DINANT HIKING ADVENTURE

As I stand brushing my teeth in the small bathroom of the very generic Ibis Hotel in Dinant, Belgium, a feeling of elation builds up and I think ‘I was born to do this!’ To which my reflection grimaces back at me. ‘Born to do what? Strap a ton of weight to your back, walk for miles and miles and miles to sleep in a small uncomfortable tent while it’ll be a predicted 4° Celsius outside?’ I determinedly smile back and respond: ‘to go on an adventure!’

THE START
This particular adventure started a few weeks back when I was reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Her description of walking the Pacific Crest Trail was completely enticing, in spite of describing how hard and painful it was. I now wanted to walk the Pacific Crest Trail and then every other trail out there.

I became obsessed with this idea. So much so, that I actually reread the book just two weeks after I’d finished it and spent much of my precious time looking up stories of other hikers instead of studying (oops, funny how that works). Thankfully, my wish to know what I’d be getting myself into and love for planning everything kicked in and I decided to start with a hiking weekend. The first available long weekend was that of May 13th, so I blocked the dates, arranged a first night at an hotel, got all the camping-gear I could think of from various family members and persuaded my boyfriend Erik that this would be a fun challenge. And so, off we went.

IMG_1992 kopieAs we left the hotel I felt really happy and positive. We were actually doing this! Yes, sir, we were! God, how good just to be walking instead of speeding along like we normally do and how healthy to spend the long weekend with some exercise and how fun it would be to camp outside, huddled together if need be. Yes, this had been one of my more brilliant ideas.

That is, until we cross the bridge near the Citadel of the city. While I am still able to joke around about the seemingly random saxophones on the bridge (apparently this is the saxophone-capital of the world?), my pack is already bothersome and heavy, I’m thirsty and hot and starting to doubt a bit. But hey, there’s a coffee-place on the corner, so we get something to drink and truly begin our long walk.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK – sort off
We’d decided to try and get 5km an hour done, so we’d have plenty of time to get to the village of our chosen camp site some 15 km further on. The walking is heavy and at times boring because really, all you do is walk. Maybe talk a little, but as we are walking along a road, we have to walk behind each other which doesn’t help with the conversation. Just as I am getting a bit tired and ready for our first rest, we near a bend in the road towards Castl
e Freyr sur Meuse.

TherIMG_2001 kopiee’s the possibility of getting off the road and onto a path. Or more a trail. Well, to be honest, more of a sort of flattened bit of forest next to an unused and overgrown railroad track.* It’s more secluded and filled with yellow buttercups that contrast nicely with the intensely green grass. At first I don’t really notice any of this, as the only thing I’m thinking is, this is where our adventure begins! We are off the road, doing our thing and who knows where we’ll end up and what we’ll see. I just hope it’s not to far off route because my god, this pack is heavy!

*disclaimer: I have since learned more about the damage we may do to any existing nature by going off any existing track or path and promise not to do so any more!*

I have to say though; this track is totally worth it. The scenery is stunning with al kinds of vibrant greens, the contrasting yellow buttercups and a bright purple flower I cannot identify. We walk to the singing of numerous birds a bit ahead and behind as they stop singing as soon as we approach. Then I hear something rushing and crashing through the bush. It sounds big and I freeze remembering our encounter with a bear about a year ago in the Redwood National Forrest and for a few seconds I’m certain that we are about to be attacked by a bear or a wolf or some other massive animal. In fact, it’s a small deer – baby Bambi sized really – jumping at lightning speed to get away from us. It’s gone in seconds and all that is left is a trail in the undergrowth where it left the track in order to disappear. Nature at its wildest – ahem.

WALKING, WALKING AND MORE WALKING
With that heart-attack survived, we continue on. After about 20 minutes and a little rest we get to the castle walls. We can either walk and continue on the track that now appears to be the old moat, or climb up a steep hill and see if we can walk out of the castle’s gates. The climb up the hill takes a few stumbles to conquer – with a pack on it is more difficult to compensate any missteps – but we manage to get up and are easily able to walk out of the castle’s gates. No security or anything so all the back up plans and explanations I’d feverishly been thinking of in the 5 minutes this took, were thankfully not needed.

IMG_2026 kopieWe journey on at a little under 5 km and hour and make it to the village of Waulsort where we eat our pre-packed lunches on the steps of the deserted Hastière yacht-club. Erik notices a boat on the other side and surmises there’s a ferry crossing, but we don’t know how to get to the boat. Thankfully a family walks up, waves to the other side of the river and lo and behold, a young blond ferryman comes walking out of his office, gets into the boat and pulls it to our side of the river. We get in and journey across so we can continue walking in the forest instead of on the road. Much more pleasant!

