Why You Should Visit Brussels in December

Winter has finally arrived in Brussels. It’s cold, sometimes rainy, and the sun sets at 5pm. While most people visit this beautiful city in the summer, there are a few special things that make a winter in Brussels something to look forward to. Here are a few reasons why you should think about visiting Brussels in December.

  1. The holiday decorations – Almost overnight, the city comes alive with lights and decorations on every corner. There is nothing like walking through cobblestone streets with Christmas lights overhead.
  2. Waffles! – Who wouldn’t want a warm waffle to eat while walking along those decorated cobble-stone streets?
  3. Beer! – If you’re cold, pop into a bar and grab a Belgian beer. They won’t disappoint, I promise.
  4. Fries – Okay, I promise this is the last food item. But seriously, all of Belgium’s snacks are made for winter.
  5. The Christmas Market – You’ve never seen a Christmas celebration until you’ve been to a European Christmas market. Ferris wheels, food tents, vin chaud, ice skating, and more. It’s a dream.
  6. It’s less crowded  – In the summer, many European cities are packed with tourists. But if you choose to travel in the off-season, you’ll have a lot more space and better prices!
  7. Hot Chocolate – Okay I lied about the food thing. Belgian hot chocolate is special for two reasons. 1. Belgian chocolate 2. The hot chocolate is made with actual pieces of chocolate. If you’re not into beer, this will definitely warm you up.
  8. Mussels – I already broke my promise once, so I might as well do it again. Belgium is known for its mussels and fries, a hot meal that is perfect for winter.

 

These winter specialties are a perfect addition to everything else Brussels has to offer like Grand Place, Mannekin Pis, the Atomium, museums, parks, the EU institutions, and more. While the winter may prevent you from sitting outside at an outdoor café, Brussels can still be a great travel destination for the winter! In fact, my best friend is visiting next week and I am going to make sure she experiences everything this city has to offer. If you’ve been to Brussels in the winter, let me know what I missed!

 

Visiting Tenerife – the island that has it all

It’s hard to pass up the opportunity to visit friends AND explore one of the most beautiful places on earth. So when my friend Nicolette told me she would be teaching English in the Canary Islands for 10 months, I knew I had to visit. This past week my friend, Annmarie, and I traveled to Tenerife to see Nicolette. With its beaches and mountains, this island ended up being the dream location for our reunion.

Tenerife is one of the seven Canary Islands that rest off the coast of Morocco but belong to Spain. While the flights aren’t as cheap as they are to the rest of Europe, I still found a round-trip flight for less than 200 euros. Compared to most international travel, that’s a steal. My friends and I found an affordable Air Bnb on the edge of Puerto de la Cruz that overlooked the ocean. Since it’s an island, I was expecting things to be expensive here but the prices were half of what they are in Brussels, which was a pleasant surprise. Before I go into the details of my trip, here are a few quick facts if you’re looking to travel to Tenerife:

Transportation

The island has a great transportation system with busses and an above-ground tram they call the Tramvia. However, if you rent a car, the entire island is accessible – my friends and I decided this was the best option for us since we would only be there for a few days and wanted to see as much as possible.

Language

Spanish is spoken throughout the Canary Islands but the accent is very different from mainland Spain. If you’re a non-native Spanish speaker, you might have some difficulties at first. Otherwise, most people speak some English, especially in the tourist areas.

Nature

Tenerife is a volcano. So in addition to its black sand beaches, it has beautiful mountains throughout its center. Teide (the mountain) is actually the highest point in Spain. As you drive to the top, you will pass through several different landscapes including pine forests and something that looks like a desert. The contrast is mind-blowing.

Food

The food in Tenerife is nothing short of incredible. While traditional Spanish food can be found, las Canarias have their own famous foods. A few of my favorites were papas arrugadas (which literally translates to wrinkly potatoes), arepas, and mojo (a sauce from heaven)

The five days I spent in Tenerife were so full of peace and joy that time stood still. So without further ado, let’s talk about the trip.

Nicolette picked me up from the airport on Thursday night and we checked into the Air Bnb on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz. Then we went to a restaurant where I tried papas arrugadas with mojo sauce which was so good that it brought tears to my eyes. After trying these potatoes, I knew this trip would be incredible. We walked around Puerto a bit but it was late so we decided to go home and get a good night of sleep.

