Speechless in Seattle

Seattle is a city for people who enjoy music, coffee, books, beer and rainy days. Although most of the times I visited this beautiful city I lucked out with the weather and had some sunny days.

Looking for a hostel ? Then the Green Tortoise might be a good idea. This hostel is centrally located right across from the Pike Place Market. Visit this market to excite your appetite and witness how some jolly fishermen throw fish at each other. Stroll around here for some souvenirs and grab a coffee at the very first Starbucks right across the street. Don’t want to wait in line for an hour, well don’t worry, there are plenty other Starbucks or other coffee places scattered all over town.

The Space Needle is definitely one of the landmarks of this city. When you are there, make sure you visit the Experience Music Project Museum (EMP) where you learn a lot about several music legends and you get the chance to try out some instruments yourself in a music studio. Pretty cool experience !

A must during your visit in Seattle is an Underground Tour. This tour will take you, well … , underground and shows you the original streets of Seattle and its haunted history.

Don’t forget to try some clam chowder while you are out there. Pike Place Chowder is a great place to fill your belly with this good tasty stuff but expect there might be a waiting line.

Loving Lisbon

If you are looking for  your next European Citytrip destination than I might have an answer to your questioning.

Lisbon.

Lisbon has a lot to offer for every kind of traveller among us.

I visited Lisbon with one my closest friends on this trip. I have known her for almost half of my life now and must say I am a fortunate man to have her around. At least I am not the only one around who is clumsy and says embarrassing things.

In the early morning of our first day my friend already discovered she brought the wrong pair of shoes resulting in a huge blister on her foot before we even got to the airport… Luckily she brought some bandaids that stick… for like a full five minutes.

Once we arrived in Lisbon we took the subway to our hotel. Hotel Fenix Music, which is centrally located next to the subway station (Marqués de Pombal). This trendy hotel has a bunch of cool features like a rooftop bar (open until 1 AM) and swimming pool with great panoramic views over the city. You have also free internet throughout the entire hotel and free breakfast included.

We dropped our bags at the hotel and went for lunch.

Afterwards we strolled down Avenida Liberdad and sought coolness under the trees along the boulevard. We ended up at the Praça do Comércio, a big square at the banks of the Tagus.

From there you can proceed your stroll along the water to Cais do Sodré. Here you can take a train to Cascais, a little beach place where you can take a refreshing plunge, catch a tan on the lifeguarded beach or stroll some more along the picturesque path from Cascais to the Estoril train station where you can jump on the train back to Lisbon.

On your way back, make sure you stop at Belém. Here you can visit the ‘Torre de Belém‘ (tower) and the ‘Padrão dos Descobrimentos‘ (statue). From here many world explorers started their journey to find new land.

Getting hungry from all these history tales ? Than you have to try the famous ‘Pasteis de Belém

From Cais do Sodré you can also take a ferry across the Tagus and go check out the statue of Christo Rei. A roundtrip with the ferry costs you 2,90 euro. Once you reached the other side you can jump on bus 101 that rides every half an hour up the hill. Roundtrip for the bus ticket is another 1,90 euro and can be paid on the bus. From the hill you have a great view over Lisboa, the Tagus and the Ponte 25 de Abril, a gigantic suspension bridge over the Tagus that looks a lot like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Not high enough for you ? Well then you can take the elevator up to the statue for 4 euro.

Another must do in Lisbon is taking the yellow Tram 28. This is a very popular attraction so the waiting line to catch the next tram might be longer than some lines in Disneyland. We decided to take this tram on our last day and spent two hours waiting in line at Martim Moniz, where the tram starts its journey. Once you get on board the tram takes you through some of Lisbon’s most narrow streets and uphill all the way to the ‘Castelo de São Jorge’. I would recommend to jump off the tram here and walk back down through the streets of Alfama.

At least that’s what most people do. We skipped the stop because we were running late to catch our flight but ended up in an even less convenient location to catch the subway back to the airport. We jumped back the tram and stayed on until the Baixa-Chiado stop. There we ran to our hotel to pick up our bags and made it all just in time to our flight.

So dear traveler, not a good idea to force Tram 28 into your last day.

El Matador State Beach

This secluded piece of paradise is your perfect getaway from the crowded LA beaches although this place is getting more and more attention. And I can’t blame you for wanting to bring this place a visit.

