CHRISTMAS IN ITALY: A FAMILY BUSINESS

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Christmas is a family business. We all know it, we all claim to hate it, we all love it deep inside. The food, the warmth, the fact that your family is trying to get together at least this one time of the year – as fake as some of you might say it is – is something to rejoice for and which personally makes me happy every year. For the lucky ones who have families and people who care about them, this is a moment where you can feel love and where you can actually spread love around, relax and think about all the good things in your life.

For me, Christmas is one of the few times I get to see my family, as I usually live abroad for the rest of the year. This makes it extra special for me, which is why it’s probably (who am I kidding? It is for sure) my favourite holiday of the whole twelve months. I also get to see my friends, revel in the warmth of my country for a little while and get back to my old life if only for a few days. It’s a magical time and I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world.

When it comes to Italy, the Christmas family business gets specifically serious. Best food in the world, hello? Imagine any other Christmas dinner amplified by x1000.

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When you’re Italian and you’re nearing the Christmas holidays, you know to get on a diet. I’m sure every person in the world is familiar with this feeling: Christmas lunches and dinners are famous for being a dietician’s worst enemy, with food piling on food placed on other mountains of food and no excuse good enough to avoid the carbs overload. However, when your country is world famous for its exceptional cuisine and your grandma is the stereotypical small, old, fat woman who spends her whole life cooking for her nephews, you know we’re talking serious business here. The Italian Christmas is savage. We have the antipasti (starters), two to three “primi” (primary dishes – usually pasta or similar), just as many “secondi” (second dish – usually something like meat or fish), additional sides because lord have mercy if someone is still hungry, desserts, fruit and obviously, last but not least, our good old espresso. We also like to accompany the end of the meal with what we call “digestives”, our fancy name for liqueurs – such as grappa – which are supposed to help your digestion (not to be confused with the UK biscuits).

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In short, a single lunch is bound to make you feel full, disgusted at yourself and slightly ill, probably enough to keep you away from the food for the next couple of days. Except you can’t, because dinner is waiting and tomorrow is another festivity that you cannot escape from.

As bad and slightly creepy as this all might sound, I actually love it and it’s something all of us get used to through childhood and actually learn to expect each year. The copious amounts of food are then accompanied by an ever wider array of board games, destined to bring the family together and entertain the kids as they wait for their presents (or for the next round of food). The grandparents also revel in the games because of the monetary side of it.

The most popular game – that literally every single person in Italy knows and plays during Christmas – is called tombola. Some of the relatives love it, others try to divert the attention to another game every single year, but sooner or later you will have to play it. Failure to comply to the plan will ruin the Christmas completely.

The game basically consists in each player selecting as many “cards” as they wish, each containing a specific set of numbers from 1 to 90. Each card is different so that no one can have the same set of numbers. One player will have to use what we call the “tabellone”, which is a big card with each single number on it. This player will have the duty to extract the numbers from a bag and will have a chance to win themselves.

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A “price” for each card will be stipulated by the players, which will then be payed to the “banker” of the game. The tabellone contains 6 cards which all need to be payed, making it quite “expensive” but fun for who is doing it. All the money will then be assembled to create 4 to 5 prizes, depending on the habits of the family playing. In my case, my family always plays with 5 prizes: ambo, terno, quaterna, cinquina e tombola. These mean two, three, four or five consecutive numbers have been extracted on the same card and on the same horizontal line, or the maximum win has been achieved: tombola, meaning all numbers on the card have been extracted.

As complicated as it might sound, this game is actually very simple and is bound to bring the whole family together, as well as possibly making someone fall asleep or causing feuds between people who “mysteriously” always win and people who never do (cheating accusations will be flying over the table, so make sure you’re not winning too much if you don’t wanna risk assassination by grandma). It’s also a fun and engaging way to lose your last remaining money after all the Christmas gifting process (am I the only one?). How good does that sound! 🙃

But it’s okay. As  we Italians say, “unlucky in the games, lucky in love”, so I’m fine with that. In case you’re single though, apart from the usual “How’s school going dear?” “So no boyfriend this year?”, beware as you will also be accompanied by a stinging “you’re so unlucky at this game, you should be lucky with love at least!”, accompanied by your aunt’s laughter and extreme desolation on your side. Not saying this has happened to me…….

