Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A breathtakingly beautiful Brussels sunset

That's the thing about sunsets: they're so very very beautiful, but just for a fleeting moment. As quickly as they arrive, they're gone again.

The sun sets every day, but it's not every day we get to see sunsets as beautiful as this one.

A couple of days ago I moved into a new flat here in Brussels. It's a bit of a long story how the move came about so I'll spare you the details, but my new place has the most incredible view over the city. I feel very lucky.

And on just my second night in the new flat, this happened:

Utterly breathtaking. I just stared out the window and savoured the view (after taking a few snaps, of course.) All of Brussels was bathed in the most beautiful orangey-pink light. It blows my mind that this just happens. Naturally.

When I left the flat that morning, it was chucking it down. And I mean full-on, fat, ploppy rain drops. I find it somewhat amazing that a day can start like that and finish like this.

The world is a wonderful place, nature is a marvellous thing, and we must always remember to stop and smell the roses, marvel at how birds can fly and appreciate the sunsets.

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Monday, 28 July 2014

A trip to Ghent and Gentse Feesten festival.

Ghent (or Gent in Flemish or Gand in French – confusing, much?) was once medieval Europe’s second largest city, and is a mere half hour’s train ride from Brussels. It’s now known as a city of culture, full of students and pretty architecture, with more listed buildings that any other Belgian city.

Year round, visitors come to Ghent for the belfry, fortress, museums and galleries, but for ten days of the year the numbers surge to about 2 million. And why?

Well, for Gentse Feesten, of course!

Gentse Feesten is a music and theatre festival which takes over the city for a week and a half every summer. Circus performers, acrobats, dancers, singers, bands, jazz groups, theatre, gymnasts... The city is bursting with performance. And it's awesome.

On Saturday, despite spending all morning thinking “I’ve got so much to do at home today, I can’t go out”, I ended up jumping on a train to Ghent to check out the festival for myself. Totes yolo, eh?

And I'm so glad I did.

I don’t think Gentse Feesten is overly well-known outside Belgium, despite apparently being the third-biggest city festival in Europe. Apparently 1,315,000 people attended this year!

Venturing out of Brussels to the Flemish part of Belgium (Flanders), it was strange for me not being able to speak the language. But just from listening to everyone around me it seemed like there weren’t many foreigners (aside from the odd American), but rather mainly Belgians.

And really, you’re getting a few mini festivals in one – there are big stages set-up around the old city centre as well as street performers every where you look.

The amazing thing is that it’s 100% free too! FREEEEEEEE! Obviously you have to pay for food, and that’s encouraged, but you’re really getting some class acts for absolutely nothing. I particularly enjoyed these guys:

Nakedness as part of the show...

They were flipping, somersaulting and jumping all over the shop! Flipping awesome, ya might say. They'd definitely go down well on Britain's Got Talent.

Performers aside, I was impressed with all the free loos dotted round the city too, but could’ve done with water fountains – it was HOT!

There were lots of different food stalls everywhere though, all very enticing-looking.

There were also loads of pop-up bars - the beers and cocktails were flowing freely, and I imagine the awesome atmosphere of the afternoon only gets better as day turns to night. Alas, I couldn't stay to experience it myself.

I ended up having lunch in an awesome place called Soup Lounge. It was too hot for soup, so I got a chicken-curry baguette, generously filled with salad too, for a bargainous 3 Euros. Were it cooler I would’ve totally jumped on their soup deal – a large bowl of soup, two mini bread rolls and an apple for just 4 Euros! Awesome.

Nommed it up while listening to a French singer belting out La Vie En Rose and admiring these buildings (me, not her. Maybe her too actually...)

Because that's the thing about Gentse Feesten - it'd be easy to visit and not even pay attention to the city itself. The gorgeous architecture sort of fades into the background given everything going on, but I made sure to appreciate it.

The old houses in Ghent have a really distinct style, which I love. Turrets and step-by-step roofs give them all a castle-ish vibe. Speaking of which...