The next morning, Nicolette and I went to the beach. It was my first time seeing black sand and my jaw hit the floor. It’s been on my bucket list forever so it was a really special moment. We spent a few hours on the beach (yes, I wore sunscreen), then Nicolette left for a teacher meeting. I decided to walk the coast and explore Puerto and the town is beautiful. I even accidentally stumbled upon an area full of stone piles (I’m not sure how to describe this in a way that sounds appealing. See picture). Afterward, Nicolette and I picked Annmarie up from the airport and we rented a car. Although we took several wrong turns on the way back, we finally ventured into Los Realejos for the best arepas we will probably ever have. In fact, we returned to this little hole-in-the-wall place (called Millenium) for arepas twice more throughout the trip. After the arepas that changed our lives, we spent the night drinking champagne and catching up in our Air Bnb. There’s nothing like seeing old friends.

 

 

On Saturday morning, we took a drive up the coast to a restaurant overlooking the ocean. Here we ordered Arroz Caldoso de Mariscos (a soupier version of paella) and gazpacho. This was yet another life-changing meal. We spent the afternoon laying on the beach and at night, went to a Christmas festival in La Laguna, the university town. It was like a Christmas wonderland. We ate more arepas and got vegan hot chocolate. Oh, and a couple of beers, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday was the day we decided to tackle Teide, the mountain. Our little Fiat, who we lovingly nicknamed Fifi, had a hard time making it up some of the steep inclines but we eventually made our way up. Like I mentioned previously, the contrast between the landscapes on the mountain was like nothing I had ever seen before. From pine trees to desert-like canyons with lava rocks, I had a hard time believing it was real. Teidi is a must-do if you visit Tenerife.

 

 

On my last day, Annmarie and I revisited the beach while Nicolette went to work. I’ve never seen such big waves before and the lifeguards wouldn’t let people near the water due to the riptides. But we had a pleasant time just sleeping on the sand. We ate lunch at a nearby restaurant and then drove up to Monje winery for a wine tour. The view and the wine were spectacular. Once again, it was hard to believe I was living in reality. Nicolette met us at Monje and we returned to La Laguna for dinner and more vegan hot chocolate. It was a sweet end to a sweet trip.

 

 

Thanks for inviting us to visit, Nicolette. It was an incredible adventure.

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Spending Thanksgiving Away From Home

A year ago today, I woke up on Thanksgiving morning excited to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with my dad. We made New Orleans-style beignets for breakfast (our tradition) and got ready for lunch at my grandparents’ house. A year ago today, I was wondering what next year’s Thanksgiving would be like. Where will I be living? Will I be able to come home for the holidays? Is this my last Thanksgiving in Cincinnati? I didn’t know the answers so I made sure to cherish every second of that day.

A year later, it’s Thanksgiving morning and I’m living in Brussels, Belgium. Instead of watching the parade with my dad, I am on my second cup of coffee, desperately trying to finish my Dissertation Proposal which is due tomorrow. I’m making myself pasta because I’m too lazy to make actual food and I can’t figure out how to live stream the parade. Please excuse me while I throw myself a pity-party.

Sometimes missing the holidays is just something that happens when you become an adult. It’s hard and sad but it’s just reality. If I were in Cincinnati to celebrate with my family, that would mean I wasn’t pursuing my dreams in Belgium. Since Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what we have, I’ve decided to focus on the good. While the list is endless, here are 10 things I’m grateful for in this moment:

  1. My incredible friends and family
  2. Technology that allows me to stay in contact with the people I love
  3. Having the opportunity to pursue an education
  4. Getting to live in Europe
  5. Hazelnut coffee
  6. An internship at a great organization
  7. The two cats that I’m currently cat-sitting
  8. Christmas music
  9. The pasta that is on the stove (I am lucky to have food to eat!)
  10. I get to come home for Christmas!

Like I said, the list is endless once you start writing. So if you can’t be home for the holidays and find yourself feeling down, try to focus on the good in your life and the things you would be missing out on if you weren’t living your current reality. Wherever you are right now, there is a reason for it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Feel Great and Stay Healthy While Traveling

Oftentimes, when people hear the word healthy in association with travel, they assume that it requires missing out on experiences like food and drinks. But when done properly, prioritizing your health can add so much more to your trip and you’ll end up feeling amazing, rather than weighed down and tired. When I’m traveling for a week or so, I’ll admit that my health routine takes a back seat. But with longer periods of travel, I find myself longing for the trip to end so my body can start feeling good again. With how much I like to travel, I knew I needed to find a way to combine taking care of my body with seeing the world. So here are a few tips for feeling your best without missing out on great experiences:

1. Choose at least one healthy meal per day.

By no means should you skip out on all your travel destination has to offer, but you’d be amazed at how much better you will feel if you make sure you’re eating vegetables. Pizza for every meal sounds like a great idea but sometimes your body just needs a break. “But I can get veggies on my pizza, and order a Bloody Mary!” says my father. Hey, whatever works. Eat those waffles, fries, cupcakes, and drink all the beer your heart desires. But make sure you get yourself a salad too.

