A one-afternoon walking tour of Brussels, Belgium

I probably never would have thought of travelling to Belgium if it wasn’t for my friend Valentine who I study and basically spend 24/7 of my time with in Paris. She is from Brussels and since I met her last year, the Belgian accent (and an objectively weird use of the French language) became part of my daily life, making me increasingly curious about this small country which is so close yet so different from France.

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Valentine, my Belgian partner-in-crime

 

Well, Belgium didn’t disappoint. It is from a still very vivid food coma of beer, waffles, fries and chocolate that I’m currently writing this article.

I initially intended to stay only one day in Brussels (before having way too much fun and extending my trip), so with that in mind my local friend and I had planned a tour of the city that could easily be done in a few hours walking. I always love walking to discover a new place. I think it’s the best way to explore and soak in the atmosphere, and it’s eco-friendly, yay (me, obsessed with sustainability?).

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I was staying at my friend’s sister’s place, near Place Flagey, which was a very cool place full of recycled stuff and with a strong bohemian vibe. Everything I needed to feel like home!

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So we started our tour from Place Flagey, we walked along the pond ‘Etang d’Ixelles’ and arrived Chaussée d’Ixelles. This street and Rue Lesbroussart are full of small coffee places and cool restaurants, photo studios and small designer shops. We wandered around those streets to reach the Court House. I recommend this spot, firstly because it is an impressive and slightly megalomaniac building that is worth the detour, but mostly because you get a killer view of the city.

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We followed the guardrail to a lift (I’m not kidding, there’s a huge lift in the middle of nowhere) that took us a few metres down to another neighbourhood called the Marolles, the cool and hipster quarter of Brussels. That’s where I bought the first of many waffles, in one of the street trucks you can find everywhere in the city.

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I am as committed to the Global Goals as I am to Belgian waffles.

In les Marolles you’ll find lots of cafes, antiques, vintage shops. It is such a cool place. We went to Place du Jeu de Balle, where there usually is a flea market until 2pm. From there we walked up Rue Blaes, a street lined up with antique shops, towards the church Notre-Dame de La Chapelle. We then quite randomly found Mannekenpis; the iconic statue of Brussels which, yes, is a fountain of a little man pissing. A great introduction to Belgium’s sense of humour. The statue is ridiculously small and, like all touristic attractions, is impossible to approach because of all the tourists taking proud selfies in front of this little man’s penis. I had a good laugh, but we didn’t stay long. We kept walking to the Grand Place, another touristic hot spot and jewel of Brussels’ Old Town. It really is very pretty.

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But by this time I was craving real Belgian chocolate so we went to Galeries St Hubert where I bought the most expensive yet most delicious chocolates I had ever eaten at Pierre Marcolini, one of the best chocolatiers in Belgium. Let’s just say that the expression #foodgasm took on its full meaning.

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We kept wandering around the old cobblestone streets and walked to Mont des Arts. We went through the gardens and walked up the stairs towards Place Royale. That’s the second killer view. And that of course required the usual handstand photo.

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We then strolled to the Royal Palace of Brussels which is “basically our Birmingham Palace” according to Valentine’s humble opinion, and then walked back to Place Flagey. We stopped at supposedly the best ‘friterie’ (Fries shop). I bought a cone of chips and we went to have a beer at Café Belga. The chips were incredible and the beer fresh and Belgian (which is a token of quality). That was undoubtedly the best way to end such a great day.

So here’s a little summary of our walking tour:

  • Place Flagey
  • The Court House
  • Lift to Les Marolles
  • Place du Jeu de Balle
  • Mannenkenpis
  • Grand Place
  • Galeries St Hubert
  • Pierre Marcolini
  • Mont des Arts
  • Place Royale
  • Royal Palace
  • Fries shop on Place Flagey
  • Café Belga

Brussels, I’ll be back soon xx

People I Meet / Venice, January 2016

The sun was setting on the Italian countryside between Verona and Venice. The train was going fast, blurring the lines and colours outside the window, making my eyes stare but look at nothing in particular. I was drifting off when I suddenly realised I had no idea at what stop I was supposed to get off at. I looked up and asked the old man sitting in front of me for directions, in what I thought was my best Italian.