After another half an hour walking – with only a slight delay because an old woman needed to talk to someone and told us all about how she and her husband had been coming to this place for 35 years now – we arrive at the bridge of Hastière and make our way to the other side. This is the final village of the trip and the campsite should be just outside of the tiny town. We decide to use Google maps to see how far it really is and discover it’s another 3,5 long and heavy kilometres. Our first encounter with the fact that distances mean something different to drivers and walkers.

At this point I am no longer enjoying myself. My back hurts, my feet and legs hurt and are tired, I’m hungry and thirsty again and just thinking about having to set up a tent and then cooking a dinner or finding a snack bar near the campsite seems exhausting. Not to mention how frustrated I am that I cannot even manage this light hike. However, there’s no other option but to continue, so after a little rest I gather what courage and strength I still have left, spurred on by a seemingly indefatigable Erik and somehow manage those final kilometres.

CAMPING
We have finally arrived at the campsite! Sure it looks a bit dodgy and quite, but we made it! All we have to do now is find the proprietor or reception area, ask for a place, set up camp and we can really rest! And as it’s only four o’clock I’m looking forward to resting a bit before we actually set up camp.

So we walk around, but other then some angry little dogs, nobody seems to be around. We walk up to some poor looking fishermen and in my best high-school French I ask them how we can arrange to stay at the campsite. They point us back to the campsite with what I think are helpful suggestions, but due to their garbled speech have no way of understanding. We are trying to decide what to do when one of them walks up to us and takes us to one of the caravans.

A guy who clearly could not be more disinterested in us tries to tell us the owners are not around, but at the insistence of the fisherman calls his grandmother who apparently gives us a spot. We are shown a square of grass next to yet another dodgy-looking fellow. As we are grabbing our backpacks both Erik and I feel ill at ease, but we are both exhausted from walking and don’t want to keep going.

Our feeling of unease about the campsite wins out however and before anyone can catch us – although who would, we merely changed our minds – we make for the road. Slowly we are walking and being so tiered we decide to hitchhike, for the first time – ever. I ask again and again “are we doing this? Are we really doing this? Ok, I’m doing it, I’m sticking out my thumb, are we sure? Ok, I’m doing it” and then I pluck up enough courage and stick out my thumb.

UTOPIA
Not even 5 seconds pass before the very first car passes us, drives up to the side of the road and offers us a ride! This is not what we expected, but after laughing to ourselves about our good fortune we gratefully accept the ride back to Hastière and promise to pay back the universe by taking hitchhikers along at some point in the future.

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In Hastière we have to walk up and down town a bit before we manage to find a B&B – aptly named Utopia – but when we do, we are very happy with our decision. The hosts are very friendly, the fresh drinks nice and cold, the room is spacious, the bed perfect and the bathroom beautiful and clean. We rest a bit and take our poor aching bodies out for dinner.

Dinner was supposed to be a cheap affair, but as we are spending money anyway, we decide to go to a restaurant. Sadly, this drab looking town doesn’t offer much in the way of nice looking restaurants – with plenty of cheap looking places pumping music at full volume and one very expensive and completely full restaurant – but we manage to find a restaurant that, in spite of it’s weird décor, offers ok food.

We talk and laugh about our adventure so far, about our daily lives, about stuff happening to our friends and families, about our dreams and fears for the future and in short, appear to have a completely normal date night, until I have to get up and almost can’t because my back hurts way too much. After dinner we – well I, Erik is fine – stumble back to the B&B and I take a nice long hot shower. Seated of course, there is just no way my feet can endure any more standing up! We read a bit and then it’s lights out and to sleep, because tomorrow – as Scarlett O’Hara so brilliantly said – will be another day.

THE DAY AFTER
The next day I feel like Cheryl Strayed after a couple of weeks of hiking – even though I’ve only been hiking for one day. Everything hurts and for the first few minutes I cannot stand up straight.

I manage to shower and pack my backpack and somehow descent the stairs to the breakfast area where we are greeted by the hosts and apparently some of their neighbours (they live in another city during the week). We chat a bit about the different political landscapes of our countries and how difficult it must be to be young in this day and age with so many choices offered only to be met by a recession and all the accompanying horrors such as youth unemployment the minute we graduate. Although really, it feels much more like a friendly chat than the subjects seem to imply.

After breakfast we get some last minute necessities – water runs out way faster than you’d imagine – and after a painful struggle to get our backpacks on, we are on our way. Funnily enough, I’d been looking forward to this moment. In spite of the various aching body parts I was elated to be doing this, actually doing this. I was hiking and pushing myself and by the end of the day I would be able to lie down in my own bed and congratulate myself and finishing a two-day hike. Not really what I’d imagined – we set out on a three-day hike – but an accomplishment none the less.

