A Big Blönde & Clueless Blessed Berlin Birthday Bash Baby! And something with a Book …

Yesterday was my BIRTHDAY Blonde & Clueless’ers!

I had a great time waking up early, bumping my toe against the chair, stumbling over the wire of my hair straightener almost landing my face against the door.  #Blöd&Clueless

You: “So Evvy, did you get a lot of prezzies?”

Me: “Ahm no, we’re not in Bavaria…”

lloydcough

You: “I mean presents…”

Nope.

But that’s not what birthdays are about once you turn 29. It’s about enjoying the company of your loved ones, friends, having a little wine, …

wine

What rhymes with 29? A big ass glass o’ wine! 

But I am very excited about one present I got.

And it happens to be the present I gave to myself…

Yesterday morning I went to the print shop around the corner to print….

MY VERY OWN BOOK!

That’s right. I have written a book. My debut as an author. And probably the only one I will write since it’s my poor little life story until now.

Well partly…

Well 90%…

Or at least 40%.

I should reconsider my PR before I make this official. Some parts are rather… shocking.

Anyway back to my memoires. Knowing me a little you probably assume it’s chick lit right? NOPE! No ‘Sex And The City’ or ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’. I wish I had the brain to write such bestsellers. I would be filthy rich.

mileymouth

My story turned out a little bit more complex and therefor I will never earn big ass $$$$

“No no no, positive thoughts Evvy!” What you reflect to the mirrors of the Universe, you will get back tenfold!

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So I am happy to tell you it’s THE BEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN! Move over J.K. Rowling. I’m taking over your throne with a BANG!

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You: “So Evvy, what’s it about exact-ly?”

Well, it’s a feminist manifesto, disguised as a tragic love story.
(Oh right that reminds me: #metoo )

It’s a ball of wisdom disguised as a naïve narrative. 

It’s a BESTSELLER disguised as a BOOK! 

Ok, that last thing was maybe a little exaggerated. But I am pretty sure I have written the new Bible. This is some Ultra New Testament shit fo sho.

You: “Has it got anything to do with the blog?”

OMG yes! How did you know? I am so proud of you You-San! I taught you well. Yes, that is exactly right. The story I have told on this blog, referring to the Australia-China-Japan-France-Canada-Berlin bit, is basically the chronology. So it is very much about traveling for wisdom and a lot of references to spiritual and paragnostic pickings, the Universe, religion, philosophy, etc. But it is also a touching love story of which you don’t know the depths because I never mentioned that on the blog. Truth revealed: The blog isn’t even half the story.

Anyway, I think it’s super cool, I am very happy with it unregarded of what will happen to it now. My options being:

  • publishing it
  • handing it out for free
  • burning it
  • passing it on to my (grand)kids… Or cats
  • keeping it under my mattress…
  • … more suggestions welcome!

I want to thank my awesome friends and roommates here in Berlin for speeding up the process. My main goal to come to Berlin was to write this book. I needed to remove myself from my comfort zone and close myself off somewhere else. As in a creative bubble or fever cabin to sweat this story out. I gave myself until the end of the year to write it but I started 18th of August and finished 18th of October. Right in time for my birthday.

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My new room worked it’s magic on me. Ever since I left Prenzlauer Berg and moved to Wedding the writing process shifted into a higher gear. I want to thank Amos for letting me stay in his room and leaving his creative AMOSPHERE! Also for wishing me good luck on the writing while he was away. By the way, check out his record label Index:records he’s a real mean music maestro.

And of course my in house roomie Addison who will become world’s most famous music producer one day. You can check out his COSMIC COMPOSITIONS on Facebook, Instagram, the whole shebang. And give the pages a like when you’re there alright? Very creative house here!

I am sad I will be leaving this place tomorrow but luckily I already have a new room to move to and thus the story continues!

Well the story of my life, that is. The book is already printed and I don’t want to make any more adjustments 🙂

So for  now I say good bye. Until next time. Let me know if you would like to read my book. Any suggestions on what I should do with it next are very welcome.

By the way spanks a lot for the mad birthday wishes y’all! ❤ 

Tschüssie! 

pretzel

XO

 

BLONDE & B R O K E in Berlin: how to tackle food cost?

How to survive on a budget in one of the coolest cities on the planet? 

Find out in the following bit!

So as you know I am now free living and freelancing in Berlin. I am not near the point where I make shit loads of money YET (especially if you have read what happened to me in the previous post) so that’s why I have to tackle my money business in a clever way.

(…) Me going to Ibiza for 4 days probably wasn’t the cleverest of ideas but I considered it more to be an investment since I had the time of my life with people I love and care for. Bonus points for mental health yo! 

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The traveling threesome ❤

But this cannot mean I can go on a Spree. No matter how close I live to this river (…)

The truth is: Good things in life don’t come for free so I have to really think about what I spend and if that correlates with what I get out of it.

For instance: I could stop eating. That way I don’t have to spend money.

True. But there is no point in not taking care of my body as I don’t want to get sick as I don’t want to spend money on doctors and medical bills. Hm, do I even have insurance, I wonder?

So I have made some calculations and I have estimated myself a 15 euro allowance per day to spend on ‘surviving’ (rent not included). With this I can anticipate in basic needs. Food and beverages come first. That should be more than enough right?

Rrrright… But when I need toiletries, laundry soap or tickets for public transportation this also has to come from the same allowance which means I have to do some creative shifting here and there.

Especially in case I would want to buy shoes or clothes. LUCKILY I stopped buying that shit ages ago! I don’t feel like spending money (considering the previous mentioned correlation theory) on things I don’t really need. I’m usually ahead of fashion any ways (:-p) so I much rather put my money where my mouth is.

mileymouth

Okay, so how to tackle food cost in Berlin? Actually it’s pretty darn easy…

  • EXPLORE DISCOUNT PARADISE
    Germany is ‘Die Heimat’ of Lidl and Aldi. So if you want to hit the jackpot involving discount shopping: you’re in the right place. Next to those you also have Penny, Netto, Kaiser’s and Kaufland. I suggest you visit them all and see where you can nibble some extra cents of certain products. Believe you me, it’s the ‘LIDL’ things that count!
  • RECYCLE YOUR BOTTLES 
    This one is a little trick to actually earn money. When you buy plastic bottles in the shop you can collect them in a machine and get 0,25 euro back per bottle. Glass bottles are worth 0,08 euro a pop. So be wise and recycle yo! It’s good for the environment and for your wallet. But for the sake of ‘Nächstenliebe‘: when you find empty  bottles or cans in the street or in the metro, leave them for the homeless so they can have a little pocket money too.
    bottles
  • MAKE FRIENDS WHO INVITE YOU FOR DINNER
    It’s always advised to make friends. Especially when they have a kitchen and a big fridge. Dinner parties are pleasant, cozy and budget friendly.

    moss

    You can bring a cheap bottle of wine if you feel like returning a favor. These days even a nice bottle of biological Italian wine from the BIOMARKT costs only 2,90 euros.
    cannibal
    It’s even nicer when you cook together with a bunch of people! This way you can have a gorgeous round of cooking and split the costs all together.

    cookingwithhany

    Cooking with honey, I mean, Hany

    Big meals are much cheaper than cooking for 1. Life for a single gal not only comes with a price, it’s also pricey!

  • GO TO THE MARKET
    huling
    Why would you want to pay 3 euros for 1 avocado when you can pay 3 euros for a bunch of avocados? Der Genter Wochenmarkt (U-bahn Leopoldplatz) is an insider tip for your fruit and veggie fix. It has been a well kept secret for over 80 years now. Be prepared for some old fashioned market trader shouting as well as a big crowd of customers. You can find everything here from a new zipper to a vitamin boost. You can have a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice for 1 euro. Only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

 

 

 

  • FAST 
    Coming back to the ‘not eating part’ here. Actually that’s not a bad idea at all. I have done some research on the matter and there is compelling evidence that skipping one meal a day actually improves physical and mental health. There is a whole nutritional war going on right now aiming to bring down the breakfast lobby. It’s all just a bunch of marketing from Captain Oats and Tony The Tiger. I feel most energetic and productive in the morning when my body solely runs on black coffee. I have a whole storage cabinet of fat cells for my body to tap into, so I’m sure I won’t starve from skipping one meal a day.
  • DOWNLOAD ‘TOO-GOOD-TO-GO’ unnamed
    This is absa-fucking-lutely brilliant. It’s an app – you can download it in the German iTunes Store for free – where restaurants offer leftovers at a ridiculously low price. It’s a great way to cut down food cost as well as food waste and to be more sustainable in regards to the planet. Basically this app is doing everyone involved a HUGE favor.
  • EAT OUT
    This may sound a little contradictory but in most cases going out for dinner can be cheaper than buying ingredients and cooking a meal for 1. Compared to Antwerp, Berlin is much cheaper to eat out. You can easily find a big healthy meal between 4 to 7 euros. And there are so many healthy choices including a lot of vegan options. Vegan cuisine is big in Berlin. I get my vegan fix at VEGO in LychenerstraBe (Prenzlauer Berg). In this neighborhood there is a wide array of restaurants -especially Asian- who offer alternative vegan or vegetarian dishes. For vegan cocktails you must go to ‘Chaostheorie’ in SchliemannstraBe and on the corner with LettestraBe you have to swing by ‘Wohnzimmerbar’ for the vegan soup of the day or a nice soy latte. Creative, cute and cozy! My favorite work spot to date! Speaking of dates….

    (Left: vegan burgers at VEGO; Right: cozy outings at Wohnzimmerbar)

  • GO ON A DATE !
    If chivalry isn’t dead, you will be golden with this one. Meet a guy for drinks, have a nice talk and maybe go for a little bite to eat, charm him with your magical charming wand and before you know it he picks up the tab and you don’t have to spend one nickel. It happened to me twice already, and I wasn’t even doing it on purpose. Every time I went out, the guy picked up the tab. It was twice at Kreuzburger though… which usually doesn’t cost more than 5 or 6 euros. Tofu burgers cost a little bit more than meat ones :-p
  • LAST BUT NOT LEAST: ALWAYS KEEP EYES AND EARS OPEN
    A good insider tip might just be one station away…bestplace-berlin-amen-01

If you stick to these basic ‘budget hacks’ you will hardly burn through your daily allowance. When this is the case I like to treat myself to a yummy coffee somewhere… Preferably with a little side order of brain food.

There is always money for a little comic relief. 
“Swallow me whole”, that’s exactly what that vegan bowl at ‘the Commonground’ said to me later that night! 

If you want to check all of this out for yourself: there is currently an amazing offer to come to Berlin practically for FREE!

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3 days in a 4 star hotel including breakfast (that damn breakfast lobby) for only €49,50! @vakantiepiraten.nl

Come and live FREE with ME next to the SPREE!

It is such a GREAT city!! ❤ ❤ ❤

XO

The S C A M

(***Attention: this could be my blondest and defo most clueless post to date.)

So these last few months I have been cooking up a plan. Like I always do.

Several weeks ago I had put up a message on Facebook stating I was looking for a fever cabin to pursue a new adventure.

dullboy

The main goal of it all was to move out of Antwerp, take my job with me, and live somewhere I could write and live at the same time. It could be Belgium, but then I started considering the bigger picture.