If you can, come early to make sure you have a parking spot in the limited parking area. The parking lot opens at 8 AM and closes at sunset. There is also a parking fee ($ 8.00 USD)  to pay (and you better pay it because the cops are making several stops here during the day). You can pay with card or cash at the parking meter.

Make sure to bring some food and beverages to the beach to enjoy a full day in the sun. To get access to the beach you have to descend some stairs before you set foot in the sandy beach.

El Matador State Beach with its beautiful caves and large rocks in the water is the perfect spot for a romantic date or a great place to snap some sunset pictures.

So make sure you don’t miss this gem on your drive along Highway 101

The Land of Fire and Ice

It’s not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves – William Shakespeare

In the fall of 2013 my sister and I decided to go on a ‘sibling’ trip. This was a sort of annual thing we tried to maintain.

That year Iceland became our choice of destination. Flights were surprisingly cheap from Amsterdam to Reykjavik with Icelandair and on a rainy November morning in November we left to the land of Fire and Ice.

We arrived in the evening in Reykjavik at our apartment ‘Apartment K‘, which is centrally located and has a hip vibe.

We dropped our bags and booked a ‘Northern Lights Tour’ with ‘Super Jeep‘ that same night.

They pick you up at your hotel/apartment in a jeep on steroids and drive you to a central meeting point just outside the city.

Our tour started with a bumpy jeep climb up the hill so be careful with what you eat before the tour. We stopped on the top of the hill to take some awesome shots of Reykjavik by night. From this hill you can spot the Imagine Peace Tower, a memorial for John Lennon from his wife Yoko Ono.

On the hill the drivers evaluate where the weather conditions would be the best to see the Northern Lights. As weather conditions are very unpredictable in Iceland they can never guarantee you will see the lights but you have a pretty fair chance you’ll see one. If not, they will give you a new ticket to ride for the next day.

After driving for a while we were rewarded for our patience. Out of nothing appeared a green light in the sky that soon changed into a curtain in the wind. Definitely one of the most asthonising things I have seen in my young life.

We also got some hot chocolate afterwards to celebrate and made our way back home. I had a great experience with Extreme Iceland and Super Jeep and could recommend them to anyone. This was only our first night here and the trip was already successful !

The second day we visited the city of Reykjavik. It’s a very cozy city with a great vibe. Plenty of little shops, trendy bars and restaurants and cool architecture. Make sure you visit the Harpa (concert hall) and the Hallgrímskirkja (really cool church).

The third and final day we rented a car and drove the ‘Golden Circle‘, a popular route that includes some jaw dropping sights.

One of those is Thingvellir National Park where you can clearly spot the path of the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. A great spot to hike around.

Once we were returning to the car we saw the weather change from blue skies to grey big clouds. We checked the weather with the information desk and they warned us that a storm was coming our way and we had to be careful with driving. Once we started driving the roads quickly turned into a snow road combined with some decent gusts of wind.

We continued our way and drove along Strokkur, an active geyser that erupts every couple minutes.

A little further we arrived at Gulfoss, a majestic waterfall. Due to the winds and the cold we could only endure a couple minutes at the viewpoint before we hurried our asses inside the cafetaria to warm up and have some local lamb soup.

Once the weather cleared up a bit we made our way back direction Reykjavik. Since we were still on time and had the rental car until the end of the day we decided to drive to the Blue Lagoon. On our way the wind and rain picked up again and we arrived to find an empty blue lagoon due to the terrible weather. Although we couldn’t have the blue lagoon experience we still got a good idea of how it looks like.

Hopefully I get the chance to return to this awesome country during summer and explore more of its beauty.

Life Lessons in Budapest

There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.

Back in 2012 I was working and living in Los Angeles for a year. During that year I lived together with three Germans and Barbara, a Hungarian sweetheart that always told me these great stories about her hometown Budapest.

Once I returned home to Belgium it didn’t take me long until I decided to bring her a visit and have visited her three times so far. Flights with Ryanair or Wizzair from Brussels South to Budapest are luckily pretty affordable.

The first time I visited I quickly realised Barbara wasn’t lying about the capital of the land of pálinka. After three visits I can say I had a fair share of pàlinka, great nights (which I sometimes barely remember) and got to know some of the most kind of people of Europe.

Yesterday, a 93-year-old lady grabbed my arm on the bus and asked me ‘English ?’ because she heard me talking to Barbara. She told us her story about her life in England and revealed us the true secret to a long life :  Don’t worry too much about it all, that’s how you get old. 