IMG_2078 kopieWALKING DAY TWO
As such, the first few kilometres hurt a bit, but I am enjoying myself, moving again, working out the kinks in my sore muscles and looking at the lush green scenery that sits on either side of the river. The first 5 km fly by and we arrive at the little ferry before either one of us is really tired, so after crossing the river, we continue on without any rest.

After a while though, walking gets harder and harder, I start to get tired and thirsty and hungry, but as we are walking along a busy road, there is no way to rest at first. I simply have to power on – Erik seems fine to me – and content myself with sipping as much water as I can manage.

We pass the castle again, but this time we don’t take the adventurous trail and simply continue on the road that is much easier to walk on. Thankfully we get to a buttercup filled field where we can finally rest. I don’t so much as take of my backpack as simply let it fall to the ground in order to collapse next to it and rest my feet and legs and back for a few glorious minutes.

I eat a banana – instant energy! – and watch a dog appearing from the field, seemingly out of nowhere, connected to no one and completely free. He seems happy, but doesn’t approach us, so we just assume its owner must be nearby enough for the dog to feel safe. In a matter of minutes, the dog is gone and we also decide to push on so we can get back to Dinant as early as possible.

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WHAT COMES AFTER 79
At first, I feel refreshed and energized, but the feeling soon disappears and I am left again struggling to continue. My feet are blistering, my back now really hurts and walking becomes an effort. Thankfully I remember Cheryl Strayed writing how she’d walk everyday until she couldn’t and then start counting her steps to a hundred in order to keep going.

I feel like a fraud having to use this trick on only my second day and moreover on a road that doesn’t ascend or descend much, but I need something to keep me going. So I start counting, gladly announcing each one hundredth step to Erik – who at first logically thinks I’ve lost my mind. After a few rounds of this I get into a pattern. 1 Through 39 or so go by in a flash, but it gets harder to keep focused enough to continue counting. And insanely, every time I get tot 79 I have to strain my brain for a few more steps before I remember 80 comes after. And then it’s a breeze again to 100.

This keeps me going for a while, but I notice myself going slower and slower by the minute and Erik has to stop a few times to wait for me to catch up. Clearly I need a new trick, or the amount of time I’ll need to get back to the car will start to approach infinity. Erik tells me to simply walk faster, but I don’t see how until I remember how I used to just keep going at festivals.

IMG_2078 kopieWAKE UP!
No, you idiots, this is not a Dutch girl admitting drug use on a hike! I simply remember how energizing hardstyle music can be and try to think of one of the songs to keep me going. I had so many memorized, but my exhaustion makes it hard to remember one. Thank havens I then hear a song start up, somewhere in the deeper corners of my mind. It’s wake up! by Brennan Heart and the Prophet.

“Hush little baby – Addy? – don’t you cry; it is just a lullaby. Dreams of rainbows make you stop, and I am here to wake you up!”. And wake up I do. I walk faster than I’ve done all weekend, muttering the song to myself. Not just the lyrics, but every single sound of the song I sing to myself and I keep going, keep going, keep going.

We get to the first bridge we’d crossed the previous morning and I keep going, keep going, keep going. There’s the gym in a monumental house, the Ibis hotel, the casino and there, finally, blissfully the car!

FINISHED
I made it! We made it! I am so, so, so tired and I realize that perhaps long distance hiking is not (yet) really my cup of tea, but having made it this far I can only be happy and hope a next time will come and be easier. All I want now, is to eat and eat we do. The entire bread we’ve got with us is gone in minutes.

Then, as it has started to rain, nothing remains but for us to start our drive back home. Back to comfort and warmth and a really, really long hot shower. Back to a place where I no longer have to wear heavy boots on aching (and slightly blistering) feet and where I no longer have to walk anywhere. Back home to relax and recover, but knowing that I can do this! I was born to do this! Even if it’s not hiking*, I was born to go on adventures like this!IMG_2068 kopie

*Since then I have found a that I do actually want to do more hikes and even set a potential goal

CELEBRATING FRIENDSHIP IN BERLIN

Naamloos kopieHow do you celebrate fifteen years of friendship? A friendship that has known its ups and downs. A friendship that has known times where we would see each other every single day, do everything together and could finish each other’s sentences and times where college and differing interests drove us slightly more apart. A friendship that, to this day, remains one of the most important relationships in my life.

For us, celebrating this friendship, could only ever be done one way: travelling.

About five years ago, when we were poor and penniless students and celebrating our ten-year anniversary, we’d wanted to go to Berlin, but lacked the funds. So this time, with both of us leading semi-adult lives with actual full-time jobs, we decided to visit the capital of Germany.

