris turned out to be a nice city for walking. The soft colors of the stone houses and extremely stylish and beautiful people everywhere will force you to continue peaking around a corner after another.

Before we noticed, we had seen the great view over the whole Paris from the cathedral of Sacre-Ceur de Montmartre, walked back down to the Moulin Rouge and eventually found ourselves at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe. To get underneath the arch we would have had to pay 9 euros per person. We decided it was not worth it and turned around and trotted among the shopping frenzied people down the  Avenue des Champs-Élysées towards the palaces and Seine.

Over there the skyline was penetrated by the Eiffel tower. To be able to take in its full glory, we decided to get some lunch, a sushi with a French twist that was. On the way to the tower the amount of touristic  attractions increased significantly. The smells coming out of the chocolate boutiques was getting hard to resist.  On the other side there were the faintly blooming cherry trees calling us to the other direction.

We went and saw the tower, didn’t climb it in order to avoid a massive queue and the panic caused by a fear of heights. But it did made an impression in any case, while we stood at the side, under a wonderfully smelling cherry tree.

Our next stop was the great cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. The same soft color of stone was apparent also in the cathedral, it’s beige walls holding a multitude of figurines like in any self-respecting Gothic building. Apparently the painted windows of the cathedral are the reason for many to visit. Plus it is free to enter.

We got to it right before the evening sermon. We immediately smelled the opportunity to the get a whiff about the acoustics of the church. I do recommend everybody to go there to listen to it. Even if you would be a pagan like me, or not understanding the language – as well me – the sound the building makes is rather powerful.

At that point Waffle had left Brussels and was driving towards France. Miia and I still had time to stroll around a little. We accidentally entered the Louvre via back entrance, not realizing where we actually were. Even the back door was rather grandiose, but only after we saw the glass pyramid we found out that it actually was the Louvre.

The sun was setting as we stepped into the court yard, filled with skaters and tourists. The pyramid was beautifully lit with the orange hue of the sunset. It was a pity we did not have time to visit the museum itself, I guess it would have swallowed the whole day.

The dusk settled over the city and our tired feet carried us to a restaurant Le Cosy, where we ate our bellies full of fresh and tasty pizzas. After we were done, we were horribly late from our meeting point with Waffle.  By then we were perfectly happy to ditch our noble idea of not using any metro.

For the rest of Miia’s stay we had planned to spend some outdoorsy life on the beautiful northern coast of France. We stayed a night at an in between location, in a wonderful gite at the outskirts of Forges-les-Eaux. In the morning after a filling breakfast we headed towards the sea.  No, not Les Hemmes, nothing fun about it during the high tide. We went more to the west, where the white cliffs and rocky shores claim your attention.

The quiet and forgotten town of Ambleteuse was our first destination. They have a small fortification there and old hotels, empty and for sale. The sunny weather got us all thinking how beautiful it would be, to wake one of those up again and bring some life to this little town.

The white cliffs of Cap Blanc Nez seemed like a proper place to end the trip.  The weather was not quite good enough to see England, but the cliffs were shining bright in the sun. We even managed to see one lonely grey seal swimming around.  Also the pooling water on the beach offered some nice photo ops.

That was a good place to end the trip, say good byes to France and get Miia safely back to Belgium. Early on Saturday morning we drove her to Brussels airport where she took off to go back to Finland. Leaving us feeling a bit empty inside.

We’ll be waiting for the next time!