2. Walk as much as you can.

It’s tempting to take public transportation or an Uber when you’re trying to get somewhere. But if you take the extra time to walk, not only are you getting some exercise, but you will see new things along the way! As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I love finding free walking tours on my first day in a new city.

3. Incorporate physical activity into your schedule.

Rent a bike. Take a hike. Go for a morning run to explore. If you’re at the beach, don’t lay around all day. Play volleyball or swim or even just take a walk. Try something new like surfing. I personally love finding beautiful parks and working out or doing some yoga. You may get some strange looks but you’ll feel like a new person.

4. Try to maintain your at-home routine.

I’ll admit, I’m still working on this. When I’m at home, I usually spend 5-10 minutes doing yoga every morning to stretch and wake up my body. When I’m traveling, I don’t always prioritize this and I can really feel the difference.

5. Get enough sleep.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out or do pub crawls but just don’t do them every night. Yes, you have to take advantage of every moment but if you don’t get enough sleep, you simply won’t enjoy your travels and you might even get sick. So make sleep a priority….at least some nights.

6. Hydrate hydrate hydrate!

It’s very easy to get dehydrated while flying, walking around, and drinking alcohol. Carry around a reusable water bottle and your body will thank you. If it’s safe to drink the tap water wherever you’re traveling, just fill up your bottle in bathroom sinks. It’s not weird, I promise.

When traveling, it’s important not to miss out on new opportunities. It’s also important to give yourself time to relax and truly enjoy taking a break from the stress of everyday life. But making a small effort in maintaining healthy habits can really change how you feel which in turn, can transform your entire vacation. Take care of yourself and enjoy your travels!

Falling in Love with Solo Travel – Prague

When I ask people which cities I absolutely have to visit while in Europe, Prague is always at the top of the list. I didn’t quite understand why until I visited the city last week. From the Prague Castle to the Charles Bridge, there is so much to do in Prague that I wish I could’ve stayed for much longer than three days.

I flew into the city on Wednesday night and took a bus, then the metro, to the city center. The public transportation is super easy to figure out and the system is very convenient for using multiple types of transport. Instead of tickets being valid for “one trip,” for example, they are valid for one hour or ninety minutes. Within that period of time, you can use any public transportation – tram, metro, or bus – for as many trips as you need.

I had booked a cheap room in an apartment on Air Bnb and was pleasantly surprised to find it was located right along the Vltava River. I took that night to walk around the city, eat a trdelnik (basically a giant cinnamon roll that is sometimes filled with ice cream), and listen to some live music on Charles Bridge. I hadn’t even seen the city in daylight and I was already in awe.

 

 

The next day, I went on a free walking tour with Sandeman’s – this is an awesome company that gives tours in cities throughout Europe, asking only that you tip the tour guide at the end. I’ve found that these tours give much more depth to the cities in which I’m traveling because without them, you miss so much history while you’re walking around. They’re also a great way to meet people! I usually do a free walking tour on my first day in a city in order to orient myself with my surroundings and get an idea of some things I want to do while I’m there. On this tour, we saw the famous Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, which may seem a bit underwhelming without the historical context so read up before you go. We also explored the Jewish Quarter which houses beautiful synagogues and is home to the Golem of Prague.

 

After the tour, a new friend and I decided to try a cool vegetarian, Indian place that his hostel recommended. It was called Beas Vegetarian Dhaba; it was incredible and cheap. I spent the rest of the day exploring the city, walking through its parks and squares, soaking in the history and the beautiful nature. Prague in October is a must-see. I’ve never seen such a stunning autumn. That night, I met up with a few people from the tour for a pub crawl. We had a great night.

 

 

 

On Friday morning, I visited the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where the soldiers of Operation Anthropoid hid while Nazis searched for them. They were ultimately killed in the crypt, which is open to visitors and includes a small museum.