Basically, Budapest is divided into two major parts : Buda, the historical and royal part. And Pest, the more lively part with its numerous restaurants and bars. And you got a big ass river running right through it, the Danube and a handful of bridges holding the city together.

In Buda you will most likely make some time for the typical highlights of this city like the Buda Castle with its Fisherman’s Bastion, the Citadel and newly renovated Castle Garden Bazaar. Great place to wander at night with your lovebird. But, Buda is way more than that !

If you want to escape the busy streets for a bit you can seek some rest in Normafa and enjoy some delicious strudels and walk to the Eszsebet kilato to have a great view over the city. After that you can take a skilift at Jànos-hegy back to the city.

Another great place to enjoy your visit is Római part where you can unwind along the shore overlooking the Danube.

And don’t forget to stop at the Batthyány tér to take some photos of the Parliament to immortalize your memories of your visit to Budapest.

You can cross from Buda to Pest over the famous Chain Bridge, the oldest bridge in Budapest that suspends over the Danube.

In Pest you can visit Heroes’ Square before you get some drinks in the neighbourhood.

The first and most famous place to get drinks is Szimpla Kert, the oldest ruin pub in the city with a very cool interior.

Some other personal favourites are Fröccsterasz (open air bar), Vak éger (underground club), iSkola (for those who like to dance), the 360 bar (rooftop bar) and many more…

Got a couple extra days ? Then you should definitely plan a visit to Szentendre (a little village along the Danube) or to Balaton Lake.

Also, from Budapest you can take the train to Vienna for only 30 euro (return ticket) – The perfect way to combine two great cities in one vacation.

Squamish (Winter)

It’s being here now that’s important. There is no past and there is no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one. 

I visited Squamish for the very first time on the last day of 2014 and it was definitely one of the best days of the year.

A friend of mine transformed herself into the local guide of the day (once more) and took me to some really great places.

We left in the early morning and the weather was just fantastic ! Blue skies and some decent temperatures for British Columbia for this time of year.

Before we entered Squamish we made a stop at Whytecliff Park. Check this place out if you can ! It’s a perfect spot to chill out for a bit.

By the time we got to Squamish we were already pretty hungry and made a stop at Mag’s 99. It’s that bright yellow building along Highway 99. You can’t miss it unless you are color blind. It’s a great place to get some delicious mexican food ! The restaurant has a funky interior and with the music playing and the sun shining bright through the windows I had a feeling I was having lunch in Guadalajara instead of Squamish. Great experience !

We continued our day trip until we arrived at the new Sea to Sky Gondola. This Gondola ride gives you a great scenic view over the Howe Sound. You also can see the Stawamus Chief which I still need to climb (hopefully this summer).

Once we got to the top we had a hot beverage at the Summit Lodge and I called my parents in Belgium to wish them a Happy New Year. Very odd I must admit when you are looking at the Sky Pilot (mountain) covered with snow on a crystal clear sky afternoon.

After we enjoyed our drinks and the calls were made we crossed the suspension bridge and made a little hike to the Chief Overlook Viewing Platform where we had some more mind blowing views of this beautiful area.

Time flew by and we had to get back to Vancouver to get ready for the New Year’s Eve Party but on our way back we made one short stop at Porteau Cove, another beautiful place to hang out. After we enjoyed our last sunset of the year we set course to Vancouver again. What a fantastic day !

The second time I visited Squamish was the day before my birthday. Seems like Squamish makes a great end of a chapter every time I go. This time we visited the Squamish Estuary and Spit, a great nice look out point and great place for kite surfers.

This summer I am going back to the Squamish Music Festival in August and I hope to climb the Stawamus Chief and explore more of this awesome area.

Vancouver Island

I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it. 

Skipping Vancouver Island on your trip through Western Canada is like going to Arizona and skipping the Grand Canyon. You would miss out on a tremendous amount of beauty.

From Vancouver you can take the ferry from Tsawassen (Vancouver) to Schwartz Bay (Victoria).

I visited Vancouver Island last October. I must admit, it’s not the best time of year weather wise but if you want to avoid the crowds, this is definitely your travel period. And it’s Vancouver Island after all, so you can except rain any time of year.

Victoria is quite cozy with a bunch of nice places to eat and drink. One of those place is Jam Cafe in Victoria. An awesome breakfast place with delicious food ! Go check it out before you start your stroll through the streets of the capital city of British Columbia.

