Reader in the grass – 5 books to try

This year again, the sunny summer has gone off my radar – and if you live in Belgium, you might have entirely missed it, too. Here, it shows up on a “now you see me, now you see me not” basis. And while I have to part with my much beloved notion of summer once more on this side of the globe, further south the sun is just settling into its other home for a while. Not fair.

However, to show you that summer has hit Belgium too at some point this year, I took my camera out (and a bunch of books) on the occasion and also got busy with some gardening. Nothing like reading a good book and pulling out of the ground one nasty nettle after the other in-between. And while last very short, timid and fugitive summer proved me beyond the shadow of a doubt that one thing I will not be when I grow up is a decent gardener, it at least gave me the opportunity to read some wonderful books, which I totally recommend. In the back of my garden, they made me travel beyond the beautiful fields and forests of the Flemish countryside.

First among my favourites is Marriage Material – an accidental discovery, as it often happens, the sort you are forever grateful for. Sathnam Sanghera has a beautifully crafted writing style and telling stories is clearly his business. The book conveys deep roots that are familiar to the author: traditional versus modern life of descendants of Punjabi families established in England. All the cliche elements are there: there is the corner shop, there is the never ending struggle to integrate and reconcile family values versus society expectations, there is a wealth of history and luggage from past lives, carried by people from a different country and passed on to the next generation. There is displacement, frustration, love, hate, rules to break from, mistakes to learn from and everything that makes the fragments of life in a Sikh Punjabi community exciting, colourful, and worth reading about. And above all, there is grace and an exceptional writer with a sense of carrying his audience right at the heart of the things he describes. A read that definitely excites all senses and leaves an exquisite after-taste.

A book by Bill Bryson is a guarantee to make me a happy gal on any kind of weather. This time Bill took me Down Under, where I have never been, but which is the place where most of my friends whom I met throughout my travels live. That is because Aussies are generally inescapable, wherever one goes. Bryson loves Australia and says it loud and clear. As always, expect a fair amount of well-researched, interesting and unique information dug out by the Master of hilarious accounts and some extra wrinkles once you’ve finished the book. Hard to put down, as any of Bryson’s works.

In Xanadu is a special kind of journey and the author, William Dalrymple, is not your ordinary travel writer. He is a historian through and through with a vivid interest in art and religion, with an eye for detail that most mortals visiting places will not see and a mind curious enough to bring hidden worlds to life. The book follows the footsteps of Marco Polo on the Silk Route from Jerusalem to inner Mongolia. It portrays a difficult undertaking of a student retracing the past -Dalrymple himself- through challenging, restless and not particularly travel-friendly places marked by political problems and complex bureaucratic systems. An eye-opener in many respects.

I bought Michael Palin’s  The Truth at a flea market somewhere in London and it was time for me to finally take it off that shelf I almost forgot it on. I was not disappointed. An engaging and accessible read in a flowing, catchy journalistic style, this work of fiction exposes some dark areas of modern-times troubles surrounding the publishing industry, for instance,  as well as environmental issues. Thanks to it, I also discovered that Mr Monty Python has a travel website where you can find out more about the man himself and his adventures around the world:

India has been quite present in my mind this summer, with the sad celebration of 70 years since the Partition covered by the media channels. And so I thought I would finally give a go to a book I actually bought in India two years ago:  it’s time for Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul series. A blend of history and fiction, this promises to keep me entertained for a little while. And what better to make the transition from summer to autumn than to indulge in the world of spices and warriors and great empires!

While Indian summer remains an unfulfilled dream and a rather wishful thinking where I am currently located, there is a lot of comfort, thrill and fulfillment to be found in those many books waiting for me to open. One page at a time, rain or sunshine, keep on reading.

Smile – You are in Japan

There are many things to say about Japan, and hopefully I can get my thoughts together to tell you the whole story of my two-week experience in this very peculiar country. Some things in Japan, though, leave you pretty much speechless, and so I decided to let the pictures lead the way in this blog post. From ludicrous advice on how to stay away from bears to the uncountable number of bows that the population performs to say thanks, Japan is a head-spinning, crazy world that gives one plenty of reasons to smile.