There were a few things that worked in my advantage:

  • My roommate gave up the lease of his apartment and went to live with his lover which meant I had to move out anyway
  • The roaming costs abroad suddenly got cancelled which means you can make phone calls to and from Europe without a financial hangover. (Well… it depends how much of course)
  • I started up my own business which basically means I can take my writing all over the world…

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The borders had been lifted and I suddenly remembered me being in Canada talking to my good friend Audrey. We had just celebrated Christmas and the New Year was a couple of days shy. I told her I wanted to live in Berlin for a couple of months.

You: “Berlin? Why Berlin?”

Me: “Dunno. Just to be there and have a change of scenery…”

You: “Why not Barcelona or Bali…or…Barcelona?”

Me: “Because I’m a non conformist, an anti establishment hippie who needs distraction and action PREFERABLY from like-minded people and ESPECIALLY from men with neck and nuckle tattoos.”

help-me-lord-wording-knuckle-tattoos-for-guys

Yes…Help me.

So: After Canada I went back to Antwerp from where I pursued a career as an independent writer and I started making serious plans to set up base in Berlin.

I went for a short visit in June.

You probably remember the TRAVELING THREESOME POSTS from Berlin, don’t cha?

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So much fun ❤

And in July I took the BIG STEP and started looking for a room to move into.

You: “WoW it’s like you moved there in a blink of an eye!”

Me: “Not so fast…”

The universe decided to test me. BIG TIME.

Reality Check

I came in contact with someone who was subletting a room in Berlin.

ursula

We sent e-mails back and forth and I decided the time was right. I took the room, payed a deposit

yoloariel

but ended up… ROYAL F U C K E D.

shocked

The room turned out to be a scam.

It didn’t exist. Merely in my imagination and in the perfectly portrayed fairytale the so-called owner painted for me.

I lost a lot of money.

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You:  “How much?????”

Enough to pay for this giant Darth Vader head which costs…. Well if you can read the 4 digit number on the price tag you surely don’t have to visit an eye doctor …

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You:

casablanca

It was a setback. A massive one.

I couldn’t believe that ME, the so-called investigative journalist, could fall for a scam like that?

How blonde and clueless could one be??

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You: “So how did you found out it was a scam, Evvy?”

The name with which she…or he… operated is in fact an existing name and it belongs to a girl. A girl who got scammed whilst looking for a room in Munich. She had given her passport information and that’s when her identity was abused to scam other people. Including me.

Now, if you see me somewhere on the internet subletting rooms in Barcelona, Delhi or New York don’t pay me any deposit and report me to you nearest police station. Thank you.

I went through a terrible low after the scam. I lost so much money. Money I worked hard for as a fresh starter-upper. Money I won’t ever see again.

pennyhelp

After a few weeks time, my bank confirmed me that the account where I sent the money to was emptied and closed down. The lead had turn cold. The police couldn’t do anything either. They had to drop the case.

case closed

I was reconsidering my entire plan. But I wanted to go to Berlin so darn bad… It had been my New Year’s resolution. And I needed to find a new place to live anyway. Either in Belgium or somewhere else.

I decided to give it one more go. I wouldn’t let my dream be crushed by one bad person.

I decided to put up a message on a housing website stating I got scammed and I was wanting to give things a second chance.

berlinhousing

I got quite some response to my -let’s be honest: very sad- message. People were sending me photos of their refrigerator. Telling me I was welcome to stay for dinner. Also a lot of Indian guys responded to me, telling me they would be happy to comfort me *wink wink*.

But then I got a private message from a lady. A single mother of two. Who would start looking for a new room mate in a couple of weeks but decided to let me know I would be slightly in the advantage of becoming her new roomie.

Every cloud has a silver lining. That’s fo sho. And regarding that scammer: I sincerely hope KARMA is a ball busting bitch!

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama

The plan was still on. And I prepared for my big evacuation.

I made things official in the bar. They knew my final bar tending days were coming and I slowly but surely started planning and moving my stuff out of the apartment.

signedsealeddelivered

= > SHIPPING OUT

My last weeks in Antwerp were my best. I shared a goodbye beer with my favorite customer, went to the Pride with my two favorite men, went for a bike ride with dad and had a vegan pizza with mom!

 

 

I had a great time saying goodbye to my friends but I needed to move on. I had decided. So I persisted.

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I am now happy to tell you I am currently living in a wonderful very much existing room in the center of Berlin.

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My lovely street in P Berg! ❤

I am meeting lots of new people, discovering new places and things every day. And I am doing a lot of writing here.

For those of you who are in need of some juicy copywriting and/or storytelling or who want to help me earn my money back, I am open for business and happy to be of service right here in my Berlin office! CONSIDER THIS AS A GOOD CAUSE HELPING THE POOR! => www.eveliendelgouffe.com !

room

One of my many writing spots ❤

Thank you for reading and stay tuned!

flowersforlioba

XO

 

My ride. My fight. My life

In my last blog post I dropped the bomb on you by coming out of the closet with my resignation.

(Flashback)

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I’ve been getting some mixed reactions on that decision, but that’s okay. I still stand behind my choice. I haven’t been happier really. I have found the perfect balance between Work, Well-being and Writing. Something a lot of my colleagues are struggling with nowadays. I recognize that struggle and am happy I found my own way of balancing it out rationally.

Because, let’s be honest, I’m not going to make a decision like that and not have some kind of plan or idea of what’s next.

pla

But first things first.

At the end of 2016 I came up with a little challenge for myself.

I just got back from months of traveling and I wanted to sink my teeth in a new adventure. With the money I saved up from working at the bar I bought my first ever race bike and I decided to participate in amateur road races.

I have been hanging around in cycling environments since 2014. And riding a bike myself, has always triggered me since then.

With the help of Golazo, Energy lab and all the good advice I could collect from friend-cyclists, cycling journos and family members I kicked off.

Once I started training I realized there would be a long way ahead for me to actually participate in amateur competitions.

So I decided to participate in bigger road races first. Since they’re more focused on the experience and endurance. And less on rankings.

My training started in November, a little later than planned since I was still struggling with moving out of my apartment and stabilizing here in Antwerp after being on the road for so long.

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My first indoor mileage.

Then in December, I got the chance to go to Canada for three weeks and my schedule got postponed again.

breakfast

Neglecting my diet.

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Smoking the Christmas tree…

I was back in the saddle by January 10th. Combining trainings with working at the car show in Brussels for 10 days straight. It was a grueling attack on my limbs,

autosalon

but I had to get started since I was supposed to ride a big cycling event and I had less than 3 months to get ready.

There were times I panicked. Hyperventilated. There were times I lost faith. But at least three times a week, I was on my bike. Before shifts I rode 1 – 2 hours. And on Sundays I did long runs from 3 – 5 hours.

The big problem was, since I had never rode a racing bike before, I was scared to go outside in winter. I was scared to fall and get injured. So most of the time I was training indoors. On rollers…

Even though you build up a decent condition and muscle strength, it doesn’t help you to get balance and core stability on the road.

I knew I had to go outside asap. But I was fucking terrified of my clip-less pedals.

Mavic-shoe-and-pedal

I use a three-bolt clip-in system aka “the deathheads”.

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These things could proper kill you.

Apparently everyone is a little scared of them at first. It involves a little bit of a learning curve.

Of course I realized that a little too late….

Without testing them thoroughly, I immediately went for a first ride on a sunny afternoon.

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Clipped-in selfie taking. This is living on the edge!

I was riding for about 20 minutes when I had to make a stop at a busy crossroad. With the traffic lights being on red, I had made an excellent stop. I had put my left foot down, with my right foot still clipped in. As I was standing there for five minutes, waiting to lift off again, I realized there would be no way of crossing this busy road without pressing the pedestrian button. This button, however, was on the other side of the pillar. So I slowly maneuvered my way to it. While I was doing this, I started to lose my balance, tried to counter this by using my right foot, forgetting I was still clipped in and BAM!

There I was horizontally at the side of the road with my bike still attached to my feet while cars were racing by. I got back up and got away with some light bruising. I figured it was best to have that inevitable fall out of the way in order to improve myself on the road.

I continued my ride and didn’t fall after.

I figured I was ready for the next step.

I still regret the day I thought this….

subzero

So blonde & clueless…

Next Sunday, I called up my parents to go explore some bits of the road race I was about to attend in a couple of weeks. I hand picked out some of the heaviest climbs. Since I figured I had to know them in order to ride them. We went to the ‘Muur’ or ‘Wall’ of Geraardsbergen. A steep street paved with cobblestones, climbed every year by cyclists during the Tour of Flanders.

muurmuur-van-geraardsbergen

The Muur is about 1K long. I started off great. I was cycling up and up and up. With every turn the road got steeper and steeper. At one point it felt as if all the power was flowing out of my legs. And they just turned into stone. I panicked, because I realized I was stuck to my bike and getting out of clip-less pedals on a steep climb would be total suicide. At least for a beginner like me.

I got out with one shoe but my weight fell on the other side, wanting to find support on my right foot but that one was still clipped in.

I smacked onto the cobbles like a bag of Belgian potatoes. The horizontal cyclist, I am.

I got back up again and fell over again! Getting back in the saddle on a steep climb with clip-less pedals is total suicide number 2. At least for a beginner like me…

I was starting to think this training ride was a bad idea.

A+ for guts. D- for cleverness.

But I didn’t come here to just quit. So I rode back. To the bottom of the Wall. And tried again. On my way down I fell again. Trust me, falling over and over again really weighs on your mental state of being. I was feeling pissed off and I was starting to feel really scared and insecure of my riding skills. Also: I was trashing my bike like crazy. My steering wheel was already crooked.

As I tried again I climbed and climbed and climbed and at the point where I fell over before, I anticipated and tried to get out of my pedals faster. I figured that would be a good exercise. But same thing happened. The fall was even more spectacular this time. I didn’t even feel like getting back on my bike again. I was so displeased, I walked my way down on my stupid clown shoes and called it a day.

My parents were there waiting for me and were worried about me participating after what they had just witnessed. Since this day was a measure for nothing, we figured we might get something out of it while enjoying some traditional ‘mattentaarten‘.

gebrokenmattentaart

A sweet pastry, made with matten paste or cheese curd. Something Geraardsbergen is very famous for. Something that could compensate this total waste of energy.

mattentaart

oudersteleurgesteld

The disappointment is real.

On my way back home I felt like shit.

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What was I thinking? You can’t tame a mustang just like that.

Did Jake just randomly jump on his Ikran and fly away? Don’t think so.

Tsahaylu

I have to make the bond (starting 00:30sec) if I want to live and tell my grandkids.

First I need to gain confidence on my bike, being outdoors. Only then I can try on the climbs clipped-in. Starting with the little hills. Then the big monuments.

I need to fucking learn how to walk before I can run.

kniebad

Then it dawned on me. One year ago I was riding bikes in Australia and China. On the left side of the road with kangaroos crossing, through busy Chinese streets with no traffic rules whatsoever. Was I scared then? No way. Why? Because I was wearing sneakers.