Unfortunately, this year my festivities weren’t as big as usual. The table is usually formed by my family, my grandparents and my aunt and uncles together with their children, but this year they weren’t able to participate which left only us, my grandparents as well as my sister’s boyfriend sharing the fun, for a total of 7 people. It wasn’t the busiest Christmas, but for once we celebrated it in our own house instead of my grandparents’, which was new and kind of refreshing. It also meant I didn’t have to get properly dressed to leave the house, which was a major plus. Definitely a different Christmas, but still a good one that I might have even enjoyed more than usual. I’ve come to realise I enjoy home way more with the prospect of going back to the Netherlands rather than when I have to get back to Aberdeen.. 🤔

All in all, Christmas is a beautiful holiday which makes me miss home and makes me feel really glad to be back for a short while. All the sparkling lights, the mums stressed because they have so much to cook and even the rush to get presents for your loved ones are things which put me in a good mood like nothing else can. It’s also nice to receive a nice message from friends wishing you a merry christmas and knowing that someone out there is thinking of you.

Personally, I’m not really about the presents – I like thoughtful things which show me people actually know me, not something random just to have a gift. Because it’s not about the gift, it’s about the gesture, really, so spending money on me with no thought behind it is pointless. I love Christmas because of something more, because of the feeling of home and family attached to it, because of all my childhood memories and because I feel like, as distant as we might be, we are all living the same experience and there is nothing which can bond us more than that.

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(that’s me and my daddy in the picture)

So to all of you, I wish an amazing, happy Christmas and I hope you’re spending it with someone you love. I also hope you are devouring all that good stuff that’s on your plate. Now I’m gonna go back to my family because a new round of food is waiting…

Elena

CONSTANTLY MOVING

They say home is where the heart is, that nothing feels as good as being at home. It’s natural, essential, a fundamental need that each one of us has and strives to fulfil. But what happens when your heart doesn’t actually reside in a place, when your mind is constantly wandering to far away lands and your body doesn’t want to stop moving?

Every since I turned 14 – aka old enough to be able to go abroad on my own – I have been trying to travel as much as possible, through the means I had. You might remember something about this from my first post, where I talked about my passion for traveling. In under 10 years of my life, I luckily managed to visit 4 continents mostly on my own, which to me is a big achievement considering my tight budget in most situations (I’m the worst spender). But I guess this is normal for a lot of people who like to see new places, so nothing new here, really. I still felt at home every time I went back to my little coastal city in Italy, happy about the trip but also glad to be back home.

This changed a few years ago, though. As soon as I finished high school, I decided to give a spin to my life and start University in another country. Accompanied by a huge backpack and three even bigger suitcases, I made my way to the UK – more specifically Scotland – and started a new life there, in a new flat, with new people, in another language and even with another currency. This is the story of a lot of people my age, especially Italians fleeing the country for better prospects abroad. At first I was scared, then I was happy, then I was miserable as I missed home more than ever. My friends, my family, all the places I used to hang out in and all the things I used to consider normal were gone, together with my “old life”. The first time I went back, for Christmas, it felt like little to nothing had changed. I spent days and days meeting up with each single one of my friends and I was actually very sad when I boarded the plane which would take me back to the UK once again (but happy to see my flatmates again! Mixed feelings indeed).

However, I soon learnt I couldn’t keep living in the past, nor did I want to. As time went by, the days and weeks and months passed and I got to know people better, as well as improving my language, I started to actually build a new life in Aberdeen. It wasn’t about “being abroad” anymore, it was about my life and where it was based. “Home” was becoming a far away concept. With a job, friends, your own flat and your career growing in front of your eyes, how can you not start to think this might actually be your new reality? My home wasn’t my home anymore, it was becoming a childhood memory which I keep close to my heart but not at the basis of it anymore. But was Aberdeen my home then, you ask? No. Not yet at least. Even though my everything had been moved there, it still didn’t feel enough to make me call it home. And yet my “home” in Italy didn’t feel like it either anymore. So where was my home? Where was I headed and where did I come from? I remember this feeling confused me more than ever and it still does.

When I met my current boyfriend – a Scottish guy actually from Aberdeen – I thought I’d found an answer. Home is where the heart is and my heart was there, so I guess I finally had my solution to the problem. It wasn’t about the place anymore, it was about the person. Easy right? And yet, you can’t base your idea of home solely on a person, especially when you know you’re going to be traveling for a long time and the list of stable things in your life is constantly wavering. I knew and I know now that in my life I don’t want to stop moving until I feel like stopping, because I’d rather do that than live a life of what if’s where I sacrificed my spirit of adventure for the sake of stability. So in my life, so far I had two homes: Italy and the UK.

That changed once again as I decided to spend a semester abroad in the Netherlands, which brings us to the creation of this blog. When you choose to go abroad for a meagre six months, you don’t tend to get too affectionate about the place. You’re looking for some fun and a new experience, without necessarily transferring your whole life there. That’s what Erasmus is all about, isn’t it? Pretending you’re doing something productive for a semester as you party for months and make lifetime friendships with perfect strangers. In my case though, I feel that having moved country once, from Italy to Scotland, kind of changed this perspective: I’d gone through a change like that already and so my mind was naturally inclined to perceive the new place as my new ‘home’ for the moment. It wasn’t a holiday, it was a new life I was starting, as short as that might have been.