DEPARTURE
So it was that on February 5th of this year, I found myself sitting on the red and white tiled meeting-point at Schiphol airport, waiting for Rebecca to get there so we could start our weekend away. And as I sit there, I start to think about how all of this started fifteen years ago, when we were still young girls. About how I’d moved from the big city of Rotterdam to the (in my eyes) provincial hamlet of Almere and had found myself standing at a schoolyard with a bunch of people I didn’t know and had no care to get to know, because I just wanted to get passed the final six months of primary school and into high school so I could start over – never realising that I could start over right then and there. About how Rebecca had come up to me with two other girls and I’d though she was just a mindless tag-along and she’d thought I was an arrogant bitch. About how circumstances changed and not six months later we found ourselves to be inseparable. About how we’d stayed like that for the next six years, spending hours and hours together, talking about our homework, families, puppy loves and everything that happened as we grew into young adults. About how we went to college in different towns and followed different paths while there, so that for a while, we seemed to be drifting away like so many people do when they start college. About how we somehow managed to keep our friendship going strong by focussing on quality over quantity and about where our lives stood now. On the brink of actual adulthood that neither of us feels ready for or likes, so we just keeping doing fun and crazy stuff so long as we feel like it.

And then I look up to see Rebecca Naamloos kopiestanding in front of me, so we make our way to the gate, arriving classically early and chatting over a cup of coffee and talking about this and that. I give her the book I’ve just read (My life on the road by Gloria Steinem), because this is what I do when I’m enthusiastic about a book. I lend it to her and she accepts in good humour, sometimes actually reading the books, sometimes not.

PLANE RIDE
After what seems like more time than actually passes we board the flight and then we are actually on our way. The plain makes a weird sound as we are getting into the air, like a drill or electric saw or maybe even a weird dog, but we joke it away and thankfully it disappears soon after. We chat some more, read our books or magazines and look out the window. Because we’re flying at twilight and the deck of clouds is remarkably flat we can see the sunset from the plain as we travel from light to dark into a freezing cold night.

We arrive at Berlin airport in good time, again ignoring the weird sound the plain makes as we’re descending and make our way over to the train that will take us to the city centre. It is at this point that we realize our clumsiness hasn’t diminished at all, nor our apparent ability to make the same mistakes: we’ve both forgotten to bring our toothbrushes. This happens after we’ve tried to scan our tickets while they needed to be stamped, so we figure this is further evidence of just how clumsy this weekend is going to get – I’ve also already dropped my phone on the plain and repeatedly banged my head trying to get it from the tiny space it’s gotten stuck – but neither of us minds. We’re used to it by now and can only laugh about it.

EVENING
IMG_1322.jpg (kopie)We get to the hotel – after having taken a wrong turn first, of course – near Wallstrasse and find that it is aptly decorated, with a dollar-print on the floor of our room, chocolates shaped like euro’s and, best of all, handkerchiefs printed like one-hundred-dollar bills. Now Rebecca, who’s got a bit of a cold, can blow her nose on dollars this weekend – how decadent!

By then we are starving, so we decide to find a restaurant near the hotel. As we’re walking towards the part of town where, according to the receptionist we can find more restaurants, we get lost in a little park and only then notice how quiet the streets are. We are supposed to be in the centre of the city that is famous for its day-round partying.

Puzzled, but to hungry to really care, we make our way to a restaurant that looks sufficiently German but cheap enough for our wallet. As we are seated I notice what I’ve noticed countless of times while being in Rebecca’s presence: a group of guys, clearly ogling her as she walks by, apparently oblivious to the effect she’s having. It used to bug me somewhat in my teenaged years, but by now I can laugh about it and I tell her about it as we are ordering traditional heavy German food.

As we are devouring our food and washing it down with some good German beer (what else?) we make a plan for the next morning. We decide to sleep in a bit and then do one, maybe two walking tours of historical Berlin and the infamous Berlin wall and to eat at a place with the wonderful name of Burgermeister that supposedly serves the best burgers in town. We see that this place is near the east-side gallery, a must-see according to friends who’ve been here before, so we decide to squeeze that in as well. We leave the decision of whether to visit a bar or not for the next day, anticipating it will be a tiring one. So it is off to bed for us, after all the necessary chitchat that accompanies a sleepover where two chatty girls are involved – of course.

GOOD MORNING
The next morning, I wake up well rested – an aberration for me as I usually don’t sleep too well in a new bed. I listen to the birds singing outside the window, feeling happy that spring appears to be arriving. Rebecca wakes up as well and when I ask her how she’s slept, she answers it was fine but “those birds were awfully loud”! We laugh about the comment and I’m secretly happy to have a different outlook on these particular birds.

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We take our time before breakfast, doing the usual girly stuff we get up to when we are on a trip; hair, make-up and what to wear with the cold weather but keeping in mind the pictures we’ll take to remember this trip. It may not be the most cultural thing we do this weekend, but we’re having fun anyway.

