Wanderlust 2015: Travel Dreams a Plenty

A year never turns out how you’d expect, does it?

2014 was not at all what we thought it would be and the uncertainty looks like it will continue into this year, with Mr B  working abroad while I stay put in Belgium.

It’s not all bad news, I was lucky enough to visit three new countries last year. We also got to dip a toe into the Middle East where Mr B is posted, a completely new region for us both. It goes without saying it’s a part of the world with a huge amount of history with which we’ve been trying to get to grips. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can get back there again.

Mr B’s posting disrupted almost all of our travel plans (and our lives!) last year so this year we have two goals: try to see as much of each other as possible while maximising our leave and to get serious about savings. The savings goal is going to be challenging as we tend to prioritise travel over pretty much everything else – we figure we work hard and we love to explore new places but this year we will try to be more disciplined…

Asia/Australasia: Burma/Myanmar is still top of the list but in reality it is just going to have to wait as life pulls us in a different direction in 2015. Mr B has added Vietnam to his wish list, somewhere I’ve already been but a country that has changed dramatically since I visited.

India, I have been pining for you so much recently. You are still in my heart and I hear you calling. Perhaps 2016?

North America: We definitely want to get to Mr B’s home next year for Christmas. His poor mother is heartbroken we had to cancel our plans last year. I can’t wait for another taste of her amazing Christmas cookies and to chop down the family tree at the Christmas tree lot [for Brits it is just too cool that you can do this, with actual snow for added wow factor]. It’s highly unlikely we’ll get to do our planned mini road trip in California (boo) but we have a great deal in New York from all Mr B’s travel points that we REALLY hope we can take advantage of before the summer.

Africa: Ethiopia, never fear, you are still there, tempting me at the top of my list. Sadly my pending *ahem, large* birthday trip to Sierra Leone has been abandoned with the ongoing health crisis in that part of the world. Mr B is still dreaming of seeing the migration across the Mara.

Middle East: *new addition!* We loved Jordan last autumn and would like to go back. Jerusalem is now also vying for our attention, as is Oman. If my visa comes through next week, Saudi will be a destination, albeit one I never thought I’d see.

South America: Oh Belize and Chile, you are still there, don’t worry. My friend A is also doing a hard sell on Cartagena having returned from Christmas there. It is, she assures me, where all the cool kids are going, “on the upswing to trendy” she reports. You heard it here first.

Closer to Home/Europe: With all the crazy unpredictability of 2014, A and I did not get our weekend away to Italy. This year we WILL. If the finding of a date that works and planning KILLS us, I don’t care. We’re going. Florence remains in our sights. Jess on Thames, with her spontaneous trip to Seville has opened up another avenue of travel lust for a city I have wanted to see for a long, long time.

I want to get back to explore more of Mechelen and Antwerp. And crazy Belgian festivals are always fun, there are a couple I have my eye on during the months ahead. And it is the 200th anniversary of Waterloo this year. And Mons is the European Capital of Culture. It’s all going off in Belgium in 2015….

Happy 2015, may the road rise up to meet you!

Thanks to Emma, Kelly and Rebecca for the Linkup!

//Grand’Place Brussels, Christmas Lights 2014// Sacré Coeur, Paris// Poppies, Tower of London

//Petra, Jordan// Strasbourg// Cologne Cathedral// Brown Lake, B.C // Mahon gin // Amman, Jordan

// Cuitadella, Menorca// Koksijde fisherman, Belgium // Mechelen, Belgium

Wake me up when September ends

Last month I gave myself a break. There is only one way to make the waiting in a long distance relationship go faster and that is to get out and keep active. It’s too hard to focus only on a list of chores that need to be done or to count the hours until we’ll have a chance to Skype.

September saw me visit the beautiful city of Strasbourg in Alsace. It was a bittersweet trip as this is where Mr B and I started. The city is gorgeous, with its famous cathedral, storks and the Petit France historic area. I’m hoping I’ll be able to return for the Christmas market at the end of the year which has to be one of the best in Europe given its blend of French and German traditions.

