5 things to do on every city trip

August 12, 2016

5 things to do on every city trip - Geneva oldtown


On every city trip? It’s quite a statement, I know. No two cities are alike. But while I might be telling you to eat pizza in Naples, or squid in Thessaloniki – and order neither in, say, Tbilisi – there are a few things you should always do in order to get the most out of your visit, no matter what city you’re at.

Here’s my list of 5 things to do on every city trip:

Walk / rent a bike

Do not spend all your time cruising the city underground, only popping up right in front of each item on the list of must-see museums and highlights you made. Walk wherever you’re going, or if you want to see a couple of things on opposite sides of the city that are too far too walk, rent a bike. This way, you are able to get a real sense of the place. You see much more, and probably discover a couple of hidden gems on the way as a bonus. Plus, you burn a lot of calories which means you can try more of the local delicacies!

5 thing to do on every city trip - Ohrid, Macedonia

Slow down

Remember, you’re on a holiday! Do you really want to spend your time waiting in lines and running through museums because you have to tick seven more items off your list today? Don’t try to fit in too much, leave some time to do nothing. One of my favorite activities in a new city is just to sit in a cafe or park and read or people watch. Breathe in the atmosphere. It makes me feel like I belong in the city, instead of being a tourist. It’s a good feeling, and it’s actually relaxing. If you come back all stressed out from your vacation, then you didn’t do it right.

Get lost

Don’t have a plan for everything, just walk out of your hotel or the train station and see where the road brings you. And don’t be afraid to get outside of the touristy and crowded part of town, it’s often where the real life of the city plays out, and where you’ll find the cool spots that the locals hang out. The areas around the ‘must-see’ places are often filled with tourist shops and over-priced not so good restaurants. It’s the Disney version of the real city. Go check it out, but don’t forget to see what’s more!

Eat local foods

Unless your in Italy, don’t go for a pizza or spaghetti every night. Eat bacalhau in Lisbon, sample macarons or chocolate croissants in Paris, and order random items of the Catalan tapas menu that you can’t make sense of in Barcelona. Life is an adventure, live it!

5 things to do on every city trip - Aleppo soukh

Hang out with a local

In fact, you don’t need to get lost or aimlessly walk around to find the good places – find someone who already knows them. If a friend or family member moves abroad for a while to study or work, visit them! You can usually sleep at their place for free (or a round of drinks), and they will guide you to all the best things the city has to offer. Don’t have a friend in the city of your choice? Approach local looking people on the street and ask them where to go. It’s how we found the perfect hairdresser in Istanbul – we asked a women with great hair where she’d gotten it done. Easy as that!

5 thing to do on every city trip - biking through Copenhagen


So, what do you think of these 5 things to do on every city trip, will you try them? If you have any additions, please share them in the comments. I can’t wait to hear your tips!



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Tales on Tuesday

Tales on Tuesday – Istanbul with Rambo

August 2, 2016

Tales on Tuesday - Istanbul with Rambo

There I go, my suitcase trailing behind me. The bus just stopped on the empty corner of a big square in the center of Istanbul, and as everyone else got off I thought it best to follow suit. I have no idea where to go, so I decide to move in the general direction of where the crowd seems to be. As usual, I’m ill-prepared. It doesn’t matter. In my pocket sits the booking confirmation with the address of my hostel, and it’s only 4.30 in the afternoon. I have sixteen hours before I’m expected at the course I’m here to take.

There seems to be a bigger street that everyone is moving towards a bit further down the square, and again, I decide to follow. But before I get a clear view of it, I get called out. ‘Hello! You there, Miss!’ A friendly looking older man who clearly works at the neat restaurant to my right asks me in for a coffee. Smiling I point to my suitcase: ‘I have to go!’ Where am I going, he asks, and I get out the address. He has never heard of the hostel, but the big street I was going for will indeed take me in the right direction. I promise to come back for coffee – ‘on the house!’ – when I have more time, and lightheartedly continue my way.