“Sei Espanola?” he replied right away.

I probably should have been upset but I was too busy feeling flattered because being Spanish is one of my greatest dreams. I told him I wasn’t Spanish, but that I did speak it.

“And English?”

I said yes.

“We’ll speak English then.”

He spoke a perfect English with a strong American accent, but was often slipping Italian words in the middle of sentences, like his brain couldn’t be bothered to sort things out anymore. He had a missing front tooth and made a funny face when closing his mouth. All of this made for an entertaining and quite lively conversation. He told me all about his life; his forty years as an expat in the United States, how he enrolled in the communist party, about his wife(ves) and children, his youth and his home country, stopping now and then saying “but that’s another story…”. We talked about politics, travelling and humanity. I shared with him my vision of life, my dreams and my aspirations for this world. He listened to all of it carefully and concluded: “You have a good head, kiddo”.

We both got off the train at ‘Venezia Santa Lucia’. He offered to walk me to the station where I had to catch a bus for the airport. “If you don’t mind the company.”

I didn’t.

We kept talking through the canals and bridges until we reached a crossing. We could see the bus a little further down. He left me there, with his mischievous little smile and sparkling eyes, giving me one last piece of advice:

“You are the product of a consumerist and globalised generation. So you are part of the problem but more importantly, you are part of the solution. Remember that.”

I remembered.

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On First Times, Comfort Zones and Overcoming Your Fears

“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”

I read this a while ago and it stayed stuck in my head ever since. It resonated with me because when I asked myself this simple little question, it had been a long time since I hadn’t tried something new. But what is it with first times that make them so fascinating anyway? Kids try new things every day, it’s part of their day-to-day lives. Then we grow up and it’s so easy to get stuck in a routine that we know everything about. Nothing’s new, nothing’s surprising. It’s all about that comfort zone again. It feels safe to stay in it. Trying something new means stepping out of it and thus taking risks, making mistakes or failing.

It actually hit me when I was sitting with only my thoughts for distraction in Bangkok airport, waiting for my next flight. I was totally out of my comfort zone there. I was exhausted, jet lag, lost in translation and travelling without anyone to talk to (I am a very talkative person so this was a 24 hour challenge). But it was the first time I was in this airport, going to that particular destination, travelling on my own for so many hours, and it felt incredible. Everything that surrounded me was brand new. I was filled with amazement and excitement.

If sitting in an airport alone could bring so many positive feelings, what could trying other things for the first time do? I got the answer to this question during my trip because the two weeks I spent in Bali were full of new experiences.

From eating new food to driving on the left, from dancing barefoot around a bonfire to making love with someone from another nationality (love’s a universal language), from learning how to surf to diving with colorful fish… It was all about trying new things. Everyday, a new experience awaited me. I felt like a kid again. I felt like I was finally living life to its fullest. I was feeling ALIVE.

And this was all because I had looked my fear straight into the eye and kicked its ass. Because, yes, every new experience was scary and sometimes uncomfortable at the beginning, but what came after that was so worth it. Fear is just smoke and mirrors. Once you face it, it instantly disappears.

So come join me on the other side. The view is amazing.

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Not Your Average Love Story (Short Story With A Twist)

 

I don’t exactly remember the first time I saw you. You have been in my life as long as I can remember. Like a painting’s background, you were in my life without me even noticing it. But you were present, always. Sometimes you crossed my mind, in a fond way. But you were just a small part of my life, like a relative you only see on Christmas. Until this summer 2010. I will always remember those two weeks. What a surprise it was. I got to know you and what I discovered amazed me.

The love that started to grow was anything but rational. You were far from my hometown and speaking a foreign language. You were admired and loved by many. I should have known that this would be complicated but I fell for you anyway. I came back from this summer with the firm intention to make this work.

So two years later, when I came back to you, I was full of hope and excitement for this new life ahead of us. There began the best and the worst times of my life.