I’m sure when people travel a lot, way more than me, this feeling dissipates and gets actually substituted by one which doesn’t allow you to feel at home at all, whenever you go. I guess it’s natural – you move so much it gets too hard to get attached to a place. Personally though, I didn’t have that level of experience yet, which is why I ended up getting way too emotionally involved with my new place. Did I call it home? No, I didn’t – it didn’t even come remotely close to being home and Scotland still felt more like home than Rotterdam, that’s for sure. And yet, my idea of home got even more fragmented, to a point where I actually didn’t know where my place was. Was it in Italy? The UK? The Netherlands? Should I choose the place I was born in, the place where I am building a life or simply live in the moment and select the one where I am right now? Being the over thinker that I am, these doubts kept nagging at me and still do as I am writing this post.

My University back in Aberdeen expects student to look for internships during their second semester of third year: it’s not mandatory, you can either do that or just go to class like nothing happened and live your uni life happily, with no complications. When I looked for internships myself, my initial search was actually hard as fuck. Linkedin has a section on their website where you can look for jobs, filtered through department and location. Picture me going on the website with the best intents and then getting stuck at that stupid question. Where do I look? UK? Italy? The Netherlands, even? Another country altogether like France, Germany, Spain? When I applied for a position in Singapore I was so scared and excited at the same time (still no reply, but oh well). It was a weird feeling for me – why was I so scared? After all, I’d moved before already, as well as doing trips to Asia with friends and with strangers. So what was so weird about it? Was it the fact that this time I was completely on my own? But I’d done that in Aberdeen already. Was it the distance? Perhaps. There’s a huge difference between going on a trip and actually moving for half a year to the other side of the world, so that’s understandable. But is it maybe the idea of changing once again?

Sometimes I spend hours just thinking and thinking and I still don’t manage to understand how my brain works, so I never actually know where some feelings are coming from. I don’t know why sometimes I get scared and sometimes I get excited over things and most of all I don’t understand why sometimes I feel totally at home and sometimes I wish I could just leave as fast as possible. As of now, I still don’t understand where my home is. Who knows what I will do after finishing University in Scotland? Chances are I will leave Aberdeen, and this knowledge makes the feeling of home waver even more when I think of that. But I guess there is no answer to this question – not yet, not until I choose to stop for a second and actually decide where and if I want to stay. Either way, right now all I care about is to make new experiences and to travel. As important as having a home is, I guess this concept will have to wait for me, so in the meantime I’ll make the most of what I’ve got.

I’m really sorry about this never ending rant, but this is a feeling which I have kept to myself for a really long time and had to be let out. Maybe I’m the only one who gives so much importance to their home, but it’s something which confuses me more than ever. Especially when I need to do something stupid like send my boxes from the Netherlands and I don’t even know which country I should send them to. Is there anyone else out there who feels the same? Please tell me there is.

Regardless, have an amazing day everyone and an even happier Christmas. 🎅🏼

Love to all of you

Elena

THOSE LONELY MORNINGS

We all have those days when our first intake of breath feels like gas and your room like a prison cell, where you look outside your window and the day looks grey. When you feel alone in your bed but at the same time space is all you need. We all have those days where, perhaps because of an early start or just morning blues, we wish we could just pull the plug for a few hours and do our own thing.

Pretty much a vibe I get from this song by Cigarettes After Sex, a band who has the gift of placing a cloud of melancholia on any given situation.

“Think I like you best when you’re dressed in black from head to toe”

This morning I woke up uncommonly early and the feeling of distressing calm washed over me, converting my morning through monochrome filters. I sat by my laptop with the intention of doing some coursework but then thought better of it. Why waste a good input for a blog post? It wouldn’t be my blog without a bit of sadness here and there after all. So that got me thinking, what can you do in Rotterdam in these lonely mornings to aid the alarming calm taking over you?

Personally, I love walking, it chills me out and gives me space for thought, which is especially needed in this kind of mornings. So I choose the right playlist, get myself into a cosy jumper and I’m ready to set out to walk for a few hours with no direction. If you’re gonna pace back and forth in your room, you might as well do it outside and explore your city in the meantime, right?

If you want to follow my lead, here’s my advice for Rotterdam inhabitants: go for a walk through the Euromast gardens, starting your day with some nature and ending up by the river with an amazing view of Rotterdam south. I love the Euromast gardens – there’s just something about them, the fact that they start in the middle of the city, walk you through a beautiful maze of trees and nature and take you right next to the water where you can admire the whole city in the solitude of your mind. Either in the early morning or late evening, this view is absolutely stunning and can help any lonely heart channel their inner thoughts into something good. Alternatively, chilling at the Museum Park is also great, especially when it’s warm enough outside to sit down without freezing to death. I used to go there in my lonely afternoons back in September, making the most of the sun and the nature for writing inspiration.