One is Hello Kitty, designed by Sanrio. Thanks to some exceptional Marketing efforts, it is impossible to cross Japan without being greeted by Hello Kitty in her various forms. Purses, books, laptops, pencils, umbrellas, huggable larger-then-human-size dolls – one could spend days going through the list of branded items available (apparently, there would be some 12.000 different products recorded yearly). Innocent though this cute cat character may look, she is an absolute killer business machine. There is, I was puzzled to find out, a Hello Kitty TV series, passenger aircrafts, MasterCard Hello Kitty debit cards, a very own production of wine, fine jewellery, restaurants and even (hang on) a Hello-kitty maternity hospital! Considering that it started out as a cartoon on rubber sandals, our Kitty has come a long way, giving birth to yet another category of fanatics. So we joyfully surrendered to the Hello Kitty moment too. When in Japan…

Interestingly mixed with the Japanese popular culture, the Japanese formality and uniformity comes as no surprise. Take the metro on a regular working day and you will inevitably experience that movie-like sensation of the Smith multiplying himself in Matrix Reloaded: everyone around looks the same and seems to be dressed the same way too. Until you spot the teenage girls, that is, wearing those short skirts in combination with kawaii stripped stockings and high heels that seem almost impossible to walk on that you previously only saw in manga. Japan is not short of paradoxes, which make it so difficult to pin down (let alone understand).

Leaders in advanced technology, they are some of the most conservative and traditional people on the planet. And they do like to queue. Traffic lights, metro, bus, train stations – Japanese people amaze me with their incredible, unique ability to wait in line patiently, weather conditions notwithstanding.

But their ads in English alone make a trip to Japan worthwhile. Japanese people seem to be rather confident that what they say in English is also what they mean. Most of the times, it isn’t and the results are often funny. Do they deliberately refuse to work with English natives? I don’t know. But this country has a very rich collection of such advertisements and not once have we found ourselves puzzled by the riddles of the implied meaning which we sometimes took a long time to guess, only to burst out into laughter when the penny suddenly dropped. It’s a brain game. Here are just a few examples (though my pictures are of doubtful quality), of Japanese-English random communication that made us giggle time and time again.

In the lobby of a capsule hotel in Kyoto. I refused to be available and even less so for free.
I made a coffee break in Tokyo on a rainy day and like a proper Alice in Wonderland that I am, I was tempted by the cake. All the more so since I hadn’t tried one that gave me the Quality of Confidence before, something I very much need. Japanese also seem to be inventors of the “hand made taste” – intriguing, to say the least. It tasted nice, if you wonder.
When they are not open, they are close. They were also sorry, and so were we, because we were desperately hungry. Try feed yourself on tiny samples of miso soup, yakitori, soba, udon or rice for one week when you’ve been travelling with a heavy backpack and you are a voracious steak eater by nature
Toilets are highly entertaining in Japan –and I was happy to see how much room was granted to the ladies (Women, if you do not feel empowered in Japan…). Passed the door, you are confronted with a variety of buttons worthy of a space ship. It is always a guess and fortunately, you do not need sophisticated buttons to open the door, so you can get out at any time. To make things even more complicated, not one toilet has the same buttons as the other. Have fun and take your time.

In a cable car on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route to see the famous Snow Corridor which for some reason attracts an impressive number of Asian tourists (only?). People travel far and wide to admire a heap of snow. And there is no such thing as too much cautiousness for the Japanese.
Too many things to do and too little time? The Japanese came up with an ingenious solution –the 25-hour-day. Only in Kyoto.
A touch of mystery hovers over what exact evil snow can do to us.
It’s a strange, but nice place, no doubt.
Japanese precision. It isn’t mentioned where you have to wait if you only want one ticket. Or if you simply have a question. But I suspect you have to queue up for anything anyway.

Japanese are extremely kind, friendly and helpful people who smile a lot. They are pleasantly inquisitive and always eager to talk to you for a long time (in their language) even when you cannot make it any clearer that you have no clue what they are saying. They are always happy to attend tourists, so count on them to put a big smile on your face.
And if a bottle of sake does not make you smile, then several will!

Needless to say, we were very happy with our discoveries and encounters. Japan is a wealth of unique experiences, and although it didn’t feel like it stole my heart then and there, looking back, it is now that I realise just how special and dream-like it all was.

I take a bow myself and sing: Arigatou gozaimasuuuuu, Japan! I’m sure our paths will cross again.

The spark that set the fire in South Africa – in We Said Go Travel magazine

At the beginning, it was a wild dream. South Africa revealed to me at first through the accounts of travellers or adventure novels I would read late into the night. It seemed a mystic land, a place like no other and, at that time for me, completely out of reach. I was not yet a traveller. But the day I knew I could become one, I booked a ticket to South Africa.

Maybe I was opening my eyes for the first time to such vastness. Maybe I was seeing so many colours in one place for the first time too. It was all overwhelmingly new. But at the end of the day, the possibility of travel and the self-discovery experience aside, it was South Africa that brought a change in me. It was this country that made my mind alert with curiosity, that transformed my vision and understanding of the word, that made me rich with awareness of earthly beauties I had previously no knowledge of.

