Archives for January 2014

Kiva Loan: January

1 down, 11 to go!

And we’re off on another exciting year of Kiva lending!

The first loan of 2014 goes to Mayrambi in Tajikistan. I just really loved that she’s borrowing money to expand her caramel apple business. Mayrambi’s listing says that she is a “cook-confectioner in her soul.” I couldn’t miss the opportunity to help her invest in more sugar and apples. I love micro-lending!

Does anyone else have micro-lending as a part of their 2014 plans?

xo, jill


An afternoon in Antwerp

The Diamond Cutting Capital.

Our next day trip after visiting Ghent was a very soggy afternoon in Antwerp. For some reason, my memories from Antwerp are severely lacking. I’ve had to ask Mike what we spent the day doing multiple times. It must be due to reciting the Shane Company’s radio commercial nonstop all day. “Now you have a friend in the diamond business. Shane Company. On Highway 217 and Scholl’s Ferry Road. Open Monday through Friday til 8, Saturday and Sunday til 5.”*

By adding Mike’s memories to my puny photograph collection, I gather that we spent the day walking around the city, visiting a castle, and not doing too much else.

What I do remember is stopping in for a drink at a Medieval cellar bar and warming my hands by the fire. That is highly recommended.

xo, jill

*I know they’ve moved locations at this point but that’s their Portland store’s address from my childhood.

With a name like Ghent…

“…it has to be good.”

While staying in Brussels, Mike and I took several day trips thanks to a cheap Christmas train special (roundtrip for 10 euros!). The first place we ventured off to was Ghent.

Am I the only one who finds the name Ghent a bit underwhelming? I mean, the word just doesn’t draw me in. It’s so dull and dreary sounding. Fortunately, when Mike proposed Ghent as a day trip he came prepared with photographs. As it turns out, behind that lackluster name lies a lovely city, well-deserving of a visit.

We arrived in Ghent at midday, armed with a Use-It map. We set out from the train station with plenty of Use-It suggested spots to check out. Unfortunately, our visited coincided with Boxing Day. Most shops and restaurants were closed for the holiday. Because Use-It maps strive to give visitors a local experience, we found ourselves walking through dead neighborhoods with little to see or do. Not exactly ideal when you only have one day in town.

Mike and I decided to ignore Use-It for a while and head to the center of town. Surely there’d be something happening there. As you might expect, as we neared the center of town the buildings and scenery became more and more idyllic. At one point we decided to check out an area that seemed to have quite a few visitors lingering nearby. Bingo! Tourist information. We picked up a more traditional tourist map and set out to see the major sights. It turns out we had somehow walked in a big circle around the main sights and managed to avoid every last one. We felt a little silly when we turned the corner to crowds of tourists and merrymakers, a Christmas market, and a spectacular view. Oops!

You better hope you have the boat ready before you step out the back door! 

The rest of our time in Ghent was spent sliding on a giant slide, picking up a few more treats at HEMA (I was a little obsessed with that shop), and enjoying the gorgeous medieval architecture.

Even though most of the “locally suggested” spots were closed and we spent most of our time in the tourist areas, Ghent’s coolness was quite apparent. I loved the city’s college town vibe mixed with its traditional picturesque beauty. It definitely has a local quality that the much more popular Bruges lacks.

I suppose having a lackluster name isn’t such a bad thing after all.

xo, jill

A Belgian Christmas

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

After leaving Amsterdam, Mike and I headed for Brussels. We arrived on the 23rd and headed to an apartment we had secured through AirBnb. I truly feel like we hit the jack pot with this accommodation. While looking for a room to book, Mike came across a listing by a woman who needed someone to take care of her cat. Of course, she greatly discounted the cost of renting out her place. So, not only did Mike and I spend Christmas in a cozy one bedroom apartment… I also got to spend some time with a cute little kitty. I could not have asked for a cozier Christmas abroad.

The evening of our arrival we hopped on a bus and headed towards the town center where Christmas was in full swing. We spent the evening enjoying the holiday lights, festive crowds, and Christmas market.

On Christmas Eve the weather was wet and windy. We only ventured out for Christmas dinner supplies and some Christmas shopping at HEMA. This is the second year in a row that Mike and I have decided to follow a $10 (or Euro) budget for Christmas gifts. Since we’re often on the move, it’s the most practical way to enjoy unwrapping gifts. It’s also a lot of fun. You have to get creative! Hopefully it’s a tradition that will last.

Christmas Day was spent unwrapping gifts, talking to family, and enjoying a walk around the city. We paid a special visit to Brussels most famous resident, Manneken Pis. The santa suit really made it for me. We eventually ended up at a closed Le Botanique and sweet talked our way into the lobby for a Christmas Day photobooth session. It felt like quite the triumph! (I like to use this site to scout out photobooths when we travel.)

It was another lovely Christmas abroad. The only thing that could have improved it would be the presence of friends and family.

xo, jill

P.S. – Other Christmases spent abroad here and here.

A hit and a miss in the Netherlands

“All good trips start bad.” – Mike

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! Mike and I spent the winter break freezing our buns off in Europe. We spent the majority of our time in Belgium but started out in the Netherlands and made a quick trip over to France as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t take very many photos on this trip. The combination of cold weather and a sore shoulder meant that I left my Nikon in the apartment most days. I just don’t feel as compelled to dig in my bag for a camera, or linger for the perfect shot when I’m chilled. Still, I did manage to get a few nice photos to share.

Let’s start at the beginning. We flew from Marrakech to Eindhoven and hopped on a bus to Utrecht. We thought it would be nice to visit a Dutch city that’s not Amsterdam. (Mike’s been to Amsterdam a few times already.) Well, that bus dropped us off at a random parking garage with not a lot of transport options. We decided to jump on a tram but when we realized there was no way to pay (no machine or driver!), we jumped back off a few stops later. At that point we just figured we’d walk to our hotel. Bad idea. Did I mention it was raining? I suppose this plan could have worked… if we had known where we were going. Our map? Not so good. I’ll spare you the details but just know that we ended up walking along the freeway over a bridge only to find ourselves in a sparsely populated warehouse district. Back over the bridge we went. By the time we finally found a taxi and made it to our hotel, we were soaked. Even the clothes inside my suitcase needed drying. There was no way I was going to venture back out into the rain to explore the town. Sorry, Utrecht. Thankfully, the hotel proved to be a very cozy place. I fell asleep early and had my best sleep in ages. I think I earned it.

The next morning we took a train to Amsterdam and realized that this should have been our plan all along. No wonder we were the only ones who got off the bus in Utrecht while everyone else continued on to Amsterdam! Oh well.

The majority of our time in Amsterdam was spent drinking hot chocolate to keep warm and walking along the canals. We didn’t stop into any of the major sites like the Anne Frank House or Van Gogh Museum. (I figure I’ll be back in Amsterdam someday, right?) We just enjoyed being outside in the holiday atmosphere.

Although lovely, our stay was brief. We had to see a lady about a cat in Belgium the next afternoon,

xo, jill

P.S. Yep. I’m skipping a whole bunch of other travel photos for the moment. One day I will blog about that trip to Singapore last May. But right now… since I took so few photos in Europe, this trip is the least daunting!

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