Another nice walk to tidy up your mind is to walk along the Maas, starting from the Erasmus bridge and going towards Kralingen. This time you walk entirely by the river. If you go down the steps on Boompjeskade, you end up on a quiet path right next to the Nieuwe Maas, which takes you all the way up to Oosterkade – where the street ends. Again, the view of the city from this spot is breathtaking and you can chill without the dodginess of the Euromast gardens, if you care about that.

I don’t think there’s anything better than having the right music streaming in your ears as you look out on your city through glazed eyes. Urban Dictionary describes this occurrence as looking into something without actually seeing anything, which I feel describes my mood perfectly.

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Having the entirety of the place you live – your home, if you will – laying in front of you, staring back at you with its dancing lights, can be the most calming thing, as you bore your eyes into the vision and your mind runs wild.

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If you live on Noordereiland or in Zuid (relatively close), a walk around the island can also soothe your mind. Get to the end of the strip of land and you will be welcomed by an amazing view of the Erasmus bridge from below, as well as being hugged by a multitude of lights shining from both sides of the city.

I love this spot in Rotterdam. Because it is an island in the middle of the Maas, you can get very, very close to the water. Being born and bred in a sea city, famous for its harbour, and originally from the south, which is famous for its beautiful beaches all over, the sea calms me like nothing else can. It reminds me of my childhood and it makes me feel home. Who knows where these drops of water have been before? To me it’s absolute magic. So any place which brings me closer to the water is a little heaven for me, which is why I absolutely love this little gem in the heart of Rotterdam. Here you can sit down and relax, while at the same time you are literally surrounded by the business of the rest of the city. A beautiful contrast, don’t you think?

Last but not least, if it’s raining outside, or too cold, or you just don’t want to get out – that’s okay too. Heat up some water, pour yourself a steaming cup of tea and chill by the window or listen to the songs I suggested (or any other that you like!).  To me, having a hot drink next to me as I sit by the window, possibly with a book in my hand, is the most perfect way to spend a lonely morning – admittedly one that I choose pretty often. So whatever you decide to do, I hope you have an amazing morning and that this little cloud of sadness doesn’t throw you off. It’s okay to feel sad sometimes and it’s okay to want to be alone from time to time. We all need our time off from the world.

That said, I wish you all a beautiful week and a nice walk wherever you are!

See you at the next post,

Elena

FINDING A PLACE IN ROTTERDAM

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-14-53-57Anyone who has lived – or tried to live – in Rotterdam, knows the housing scene in this city is a total disaster. As I get towards the end of my stay on the marvellous Nieuwe Binnenweg, I thought it was the right time to share a few tips and experiences concerning flat hunting in the ‘dam.

First of all, you need to know the number of flats and rooms available in Rotterdam is incredibly low, due to the Dutch population as well as national and international students residing in the city all year long. Know how everyone is always complaining about London being inhabitable, with sky-rocket prices in exchange for virtual holes? Well, to them I say, at least you guys have options. Months from my first day here, and luckily also from my desperate search for a place, I can honestly say I am amazed by the fact that all my friends actually managed to find a place to stay. Myself included.

But I don’t mean to scare you all away. Let’s start from the beginning:

Where to set off with your heroic quest?

You have two main options: you can either decide to opt for an agency-based lease, which means you are relying on an external body to supply you with a flat (or room), or you can go out there yourself, which means taking up all risks involved with a private search. Personally, I chose the second option. One of my relatives has lived in Amsterdam for over two years now, and upon me messaging her she warned me about Dutch agencies – “money eaters” you shouldn’t waste your time with. Now, not having had a direct experience with any agency in Rotterdam, I cannot form an opinion on the subject, but was still wary of it at the time. Add to that the fact that it was virtually impossible to get an agency to rent out a flat without you physically being there – which is fair enough but still annoying – and the deal was off (I preferred the idea of already having a place when I landed in the Netherlands. Sue me).

Now this was dramatic for a number of reasons: as well as not being able to share yet another flat with my former flatmate, who is currently doing Erasmus with me, I also had to look out for flat sharing websites and try to gather enough information on my potential flatmates to understand if they were a safe option. We’ve all been there. Trying to find decent flatmates while at the same time dodging potential creeps which you’ll have spend months living with? How about please no. 🤔

Now the question was, where to start? In my case, I have an acquaintance who is currently student at the Erasmus University here in Rotterdam – which, you might be thinking, is great! Someone could host me for the first week or so! Except not. Fate would have it that during the semester I am doing Erasmus, she is doing it as well, now living it up in Canada instead. Which was unfortunate on a number of levels. However, despite our distance, she was still able to give me some tips on flat hunting and especially suggest a couple websites where to look, which proved to be extremely useful for me.