If this is the only thing weighing me down for this challenge, then why should I risk hurting myself, my bike or other people participating? If I’m not confident on my bike, because of those clip-ins then this race would be total mayhem for me and everyone involved. I couldn’t take that chance. I much rather have my full confidence and lose all the pulling advantage clip-less pedals offer. My strength is in my legs and mind anyway.

After feeling bad for a day or two, I regained confidence. I had no other choice. I had decided to ride an other road race the week before my big challenge. I figured it would be a good final rehearsal. The ride would be 90 K. But the furthest milage outside (the hundreds and hundreds of kilometers on my rollers not included) was 25 K!

So the day before the race I went to Linkeroever to warm up.

And did a 50 K ride in a little over 2 hours.

Turned out it was a good preparation because the next day I managed to complete the 90 K in Gent-Wevelgem. The final 40 K I had to face tough wind which really pulled down my average speed. But another participant warned me in advance and advised me to spread my strength.

Type Gerrit from Bavikhove .

gerritbavikhove

“Make sure to save your strength. The final 40 K there’s heavy wind.”

Roger that! My team mates from Cyclokorsakov were already putting the muscle in the mustard from minute one. But after 17 minutes I detached from my group and rode solo for the rest of the race. Also facing the wind solo. My neck and shoulders were cramping up so bad from battling Mother Nature. The final 10 K were killing me. I was hoping to find a fat arse to tug myself behind. But Gerrit was nowhere to be seen.

One minute out of wind can make a world of difference for your recovery.

That and many other things I learned from that first official ride.

  • Don’t grab your drinking bottle during descents, for example.
  • Nor on cobble stones.
  • Also don’t bite your tongue on cobbles or you’ll bite it right off.
  • Always warn if there’s a car coming. And make flight attendant gestures with your hands to make other points across.
  • Make sure you drink enough to avoid muscle cramps. I made sure I had a sip every 15 minutes. I had one water bottle with me and one bottle filled with some hydrate mix to provide me with the necessary salts and minerals during my workout.

At provision there’s also a chance to refill your water bottle. And at Gent-Wevelgem there were big tanks with green stuff to keep you energized too. It looked as if the Ghostbusters had put Slimer in different containers. It smelled like the eighties too.

After 4 hours and 30 minutes in the saddle I reached the finish and it felt as if the weight of the world fell of my shoulders. I was extremely pleased with my result and felt ready for my big challenge the week after.

picgentwevelgem

I knew I would have to dose my efforts in the week to come, though. Especially since I had to work and stand on my legs all day.

On Wednesday I went for a nice and easy 30 K ride.

And on Friday I did a quick recovery ride of only 45 minutes.

recoveryride

On my rollers. For old time’s sake…

I was almost ready for my big adventure. Almost. I just needed to loosen up the muscles and fill my energy tank with some healthy greens.

Luckily there was a fresh juice shop right at the end of the street where the massage place is.

=> Antwerp Thai Massage, Museumstraat 8, 2000 Antwerp
=> Fruxino, Museumstraat 1, 2000 Antwerp 

I had one more day at the bar …

waitress

And then it was off to bed! I had set my alarm clock at 5 am. I wanted to be at the start at 7 and it is advisory to eat at least 2 hours before commencing a training or a race. 5 minutes before the start I like to eat an energy bar to keep me energized until the first provision. Usually two hours in.

I had 1 cup of coffee an two shots of espresso to give me that extra energy boost. The good thing about coffee is that it makes you hyper. The bad thing is that it makes you have to pee faster. And with bib shorts, that’s not an easy thing to do. For evident reasons…

goingthroughthebasics

APRIL 1st, D DAY 

I felt like a clueless soldier rowing a boat to Normandy, signing up for a suicide job.

Due to some delay on the way, some administration and a pee break at the start, I left at 8 instead of 7am. It was raining, a little bit cold, and the sky was 50 shades of grey.

RVV17climbs

The first 30 K were psychological warfare. My goal was still a long way ahead of me and I wasn’t feeling confident I would make it. I wasn’t impressed with my legs, I was losing precious time on the climbs and the cobbles, and I realized I would be in the saddle for at least 6-8 hours. I was trying to pep talk myself into it but I missed the clue on why I was doing this.

#clueless.

At 30 K we had our first provision and there I made the click.

justdoit

At provision you can find all kinds of food displayed for you. It’s easy to overindulge. I am still experiencing which foods benefit me and which don’t, but I find gingerbread to be easy digestible and quite enjoyable too. So at the first provision I had a slice of gingerbread and a cereal bar and a sip of orange energy drink.

At 77 K we had another provision right before the Koppenberg. There, I figured I would be in need of plenty of fast sugars so I ate a slice of gingerbread, a sugar waffle and a slice of banana. I also stretched for 2 minutes since I was experiencing some mild strain in my lower back.

The sugar sure did it’s job (not on the Koppenberg, since there were too many people and everybody had to walk up) but in my fifth hour I conquered 3 climbs in a row. I was impressed. It felt as if I had pressed a hidden power button.

During my final provision at 100 K I had a light meal consisting of 1 banana and 1 orange.

I was carrying a Powerbar which would come in handy in my final hour.

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I can’t stress the importance to stay hydrated enough. You lose a lot of water during an intense workout and your muscles need this to recover. I tried to drink a sip of water with some added minerals each 15-20 minutes. As a result I stayed surprisingly fresh. Even after six hours I still wasn’t tired of riding.

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Especially since I saw some riders at the side of the road bending over, rubbing their legs, pointing at their bikes, being too stiff to pick them up. I also saw a lot of riders being carried away by ambulances with broken bones. Also on the climbs riders fell over due to their clip-less pedals.

I knew the 141 K was in reach. The finish line was pulling me in like a lasso. The last 10 K, right after the impossible Paterberg, I was racing to the finish line at 30 K/hour. I felt so energized, I just had to give my all and ride myself empty until the very end.

I was living in my head the entire time. I was seeing flashbacks of my life. Of this past year. How, EXACTLY one year ago, I was riding a bike in Beijing.

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And how, today, I was riding my own race bike during Flanders’ most beautiful road race. Over paved cobble stones where Gilbert, Van Avermaet, Boonen and Sagan would suffer (and even fall) the next day.

I was amazed about how my life keeps taking unexpected, but exciting turns. And how much it energizes me.

I couldn’t be happier with where I am today.

From the chain smoking journo I used to be. To the independent world explorer I became. And the Sporty Spice I am now. What a rollercoaster ride it has been.

And it felt great I was doing all this on my NIKES.

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These sneakers have led me over mountain tops in Australia, through rough roads in Tasmania and through intense Kung Fu training in China. The CHI is in these shoes. And that April 1st, the CHI was with me. Shifu Gao, my Kung Fu friends (Celine, Audrey and many more), Tasmanian Cannibal Helmut, Sammy and all my other Tooperang farm friends, Goedele and Nairn, my gorgeous girl Steph … all of them were there to encourage me and push me over that finish line.

I was pleased with the symbolism. It made the circle complete. It almost brought me to tears.

All because of a pair of iconic sneakers.

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First never follows. I like doing things my way. Make my own rules. Blonde/Clueless-style. I’m stubborn like cobbles.

Mac Miller

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I know there’s a lot of undiscovered potential inside of me. Inside all of us.

And I am going to explore this to the (Air) max.

On and off the bike. Who knows what other things I am capable of. It feels rewarding to discover myself in new ways. And I couldn’t be more proud of where I am today.

Once I reached the finish I was so pleased with my rodeo, I just wanted to fall into my parents’ arms and hug them. Too bad they were nowhere to be seen. I found them 45 minutes later napping in the car 5 K from the finish… emoji

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They made it up to me by taking me out for dinner immediately. I needed to refuel and it’s best to do this somewhere between 1 and 120 minutes after your workout.

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Taking this to bed.

The next day I enjoyed washing my bike and watching the Tour of Flanders for pros.

I was happy to see Gilbert win. And to have Greg as his runner-up. I also think Niki is kinda cool too. I love to hear him talk.

The Tour of Flanders had a fairy tale ending in many ways.

I’m going to enjoy the moment for the days to come, and keep on training and riding. Next goal is to get better, faster and stronger on the bike.

Time to master that clip-less pedal learning curve. Helmets and seatbelts on everybody.

Can I clip it?

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Yes I can!

Peace out

XO

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Making headlines

You guys! Something wonderful has happened! Something that will change the future of Backpackersguidefortheblondeandtheclueless forever. Your favorite blog is breaking borders, is conquering ground, is changing the rules, is mixing guacamole with syrup, is …

You: “Yeah, yeah we get it. Something big has happened. Spill the beans already.”

Me: “You are not going to believe this: The one and only DAILY PLANET has reached out to me to do an interview on me and the blog!”

→ Millions of readers getting to know BGftBC? – Hell yeah!

→ Getting interviewed by Clark Kent?? – Fuck yeah!

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I didn’t hesitate one billionth of a second when they asked me!

… Unfortunately Kent couldn’t do the interview… The article is part of The Daily Planet’s Fashion Issue so I got to sit down with Lois Lane instead.

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We had a little chat and a photo shoot at Korsakov. I’m super happy with the result. Although I would have liked some more pictures to make the article breathe, … And some creative questioning wouldn’t have hurt, but that Lois Lane is a tough cookie to negotiate with. Anyway. Here’s the result, hope you like it!

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You: “Hum. Exoticism?”

Me: “Shut up and continue reading.”

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You: “Aww Evvy, aren’t you the sweetest Cheerleader Goth.”

Me:  annoyedemoji

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** The End **

Me: “So… What do you think??”

You: “Honestly?”

Me: “Yes.”

You: “I think you should go back to interviewing people other than yourself. Now THAT would be a great look for you!”

emojiskull

To be continued.

Directions

You: “Hi Ev, how’s the cycling career going? Staying vertically?”

Me: Well things are mostly going horizontally since I have suffered a severe back problem because of working my ass off in order to pay for my (amateur) cycling career.

It was September 13th, 13:13 pm and 13 degrees outside. I was standing in line for the bakery with number 13 in my hand when it happened.

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I couldn’t move for about two hours without pain shooting from my lower back down my left leg. It felt like a nerve got stuck between my back and my pelvis.

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The next day, the chiropractor tried to snap me out of it.

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But after two sessions I was still on my back.

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Here I was having spent a ton of money on a brand new road bike, already crippled before it had even started. 

A good thing about being horizontally is it gives you a chance to look up. And reflect. While I was gazing at the sky. Reading the clouds. I was trying to envision what my next move would be. Once I would be back in the saddle -literally- and able to move, that is.

Autumn has come, my sabbatical is almost over and I still don’t have a clue about what I’m going to/supposed to/want to do with my professional life.

Like time slipping away like sand in an hourglass. The more time ticks away, the more the realization comes:

I need to start choosing a direction.

And since there’s no more thing as ‘One Direction’ …

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… things can go ANY way.

And that shit’s crazy scary.

But -apparently- this is the part where I should throw in the word ‘exciting’.

