Around the World with…Kerri!

around with kerri
Hello there!
I guess we should start with the introductions: Readers, Kerri. Kerri, Readers. Nice to meet you. I’m a British girl living life in little old Belgium. I moved to Belgium, with my boyfriend in tow, almost three years ago now. When we’re not doing anything interesting, we’re studying for our PhDs, when we are doing something interesting, then I’m blogging about it over here! So, by all means pop over if you’re interested! If you’re extra keen there’s always Instagram and Twitter too.
I’m glad that’s out the way, now we can get cracking with this blog post.
Today I’d like to introduce you to Belgium and some of the things that this tiny country has to offer.

Let’s start with the obvious

Beer. Chocolates. Mussels. Fries. Waffles. European architecture. But I’m lacking in photos of all these things, except the architecture, I have lots of photos of architecture.
Let’s move on to things I do have photos of!

The beach

I love the beach and every year we go to the beach at least once. Now, we might not be bordering the Mediterranean, but we’ve still got a beach. From the Dutch border, down to the French border there’s quite a few stops on the way. Starting at the top, there’s Knokke with its huge nature reserve Het Zwin, great for bird watching and cycling over to The Netherlands if you’re inclined.
knokke belgium
Further down, you’ve got Blankenberge which is popular with the Belgians and Ostend, a place I’ve passed through for work but haven’t had the chance to visit for a day trip.
blankenberge belgium

Cute canals and waterways

Think of Belgium, you probably think of Bruges. Think of Bruges, you probably think of canals – and chocolates and beer, but we’ve covered that – but Bruges isn’t the only place to find canals. Think Ghent, think tiny Belgian towns like La Louviere and Lier.
bruges ghent belgium

The canals of Bruges & Ghent

la louviere lier belgium

More canals of La Louviere & Lier 

City views and sunsets

I admit, city views are hard to come by in a country known for being flat, but there’s a few and I can’t resist snapping some photos when I come across them. The same for sunsets, a good vantage point isn’t always easy to find, but they are be pretty great when you do get to see them. In fact, my favourite sunsets – and sunrises – are always seen from the train or whilst I’m running.
liege brussels belgium
City views of Liege & Brussels
 antwerp leuven belgium
Sunset in Antwerp & Leuven 

A selection of museums

Sure, we’ve got quite the selection of history museums, but we’ve also got museums for those who like something different. If you’re interesting in natural history then the Natural History Museums in Brussels is always worth a visit. If you like history but are more interested in the vehicles and weapons, then the Military Museum in Brussels might be something you will like.
natural history museum brussels
Natural History Museums, Brussels 
military museum brussels
Military Museum, Brussels
 And if, like myself, you are interested in natural history, science and don’t mind a little bit of gross, then a little museum in Liege, the Zoology Museum, could be just your thing.
zoology museum liege belgium
Liege Zoology Museum 

Gardens and war memorials

In the warmer months, I enjoy spending my time in gardens and visiting other outdoor type things whilst the weather allows.
In most towns you can find a botanical garden for a pleasant half an hour wander, better yet, visit at multiple times in the year and watch the garden transform through the seasons. One of my favourite things to do at our local botanical garden.
If you’re looking for something large, there are nature reserves, the open air museum of Botrijk and for three weeks of the year, there’s even the chance to visit the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken.
royal greenhouses of laeken brussels belgium
The Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
If you’re looking for history, then head out to Ieper to visit the town and the Menin Gate memorial. Then head out to the Yves Salient and learn the history of the trenches and the battles fought there. Something we’ve yet to do ourselves.
 ieper ypres belgium
 The Menin Gate and cemeteries of Ieper (Ypres)

Quite the choice in events throughout the year too

When you start looking around, you realise that there’s usually something going on. So to give you a little taster here’s some of the events we’ve been in Belgium!
In the summertime, head to Blankenberge for their yearly sand sculpture festival or if you like something a bit colder, in the winter you can head to Bruges for their ice sculpture festival.
sand sculpture festival blankenberge 2013 disney belgium
2013 Sand Sculpture Festival celebrating 100 years of Disney
ice sculpture festival bruges belgium frozen the hobbit
Frozen (2013) & The Land Of The Hobs (2014) ice sculpture festival Bruges
 