I stepped in shyly into South Africa but I started to take on the world boldly right after. This land of contrast which provocatively hosts richness and absolute poverty at a close distance, which takes you to the peaks of majestic mountains from the mild waters of the Indian Ocean in one day, where I saw wild animals running free, this place has broadened my scope like nothing before.

Some aspects hurt, but with the pain came realization and maturity. Never before had I seen shanty towns stretching for a longer distance than it should be humanly conceivable. Never before had I seen women carrying heavy loads on their heads and shoulders with such natural balance and grace. Never before had I seen barefooted orphans smiling so endearingly, knowing and having pretty much nothing. I learned “nothing” had a real meaning. South Africa made me cry and made me grow strong. It not only showed me beauty, but also the fragility of things. It made me understand how people suffer in other countries and how they deal with it. It shook all my senses and asked me to ponder on how spoilt for choice we are in the western world and how little we give and invest in things that truly matter. How much we take everything for granted. South Africa was a great, tough but honest teacher and the human experiences are as hard to wipe from my soul as words written with indelible marker.

Seeing animals in the wild is one of the most extraordinary experiences I have ever had access to. And by seeing I mean observing, not touching, not interfering. Being absorbed into their overwhelming presence is privilege enough. The smell of the wilderness is purely exhilarating and one of the greatest senses of adventure and freedoms one can have access to in this life. Waking up to the view of a giraffe or the sight of a baby elephant –these are special, unique moments that can never be forgotten. South Africa gathered all these wonderful creatures for me and gently showed me how fragile they were, how much protection and care they needed and made me appreciate every millisecond I spent in their company.

South Africa is difficult to pin down in only few words. I have travelled there three times and discovered a wealth of different treasures every single time. This country made me into a story teller and a blogger because I came back with the firm conviction that people were missing out if they didn’t travel there. I must have fallen in love with all its offerings and struggles and I wanted to share them and keep them alive for my at the same time. Because I am convinced I have found one of the best pieces of land there is for a traveller to explore.

Maybe it’s just me but I have heard the very distinctive voice of South Africa. Possibly all 11 of them calling at me all at once, blended together, different yet similar, past and present. Maybe I have been lured by its potential and it made me sing. It could have been the wine, the waves of the Ocean glimmering in the sunset, Lion’s Head, who knows? The fact is, this country has a uniqueness that is a source of bottomless inspiration. Some call it Paradise. I call it South Africa – a place to discover over and over again.

Source: The spark that set the fire in South Africa – We Said Go Travel

Kissed by the Sun: Travel in Sicily – in Go World Travel Magazine

Sicily never ranked high on my travel list. But on a rainy day in the middle of Belgian October, it promised to be a great gateway from work and city life, with sun, sea and blue sky.

Also good food and amazing landscape all waiting to be enjoyed. All at an affordable price.

Ryanair took us late one evening to Trapani, and this is where our short journey into Sicily began.

Sicily, as I was to find out, has the fine smell of seafood, holiday and wears a scent I always fall for —  that of the salty Mediterranean breeze.


While Trapani is not my ideal city for a holiday, it is a rather convenient landing point and a nice intro into the Sicilian life.

We explored the city the following day, rays of sun guiding our way.

Trapani has charm at a closer look. There is always something utterly seducing and soul-soothing about walking on a street packed with ancient buildings showing signs of decay mixed with past grandeur.

The buildings look as if they should have collapsed a long time ago and yet, strangely enough, are still very much inhabited.

I like to let my hand slide along those walls painted in lively colours that wear off but that match the summer-like background setting so well.

I like to get their pulse, imagine their stories. A walk in places like these feels like being in a parallel dimension, in which reality is but a distant memory.

With the sea waves hitting the shore in the untamed wind, colours sprinkled everywhere, Sicily looked good.


And it was. If anything, Sicily is food heaven. If you are passionate (or nuts) about good quality coffee, real coffee, you shall be delighted in Sicily, of course.

Add sensational gelato to the list of goodies – one can never go wrong with Italian/Sicilian products anyway – and all is well with the world.

We sat down to plan our next move over a rich, delightful and extremely affordable lunch (count +/- 30€ for 2 people with primi and secondi piatti including 1L of wine.

In Sicily costs about 5-6 €) at Osteria La Dolce Vita – a small restaurant with a simple, unpretentious decoration governed by a giant picture of Marcello Mastroiani and some truly memorable food.

We decided on the spot that we wanted to climb Mount Etna, an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily.

We had arrived in Sicily without hiking boots and had no adapted equipment whatsoever. Neither did we know at that precise moment how high a mountain Etna really was.

The accommodation we booked for the night at B&B Villa Loriana was in a splendid location, and I don’t think I have ever found a more considerate and helpful host than Gianluca.

The breakfast was copious and his guidance extremely valuable as he gave tips on how to do the trek the following day.