My girl Kylie McGirr, could you take the word please? I need to pee.
(Listen to her, she’s the renowned writer of an … (E-)Book on nine steps to successful goal setting titled ‘Get Your Year Into Gear’ … Written by Kylie McGirr… Lovely rhyme work to say the least)picture-2016-10-12-om-09-58-15

Kylie:

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Coach Kylie is right. There IS an exciting side to it. People are seducing me with great job offers. I’ve pictured 5 different futures already. All had some nice things to say for them.

But it’s not ‘picture a future’. It’s ‘pick a future’.

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What to decide?

Where to go?

I need a BIG road sign in my life

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No, not that one…

Rather one with:

‘Your direction here’ 

‘100% regret proof’ 

‘100% satisfaction guaranteed’

‘Try now, you’ll get an ‘always right, never wrong’ compass for free’

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‘Don’t like it? You’ll get an alternative route for free’ 

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One year ago I  wasn’t ready to choose. I took a detour. And did what traffic loving Belgians like to do: place a big sign with ‘Works ahead’. To work on myself. To work some stuff out. To do anything but work work work.

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The consequences were horrendous.

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The Daily Planet: “People turning in driver’s license due to too many personal road works”

If I could I would have just 8-balled my way out of this pickle. But those things tend to change their minds more than Donald Trump opens his mouth.

Will I find the right direction?

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Will it bring me a gainful, mentally stable, enjoyable though creatively challenging future?

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Why not?!

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I know I need to choose the way myself. Without tools. And follow my inner compass.

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What says my head?

What says my heart?

What says Pocahontas??

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Steady as the beating drum?
Should I marry Kocoum?
Is all my dreaming at an end?
Or do you still wait for me, Dream Giver
Just around the riverbend?
Ok, Pocahontas’ advice is to keep looking for excitement, the unpredicted path, without being held back by handsome men who build sturdy walls.
But I need a bigger AHA! feeling than that.
The great output of coach Kylie, the 8-ball and Pocahontas aside, it was time to take life lessons of a much higher level.
You: “God? “
Me: “The hermit crab.”
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Every hermit crab comes to a time in life where he -or she- needs to move to a bigger shell. They need to recognize that the small shell they used to call their home cannot hold what they are becoming and they need to take adequate actions. Without fear of growing and stepping out of their comfort zone. It requires serious courage for those beady eyed sea babies to leave their old shell since they are extremely vulnerable without it.
Some crabs even develop hermit crab anorexia. They starve themselves out of fear of growing and taking on new challenges. fatso-burger-picture

The subtext here is: The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic long-term learning process, and not live in a shell of static safe mediocrity. Growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.

Every challenge you accept is a new shell, a new home and a new opportunity for growth. The current one you have might be comfortable for now, but what are you depriving yourself of to stay there?  What challenges are you shying away from just so that you can remain right where you are?

Let’s all think about this while indulging on a savory treat.

Crab cake anyone?

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I guess this blog post will be another ‘to be continued’.

Let me know if you’re looking for a bigger shell. We can all go shell-looking together. Apparently hermit crabs use their social network to trade up a shell. When a hermit crab finds a new, larger shell, several other individuals gather around and form a kind of queue from big to small. When a hermit crab that is sufficiently large arrives for the empty shell, this puts a chain reaction in motion: the largest crab takes the empty shell, the second largest creeps into the newly abandoned shell, etc. 

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The Daily Planet: “Hermit -and obese- drivers queuing for a bigger car”

XO

Oh before I forget. I want to end this post with a small communication service.

Recently I was going through my social media and I came across someone using the hashtag ‘#funemployed‘. Now, I know this blog is called ‘Blonde/Clueless’ but I was shocked by so much cluelessness after discovering this hashtag.

I mean:

Was taking the ring to Mordor fun?

frodo

Sure it was adventurous, and Frodo didn’t have to go to work for a long long time but leaving your job to go look for new and unexplored roads isn’t fun. It’s fucking hard work.

Sometimes I just want to snap people into place myself:

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And say:

r1oucad

You: “Ahm… You should say, you’re having a relationship with a bicycle.”

Me:

souls

 

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Dring Dring

 

Aftermath

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? 

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And what did you want? 

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth. 

(Raymond Carver, Late Fragment)

***

Okay guys, we all know what time it is. It’s closing time. My trip is coming to an end. This is the final blog post. Grab your last drink, sit back and relax and try to laugh every now and then. Just… for old time’s sake.

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(This was your cue to laugh)

So you must be really curious about how Japan is treating me.

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Good! Because the first days were a blast. I survived an earthquake (previous post) and slept in boxes (capsule hostels). I went to Harajuku, explored Asakusa, stood on the famous Shibuya crossing, went to a Robot show, ….

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Life was great! Until one night I was standing in front of a supermarket ATM and couldn’t withdraw cash. It had seemed I had only 6 euros left in my account.

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What in the ass?! How did this happen?? Is my wallet leaking? Did I access some dodgy wifi and got phished? I’ve been leaving my credit card details like bread crumbs, somebody must have framed me!

rogerrabbit

You: “Relax Roger Rabbit, you probably just spent it all. I’ve seen your Instagram account, you flew from Shanghai to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to Tokyo in less than two weeks.”

Me: “Mmmyes… I did the (after) math. And you’re right. I did spent more money than I thought I did. Even though I didn’t splurge (I stayed at cheap hostels and survived on two meals a day) I still spent a lot of money on stupid things. Like transportation, an occasional movie ticket and the extra charge that was taken from me every time I retrieved cash from an ATM.”

Fuck my life. I am in Japan, had all these wild plans of going to Osaka to visit Universal Studios and going to Kyoto to see the bamboo forest, visit hot springs and dress up like a geisha,and all I wanna do now is go home this instant!

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(Relax, it’s a snapchat filter)

Without money I don’t feel like being here any longer. I’ve had it. I want my old life back! And I want my salary back!

How in the shit biscuit am I going to survive the next 15 days with only 156 euros? (150 in my wallet and 6 in my account)

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I had three choices: 

A: Take the credit card out and let the future take care of it;

B: Prostitution;

C: Lock myself up in a hostel, survive on cucumbers and bananas.
(Subconsciously I pick phallus food… what is wrong with me?)

You: “You not getting an orgasm. That’s what’s wrong with you. Just have sex already and get it over with. It will help you to think more straight. I choose option B.”

Me: “No! Perv. That would be option Z. I checked what’s out there. And it’s an ugly Tinder-truth!”

I pick C.

‘C’ for ‘Cause it’s the reasonable thing to do’.

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I’d rather not have debts when I return to Belgium, thank you.

You: “But maybe you’re in Japan only once, don’t you have an emergency fund or something?”

Me: “My answer stands. I’m keeping my foot down.”

Walking in line, conforming to rules, being well mannered, well behaved and humble. That’s what the Japanese people have thought me and that’s what I will do. Obey my wallet. Bare the consequences of my own actions.

You: “Woah Evvy, are Japanese people really such party poopers?”

Well from 9am to 5pm they are. Standing in line for the metro dressed in their perfectly ironed suit and tie, picking the recommended lunch, staying on the safe side of life, bowing all day and licking their boss’s ass. After that they hit the pubs, karaoke bars or video game centers and get completely loud and wasted. The smell on the subway alone will get you drunk. I’ve seen salary men sweating out their hangover at 7 am under a bridge. That’s why every convenient store sells clean shirts, underwear, socks and toiletries. It’s part of the culture. At one point they just go : “I’m done bowing for you. Suck my d*** , I’m getting drunk.” The morning after they put on a clean shirt and humble life starts all over again. Ohayooo, Sumimaseeeen, Domo arigatou gozaimasuuuu, …

My friend Cedric was here to witness my little ATM meltdown and was not very pleased. He had just spent 19 hours on a plane to see me for the first time in 5 months and here I was feeling depressed and not wanting to leave the room because of not having money. That night, he put me to bed hoping everything would be better in the morning

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… and I am very grateful he put a roof over my head the entire time he was here. In return I went to get him fresh bakery treats every morning and tried to pay for his food as much as possible. I also put up with his snoring without complaining tooooo much. But still I could never compensate the Cinderella hotel he payed for while he was here. Domo arigatou gozaimasuuuu *bow bow bow*.

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When he left I had 9 more days to survive off my budget. Back to cucumbers and bananas. When all of a sudden I ran into a former teacher of mine. Apparently she had moved with her family to Tokyo last year. She invited me to come stay with her in order to keep my budget down. This is only the second time she saved my life. First was 9 years ago when she helped me get a copywriting internship at TBWA, one of the best advertising agencies in the world. I always knew I wanted to write but she gave me the opportunity to really explore that talent. Without that experience I wouldn’t have had the confidence to pursue a professional career as a writer. I wouldn’t have landed a job at the biggest newspaper in Belgium, I wouldn’t have gotten a burnout at 26, I wouldn’t have started traveling. Without her ‘Backpackers Guide for the Blonde and the Clueless’ WOULDN’T EVEN EXIST! We should all bow for this lady right now.

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I gladly accepted her invitation and moved in with her on Friday. Five days before returning to Belgium. She lives 40 minutes outside Tokyo city center in Setagaya. A new -and rather upscale- neighborhood.

Her son let me sleep in his room. And I was free to scavenge the kitchen cupboards as much as I want. I landed my own little piece of heaven.

As soon as I moved in I started thinking: maybe I should try to make one more trip happen. One last unforgettable night. To have closure. A last resort. I put all my money together and started doing some brain breaking mathematics. I already knew Osaka and/or Kyoto were out of the question. But soon I discovered there might be enough there to allow me a trip to the Japanese seaside! It would be great if I could see the beach before I leave. I exchanged the euros and dollars I still had in my pocket. Also the 50 euro emergency note I got from Mattias and Maja the day before I left Belgium. “To pay for a nice accommodation when you need it.” Clairvoyant friends, I have.

I started looking into it and bumped on an article in a Japanese magazine about this wonderful beach in Izu. It is a little further than the touristy beaches around Tokyo but worth the ride. It would take me about 3 hours to get there by train and about the same amount of transfers.

I immediately booked myself a ryokan just a hop-skip from the beach where I would enjoy looking out at the white sand, waves and surfers from a Japanese-style room with tatami mats and futon beds. On Sunday I waved my ‘foster family’ goodbye and took off with a little backpack carrying only my toothbrush, a pair of fresh underpants, my bikini and my laptop. It felt like the first day of school. Although I’ve been on more exciting trips these last months, this one actually gave me butterflies in my stomach. Since I had given up on the outlook of leaving Tokyo, but somehow making one last trip happen. I was over the moon. Especially since the weather gods had granted me 29 degrees and a full day of sun.

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on my way from Yokohama station

The entire way there I sat in my seat with a smile on my face. I saw the landscape changing stop after stop. More green, more trees, look there! It’s the ocean!

When I finally arrived in Izukya-Shimoda station I was only one bus ride away from my destination. Of course the bus driver accidentally dropped me off 1 K too far. But if it wasn’t for that I would have never discovered ‘On the Beach’. A cute little beach/surf bar with the most amazing BBQ lunch meals. The presentation is a modern take on the traditional Japanese ‘bento’ lunch box. For only 700 Y (5 euros) that was damn good lunch!