From Victoria I started a day trip to Port Renfrew. Don’t except a lot of traffic on this Highway 14 once you passed Sooke. That’s where the beautiful and sometimes bumpy road of Vancouver Island begin. We drove all the way until the end of Highway 14 where you will find the Juan de Fuca Trailhead. You can park your car there and make a nice hike to Botanical Beach where some hikers start the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. A 47 km trail between Port Renfrew and China Beach. Unfortunately I only have a few hours left on the clock until I have to be back in Victoria. But no worries, there was time enough to get myself into some trouble.

On the way back through Port Renfrew we made a stop at the Port Renfrew Hotel for lunch. Unfortunately it was raining so we had to eat our lunch inside instead of the nice porch in the back. Once we stepped inside we could definitely separate the tourists from the locals. One of those locals walked up to my friend once we went outside and he told us about this beautiful grove we should check out. The Avatar Grove. The way to get there was kind of descriptive. They only thing missing was a wooden leg and an eyepatch to believe I was on my way to have a great storyline for a new Indiana Jones movie.

After making some snaps at the pier we took our chances and made our way to our next adventure.

It only took us one wrong turn before we found the first handmade sign to the grove. A little further we came across a fork in the road with no sign but made a right turn. From this point on we had to brace ourselves for some serious potholes so keep your eyes open. This bumpy road goes on for a while.

Just when we were almost convinced we took the wrong turn we saw a sign along the road with Avatar Grove. No parking lot, no cars, no other people since we left Port Renfrew. We parked our car along the road and made our way to the entrance.

It rained a little harder now.

We started with the lower trail and stumbled upon a hand drawn map that looked like a circle with a crooked stick and some tree names written on it. After all, the map was pretty accurate but unfortunately we had to turn around after five minutes because the whole trail was flooded.

We turned around and started the upper trail. This part of the trail also contained the Gnarly Tree. We made our way along the like coloured markers through the trees. They made it a lot easier to continue our trail. Due to the rainfall some parts of the trail were under water or washed out a bit. At the end of the Upper Trail you will find the Gnarly Tree, a giant curved tree.

I cannot describe the exhilaration I felt to walk between these massive trees. You feel so small but at the same time you feel one with this incredible place.

Getting soaked is part of the ‘Rainforest Experience’ !

So glad our local guy told my friend about this place.

But it’s time to move on.

From Victoria we left the following day to Ucluelet and Tofino, two awesome beach villages on the west coast of the island.

Our first stop was in Ucluelet where we rested our heads in the ‘Surfs Inn Hostel‘. This hostel has a good location and is a great place to meet other people. I would recommend this place to anyone. A lot of surfers stay here and they also give surf lessons (with a discount) if you stay there. Don’t forget to write your name on one of the surf boards before you leave.

Highlight of Ucluelet was the Wild Pacific Trail. This loop is an easy walk as long as the strong winds are not blowing you right into the ocean. It took me three minutes to get soaking wet. So make sure you bring a lot of clothes to the island because my clothes from the Avatar Grove where still drying on the backseat of my car. Or just bring waterproof clothes.

The drive from Ucluelet to Tofino goes along the Pacific Rim Highway and you are driving along a handful of amazing beaches. Make sure to make some stops here and also stop at Tacofino Cantina for some great food.

Tofino itself is just a paradise for every water sport fanatic and has a very chill vibe and is filled with young people. I absolutely loved it and hope to come back to this area to explore it some more.

And this is only a tip of the iceberg of what Vancouver Island has to offer so give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed !

Dinner for Two

A new month, a new idea !

After trying to blog blog every day of the month of April (fail) about my travel adventures I feel like I am getting side tracked from my inner voice and turning into a disabled Harry Potter version of Trip Advisor.

That’s why I’m changing my blog into more of a personal experience blog instead of a summary of local attractions to visit.

I don’t know if it will be interesting enough to keep reading but I feel like I am not writing to my full potential when I am just recommending stuff. That’s why I will try to also blog different topics on my website.

Like this one.

This one is about silence.

Awkward silence.

The kind of silence you want to avoid. The kind of silence that is louder than anything.

I worked as a bartender for a while and I can tell you I was surprised by the amount of young (or older) couples that came to the restaurant and seemed to have nothing to talk about. They just sat there across from each other and staring into the infinite distance while they were anxiously waiting for the food to be served. There was this certain type of painful silence between them. Nothing to talk about. Everything seems said and done. Or both parties were looking desperately for a subject to talk about. Sometimes it was a first date going wrong, but often of the time it was a married couple that lost all passion. At least, that was the impression they have me.

