Barcelona, 2013

From one of my favourite cities to another, my husband, daughter and I flew from Paris to Barcelona. I was so glad to be able to show my daughter two of the places in the world I loved the most.

We stayed I a fabulously comfortable modern apartment in the theatre district where we could see Montjuic from the balcony. The little alleyways were just as authentic as I remembered them and Guadi was just as prevalent.

Pulau Guell was spotted everyday on our way to the famous La Rambla- where we saw Casa Balto and La Pedra. La Segrada Familia was still under construction of course, but an impressive sight as ever.

We saw the fountains of Plaza de Catalunya and the new fashion label Desingual that was making a colourful appearance. Daytime tapas was taken inside Mercat de la Boqueria where we took in the tasty looking displays of vegetables, cold cuts and chocolate.

My friend Ernest invited me over to his place for dinner to meet his wife and new baby daughter and to catch up with Jordi, Leigh and Lidia. It was 9pm- early for Barcelona, but late for my daughter who had already been asleep for 3 hours by then and had to stay behind with my husband. It was great to see them all.

The next day we took the bus to one of my favourite places in the city- Parc Guell. The colourful gatehouses were still there and the view from the balcony was better than I recalled. It was such a buzz to sit on a beautiful mosaiced seat with my family and walk up the dragon sculpture steps.

Back down the hill, we had dinner in a local Tapas restaurant where the lovely waitress wanted to take our daughter home.

On Ernest’s recommendation, we headed for Barcenoleta the following day. I had been to Port Vell and the beach before, but had not heard of the quaint village last time I was here.

The open town square was a hub of family activity along with the huge modern market. We had a leisurely lunch of cocktails and paella at a restaurant on the beach. It was a delicious and fitting end to our enjoyable and relaxing Barcelona sojourn.

Related posts: Europe, 2003Spain 1997, Part 1: BarcelonaPeople vs Place

The Hunt

You may have been wondering where I have been for the last 3 months (or maybe you haven’t).

Where I have been is job hunting. And let me tell you, job hunting takes over your life.

There is always something else you can do. Recruiter meetings, coffee meetings, emails, phone calls, applying and interviewing. On the bus, at lunch time, not to mention your whole weekend. It never ends.

Job hunting is hard. The constant search for that perfect role in that perfect company that will not only progress you career, but be interesting and fulfilling.

The constant highs and lows, hope and disappointment that makes you feel like a manic depressive with bipolar.

Just when you think you’ve found something, the other person gets the job and the excitement fades to having to start all over again.

It’s very hard to keep the motivation going under such conditions- living in limbo and becoming forgetful due to the need to focus on the task at hand. It is a stressful time!

But I was fortunate enough to have a supportive husband, a new mentor and a great network of professional contacts who had more confidence in me than I sometimes had in myself. I only hope to repay the favour as needed.

So now I am happy to say that I am starting the not so new year with a new job, a new haircut, new shoes and a new hand bag.

But getting the job is only half the battle. There will also be new people, new tasks and a new battle to prove your value.

It takes at least another 3 months to learn how things work and how you fit in to all of it.

But you never know what you are capable of until you try right?

Related posts: Change is the New Black, Work, work, work, Old skool vs New skool, Power Plays, To belong, Reinvention

Versailles, 2013

One of the main things I had wanted to do on my previous trips to Paris was to go to Versailles, but I had had never quite made it out of the city. When I watched the film Marie Antoinette, it inspired me further and I could not wait to see it for myself.

This time, my husband, daughter and I made the time to catch a train to the palace and take in the château. Despite it’s enormity and the cold weather, it was crowded. But from the moment we passed the statue of King Louis and entered the gold encrusted gates it was worth it.

There was a whole chapel inside the palace, long hallways with sculptures carved into the walls and winding staircases. The rooms all had ceiling frescos and detailed wallpaper. It was definitely decadent now, so I can only imagine what it was like before revolutionaries ransacked it.

There were enormous fireplaces, but small beds; elaborate candlesticks and chandeliers, but threadbare tapestries. Of course we went to the famous Hall of Mirrors, which had beautiful views over the gardens.

My tip would be to go to the Jardins de Versailles first as they would be less crowded in this order, and as nice as the house was, the gardens were much more impressive to me and more vast.

The hedges with statues on the North Parterre was so long and the lake-like fountain on the Water Parterre was so huge. But the most spectacular for me was the view of the patterned Orangery from the Latona Parterre.

Of course, I was also amazed by the famous Grand Canal. I couldn’t believe that there was such a big body of water in a garden. The fountain-obsessive in me also liked Water Ave punctuated with a fountain every few steps and culminating in the lovely dragon fountain.

And of course I loved the idea of the little hidden Three Fountains Grove and the large Neptune’s Fountain. I only wish that I had been here when all the fountains were flowing. How impressive a sight that must be.

I also wish that I had more time to explore the gardens. I could just imagine the parties that the kings and queens had out here. It would have been great to have had more time to see Marie Antoinette’s Estate too and imagine her there with her children.

But alas, my unhappy child would have none of it, so I suppose I will have to leave that fantasy for another day.

Related posts: Paris, 2013France 1997, Part 1: Paris,It’s a French ThingEurope, 2003 

Paris, 2013

After a tearful farewell with our friends in the new Brussels train station, my husband, daughter and I caught the TGV to Paris. The train was indeed fast.

At Gare Du Nord we were fast tracked to the front of the taxi queue due to travelling with a baby. Very nice of them, especially considering that it was nearing dinnertime. We were stying in a hotel next to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in the 20th Arrondissement.

On our first day we bypassed the subway with its many stairs and caught the bus into the middle of the city. We passed so many historic buildings on the way that I wondered why I hadn’t thought to catch the bus last time I was here.