You were all that I had always dreamed of. Everything I expected in life, you gave it to me. You were my dream come true. My whole life revolved around you. I gave you everything and didn’t see anything. You were a risky bet that I had chosen to make. I was so blinded by all that you represented that I didn’t see the danger coming. I lost myself in you, so deeply that I forgot who I was. I became a mere shadow of my former self. And you brought me down even more. You weren’t what I expected anymore. I saw your dark side and it heightened mine. After being everything that I had dreamt of, you became all that I had always feared. Each second by your side destroyed me a little more. I had to leave, but I couldn’t. I was trapped by a faded dream.

I left eventually. It took me a whole year to recover from you, from the painful memories of the happy days by your side and the darkest ones you made me experience. One year of trying to forget you, to forgive you, to move on. How can you love and hate so much at the same time?

It’s been a few months now that I am at peace with the memories I have with you and with the idea of seeing you again.

This is why I bought a ticket and came see you. Call me crazy, but I think I needed this. As a therapy. It made me sick with apprehension. I was eaten up by fear and yet, from the moment I was with you again, I experienced a deep feeling of peacefulness, like everything was exactly where it was supposed to be. We both evolved and gained wisdom and I felt like everything was still possible. I rediscovered you and the few days I spent by your side filled me with deep joy and happiness. I am at peace now. And I can say.

London, I still love you.

 

A Reformed Cynical Bitch’s Manifesto

My dear Internet friends, I have to apologise for this unforgivable absence. I just wasn’t feeling like writing lately. Yet, here I am, ready to ramble about life again. A minor incident happened in my life not long ago and made me want to write again and, like the Robin Hood of blogging, re-establish justice. You know how people love talking about other people, giving their unwanted opinions about their lives and decisions? I don’t care about the judgement of vague acquaintances on my life because, well, they’re only vague acquaintances. But what happened is that I discovered people I once called friends didn’t approve who I was anymore. That’s literally what I heard from their mouths: “I don’t approve”.

My first reaction obviously was to tell them to f*ck off. But then, the new wise and peaceful me tried to understand why this was happening. I changed a lot these last 12 months. Some life events forced me to. I just couldn’t stay in the situation I was in, so I gathered my courage and changed the things that weren’t right anymore. I went from sad to glad, in a way that apparently doesn’t make sense to everyone.

Indeed, I now choose spontaneity. I choose positivity. Just like I choose what I wear in the morning I choose to think loving thoughts for the day. I choose sincerity. I choose to speak up. I choose large smiles and loud laughters. I choose to be criticised for who I am than loved for who I am not. I choose honesty. I choose to feel all emotions as they come because they make me feel alive. I choose pride. I choose to take care of my health. I choose not to live in fear. I choose to be free from what other people think and who they’re expecting me to be. I choose to open up to the world. I choose to share. I choose faith. I choose confidence. I choose failure as it brings you closer to success and sadness as it teaches you to appreciate happiness. I choose wisdom. I choose to make waves. I choose empathy. I choose kindness. I choose life.

I am a reformed cynical bitch and I am not sorry.

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And you, what do YOU choose?

 

Farewell, bloody 2013.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… With 10 grapes in my mouth, I mumble an incomprehensible « Happy new year ! » to my friend who most certainly looks as dumb as I do. We hug with tears of laughter streaming down our face and grape juice out of our mouth. This is how I started 2013. In Barcelona, with my mouth full of fruits (spanish custom) and one of my oldest and best friends. At that time last year I was living in London, I had a brilliant future ahead of me, I was full of hopes, innocence, confidence and joy.

Man, some things have changed.

When I look back, I don’t know how I should feel about this year, about who I was and who I am now. In between times, I’ve been through a depression, I’ve moved three times in a few months, I’ve dropped out from uni, I’ve lost great friends and met even greater ones from all over the world, I’ve discovered true pleasure (hell yeah) and true pain. I gained some hindsight on life that I wasn’t expecting. I guess quite unexpectedly, I’ve finally grown up. Which sucks. I didn’t want to and that’s exactly why it’s been so sudden and painful. 20 years old is not an age to leave your childhood. You’re supposed to have done that at like 15, like losing your virginity or go to a club for the first time. But I’ve never done anything like everyone else so a teenage angst in my twenties should have been predictable.