Or maybe they just had a bad day. Bad week. Bad year…

The idea of being in relationship like that repulsed me.

And it still does.

Relationships scare me. To me, they are equivalent to stagnation, somehow.

But I know we all will have to open ourselves to someone, someday. Or we will end up like an old man or woman in the corner of the restaurant dining by ourselves. And I don’t know which one is worse at this point.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in love and finding your other half and I do believe the perfect significant other is out here for all of us but I also strongly belief that I don’t want to settle for less.

Neither should you.

And Steve Jobs would agree.

If you feel trapped into a relationship that doesn’t make you happy, end the relationship. There is always a way out. Even with a financial attachment, even with kids around,…

My parents divorced when I was 15 years old. I won’t say it’s an easy thing to do, but there is always a way.

And all I can say, don’t give a damn about what other will say or think about you. Because it doesn’t matter at all. It’s your life and you should not live it in spite of others.

Live and do what makes you happy.

While in Vancouver : West-Vancouver

The cost of not following your dreams, is spending the rest of your life wishing you had

After exploring Downtown and North Vancouver it’s time to stretch our legs in beautiful West-Vancouver. I visited West-Vancouver only a couple of times during my stay in Vancouver but every visit was memorable.

What I remember from this neighbourhood is a hike in Ambleside Park on Christmas morning with my roommates, a perfect Christmas start if you ask me, especially after that Christmas Breakfast with omelettes and eggnog. Not such a fan of eggnog but if you spike it enough it will be enjoyable at some point.

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On the last day of the year a good friend of mine took me on an adventure. We started the trip with a stop at Whytecliff Park, a popular place for divers and a great place to take some pictures. If you climb around the rock like a little monkey, make sure you pay attention to the slippery rocks ! No lifeguard around here to save your ass. IMG_3541

In my last week I was living in Vancouver I went to West-Vancouver twice. I already told you I am procrastinator and I had a bucket list to check off. And the list was still pretty long. I lucked out and was able to scratch two more things off the list before I left.

The first one was hiking up to the Eagle Bluffs. The hike starts at the Cypress Mountain parking lot. The hike has some switchbacks but once you get up there it’s a fairly easy hike. The hike itself is not the greatest but the view from the Eagle Bluffs is worth all of it.

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On my last day in Vancouver I went to visit Lighthouse park with two sisters from Belgium. I went to school with the oldest sister and didn’t see her for years. Funny to think that sometimes you need to be on the other side of the planet to meet people from your own country again. They showed me around and I absolute loved it, especially with Pippa, the mountain dog as company. There are a bunch of hikes to do in the park so I will definitely go back !

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While in Vancouver : North Vancouver

There are years that ask questions and years that answer

Only a sea bus away from Downtown Vancouver, North Vancouver is quite conveniently located for those who love to ski and stroll along the beach on the same day.

North Vancouver has two of the three ski hills in Vancouver. Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour. The third one is Cypress Mountain and is located in West Vancouver.

My favourites spots in North Vancouver (so far) are :

Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge

Not as big and spectacular as the Capilano Suspension Bridge but less busy and for free. This bridge is located near the Lynn Canyon parking lot. You can do some easy hikes around here.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

The admission for the Capilano Suspension Bridge is not cheap but you do get access to the bridge, the cliff walk and the treetops. All cool adventures to go to with the family. Please note if you a permanent resident from British Columbia you only pay admission once for the whole year.

Make sure you bring a visit to the park during the winter holidays when the ‘Canyon Lights’ season is switched on (somewhere end November till begin January). The whole park is then lit up with thousand of christmas lights.

Capilano Lake and the Cleveland Dam

Very scenic spot to make awesome photos. Also a starting point to do some easy hikes in the area.

Lonsdale Quay 

A nice spot to hang out with friends or to go on a date. Stroll through the indoor market, enjoy the view from the deck or go up the red ‘Q’ staircase and have a great view of downtown Vancouver. Nice restaurants and bars nearby. Definitely give Raglan’s Bistro a try (poutine, burgers, yam fries,…).

Need more food ? 

For a hangover breakfasts (or any other meal) Eighties is your heaven on earth. Trust me, on a Saturday or Sunday morning you won’t be the only one looking hungover. The place is a little bit outdated but the food is great !

For delicious Thai food Krua Thai is always a winner !