A Travellerspoint blog

Brussels sans sprouts.

sunny

We didn’t have Mussels in Brussels. We did have a lot of Belgium beer, and fries and waffles though.

Our recent trip to Brussels was our second trip to Belgium, first being Bruge. I expected a lot of our second trip. Bruge was such an amazing spot, filled with liveliness and history. Although Brussels was awesome and I learnt a lot more about the fine nation of Belgium, it was not as remarkable as the first.

Brussels is what I imagine Europe will become over the next 20 years, a city filled with beautiful buildings, but a place that is at risk of losing its definite culture and becoming a place that shows the power of globalisation. Brussels, if you are not aware is considered the capital of Europe. This seems odd for Kiwi’s to grasp, that there is a capital of a land mass that contains so many cultures and countries. There is no ‘official’ capital, and no plans to declare one, but Brussels hosts the European Commission, council of the European Union and the seat of the European Parliament. Sounds like a lot of dreary city buildings, and you would be right. There is a distinct city dwelling feel about it. But as I read when I was there, your opinion on Brussels is based on which exit of the North Station you come out of.

First there is the sky scrapper district, shiny buildings, office blocks and office people. The same suit wearing people you will find in any business district. Secondly there is the red light district filled with some very odd looking bars (and people) with window displays of real people not mannequins. Then there is the Turkish and Arab quarter, where you can find anything you want, as long as you are willing to haggle for it. This is where you can find shops filled with men smoking cigars and all of this is in a place filled with beautiful buildings that is almost grasping to retain a hold of its cultural heritage.

Iain and I walked around the city, so we ended up in a lot of interesting places, but Brussels is essentially not a city, but a whole lot of suburbs that contain completely different countries. I am writing this at 4 am so that sentence may not have made sense. Belgium’s population is made up of 15% immigrants. You can be in a suburb that feels like a Congolese village, that backs onto a Vietnamese area. Cross the road and you are in Turkey, then Morocco, then China. It is globalisation as I have never seen it before. I don’t think Brussels has lost its identity because of it, I think it may have made it better. Someone said to me, the only reason to go to Brussels is it has a nice train station, use it. But I think if you want to see a city that is a mini world, Brussels is it. In a very weird and semi-functioning way. I’m not sure if it is worth a visit more than once, but I have a feeling that if any city is going to start wearing skin tight white outfits and live like ‘The Island’ Brussels would be the first to jump at the opportunity. I think I need to spend a little more time in the gym before I’ll look good in one of those.

So Brussels, scratch that one off the world map. Lucky it has good food.

Posted by kayles 12:14 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

I'm dreaming of my first White Christmas...

Sing it. It will get stuck in your head.

rain 11 °C

So we return from the mountains to the London rain, and I don’t even mind because our week in the snow has been fantastic.

Many people wonder what it is like to spend a Christmas away from family, and although it sounds horrible, (sorry mum), it is really an experience everyone should have at least once. Don’t get me wrong, family time is the best, but the Christmas season always brings out the best in humanity. (NB: ignoring things like the Baghdad bombing of Christmas mass.) People are supportive, friendly, caring and compassionate to complete strangers. People are genuine, they throw all caution to the wind and celebrate the season with people they wouldn’t even notice on the street any other time of the year. It is an amazing experience, Christmas outside of your normal family traditions breeds friendships and familiarity far above your run of the mill travel understanding. It really is the first scene in Love Actually. Don’t lie. You know it. And all the words.

For those who don’t know, we have been in a town called Sauze D’Oulx in Italy for the last week. Coincidentally this is the place where Iain’s parents met… cough, um… only a few years ago ☺. As soon as we arrived in our hotel, we immediately made a new Christmas family who looked after us… even when we didn’t necessarily look after them… sorry for taking you off-piste Dave and probably causing your dislocated collarbone.

Even with the 4am start , as soon as I arrived in the mountains I felt refreshed, like a brand new person. Life in the city is tiring. I miss the mountains, the fresh air, the laid back lifestyle, the dependency on mulled wine.

During our stay we had the best weather forecast you could ask for, sunny on the first day (so you could get a grasp on the mountain and its geography), then snow, lots of snow on Christmas day and then sunshine again to appreciate it. Even on day 6, Iain and I were still finding fresh tracks, and bring-me-my-brown-pants tree runs.

With 6 days of riding, Iain and I came out relatively unscathed. But in true ‘peach’ form, I do have a full forearm bruise from a one-sided fight with a tree. I lost. First an icy mogul pushed me, I decided it was Christmas, so I wouldn’t fight back. After a 50 metre slide, off the run into a gully, I stopped by hitting a tree. At full pace. I don’t know if I was more upset about the intense throbbing in my arm, or the fact my button had been ripped of my new snow pants. Probably the button.