Petit France, Strasbourg Strasbourg Cathedral autumn colours, Strasbourg Petit France, Strasbourg

Back in Brussels, I took advantage of the journees du patromoine which always offer an amazing, officially sanctioned opportunity to gork around and look inside many of the landmark buildings across the city. I’ve been inside many of this year’s offerings thanks to work but I loved being able to peek inside one of the churches I pass regularly on my way to work but which up until now I’ve never seen open.

Set Catherine's church, Brussels Interior Set Catherine church All seeing eye Ste Catherine Church

Sadly, I was disappointed by this year’s Kanal Festival. It’s a shame, as it is one of my favourites, given that it takes place in our neighbourhood. My overall feeling is that there was just not enough funding available to make the installations really worth seeing. The origami refugee camp, highlighting the plight of thousands of ‘sans papiers‘ in Belgium, was the clear highlight. Fingers crossed that next year things come together.

Taumascopio relfections sculpture Elaine The reality of KanalFestival 2014 Kanal Festival 2014 origami refugee camp Canal zone, Brussels

Things we learned on holiday

Apparently ‘obli-cations’, where you spend your leave doing administrative tasks or seeing people you feel you should see, are now ‘a thing’. Expats are pretty au fait with this sense of ‘how-much-can-I-cram-in’ when returning home.  This year, we did three things differently.

Just as well, considering we didn’t know then that we were about to be separated for a year.

First, to redress last year’s tilt in favour of time with Mr B’s family, we organised a week in Spain with my family. The first time we’ve all been away together since leaving home. And the first time with spouses and children in tow. Mr B is a patient man and it is important to balance time between our families. Life is too short.

And despite all the men in the family prophesying (since the planning started a year ago) that it was a terrible idea, bound to end in chaos and acrimony, we all had FUN. We drank a lot, we ate a lot, we were LOUD and silly, in the true tradition of the family. The children were spoiled and cuddled. We all loved beautiful Menorca, with its prehistoric monuments, gorgeous cities, fresh produce and some of the most stunning beaches in the Mediterranean. If you haven’t discovered this Balearic gem, go.

Secondly, on our trip [to his] home and, I admit, mostly as a result of my continuous complaints that we’re both missing out by letting obligations stand in the way of ‘our’ adventure time, we took a few days to be alone. With ageing parents, siblings and a wide circle of friends, we normally wear ourselves out trying to see too many people. This time, we focused on catching up with his best friend and those of his oldest friends who we haven’t seen in a while. It was awesome, an approach that really worked for us. It allowed us to spend real time focused on what matters: reconnecting. My favourite part? Learning new things about Mr B; the places he used to go, the times he sneaked out of the house.

And we got to spend time in the beautiful mountains of British Columbia. Always a bonus.

Thirdly, our Long Distance Relationship element that began at the end of the summer has meant a re-evaluation of our travel plans for the rest of the year. You never know when things are going to change. We’re unlikely to be able to return to Canada at Christmas which is bumming Mr B out.

Instead, we’re trying to snatch time together during his R&R breaks and thinking about new regions and new adventures over the course of the next year.

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

My best friend A is lucky enough to have a family apartment at Oostduinkerke on the Belgian coast. It is from A that I first heard about the dying tradition of paardenvissers, an ever-shrinking group of shrimp fishermen who still use horses to trawl for their catch. It is a tradition that can be traced back half a millennium and was once common not only in Belgium but also in the UK and France.

By 1968, there were only seven horseback shrimp fishermen left in Oostduinkerke, this number had risen to around twelve when they were recognised as an ‘intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO in 2013.

Being a bit of a sucker for quirky Belgian events, seeing the fishermen in action has been high on my ‘must see’ list for some time (the Ypres cat-throwing festival is also waaaay up there, roll on May 2015). Mr B and I had checked the timetable for this summer, only to be thwarted by his departure for a year-long project abroad.

Readers, the stars aligned and Mr B returned for a few days of R&R that coincided with the last outing of the season. The morning was gorgeous, one last shot at summer for this year. There is always something magical about having a day off when the rest of the world is working, isn’t there?

We decided to start at Koksijde, the amusingly named village just down the coast from Oostduinkerke, and strolled along the broad, golden sands hand in hand, feeling quite giddy with being reunited, albeit briefly, and the sense of pending adventures.