First stop was the Eiffel Tower. No long lines for us with a little one, so we settled for the view from below instead and embarked on a walking tour of the city. Paris is a museum in itself after all.

We followed the River Seine, down Av de New York, past the tunnel where Diana died, recognisable by the Liberty Flame, to the gold-topped Ponte Alexandre III and Invalides.

Everything was strangely familiar, but also different and still impressive. Even though I had been here before, it was a different experience being here married with a daughter rather than with a friend and there were still new things I hadn’t seen.

There was the Grand Palais, the Petit Palais and a we took a stroll along the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Place de la Concorde was larger than I remembered it to be and the Jardin des Tuileries were prettier.

We found the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, the Louvre and Pont Neuf, then called it a day as it was bitterly cold and we later discovered that we also had a teething baby.

That night was not an easy one with an unhappy baby which slightly took the edge off the romance of Paris, but cest la vie.

Oh, but the food! The awesome patisseries on every corner for breakfast, the fabulous restaurants for lunch and the local bar with traditional tarts for dinner. This was something we could all enjoy as a family.

Related posts: France 1997, Part 1: Paris,It’s a French Thing, Europe, 2003 

Belgium, 2013: The Place

Our week of nights in Belgium had filled up quickly; so one afternoon my husband, daughter and I went to our friends house- Corrine and Ben- for a traditional French style lunch: our favourite. Corrine and Ben had a multi story home in the village of Tilff which was bright with all the autumn colours on the tress outside. They had two older kids of their own and I still remember how sweet Corrine was as I was distraught when our daughter fell off the couch. She was fine of course.

We walked around Dolembreux one morning, to the war memorial, the school and the fields behind the farmhouse. It was such a pretty little village and I could see why it would be a nice place to raise kids.

Another day we headed into Liege where we all enjoyed some authentic waffles and a walk around the city. We went to H&M and Mango of course and visited one of Steve’s friends who worked in a shoe shop in town.

Finding a car seat of the right age was easy with so many kids around. Although she did mange to wriggle out of it that morning as we were driving back from the city that day. Bit scary, but I think she was just trying to look out of the window rather than open the door.

We went to visit Yves in his nice house on the hill and he gave us a book of Liege photos that he had published. One lunchtime we went to the restaurant that Ben’s partner owned in Tilff. It was bright and airy and served the best baguettes.

Bill took the day off work to take us to Durbuy- reportably the most beautiful village in Belgium and a place where neither my husband or I had been before. It was ridiculously picturesque, even in the cold weather, with small cobbled streets lined with stone houses covered with red and green vines. There was an actual castle, a fort and a spa and the small town was encircled by rocks, fountains, water wheels and the river.

Our  daughter fell asleep easily in the pram as we trundled along and we kept warm by eating Chokotoffs– hard carmel treats covered in Cote d’Or chocolate. We stopped for lunch in a nice traditional French restaurant and drove home munching on sour gummies. All in all it was a day of beauty and eating.

With so many adoptive aunts and uncles, our daughter received lots of presents and hand me down clothing that necessitated a big rethink of packing the bag when we left. It was great for her to receive French speaking toys and good quality warm winter clothing, so it was an easy choice to pass on some of her clothes that we had brought that she was outgrowing anyway and we knew that they would go to a good home here.

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Belgium, 2013: The People

My husband, daughter and I flew from Hong Kong to Brussels via Helsinki. It was a cheap flight and the worst flight we have ever had with our daughter. At one year old, she was at that in between stage where she didn’t just eat and sleep and wouldn’t just sit and watch TV, so all she wanted to do was walk up and down the aisles. She didn’t sleep the whole way, so neither did we. Lesson learned- sometimes it’s worth paying a bit more for a shorter flight with a little one.

After a 3 hour stopover in Helsinki, she finally lost it on the internal European flight to Brussels and just screamed. We were all tired and over it so I can understand her reaction and I now know what its like to be those parents that everyone tuts as at, but there was simply nothing we could do.

She finally fell asleep when we landed and slept in my arms in the brightly lit Brussels airport while we waited for our bags. Our friend Bill picked us up to take us back to the converted farmhouse that we had stayed in before and were to do so again. We hadn’t seen the family since our wedding in Thailand and it was the first time they had met our daughter.

Between them and their partners, Bill, Isabelle and Ben now had 8 children- 5 boys and 3 girls- almost all older than our daughter, so she had plenty of kids to dote over her and keep her entertained. Being a social child, she very much enjoyed being part of such a huge family. The girls were very gentle with our daughter which was lovely to see and the grandparents had a room set up especially for the grandkids with lots of toys and a cot.

The mornings were dark until 8:30am, which didn’t help with the jetlag when our daughter still got up at 4am. She gradually got later everyday, but never slept past her usual waking time of 6am, so had already been up for at least two hours by the time everyone else rose for breakfast.

Our friend Flo visited from France one evening with presents for our daughter. It was so nice to see her. Another night we went to Bill’s house for dinner. The house was lovely and interior decorated to perfection.

The next night we went to Isabelle’s for dinner where they lived above her husbands personal training business. On another night we went to visit Guislane and George- another family that my husband had stayed with when he had been living here on exchange. I ate the biggest piece of foie gras I have ever seen.

We kept her in her nightly dinnertime and bath routine that has always been useful for sleep time no matter where we were. Her adoptive grandfather sometimes read her books and she always had a bed or cot to be put to sleep on wherever we were visiting for dinner. Then when we were ready to leave, we just picked her up and drove home while she kept sleeping. It was awesome.

Related posts: Europe, 2006, Belgium, 1997, Destination ThailandPeople vs Place, Belgium: On Exchange