WALKING TOUR I
After breakfast we head to the starting point of our walking tour. Because we are only here for two days, there is no way we are going to pretend not to be tourists and just wander about aimlessly – something I don’t enjoy anyway as I always want to GET TO places (I should work on that) – but we are going to obediently follow the lonely planet prescribed walking tours.

P1040158.jpg (kopie)We brace ourselves for the cold, knowing full well we’ll get warm from walking around and start by strolling through the Nicolaiviertel that is just around the corner and across the bridge from our hotel. For the next two hours or so we look at the beautiful Berliner Dom – sneaking in on a tour and learning more about the devastating tactics used to bomb this area in WOII – walk into a nespressso shop – for me to try some coffee, for Rebecca to also buy some as she is lucky enough to own a nespresso-machine – make our way through the museum Island with it’s myriad – duh – museums (none of which we visit) and finally end up at the famous Brandenburger Tor.

PROTESTERS AT BRANDERBURGER TOR
In front of the gate, a protest is going on. We are surprised to see a protest so near an historical landmark with no police around, but the atmosphere is friendly and people appear genuinely interested in this protest. As such, I feel bold enough to ask one of the protesters what they are protesting about. He tells me it for a Kurd-like peoples living in Pakistan and India that apparently are being oppressed, but get non of the attention the West gives other oppressed peoples. Although the cause itself cannot grab my attention as much as it probably should, I feel my activism rekindle.

P1040201.jpg (kopie)This kind of activism – of which we see a few more examples over the weekend – excites me. There is no aggression in it, just a plea to be heard, to be seen and to get the help they feel they need. None of it feels intrusive and the man talking to us seems way more genteel than the commercially hired students trying to get me to donate money every time a walk through I big city back home. Perhaps this is what Berlin is about, a kind of activism and rebellion without any aggression and as such, it fits me. Of course I am in Berlin for way to short a time to make these kinds of statements, but maybe one day I’ll be able to figure it out.

IMG_1205.jpg (kopie)WALKING TOUR II
As we continue on, weare slowly getting to the most famous – or infamous really – part of Berlin: The Wall. But not before we pass the Holocaust memorial. Reading about this memorial, I didn’t get it. A bunch of concrete cubes placed in neat lines with undulating pathways? However, as I walk through the cold and quiet memorial, catching glimpses of people walking past and hearing laughter that I’m unable to reach, the symbolism of it makes itself clear. Walking around turns out to be a profoundly unnerving experience, but I’m glad we came here.

Yet again we walk on and we are now at the point where the infamous Berlin Wall once stood, but for the untrained eye, nothing much remains. We decide to “Walk the Wall” (as again described in my trusty little Lonely Planet), but first, time for some lunch a.k.a. pie! We get a cup of coffee and a piece op pie each, but it’s so much larger than we anticipated that it turns into our lunch!

Afterwards, we walk our sugary meal off towards Potsdamer Platz.P1040227.jpg (kopie)
Apparently this used to be a big chunk of empty land between
the East and West, but now it looks like a modern city, reminiscent more of New York than Soviet-era cities. We continue on and finally get to Checkpoint Charlie. It’s hard to imagine the tense exchanges and transfers that must have happened here in the past. We can see a busy shopping street (the M of McDonalds visible right behind the sign stating we are entering the West), a load of tourists gawking at the two remaining (and fake?) signs and quite a lot of girls giggling as they walk past the two “so
ldiers” guarding the checkpoint – who are collecting a fortune in exchange for posing with these girls.

EAST-SIDE CHILLING
At this point, we’ve already done more than we thought we could, so we are able to go to the east-side gallery and take a leisurely stroll there. As such, we have more time to really look at the graffiti in stead of just walking past it. I try and read most of the sentences – in all kinds of languages – and while reading one about communication devises simply connecting the lonely people in this world, Rebecca snaps a shot of us with our shadows holding hands – I love how this day is filled with little symbolic moments like this!

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With a little time to kill we walk around the neighbourhood of Kreuzburg and now find a bit of Berlin that is not “romantically shabby” (most of the streets we’ve seen have this weird yet beautiful combination of old buildings and somehow fitting graffiti) but that just feels like a ghetto (being it a relatively “light” or safe version). So we make our way to the Burgermeister for – apparently – the most famous burgers in Berlin. The shop is situated under the metro-way which ads to the underground atmosphere and does indeed serve very tasty burgers. If you’re ever around, try one!

FAIRY-TALE BAR
As if we haven’t seen enough yet, we decide to go out for a cocktail. Rebecca finds a bar that sounds fun: an Alice in Wonderland inspired cocktail bar called “fairy tale bar” within walking distance of Alexanderplatz. This way we can even squeeze in the famous television tower!

