December 23, 2014

DAILY ROUTINE: MY FAVOURITE CHRISTMAS MOVIES

A few more hours and the official countdown for Christmas Eve and the day itself can begin. I have to work on Christmas but only in the afternoon so I still feel festive about it and tomorrow evening will be filled with French food and movies! On that note I thought I'd share my favourites with you. I saw Marianne's post last week on her blog Californienne and I'm hoping she won't mind me shamelessly stealing her idea! I hadn't seen most of the movies she listed, so be sure to check out her post but it got me thinking about my list. I have to admit though, some of the movies below aren't really about Christmas, but what the hell - it's about the feeling right? 

HOME ALONE (1990)



Let's begin with a classic and dare I say THE Christmas movie of the last 20 years? I can't really believe it was released in 1990 - I mean, I was born that year! Anyway, I just never seem to be able to get enough of this movie. I've seen it so many times and it's still hilarious. I should probably watch it again...

THE HOLIDAY (2006)


 

I saw this movie with my sister in the theater on Christmas day - because the cinema's about the only thing open on a bank holiday - many many years ago. It's a funny story, since we actually saw the end of this movie first. We'd arrived a bit late and - assuming that the movie had already started - just went in without thinking. We sat down and then realized we'd walked in on the previous showing. Two minutes later the lights went on and we had no choice but to exit with everyone else. And then we went back in with the next people. The happy ending was kind of ruined but it's not like we didn't see that one coming, right? 

LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)


 

Another recent classic. This one is a masterpiece with an instant feel good effect. I normally don't like movies with multiple story lines - I can't help but pick my favourite characters and then want to only know more about them instead of the others -  but this one surprised me. For anyone who hasn't seen this one and needs (even more) convincing... two words: Hugh.Grant. 

HUIT FEMMES (2002)



One of my all time favourites. My mother (she's a French teacher) introduced us to this one and it was amazing! It is such a typical, absurd French movie like only they can make them. I mean it's a crime story and a musical (and I don't even like musicals that much), set around Christmas. Plus, I've been told the cast is pretty impressive. Need I say more? The story begins when a family gets together for Christmas and the father is found dead, stabbed in the back. The eight women in the house each have their motives and while they try to figure out who the killer is, a lot(!) of secrets come to the surface. Oh and the clothing and decor are stunning! Watch the trailer here

LITLLE WOMEN (1994)


So I guess this is the odd one out. It's not really a Christmas movie, but it has snow in it! And I used to watch it almost every Christmas break so I associate it with winter and a decorated tree in the background. I did read the book, but I just love the actors in this film, especially Winona Ryder. Watching it again brings back so many memories!


Happy Christmas!



PS: What's your favourite Christmas movie?

December 12, 2014

EXPAT LIFE: HOW DO YOU CELEBRATTE CHRISTMAS?


My second Christmas away from home is coming up and the weather is (sometimes) looking like what I'm used to for this time of the year. It's been raining all morning in San Diego because of the storm and it's pretty chilly outside. Perfect weather for wrapping presents, drinking hot chocolate and putting up some festive decorations! Oh and cleaning, but that's not something fun.

Christmas to me was always about wishing for snow (and presents of course when I was younger). We officially had a white Christmas in 2009 (for the first time in thirty! years) and in 2010 when I was studying in London. I still remember that time since I had to take the Eurostar home and the whole country had shut down. But IF it snows in Belgium, it usually does so right before Christmas or right after. The weather gods don't like us very much. And unless we're going to the mountains this year (we aren't) this 'snowless' tradition is not going to change. 

Everything else has pretty much changed however in tiny ways, although the overall theme is the same. Every family has different Christmas traditions just like every country does. We celebrate it on the 24th usually opening presents after dinner and our little family tradition was to watch a Disney movie around midnight. I think this started with Nemo when my cousin came up with the idea and has gone on since then.

Last year I got to experience 'the American way' and the 24th went by preparing food for the 25th when the whole family came over for a Christmas brunch/lunch. San Diego was its old sunny self and the Christmas tree looked pretty exotic with the palm trees from the backyard in the background. And this year... I hope  to have a mixture of both! 

How do you spend Christmas and do you have strange family traditions?

December 9, 2014

CITIES & TRIPS: ONE PLACE YOU JUST HAVE TO VISIT IN HAWAII


Aloha and happy Tuesday (evening) everyone! Back to our trip to Hawaii because I'm taking you on a snorkeling adventure. Of course we had brought our gear to this little piece of paradise and it was definitely worth it. The ocean is already pretty amazing just bodyboarding or swimming in it, but with crystal clear water and the colourful fish to spot... you can't miss out on snorkeling in Hawaii! The great thing about the area we stayed in (and maybe this is just typical for the Islands in general) is that you can basically go snorkeling at any random beach and see amazing things. Which we did. But to be honest, one spot was definitely on another level... 


Captain Cook Monument

The man who 'discovered', basically the first European to set foot there, the Hawaiian Islands was Captain James Cook. It didn't end well for him there but nevertheless you can find a monument in his honour in Kealakekua Bay on the side of the Island we stayed at. And Nick - the little researcher he is - found out that it's also a pretty magical place for snorkeling. At first we thought the cove could only be reached by boat or kayak, but eventually we found out that there is a hiking trail leading down the hill to that very same spot. 

Doesn't this look like paradise to you?
 I've heard this is actually British soil... So I guess we can say we visited the UK as well on our trip
On our way back up the hill...

I'm sure the boating or kayaking trip is fun - especially after seeing an awesome party boat with slides and a BBQ there, but we wanted to save some money and that meant physical exercise! The hike was only around 4 miles round trip but involved some serious change in elevation. The way there was downhill and went pretty smoothly, but hiking to a cove means that the way back will of course be mainly uphill... So be sure to bring plenty of water and a hat for the sun, since there is NO shade. You don't have to take my word for it but I did almost died there! PS: if you want to see turtles or even dolphins you do have to get there before the boats do!

This fish really wanted its picture to be taken and was swimming around while obviously posing for the camera

In the end however, it is definitely worth it. Yes, it was a long way uphill and you're carrying all your stuff, but it doesn't outweigh the memory of getting there and literally feel like you just landed in paradise. It's as if you've discovered this little corner of the world yourself, even though there are a hundred people snorkeling around. But they all came by boat, so that doesn't count. 

To be honest I had never snorkeled before we went to Hawaii - and I definitely lost a lot of hair trying to get that mask off - but now I can't wait to go snorkeling around San Diego. And even though I have nothing to compare it to this spot is pretty special. And based on the reactions of some more experienced snorkelers with me, it can safely say this is a 'you have to see this with your own eyes to believe it'-experience.

Have you gone snorkeling? What is you most amazing experience?


Linking up with Bonnie, Cynthia, Yalanda & Courtney for Travel Tuesday

December 3, 2014

CITIES & TRIPS: THANKSGIVING IN HAWAII

Hello there! I'm back. I hope all of the American readers had a great Thanksgiving! I don't know why I took a blogger break for a few weeks when my vacation only lasted one week, but it happened. Again. To make it up to you however, the island vibe is taking over the blog today and I will share some Hawaiian sun and pictures of beautiful beaches to battle the short days and cold nights. Does that sound like a plan? 


It was my first time travelling to Hawaii and it's probably even safe to say that I don't think anyone of my family and friends back home have had the chance to go there (correct me if I'm wrong, guys) since it's so far. But still... flying to Honolulu from Los Angeles takes longer than you'd think (almost 6 hours!), a second shorter flight took us to Kona et voila! Let the adventure begin. 

The Big Island of Hawaii is actually the less populated one. I didn't know this, but I can confirm that there were very few people living in the area up north where we stayed. With just volcanic rocks, beaches and resorts surrounding you, what else can you do but relax?  


We basically spent almost every day at the beach - hurrah for beach days in November - and drank too much (is there such a thing?) alcohol. It was bliss. The only downside is that we had to miss the family reunion for Thanksgiving. No turkey for us this year... We had a very unconventional dinner as in a delicious piece of tuna and tried to make pumpkin pie without all the necessary spices. No need to be jealous!

It is crazy how warm it still is there. The weather literally does not change and I am now ready to admit that San Diego does have seasons. The climate does depend on which side of the island you are on (we were on the dry side) and the elevation. One day for example we drove up the mountain to the nearest town - which was about 15 min away - and the temperature dropped 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) and it was pouring outside. But still, where we were it was hot, humid and the water was warm. In short, a perfect place to get some vitamin D during the winter and float around in the ocean. 


So stay tuned for some snorkeling stories, how I refused to use bug spray and got covered in mosquito bites and tips on how not to use a disposable underwater camera. Mahalo!

November 11, 2014

IN FLANDERS FIELDS...

A DAY IN IEPER

Today is Armistice day in Belgium, a national holiday to commemorate the fallen soldiers of World War I. My grandparents were born when the war ended so I've never known anyone who actively lived through it, but the effects of it can still be seen throughout many Belgian towns. When I was back home this summer we visited some of the battlefields and cemeteries and I can't think of a better day to show these pictures to you. 

My instagram // view from inside the Cloth hallen (lakenhallen) in Ypres

First of all, Ieper or Ypres in French is a beautiful city to visit in West-Flanders. One of the more famous buildings is the Cloth Hall, a medieval commercial building that was one of the largest buildings at that time. Completed in 1304, the Cloth Hall was completely in ruins after the war. Luckily, it has since been reconstructed and you can still admire its architecture in the main square. Nowadays, it is home to the In Flanders Fields Museum

Grote Markt 34, 8900 Ieper

A waffle shop in the main square


FRONT LINE HOOGHE


After our visit to the museum we stopped at this battlefield. From the Menin road that runs along Kasteelhof 't Hooghe (a hotel now) this place looks like an idyllic forest. The lake however, was created by a large explosion beneath the German trenches and it is still surrounded by trenches and bunkers. You can visit the grounds everyday between 9 and 7 and you'll only be asked for a small donation in return. 

Kasteelhof 't Hooghe, Meenseweg 481, 8902 Zillebeke



THE MENIN GATE


The Menin Gate is a war memorial for the British and Commonwealth soldiers who are still missing. It basically lists all the soldiers whose bodies have not yet been found and whose families have not been able to bury them. It was the first time I stayed long enough to listen to the Last Post at 8 pm and it was a very special experience. The Last Post has been played at this memorial every day since 1928 (with the exception of World War II). To say it draws a lot of tourists and locals alike is an understatement.

Menenstraat, 8900 Ieper, Belgium



TYNE COT


Before we would head home again, we decided to stop at the Tyne Cot cemetery. I had been there once before, in high school and it had made such a lasting impression on me that I wanted Nick to see it as well. Tyne Cot is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world and if you cannot grasp just how many lives were claimed you will definitely have an idea after seeing these graves. It is surrounded by farming fields in the Flemish country side and when we were there - it was definitely past 8.30 - on that summer evening it looked incredibly peaceful. 


In Flanders fields the poppies grow, 
Between the crosses, row on row,


That mark our place; and in the sky


The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
John McCrae 




Linking up with Bonnie, Cynthia, Yalanda & Courtney for Travel Tuesday

November 7, 2014

EXPAT LIFE: WHAT I DIDN'T TELL YOU ABOUT MY FIRST DAYS IN THE US


California is like paradise. It's the perfect place for a vacation (what Spain or Italy is to most of Europe I guess) with the perfect weather year round, mountains to the east and gorgeous beaches to the west. It also couldn't have been more different from the gray and rainy place I grew up in. So today I'm linking up with Holly from Full of Beans and Sausages to shed a bit of light on my first days as an expat in this surreal state. 

Anyone who can read Dutch will probably already know from the very first post on this blog, but my flight to the US didn't go exactly as planned. I had booked a one way ticket around two weeks before (which made my actual time to say goodbye very short) and was in for a long ride: I had to fly from Brussels to London, London to New York and lastly from New York to San Diego. As long as I would arrive safely, without too much difficulties entering the country as a K1 I would be happy. Or so I thought. Turns out entering the country was the easy part. Getting to San Diego, not so much.

I've never had problems with flights before so for fate to throw that in my lap at that specific moment was a low blow! I had been waiting at the gate for almost five hours when they announced that the plane couldn't depart due to weather problems. Panic. I had no idea what to do, who to call (I didn't have a US cell yet) or where to go. Following the crowds I waited for my luggage and then waited in a long line for two hours with my three suitcases. How I managed to stay upright and get on a plane to LA at 10 pm I don't know but by the time I arrived at LAX in the middle of the night I was exhausted. At that point I hadn't washed in a day and a half and didn't look at all presentable anymore. So the flight to San Diego at 6 AM couldn't come soon enough. 

Ciders galore // Sending wedding invitations // finding new snacks I love // spending time with Ace

I guess the bumpy ride getting here reflected my emotions on moving, because those last few days before I left were spent with a heartache. Choosing to be with Nick meant leaving everyone else behind and even though I wanted to live abroad I had never planned on being THAT far away from my family. I was so happy when I saw him at the commuter airport in San Diego that morning, obviously he hadn't been able to sleep and we were both one big mess. 

To be perfectly honest, those first days were a roller coaster ride. I went from being extremely happy to being really sad in just seconds. I had expected it to be an 'easy' transition but I have never been as homesick in my entire life as in those few weeks. It was all a bit overwhelming. 'What have I done' was a frequent thought running through my head followed by 'how am I going to make this work'. I'd been to San Diego a couple of times already, but somehow that exciting feeling you have on a holiday when everything is interesting and fun had disappeared. This was to be my life now and I had never felt so foreign. I had also never felt so ungrateful. I got what I wanted and wasn't I supposed be happy? And who complains about California? Add the fact that I had a wedding to plan in less than a months and it's enough to drive anyone insane. Thank god for Nick, or I would have gone insane!

Thinking back to that time now, I probably went through a period of mourning. I hadn't properly said goodbye to Belgium because I had been too focused on what was coming next and crossing the Atlantic, well it hit me right in the face. Of course there were good times too! We were able to catch up without any time limits, watched shows together and had after work drinks when Nick came home. I found my favourite ciders, we barbecued A LOT and sat by the fire at night. I also got to play with the new puppy and I my parents would arrive only a month after me for the wedding. 

And right now? I can actually say I'm finally starting to feel at home. I have a routine, I know how most things work and I started loving living so close to the beach. We sometimes even go twice a day and have bought wet suits for the winter... which makes me think I'm turning into a real Californian! 

It feels weird writing this down and reliving those memories and feelings. I guess that feeling of missing home never really goes away, does it? 

November 5, 2014

OUT AND ABOUT: TAKING THE TROLLEY AROUND SAN DIEGO


To me discovering a city is usually about walking around, taking your time and hopping on and off the metro/bus/bike. In San Diego this seems a bit less convenient although I have never the trolley downtown and have never really given the bus a chance. I'm assuming it's definitely an option, but if you have little time to discover this beautiful city and want to get a good overview I would definitely recommend the trolley tour I took my friends on this summer. I stumbled upon it by accident and booked the tickets because I didn't feel like driving downtown, parking, leaving after half an hour and doing the same thing all over again. There's much more room in these 'new' American cities, but somehow parking is still a pain in the butt. And sometimes you just have to be a complete tourist and go for it, right? So here are some stops you might want to get off at:

OLD TOWN MARKET


I'm sure there's more than one company that offers these kind of tours, but we took the Old Town Trolley, departing from... yes, Old Town. You can hop on anywhere you like along the stops, but the first trolley leaves from this particular place and the early birds have a big parking lot at their disposal. Old Town is a state protected historical park and is one of the most visited parks in California. It takes you back in time to the early days of San Diego and is home to a few original buildings from the 1820's to 1860's. It's basically as close to an 'old city center' as you can get here, plus it's a good spot for souvenir shopping and I've heard there are some pretty good Mexican restaurants!

THE HARBOR


San Diego is famous for Comic Com and beer, but its harbor is pretty famous too. A must see at this stop is the USS Midway Museum. Trust me, even if you're not at all interested in ships or jets (like me) it's pretty impressive. Although, you might want to adjust the schedule a bit because you will want to spend a few hours on this famous aircraft carrier. Apart from the Midway there are several other museums and ships to visit such as the ship from Master and Commander and the world's oldest active sailing ship: the Star of India. Or you can just take a cruise around the harbor and enjoy the views! 

SEAPORT VILLAGE



Since this one is still on my to do list, I can't tell you much about it other than it looked incredibly cute. Seaport Village is a waterfront shopping and dining area and as some people on Yelp describe is "a pretty cool place for a tourist trap". 

CONVENTION CENTER


Home to the increasingly popular Comic Com convention, the original part of the Convention Center opened in 1989 but a new part was added in 2001 for the growing numbers coming to the convention every year. It's supposed to resemble a ship on the waves (because it's near the harbor?) and they're trying to pass yet another expansion at this moment. It is just a short walk from the Gaslamp Quarter & downtown San Diego and you can walk along the waterfront.

HORTON PLAZA


Horton Plaza is a half block of city park that was sold to Alonzo Horton in 1895, a guy who's had some major impact on San Diego. It's been under construction for quite some time now and I don't think I've even seen it without the scaffolding yet. Behind Horton Plaza is one of the first shopping centers I went to in the US. Although most of them pretty much all look the same and have the same shops, I quite like this one. Covering several floors, with several escalators and a maze of a floor plan, you never really know where you are (unless you come here every day of course). The architecture is really colourful and a bit odd but I always stop here when I'm in the area.

What it's supposed to look like eventually (image source)

GASLAMP QUARTER


The historic Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego is the perfect spot for a happy hour or a night out. It's famous for the numerous bars and restaurants and it's the place to be for a lot of events. San Diego's baseball stadion Petco Park is just a block away.

CORONADO

The Coronado Bridge
Hotel Del

Technically Coronado is its own city and therefore not part of San Diego, but that's not a reason to skip it now, is it? Driving to the island (which is actually connected to land) you'll cross the Coronado bridge and get spectacular views of San Diego and the harbor. Stopping at the Coronado ferry landing you'll be able to take some amazing pictures of the San Diego skyline and to top it off you're next stop will take you to the magnificent Hotel Del. Like any other old building in the US, it's supposedly haunted! In 2012 Coronado beach was listed as the best beach in the US. Just sayin'. 

BALBOA PARK/ SAN DIEGO ZOO


Balboa Park is San Diego's 1.200 acre or 490 ha city park. It's an urban park and you'll find several museums there (I think about ...), a few theaters (including a copy of a copy of the Old Globe), several gardens and the San Diego Zoo. On Sundays you can even enjoy free organ music at the pavilion. So if your not tired from a whole day of hopping on and off that green trolley, you can always get your exercise here. 

I've skipped a couple of minor stops but the last one (depending on where you started) before going back to Old Town, is Little Italy. Which is a great stop for having some delicious Italian dinner! 

I really enjoyed the background stories we heard on the bus (you don't get that when your husband drives you around) but no matter how you to decide to spend you time in San Diego these stops are the basic must-sees and the views will make it well worth your time. Just one tip: don't try to do it all in one day...

PS: If locals ride for free when they bring a tourist along. I call that a win-win situation.

Have you ever been to San Diego?

October 30, 2014

ROAD TRIP: A WEEKEND IN SEATTLE

During my first visit to the US Nick and I took an epic road trip up the West Coast. We traveled from San Diego all the way to Seattle in two weeks, camping along the way. This is the story of that journey and you can read the previous posts here.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Behold: Seattle! The last stop on our road trip before heading home, which meant we not only survived two weeks of camping and driving but also a very important relationship test. We were both alive and didn't hate each other, yay! 

The Space Needle

Anyone who's ever been to Seattle is probably already thinking that these pictures look awfully sunny. I think we hit the jackpot when we picked that specific weekend in August. We were told not to get used to it since this was probably the sunniest weekend of the whole summer! 

As you can see we even went swimming in Lake Washington! It really felt like a summer holiday back home when it's one of those really hot days and everyone goes to the local lake or park. 

I still have that sweater
The first Starbucks


Even without the sun though I think I would still have fallen in love with this city. Seattle is right up my alley. It's not too big, not too small, it feels a bit alternative and has amazing views. I think I especially fell in love with the views of Mt. Rainier but for some reason I don't have a picture of that stunning work of nature...

And for those of you who know me by now, I could't ignore the fact that my favourite musician died in this city. There was an exhibition on Nirvana at the EMP Museum so I dragged Nick there and we drove past Kurt Cobain's house on Lake Washington Blvd and saw the bench covered in writings right next to the house. I don't know if anyone lives there right now but it must be strange to have so many people lurking around, trying to catch a glimpse of your house. 



So this is it: no more posts about our road trip. I'm officially closing this chapter but before I do I have to share some idyllic pictures of a hike we did to Rattlesnake Ledge. It was my first proper hike up a mountain in years (remember we don't have mountains in Belgium, just hills) so it wasn't a very relaxing experience. I was constantly trying to follow the group and not look like too much of a European in front of Nick's friends. By the time we reached the top I was done and kind of irritated but the views... completely worth it!

I mean, look at this! We had an overview of Rattlesnake Lake below and just amazing photo opportunities in 360 degrees. Washington is beautiful.



I had an amazing time driving up the coast and Seattle completely stole my heart. We ended up staying there for four days before driving back in two. The way home was a lot less interesting of course since we only took the freeways so I'm going to skip that part and finish strong!

Have you ever been to Seattle?


A very late link-up with BonnieCamilaJessi and Amy for Travel Tuesday
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...