It's also lovely that the river winds its way through the city centre.

Down by the river the atmosphere was particularly buzzy, lively and fun - fairy lights, jazz and happy groups of people. I was spontaneously visiting by myself but it'd be so much fun to go with friends, I'm sure.

Festival activities aside, I really liked Ghent. There are big, open squares as well as narrow, cobbled streets. It seems like a really cool city, full of trendy shops and cute cafés. Me likey.

Case in point, this delightful cake shop/café, Julie's House:

It was so cute from the outside that I was just drawn in. Packed with people, the cakes look amaaaaazing, and they even had free tasters. FREE CAKE, YOU SAY!? Well, it'd be rude not to, am I right? (Were I not full from lunch I would've totally treated myself to a slice and a half.)

I kinda wish I lived in Ghent just so I could go to Julie's House and Soup Lounge all the time.

I'm not entirely sure if it was part of Gentse Feesten or not, but there was a fabulous flea market going on too.

Now I do love a good flea market.

Should a funfair be more your cup of tea (a spinning teacup, maybe? Pah ha ha), you're totally catered for at Gentse Feesten...

And then again, if you're more in the mood for beer, all you have to do is make your way over to one of the big Oktoberfest-style tents, take a seat and enjoy the live music while sipping a beverage.

I didn't know the Belgian songs being sung, but it seemed like everyone else did!

To be honest, I just enjoyed wandering round, stopping to listen to a singer here and watch some acrobats there, all while marvelling at the pretty architecture and people-watching.

It was a wonderful afternoon, and not only would I definitely go back to Gentse Feesten, but I really recommend you go too! Has anyone been before?

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Saturday, 26 July 2014

RECIPE: Lentil ratatouille

Post family holiday, I was craving a health-kick. Gorging on baguettes, croissants and ice cream is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t half leave you feeling stodgier than a huge portion of cheesy chips topped with dumplings and served with bread on the side.

(Mmm carbs.)

However, I find that all it takes is a few days of healthier, carb-light eating to leave me feeling significantly slimmer, more energised and lighter in general. That’s what happened this week, and this ratatouille has played a key role. In fact, it’s been dinner five nights in a row!

I’ve put a twist on the classic French side dish by adding lentils. They’re SO good for you and mix into the ratatouille perfectly in my opinion, creating a substantial meal in itself.

A bowlful of this makes for a tasty, hearty, wholesome dinner as it is, but would also be lovely served with some grilled chicken or perhaps alongside a crusty wholemeal bread roll.

It’s packed full of Mediterranean veggie goodness and nutrition-high lentils. A lot of people turn their nose up at lentils or don’t know how to cook them (I’m still learning on that last one), but they just blend in sneakily to the ratatouille-y goodness here.

Lentils are:

  • Full of fibre
  • Good for your heart
  • Rich in protein
  • Low-cal
  • Digestion aids
  • Energising – they keep you full!

This recipe serves 3-4 depending on how hungry you are or what it’s accompanying – I actually got five dinners out of this quantity by mixing the last quarter with plain brown rice and turning it into two meals. I even found it got better as the days went on, weirdly enough.

It’s just a big bowl of goodness that will leave you feeling wonderful! Not to mention pipsqueak to make.

Snazzy sauce from the madre yay!

1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1 large red pepper, chopped into chunks
1 large courgette, chopped into chunks
1 large aubergine, chopped into chunks
1 tomato, diced into teeny bits
1 jar tomato and vegetable sauce (I used this one)
1 tin lentils, drained
A sprinkle of dried oregano, salt and pepper

I hate tomato so chop it into teeeeny bits


1. Chop all the veggies and heat 1tbsp olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat.

Fry the onion and garlic until softened and turning brown.

2. Add the chopped pepper, followed by the courgette and aubergine. Stir fry until the veg is softening and browning.

3. Add the tomato, tomato sauce and lentils and give it all a good stir. Mix in a pinch of dried oregano and seasoning.

I had to use two pans as I didn't have one big enough. Pre-mixing the lentils.
Cover the pan and leave to simmer for at least ten minutes, but it really depends on your tastes and whether you prefer a chunkier, more al dente ratatouille or a slightly more mushed version.