Making our way to the bar, we begin to have our doubts. This looks like a rich suburban neighbourhood, not really the place for a bar that is safe for two relatively young females traveling in a foreign city. We joke about accidentally walking into some kind of SM-party, but continue on any way. We find the address and as it has a light on the ground stating “follow the white rabbit” we assume we’re in the right place. We ring the bell, wait an eternity, almost decide to leave and then we are welcomed into the most wonderful bar I have ever been to!

IMG_1294.jpg (kopie)The amount of detail that went into the concept of this bar is mind-boggling. From the bartender dressed as the queen of hearts, mixing cocktails in old fashioned silver teapots and serving them in frosted glasses of all shapes and sizes, to the dressed-up waitress that hands us our menus that are really books with the cocktails pasted alongside pictures of actual fairy tales and that have paper butterflies flying out of them. From the bathroom that has playing cards as indicators of the male and female side, a handheld mirror that makes a sound when you lift it – consequently giving you a heart attack – and a mirror that gives you squares in your eyes to the amazingly detailed and myriad decorations – a white bunny holding a watch, a table shaped like a shoe, flamingo’s on sticks (like the stick-horses young kids “ride”), a pop-up book of Alice in Wonderland that shows a different page every time the waitress has walked past. This is the kind of bar I can see myself visiting very often.

The atmosphere is not riotous as a lot of bars can be on a Saturday night, but instead invites intimate conversation and really just looking around. The cocktails are delicious and the waitress a good judge of alcohol character as she dissuades me from getting a cocktail with a lot of whiskey in it. We somehow manage to stay for a few hours with only two cocktails as we are so completely mesmerized by the entire ambiance. A perfect end to a perfect site-seeing day.

FLEA MARKET
That Sunday we only have a half-day, but since we’ve visited most of the places we wanted, we take our time getting ready and enjoying a nice hearty breakfast. We are allowed to leave our bags at the reception so as to enjoy our day unencumbered and so we set of for our final day.

We decide to head over to the flea market at the Mauerpark. My previous experience with a flea market abroad (Paris; sadly it was mostly a tourist trap) left my expectations low, but since it was described as having a perfect vibe and came highly recommended, we decided to go anyway. Thankfully, we were not disappointed!

Described as a “wild and wacky urban tapestry where a flea market, outdoor karaoke and artists provide entertainment”, this place provides the perfect background to our Sunday morning. With a crispy blue sky and a rising temperature, we happily peruse the flea market (buying little, seeing a lot) and listen to some wonderful music.

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The flea market does not disappoint. It has the perfect mix of hippy handicraft, vintage furniture and cutlery and bookish things to provide interest for everyone. As Rebecca states, places like these are the reason for the term knick-knacks. We stroll about a few times, sipping Glüwein and then make our way to the stone platforms where artists can display their musical skills.

We end up listening to a band called the Trouble Notes – a band that meshes Celtic violin sounds with a pop-like ease and something more authentic – for a while, enjoying the sun (no more coats needed!) and our drinks, lamenting the fact that we haven’t found a place like this back home. We’d love to sit there longer, but we want walk around the city a bit more and in the afternoon we have to start heading back to the airport.

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AIRPORT TROUBLE
It ends up being a somewhat useless move. We’d probably have been just as happy staying at the Mauerpark seeing as the Window of Remembrance – a section of the wall, flanked by a rusted steel wall memorial of victims who tried to cross over to the West, but crossed to another world all together – somehow cannot capture our interest. Perhapse we’ve simply seen enough in the little time we had in Berlin.

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Leisurely we make our way to the hotel to pick up our bags and over to the airport. Here, we find out why our tickets were so cheap. The flight crew appears to be totally inapt, insisting on Rebecca checking in her small suitcase even though we are one of the first people to get to the gate and later on allowing much bigger suitcases to be taken on as on-board luggage. Not a big deal in itself, but the rude style of communicating really gets both of us riled up. Sadly, though, getting angry won’t get us anywhere and we have no choice but to accept the situation. Oh well, we’ll be home soon and everything forgotten.

After a short flight, without further incidences, we get back to Schiphol airport, where we are met by my boyfriend Erik. From there, it is only a short drive home, filled with chatter about our trip that must drive Erik insane. Rebecca and I say goodbye, promising ourselves we’ll soon repeat this and then the celebratory weekend is over. Another year friendship celebrated and another year started. Who knows what it’ll bring? One thing is for sure, it’ll keep our friendship going yet again!

NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL – Lena Dunham

AFTER THREE POSITIVE REVIEWS I’M SADLY NOW HAVING TO WRITE A NEGATIVE ONE. I bought this book because I’d heard Lena Denham described as one of the new and feminist voices of our time. My expectations however, were rather low, since I didn’t particularly like the series she is best know for (Girls).

The expectations I did have, were that the book could be awkward, since every scene I’ve ever seen of Girls (which, admittedly, aren’t that many) were very awkward. I know that the series is described as giving a realistic version of young women’s lives as opposed to the glamourized and polished versions Hollywood provides, but to me, neither version feels true.

