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Belgium has been on my doorstep and on my list of places to visit for over a year now. For some reason, because it was so close it never felt that exciting. How wrong I was. After my first visit to Antwerp I was ready to move in. Belgium people (on average) speak THREE languages. Flemish (basically Dutch) French and English. I just sat there in awe as waitresses would translate into three different languages depending on who would enter the restaurant wondering what I had been doing with my life.  As some of you may know, I have now visited Belgium three times this year, and I see something new every-time.  So far, I have only really seen Ghent and Antwerp. Antwerp has become one of my new favourite places to visit, and we can get there on a train in under two hours from Amsterdam. Gent and Antwerp are very close together, and I truly recommend seeing them both. You can also very easily get to Brugge from Ghent (roughly half an hour train ride). I guarantee we did not even scratch the surface of the treats to be seen in these cities, but here is everywhere we went and recommend.

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Antwerp:

Antwerp is Belgium’s second largest city,  and really stole my heart. It’s a fusion of industry and art. The size of the city juxtaposes with its gezellig (cosy) corners.  My biggest tip is to get on your comfortable shoes and just start walking around. Stop for coffee and beers and explore every avenue.  Once you arrive at the opulent train station (don’t forget to look up at the ceiling) head straight to the cool neighbourhoods like the centre,  the Old Town or Zuid (South) district. We stayed in an Airbnb in the Vrijdagmarkt area.

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To Do:

Panoply Books & Records, secondhand bookstore.

Think Twice, secondhand clothing stores dotted around the city

Melting Pot Kilo, secondhand clothing weighed and priced by the kilo

Plantin- Moretus Museum. Planting and Moretus were two of the first printers on an industrial scale, this museum is all about the printing press and its development throughout Belgium and the world. Imagine a world before printed books and newspapers.

Museum aan de Strom, a warehouse full of interesting exhibitions. There’s a panoramic viewing point to view the city from.

To Eat & Drink:

Frituur Chips: Firstly you’re in Belgium, get yourselves some frittes or as we Brits call them, chips. The best chips I have had in a long time is from this vegan friendly little chip shop tucked away. Giant portions, an excellent playlist including Britney herself, and vegan snacks even a jackfruit Flemish stew.

For coffee, head to Normo  and Tartoer. I am a pretty big coffee lover (six cups a day is fine right?) and these recommendations did not disappoint.

Cafe De Kat, Wolstraat 22: I didn’t see any cats when I was there, but this place is super cosy and quiet with a great selection of Belgium beers, perfect for an afternoon sundowner/ existential crisis.

Bar Ami: We stumbled upon this place after craving Mexican on one of the national holidays when everything was closed and loved it. Great selection of tacos and tomales (including vegan pulled pork tacos) and cocktails/ beers.

Bistro Bar 2, Vrijdagmarkt 19,: This place doesn’t have great Google reviews but we had a very nice lunch here outside. A tad on the pricey side but if the outdoor area at the front is open and its warm it’s a wonderful local square to sit in.  There’s also a cool little vintage shop on this square worth a browse.

Ghent:

Ghent is an incredible medieval town on the water, decorated with little cafes and restaurants. The city centre is also car-free so you can peruse to your heart’s content.

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To Do:

The Design Museum; we were escaping the heat (it was a 35 degree weekend), but this museum was pretty cool. They have a whole floor on sustainable design too!

Take a boat ride; either by kayak or a tourist boat it is a great way to see the city.

Visit the Castle of Counts: the medieval castle is quite difficult to miss and if you don’t want to pay the entrance fee you can have a good look around the outside of the castle instead.

Go to some secondhand markets.  Check what is on during your stay. St Jacobs “prondelmarkt”, “Prinsenhofrommelmarkt” (once a year flea market extravaganza) and the Ajuinlei seoncdhand bookmarkt are some of the most famous markets Ghent has to offer.

Grab some mustard that has a recipe from 1790. Head to Groentenmarkt, to pick up some mustard from Tierenteyn Verlen. This is one of the things we didn’t have time for and I really regret not doing.

To Eat & Drink 

Have a drink in this microbrewery situated on Oudburg 70a, lots of great beers to try including a magnificent sour porter.