For flat hunting → Pararius.com. When I still was unsure on whether to look for a whole flat to share or a single room within a flat, I used this website and personally found it extremely good. It offers a lot of filters, from price ranges, to number of bedrooms, to areas in the city as well as options for furnished or unfurnished places and more. As far as I know, all properties listed on the website are brought forward by agencies, which means that by using the website you have decided you are taking the first route and using an external body to help you. Although I do not know the specifics, I have been told that agencies here in the Netherlands apply pretty high costs for their services, on top of the rent itself obviously, so if you decide to go this way be wary of that!

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For room hunting → HousingAnywhere. This is a relatively young start-up founded in the Netherlands (apparently by a friend of the guy I am renting the room from – how weird is that!) and currently available in 50 countries, which is insane. Basically, what you do is you sign up to the website, uploading basic information about yourself and optionally a photo as well. This serves for advertisers to check you out once you contact them about their ads and see if you might be their fit. The search bar makes your job extra easy: you put in the location you are interested in, your preferred start and end date of the lease, and hit the search button. The website will come up with a series of advertisements matching your criteria, as well as a map which you can use to see where each property is located. Once you click on the ad, you are also able to see who posted it, their answer frequency (which is useful to understand if someone is going to reply to you or not, saving you the hassle of putting your heart on something you will never get) and also their last time online, which can also help you see if they just haven’t read your message or if they probably already replied to someone else. Being only a few years old, filters are not yet fully developed on the website which means that sometimes it’s hard to set precise parameters for what you’re looking for, such as the furnished / unfurnished options you find on Pararius. Still, I found it great for my flat search and was eventually the platform I used to seal my deal.

A third website I found through google at the time is Rotterdam Apartments. Although I did not use this platform personally, I don’t see why you shouldn’t. It has similar filters to Pararius and has an intuitive layout which makes it easy to use.

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It additionally presents a “recently added” section as well as a “short stay” option, in case you are only looking for a temporary place in the city, and it’s got decent graphics to check out the places online.

Overall, you need to understand that if you are looking for a whole flat you will probably have to do it in person once you’re here, which means setting your mind on spending your first times in Rotterdam in a hostel / hotel while you get yourself a home. If you’re happy with just a room though, be my guest. HousingAnywhere, the website I listed, is one of the safest bets as it’s specifically designed to protect your money against frauds. Once you choose a room and you make a deal with the owner, your rent money is transferred to the website, which keeps it for up until 2 days after your official moving in date. This is great because should your room not be the way you expected or the way it was presented to you, you can complain to the website and receive it back as a refund. The price for this is a fee which equals to 1/4 of your first rent, which is payed to the website, and although it might seem like a lot to you, I’d take it anytime over the risk of getting to Rotterdam and finding out my room doesn’t exist!

Now, as a last section of this blog post, let’s get to you guys who still don’t have a home in the ‘dam and are freaking out over it. IT’S OKAY. We’ve all been there. You’ll get it! So breathe in and breathe out and always remember not to panic over it. You’re not the only one and, although hard, it’s not impossible to find a place; you will find it just like we all did! Just have a bit of patience and enjoy the beautiful city in the meantime. 🙂

To help you out, here’s a few hostels in the city, so that you can have an affordable place to stay while you do.

I always rave about this place. Their location is amazing, their CAPPUCCINOs are amazing, the staff friendly and the insides so cool. I stumbled upon this hostel one rainy day as my friends and I were trying to escape the awful weather, and ended up finding a gem in the city. The whole hostel has a really cool vibe to it, not to mention it’s on Witte de Whit – the trendiest street in the city? * – next to the Witte Aap, which despite my comprehension has apparently been crowned the best pub in Europe by LonelyPlanet in 2014. Worth a visit right?

I haven’t been here and I have heard really bad things about this place. BUT, it is the cheapest hostel in Rotterdam, with huge dorms for up to 50 people roughly (is it a hostel or a prison camp?). So, if you don’t mind lack of quality and are looking to spend as little as possible, this is the place for you. It’s located in the north bit of the city, but I’m fairly sure everything is within easy reach either with a bike or public transport.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a night in the famous Cubic Houses? This piece of architecture is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the city, with their quirky structure which makes everyone wonder whether people inside actually live slightly tilted lives. The hostel feels like a little village which spans over the whole bridge made up of the Cubic Houses, so not only you have a place to spend your nights, but you’re also doing it in an actual miracle of architecture. Additionally, the hostel also has a great location, as it’s basically in the middle of everything. The Markthal, Oude Haven and the Blaak are literally sitting in front of you and Witte de Whit is only a 5 min walk away. What more can you ask for?