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to get to know a writer (or protagonist) before reading about an incredibly awkward first-time sex that, moreover, I just don’t buy. The scene feels like contemporary Dutch fiction, which is to say: filled with a lot of unnecessary awkward references to sex and genitalia that I believe to be very exaggerated, or at least hope to be exaggerated (that while being liberal minded – I hope).

The book continues in the same awkward style (I realise I’ve now said the word awkward more than anyone really should in this short space, but really there is no other word that explains this book and there are a lot more “awkwards” to follow). This however, does not make the book feel more true. Even as someone who feels like an above-average awkward person, I just cannot relate to the sheer amount of awkwardness Lena Dunham describes.

The other thing that bugs me about the book, is how incredibly self-centred it is. I realise memoires are supposed to be about the innermost thoughts of the subject, but this book takes it to a whole other level. From this book it appears that she is a person who is incapable of thinking about any thing other than how the world feels to her and she to it, without pausing to think objectively about any of it (though of course, I really hope to be the one in the wrong here!). Thankfully, she appears to realise this herself (without changing one thing about it), as at some point one of the illustrations shows Lena Dunham receiving a diploma in the degree of “self studies” with a minor in “all about me”.

The one part of the book that did strike a nerve, is (unsurprisingly) the one part where Lena Dunham writes about somebody else. She writes about her sister and talks about how different her sister is and how at some point she realises that she knows nearly nothing about her sister’s pains, secrets and fantasies (something I can actually relate to). It seems like she finally understands that the inner life of other people is just as real and poignant to them, as her inner life is to herself.

In short, not a book I’d recommend, unless you are into vicarious shame, awkward (yes, I’m using the word once more) situations and love to read about the inner workings of a completely self-absorbed mind. Unless you count the pages 145 through 156 that is.

 

 

 

PLUCHE – Femke Halsema

FEMKE HALSEMA HAS FINALLY WRITTEN HER POLITICAL MEMOIRES! Which means finally, I can read the book that has been on my pre-order list since June 2014! It may have taken her a long time, but I’m happy to say the book was worth the wait.

Femke Halsema is a Dutch ex-politician who held a seat in parliament for GroenLinks (the green and left political party) from 1998 until 2011 and was a leader of that party from 2002 onwards. During this time, she transformed from a highly opinionated and somewhat elitist debater into a savvy and sassy politician who was capable of charting her own independent course during turbulent times.

While Halsema was earning her stripes in parliament, I was growing up and becoming more and more interested in politics in general and Halsema in particular. It was therefor very enlightening to read about her view on events of those days and how they impacted on her own personal live.

The funny thing is, that while reading this book, I learned more about the politics of the times I grew up in, than I did whilst living through them. Apparently my teenaged self wasn’t following the politics of the day with as much enthusiasm as I once thought I did. Though, perhaps this is a good thing as many times while reading this book I felt a tug towards retrospective action, a tug to join the fight against populist pessimism and a tug to become as insufferable and as stubborn in my opinions as I know I am capable of being.

As such, my favourite quote of the book, is one where Halsema describes a set of qualities that at times have caused her trouble and that to me, sound annoyingly familiar: “I have a substantial lust for provocation combined with a sharp and uncompromising judgement. My sharpness is almost always targeted at content and hardly ever at people, because at the same time I cannot stand quarrelling” (Ik bezit een aanmerkelijke lust tot provocative, samen met een scherp en compromisloos oordeel. Mijn scherpte richt zich vrijwel altijd op onderwerpen en nauwelijks op mensen, omdat ik tegelijkertijd slecht tegen ruzie kan).

Apart from this recognition, I loved the book for its stories where the political and personal intertwine, probably best seen in the references to Kees Vendrik. These two people started as parliamentarians together with a promise of “in together, out together”. Sadly, Vendrik is unable to uphold this promise after a devastating personal loss, that is described with feeling and integrity.

Halsema writes with certainty about her own uncertainty and the political events that passed whilst she was in office. She shows an optimism that isn’t often seen in today’s political landscape. She writes engagingly and it makes me want to be involved in bettering our little corner of the world.

Writing this review for me was very difficult, because I loved so many of the book’s stories and I want to share all of them here (though I know full well that such a review would in fact not be a review but a major spoiler if not an outright copyright infringement!). So I’ll just end by saying, please read this book so we can discuss all the funny, sad, touching, enraging and surprising aspect of these memoires.

 

 

 

 

 

MY LIFE ON THE ROAD – Gloria Steinem

A BOOK WRITTEN BY AN AMERICAN FEMALE FEMINIST ACTIVIST about her life on the road… sounds like a no brainer: this is a book I should want to read. Except… I didn’t want to read it. I’d seen the book pop up on different sites, but I never felt the urge to read it.

