Life

My birthday present (and a few thoughts on the art of gifting)

On July 21st we celebrated the Belgian national holiday which was the perfect excuse to take out the gift my boyfriend got me for my birthday:

The VonShef 4 person picnic backpack.

My boyfriend giving me presents is always a very funny process (for me at least). He’s really bad at gifting, he always gets panicked whenever he has to get someone a present, he can never think of what a person would like or want and he ends up scrolling the internet like a madman until a few hours before he needs to get to a party or a birthday celebration.

Of course I think this is lots of fun, because I’m the exact opposite: I’m a great gift giver. And through the years I’ve realised that the way to do so is to PAY ATTENTION. Pay attention people! To what your friends say they’d like, they’d need or they’d enjoy doing but never have the time or the company. And then offer it to them. It doesn’t have to be expensive (that’s what vouchers are made for! you can just buy a part of the product or the experience, ), but you can always put a smile on the faces of your loved ones if you just pay attention to the things they like and then you make an effort to offer them.

And that’s what my boyfriend did, which made his stressed face and hesitance to offer me my gift this year even more adorable. He knows I love picnics, he knows I want to do more of them (not that we can do so many given the Belgian weather, but still, a girl can dream), and he knows that I love doing them with friends….so voila! The perfect gift!

The VonShef backpack is truly amazing. It is so practical and works really well – our bottles of rose and still water remained chilled for more than 3 hours despite the heat, which was something I really appreciated (it’s a huge bummer having to run to the store for fresh wine in the middle of a picnic!). And it really has everything you will need for the picnic (the only additional thing I had to bring with me was a few toothpicks, everything else is already in the bag!!!).

We had such a great time that day and it really felt like a perfect way to celebrate my birthday and my boyfriend for implementing so well the first rule of the art of gifting: pay attention 🙂

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Travel

A long weekend on Mount Pelion

When it comes to holiday destinations in Greece, I’m sure you all know Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, but what about the rest of the amazingly beautiful places my country has to offer? Like the mountains? Like the sea? Like mountains by the sea???

Yes, that’s a thing in Greece and I happen to have the perfect place in mind to suggest to you in case you are looking for a summer holiday in Greece away from the crowds but immersed in beauty and the blue of the Greeks sea and sky.

Mount Pelion. 

We were there recently for the wedding of two very good friends of ours from Brussels. The wedding took place at the village Pinakates, one of the less known villages of Mount Pelion but a truly beautiful and picturesque one. The wedding was just lovely, the couple really respected the colour and the vibe of the village, keeping it simple and completely traditional (which was a very refreshing change from all the glitter and fireworks going on at weddings these days).


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The day was warm but not too hot, and in the evening especially we definitely made use of our light cover ups as sitting underneath this 800-year old sycamore tree really gave us the chills (both figuratively and literally!)

We stayed at Hotel Stoikos, a traditional guest house with extremely friendly staff and a whole lotta unpretentious-ness. Our room had the most breathtaking view I’ve ever had in a hotel room and I was so happy to wake up there every morning. Life can be good in so many easy ways.


The day before the wedding our lovely hosts had organised a beach party for us at Mediterraneo, a great beach bar at the Ampovos beach of Afissos, one of the most beautiful villages next to the sea. We danced and drank our way through the afternoon and by 10pm we were completely starving.

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Sunset at the Ampovos Beach

Enter the Giorgaros tavern at the central square of Vizitsa, another cute village to explore if you’re in the neighbourhood (unfortunately, there is no website to link to this amazing restaurant, but it’s the only one at the square you can’t miss it, I promise!!!)

How to reach Mount Pelion:

  • The nearest town with an airport is Volos, however there are not so many airlines flying directly there. Next best thing is Thessaloniki’s airport SKG. You can then rent a car from the airport and drive for a bit less than 3 hours and…..voila! You’re in paradise 🙂

 

Life

On birthdays, friends and family

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Today is one of my favourite days of the year. My birthday. Which normally makes me feel sad, but lately I’ve come across a new found sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that make me actually happy to be getting older (to be honest, I would not mind staying in my 30s forever, like in a look, but then again I might be saying the same when I’m in my 40s…)

All in all, life is good. But it’s hard. Not real-problems-hard (this is a category saved for the only issues one really needs to worry about like health or serious financial problems that can impact the wellbeing of one’s family), but I’m-too-stressed-to-think-straight hard. Or stress-makes-me-cry-every-night hard. I was in that place a few weeks back due to a few work-related mishaps that were not really mishaps but I was so stressed they might turn into mishaps that I couldn’t stop thinking about them for almost a month. It was the first time I saw myself like that and I was shocked mostly because I thought I would never be the person who loses their sleep over work. Again, I don’t think anyone should lose their sleep over work. Except for surgeons or lawyers/judges involved in death row/life sentence cases. Because in everyone else’s case, NOONE dies. Noone will get hurt or even fired if I don’t do my job well (except for…me). This is something I had to repeat to myself like a mantra in order to be able to keep things in perspective. In the end, I did my job well and delivered the desired results. But the process left me in shambles.

So, as today I’m getting older (and presumably wiser), I’m looking at what kept me sane during this difficult period (and promise to try to amplify it from now on): it was hands down my friends and family. There is nothing else in this life that will save us from the worst version of ourselves than friends and family. My partner’s support during these difficult weeks was beyond anything I could ever imagine or hope for.  My mom’s tough love made me remember that at the end of the day I’m first and foremost me, not a lawyer, not an employee or a colleague, but me, a human being with needs and sensitivities, a good person who is trying to do their best. And this should be enough to not go crazy over work stuff. I was able to open up my heart to my friends and they filled it with warmth and love and their stories of anxiety for ridiculous reasons or work-related stress that never made them better or more productive.

I’m a very sensitive person and a pessimist by nature. I’m one of these people that think that life before was definitely better than life right now – easier, fuller, more fun. I complain a lot about many different things.I miss a lot of people who are not in my life any more. (Like really miss them. Like feeling a twinge in my chest sometimes when I think about them or see a picture of them. Like this morning. I hate Facebook’s memory lane. It’s the worst.) I tend to linger and get stuck in the past (I’m a caner anyway, what did you expect???).

BUT

I have a great family. I have friends who care for me. My partner is my friend and my family. And I couldn’t be more thankful. I’m looking at this new year in my life starting today and I couldn’t feel more mature and ready to face life and take it as it comes!!!

I hope you all have a great weekend!

Travel

A weekend away in Valencia – part II

So yes, we did spend the long weekend of May 1st in Valencia, a great place for some down time if you want to enjoy some sun and sea. The day we arrived was not 100% sunny so we thought to leave our “exploration activities” for day II. And when I say exploration activities I really mean two things: the City of Arts and Sciences and THE BEACH.

The City of Arts and Sciences is really an amazing place to visit especially on a sunny day. I really did not know what to expect as all the pictures I could find online made the place look a little bit secluded and very much “out of the way”. Actually, not at all. It’s really easy to reach by bus, it’s full of people of all ages (of course there are many families with young children which is really unavoidable I guess on a Sunday…), and it’s also on your way to the Malvarossa beach, therefore the combo of City of Arts and Sciences & beach really makes sense.

The first tip for those of you who want to visit the City: take your time. We really though a couple of hours would be enough, but NO, you really need at least 3-4 hours to feel confident you’ve seen everything. We went for the combo ticket that gives access to all three main attractions: the Planetarium (HemisfĂšric), the Museum of Sciences and the Aquarium (OceanogrĂ fic). From all three places, I would 100% recommend the OceanogrĂ fic, as it’s one of the most fun and at the same time serene places I’ve ever visited. There are so many cool species of aquatic (and not only) life to see, it’s a lovely walk through the different facilities and, of course, you get the chance to see a live show with dolphins which was my first time ever and had me cheering on my chair like a kid.

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I really felt equally excited and relaxed when we left the City. I also found a profound joy in taking some time to look at animals, especially sea life. I’m currently going through one of my most stressful times in life, but something about nature made me feel very relaxed (I’ve never really been a nature person and still don’t consider myself one!!)

The beach was another great experience in Valencia. Although I’m not a huge fan of the long sandy beaches like Malvarossa (I much prefer the smaller rocky ones, they always feel more “raw” and more clean for some reason!), it was so great being close to the water and sun…I really love Belgium and Brussels in particular but I don’t think I will ever stop missing the feeling of pure bliss you can get from the sun, the sea and blue skies on a warm afternoon (you can take the girl out of Greece, good luck trying to get Greece out of the girl.. *feeling sentimental about homeland*)


We were already fed but had great ice cream. Malvarossa has a lot of nice places to sit for a bite or a drink (or an ice cream or horchata!), but if you go in the morning/early afternoon do try and have paella and Pepica. Unfortunately we only made it to the beach in the late afternoon, when Pepica is closed, however this place comes highly recommended from so many people – locals included. Of course, as everything else on the beach, it feels really touristic, however there is a lot of great food and views to take in, so give it a try!!!