The big street turns out to be the Istiklal Caddesi, one of Istanbul’s main shopping streets. Despite the many well-known chain stores, there is plenty to see. The architecture is a mix of grand European looking buildings and tightly packed tall houses with ornate but sagging timber additions sticking out of the plaster walls. There is food everywhere. In red and white colored mobile carts chestnuts are being roasted and ring-shaped breads with poppy-seeds are on display, and the smell of grilled meat that comes from the small restaurants dances with that of stewed vegetables and beans and the sweetness of syrup-infused baklava. A wave of contentment washes over me. I feel right being here. And I still have no clue where my hostel is.

Although it’s rather busy, my suitcase still draws attention and it doesn’t take long before I’m approached again. ‘What’s your name?‘ A younger man this time, closer to my age. He introduces himself as Rambo – it’s really there, in black and white on the business card he hands over. Like the original Rambo he seems to spend a lot of time on his appearance (hi there, muscles!), and apparently wants to save the world. Starting with me. He walks me to the hostel, and waits on the sidewalk as I check in. Not much later we sit in a tiny eatery where on his recommendations the most scrumptious things get ladled onto my plate. We’re having a great time, and Rambo decides that for the full Istanbul-experience me must visit a rooftop club to dance.

Hours later we stand in front of my hostel again, and with a kiss on my cheek he says goodbye. ‘You can always call me,’ he says, and I know he hopes I will. It won’t happen, there will be no time once the course starts in a few hours, but I’m happy I took the leap tonight. I’ve enjoyed myself immensely, and I’ve seen the city as I never would have on my own or with the people I will meet at the course. I’ve seen it with Rambo.


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Hearty Persian rice with apple and banana

July 27, 2016

A family classic: Hearty Persian rice with apple and banana

You read that right, this hearty dinner incorporates apples and banana – and it’s amazing. It’s a meal I grew up on, the recipe for which has been passed on to my mom from my grandmother. She was always cooking and reading cookbooks and magazines for inspiration, and I’m pretty certain she got this recipe out of one of the ladies’ magazines she subscribed to sometime in the seventies.

A family classic: Hearty Persian rice with apple and banana

A family classic: Hearty Persian rice with apple and banana

I grew up in a meat-potatoes-and-vegetables kind of household, where dinner would constitute of these three things in this order of importance, and Persian rice was very much the exotic bird in our garden. It still baffles me that this dish made it to be a staple in our household… where only one recipe for spaghetti existed, Tuesday was French fries-day and on Saturdays we ate bread.

It may sound like I had a pretty spartan upbringing, but you need not shed any tears over me. My childhood was like those of the Sound of Music kids, once Maria entered their lives. Only without the having to wear old curtains for clothes. And my dad was actually very hands on, and there was no imminent war either. And I live in the Netherlands, so there were no hills to be alive with music. My mom sang a lot though, and it were the nineties, the happiest and most upbeat decade the world has seen in a long time.

A family classic: Hearty Persian rice with apple and banana

A family classic: Hearty Persian rice with apple and banana

In any case, try your hand on Persian rice. It’s probably unlike anything you’ve eaten before, and that’s a very, very good thing. I promise. First time I made this for my boyfriend he didn’t know what to make of it. To be fair, he was a very picky eater when we met – he’d eat chicken and creamed spinach, and maybe some spareribs every once in a while. That kind of picky (and then he met me, and I made him try everything I cooked. And he did. Don’t ever let them tell you you can’t change people 😉 ). A few weeks later he asked me if I could make that weird dish with the bananas again, and he had second and third helpings. Now he’s a true devotee.

And now it’s your turn. Enjoy!


Hearty Persian Rice with Apples and Banana

serves 2

2 onions
200 g minced beef (or use a beef-pork mixture)
2 good sized tomatoes
2 apples
2 bananas
2 ts curry powder

Slice the onions in rings and heat a nob of butter in a pan. Add the onion rings and cook for a few minutes until soft.

Add the minced beef, and make sure to break it up with your spoon. Add a little salt to taste. This is also where I usually add a dash of my favorite spice mixture for meat, but feel free to leave it out or add some of your own personal favorites. This is just to season the meat a bit though, make sure it doesn’t take over the flavor of the entire dish.