And then Emma Watson decided to start a feminist book club and of course, being the book-loving, Harry Potter-loving, feminist-loving woman I am, I now had to read everything to do with this book club (which I started with all my usual enthusiasm, and then stopped like so many other projects, but that’s another story all together). Of course the first book to be read turned out to be “My life on the road” by Gloria Steinem and I felt forced to read this book that I had been ignoring for a while now. Funny how that works.

Turns out, I was a fool not to want to read this book. From the very first page I was addicted. This woman has a voice I could just imagine (and that I later found out sounded nothing like the actual real-life Gloria Steinem). Her story about growing up on the road caught my attention and I loved listening to it. What really got me though, was her transformation to a feminist activist that happened whilst she was travelling. It was inspiring to read how a relatively shy girl, could grow into one of the more prominent figures of the feminist cause in the United States.

In this book, Gloria Steinem has so many things to say about the subject of feminism, without becoming the stereotypical angry man-hating butch lesbian feminist. To my everlasting shame I’d somehow unconsciously come to believe that feminists from the ‘60’s who were still writing about feminist issues had to be that stereotype. Even though most of my life I have tried to tell people again and again that feminism is not about seeing women as better than man, I’d still somehow fallen into the trap, which I only discovered from my own surprise about her style of writing.

Thank god than for this book, because it not only showed me my own prejudice, but at the same time taught me how my feelings about feminism could be articulated. The book reads like a memoir, but provides information on a lot of issues. Issues that seem to belong to the past, or another place, but also issue I could relate to. And the magic of the book is that the issues are discussed eloquently, but simple enough for anybody to understand. It provides a starting point for me to speak about my feelings and ideas on feminism.

The only negatives about this book are the last two chapters or so. Gloria Steinem clearly got interested in native American history and the marginalisation these people have had to suffer. So much so, that she states wanting to write a book about this issue and you can feel that seeping into the book. Although it still provides an interesting read, it feels like a departure from the rest of the narrative. Honestly, if she’d finished the book a few chapters earlier, it would have made the book even stronger, but as far as negatives go, this is still a pretty good one.

This book has made me want to read more feminist literature (you have been warned, though being the avid reader I am, I’m sure I’ll cover more types of books) and it makes me want to speak up on this issue more than I am currently doing. This certainly is an activist and activating book!

So to start: please read this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants their perspectives shifted, for anyone who has even the slightest interest in the issue and for anyone who believes feminism is no longer necessary.

Finally, my favourite quote is about a group of people, doing things their own way and changing their corner of the world. They “are changing the system to fit people, not the other way around”. A lesson worth remembering in these times.

 

 

 

 

BIG MAGIC – Elizabeth Gilbert

I LOVE THIS BOOK! Honestly, why do you thing I’m putting this book up as my first ever review? More honestly still: why do you think I started this blog in the fist place? This is what this book is all about: a call to action for all of us to take up a more creative live in any way we can.

I have to admit, I am one of the millions of women who has been a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing ever since I read “eat, pray, love”. The title at fist turned me off, but at some point I caved, bought the book and read it during every spare minute I had, finishing it in just a matter of days. Since then, I have loved to hear her voice in my head when I’m reading her books.

Last fall, her latest book was published and after the fictional “The signature of all things” (another must-read if you ask me, but that’s another story) Elizabeth Gilbert once again provides a non-fiction page-turner. This time, it’s not a memoir that gives everyone something to learn or relate to, but rather an extended essay or musing on creativity.

The book focusses on six essentials (according to the writer) regarding creativity. For me, “Courage”, “Enchantment” and “Permission” provided the most joyous reading, while “Persistence”, “Trust” and “Divinity” seemed more fit for readers who have already tried their hand at creativity, but somehow got stuck.

The first three parts (the ones I really loved) are, in my view, where the call to action comes from. It deals with certain fears we may have about being creative, about where creativity or inspiration comes from and finally gave me the push I need: I got a permission slip to try my hand at whatever type of creativity makes me happy – regardless of what notions I’ve had about not being a creative person, other people always being better at anything I’d try and the result never appearing as I had envisioned it. It is about what makes me happy while I’m doing it.

Ensuring that I actually finish projects I make (without having to turn my live around and become one of the many suffering artists that completely screw up their personal life in the remote hopes of creating a marvel), putting it out into the world and some of the consequences that may or may not arise in my life afterwards, is what I got from the second half of the book. Seeing as I’ve never actually finished a project or put anything out there, this part didn’t excite me as much as the first half, but still made for a really enjoyable read. Who knows what lessons I may take from it later on.

Finally, my favourite quote: “if you do worry that you need a permission slip – THERE, I just gave it to you. (…) Now go make something”.  So to all of you who are reading this: go make something, but maybe procrastinate just long enough to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.