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Afterwards, I met back up with some friends for a Prague Castle tour (also with Sandeman’s) and let me tell you, I am so happy I didn’t try to explore the castle by myself. The “castle” is more like a 70,000 square foot palace grounds with architecture from at least nine different centuries. Without a guide telling me the historical contexts of each part of the castle, I would’ve had no idea what I was seeing. It ended up being a really great experience and we even got to see the Changing of the Guards.

 

After the tour, two other solo travelers and I made our way up to a monastery that our tour guide told us about. Here we had dinner and were able to try some of their beer. I will admit, I’ve become a bit picky about beer after living in Belgium but this beer was really great. They even had a blueberry flavor that was surprisingly good. Strahov Monastery, with its stone walls, candlelit rooms, and live violin, was honestly one of my favorite parts of my time in Prague. It was too dark to get proper pictures but I would definitely recommend it.

Just when I thought the night couldn’t get any better, we found a rooftop bar called the Dancing House, overlooking the river. As we were sitting on the terrace, taking in the view of Prague, a fireworks show began on the river. It was one of those moments where time stood still and I felt incredibly overwhelmed by gratitude. It was a beautiful end to a beautiful trip.

Thank you, Prague. I hope to be back soon.

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Note: I was traveling alone and felt completely safe walking about the city center by myself. That being said, I always made sure to stay on busy, well-lit streets. As long as you’re using common sense, Prague is a great place for solo travel.

5 Reasons to Try Solo Travel

Last week, I decided to take a bus to London for a few days by myself. My time alone involved lots of Chinese food, discounted West End musical tickets, and ultimately missing my bus back to Brussels. It was an adventure, to say the least, and it was much needed. Not only did this trip remind me of my love for London, but it reminded me of how much I enjoy traveling alone. Stepping off of a plane (or bus, in this case) into a city where you don’t know anyone provides a fresh start, even if only for a few days. You can be whoever you want. You can do whatever you want. And when you are in charge of your own plans, you are bound to gain lots of confidence. Although the list is endless, let’s talk about 5 reasons you should try traveling alone.

1. Your plans are the only plans

Have you ever been with a group of people who wanted to go to one museum while you wanted to go to another? Or who wanted to eat sushi while you wanted Italian food? Compromise is the key to successfully traveling with groups. But when you’re traveling alone, the only person you have to compromise with is yourself! You make all the decisions throughout your travels, allowing you to shape your trip exactly the way you want.

2. You will be more focused on your surroundings

Oftentimes when I am traveling with friends, I am focused on our conversations, rather than the beautiful architecture and landmarks surrounding us. When I am alone, however, I am simply free to marvel at the world around me.

3. You are more likely to meet new people

When I am traveling alone, I find myself more willing to talk to people around me – especially to those who are also solo traveling! This past week in London, I made two new friends in my hostel and had a great conversation with a guy from Australia while seeing Heathers the Musical. It’s easy to interact solely with the people you’re traveling with so being alone gives you that extra push to branch out.

4. You will learn to appreciate your own company

Eating alone in a restaurant or park may sound uncomfortable in the beginning. But I promise that once you overcome the awkwardness, doing activities alone can be peaceful. I can’t promise that you won’t receive some odd looks from people but just brush them off and appreciate your own company.

5. Most importantly, it’s empowering!

As a woman, I have felt especially discouraged in the past when it came to traveling alone. After all, there are certain safety concerns while traveling that women have to worry about that often aren’t issues for men. But I’ve found that with the right research and general awareness of my surroundings, traveling alone is absolutely possible. Additionally, packing up my bags and heading to a foreign country despite doubts from others is empowering and a testament to my own courage. I encourage every woman to take a trip alone at some point in her life. You will see that you are so much more capable than you think. With that being said, this also goes for men too. It can be a daunting task for anyone and tackling your fears is the only way to grow.

Solo travel can seem intimidating or perhaps even lonely. But with the right mindset, it can be an adventure full of growth and reflection. So be brave and buy that plane ticket!

 

Check out some pictures from my most recent trip!