Now that I’ve become something closer to an adult, I can take deep and thoughtful resolutions that I will obviously keep because I am responsible and willing.

Resolutions for 2014 :

  • Quit smoking, dumb ass.

  • Stop judging yourself (this contradicts the above resolution but one more contradiction doesn’t make much difference)

  • Save 10% of your salary every month.

  • Practice yoga on a regular basis.

  • Start figuring out what you want to do with your life. Apart from yoga teacher in the Caribbean or writer in San Francisco.

There are a few more only my shrink will have the honour to listen to because they are way too personal and tortuous (and boring) to be displayed on the internet. Not like I care but potential dates and new friends will probably read this and I don’t want to freak them out. If it’s not already done.

Happy New Year,

S. xx

Louis Garrel fait la gueule

ps : Soon, an article about how to keep your resolutions.

20 Life Lessons I’ve Learned In 20 Years

I read an article written by Jason Wachob the other day and I found it interesting. Jason is 39 so he knows a tiny bit more about life than I do. Still, I’ve learned a few things these last 20 years. So I thought I would share these very very VERY few things I know. Here are the 20 life lessons I’ve learned in 20 years.

1. “We accept the love we think we deserve”. You have to fall in love with yourself first. If you don’t love yourself, who will?

2. Your intuition is always right. Always.

3. “You can’t connect the dots going forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” Jason also quoted this in his article. It’s from a speech made by Steve Jobs in 2005. Whenever I feel lost, upset and depressed, I watch it.

4. Don’t forget to breathe. Not like a puppy, I mean mindfully.

5. You become what you think. Buddha was right. Visualisation does work. You can create your own luck but you can also create your own hell.

6. Gratitute makes you happy. It’s magical.

7. If you want to start writing, start reading.

8. Communication is the key to every healthy relationship.

9. BREAKING NEWS. Smoking is bad for you, idiot.

10. People being mean are just unhappy people. It’s not about you. People are generally too caught up with themselves to care about what you look like, say or do. Just let go.

11. Making mistakes is the best way to learn. And to become a better person.

12. We all need to believe in something, it makes life easier. So even if you’re aware of this and it makes you feel sick because it sounds like crap to you, start believing in something. God, yourself, a political stand, a cause… Anything.

13. If you can walk, walk.

14. Stop fantasising. It’s good to have dreams but let go of great expectations because life rarely (never) goes like predicted.

15. “Say the truth” is always the right answer.

17. Your body is an amazing instrument. Start loving it instead of torturing it.

18. Friends come and go. It’s sad but you have to let go. Some people are meant to be in your life, some don’t belong here anymore.

19. Learn to laugh at yourself and never take yourself too seriously.

20. You don’t know anything.

I’m only 20, I have everything to learn. What did you learn in this lifetime?

7 Life Advice From 7 Inspiring People

The next person who claims your twenties is the best time of your life is gonna get a head-butt. Ok maybe I am exaggerating a little. Being 20 is awesome. Still, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. It’s also fear, delusion, hope, disappointment, doubt and all these feelings of being in between places. In this hazy time, it’s nice to get a little guidance. I decided to seek it from inspiring people. I asked seven of them one question:

If you could give one piece of advice to your 20-year-old self, what would it be?

Here are their answers.

Gabrielle.1158Gabrielle Bernstein is a motivational speaker, life coach and author. She has written three books. She teaches a practical application of A Course In Miracles’ principles emphasising self-love, forgiveness and a holistic approach to spirituality. In 2009, Bernstein was featured in the New York Times as a “guru” for the next generation.

« I would tell my 20 year old self to see all obstacles as opportunities to grow and shine. »

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Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, essayist and novelist who is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which has of December 2010 spent 199 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and was also made into a film by the same name in 2010.

STAY AWAY FROM ROMANTIC ENTANGLEMENTS WITH ALL THE BOYS.”

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Kathryn Budig is an American yoga teacher. She authored the book The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga and writes regularly for publications including The Huffington Post and Yahoo! Shine. She has appeared on the covers of Yoga Journal and Yoga International, amongst others, and is a contributing editor for Women’s Health Magazine.

