Belgium – A Delightful Little Country

I started this post a year ago today, and I’ve just notice I missed actually publishing it…so here we go!

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Helene & Pierre

The train from Paris to Brussels is smooth and fast. I was met at the station by Helene, who I’d met when she and Pierre were in Australia and staying at my place. We took the bus to her home, dumped my suitcase before starting on a tour of Brussels.

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Helene & her parents
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Welcome to Belgium meal – home made by Nanette.

Nanette, is the most fabulous cook and had prepared a special dinner to welcome me. It was delicious – especially the dessert tasting plate!

The city centre is compact and very attractive.   2014-09-13 13.44.46 I tried delicious biscuits, visited the Cathedral, the Grand Place, and saw host of other famous landmarks and rubbed the reclining bronze statue (whose name I do not remember!), but the story goes that if I rubbed it I would return to Belgium.

Helene’s family warmly welcomed me to their homes in both Brussels and Wavre which gave me an experience of both the city and countryside. It was just a brief visit, but we managed to jam in heaps!

Belgium might be a tiny little country, but it’s full of history and wonderful scenery. I visited Namur, with its stunning citadel perched high on a craggy hilltop from which you can see for miles. Ideal place to watch out for invaders!

View from Namur Citadel
View from Namur Citadel

We also took a day trip to Bruges which is just delightful. It’s like stepping into a story book with its beautiful old buildings, the river that meanders through the centre of town, pictureques scenes abound around each corner. So many wonderful chocolate shops, delightful lace makers and fabulous little cafe’s. Definitely a place worth a couple of days at least. Sadly, I only had a day.

We even squeezed in a quick visit to Dinant, the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, the chap who invented the saxaphone. A big thank you to Christian for driving us all there! It’s another very nice little town to explore on an afternoon.20140913_182813

Delightful Bruges
Delightful Bruges

Belgium is just a tiny little country but full of beauty; I was very impressed and was very lucky to have Helene as a guide.

Michelle

 

A ROUND UP OF MY WEEK

This week I’ve had the pleasure of working on some very interesting and diverse client projects. I love it when everything starts to fall together, and clients start to notice the difference in their businesses as a result of working with Dragon Sisters.

Speaking of business, the new venture of Van Buerle Enterprises is just getting up and running (actually crawling is probably a better word!) Cooking and eating have long been a passion of our family. We’ve talked for years about getting into this sort of business, and now the moment is right. I’m not writing much about it here because we’re starting a separate blog on that, so if you love food, you might like to pop across and join us there.

The uptake for the An Interview With… has been wonderful since I published the first interview last Sunday. It seems to have struck a chord, and it’s beautiful to see the generosity of successful people who are willing to share their experiences and knowledge so openly. I’ll be publishing an interview each Sunday and of course, I’d love your feedback.

On the personal front, I’m slowly getting all my junk sorted out. Stuff that has been in storage for years is yielding all kinds of discoveries, including old photos from days long before Facebook.

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                       Paris 2014

It was interesting to see this week my Facebook feed popped up a reminder that it was a year since I was in Paris visiting Denise.  Quite a contrast to my very first trip to that beautiful city when I was a very young woman.

On that first trip it was freezing cold, we stayed in a tiny little pension with towels not much thicker than paper. Our car got wedged so tight in a parking spot, between two others, in the street that it had to be lifted out by the garbage men – lucky it was a tiny car! It was a fun and memorable trip.

Eiffel Tower,Paris 1978
                      Up the Eiffel Tower,Paris 1978

I’ve been to Paris in between times, but finding this old photo has taken me right down memory lane. My blog from my last visit, staying in Denise’s lovely apartment is here.

Michelle

A Little Me Time – The Camino

I’ve always espoused the value of Me Time and today I had a lovely midday break  in amongst my busy schedule. I took time out to head to the cinema, unfortunately I couldn’t stretch to enough time for lunch too.

I went to see the movie 6 Ways to Santiago. It’s about 6 different people walking the Camino de Santiago and their experiences. Sitting in the darkened cinema with two of my fellow walking companions, we were transported back to our time on the Camino trail. Cows coming down the streetThe images were beautiful, so much so that we could almost smell the cow dung. As the pilgrims travelled their journey, I vividly recalled the aching muscles as I put one foot in front of each other.

Lucky for me, I didn’t suffer from blisters, but some of my fellow walkers did, however, we looked after each other and soothed our worries away together.

Sore feet
Soaking the footsies!

If you’re thinking of doing the Camino, I highly recommend this documentary. You can also read my blog entries about my experience here.

The Camino is a magical experience. I’m planning another walk in 2016. If you’re interested in joining a small organised group of women on the trip of a lifetime, I’d love you to hear from you.

Michelle

GOODBYE ECIJA

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With the Academy Directors

Friday night saw me bidding  a sad farewell to the last group of my lovely students who have been a part of my life since last September. I have to admit I shed a little tear (and so did some of them). My walk home, after handing in the keys to my boss, was filled with mixed feelings. I knew this was the last time that I would be treading the familiar route, one that I had walked four times a day, in all kinds of weather. As I walked I said a mental goodbye to the places I regularly walked past. Sometimes in the freezing cold, other times with sweat pouring down my face.