Once you feel you have the grasp of a sport like snowboarding, it really puts the fear of god into you, when you realise that no matter how competent you think you are, you are completely at the will of the elements. After a few seasons at this, I don’t often find myself in a position when I cannot control my board. It is an extension of me. I sometimes think I have more control of my board than I have of my own feet. I am sure there are a few people that would agree with that. But to be in a position where you have absolutely no control makes you realise there are always aspects of life that you cannot control. I guess that’s what makes life fun, or at least worth waking up every morning, to see what the days challenge is.

If you are passionate about something, the risks are completely understandable and justifiable. Anyone who competes in high-level events, plays sports, has an obsession for extreme sports, or just has the testicles to bike to work in central London every day will understand the risk vs love checklist that you make to validate your choices. People that push themselves to the limit on a regular basis will not be understood by others, they will be scoffed at, dismissed or passed off as delusional. Be cautious. This only fuels their fire.

Now for my next challenge, finding this passion in London.

Posted by kayles 05:17 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Resolutions and revolutions.

storm 6 °C

I was speaking to a work colleague the other day about New Years resolutions.
I’m not really a big resolution fan, I have always been of the mind that if you want to change something just do it, don’t wait for some arbitrary date to make your mind up, just make your decision and then change, simple as that. Also I don’t really live a life filled with vices. I don’t smoke, I exercise, I eat (relatively) healthy – (well, the amount I eat, there has to be something healthy in it!) Jeez, doesn’t my voice boom from up here on this soap box! Seriously though, I can’t even remember the last genuine new years resolution I had.

So even though in my discussion with my work mate about resolutions, I said I didn’t have one, and almost certainly was not going to formulate one out of thin air – I realised I did have one. And it wasn’t that hard to change. It was a constant in 2012, which was severely lacking in 2013. The blog. That’s right. Blog, and my one follower, you are the target of my NY dedication.

I will write blogs again, I will make an effort, I will spend my down time interpreting my travels and attempting to make people laugh. I enjoy it. It’s cathartic, and my life definitely needs some more inner peace at the moment.

I think the reason my blog has been lacking is because now we have settled at Wapping HQ, have jobs and a relatively normal life, the blog is something that involves others, people I know, a culture I attempt to be part of, routines of people that I see everyday. I can’t just spend an entire rant describing the annoying sniffing of traveller Edward. I have to be political and mindful. Anyone who knows me, knows this is not an easy task. My usual diatribes ignore social boundaries, cultural rules and etiquette. And just aim to make myself and hopefully one other person have a little giggle and rationalise the ridiculous situations I end up in.

With that said, it will make me think about my travels in a meaningful manner, experience them after I am home, and let them travel across the globe to people who cannot see or experience those places. Or just people who have travelled and just think – surely Kayleigh fell down somewhere, I want to hear where and how broken she is.

So with 2014 round the corner, I decided to take my own advice – who needs an meaningless date in January. I will start the blog again today.

Look out 2014 here I come.

Posted by kayles 13:44 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Back to reality

Not a moment too soon

sunny 30 °C
View Our OE on iainph's travel map.

My days of unemployment are officially numbered. They number 3 more to be exact. Which is very exciting and worthy of celebration for lots of reasons, but the chief one right now is that my new workplace has airconditioning, and my house does not.

Don’t get me wrong, fun-employment in mid-summer London has its perks. The last few weeks have seen plenty of picnics in the parks, sunbathing, various outdoor big screens and large pitchers of Pimms. However London has now transitioned from best-run-of-summer-weather-anyone-can-remember to its-officially-a-heatwave-we-all-might-die. Which means, actually, we’ve had 5 days in a row where the temperature has been at least 5 degrees above the average. Whatever. It’s hot. In a way that other cities I’ve lived in don’t get hot. A sunny day in Auckland is great until about 2pm when the cumulus clouds start piling up, the sea-breeze kicks in, and there an even chance of a late afternoon thunderstorm. Not here. It’s clear, calm and stifling all day long.

Which is nice in San Diego. In London, the streets are narrow and crowded; the buildings are old and designed to be warm in winter, not cool in summer; and most of the infrastructure (including the sewers) was built in Victorian times and has changed little since. All of which adds up to the experience being not quite as pleasant as you might imagine. If you believe the headlines, the central line was hotter and more humid than Bali this week. I believe it. I was there, and it was more like a well-dressed mosh pit at a rave deep inside a volcano. If I’d had to endure the sheep-pen crush of rush hour tube travel in these conditions more than once, I might have quit a job rather than accepted one.

As it is, I’m extremely lucky to have landed a job within easy walking distance of our place, and that walk is a pleasant riverside stroll the whole way. Kayleigh mentioned in the last blog that slow and steady wins the race, and it turns out she was right, despite me doubting the strategy a few times in the last few months. The London job market is a strange beast which has taken me a while to learn to tackle. After many years of skipping happily from one pre-arranged job to the next, it was a steep learning curve for me. The sheer scale of the job market here is mind-blowing and there are far more interesting, well-paid roles than I could ever apply for even if I was spending my entire day on the hunt (which I seldom was).