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Apparently Izu is a surfer’s paradise and there were a lot of wave seekers out there that day. The sides of the road were bedazzled with little surf shops selling cute clothes, bikinis and accessories. I felt like I was back in Oz. It felt like the perfect place to end my trip.

When I arrived at the hotel, I entered a room with an amazing beach side view, with a kimono hanging in the closet to dress me up for dinner. I also discovered there were hot springs available. For free! I think it’s amazing how things have a way of eventually falling into place. Even though I didn’t get to go to Osaka and Kyoto, I still got a chance to do everything my heart desired. Sleeping in a traditional ryokan, on a tatami mat, bathing in a hot spring, dressing up like a geisha, …

The puzzle fitted perfectly. The only thing missing was the Universal Studios. But -somehow- I did manage to make up for that the day after. When I decided to make a brief stop in Yokohama before returning to Setagaya and went on an unexpected roller coaster ride by the harbor. The perfect way to end this roller coaster of a journey.

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At one point the ride just disappears under ground!

It wasn’t the Harry Potter ride, but I screamed and giggled like a little girl.

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Post roller coaster selfie. It was WILD!

While I was taking in the sea view at Tatadohama beach I started doing some ‘after math’ again.

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Calculating not losses, but profits this time. Asking myself: “What have I gained from this trip?”

  1. I defo became wiser

My roots literally pushed the blondness away. I definitely have become less clueless. But -no worries- I am still naive enough to live this life through dangerously pink glasses.

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2. This trip made me realize: I am one lucky San of a bitch

I have amazing friends and family. The best parents in the world. They stood by me this entire time. Letting me go, giving me freedom. Trusting. There were times I didn’t reach out to them for weeks. And still they didn’t complain. That meant a lot.

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I have the best colleagues and bosses in the world. They supported my decision. Respected it. And even published some bits of my adventure.

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3. I frigging love myself 

I didn’t encounter the love of my life. But then again, that wasn’t really the goal of my trip. It didn’t happen because I didn’t open up to the opportunity. I was too busy spending time with myself. Catching up on lost times. However, I had some uplifting moments. I will never forget Steph and our little tryste at Port D. I will never forget Kunyu mountains and my little romance with a fellow Kung Fu student. Even the innocent little night swim at Noosa beach with my first ever Tinder date will be something I will gladly look back at in 20 years from now. Although I do regret not having tasted the butcher’s fine meats… Ah well. Maybe he needs a little more ripening anyway. After all, he’s only 24. And I’m not Madonna… Or am I?

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4. I’ve met some pretty amazing people

In the category non sexual encounters I gladly remember Helmut. The Tasmanian Devil. How he tried to brush me off but ended up regretting not having me around longer. Goedele, who took me into her home and shared a quite turbulent first week with me back in Adelaide. I loved my farm family and Pierre who took me on an unforgettable roadtrip to Melbourne as a true gentleman. I remember Maryam. A strong woman who taught me the simple truth that ‘different people have different ideas’, to never lose my self esteem, and to not be afraid of using a little herbs in the kitchen. There’s no such thing as overseasoning. My lovely motel managers back in Marcoola, who hooked me up with the most fun car ever with which I embarked on the most fantastic roadtrip ever. James at the Floriana in Cairns. Who taught me Fawlty towers really does exist. My shifu in China. The man I felt a deeply (however platonic) love and respect for. My roomie Celine, my sister from another mister, who I will visit very very soon. My teamie Audrey and all the other amazing people I met in the school. Rebekka, Linus, Sterling, Obim, Bo, Marvin, Daniel, Lore, Lucy, Himmat, Luke, … too many to sum up!

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5. There is nothing I cannot do. Well, sort of

I learned to take care of myself. To be independent and to believe in my capabilities. I learned to drive on the left, to get from A to B in foreign countries using foreign currency and foreign language. I learned Kung Fu. Or at least the basics of it. I learned I have a strong will and a strong body to match and I am capable of doing russian push ups if I really put my mind to it. I learned my body is the most powerful instrument I will ever own. And therefor I learned to treat it that way =>

6. I quit smoking

My last cigarette I put out in Ashbourne (what’s in a name) Australia over 4 months ago. I haven’t had a setback once. I don’t understand how I could ever be addicted to it.

7. I learned to trust

I’ve learned no matter what happens, things happen for a reason and things have a way of turning out well in the end. Never a failure always a lesson. Never an ending without a new beginning.

This is why this maybe isn’t the final blog post after all. Time will tell.

But for now:

Lientje Out.

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Domo arigato for your support these past months.

thankyou

Daisuki! ❤

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And thank you snapchat for turning me into a real (and rather scary) geisha after all. Free of charge!

XO

Lucky Karma

So as you know (drum roll) I arrived in (cymbal stroke) CHINAAAA!

More specifically in Beijing! I arrived on Wednesday night. Well, my body arrived on Wednesday. My mind didn’t arrive until Thursday morning when I was queuing a local breakfast corner in the sleazy hotel I was staying at. The lady behind the counter -I estimate her to have been 22 at the most- started shouting at me like a wild goose. I didn’t know what the fudge she was saying but I reckon she was angry because I wasn’t supposed to be there.

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I knew I wasn’t, but I was hungry and I wanted food. I waved a stack of tens (RMB) in her pretty face and two good things came out of that.

1) It made her shut up instantly and

2) filled my belly up in no time.

I was only in Beijing for 6 hours and already had someone yelled at me and did I have a legendary breakfast in a cinematographically very interesting setting.

(***This is where I would have pasted a pic of a chinese mob restaurant. IF I ONLY HAD GOOGLE!***)

Of course that sleazy hotel wouldn’t be the place where I would spend the rest of my time in Beijing. It was just convenient since I had a very late arrival at the airport the night before. When I checked in and entered my room I found some hooker cards under my door with pictures of half naked girls. They must have heard about my lesbian fling in Australia…

The next day I was off to the Lucky Family Hostel -as the name already gives away- a hostel. It is wedged right in the middle of the Hutongs. A famous maze of little shabby streets and basically the ‘Chinese hood’. The hostel is great. It’s located partially below street level and the people who work there are incredibly helpful. And the food is sooooo gooood.

Mmm

I immediately booked the five days with them -my entire stay in Beijing- since it’s close to some very good places from where I was free to explore as much as I want. I also bought a tourist map from the front desk. Oh no wait. I tried to steal it since I walked away with it without paying. But 50 meters down the street, I felt bad and ran back telling them I ‘forgot’ to pay. I just couldn’t cheat on my family like that. When I opened the map I saw it was a little useless. None of the big sightseeing things were actually pointed out in there. It was just a maze of streets with names I couldn’t even pronounce in a million years.

The first day I didn’t do a lot. I almost lost an entire afternoon getting a Chinese sim card. In Australia -or any other country- you just enter a local supermarket, pay two dollars and you’re good to go. Here everything takes AGES! China is such a bureaucratic country. You need a red stamp for everything. I even had to show my passport to get the sim card.

Me: “Password??”

Lady behind the counter: “No, passport!!”

(Their pronunciation isn’t everything and yes a lot of Chinese women appear to have an anger management issue)

Apparently I couldn’t get 4G internet because of my phone ‘being too old’. They said “it wouldn’t support the Chinese 4G”. Weird, since it supported the Australian 4G just fine…. They even tried to talk me into buying a new phone! Of course I wasn’t interested so now I’m stuck with 2G. Not that it matters. I can’t access any of the stuff I would need internet for anyway. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Google! The only thing I can do is send and receive emails and use WhatsApp. Which is already something. Everything else is blocked by the Chinese government. Only locals with a VPN connection can get around it. Including the common computer at the hostel. That’s how I could got some of my stuff out there these past few days. And I worked with a Belgian admin to take care of my Instagram posts! Thanks Cedric! 😉 You are my Great Wall in life!

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So the first day I wasn’t up to much. But the second day was double the fun! I went to the Great Wall, a very good part of the wall where I walked for hours, and in the evening I went to the theater. It was an amazing day. Fortunately, since the next day I was back to dealing with Chinese bureaucracy again. I really needed to get US Dollars. A significant amount of USD since I have to give them to someone somewhere next week….

You: ‘Djeez Ev, why so mysterious?”

(shouting like Chinese woman) :”THAT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS! Yet (…)”

The only thing that matters for this post now (you always want to jump ahead of my stories!!) is that I needed those bucks asap. It took me an entire morning to find a bank that would give them to me. The Bank of China was the only place they could help me. When I arrived the lady was happy to tell me she could provide me with the dollars but only up to a limited amount, which was about half of what I needed. She advised me to come back on Monday (since the next day was Sunday and they would be closed) or go to another Bank of China the same day. That was easy: another Bank of China it is! I remembered seeing one the other day, even though it was quite far away from this one. I just figured the walk would do my body good! I walked for almost two hours to discover the bloody BANK WAS CLOSED!! I got past the glass sliding doors and from there the red thread had stopped.

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I had just spilled my entire day looking for this money and I only ended up with half.

You: “Couldn’t you just have checked the opening hours before you went there?”

Me: “Well yeah, If I would have had Google, I would have checked it. Trying to organize yourself without is hard! It’s not like you can randomly ask someone either, nobody understands what funk your saying.

I can get used to the spitting and throat scraping, I can get used to the dirty toilets that don’t flush toilet paper, I can get used to the rudeness of some Chinese people, … But the internet thing is a big challenge for me. Mostly because I depend on it since I’m an organic traveler and I didn’t prepare this trip too well.

Great was my joy when I ran into an English speaking Chinese guy at the Tian’anmen Palace on Sunday. I had just spent an entire day visiting parks and monuments around the city and my last stop was the Tian’anmen Square. Only, I couldn’t find it right away. Even though it’s huge! I got lost in translation again and I guess he must have noticed.

“Where are you from?” a voice from behind me asked.

I made a little pirouette to see who was asking and replied enthusiastically: “Belgium!”

English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh Brussels. Chocolate! French fries!”

This guy was already my mate. He was the first foreigner I walked into that was smart enough to know that French fries aren’t French.

Me: “Say you’re probably gonna think I’m a stupid tourist, and maybe I am, but do you know where the square is?”

English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh yeah, it is that way. You can walk with me, I was going that way myself. There is a ceremony planned today. But it’s not supposed to start in two hours or so.”

Me: “Aw, okay cool. A ceremony, nice surprise!”

English speaking Chinese guy: “What’s your name?”

Me: “Evelien”

English speaking Chinese guy: “Oh nice to meet you Evelien, my name is Collin. And this is my sister Lily.”

All of a sudden a girl pops up, I hadn’t noticed her standing behind him.

Lily: “Nice to meet you. Wow that’s a pretty scarf. Very Chinese style. I like”

Me: “Thank you I bought it in Australia actually.”

Lily: “Oh, when were you in Australia?”

….

You get it, we got to talking very easily. As we made our way to the Tian’anmen Square and squeezed ourselves between the people, Collin suggested we had more than enough time to grab a cup of coffee first.

Me: “So Collin and Lily, those are very English names.”

Collin: “Yes, we’re English students and this is our English name. You didn’t struck me as Belgian, Evelien. I thought you were from Italy since you’re so pretty! So do you have a boyfriend?”