Every three years in Ghent is the Ghent Light Festival, which we went to this year and probably won’t be around for the next one in 2018.
Throughout the year you’ve got events in Brussels, at the Parliamentarium or the Expo centre, then you’ve got Antwerp Zoo which always host different events, and then you’ve got everywhere else. With enough looking around, you are bound to find something.
museum of broken relationships retrorama belgium brussels
The Museum Of Broken Relationships at the Parliamentarium & Retrorama at the Expo Centre, Brussels

 Failing everything, good connections to the rest of Europe

It’s true, Belgium borders The Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Germany. There’s no shortage of options if you feel like a change. And if you want to take it even further, there’s plenty of flights going from Brussels so long weekends away are a nice option too.
Luxembourg stockholm
Take a trip to Luxembourg or a trip to Stockholm
london amsterdam
Or there’s London or Amsterdam if you fancy
So, despite being a little country, I think it’s got a lot to offer. At least plenty to keep us entertained!
Thanks again to Amy for allowing me to guest post on her blog!

Bloglovin | Twitter | Instagram

That Time We Got Engaged in Venice

I spent considerable time debating whether or not I wanted to share the story of our proposal on this blog. The trend these days towards elaborate, pay-a-professional-photographer-to-capture-the-moment engagements is just not me and E, and not how it happened. Not that there’s anything wrong with those proposals! But, we didn’t have anyone following us waiting for the moment, it didn’t happen in front of a crowd, and in fact, we didn’t really take any pictures until the next day.

IMG_9543

Still, it was such a great day–full of so many wonderful, Venetian-and-Italian moments, in addition to the proposal, that I couldn’t resist sharing a little bit of it with you.

It was our third day in Venice, and I was well smitten with the city at this point. I defy you to not be in awe the minute you see Venice from a distance, and if not then, the minute you step out of the train station and hop into a water bus. The day before, we’d traveled to the charming little islands of Murano and Burano, and I was ready for another full day in Venice.

We started the day off with the fantastic breakfast offered at our hotel, the Hotel Bel Sito. While we didn’t have the most comfortable bed (and our room was small, albeit charming) the breakfast at this hotel inspires me to recommend it to you. Endless coffee, served in a silver pot! Panna cotta! Fresh yogurt! At least three varieties of eggs! So much bread! I think my favorite thing about Italy was the food–I can only name one “bad” meal and even that one was just not that terrible.

IMG_9349 IMG_9346

After our glorious breakfast, we headed out to explore. I purposefully did not do extensive research on Venice, mostly because I didn’t have time. I still found many things for us to do and see, because I’m anal like that, but I knew we also needed the time to relax. While it may seem like I bounce around Europe traveling, my teaching schedule is actually quite grueling! And Venice is the perfect place to explore yet relax.

So, we wandered. We started with a long, leisurely boat trip in a water bus (a great way for a self-guided tour!). We stopped in for a slice of our favorite pizza, had some gelato, wandered by endless charming alleys, visited the famous Bridge of Sighs…then went home and took a nap. It was our vacation, after all.

IMG_9197 IMG_9199 IMG_9208 IMG_9210 IMG_9215 IMG_9212 IMG_9222IMG_9194 IMG_9189IMG_9401IMG_9184 IMG_9183 IMG_9268 IMG_9266

After our nap, per Margo’s recommendation, we wandered over to the Rialto Bridge for sunset and the photographer’s dream, blue hour. The actual Rialto Bridge was a little more crowded than I would have liked, but we found some steps right on the Grand Canal which were a perfect viewing platform.