As we began our hiking adventure, we drove to Rifugio Sapienza, where we had the option to either hike for seven hours, or take the cable way and then hike for about four hours.

The slope is steep and the walk up looks hard, all the more so since you’re walking on volcanic ash, which means that your feet sink into it and you slide back with every step.

The cable way was the more reasonable option for two travellers wearing regular shoes, but was expensive. Count 30€/head for a return ticket.

We then walked up to 3345m – careful, it is very windy up the mountain and the highest peak with the steaming crater cannot be accessed without a guide and trekking equipment.

If you don’t want to walk on the lunar platform, you can also take the bus to see the craters, but that comes with an additional fee. It is a very touristy place, but worthwhile.


As huge Godfather fans, travelling to Corleone was another highlight of our trip.

The village was rather quiet when we arrived, but the drive there was breath taking, one of my favourite moments.

Countryside is pretty special in Italy, we appreciated it more than driving along the coast.

There is not much to do in Corleone and the roads surrounding it are in bad condition, so make sure you take a sturdy car if you want to make it to your destination. And back.

We passed by Palermo rather in a rush, which is a shame, because I could have spent more time exploring.

Palermo has the disadvantage of being crowded and very reminiscent of Rome or any other beautiful Italian city, though, and we wanted to see something different about Sicily.

Back in Trapani, we decided to take a boat to Marettimo, one of the Aegadian Islands. Now this is one place to fall in love with and one that I would gladly go back to.

It is as blue and attractive as a little island can be. Had the weather allowed it, we would have gone cave-diving.

But we had a plane to catch the following day and there was a storm coming our way so we had to leave in a rush and much earlier than foreseen.


I’ll always remember our hosts at I Delfini, who made sure we caught our boat on time and packed all the good things they had prepared for us for breakfast.

We had on a rough sea, with massive waves blocking the view from the windows.

There is so much more to explore in Sicily. From rugged landscape to the richness and mix of culture, the good quality food and all the sun you can hope for, Sicily makes for a very attractive destination.

And when you go there, don’t forget to try something new: for me, that was the fish couscous, a true delicacy, which we stumbled upon in a restaurant called La Bettolaccia – definitely worth a detour.

If you go to Sicily, there are plenty of wonders, that, under the ray of sun and at  affordable prices, are patiently waiting to being enjoyed. Take a flight.

Source: Travel in Sicily: What to See and Do in Sicily | Go World Travel Magazine

Travelling soul – Remember Maggie

I lost a traveller-friend whom I had recently met, Maggie – an exceptional woman who inspired me. She left this world. But I shall remember her.

We met in India in December 2015. You were one of the liveliest people in the group, the kind of restless creatures that catch the eye immediately. I remember your words in the coffee place in Varanasi where you told me we must always reinvent ourselves for the ones we love. I remember you starting to dance with your husband, Kerry, on New Year’s Eve and setting the example for those of us who were too shy to stand up and hit the dance floor. I remember you celebrating your 39th marriage anniversary, so discreetly and it was wonderful. I remember your complicity, it was an amazing thing to witness and I think that secretly, we were all watching you.

I remember you sleeping underneath my “bed” on the night train journey, always poking fun, always chatting. And who doesn’t remember you sitting on the floor in the lady’s section at the train station in Agra, teaching us yoga movements to the cheeky smiles of the locals who thought that us whiteys were a bit mad in the head?

I remember you convincing me to buy my scarves (not one as I intended to) and those wonderful oils that I didn’t really need either, telling me that us, women, we have to treat ourselves to life’s simple pleasures. The green scarf, by far my favourite, I have thanks to you. And I remember I dragged you 2 times out and into the Red Fort and through the security checks  so that you can get the money from Kerry and buy that “ruby” ring you negotiated for so much, because I knew you would have regretted otherwise. It was impossible to do shopping with you as you always found the words to convince me to spend my money! Such a nightmare, much worse than the Indian shop sellers themselves. Also, I don’t think anyone could say “no” to you.

Graceful Maggie! Your gestures, your attitude towards us all, such elegance in your choice of words and clothing items. Refinement, simplicity and taste have always sprung to mind when I looked at you, and I admired you for all this. I shall always remember your rapid, sudden head movement, springing like a little bird, always alert, always curious, so alive. I don’t think I remember you ever showing sadness or tiredness, but maybe these were carefully locked somewhere behind that generous smile.