STOP! Simmer time.
4. Serve up and enjoy!

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

A boat trip round the Golfe de Morbihan and a visit to the Île aux Moines.

Sorry it's been a few days since my last post - I spent a couple of days travelling across France and then had a busy few back at work involving much fun but late finishes. But let's get back to last week's holiday, shall we?

Who doesn't love a good boat trip? I'm a bit of a wannabe mermaid, and have always loved the sea. Swimming in it, floating on it or just being by it. 

It was whilst at Crêperie Saint Georges last week that Madre picked up a leaflet for a company that do boat trips round the Gulf of Morbihan and to the Île aux Moines. And the next day, we were on that boat, cruising over the blue blue waves. 

pic from theoystersmyworld.com
The Gulf of Morbihan is essentially one giiiiiant bay, nearly an enclosed lagoon really, on the south coast of Brittany, France. In fact, the distance between the two edges of the coast is just 900m across the water, but to drive round the land from one point to another is 60-70km!

Holly, Mum and I drove down to a village on the western point, Locmariaquer, and from there we hopped on the boat for our tour of the gulf. 

Somewhat incredibly, there are 42 islands in the gulf altogether, but a lot of them are pretty small. Many are owned by celebs, don'tcha know!

We whizzed over the waves, wind in our hair and sun on our faces, enjoying the views of the sparkly sea and idyllic-looking islands. 

Exhibit A: wind in hair.

Exhibit B: Sun on faces.
After an hour or so sailing the high seas, we arrived at the largest island in the gulf, L'Ile aux Moines. We had an hour and a half to explore the island before the boat would be back to pick us up, so we jumped off and hopped to it. 

The island is utterly charming. We thought it had something of a Grecian feel to it. Greece crossed with Norfolk maybe. 

It was quiet - the majority of people there seemed to be visitors like us. Even most of the people that actually live there over the summer live elsewhere during the rest of the year, so I imagine it must be almost eerily empty then. 

There are, of course, a few shops and eateries, but for anything substantial I guess you'd have to get a boat to the mainland first. 

The streets are narrow and there aren't many cars, and the houses lining them are gorgeous. Mainly old stone or painted white, with classic blue shutters and pretty flower baskets, they're all charming holiday homes. The ones with views over the sea seemed particularly lustworthy to me. 

Although most of the houses look old from the outside, a bit of cheeky peering in through windows told me they tend to be modern and very stylishly done inside. I suppose the people who can afford a second home for the summer are likely to have the funds to decorate their homes beautifully. 

What's more, everything on the island is just that little bit more expensive than on the mainland. Understandably. 

Still, because we were on holiday and thought yolo, we sat down for a spot of refreshment. Although the waitress who brought our drinks was stereotypically French in her lack of friendliness, I still thoroughly enjoyed my Breizh Cola. I love that all the restaurants in Brittany serve it. What a way to support local business. And also, it's delish. Sort of more cola-y than normal Diet Coke. 

Soon though, it was time to dash back to the port if we didn't want to be stuck on the island over night! With a few minutes to spare, there was, conveniently, just enough time to grab an ice cream before setting sail. 

I was torn between my faves: Magnum Double Caramel and Almond Magnum. Then I spotted this cheeky fella: Magnum Nuts and Caramel. 

Not the best picture, I'll admit, but I was too busy munching, sorry.
Not only is it, as Hannah Montana would say, the best of both worlds, it was also cheaper and way fewer calories than the other Magnums. Win-win-win! A little indulgence without giving me the food guilt. 

Back on the boat we went, goodbye to L'Ile aux Moines we waved, and back to Locmariaquer we sailed. Any other wannabe mermaids amongst you out there? And what are your favourite Magnums? (I'm genuinely interested!)

Here's the link for the boat trip company we used.

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