It keeps getting better and opportunity continues to arise when you apply yourself. There’s no rush. »

James AltucherJames Altucher is an American hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, and and bestselling author. He has founded or cofounded over 20 companies, including Reset Inc. and StockPickr and claims to have failed at 17 of them.He has published 11 books, and is a frequent contributor to publications including The Financial Times, TheStreet.com, Thought Catalog, and The Huffington Post.

Don’t be fooled by everyone else’s goals, including your own.

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Mastin Kipp is a 28 year-old entrepreneur and writer from Los Angeles, CA. He is the founder of TheDailyLove.com which is a website, daily email and Twitter account that’s merging pop culture with inspiration. The Daily Love inspires almost 500,000 people a day.His goal is to bring practical and ancient wisdom to the forefront of people’s daily lives.

It’s going to get messy. Let it and enjoy the ride.”

bc6ad636964eba1840467c8f377d16b2Rachel P. Goldstein is the founder and CEO of Agent Of Change. Her passion is to make a difference in people’s lives with the events she produces, strategic marketing campaigns she launches and projects she manages. She has worked with extraordinary people making real impacts on today’s culture in wellness, peace initiatives, women’s rights, education, philanthropy and entertainment.

Start every single day with yoga.”

The last person I asked gave me this answer:

Don’t piss off your parents.”

The last person I asked was my mum. I think this was meant to be funny.

Biographies are from wikipedia or personal websites and I found all images on Google.

 

Prayer Of An Atheist: A Letter To My Guardian Angel

I am not a religious person. Not at all. I even have an aversion for dogma. But I’ve recently come to realize that there might be more than just flesh and bones. Furthermore, faith has proven to be powerful and necessary in some situations. So maybe it works. I am a seeker, so why not try?

Here is my attempt to talk to… God? However, that is such a loaded word and would open the debate on whether or not He exists. Ancient Sanskrit scriptures call it « That », which is closer to what I imagine, a kind of huge immaterial world we will never really have access to. But I can’t talk to a « That ». I need something more personal. That is why I think, if I had to believe in something, that I have a sort of protector, like a cosmic baby-sitter, who has been looking after me my whole life, sending me signs and trying to guide me through life. He is like a friend. This is it.

Dear Friend,

I am not very good at this. I don’t really know what to say, nice to meet you? I should thank you before anything else. If you’re my guardian angel, you have done a pretty good job. I see the signs and I’m trying to listen as much as I can. You are generally clear; you’ve been good to me. I have been very lucky.

Although, no offense, but it seems you’ve gone on vacation lately. Is it summer time up there? I do not blame you, we all need a break from time to time and I bet you’re busy. But see, it has been a mess in my derisory life these last few months. I can tell you are still here, watching from a distance, because some things have eventually made sense. Yet you might be ill or something because the path is not as clear as it was before. I hope you’ll get better very soon because I have a lot of dreams, plans and hopes for the future. I’m sure you’re already aware of that.

You know, one of them is to actually be happy. I mean content, satisfied with what I have. Another one is not to feel lost and helpless anymore. I need your help with these two quite quickly. It’s been a while now. I know I should have talked to you before, but you want me to be happy too right? So if you don’t have any more ordeals in store for me, I would like to move on. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy with where I am, to have lived what I lived, to have had the chance to change and grow. The lessons I’ve learned during all this are priceless. Yet it is all a bit foggy. I still don’t totally understand why you made me go through this. I usually see the signs so if you could send me one a.s.a.p., it would be great. Avoid too early in the morning though, and also around 11.30, there’s Drop Dead Diva on TV. Otherwise I’m all yours, ready to receive your almighty guidance.

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours respectfully and lovingly,

Salomé

Guide to Life or some piece of advice we all need

In 1997, Mary Schmich wrote her own graduation speech, just for fun, which she called “Guide to Life for Graduates”. This is not an official speech but what she says in it is full of inspiration and wisdom. Here’s what she wrote.

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” I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my attempt. Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen. “

 

If you are too lazy to read, you’re lucky because Baz Luhrmann (yes, The Great Gatsby’s director) turned this speech into a song: