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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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!

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!!)

City life · Life · Travel

How to make traveling for work glamorous 

I’ve been so absent from this blog, I’m close to not calling it a blog any more, it’s more of a collection of random articles on not any specific issue 🤔

I’m gonna make it easy for myself and blame it all on my job which has been particularly busy lately. And I have also been traveling a lot for work which got me thinking how I can make the – mostly stressful and tiring experiences – a little more glamorous.

So here are my tips!

1.Arrive earlier or leave later than your first or last appointment – meaning leave at least an hour for yourself and the city you’re visiting. Go visit a gallery that features an amazing piece of art that you’ve always wanted to see, go shopping to the big fancy mall that carries your favourite brand in half price, have coffee at this famous cronut place, get your hair cut at this famous salon, swing by Big Ben, the Louvre or Golden Gate Bridge, book an evening at a kick-ass musical. Do something you would not be able to do back home. There is nothing that will make you feel more grateful for your job than the amazing experiences you can collect in every new city you visit.

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Here’s a sight I try to never miss when in Paris – do you recognise it???? 🙂

2.Carefully choose the location of your hotel: this does not mean you need to choose the fanciest 5-star hotel in the hood. You are only seeing your bed at night anyway. But it does make all the difference in the world picking a nice neighbourhood, with lovely surroundings, nice cafes and restaurants, because these are going to make all the difference in the world. For example, in London I always stay at a low key super corporate hotel that has nothing more to offer than a clean bed and friendly staff. BUT it’s in Covent Garden. Which means amazing early morning walks or great window shopping when coming back from work. Which helps me start or finish the day on a very happy note.

3. Take advantage of the local colour: I’m in London a lot and I always try to squeeze in a meal at the pub. When in Paris, I’ll try to find the smallest cutest bistrot with the most ridiculously cliche chairs and instagram the hell out of it. In Amsterdam I’ll go up and down the canals with a sandwich at hand. Every time I’m in a different place I try to feel as much a tourist as a professional. I know time is very limited when traveling for work, that’s why I tend to have my meals in local establishments – as busy as the day is, there’s always time for dinner!!!

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Happen to be in San Francisco? Go watch a Warrior’s game!!!

4. Don’t forget your points!!! If you’re lucky enough to travel for work, it means you can start collecting points for your personal travels as well. I go twice a year to the US for my team’s offsite and I never fly British Airways. Why? Because as much as they are a good airline, they are not Star Alliance members, which means I cannot claim my miles points when I want to fly to Greece using Aegean (and as you may or may not know Aegean is f&&%^ing expensive, so I DO NEED these points).

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City life · Life · Miscellaneous and interesting

How I get organised for a weekend away 

On Saturday i will be hopping on a train to Lille with the boyfriend. I’m so excited about this trip, it’ll be the perfect ending to the dullest month of all — January. Coming back from the Christmas break is giving me a hard time, so a weekend away is the perfect solution to the long cold days ahead of us.

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Long cold days in Northern Europe are not too bad though…

Last year we went to Ghent around the same period and had such a lovely time that this year I decided I should repeat the quick get away to another favourite destination – Lille.

1. Book a cheap and nicely located hotel.

It’s just one night and it’s a city trip. Meaning no luxury is necessary, no need for a fancy spa either, as we’re gonna be spending most of our time outside the room. My plan is to stick to 3-4 star hotels, you cannot go too wrong especially in small cities like Lille that are much more budget-friendly than Paris or London.

2. Get out the earliest possible. Come back early too.

This is my golden rule for short trips in winter. Since days are shorter, I prefer catching a really early train/plane/ride to make sure I can most of the day light. I’m sacrificing my Saturday morning sleep for this, but I’m making it up on Sunday! And I also leave early enough on Sunday afternoon to have enough time to go back, and prepare for the coming Monday. This of course all changes in the summer when I really take my time traveling as daylight in Northern Europe last for as long as 10pm!!!! (Ah those summer nights….)

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Ghent when-the-lights-go-out is definitely a must-see.

3. Find two brunch spots, two fancy restaurants and two street food spots.

You won’t need more. And if their wine list is good, you won’t event need a bar. And you might as well book them already as this will take some considerable pressure off. I remember last year we ended up in Ghent without a dinner reservation and I was stressed and then cranky and then super angry-hungry when we could not find a decent place to eat. If you’re nothing like me, meaning if your mood depends totally on whether you’re fed or not, and you HATE make bookings at the same time, try to anticipate a bit and it’ll all be fine. I hope. Arghhhh (yes, I’m slightly hungry right now).

3. Pack black and white.

Keep. It. Simple. Black pair of jeans, black  leather skirt with black tights, black and white striped shirt and cream white cashmere jumper is all I’m packing for this trip. Oh yes, a pair of black ankle boots as well. I know I don’t need anything more, experience has taught me well. Plus I need the extra space in my suitcase for shopping!!! (Duh!!)

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Jean Patchett by Irving Penn, Vogue UK cover, June 1950

4. Get excited for the trip!!!!

A couple of days before departing I check pictures of my destination on Pinterest. And this gets me really excited. The colours, the places, the food, the promise of new sights and people fill my heart with song. Traveling is really the best thing we can with our money, sometimes I think it’s the only thing I work for!!!

Life

How I detox’d after the holidays 

2017 started off with….a lot of food. As should be expected during the Christmas break, even more so from a Greek mom, the turkey was not the only feeling stuffed at the table. Going back home (or on holidays in general) has always been challenging for me, because it’s not really easy to resist my mom’s cooking or other local delicacies. And here we are with 2 kg (or 5 pounds) more and not-so-happy about it…

I’ve always been neither thin nor overweight. I’ve always had this extra 5 kg (or 10 pounds) that prevents me from wearing tight clothes, and have always fantasized about how if I lost 10kg (or 20 pounds) people on the street would mistaken me for Gisele BĂĽndchen. I’m lucky because I’m tall so I can justify a little more eating as I have more space to fill (is this even a real thing?), but then again I can feel bulky and huge the moment I get a couple of kg more.

I’ve only managed to stay on a diet for a few months back in university, when everything is easier in terms of scheduling, social obligations etc. I’ve been using this diet now and again whenever I want to drop a couple of kg/pounds. But that’s about it for me in terms of dieting. The more you enter the adult life though, the more difficult it gets to stick to a program: you have to see your friends — you eat. You have to talk with your boss — you eat. You have to attend a super interesting conference — you eat. You go on a trip — you eat. You visit your family — you eat. You start dating a guy — you eat. That’s how important eating has become for our social life. And don’t get me wrong. I’m all for eating, I love eating, I love good food and I love sharing it with people. But unfortunately, I don’t love equally exercising and burning calories by doing sports. TBH I don’t love it AT ALL. I can’t find even the tiniest piece of motivation that will make me go to they gym, go for a run, play tennis with my friends, do a few laps in the swimming pool. I know that there are millions of people out there rolling their eyes right now (not that I have millions of readers, but if I had, they would be rolling their eyes!!!), but I’ve really tried pretty much everything out there and nothing gets me motivated. The only thing I’ve found I enjoy is walking. And that’s about it.

So coming back from my Christmas break and getting on the scale was really NOT a good idea. I saw a number I could not believe. I was 3 kg heavier than before the break – how was that even possible? I knew it could not be real weight, I knew it was probably the aftermath of a two-week period full of sweets and alcohol, but still – how was this possible??? And I panicked and really felt bad and angry with myself for letting go. And then of course I started nagging to my boyfriend for it (whom I blame the most for my eating habits since he is the perfect cook and we now live together, so…)

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My life’s motto

What I did not expect was such wise words coming out of his mouth. As I was going over all possible ways to feel less bloated, from eating 2 apples per day (and nothing else) to have him force me to the gym so I would actually start exercising a little, he simply said: “Why panic? There’s a very simple way – cut your portions in half and stop eating bread. Just for a while.” And OMG. Like really OMG. It sounded so simple and easy and I was totally on board, I still don’t know why. But let me tell you, it did work.

So I started the next day the very fun (#not) process of cutting my portions in half. The way to go about it? Just use smaller lunch boxes than usual (I bring lunch with me at work most of time, if I’m not traveling) and have dinner in  small plates or bowls. Like really small. Like a step bigger than saucers (just kiddin’)(#not). Other than that, there are no real rules. I had spaghetti bolognese, risotto Milanese, even mousaka, everything I really craved. But I kept it small and simple. I even had a small slice of cake every day right after work to get my blood sugar levels in order (otherwise I could actually eat a small animal on my way to home).