Get something sweet at Au Merveilleux de Fred. We actually treated ourselves to a night here on our first visit. The rooms were beautiful, the location perfect and we woke up to the smell (and taste) of freshly baked croissants. What more could you want? If you want to book it seems to only available through booking.com and to pre-warn you need to first enter through the bakery as there is no reception ( you then get a key card for the side door).

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Klokhuys – my parents went here for a traditional Flemish stew and said it was superb!

Have a coffee at Simon Says

Plus+  If you need a healthy lunch spot after those chips head here.

 

Brugge:

If I am being really honest, for me, a couple of hours in Brugge was enough. When I visited Brugge,  it was super crowded and difficult to move and it felt like everywhere for food was really overpriced. The architecture is beautiful, and I am sure some people out there are going to eye roll me for saying this, but I was so looking forward to seeing Brugge , and I felt slightly underwhelmed. I am not great in crowded places though. Don’t take my word for it, go and see it yourself.  To save money, I had a quick box of pasta Pasta Maria. You can easily head here from Ghent, spend a few hours and go back to Ghent afterwards. Walk everywhere and enjoy the sites.

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I know I have a few Belgium readers, so I would love to hear where you would recommend in each cities, leave a comment or send me a message.

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The summer is here. Not quite in the full throttle that it was last year, but the sun, on most days has put his hat on – or at least he is at least considering it.  That means, the protagonist of our summer wardrobes is ready to be dug out of our knicker draw. For better or for worse, the swimsuit season is upon us.

I used to buy a new bikini every year. By the time the summer was over, the constant rewearing of my swimsuit meant that once the days got cooler, my swimsuit had started to sag and discolour. The elastic seemed to be made to last one season. I bought them cheap and then I would toss them in the charity bag or demote the bikini bottoms to period pants.  In my journey to buy well and make it last I have been having a look at longer-lasting good quality swimsuit (none of that 1 pound fish bikini for me thank you Missguided). One that fits well and doesn’t leave me with an “underboob” or a saggy bottom when I am doing my best Pamela impression.  At the moment my swimsuit is a secondhand Boden swimming costume which I bought for 2.50 in a charity shop in Angel a few years ago and I love it, but as it is getting a bit tight (I’m a girl who enjoys her food)  I have the wondering eye for a new swimming costume. Here are my favourite costumes made form recycled materials:

 

Batoko 

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Photo credits: Batoko

A swimming costume made from 100% recycled plastic in fun colours? Yes please. One of Batoko’s designs even has dinosaurs on it. This English brand has a small but brilliant collection of fun costumes. Each of their adult costumes are roughly €50 and come in compostable packaging.

Stay Wild Swim 

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Photo credit @StayWildSwim

 

Founded by Zannna van Dijk and Natalie Glaze, these costumes made from Italian ECONYL® (recycled nylon) are much more classic styles but the type that will last. They are made and produced in London, offer GuppyFriend bags (bags to wash your clothes in to stop micro-plastics going into the water) and even their packaging recycled. Plus they use models that have bodies that actually look like mine, so I am sold. Prices around around €160 per piece.

PURA 

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Photo credit @PURA

All made by hand in Switzerland using  recycled materials and old fishing nets, PURA is definitely the pricier option, but they do donate money to global warming charities with every purchase. For each piece they give you an indication of the type of fabric used and the amount of coverage and support it provides. Prices around €180 per piece.

 

Weekday

 

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Photo credit @Weekday

Okay, so Weekday is a fast fashion brand, but I am also well aware that for the average person (myself included) paying upwards of €100 euros on a swimming costume is not realistic. Fast fashion brands seem to be adopting the use of recycled materials and Weekday has some pretty nice options made of recycled polyester, as does Asos (see below). Just be wary, even if they are sustainable materials fast fashion will usually be making their products by factory workers who do not have good working conditions.

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Photo credit @Asos 

 

 

Mara Hoffman 

 

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Photo Credit Mara Hoffman

 

Freaking cool patterns, made from recycled materials and all made in the USA? Sign me up. I have got my eye on this one as I do love a high waisted bottom.  Prices range from roughly €100 per piece and they do offer international shipping.

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You’ve bossed it on remembering your produce bags. You use your reusable coffee cup religiously, and you cannot remember the last time you bought a plastic bottle of water. Basically, you’ve got your personal sustainability down. It is now time, my friends to take that wonderful green gaze, and turn it towards your work environment.