Your face is engraved in my memories of an extraordinary far-away place. One brimming with never-ending energy and colour, the perfect backdrop for your sparkling personality. I was privileged to spend a full day in your company when everyone else had gone. We had a laugh somewhere in a park in Delhi when Kerry was taking pictures of a massive pile of garbage on top of which a dog had found comfort. And later, when we were having what became probably the most expensive coffee and cake during the whole journey, which outraged me – India does teach you the value of money so well. It’s also the place where you are sure to get comfort out of your system, at least temporarily. Because I couldn’t disconnect from the sadness and the reality of the streets of India and found it hard to be in a luxury hotel, you calmed me down gently and reminded me that everything is to be enjoyed and taken on board as experience. And that we were lucky to see both sides. How was it possible to always be so positive and wise? I looked at you like one the world’s mysteries.

Lakshmi! Here is a name I remember, because it came from you. I bought that little wooden souvenir and you explained to me who the gods and goddesses in the carvings were – you knew a lot about them and talked with passion. I can only imagine that Kerry and your daughters never really got bored around you. You were fun, Maggie, such a blast of optimism and an example to us all. Of how to treat and live life. How to take things as they come. How to enjoy while you can. How to be unique and happy with it. How to hold the head up high and laugh. How to be yourself.

I don’t intend to forget you or the things that our short encounter have brought to me. India wouldn’t be such a great story without you in it. You’re travelling again. Where to, no one knows. But I’m sure you’ll find someone to teach yoga to again. I’m glad we met.

Travel in South Africa: The Beauty of the Rainbow – in Go World Travel magazine

There is no perfect place on Earth, they say. But “they” haven’t visited South Africa, the Rainbow Nation. Yes, the country has its struggles, but for the traveller in search of natural beauty, wildlife, wide open spaces and variety at all levels, South Africa is one of the most gratifying destinations I know.


Land of mind-blowing diversity and contrast by excellence with no one place resembling the other, it fascinated explorers way before it grabbed me and was the object of numerous wars and invasions over the centuries. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, who does not want a piece of South Africa?

To begin with, this is where you shall find some truly exceptional sites. South Africa is bathed by the waters of two Oceans. The warm currents of the Indian Ocean meet the cold currents of the Atlantic in Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. This alone is a magical encounter.

Consider this: in South Africa, you can travel in few hours from the seaside to the mountains, leaving behind Durban and its beautiful shores to go high up into the Drakensberg. If wildlife is what you’re after, then you’ll be happy to know that the Kruger National Park can be reached within 4 hours’ drive from Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa.

An overnight in the park is recommended as the animals usually come out to be seen early in the morning and isn’t it quite a start of the day to drink coffee while watching a giraffe sipping from a pond?

Half way between Durban and Cape Town is the Wild Coast, also known as the Transkei region. This side of the country reveals unique, wild and rugged beauty. A memorable experience here is horse riding: there is nothing like a hearty canter on an almost deserted beach having the Ocean by your side.

Coming from a European city, the vastness of the horizon is simply stunning and gives an incomparable sense of freedom.


Another place that stole my heart is the Karoo desert. People wondered why I liked it there: “But there’s nothing in the desert”, I heard. Indeed. Nothing but the endless sky reaching out to the permanent redness of the infinite land.

This is where you truly learn to appreciate the elements, their strength and moods. This is where you can truly see them, as complete and raw and immense as they come.

And then there’s Cape Town. Welcome to the place with an interminable range of things to see and do. Whether you feel adventurous and active or simply want to take it easy, chances are you will not run out of options.

Drive on the scenic Chapman’s Peak and spend the day at the Cape of Good Hope discovered by Bartolomeo Diaz in 1488 – you will be blown away, not only because the winds are ferociously strong. Hold on to your hat!


Do a wine tasting tour (or two) and let your taste buds enjoy the richness and pure delight of the South African wines. Cape Town is not exactly short of wine farms: rumour has it there are some 900 within four hours’ drive distance.

The closest and best known (but also the most crowded) are Groot Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, but don’t be limited by these choices when there are so many others.

If soaking in as much sun as your skin can handle is your goal, Cape Town doesn’t lack beaches either. Clifton 1, 2, 3 or 4 or Llandudno are the most popular ones.

Don’t miss the opportunity however to hike up the Table Mountain and watch the sun set from Lion’s Head – the views offered by these vantage points are a treat for the eyes.

Why not try your balance at surfing while you are there? The waves of the Atlantic are not always friendly for the beginners, but in Muizenberg you might just be able to stand on your surf board and ride a mild wave. It’s exhilarating.


Cape Town will also dazzle you with its variety of food choices. It seems as though all corners of the world have gathered here to put their flavours together and make a feast. South Africans may hang on to their braai and biltong, but they are lucky to have access to mouth-watering dishes that reflect its mixed identity.

A step into South Africa is a step into its past. One cannot and shouldn’t overlook history when in South Africa. In the suburbs of Johannesburg, the Soweto township deserves a detour, not only to see Nelson Mandela’s House, but also because this is where the uprising against the apartheid started and proceeded to shape much of the country’s socio-political landscape to date.

Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town is another compulsory stop and an emotional one to that. South Africa will teach you to value the meaning of freedom.

South Africa is a country in full transformation. It has come a long way in a short time and it’s fighting for balance. It has a long journey ahead to truly become the perfect country, the country that I dream of.

Yet the fact remains that South Africa is an interesting place that stands out from all others, an ideal holiday destination and a country for everyone to discover.

Source: Travel in South Africa: What to See and Do

Highlights of Sumatra – on G Adventures Blog

I did not know what to expect when I booked my trip to Sumatra, Indonesia. It was the first time I was setting foot anywhere on the Asian continent and I’d say I was looking more for nature and animals than I was big cities or famously overpopulated beaches. I knew that I wanted a one-of-a-kind experience in a less touristy place, and above all, close encounters with elephants and orangutans.

What I discovered was a small jewel of unspoilt beauty. Less frequented than other Indonesian destinations such as Bali and Lombok, Sumatra has a lot to offer the unconventional tourist. It is a land of rugged landscape, delicious spicy food and friendly people. It’s a place that breathes and nurtures diversity. Here’s a snapshot.

The jungle

If you love nature as much as I do, you’ll be in heaven in the Sumatran jungles of Bukit Lawang and Tangkahan. Sure you get woken up early in the morning by the naughty macaques and Thomas’s leaf monkeys jumping on your roof, but it’s all worth it the moment you see the gentle orangutan hanging from a branch right in front of your eyes–a rare (and emotional) sight, and a memory I will always treasure.

Elephant lovers are in for a treat, too. Watching these majestic creatures is a privilege and an opportunity you’ll treasure for years to come. Visiting Sumatra taught me the importance of protecting these threatened animals, of sustainable tourism and conservation of wildlife.

The lakes

Sumatra is home to Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world. Samosir Island emerges majestically from the middle of the lake, providing an ideal place for a peaceful break. Relax or choose among numerous activities like swimming, sailing, hiking, cycling or motorcycling (extremely popular in Sumatra). There’s also fishing–your call! The only thing you’ll regret is leaving this paradise behind.

Another breath-taking stop is Lake Maninjau in West Sumatra. It takes 44 spectacular hairpin bends down a steep road (called “Kelok 44”) to get there. It’s a bit of an adrenalin rush before some calm, rewarding scenery.

How about watching the sunrise from the top of an active volcano? In Berastagi, you can opt for an invigorating hike up the Sibayak mountain (2094m [6,870 ft]), which overlooks the effervescent Mount Sinabung.

Sumatra seemed the obvious choice to me for its pure nature, wildlife and adventure. What I did not expect to find was its wonderful, pristine beaches. From Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra, take a taxi to Bungus Bay where for a modest fee, you can embark on a day trip to Pagang Island, a great spot for snorkelling and mixing with the locals.

The people

Sumatra’s true richness resides in its wonderful people. Though predominantly Muslim, it hosts a variety of ethnic groups and cultures and allows numerous religious beliefs to coexist. This is a place where Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam are all recognized and practiced, thereby helping establish Sumatra’s mixed identity.

It is obvious that Sumatrans are very friendly and helpful people, who respect and welcome visitors. At times, you might occasionally find their attention and kindness slightly disconcerting, but they are genuinely good-natured and well intentioned. The people of Sumatra always wear a smile, even in absolutely chaotic traffic.


Home to the largest volcanic lake in the world, beautiful jungles, infinite rice fields, gorgeous beaches, and some of the warmest people you’ll meet anywhere, Sumatra is an experience you’ll never forget. Looking back, I feel lucky to have gone there. I was seduced by Sumatra and promised to tell the world about it. Terima Kasih (thank you), Sumatra.

Source: Highlights of Sumatra – G Adventures Blog – G Adventures

India is not for sissies

“You have to go to India. Once.” The man next to me, a travel companion, laughs devilishly as he says this to me, as if he is sending me straight to hell. When I announced that I was going to travel to India, another far-away friend typed back: “India? What’s happening? Sick of order, silence and drinkable water?”. Clearly, I was heading the right way.

Delhi. Welcome to India. The taxi driver whose services I requested weeks before I landed is not there yet. He eventually shows up. I quickly understand that you cannot be in a hurry if you’ve just landed in India. It doesn’t help your nervous system. If you feel an extreme urge to be impatient while you’re still at the airport, take a flight to somewhere else. If you decide to stay, no worries, India will cure you from that.

There he is. We don’t drive straight away though. First, he takes me further into the parking where we stop in front of a very shabby version of a car in which a human is covered in blankets, sleeping. His girlfriend. It’s 4 a.m. I look at her as she wakes up and greets me in and hope she has the legal age to drive. She certainly doesn’t look like it. The hotel they drop me off is on a street that looks as if it suffered a bomb attack few hours earlier. Nothing looks like it will be standing for a very long time. Least of all the hotel I step into.