The other thing I managed to do (and I say managed) is stay away from bread. I’m sure everyone of us has this (at least) one thing they can say no to. For me that is bread (and movies by French auteurs). I could give every other food up, as long as I had a Greek salad with feta cheese and LOTS of bread to go with (yes, I’m that clichĂ©). But I know that bread makes me feel bloated in a matter of seconds and I’ve really gotten weary of that. I know that to stay super fit and thin I should ideally say goodbye to bread for ever. But I’m not ready (or willing) to do that. What I manage to do though, stay away for 5 days, made me feel really good. My belly was a bit flatter, my confidence was not flat at all, and I also had the pleasure of saying to myself “yes, you did it”.

And that’s it my friends. 5 days later, 1.6 kg (or 3 pounds) less. It doesn’t mean I suddenly look that much better. But I do feel a thousand times better, I’m back at my normal weight and can stop feeling guilty about all these delicious meals I had during Christmas. And that’s my tip for you: eat what your heart wants, be happy, just do it with moderation. Cut your portions down a bit, or try to have smaller dinners. Play a bit around with your habits, see what works better for your body and your digestion 🙂 And find that one thing you love, but is also makes your body feel weird, and stay away from it. Just for a while. So you can actually go back to it guilty-free just a few days later.

Here’s to a weekend full of friends, fun and good food!!

 

City life · Life

How I plan to make time to see my friends 

    I find friends to be the most important thing in life after family – sometimes even replacing family. Living abroad is hard in many ways, missing my friends first and foremost. 

    After several years in Brussels, I can confidently say that I’ve made friends that make this city #worthlivinit. But between short winter days (seriously, the sun is not up until 9am and it’s already dark at 5pm!!!), the cold and the long working hours I often find myself longing more for Netflix than for my friends. BUT NO MORE! 

    I’m determined to see more of my friends in 2017, it’s probably the one resolution that will make my heart feel calm and happy. Not pottery classes, not singing in a band, not learning how to cook, but FRIENDS. 

    But how do I make time to see them more? I don’t go out much, let alone in this cold weather. So I do need to figure out a plan to stick to and make the most of my free time with my friends. Here we go: 

    1. Make more spontaneous plans: 

    In Brussels people tend to make long-term plans to meet up: let’s meet up the weekend after the next!, I’m organising a dinner in February!, are things people often say. Of course busy work schedules and demanding family responsibilities (i.e. children) take priority (and rightfully so), but this should not stop me from picking up the phone at 6pm whenever I feel like seeing a friend and just call them. Let’s grab a coffee in an hour! There’s a good movie on in a couple of hours, let’s hit the theatre! Come by my place, I’ll cook something quick! It’s that simple — try it 3 times per week, it works wonders.

    2. Plan ahead as well

    As cool as spontaneous plans are, try to also plan head a little. This will help you manage work hours better. Pick a couple of days in the week that seem quiet and put your date with friends firm in your calendar. This way your colleagues will know not to schedule calls on that time (useful for people like me working with the US a lot and thus working many times late in the afternoon) and you will also remember not too take up too many tasks that day. Chances are you will probably need to reschedule at least a couple of times, but at least you have something fun to look forward to besides the weekend!!!!

    3. In case of doubt – dinner and a movie!!! 

    The rules of dating apply very well to friendships too I find. You have to live, respect, and enjoy the person you are going out with. Plus, the best date ever is dinner and a movie! This is an easy choice that gives you the chance to talk, drink, eat, laugh/cry/wonder together with your friends. It can also be for a big group (Rogue One) or a more intimate one (Paterson). 

    This is what we actually did last a couple of days ago, after work with two of my best buddies here in Brussels. We went to see Paterson at the Cinema Galeries in Brussels (what an amazing movie theatre!!) I reeeeeaaaallly liked the movie (I found it so calm and beautiful, and the poems recited were so touching and I’m a huge Jim Jarmusch fan anyways) my friend V. found it so and so, and my other friend V. didn’t like it too much. But we had a super discussion about it afterwards over fish and chips at the great Bia Mara – a great choice for late eaters like ourselves. Cool interior design, amazing music choices (Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Clash!) and of course DELICIOUS FOOD. Not only for fish lovers though, chicken and veggie (like my fish) options are available as well. 

    The amazing veggie cheeseballs!
    My new favourite theatre in town.