I lied and told him I did. Things are just much easier when you mention you have a boyfriend. It eliminates the pathetic attempt of being picked up. I already had a Chinese guy serenade me the first day I arrived at the hostel.

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After a walk through little streets, dodging the busy Beijing traffic, we went inside a little coffee shop. The waitress directed us to a cute corner in the back. It was kind of special since it had a sliding door and everything and looked completely separate from the rest of the bar. The waitress was also very hands on. She immediately wanted to take our order and cater to us. As if we were here prior guests.

Lily: “So Evelien, do you want coffee or tea?”

I stared at her face for the whole two seconds…

Me: “Sorry (faint laugh)… What did you say?”

Lily: “Do you want to drink coffee or tea?”

Me: “…Tea?”

I looked at my reflection in Lily’s pitch black fake Dior sunglasses that were still sitting on her nose and all of a sudden it was as if lightening struck in my head and Frankenstein was brought to life. My mind flashbacked to a pamflet hanging on the wall in the hostel:

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FUCK A BEIJING DUCK!

This is textbook tea house scam! How could I have not see this coming?!

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While all alarms were going off in my head, the threesome was gazing at me, wondering why I looked like I had just suffered a stroke.

Me: “Err, actually… I really need to go to the toilet first.” (This came out surprisingly sincere and calm, there was no breach in the way I had been talking to these people for the past 22 minutes. I don’t want to brag but this was proper Oscar winning acting.)

Lily: “O-okay (…) (addresses herself to the waitress who then takes me outside where the toilet seemed to be.)

This was my cue to run for it. I went into the little premise to make sure the waitress would go back inside. When I checked she was gone, I pauzed for 15 seconds. “Wait, just take a deep breath for a second. Am I really going to be this paranoid bitch that ditches on two people that could potentially be filled with good intentions??”

(….)

“Fuck it. Imma be this bitch!”

I ran out of there Kung Fu style.

I was stuck in a maze of little streets. Proper scam streets. I was worried I would run right into another gang. When I turned a couple of corners I just decided to stop running and go for confident walking instead. You know, act cool and try to blend in. As far as that’s even possible with a bright blond bun on the top of my head. Collin and Lily would recognize me out of a thousand people. When I finally got back on the big streets I tried to hail a cab but they were all taken. I decided to save myself the cab fare and keep walking. I was probably in the clear now, anyway.

While I was walking I pressed the replay button in my head and started going through the chronology of events. How the first thing Collin had said was already kinda ‘off’. “Where are you from?” Usually the Chinese are too shy to be this straight forward. And if they aren’t it is likely the only sentence they know and won’t bother to continue talking to you from there. But he did. And he asked A LOT of questions. Why? To distract me from where we were going, supposedly. To be honest, my orientation isn’t everything but I kind of had the feeling we were walking away from the Tian’anmen Square instead of going right to it. But even then, I just walked with them without asking questions. Without noticing where we were actually going. I suddenly realized how much I had told this guy on the way. I even told him where I’m going right after Beijing. Fuck, I should really stop giving away valuable information to strangers. He also knew I was staying at a hostel in the Hutongs. Luckily I didn’t mention which hostel and the Hutongs are spread all over Beijing city.

It suddenly made sense why they were called Collin and Lily, they were fake names of course. And brother and sister? Please. They didn’t look anything like each other. She was half his size and double his width.

It all seemed so clear now. But at the time it went incredibly fast. Now I knew why he asked if I had a boyfriend. He was just making sure if I was by myself or not. And here I was thinking he was hitting on me since he looked like he walked straight out of a Clearasil ad -the before pictures, of course- and seemed desperate for female attention. (..)

Props to them. They really pulled their A game. Complementing me on my hair color, my ‘Italian’ looks. Then again, I practically begged them to scam me since I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation I was a stupid tourist. Not stupid enough, though. They will have to go with an even more clueless backpacker next time!

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While the encounter with Lily en Collin kept rolling in front of my eyes like a loop movie, I burst out into laughs in the middle of the street. I felt freaking lucky to have gotten out of there before shit would have hit the fan.

The only obstacle right now was getting back to the hostel. Then I realized something: I have that map! THAT map I ended up paying the 5 Yen for! Maybe my lucky break was related to the Lucky Family Hostel and the fact I didn’t steal that map, but came back to pay for it fair and square. I was really glad I cashed in some karma points with that. What’s 5 Yen compared to the 5000 Yen I could have lost in that scam.

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My home in the Hutongs ❤

AND! While I walked to the hostel, I came across 3 (!) Banks of China. And an Apple store. The two things I needed to go to asap. On my way back I even walked through a nice park (Ritan Park, close to the embassy) where people were exercising and enjoying their Sunday.

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Locals, families and basically just good people that don’t mean any wrong with tourists like me. I refused to write off Beijing based on a bad encounter with two a-holes. In China’s defense: this could have easily happened to me in Australia as well, since there were also tourist scams circulating. I was just lucky I didn’t encounter one there. So no hard feelings Beijing. You were mostly good to me. But I am glad I can continue from here now and explore the rest China has to offer me. With an extra lesson in my pocket. And I will be (even) more careful next time.

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Funny stuff: I was wearing my ‘Home Alone’ sweater Helmut gave to me back in Tasmania. Maybe some of his wisdom was still hanging in it. (See the ‘Mirrors are coming‘ blog post)

The next day I was back to enjoying wonderful Beijing. By bike this time. I figured that would give me a head start to anyone trying to scam me. Beijing traffic is craayzaay! But then again, so am I!

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So long gay boys!! 

XO

PS:

To all new readers I gained through the article on HLN.be : Welcome! And thank you for visiting my blog, Facebook page and following me on Instagram! I hope I can keep you guys entertained for some time to come!

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Many thanks!

Investing in the future

(Caution 1: this is an even longer read than the previous one)
(Caution 2: this may contain nudity)

At least once a week I’m having an off day. A day where nothing excites me and I’m stressing over my budget, my time left in this country and the traveling choices I have made and am about to make. It’s usually a Monday, Tuesday or -in this case- a Wednesday. I just came back from walking the Story Bridge (1000 steps and 80 meters above the Brisbane river (it is enough to kill you, people have tried it)). I had imagined it to be a James Bond kind of adventure with lots of adrenalin, action and stunts since the description on the website was already very exhilarating, but if my heart rate would have gone any slower, I swear I could have fallen asleep then and there.

I had stepped into a tourist trap. One that had cost me 79 dollars. I didn’t even get one decent photo out of it AND I got insulted since the guy at the counter gave me an XL overall. I mean WTF??

Money is definitely on my mind here in Oz. Everything is just so damn expensive. Your accommodation (a dorm you usually share with minimum 6 people) costs at least 30 bucks a night and then you still have to pay for food, public transport, a coffee on the road, postcards and stamps, data for your phone, washing powder, and the occasional recreational activity such as renting a bike or hiring a kayak. Traveling is all a matter of keeping yourself active and entertained. And usually that doesn’t come for free.

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When I look at my billing history I get these crazy premenopause like hot flashes. Then I continue cursing myself for not traveling just a fraction more money conscious. For having that big bowl of amazing bircher muesli in that cute little coffee place instead of using that money to buy a large bag of muesli and some yoghurt of which you can eat an entire week.

It’s a tough balancing act. I don’t want to hold myself back too much either. I still want to enjoy myself. And I am already sleeping in hostels to keep my budget down, not because I like them. I don’t want anything to do with them or the people that live in them. I don’t participate in any of the social happenings, happy hours or bingo nights. I much rather have a picnic in the park by myself. (I have an interesting story on that later, hold on!)

I don’t know why but wherever I go, I like sticking out like a sore thumb. My curiosity always makes me end up in weird places.

Instructor (who very much looked like Daniel Craig): “You’re a tourist? Why the fuck do you want to come to a boxing class at 7 in the morning with a bunch of sweaty men?”

Me: “Errr…”

Honestly, I don’t know why. ‘Why’, is a question I can’t answer. Sometimes my feet just take me places, and my head just follows.

Well, that boxing class was one of the best memories I have about Melbourne. That and the rooftop cinema. People often have the feeling they have to do all these ‘AMAZING, EXCLUSIVE, TEMPORARILY LOWERED IN PRICE, NOT TO BE MISSED’ sightseeing tours to make their trip worth wile. Of course everybody is free to travel differently. But for me, it’s like white bread. It just doesn’t still my appetite. I like to do trivial every day stuff while traveling -‘TrivialTraveling’, damn it that would have made a great name for the blog!- I think it’s the best way to the local heart.

As you know I don’t follow any tour guides or Lonely Planets while I am on this trip. I just walk around -mostly for hours on end since my coordination isn’t all too good- and eventually something will attract my eye and curiosity. Thus happened the first day in Brisbane. I was walking around town -since the hostel wouldn’t let me check in before 2pm- and ended up on the wrong side of Boundary Street. I was looking for the graffiti wall with the infamous angel wings (I do follow the Instagram accounts of some Australian cities, to see what some of the highlights are) but instead of turning right, I went left. It was a fiercely hot day and when I realized the neighborhood started to decommercialize since all of a sudden there had stopped being coffee bars on every corner. I paused at a white house whilst trying to connect to Google Maps. As I’m waiting for the navigation to show me where I messed up, I look up and see that I’m actually standing in front of a Greek Orthodox church. On the right side of the door there’s a sign saying ‘all welcome’. See, that’s asking for trouble. They were pretty much begging for a clueless blonde to enter.

churh

The next morning I decided to roll out of bed early, put on my Sunday dress and head to church. While I was walking -it was a firm 45min walk- I thought I’d better come up with a fake background story. Something about my grandmother (God rest her soul) having Greek roots or something. Just in case anyone would come up to me and ask why the hell I am attending a Greek Orthodox mass. In Greek. (..)

rachel

But then again, who will come up to me and talk to me anyway? It’s a church, people are there to be with God. Not to start socializing with a 20 something girl.

Boy, was I wrong…

Two minutes almost every soul in there knew my name. The ‘master of ceremony’ (don’t know what else to call him) even introduced me right at the beginning of the mass. I felt like the honorary guest. Even though guest speaker Elias travelled all the way from Greece on his leather sandals to give an elaborate speech on how the Greek Orthodox church community had helped so many people in Greece when the country was dealing with the financial crisis and the refugee crisis (…) Sincerely sorry to have stolen your thunder there, Elias.

elias

It surprisingly took me about half an hour to ask myself the question: ‘what the hell am I doing here’.

The master of ceremony’s name was Peter. He was Australian and did the guiding in English. He was also the keyboard player, singer, occasional preacher, … and the loving husband of Heather, who was honored to sit next to me since she thought I was wearing such a pretty dress. My 4 dollar Op Shop find sure is getting compliments over here. She was completely fond of me once she found out me and her mother (God rest her soul) share the same name. I didn’t get the feeling Heather was overly religious. I thought of her more as the supporting wife to a man living his life in honor of God. A wife who had settled for second place.