IMG_9437IMG_9278 IMG_9277 IMG_9283 IMG_9285 IMG_9289 IMG_9301 IMG_9300

After the sunset, we went to Da Mamo (which Margo also recommends–that woman is a star!) and had an incredible, incredible meal. We snuck in just at opening, around 7PM, because we hadn’t made reservations. We grabbed a table and about three minutes later, the place was packed and there was a line–being grandparents who need to eat by 7PM pays off sometimes ;).

The meal was honestly one of the best of my life, and we had so much fun sampling everything we could think of. We ended with the most glorious tiramisu I have ever had (those ITALIANS! THEY KNOW FOOD!).

IMG_9319 IMG_9323 IMG_9322

After this, we wandered around the empty, moon-soaked streets for awhile before ending up at a pier right by our hotel, marveling in the jewel-bright lights along the Grand Canal. There, E popped the question! It was so fun and romantic, under the moon and the stars, right by the Grand Canal, that I kind of went blank and can hardly remember the actual moment. Go figure. I will say I wasn’t completely surprised–we’ve been together for quite some time and have discussed marriage at length, plus Mr. E was acting all nervous (so cute)–but somehow, I still was completely shocked.

IMG_9334 IMG_9337

Afterwards, giddy, we decided we needed to celebrate. We were in Italy, in Venice, and we were engaged! Obvious.

So celebrate we did, with a glass of prosecco at the first bar we could find–one that weirdly looked like the inside of a yacht.

IMG_9340

And that’s how we got engaged in Venice!

IMG_9353 IMG_9440 IMG_9460

And now, we have a wedding date, too!

Linking up with Travel Tuesday

Around the World with…Fairlie!

around with fairlieHi, I’m Fairlie, an Australian blogger who is excited to be showing all Amy’s readers a glimpse of one of my favourite places in the world – Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. I blog over at Feet on Foreign Lands where I tell the tales of my travels with my husband and two daughters (11 and 17 years old), as well as sharing travel-related tips, memorable moments and pre-trip reading lists for some of my favourite destinations. Come on over to my blog and say hi! Or join me for some travel-related frivolity on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram too.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon (and still widely referred to by this name), is the largest city in Vietnam, but it is not the capital of the country – that honour belongs to Hanoi in the North. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is a rapidly developing commercial city in the semi-tropical South. It’s a city that literally never sleeps.

Saigon by Instagram 1

It’s a city of many contrasts: from luxury five-star hotels and resorts to the cheapest of backpacker lodgings or guesthouses; restaurants of a quality (and price) you could find in cities like London, Sydney or New York right through to inexpensive street stalls selling tasty morsels prepared fresh as you wait; from exclusive international brands and boutiques to the mass-produced goods available for highly negotiable prices in the theatre of the markets.

Plus, of course, there are echoes of the many past eras this city has stood through – temples, French colonial buildings and grand tree-lined boulevards, war remnants museums, and former-palaces-turned-government-buildings.

Saigon by Instagram 2

There’s something for everyone in Saigon.

We have visited there four times since 2010, the most recent time being earlier this year when we chose to spend a whole two and a half weeks specifically in HCMC. (I wrote this post on my blog about why we chose to do this.)

However, this was the first time that I had visited Ho Chi Minh City since I had an Instagram account. And it is interesting now to reflect back on what I chose to share on Instagram each day we were there. (My account, if you want to look at all the photos in their original glory is @feetonforeignlands.)

Free wi-fi is easy to find in HCMC. In our experience, most hotels offer it without extra charge, plus almost every restaurant and café we went to had wi-fi, and they were more than happy to give us the password. In many cases, the password was written on the menu.

This meant I was able to share a photo or two via iPhone every day.

Many times when I have been researching destinations, I have used an Instagram tag search to find photos and see what people are saying about a place, a sight, an experience or a restaurant etc. When I uploaded these photos, I used some of these hashtags to make my photos searchable for other people doing the same: #vietnam #HCMC #hochiminhcity #saigon #travelvietnam #vietnamtravel as well as specific tags that related to that particular photo.