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So, these are my three suggestions for hostels in the city. You got location, you got price and you got cool vibes with each option, so hopefully they can help you a bit! 🙂

I think I have said pretty much everything there is to say, maybe even rambled a bit too much, but I hope this post can help all of you out there who are panicking over finding a place or who still have to get here and are planning in advance. I wish I’d found an article like this when I was getting ready to move to the Netherlands (I sure looked for it!), so I thought I would post one to help out. Rotterdam is a beautiful city and, despite houses being crowded, everyone eventually finds a place, so there is no need to worry. 💪🏻 Either way, just enjoy the fact that you are in one of the most amazing countries in the world and make the most of your time here! You won’t regret it. 😉

If you have any questions or need any advice on moving here, don’t hesitate to comment or message me! I will be very glad to help. 👻

Have a nice day everyone,

Elena

* Everyone says that apparently. I don’t see it. Nieuwe Binnenweg FTW.

THE THREE REASONS WHY GENT IS BETTER THAN ANTWERP

As some of you may know, I went to Belgium for a couple days last week. My class got cancelled on Thursday and, although most people’s normal reaction would be to roll to the other side and keep sleeping, I opted to leave the country because YOLO.

Good old Flixbus was my friend and with only €7 I was able to get from the Netherlands to Belgium in under 2 hours, landing in Antwerp in the early afternoon.

Antwerp in itself is a pretty cool city. The central station looks amazingly nice and looks on Diamond street, a central street full of shops, bars and restaurants to welcome tourists in the Belgian province. Walking down the street, you are surrounded by cars, stands selling the world-famous Belgian waffles and typical bike riders (alas, not as many as in the Netherlands, we noted).

We decided to take a side street on the right and ended up in another main road full of chains and shopping centres such as H&M and Pull&Bear, with street musicians, more food stands and people strolling about with bags in their hands and happy faces. The weather was sunny but dreadfully cold, as we ventured through the city and made our way to the Old Town to find the city’s landmarks.

One thing that we noticed about Antwerp was that there seemed to not be that many people. Fair point, it was a Thursday afternoon. Still, the old town especially felt like a village lost in space where barely anyone appeared. We walked up to and inside the main cathedral, as well as admiring the buildings lit up with Christmas lights (as you can see from the above picture). The cathedral was pretty cool as it also showcased a series of artworks, especially from painter Rubens who was originally from Antwerp.

img_6172We spent our night in Antwerp drinking beer and trying out the famous Belgian chips (did we choose the right place? We found them kind of average, no offence), in a populated pub looking over one of the central squares. We also found out Belgian people eat dinner quite early – compared to us Italians, at least – which meant we skipped a meal as all the restaurants were already closed by 10 pm (*sad face*). We walked for hours trying to get back to the “new” city centre, which we had walked past earlier on in the day, to no avail. Is Antwerp a maze? I swear we ended up in the same square around 5 times, until we gave up and just went to the same pub for another beer to drown our traveling sorrows.

We ended our first day couch surfing at a Polish woman’s house, which proved to be a very interesting experience.. as well as having to baby sit her little son Leon who farted his way to our hearts. Waking up thinking the grandad is in the house and turning around to find a young lad (whom we presumed was the father?) was quite the fright, but overall it was a pretty fun stay.

Quick note: If you guys don’t know what couch surfing is, it’s a free website where basically you can connect with people and other travellers and offer a sofa / get offered a sofa to stay for the night at absolutely no cost. It’s an amazing initiative which works extremely well for people trying to travel on a budget, as the people on the website offer a couch in their home for free (and it is usually pretty safe, so don’t worry!). Here‘s the website in case you’re interested.

The next day we set off to the second city on our list: Gent. After an exhausting search for the Central Station and a desperate search for a discount train ticket for students (no way we are paying €20 for a return ticket), we stepped on what we thought would be a 30 min train ride. Fast forward to an excruciating hour later, we finally got to our destination. Instantly we could feel a completely different vibe compared to Antwerp, more relaxed and intimate.

As we walked along the road which leads from the station to the city centre, people started appearing on our path and soon we ended up in a shop-filled street buzzing with life.