(Peter enthusiastically telling a story about his early life being full of sin) :

“I was in a horrible place in my twenties. But thanks to the love and power of God, I turned that around and traveled further than I could have ever traveled. Now I am looking for my next journey and that is (childishly points his index finger towards the ceiling) all the way up there!” (chuckles)

I glared over to Heather to see what her feelings were on this subject. But she was glazing at her song book like she had just suffered a minor stroke.

After one hour and 15 minutes the mass was nearing the end. But first there was -of course- the sharing of the bread. In catholic churches usually only the priest is the one lucky enough to have a sip of that church wine. Here, they started handing out tiny glasses to everybody. And it wasn’t just cheap wine, it was port! Delicious port!

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Pic of port!

There was also a saucer with actual bread (non of that cardboard stuff we get). Someone could have thrown in some Tzatziki and we could have had a party in there! After the service everybody kind of wanted me to stick around but I decided to carry on with my day. The fact that they accepted me like they did, without asking WHY I attended, filled my heart with warmth for the rest of the day…

When I came back in the hostel that afternoon -I was sharing a female dorm with three other backpackers- they had all left. Even the Claudia Schiffer lookalike from Germany, who was supposed to stay another 2 weeks. She was so kind of leaving her leftover beer nuts near my bed as a sober goodbye gift.

roommates

I was touched by the gesture since backpackers usually don’t share food. Everybody stores their stuff in the common kitchen. You have to put your name on your bags otherwise things will either get stolen or chucked out. The Claudia Schiffer lookalike from Germany had it happen to her the other day. Her bag with all her cutlery, containers, food, cereal, … was suddenly nowhere to be found. Of course that was a big drama. Backpackers who live on really small budgets hang on to those bags as if their lives depended on them. The other day I bought myself some groceries and labeled it -as instructed- with my name, departure date and room number. Instead of putting ‘Ev, Eve or Evelien’ on the bag, I decided to go for ‘Big Al’. A strong butcher’s name. I reckoned no one would want to steal food from a guy who sounds like a man with a big appetite. And a small temper.

kevin bags

As I sat on my bed in an empty dorm, I checked the tan line the silver ring on my left middle finger had left. It reminded me of a little thing happening at the end of the mass when Peter dug up a giant silver coin out of his pants pocket and handed it over to Elias as a donation. Apparently it was worth a four digit number.

Peter: “The price of silver is going up, people. If I would advise anyone to do an investment. Buy silver.”

I started thinking about what Peter said. About investing in the future. And I thought:

“I’m running a pretty decent investment right here. Me.”

You interrupting: OH I see, because you’re GOLD, right? Spandau ballet? Nice one!

Me: Err, not really….

I started out as a penny stock. A pink sheet. But slowly my share is climbing up every day.

Leo

So yeah, I spend a lot of money, sometimes a little too much, on this journey. But maybe it’s not all money down the drain… Maybe ‘you’ is the only asset worth taking a (financial) risk for.

You: But what if your share crashes? What if you end up with nothing?

Well I always say: if things really go south, you can always consider a career as a topless barmaid.

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(WOOPS! You weren’t supposed to see that)

It’s a bullshit safety net, I know. But it’s just my way to say to myself I won’t end up starving in a ditch so easily. No stress. By the way it is impossible to end up with nothing cause even the tiniest failure, or the dumbest mishap, is a lesson. And every lesson is an enrichment.

The only thing you will have to be aware of, and look out for, is projectile fear vomiting.

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Projectile what?

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People will try to put you off track by projecting their fear and prejudice on your perfectly fear and prejudice-free projection screen. Remember what I said at the beginning of this read? People asking you the ‘why are you here, or why do you do that’ – question. That question didn’t go down well for me at the beginning. I found it offensive. And I don’t like to explain myself. Sometimes you just feel the need to do something and that is your reason. Final.

For example: People are constantly asking me if I’m traveling alone.

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When I confirm that I am traveling solo (I only say I am to other women, when a murder/rapist type man asks me, I usually tell him my boyfriend is meeting me somewhere) they always give me the weird surprised look.

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… followed by : ‘Ooh, aren’t you scared?’

Maybe I should just tell people I’m here for investment business. That’ll shut them up.

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Is it sooooo weird to travel by yourself? Let’s rephrase the question. Why do people choose to not travel by themselves?? And now I’m back at explaining why you should see this as an investment: It is the best thing one can do to:

a) acquire a bunch of new skills,
b) surpass a lot of boundaries and
c) evolve fast and get to know oneself extremely well in a short period of time
( and if you’re into that => d) meet a lot of new people)

Everyday you are putting yourself in a new situation, you are I faced with new challenges and you have to be inventive and creative to deal with those situations on the spot. If you don’t take the initiative. No one will. The fact that I am the only one responsible for having a bed to sleep in, for putting food in my body and for getting from A to B just gives me an incredibly rewarding feeling. Never underestimate the power of a sense of achievement. It will make you feel like you can conquer the world. Or climb a bridge. But even a foetus could have done that walk.

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Hang on to those umbilical cords, guys!

That weird surprised reaction people give, will probably stick on me for some time to come. For instance every time I go to have lunch or dinner and the waitress asks me if I want to wait for my company to arrive…

But why would I need someone to take care of me anyway? Or accompany me? We are all individuals here. We are all responsible for ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you travel with 10 people or just one, ‘you’ is never a group. ‘You’ is just you and if you don’t learn how to live, travel and function by yourself then I pity the man or woman who you end up sharing your life with. Always check in with yourself first before you check in into a relationship. If you cannot think for yourself, act for yourself, speak for yourself or even eat by yourself… you are basically back to being a toddler and you will never know what you’re actually capable of. And you are capable of great things, believe me.

I guess a lot of people shy away from walking unknown paths by themselves… Because deep inside, they’re scared of them. Scared of the risks. Scared of the mirrors, …  So they set up their tent at base camp.

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I SAID BASE CAMP YOU STUPID TWAT!

They set up in base camp. Steer away from the climb, telling themselves the view is already pretty nice from down here. Well if you climb that mountain -and you don’t have to go all the way to the top- you will gain new perspectives, see new vistas and your point of ‘view/you’ will receive much more depth. I thought I already knew everything about me and who I am but everyday I keep learning about myself. It is silly to think you know who you are. Since we are constantly adapting to new situations, changes, struggles and challenges on the way, we never stop evolving. We are CCC’s. Constantly Changing Creatures. Sure, you know which wood you’re made of. What your fundaments are. But there are constantly things changing around us. The forces of nature. Maybe we need more than one lifetime to really understand who we are.

But in case reincarnation is just a myth and we only have one I strongly advise everyone to go on a big solo journey once. It doesn’t have to be a year, it doesn’t have to be six months, even a couple of weeks is enough. It will make you gain perspective and will basically teach you how to live life in your best capable way. Since traveling is very much like living: It is limited in time, you cannot do or see everything you’d like and you will have to go some day.

Consider it to be a spin off of the big television show called ‘Your Life’. A story existing on its own. How the story line of the main tv show will be influenced, isn’t important yet. Some overpaid executive producer will deal with that later. Just try living in the moment. You cannot see in the future. You can only look in the past and it will be a lot worse when you look back and regret the things you didn’t do. The moments you didn’t fully appreciated. Those are never coming back.

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You: “Yeah yeah, easy for you to say, you’re still young. I’m old, I can’t do jack.”

Me: “Well tomorrow you will be even older and you will regret you didn’t take the one opportunity you were actually close to achieving something out of the ordinary.”

Thus….

Invest. Invest. Invest. Step outside boxes, try to think differently, force yourself to do new things. Start slow. Start the day with brushing your teeth first and then have coffee. Or maybe don’t do that, that’s gnarly. I am just trying to find a way to make my point clear here. Don’t do the exact same thing every day. Challenge yourself. Try looking at things from different point of view, don’t put yourself or others in a box. Lose the judgement. Live free. Don’t look down on other people. Don’t look down on yourself. Don’t think too much of yourself either. The reason why angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that.

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Always believe in your soul
You’ve got the power to know
You’re indestructible, always believe in, ‘cos you are

GOLD

XO

You: “Hey, wait! What about that interesting story you had for us?”

Oh yeah. I was sitting in the park in Brisbane the other night and I didn’t realize until later but apparently I was sitting in some animal poo. When I strolled back to the hostel I suddenly started craving ice cream. I stopped at the 7 Eleven and bought myself a mini cup of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate brownie fudge. When I walked over to the hostel and wedged the cup between my arm and body to grab my key to activate the elevator door, I entered and saw in the mirror I had a brown stain on my jeans. I wiped it off with my finger, since I thought the cup must have leaked, … and licked it clean. I bet you can guess the end of that story… That’ll teach me to have ice cream past 10 pm…

The mirrors are coming *

(* caution: this is a long one)

A friend recently stated: “The first month of traveling on your own, you’re going to be like a sponge. You’re gonna soak in every experience and get loads of energy from it. The second month you’re going to feel the first signs of homesickness. The third month the mirror comes. And you will be confronted with yourself in an often not so pleasant way.”

I think I have jumped straight to the mirror phase.

I must say, I have been avoiding mirrors until now. Or better: mirrors have been avoiding me. At the farm there was one little one in the bathroom. You could just see your face and a little bit of your neck and chest if you stood on your toes right. On the way to Melbourne the only mirror I had was the little make up mirror in the passengers seat of Pierre’s car. Sometimes even the rear-view mirror would do to put in my contacts or throw on a little bit of mascara. When we would go shower in public rest areas, or just pull over to go to the toilet, I always found it odd there weren’t any mirrors there. It’s weird, but the first day I was in the Tasmanian mountains with Helmut, he asked me to accompany him on a roadtrip to Hobart. To pick up a new wardrobe closet. And a full length mirror…

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It had just spent my first night in the woods. It was lovely. I woke up with the most amazing view from the caravan and saw the wallabies grazing on the lawn. My day started wonderfully.

“Haa, there you are finally”, Helmut shouted when I entered the house with my toiletries piled up in my arms. We would spend 6 hours in the car together that day. I reckoned that should give us some time to get to know each other. And maybe he could already hammer some wisdom into me. “We gotta get going if we want to make it to Hobart in time. Come, have breakfast.”

Me: “Err, I was thinking of having a shower first…”

Helmut: “A shaaaauwwer? (very German) Why do you need a shaaaaaauwer for?”

Me: “To wash my hair…And all…”

Helmut: “Don’t even think about using a hair dryer, i’m running this place on solar power.”

(Me rolling over the floor with laughter. Followed by an uncomfortable staring competition)

Helmut: “Well I ain’t laughing. Yesterday Maryam tried it and I had to tell her to never do that again. The voltage is way too high. You can wash your hair tomorrow and let it dry during the day. Come, sit down, I’m making you breakfast and I want you to follow closely.”

What I witnessed next was chemist lab level. Helmut dug up two big empty breakfast bowls, put some chia seeds in there and poured it over with hot water. While he was letting it sink in, he dived up heaps of giant white plastic pots. One with some green alkalizing powder, some with what supposed to be ‘pea powder from Belgium’ (never heard of this), another with beetroot powder, another with garlic powder, spirulina, raisins, almonds, …

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He poured it over with the oats he had boiled on the stove, added a big spoon of greek yoghurt, some berries and a nice teaspoon of Leatherwood honey. That was not only a 20 dollar breakfast sitting there. That was also enough food to get you through the entire week!