The UNESCO recognised shrimp fisherman of Oostduinkere, Belgium

The UNESCO recognised shrimp fisherman of Oostduinkere, Belgium

Clam diggers and horse lovers alike at the Belgian coast

Clam diggers and horse lovers alike at the Belgian coast

High tide markers, Koksijde, Belgium

At the Oostduinkerke end of the beach you’ll be able to see a small group of the shrimp fishermen working together (Alison at CheeseWeb has a beautiful account of her visit last year here). We, however, were lucky enough to stumble across a lone fisherman, well away from the crowds, surrounded only by his wife, a couple of clam diggers and shrimp fisherman working by hand…and a practically every seagull in Belgium.

Paardenvisser, a rarer and rarer sight in Belgium.

Paardenvisser, a rarer and rarer sight in Belgium.

We caught the paardenvisser as he emerged from the sea after his first run of the morning, unloaded his catch for his wife to sort and went back in for a second trawl, his feet hitched up high by the horse’s neck in the traditional way.

Fisher horse

Fisher horse

Hitched up & heading for the sea

Shrimp fisherman gears up

Horses scare me but this little fisher horse was a peach. So patient, and perfectly accustomed to wading along the water up to his neck, fearless in the face of the waves breaking around him.

Heading out to for the 2nd shrimp sweep of the day

It is an incredible sight and, I can’t help feeling, a much more sustainable way to gather the tiny, grey shrimp that Belgians love so much.

Long Distance Blues

What we swore we’d never do again, we’re doing. Mr B is currently on an assignment overseas. Neither of us know at this stage when he’ll be back.

It sucks.

The truth is that Long Distance Relationships (LDRs) are hard, particularly when there is no end point in sight.

LDR test relationships, particularly when your relationship is not at its best to begin with.

For the first time, it is us who are struggling. And that is making me fear the distance more than ever; with its sporadic, truncated communication (long working days & time zones) and the draw of new challenges and locales.

On the one hand the assignment is good – it’s a new set of skills for him; it’s safeguarding his job (damn you recession) and it’s giving him some time for himself, to reflect during an annus horribilis.

For me, left behind, the prospect of a long LDR is also bittersweet. We’ve got into a rut, things have been too routine. We’ve taken each other for granted.

I’m finding inspiration from incredibly strong military wives who go through this process permanently and repeatedly (hat tip to you ladies) and from other expats in the same position (thank you Betsy TransAtlantic & Belinda at Found Love, Now What? for your advice!)

I’m trying to look at this as ‘me’ time. A chance to reach out and reconnect with old friends, to have the time to try and make new friends. To prove to myself that I can be strong and independent. I’m conscious that depression has left Mr B in the role of parent too often. So the LDR, I’m hoping, can give me some space to reclaim myself. To get to grips with some projects that have been languishing for too long.

Perhaps even to be a better wife.

Making time for gratitude

At the beginning of the year I set a goal of finding three things a day for which I felt grateful. This is all part of a bigger life shift towards mindfulness.

I can’t lie, with a new job and the huge amount of travel and general brain space that it has entailed, daily mindfulness has gone out the window over the last few months. At exactly the moment when it is needed most.

This is the challenge of setting an annual goal for yourself; life has a habit of getting in the way.

I’m trying to not see this hiccup as a set-back and I’m working very hard not to let guilt overwhelm me. It can’t be helped and realising that some times things have to slip is good for me. Another side of the mindfulness coin, perhaps?

I’m determined to get back into the swing of things as soon as possible because I still believe in the goal. Fingers crossed.


New start, new shoes

New start, new shoes

It is a tradition that started because of Mr B.

Buying a pair of fancy shoes to mark new beginnings. It’s literally me putting my best foot forward.

When I left my second job, it was to follow Mr B to India and get married. I used part of my last pay packet to inaugurate this tradition of buying shoes in order to prepare for the wedding. The other part I used for the dress itself.

When I left my, frankly hellish, posting in Jakarta, Mr B strongly encouraged me to blow the last pay packet on another fabulous pair of shoes during a visit to Hong Kong as a ‘pick me up’ therapy.

And a few weeks ago it was time for another new start.

And so I bought these.