Unfortunately there are even more well-qualified candidates than there are roles, so getting noticed is a big challenge, even when you know you’d be perfect for the job. There were certainly moments of extreme frustration and anger along the way. Ultimately however, persistence has paid off and I’ve been offered exactly the type of role I wanted, with a great company full of fun, motivated people.

I won’t go into lots of detail here about strategies for finding work. Everyone has plenty of advice to offer, some of it is useful, and some is just barely disguised pity. If you want to know what worked for me send me a private message and I’ll be happy to share some tips. Mostly I just wanted to say that I’m glad I jumped in the deep end. I never would have mustered the determination to secure the job I have now if I’d been sitting comfortably in another job and trying my luck occasionally. In the last few months I learnt more about myself, my talents, and what I want to achieve that I have since basic military training 14 years ago.

To me, all forms of adventure are just ways of learning about yourself. Climbing mountains and sailing oceans are great ways to initiate the learning process. So is quitting your job and moving to the other side of the world on a whim. Everyone should do it. Oh, and if you do, Canada makes a great stopover!

Posted by iainph 10:49 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

L-dizzle to its friends. Or just London.

semi-overcast 16 °C

I feel like I have performed the cardinal sin of blogging. I haven’t. In a while.

In my defence, I am shattered. I work - to look after the house husband, while my house husband makes plans for events to go to after I win the bread. I really am enjoying my new job, but I failed to take into account that having a job, means you have to work, and work is exhausting – well only when you haven’t been accountable to a payrole for 18 odd months.

In my excitement of job obtaining it only took about 4 seconds to realise that having a job meant I have to go to work every day again. Luckily I have an awesome job, with very cool people in a place where I can walk, cycle, bus or train to work, there are not many people that can say that in London.
During all my complaining about having to work while Iain stays at home, I’m pretty happy that we don’t have to sell our kidneys on the black market to pay for our accommodation now, and we can afford either food or beer… not both, guess which one normally wins. No dry July round here.
I have realised a persons opinion on living in central London depends on 3 major things
- where you live,
- how you get to work, and
- what time you have to be there.
It sounds simplistic. But those that live in a area that they don’t necessarily love, but can at least walk to work are happier than those who have to take 2 or 3 connecting tubes to get to their rat race of a job. Tube travel will slowly rot your soul, as well as diminish your personal space allotment.

The third variable of what time you have to be at work, plays a pivotal role – if you have to be at work between 8 and 8.30 like the other 8 million Londoners you get the pleasure of travelling to said work, underneath someone elses underarm. Normally crushed up against someone elses handbag, trying to not touch anyone, not make eye contact and definitely avoiding taking too much of a deep breath. However, if you travel before 7am, you are met with a city of Zombies. (I’m unsure why it needed a capital letter – I think it makes it more scary). These Zombies are people emerging from underground, blinking back whatever light is coming from the sky – then stumbling out into traffic. But there are so few people around, that these people seem to think they are invincible to the lunatic taxi drivers, bikes on a mission to make it to their final destination without suffering a sudden unforeseeable death or bus drivers at the end of their shift. Either that or they are actually the un-dead.

So this depressed me so much even thinking about it, I just got a little addicted to Youtube for the last 25 minutes – thanks Liv McBride for keeping me distracted. I love your cover of Foster the People’s - Pumped Up Kicks.

One of the things I am having to learn, is Englands love of heavy eye make-up. I can’t do it. I haven’t figured out whether it is the shape of my eyes. If its my inability to control my own hands. Or just I haven’t grown up knowing where its ok to stop. I decided yesterday that I look like a cross between Tom Hanks from Philadelphia and Dr. Frank N. Furter from Rocky Horror. I decided its safer if I join the undead and stumble into traffic than attempt ‘The London Look’ again, especially if I intend to keep this job, and not pick up a streetwalking gig.

Iain’s job hunting is going well, slow and steady wins the race he keeps telling me. I am reminded of the 3 weeks he spent snowboarding while I worked in Canada… I’m just glad there is no snow to make me jealous! He has had a few interviews, but is not aiming low and selling himself short. This means that the moment, 80 year old Kayleigh and Iain are paying for our current life (Thanks Superannuation!) – I don’t intend to make it to 80 anyway, there are plenty of trains to jump in front of here, before I need incontinence pants.

So I promise from here, I will put a calendar appointment fortnightly to write a blog. It didn’t take that long, I know it wasn’t the most epic or insightful of blogs, but enough that people remember we are still alive, and have a very nice fold out couch for visitors – we are in Wapping (said Whopping – kiwis, not Wap-ing).

So the calendar is set – now how long can I snooze that before it starts to annoy me?

Posted by kayles 12:46 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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