One of the things I am really going to miss about being there is the lovely long break in the middle of the day for siesta.  My break was usually 3 or 4 hours, depending on the timetable and whilst it was a bit strange at first, and I never used this as a siesta time, I soon developed the habit  of using these times to work on other projects or simply relax with a good book.

I arrived struggling to speak Spanish, and even more, the accent of Andalucia but now I surprise myself with how much I actually understand and am able to communicate. I think I surprised some of my colleagues and students too. Whilst I am by no means fluent I can get by very well. You can read about my early adventures in the Spain tab of my blog, but my most memorable occasion is the gas bottle episode.

I became accustomed to the fact that all the shops close for lunch and on Sundays, including many of those in Seville and Cordoba too. I learnt to organise myself around their opening hours and Sunday was truly a day or rest and recreation.

Whilst I still registered that the church bells peal out every hour, every day of the week, even through the night. I got used to it and it became a familiar part of daily life in a little Spanish town.

I loved sitting in the Salon (the main square that is more correctly named Plaza Espana) especially in the recent months when the daylight lasted until about 10 o’clock, and at the other little bars having a tapa and watching whole families or varying generations all eating together, the children and dogs all playing sociably. I didn’t enjoy the dog poo that I need to keep a sharp eye out for!

It’s been a great learning experience. Learning about the rich culture, both ancient and modern, learning about the people and the local customs. All in all it’s been a wonderful opportunity to learn first hand about life in a small Spanish town away from all the commercialism and tourist hubble-bubble of the larger cities.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience. Thank you Educalia Ecija and all the fabulous people I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with during my time there.

Michelle

 

Exploring the Albayzin – Granada, Spain

The school year is drawing to a close, at least here in Europe, which means so too is my time here in Spain. I’m making the most of the last few weekends and have been to Granada, Cordoba and Seville this month. Distances are not as vast as at home in Australia, so even though I don’t have a car here, it’s fairly easy to get about from one area to the other. I’m using buses, BlaBla Cars and lovely students who kindly give me lifts if they are headed in the direction I want to go.

Although it’s only a month since my very first visit to Granada, there’s a magic about the place that drew me back once again. My first stop was the cake shop where I indulged myself in not one, but two of the most delicious Arab sweets. It was then down to the serious business of leisurely exploring the Albayzin area, the old Arab quarter. Although I’d visited there before, I didn’t really have enough time for a proper exploration on my first visit.

It’s a very ancient area of the city, also UNESCO world heritage listed, built into the hill on the opposite side of the river to the Alhambra. A series of narrow, steep and winding alleyways offer surprise views and scenes tucked around each b20150430_155323end, including glimpses of the Alhambra in all its glory. There are some areas where cars can squeeze (and it’s definitely a squeeze) along, but for the most part it’s all very, very narrow and you can imagine donkeys being more suited for trekking up and down. I certainly wouldn’t like to have to lug my groceries home from the supermarket, although the idea of a small flat in this area has masses of appeal! I also reckon walking up and down the steep slopes would soon cancel out the sugar ladened cakes I’d be consuming each day if I lived here. Flat shoes are a must and it was with great amusement that I watched a few fashionable young tourists teeter around on their platform shoes.

There is a little bus that you can take up and down, and it’s very cheap (E1.20). We took the bus last time as we were pressed for time. This time my explorations were all on foot, both up and down, round and through the various nooks and crannies, including a visit to the mosque whose gardens are open to the public. The view from here of the Alhambra is pretty spectacular but without the crowds at the Mirador S. Nicholas which is right next door. I also took the big camera this time, so have better shots, but these here are straight from my phone.

My attic room
My attic room where I enjoyed a sound sleep.

By the time I got back to my hotel at around 11pm, my poor little footsies were pretty tired. It was a most welcome relief to slip off my shoes, wiggle my toes and settle back with a glass of bubbly in hand before dragging myself into the shower. The hotel was a converted 16 Century mini palace located right on the Darro. My room, which I’d booked at the last moment, was in what was obviously a converted attic space. I slept like a log!

wpid-20150607_110042.jpg wpid-20150607_105538.jpgSunday morning saw Wayne and myself enjoy a leisurely breakfast before doing some serious haggling for leather bags. Our purchases left us thirsty – shopping is hard work – so we headed  into yet another colourwpid-20150607_125119.jpgful square, for refreshments and watched the local townsfolk go about their regular Sunday businewpid-20150607_124841.jpgss.  In the afternoon we headed back to Ecija which is a total contrast to Granada and certainly a whole lot cheaper in terms of eating out. I guess I’ve been spoilt spending all these months in a little local place where I’ve got used to paying local prices. I reckon I’m going to be in for a rude shock when I am back in Australia again. However, I’m really looking forward to a bowl of laksa!