Gent struck me as better than Antwerp for three main reasons:

  1. The higher number of people: I don’t know if we just got unlucky with Antwerp, but I swear the city looked dead compared to this one. The buzz of people talking, laughing and walking around gave Gent a cosy feeling which I loved and felt Antwerp was missing;
  2. There was an historical vibe which I didn’t feel was as strong in Antwerp: three Churches one after the other, the castle and all the old buildings adorning the streets make the city breathe history, which I love;
  3. It actually felt like a cute, cosy small city which welcomes visitors and doesn’t really promise more than it delivers. I heard way more stories about Antwerp than Gent, but the latter surprised me more than anything and made me feel really glad to have put it in my list.

The city offers discounts in several attractions for people under 26 years old – same as Paris, really – so we got to get up the church tour for under €3 and up the castle for about €6, which was totally worth the money. Here’s a few pictures I took from the top of the building:

Overall, it was a very nice trip. Although Antwerp kind of disappointed me a bit, I’m sure we just got unlucky with the days and it’s actually as good as Gent! I will have to go there again. 😉 I really liked the street art in the city and met a few decent people which I happily linked with over social media, which I’m happy about. I still believe the Netherlands rocks more than Belgium though…….. soorryy! Bruges and Bruxelles are in my plans for the next weeks, so who knows I might change my mind.

I am going to stop this entry here because otherwise it’s never going to end. I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about the two cities and the photos as well. My phone died several times during the trip so I don’t have as much footage as I would like, but a video is definitely coming soon. Keep your eyes out for that!

Have a good night everyone,

– Elena

CHILLIN WITH THE SQUAD

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So I am late to the party and am now writing a blog post about Halloween, because I’m lazy like that.

Apologies.

Last month we went to an event called the Twilight Zone, which was basically a halloween themed sort of party the Friday before the actual Halloween day. The night was hosted by Hoboken in Rotterdam, which is a quirky spot in the city located on Hoornbrekersstraat.

It was our first time at the place and I was actually very impressed: the place looked super cool, it had been adorned with Halloween decorations all over and was pretty packed – which is understandable considering it was a Friday night, really. People were looking both casual and completely dressed up for Halloween and, for the first time since I moved here, I actually managed to bump into two people I know (I am becoming a local, everyone). One of them was a girl I had met at the Venture Cafe the week before (what is this Venture Cafe? Facebook it. I will write a post soon, promise) and the other was actually what has been previously defined on this blog as “my bartender“. Crazy right? What is life you guys.

But back to the party. The building in itself is pretty big, with several floors and tons of rooms which that night had been decorated with different themes. It was shaped like a sort of scary tunnel, so we had to walk up the stairs and dive into what seemed like an endless maze of hallways leading to dark spaces full of surprises. If you know me, you know I love surprises and, even more than that, I like horror and scary stuff, which made the night an absolute blast. 100% would do it again. The whole place was so artsy as well, there was nothing not to love.

The above picture was taken as we came across a sofa and a tv and, being curious lazy shits, we just dumped ourselves on the seats and watched the clip it was streaming for over half an hour. The photographer came over to us and snapped a picture as we watched and I honestly think it’s one of the coolest photos ever (am I right!?). Just chillin’ with the squad y’knoow?

Overall the night in itself was really fun and the place definitely had a cool vibe to it. Note to self to go back! SO, since I’ve been too busy with deadlines and exams to really post any good content on the blog, I pulled together this short clip to show you a bit of the party. Hope you enjoy it!

Oh and also. Look out for my Budapest entry when I’m done editing the videos! A vlog is coming soon. Beware.

Have a good night,

Elena

A TRIP TO THE KUNSTHAL

So remember that time I was so excited to get a Rotterdampaas (card which gets me free entry in a bunch of places, free ice cream and cinema tickets) because I would use it so much? And then ended up using it once in three months?

Yeah. Me too.

After finishing all my exams and assignments last week at last, I finally set a challenge to myself and decided to actually make the most of this stupid card before I have to leave Rotterdam (which is soon). Being an art lover, I decided my first stop would be the Kunsthal, a contemporary art gallery on the Westzeedijk which I see every time I cycle to uni (which isn’t often, really). The building sits on the edges of the Museum Park and looks quite small from the outside, but don’t be deceived – I got lost 🤔.

Here’s some of its highlights:

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The first exhibition I came across was centred on Africa, its styles and culture and its possibilities for the future. It’s all about what Africa stands for, its ups and downs, the way people live in this beautiful continent and its role in today’s society. Through images, clips, sounds and pieces of art, this exhibition uncovers the story of an often underrated land which has so much to offer.

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These two photos ( ↑ and ↓ ) are part of a collab between photographer Fabrice Monteiro and fashion designer Doulsy (Ja Gal), in a project called The Prophecy. Here you can see dresses made up of rubbish and natural elements belong to the African land, captured through Monteiro’s lenses.