Travel

A weekend away in Valencia – Part I

I’ve said many many times before that money spent on traveling is money well spent. You buy a ticket to a place you’ve never been to before, you also buy wisdom, fun, new experiences and future memories you’ll keep close to your heart.

At least that’s always my goal when I click Skyscanner’s “everywhere” options for cheap plane tickets!!

That’s how the boy and I picked Valencia for the long weekend of May 1st. It was close, it was cool, it was (relatively) cheap. Did we enjoy? WE ABSOLUTELY DID and I can recommend Valencia to anyone looking for a sunny destination not too far from most places in Western Europe.

Valencia is a really pretty city with great buildings and big wide avenidas with palm trees that made me feel like we are in Havana, Cuba.

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The place is sunny (obviously) and has a beach (duh), but these are not the only highlights. It’s also a place with welcoming people, great places to eat and drink and an overall vibe that’s very close to that of Athens or Rome (if you’ve ever been to any of these places). I really felt like home from the moment we stepped out of the metro (which is really the easiest way to get from the airport to the city. Once you land, follow the signs to the airport’s metro station where you will also find a tourist office. Just ask them to sell you a card topped up with the exact fair from and to the airport and you’ll be set. I would not recommend buying tickets for transportation within the city if you’re only staying for 2 days. The bus ticket costs 1.5 euros and we really only used it the day we wanted to go to the City of Arts and Sciences and to the beach.

We stayed at ColĂłn, a very central area that I would totally recommend. It might not be as dreamy as leaving in Ciutat Vella (the Old City), but it’s definitely a great neighbourhood as it’s close to so many interesting areas full of life, bars and restaurants!

Speaking about Ciutat Vella, this is where our exploration started visiting all the touristy attractions – including the Mercat Central, Valencia’s Central Market. In general, I love food markets and I make sure to visit them every single time I travel somewhere. I love watching food, watching people buying and selling food, watching people enjoy food, everything really. The Market is a really great place to spend a couple of hours – trying different juices for 1 Euro a glass (definitely go for the orange juice – Valencian oranges are uber-famous), buying chocolate treats and photographing sea food.

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Do look out for the sea food section, not only delish, but totally Instagram-able as well 🙂
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Have you ever seen a more impressive bacalao???
Outside the Market there is also plenty of things to do. Eat street food, buy souvenirs, wander the narrow streets of the Old City or make a pit stop at a tapas place for a bite and a glass of Rioja (after which we literally took a 3-hour nap as we had woken up at 5am to catch our flight!)

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In the evening, we went for a stroll at the Russafa neighbourhood, which is full of little bars and tapas restaurants – just pick anything with a terasse and cold beer, the rest will follow pretty easily.

That was our first day in Valencia. A pretty great Saturday if you ask me. Part II of our trip coming up soon 😍

Valencia mini-guide:

Where to eat: After your visit to Mercat Central, try the street food that you will find parked right outside the main entrance of the market – think Mediterranean cuisine, lots of vegetables, olive oil, but also fried croquetas and rice dishes that are just heavenly. If you fancy sitting at a proper table, then pay a visit to La Rentaora Bodega. 

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Being in Valencia, you should also definitely try horchata, especially on a warm sunny day (even if you’re not a milk lover – I definitely am not – you should give it a try!!!)

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Where to drink: Russafa has really a huge number of low-key bars where you can enjoy a cold beer on a warm Valencian evening. I was a little bit too tipsy that night to take pictures (regretting this now, but hey, that’s life!!), but you can find cool recommendations here.

Where to shop: You should totally pay a visit to El Corte InglĂ©s, Valencia’s biggest and most renown department store. It’s really convenient that they are open also on a Sunday, so do not hurry if you feel like there is not enough time to do everything on Saturday. Most shops on Calle ColĂłn – one of Valencia’s main shopping streets – are also open on Sunday. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Zara and Mango as the Spanish brands are usually cheaper in Spain! (Not too much cheaper though, something in the range of 5-10 euros – so no stress there either!!)

Life · Miscellaneous and interesting

Checking in

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Source: unsplash.com

A month passed between my last blog post and today – a full month, 31 days, maybe 32, I’m not sure any more to be honest. I was so busy at work that I didn’t have time to think, let alone travel, eat at fancy restaurants, go to cute cafĂ©s or take pictures. And the few fun things I did, I rarely thought to capture on camera.