Michelle

A Week in Yorkshire

My last blog post was from Malaga just before I headed to the UK. To Yorkshire to be precise, which is where my mother’s ancestral roots lie. I spent many a wonderful holiday in my youth with my grandparents in the picturesque village of Green Hammerton which lies midway between York and Harrogate. I also lived and worked in England both in York and London for a few years, but that was a long time ago, it’s been 14 years since my last visit.Spring Tuba The Ship_Aldborough Mailvan_Phoneb GH20150330_112141-1

It was a delightful week, which flew past all too fast, and although the weather was cold, I was in my brother’s flat which is beautifully heated so I was very cosy and warm. Before I hopped into bed each night the electric blanket made it all warm and toasty before I slipped between the sheets each night.

The coming of Spring is certainly a wonderful time of year to visit England, as daffodils gaily line roadsides and tubs filled with spring flowers added a splash of colour, so even though the air is cold, the outlook is bright.

I spent a very happy time catching up with friends and family, eating favourite foods, both at home and out at the little country pubs which are so unique to the UK. They have English pubs all over the world, but they are just not the same. There is a special atmosphere that oozes from the buildings, the stone floors, the wooden beams and furniture that echo with hundreds of years of history, these places existed long before Australia was even colonised.

I know people say that English cooking is terrible, but that’s not true. It depends on who does the cooking. I feasted on steak and kidney pie, chicken and mushroom pie, Whitby fish stuffed with spinach and prawns served with white wine sauce, roast pork with proper, homemade Bramley apple sauce and much more. In between meals I feasted on homemade shortbread, Wensleydale cheese, Jaffa cakes, Pontefract cakes and the odd piece of fruit for good measure. I’m not sure how much weight I stacked on but who cares!

I arrived back in Spain last night and am all set to start work again later today on what is the final term of the school year here.

Michelle

Malaga – a city of contrasts

The drive from my current home town of Ecija to Malaga yesterday was. much to my surprise, so  picturesque. Very green, peppered with olive groves, scenic hill tops dotted with the occasional houses, dramatic drops and finally the views of the Mediterranean sea sparkling in the distance.

A big shout out and thank you to Nati and Javier for giving me a lift as they headed to visit their friends in Marbella.

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Looking out over the port from Alcazaba

The city is a mix of the old and new. Beautiful beaches complete with bars and restaurants, a marina, port and heaps of museums. It’s a city aimed tourists with several information points where they speak a multitude of languages, wheelchair ramps and streets that are no longer cobbled.

A myriad of modern shops and goodness knows how many different restaurants and bars! Plenty of foreign tourists and menus are in English in lots of places which I avoided like the plague!

Instead I settled20150328_152610 for a cute little place that looked much more local as everyone sitting at the bar was speaking Spanish. Special of the day was plump pulpo grilled to order on the charcoal fire.

I sat for an hour enjoying watching all the action at the bar as the staff bustled about. Tapas is a most civilised way of eating and I love being able to order a dish at a time, especially as if I spot something going past that I fancy, I can just order the same so no cases of menu envy here.

View of Gibralfaro walking towards the city
View of Gibralfaro walking towards the city

Although situated smack bang in the middle of modern-day Malaga, once I stepped into the Alcazaba I was transported back in time. To an era where life was very different. The perfume of orange blossom, lavender growing wild and the wonderful courtyards all offered a sense of serenity and wonder at the amazing people who built this wonder place-fortress that dates back to the 11th century.

The Alcazaba and Gibralfaro are testament to Malaga’s Muslim past with each boasting 360 degree views over the city, including the sea and the hill ranges and I can just imagine that in days of old they were fantastic vantage points to watch for invaders and homecoming vessels.20150328_170859

In contrast to the Muslim history is the Cathedral of Malaga, which whilst not as impressive as that of Seville, is worth visiting even if they do charge a E5 entrance fee but I am told it’s free on Sundays. Lots of wonderful stained glass and the interior is not as dark as Seville.

There are also several museums belonging to the various Brotherhoods in Malaga with displays of Semana Santa regalia. I visited Confradia de la Esperanza which was truly impressive with beautiful embroidered garments, gold and silver ornaments, a wonderful painted ceiling depicting the history of the Br20150328_190940otherhood and boasts the largest floats in Malaga. They were truly impressive. In this photo you can see part of the mural.

Last nigh the streets were being prepared for the Semana Santa parades with chairs lining the main routes and verandahs all decked out with red cloths giving a uniform look to the route. Bands are kicking off the week by parading through the streets where the somber sounds of the drums and trumpet mark their slow procession as the crowds look on. Street stalls are popping up everywhere and the city is ready for a week of celebrations.

The first paso just went by earlier this morning. Watching them walk gave me shivers, the experience is very difficult to describe. Primitive almost and at the same time awe-inspiring. Even though we are in a modern city, the feeling is that of a time when the Church was at the height of its power in Spain. It’s a very eery feeling.

The discipline and dedication of those bearing the paso is incredible. It’s also extremely hot so even more impressive. The crowds that line the route are so thick that it’s difficult to walk about.

I’m off to England now and I have to say I think a week of drums would drive me crackers! It has however been a fascinating experience and when I get back on Sunday there’ll still be parades taking place.

Michelle