 

 

Travel Without Paying for Room and Board

Travel is eye-opening. It is transformative. And above all, it’s fun. Travel has allowed me to grow as a person in ways that I never thought possible. In fact, I love it so much that I am determined to make it a regular part of my life rather than just something I pursue on holiday. However, if travel is associated with fancy hotels and expensive restaurants, making travel a “way of life” can seem unrealistic for most people. But that’s not necessarily the case. The world has become so interconnected that finding a way to exchange your volunteer work for free room and board has become easier than ever. In doing so, you will meet people from around the world and encounter new cultures from a local’s perspective. Regardless of your talents or interests, there is an opportunity for anyone who seeks extended travel without the cost. Here are a few ways you can do it:

Become an au pair

If you like kids, then this may be the job for you. An au pair is basically a nanny (live in or live out) for kids. Regardless of where you’re from, there are probably some parents out there looking to teach their kids your native language. As an au pair, a family will take you in as their own, usually providing food and your own room in their home in exchange for you taking care of and interacting with their children. As an au pair, you will live like a local in whichever country you choose and oftentimes, host families are eager to share their culture with you. Some even take you traveling with them! Two great websites for finding au pair jobs are www.greataupair.com  and www.aupairworld.com . With an account, you can browse families, countries, and work expectations.

Work on a farm

http://wwoof.net

WWOOF is an organization that pairs volunteers with organic farms all around the world. Usually, in exchange for free room and board, you will be required to help with farming in the mornings, leaving your evenings and weekends free. Not only will you meet other travel-oriented people, but you will also be contributing to sustainable farming practices- two birds with one stone.

Teach English

While I will go into further detail about teaching English in a future post, there are many teaching opportunities that don’t require a long-term contract. One of the best ways to find this is to search for English-Immersion programs. These are usually short-term (a week or so) and provide all your amenities while you converse with non-native speakers. In between programs, you are able to travel and see the country in which you are staying. I participated in 3 programs with a company called Angloville in Poland this summer where I made so many new Polish friends and learned more about the country than I could have as just a tourist. Additionally, this program allowed me to obtain my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certification. These types of programs exist all over the world so if you’re interested, check out Angloville https://angloville.com  (Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary) and Vaughan Town http://volunteers.grupovaughan.com (Spain). These programs do not require a teaching certification.

Work anywhere doing anything – Workaway

https://www.workaway.info  

Do all of these opportunities sound cool but you’re not sure if they are a good fit for you? Workaway is the best database to search for all jobs that are looking for volunteers. Hosts include hostels, animal rescues, schools, yoga studios, eco farms and more. With an account, you can read reviews, talk with hosts, and even link your profile with a friend’s if you are traveling together. I have met many people who have used Workaway and most say it was one of the best experiences of their lives. One of my close friends, Jennifer Bishop spent the summer after her study abroad backpacking around Europe by working in hostels. Read about Jen’s experience below:

 

“Doing a Workaway experience in a hostel was one of the highlights of my time backpacking in Europe! Not only did I save a ton of money in the time that I spent there, I also made lasting friendships who I still FaceTime with frequently a year later. I worked in the #1 hostel in Zagreb, Croatia for 1 month. Each volunteer was required to work 5-hour shifts, 6 days a week. There were three different shifts you could get which were morning, afternoon, and evening. The morning shift was entirely cleaning – we were in charge of changing any vacant beds (up to 60), mopping and vacuuming all the floors, cleaning the common areas like the kitchen, and sweeping outside. I’ll be honest, the cleaning shift was a lot of actual hard work but in the end rewarding. We worked alongside the full-time housekeeper. The other two shifts usually involved a bit of cleaning and then helping to check people in and giving tours of the hostel, or running game nights and entertaining guests in the common areas. In return for our work, we received free access to an amazing breakfast buffet (which I would sneak away enough food for lunch ha), a free bed in one of their 8-bed dorm rooms, free laundry, and free beers and ciders during our shifts. In my opinion, it was well worth it since the exchange rate was ridiculously good for the U.S. dollar at the time so I only spent $2-3 a day at most for anything else I wanted. Overall, I had an amazing time. Not only did I get to meet all kinds of people from all over the world without having to travel myself, but I was able to have a more localized view of living in Croatia since I made friends with the regular staff. I can’t wait to use Workaway again to find more volunteer opportunities abroad!”

 

Volunteer opportunities are changing the way people travel. It allows those with fewer savings to experience new cultures for an extended period of time. More and more, I meet people who return home for a few months at a time to make money before they head out to their next few work away assignments. If you are willing to put in a little work, there is nothing stopping you from seeing all this world has to offer.

If you’re enjoying this blog, please follow A Girl and Her Visa for updates on new posts. Enjoy your travels! 

 

Instagram: @christineoswald