But I’m back!!! Not that work is less or that I have more time, but I do have a reinvigorated will to do more things. I’ve started volunteering! I’m looking for new fun stuff to learn on Coursera. I’m flying to Venice this weekend! I’m planning the concerts I’m seeing at Werchter this summer! There are a million exciting things happening and although time going by is the thing that stresses me the most in this life, I just can’t wait!!!

Leaving you with a tune today – I hope you are all happy and healthy, preparing for a great long May 1st weekend (or not-it really does not matter as long as you are happy and healthy!!)

Travel

Things to do before boarding a plane to the other side of the world

Tomorrow sees the start of a new week and myself on a plane to my adopted city of choice – San Francisco. I’ve ended up having to travel to SF almost twice per year since I got my job in August 2015 with this amazing company that has its HQ there. I had been to the US twice before then, so I did know a thing or two about getting ready for long-haul trips (and waiting time in airports) however I really feel now that I’m starting mastering the art of getting ready -both physically and emotionally- for the huge shock that is translatlantic travel.

Union Square, here I come (again!)

 

So here we go in no particular order, I’m just writing down these things as I’m actually doing them today:

  1. Take your time : My flight is on Monday, so I’ve spent the better part of my weekend doing the things on this list. Taking your time is important when preparing for such a long trip, there is no way getting away with waking up an hour in advance and throwing stuff in your hang luggage hoping you haven’t forgotten everything! Even if you are the most well-prepared person on earth, I would strongly advise packing the night before so in the morning the only thing you have to throw in your carry-on is your toothbrush. Otherwise let me assure you that you will reach your destination sans underwear (no, no, it’s never happened to me).
  2. Make sure all your tickets, visas, check-in’s, etc. are in order: If you require a visa for the country of your destination I’m sure that you’ll have already gone through quite a procedure in order to get it, so I’m not too worried that you’ll forget. However, if you only have ESTA to worry about (like Greeks do for the US), it is pretty easy that you forget that you need it (or that it has expired without you noticing – almost happened to me the last time). The best strategy is to check right after you book your tickets, this way you will have plenty of time to organize yourselves and follow any procedural steps in case your papers are not valid any more.
  3. Do laundry: It’s kind of a super mundane task but to me is equally important is bringing all my chargers and adapters with me!! I spent my Saturday and Sunday doing laundry and ironing because going off to a work trip means that I want to have as much of my “work wardrobe” available to me as possible. There is nothing worse when packing for a week full of work meetings and realising that your go-to white button down has this tomato sauce stain still on!
  4. Think hard of what you need with you on the plane and pack smart: I’m thinking books/magazines, snacks and bottle of water here, as well as a few cosmetics you need with you on the plane. I have to admit I looooove flying long-haul. It’s the only time I really get 10 hours to myself, no email, no phone, no way for anyone to reach you or annoy you. It’s the best time to catch up on reading, and that’s very much what I intend to do in the plane tomorrow 🙂 I am also going to prepare a sandwich with healthy stuff I have at home as well as get my Hidrate Spark bottle with me to make sure that I don’t feel hungry or thirsty at the airport or on the plane. Remember: it will be a long day, you need to treat yourself a little bit!
  5. Download the Netflix app: It often happens to me that I’m traveling in planes without individual screens for every passenger, meaning I have to put up with two hours of StarWars, two hours of the Mupper Show, and another 6 hourse of American reality television. I’ve nothing against these entertainment choices, however the one after the other can drive me to an overdose of boredom and anxiety, that’s why I was so doped when Netflix announced we can now download stuff on our phones and tablets. I still haven’t watched The Get Down and I’m totally planning on doing so at this trip!!
  6. Choose your outfit for the plane: Again, this is something I never leave to the last minute. I’ve made too many mistakes in the past and ended up wearing too tight jeans, too short skirts or extremely uncomfortable shoes for 15 hours. This time I’m going with an oversized pair of jeans, my trusted black sweater and my beloved over sized scarf to keep me warm. Wearing a pair of VANS trainers to keep my shoe game comfortable as well. #win
  7. Have your documents ready: Needless to say you can go nowhere without your passport, so make sure it is the first thing you put in your purse. I also always have with me foreign currency and a public transport card/ticket. I usually keep these items in a separate bag so I can always find them quick and neat.

    Little pink wallet from Narciso Rodriguez, purse from YNot?

So, wish me luck for my big trip tomorrow. And let me know what tips you have for before boarding long-haul flights!!! xx