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Another exhibition was Peter Lindbergh’s one, showcasing dozens of photos of both celebrities and regular people. This exhibition was inaugurated last month with a big event at the Kunsthal, where models and speakers were invited to attend. Although I couldn’t participate, I really wanted to and judging from the videos it must have been a really good night! Along with the photo section was a camera obscura with hundreds of other photos taken by Lindbergh, which was pretty cool.

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Unfortunately I was late to the museum so didn’t get to see more of it, but I’m definitely coming back. Here’s a few more pictures I took while strolling about.

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All in all I think the Kunsthal is definitely worth a visit! The exhibitions are always changing and the spaces are huge – which means loads of stuff to see and a good, cultural way to pass your average afternoon.

I highly recommend getting a Rotterdampaas (and use it!), I mean with a couple visits alone I paid the price of the card and get so much more out of it. So go, get your card, and EXPLORE. You might be leaving sooner than you think!

Elena

HOW TO SURVIVE EXAM SEASON: a guide

Each University student – sooner or later – gets acquainted with the traumatising, overwhelming and at times tragic experience called exam season. You start off your year with the intention of going to all the lectures, taking notes and going over them after class to keep up with the schedule. Except you never do. Which brings us to The Situation of us students anxiously going through all the lecture slides, asking the Universe when the hell we did all that stuff in class and praying to God to let you pass this one time, because next year you’ll be better (except you won’t).

So, here’s  a quick list of a few staples to get into the zen mode and down that whole semester program in a few nights and ace that mother fucking exam, because we can do it.

  1. A notebook
  2. Your laptop
  3. A steamin hot cuppa tea / coffee, depending on your preference ( in my case, both ).
  4. Pens, highlighters and matches in case you want to set yourself on fire
  5. Zen music to get into the concentration mode

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Now that you’re all set, let’s get you started on the studying. First of all, scan the list of topics you will need to prepare for the exam. It might sound obvious but I swear it’s not. You don’t know how many times it happened to me that I was so clueless about a module, I did everything in the program just to be sure and ended up studying a shit load of useless stuff. So get your facts – from a professor or one of the smart kids in your class – and write down a list of all the things you actually need to study.

If it helps, it’s good to write down a schedule of what you’re going to do and when, so that you don’t fall behind or fall into the deep pit of helplessness where you think you’re doomed for disaster. As long as you have a schedule, loose or tight as it may be, you will instantly feel more in control of the situation. Now, it is crucial not to deviate from the schedule: you can do more than needed, but you cannot do less than you have to according to the schedule. Stay up all night if you need to, but try not to fall behind. That’ll ruin the plan and then I won’t know how to help you further. So if you miss a day, just do more the next day to catch up and you’ll be fine.

After having defined the amount of workload to do, you can either a) actually read everything you need to; or b) look up summaries and essays online and study on those instead, to save time. Most of the time, this second option doesn’t actually miss out on much and you’ll be just fine. It’s a condensed version of all the important facts for a reason, right? So when you’ve decided what you’re going to study, print it off or have it on your laptop and start your journey through the phantomatic pass.

The method of studying itself obviously varies from person to person, so I can’t really tell on that, but I can give my own method of studying and see if it helps any of you. What I do is, I play my “concentration music” (it sounds stupid but it helps me!) and write down all the important stuff. Other than creating your own notes, this method actually helps getting the facts into your brain, so that when you think about it the memory of writing it down comes back to you. It’s way better than merely reading a text and you can save up time. Then I group it all back together and write a short essay, which I proceed to print off and highlight / study once again. At this point, I’ve written down stuff twice which helps with the memorising, plus having a slight photographic memory means when I have the printed version I can just scan it and remember sections more easily (thankfully).

This technique is kind of time-consuming and a lot of times you will end up thinking why the hell you’re wasting so much of your precious time just re-writing down stuff, but I swear it helps a lot and if you stick to it you won’t regret it.

Now, it’s important to choose the right soundtrack for your studying: as I mentioned in my 5 staples list, it’s crucial for you to have good concentration music to help you remember stuff. I found out about this in a moment of helplessness when I was looking for ways to study a whole book in 5 days and came across a shit ton of videos on youtube with “brain power” music to help you concentrate. It sounds like bullshit, but I swear it helped so much. Not all the videos were actually good but this is the one I used: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPni755-Krg and the only one which I felt was really doing something to my brain.

Finally, as a last step make sure your hot drink is sitting next to you to get you through the whole process.

It’s a necessity, believe me.

So, this is all I’ve got for you guys. Most of the stuff is kind of obvious but this is my form of procrastination from exam studying. I said what you should do in the blog post, now actually following the schedule is a bit harder than that…. So good luck to all of you (and myself 😩 ) !

Until next time (and the end of exam season),

Elena