Saigon by Instagram 3

While we were in HCMC, I was taking hundreds of photos each day! But, I didn’t want to flood my Instagram feed, and I wanted to keep a lot of photos fresh for when I wrote posts about the topic back home. So, when it came to my own Saigon experience, I tended to share the quirky shots, the up-close details, or the ones that told a little story. The collage photos in this post (above) show all the photos I shared over a two and a half week period, and below I have selected five specific ones to tell you the tales behind these particular shots.

Nail art

Saigon by Instagram - nail art

On our last morning in HCMC, my daughters and I found a nearby nail bar (Fame Nails) and wandered in to see if we could get nails painted. The girls were keen to get some toenail art, as they had already had fingernail art done at a different nail bar the day before.

The choices were totally overwhelming! Cards and cards of examples to choose from. Nail art started from 140,000 VND for a full set (about USD $6.50). Those ladies certainly earn their money – intricate designs, carefully painted with the utmost care. The lady who was doing my 11 year old daughter’s ‘fruit salad’ designs was laughing at how tiny her nails were to have to paint pineapple and strawberries etc on. It was a lot of fun, and a souvenir of HCMC that lasted for several weeks after we returned home.

Traffic direction

Saigon by Instagram - traffic direction

There’s a lot of construction work going on in HCMC at any time – it’s a rapidly developing city – but there’s especially a lot at the moment while they construct a new pedestrian precinct in Nguyen Hue Street, and undertake the major development of an underground rail system which dramatically affects the centre of District 1.

We had to walk alongside this construction site to go between our hotel (The Rex Hotel) and Dong Khoi Street, and for the first few days, there were no cones or traffic guidance, we just had to take our chances with the traffic (as you do on most HCMC streets anyway!).

So I was quite amused when this traffic direction system was set up after a few days. The cones were really handy to keep a pathway for pedestrians separate from the traffic, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the dummy (whose arms waved up and down). It was entertaining, though!

Festive lights

Saigon by Instagram - festive lights

Several years ago, we spent the festive season in the United States (Los Angeles and New York City) and I was blown away by the visual spectacle of the holiday season decorations in both of those places. But if you specifically want festive lights, Saigon leaves both of those places in the dark (pardon the pun).

The street lighting in HCMC really has to be seen to be believed. The grand boulevards, laid out by French colonial town planners in times gone by, are totally aglow with spectacular multi-coloured lighting displays. And as we’ve now been in HCMC for three festive seasons in the past five years, I can attest to the fact that they don’t just drag out last year’s lights and re-hang them. This past year’s lighting displays were themed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the south and national reunification (1945-2015).

Uh-oh…the Internet is broken

Saigon by Instagram - broken internet

If there is one thing a travel blogger does not want to read over her hotel buffet breakfast…it’s that the Internet is broken. But that is exactly what happened while we were staying in HCMC.

The night before, the hotel had slipped a letter under our door, telling us that the Internet was out of action due to a breakage in the AAG submarine cable. The newspaper the next morning confirmed it. The cable in question apparently services about 70 per cent of Vietnam’s Internet traffic…so while it didn’t cut Internet to the country completely, it certainly slowed things down dramatically for a couple of days while they fixed it up.

I’ve since read reports that the cable breakage (which apparently happens reasonably frequently) is caused by sharks chomping through the cable (true story!).

Villa Song

Saigon by Instagram -Villa Song

Villa Song Boutique Hotel is a gorgeous river-side oasis of calm in HCMC’s District 2. It has just 24 guest rooms, so almost has the feel of staying in a (grand!) private home…which indeed is what it was built as. It looks as if it is a historic remnant of colonial Saigon, but in fact was built in the 1990s as a home for a wealthy Vietnamese family. Our rooms were compact, but super-luxurious, and the swimming pool area was fabulous. We spent hours reading books by the pool and at times we were the only ones pool-side.

It was the most expensive of our five Saigon hotels, so we only spent two nights there, lapping up the luxury.

Have you ever been to Vietnam? Do you Instagram your travel experiences? Do you like to check out Instagram tags before you visit a place?