But hey, Delhi has a subway system, as I was to discover the following morning with fresh eyes and a new level of energy  propelled by a hearty curry breakfast. However, if you are a woman, don’t hurry to jump in the same coach as the men. There is a special waiting area reserved just for you, ladies. You can’t really miss it: it’s pink and nicely decorated with flowers. It clearly spells “Women”, too. The subway – now here’s evident signs of development (or of Britishness). And oh, there is a 200 rupees fine if you spit, irrespective of your gender.


Getting to a subway station is a challenge though: there’s a big wave of creatures in the streets moving on various means of transport that will swallow you whole. Once the headache caused by such failed traffic flow to the first-time visitor comes to an end, it’s actually a magic place to be. Just try to pretend you’re in a roller coaster in an attraction park and you’ll make your life easier. The less thinking involved, the more enjoyable the ride. Don’t hesitate to strike a random conversation with your Indian tuk tuk neighbours (we all become neighbours whenever we get stuck in a roundabout, which is often). They are friendly people and will often want to know from which cast you are and whether you are eligible for marriage.

Also, don’t freeze if that big truck is heading towards your tuk tuk as if it has every intention to smash it. Your driver will probably manage to avoid the collision in extremis. So relax and sit back. Well, just sit back to begin with. It’s a long road home and there are plenty of opportunities for you to have a heart attack in case you missed your first one.

Oh, you decided you wanted to cross the street? Best of luck! In this case you’d have to do the “I surrender” gesture. Simply put your hands up as if you’re giving up on… life, for instance, or stretch them out to give the traffic people a hint that you’re about to commit suicide – you never know they might decide to spare you. Don’t close your eyes though as you attempt the crossing. It may be worth seeing what comes your way. Just in case you have the time to avoid it.

Now that you have made it safely to the other side (of the road), you’ll have to deal with the kids who’ve been chasing you for the past half an hour to take “one photo” with you. Don’t fall for it, it’s a trap. 300 pictures later, you’d be wishing you’d said no from the first time. But they are sweet and it’s so tempting to take those cool pictures with the natives. Read my lips: no. It’s a word that comes in handy in India.

With my rickshaw driver in the streets of New Delhi

Have you ever felt fire burning down your throat? If yes, you must have had Indian food. The stuff is delicious, mind you, to the point to which no other food will ever be as tasty as you knew it. That is partly due to the fact that your taste buds would have gone numb after your first days in India. Some restaurants are merciful towards (white) tourists and serve a medium-spiced version. Just make sure you look like one.


Sometimes – keep this one in mind when you go to India. “Sometimes” the train comes on time.” “Sometimes the ATM gives you back your card and possibly also the money.” This gives a heads up to the fact that most of the times things will not work. Not as planned, at least. But this is the beauty of India: it makes you escape the monotony of that reality where most things actually work as expected.

Yes, there are about a gazillion things that are wrong with India. It’s the ideal setting to play the “spot the mistake” game. Garbage bins or garbage collection trucks are nowhere to be seen. There’s a bull standing unbothered in the middle of the platform of the rail station and everyone acts like it’s normal apart from us, foreigners, who keep snapping pictures. There are more beggars and disabled people swarming around you than you would like to see in a lifetime and it’s hard to ignore that little hand asking for money. There’s no denying the fact that India is a very messed up place. Probably the craziest there is. But as a tourist, you still get the opportunity to see past its struggles and discover its beauties (for a small fee). Take advantage of that. Even if in reality you pay ten times more than the locals to go past the queue to do so.



Agra, Orchha, Jaipur – There is something magical about the sunset in India

For me, the fraction of Northern India that I was lucky to have access to was a thrilling experience. From the crazy tuk tuk rides in Jaipur (the Pink City) or Delhi to “sleeping” on a night train, the evening rituals on the Ganges river in Varanasi, the strangely captivating moment of opening your eyes to the Taj Mahal for the very first time, the surreal mix of dogs, goats, cows and monkeys, all in one corner of a street, the rich cultural heritage and Mughal stories, the stunning architecture, the explosion of scents and colours, the medieval town Orchha and the charming and surprisingly quiet Alipura village , and last but not least, the erotic monuments in Khajuraho, it’s been a long and exciting journey.

This bit of Northern India seduced me beyond words. It pulses with the kind of energy that can only be lived to be understood and appreciated. Land of contrasts by definition, there are many ways to see and look at this strange place because it has so much to offer. And if you manage to see past its countless flaws, you may well fall in love with its peculiarity…So no, this is not a once-in-a-lifetime destination, as I originally thought, but one to go back to over and over again. And one to long for in the meantime.