Dice the tomatoes and add them to the pan together with the curry powder. Peel and dice the apples and mix through. Add a bit of water (about a small cup, I usually spoon some in from the pan in which the rice is cooking) and let the apples soften. Add more water if needed. You can crumble half a stock cube over the pan if you like at this point. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, depending on my mood. Just taste the dish and see what feels right.

When the apples have softened and most of the water is gone (it shouldn’t be too dry though, in that case add more water), slice the bananas and mix through. Make sure you’re ready to serve once you do this, because they turn to pulp quite soon and you don’t want that to happen.

Serve over white rice and be prepared for a full on flavor fiesta!



Let me know what you think of this recipe, did you like it or tweak it to make it even better? Don’t hold out, I’d love to hear!


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And check out some of my other recipes while you’re at it!

Tales on Tuesday

Tales on Tuesday – A narrow mind

July 19, 2016

Tales on Tuesday - A narrow mind

‘They have never been in a bookstore before. They have no clue how to find a book here, and wouldn’t think to have a look around. They simply come to the counter with the title they need, and expect us to get it for them.’ She sighs defeated as she says it.

I’m at my favorite nearby bookstore. Not that I’m in need of new books specifically, I am currently deep in the middle of one with at least fifteen others waiting to be read or finished. But bookstores are my happy place. Not all of them, surely, but many. There is nothing as relaxing and exciting at the same time as browsing the rows of books, title by title. Many I have seen before, but there are new ones each time. And always there are one or two that speak out to me at that specific moment, which will probably come home with me.

And now I hear the owner of the store telling an acquaintance that for the past months she’s seen the first generation of students that have no clue how to behave in a bookstore. They buy things online, and only come to the brick-and-mortar store because they need a particular book for class tomorrow and have been told it’s in stock.

I am appalled, and think back to the time when my parents couldn’t afford to buy us books all the time, but we got to choose one each year for children’s book week. It was a special occasion that I anticipated by visiting the shop many times over, carefully trying to decide which book was most deserving of a spot in my bookcase. My final picks were always ones that I would really like to own, to leaf through them whenever I wanted.

We had library cards, and I visited our local library at least once a week to stack up on new books or lend old favorites once more. It was a five floor building stacked with racks and racks of endless rows of books, and it felt like the world was there to discover. The world was there to discover. I solved crimes on the Orient Express, and was a Western spy at the end of the Cold War era. I learned to track from an Indian an his cowboy friend, and traveled even further back in time to the Hundred Years’ War in France, to fight the Plantagenets and their claim to the French throne. I saw future worlds, and fantasy ones. It was magic.

If after my death my body is dissected, they will find stories flowing from my veins once they cut them, and words written into the code of my DNA. I am a specific type of story nut. But stories are an essential part of the fabric of every society. We tell children fairy tales to teach them about good and bad. History is passed on through stories. They comprise anything from books, to movies, songs, plays, documentaries, interviews, podcasts, oral texts, and much, much more. They are everywhere, and they enable us to see things in perspective, and to understand someone else’s point of view – or at least see where they are coming from.

Stories – like travel – have the ability to make us better people. But in order to get the best out of them, you have to take a leap. Sure, read the other twenty-seven books in the series of that vampire novel you enjoyed so much – I love the room for detail in a series, how full it allows its world to be. But then also take time to read something totally unlike it. And yes, do watch all Marvel superhero flicks. Watch them again to prepare for the latest installment if you must, but after that check out a documentary, Indie film or non-English spoken movie too.

Shake it up, get out of your rut. You’re the one that has to do it. Facebook shows you stories that are like the ones you already clicked on, Netflix suggests things similar to what you watched before. Every big online shop puts forth recommendations based on what you checked out earlier. You go to the gym to take care of an unfit body, don’t forget to deal with a narrow mind. Collect stories. And for God’s sake spend an hour at a library or bookstore, and don’t leave without something you’ve never heard of before.

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Also: check out more Tales on Tuesday here, or, say, here or here. Enjoy!