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Helmut: “Eat.”

I took a first spoon and I was… delighted. This felt like a great, healthy start to our day of bonding.

Helmut: “Alright, pack up your gear, we’re heading to Hobart.”

Once we were in the car, an old Mazda pick up truck which was rambling and shaking from every angle, I decided to give it to him straight up.

Me: “So seriously Helmut, why did you give me such a hard time coming here?”

Helmut: “Well because of the things I told you yesterday. I thought you were a glamour girl. But from the moment I started talking to you, I soon found out we would get along.”

“So tell me what do you wanna know?”

Me: “Pardon?”

Helmut: “Well most of you young females want to come live with an old guy like me because they wanna learn stuff. So tell me, what do you wanna know?”

Me: “Err…”

Helmut: “Well, I will give you a piece of advice to start with. From now on you will live by the four agreements, alright?”

1) Be impeccable with your word;

2) Don’t take anything personally;

3) Don’t make assumptions;

4) Always do your best.

And I’ll throw in a fifth one in for you: Change your posture, it’s horrible!

Me: “Pardon??”

Helmut: “You hunch. It’s from being curled up over your computer (he means my phone) all the time. Sit up straight. Your back will thank me later.”

The landscapes flew by. From the green meadows, to the nice coastlines leading up to the harbor of Hobart two and a half hours later. Not one minute we spent not talking. Me and Helmut were on the way to bonding alright. We spent the entire time laughing, talking about life and filling each other in on our history and background. Turns out Helmut has had a very turbulent life so far. He got married 3 times and he could have died about 8 times. He ended up in a ditch with his Subaru, almost died in two motorcycle accidents, a skydive almost ended up on the wrong side of the tunnel, … And when he talks about his grandchildren he’s just miles away from that grumpy Tasmanian Devil he likes people to believe he is.

Once I found out he has kids and grandchildren, I wasn’t afraid of him eating me anymore.

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(Weird shizzle: Helmut gave me the exact same jumper after cleaning out his old wardrobe closet. Yikes! What a coincidence!)

On the way back we stopped for ice cream. The shop was owned by a Belgian woman. It was the first time I spoke Dutch in a long time. It sounded funny. She kind of gave me a weird look once she found out I was living with a 73 year old guy who wasn’t my grandpa, nor any other family member. But I guess I better get used to that. The next day we went hiking in Freycinet National Park and I met Susan. A nice, fit looking lady. I couldn’t believe she was 50. She was tighter than me! Turns out she joined the army a few years ago. And she was very sporty as a kid as well. Muscle memory. Mine suffers from early dementia, by the look of it.

Susan tagged along with us that day. She came all the way from Launceston to accompany us on our hike. I reckoned she was an old friend of Helmuts. Later I found out she actually was a woman he met through an internet dating website and me and Maryam were actually witnessing their first date! That’s why Helmut was in such a fit mood that day. And why he was peacocking so much.

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You should see him go up that Mount Amos. I must say, that mountain was tough! A very steep climb over and through big boulders. No paths. No rails. Pure on muscle power. And -in Helmut’s case- a walking stick. But then again, he got up there seemingly effortless. I was impressed.

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The way down was a little less impressing. We just had lunch on top of the mountain, made some photos and sailed down in a too confident mood. Me and Helmut kind of evoked the reckless kid in each other. And we were marching down the mountain, acting stupid. While we were taking the steep walk down, Helmut suddenly slipped away, landing on his bum, sliding down faster than my eyes could follow. I panicked, since the rocks were so steep and slippery and dived in behind him to stop him. As I did, I slipped as well, smacked hard on my back and tailbone and slid down with him to -only meters later- be stopped by a big branch that was sticking out of the rocks. Helmut and I looked at each other with big eyes welling up with tears of laughter. He was mostly laughing with me and my lousy attempt to save his ass. Mine was hurting pretty bad that night, while he didn’t have a scratch on him. Lucky bastard with his nine lives…

The next two days at the house were gloomy. The weather had changed and the sun didn’t come out at all. It was raining. Instead of seeing actual showers, it looked like the landscapes were vaporizing, sweating. Mist surrounded the house and the temperature dropped. We even had to fire up the fire place. The first day I came down with a cold. I had experienced a thermo crash of about 20 degrees coming from Melbourne to Tasmania. My throat was sore, my nose stuffed. I wasn’t feeling it at all that day. In the afternoon I disappeared into the caravan and slept for more than three hours. I had a bite to eat and slept for another 9 hours.

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View from the house

The day after we were again locked up inside. The breathtaking view of the coastline from the house was nowhere to be seen. Helmut put on a little Neil Young, after he found out I liked it, and Maryam and I started baking cakes with everything we could find in the cupboard. The place smelt of carrot cake and chocolate fudge, mixed together with the odor of burnt cake mixture dripping on the base of the oven due to the lack of self raising flower. After one hour the cakes looked worse for wear. Maryam’s one was way too liquid and mine way too salty. I accidentally pinched in one teaspoon of salt instead of half a spoon. That does make a difference, alright. But they turned out looking amazing after we tweaked it a little and let them rest for another 30 minutes. They made a pretty good lunch the day after when the sun came back full power. Finally. First thing we did was hit the beach. White sandy beaches, turquoise clear water, … I felt in tropical heaven. Nobody told me Tasmania is such paradise!

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Bay of Fires

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Afterwards Helmut drove us up to one of the biggest waterfalls in Tassie. I took in the moment and decided I had made the most of my time in Tasmania. I could return to the mainland.

You: “Wait, whut? Didn’t you say you wanted to learn all about life and pick Helmut’s brain?”

Well, while spending six days with Helmut (and Maryam) I did learn a lot… But I didn’t get the answers I was hoping for. Truth is, I’ve put way too much expectation on Helmut’s shoulders. I was looking for an oracle. Someone to explain me all about life in layman’s terms since I’m looking so much for answers, directions, guidelines, … . I pictured Helmut to be the right fit. A big German dictator, who would hammer an iron clad Law of Life into my brain. But that was wishful thinking.

That sunny beach day I encountered my first big mirror. I got out of bed that morning, very much excited about the sun making her long awaited return. During breakfast Maryam started talking about Iran, her home country. About the history, and how far her people have come. How far she has come as a person. And how rare her travel is for a woman from her background. Coming from a country where women only possess half the rights of men. To top that her mother is really ill so she’s juggling quite a lot of emotional things here. But she never ceases to keep enjoying life. I very much admire that in her. And at the same time she makes me feel uncomfortable because my struggles that are such big and powerful obstacles in my head -mostly caused by lovesickness- seem very trivial compared to her. I’m healthy, my loved ones are fine, I have loving friends and I’m doing great by myself… I shouldn’t have a care in the world.

My attention was drawn to a saying that was hanging on Helmut’s wall.

Faith of consciousness is freedom,

Faith of feeling is weakness,

Faith of body is stupidity.

Love of consciousness evokes the same in response,

Love of feeling evokes the opposite,

Love of body depends only on type and polarity.

Hope of consciousness is strength,

Hope of feeling is slavery,

Hope of body is disease.

I understood the words without really understanding them so I turned to Helmut for a little help. Layman’s terms, remember.

At first he started hammering the fact that all life is non-permanent and that we all DIE. There’s nothing we can do about it, DIE we will. Since nothing is permanent, we all must suffer. Since every enjoyable thing in life is ending. BUT, the ‘good news’ is, that too shall pass. Since nothing is permanent…

Then he started explaining that all feelings like love are mostly driven by lust and believing to find a soulmate is basically weak and stupid.

That’s where my mirror broke.

My eyes welled up. I reckon Helmut noticed, since he invited me outside to take the washing out and hang it up to dry. I was walking in front of him.

Helmut: “Why the tears?”

I turned around, stared into the big blue eyes with which he had looked three women in the eye when saying ‘I do’, and broke down. “If love doesn’t exist then what’s the point of living anyway?” (snif, snif)

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He gave me a big bear hug and I cried on his shoulder for a firm minute. It was a cleanse. And a realization:

I don’t have to agree with Helmut. It’s not because he has experienced a couple of rough rides in ‘the love & relationship department’ that the same goes for me. I am a person that is very much looking for love. If I can’t give and receive love in this life, then there’s no point for me. No matter how many heartbreaks I suffer -and I had my fair share- I will never stop hoping. I will never stop having faith. In myself, relationships or life in general. That depressed girl in Melbourne got something right. She IS worth of finding someone and being loved. Don’t let any nonbeliever or cynic ever change that thought, girl!

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From there on everything fell into place: I shouldn’t rely on others to spell everything out for me. I am responsible for my own lessons, my own happiness and the best way of getting the answers I’m looking for is by experiencing and discovering by myself. I suddenly remembered a beautiful sentence Susan randomly flickered at me while hiking down Mount Amos.

“Go travel, the best way of finding yourself is losing yourself.”

The next day I packed my bag, booked a ticket to Brisbane and flew out there like the wind. Helmut probably didn’t get much of a Helpx out of me, but hopefully I kicked some wisdom into that cranium too. To go easy on the judgement.

I don’t know if it were Helmut’s poor washing skills but my jumper felt smaller that day. “You must have grown, he laughed.” I guess I must have. I felt so much more confident after that little breakdown I suffered. I realized I have a lot of power inside me. And a very strong will. I just need to start trusting my gut more -it has never let me down so far- and not follow guidelines or recipes so much. I didn’t follow any recipe while I was baking that chocolate cake and guess what? I like my life very much like how that cake tasted. With a pinch too much of salt.

Let’s hit the road, blondie. It’s gonna be me and you from now on. Whatever mirrors we encounter on our way, we will try to conquer them together. In an ergonomically correct way, of course: with a straight back. But if we want to get rid of some subordinate feelings, let’s start with losing some of that excess baggage first. I decided to bring some of the clothes I had been dragging with me to the second hand shop. There were some great memories attached to some of those shirts and trousers, but the fact that my backpack felt lighter, already brought me so much more joy and freedom. Good tip: the first thing every self-made traveler should do is to learn how to live without comfort zones. (And Lonely Planets, DON’T BRING THEM.) You’ll be surprised how damn comfortable that actually feels.

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Goodbye caravan I called ‘home’ for a week!

XO

PS: This => Picture 2016-03-04 om 03.39.12

brought me so much pleasure today: to read that my views are booming! Thank you for reading the blog and for relating to it. I’m currently waiting on my plane to Brisbane. I had lunch in a café and the guy at the counter had to charge me 4 dollars less due to a mistake with the cash register. “You’re winning today”, he laughed. Damn right! Two hours earlier I bought an orange juice at a local truck stop. I took a sip and spat it right back out again, to notice the date has expired with over a week. I went back in and asked (politely) if I could have a new one. I got double the size! That morning I had made breakfast for Helmut and Maryam. Something my mom always used to make on the first day of school: ‘Winning bread’, we call it. Because it’s old bread you ‘win’ by creating a new dish with it instead of throwing it out. I guess I set the tone right there. So thanks for reading! I hope you guys keep enjoying it!