Belgium – No Safe Haven

It’s a particularly grey day in Belgium. It makes for the ideal background of a funeral. The country mourns its victims today, the ones it couldn’t save from yesterday’s terror attacks. But mourning, a sky that seems to be crying in unison with us, the one minute of silence and the countless hours of anger are not enough. Something has failed again in Europe. Something important. The protection of civilians has taken three blows. There will be long-lasting scars.

While the whole world stands united in anger, stupefaction and frustration facing terrifying events that have come to be recurrent for reasons we cannot truly comprehend, our peace of mind and freedom fade away. Slowly, but surely, we find ourselves in circumstances that many other countries outside Europe have got used to, but that we wouldn’t have expected here a while back.

On the world map, Belgium is not a big country. That’s easy to see. It also shouldn’t lack the necessary resources to invest in the protection of its people, considering that it hosts some of the most important international institutions. Yet culprits slip through irresponsible fingers. Clearly, there are weaknesses.

How is it possible that neighbourhoods such as Molenbeek-Saint-Jean or again Schaerbeek breed their terrorists unhindered? It’s not like the Belgian authorities didn’t have a clue of what was going on there. After all, it is not yesterday that these districts started to make such a bad reputation for themselves. While Belgium is doing pretty well at exporting small arms and light military weapons (with the Middle East as prime market), it also seems to rank as a top exporter of Jihad, with the highest number of foreign fighters recruited by Syria and Iraq. How can these details be missed out systematically (or deliberately disregarded?) in a country of only 30,528 km²? Something is wrong in the picture.

Also, why would any country put the European Headquarters –presumably a main target for terrorists- right in the middle of the city and have a metro run just underneath? I’m sure one day I will get the point of this, but until then, all I see is EU employees being exposed to risk every day along with people who simply live in the area. How is that safe?

Last but not least, how can an international airport become so unsafe few days after a most-wanted terrorist is captured? Wasn’t it potentially the very first building that needed reinforced security, with the knowledge at hand that Salah Abdeslam had friends out there? Had this occurred months later, I would have understood that the Belgian intelligence and Police could have been caught off guard. As such, I struggle.  But it’s always a good thing to put the whole country back in lockdown after people died and many were injured. It gives a strong sense of reassurance. It is an attempt to show that the situation is under control. It isn’t.

I think someone needs a shake. I get red spots when I hear passive, resigned, powerless remarks such as Prime Minister Charles Michel’s: “We feared an attack and it happened”. It sounds as if “Oups, we feared a tsunami would strike and so it happened”. This lax attitude is sadly pretty representative of how things “happen” at many levels in Belgium: slowly, painfully slowly. But while I can wait forever for a document to be sent to me by the Commune because they cannot decide whether to mail it in Flemish or in French, other things require immediate action. And now, getting the bad guys is one. No, this is no time to accept things as they come and pat security services on the back telling them they did all they could. Of all evidence, they could and should have done better. This cannot “happen” again. Because some things can be (here it is) prevented.

Luckily, there are services to be grateful for. Less referred to in the press but nonetheless pivotal, the hospitals doubled their staff and deployed all possible efforts in Brussels and throughout Belgium to receive and treat the wounded. Ambulance drivers, medical staff, firemen, Red-Cross and volunteers, donors, the whole country was mobilized to offer help to the attack victims or simply to one another. Solidarity was truly the watchword in the chaos that was 22nd March 2016. Taxis were free of charge in Brussels for the day to help commuters go back home and many people offered car sharing and accommodation when transport means were at a standstill. There is so much potential for good in us, humans.

The reactions extended beyond the Belgian borders. I haven’t yet counted the number of people who made my phone buzz the whole day and flooded my social media pages with their concern for me and their comforting messages. France, Germany, UK, The Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Sumatra, India, United States, Canada – a whole universe of people was there for me offering priceless support. No doubt, multi-cultural, borderless friendship is a true blessing to be grateful for.

I get it: there is nothing more frightening or dangerous or hard to grasp than a human bomb, a being who only lives for the sole purpose to detonate himself/herself in a public place, making sure he/she never quits this world alone. There is nothing more evil and pathetic at the same time. Possibly, there is also hardly anything less foreseeable than the nature and behaviour of such individuals. But I refuse to think that we allow them to outnumber or outsmart professional intelligence and security services.

Today, the sun will not shine over Belgium or in my heart. But after we all bend our heads to keep a minute of silence, we have to stand up again and face tomorrow. And hopefully, we will wake up to more responsible leaders who take better actions and make faster decisions. Belgium, cry, wipe you tears and go back to business. There’s work to do.

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