For everyone, this environment will be different. For some of you, it will be an office, for others it might be a restaurant or a hotel.  Wherever you work (unless it is at Greenpeace) there are always ways to make your work environment a bit more sustainable, and guess what? This will probably have a pretty big impact. Here are some ideas to get your work to move towards the green LED light.

Set up a community. Firstly, you shouldn’t have to do this on your own. There is most probably at least one other person at your work that feels as passionately as you do. You can meet once a week, set up a task force and  share ideas before approaching your manager. It could be a great way to make new friends and shows great initiative (something all interviewers love to ask you).

Start looking at the waste products from your work. This could be anything from leftover food from the canteen, old samples, takeout boxes. Anything you see that is being thrown away, look for an alternative. Can leftovers be donated? Can you offer to take home leftover food from work to prevent food waste? Imagine every possible way to prevent waste, or make the whole business a bit more circular.

Start looking at where you can save the business money. Most businesses will love the idea of save money, and this will usually be the way to get your management to do something. If you can think of a solution to get your work that is more environmentally friendly and saves the company money, what have they got to argue with? Get your numbers in order, even if it’s an estimate. For instance, you pay 15p per takeaway cup wholesale. You ask people to bring their own with a reduction of 10p per coffee. Everybody is a winner.

Look at the energy consumption.  Are lights being switched off when no one is in the building? Monitors? laptops? Is the company burning pointless energy and money? Point it out.  Is the air conditioning on for much longer than it needs to be? Can coworkers put on a jumper before cranking the thermostat? Maybe even a sign or a conversation with the cleaners to remember to switch off all the lights at the end of the day/night can make a huge difference and save the company a significant amount.

Look at the single-use plastics. How can you reduce the plastics? Maybe you work in a bar and you can propose getting rid of plastic straws and cups or swapping them for paper ones. Maybe the restaurant you work in could swap from plastic boxes to card, or the product your company sells comes in way too much packaging that can easily be reduced.  Get creative, every idea is worth exploring.

Unnecessary flights. Business people love to fly. Especially transatlantic. It feels almost like a free holiday. Aviation is costing the planet so much. Whilst face to face meetings are better, there are so many instances where the flight is just not needed. There is such great video conference technology out there. And guess what? This also saves SO much money. Speak to your senior about putting a stricter limit on flights, and especially discuss the numbers. Look into alternative ways of travelling, trains can sometimes be the faster option.

Get your waste management in good order. When I worked at one makeup company in London, there was no recycling at all. I spoke to the manager and as long as I took on the project of ordering bins and the logistics, he was more than happy to oblige. At my current work we have no desk bins (hello 2000 less plastic bags PER DAY) and only one set of bigger bins per floor. It is fantastic. 

Remember, if no one broaches the subject then it is likely things will stay as they are. You might be surprised at how many people are enthused by making their work a little more green, climate change is something that is affecting us all.

How well is your company doing in terms of sustainability? I would love to hear if you have some ideas to share about making the workplace a little greener.

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How easy is it to cut out single-use plastic. Could I last a whole month? Probably not. A whole week? Maybe. I intend to find out and I have challenged myself with a week void of all singe-use plastics from 23rd until 30th May.

To prepare I have filled almost every bag I own with produce bags and a couple of Tupperware’s. I have also been carrying around the Bambaw bamboo straws and carry my own cutlery with me everywhere (I just use ordinary cutlery in their own little bag). I have excluded plastic lids from the equation because I found this was just not possible, a lot of my glass jars have plastic lids. I have also excluded plastic lids on cosmetics.

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Bathroom:

  • Toothpaste from Georganics
  • Reusable razor from Bambaw 
  • Toothbrush; bamboo from The Humble Co. 
  • Moisturiser; I purchased the Susanne Kaufmann body oils when I was out shopping with Anna and have been using them as face moisturisers and have never looked back
  • Reusable cotton pads
  • Shampoo; I have been using the Seanik shampoo bar from Lush and LOVING IT. It does contain sulphates, just to warn you
  • Soap bars; if I am feeling a bit fancy I treat myself to a L’Occitane bar. Otherwise I just use whatever is cheapest in Ekoplaza
  • Face soap; swapped my much love La Roche Posay for a face soap from Lush called Movis
  • Homemade deodorant. I have been using the Mamalin homemade deodorant recipe and so far I am very impressed. It is a bit crumbly but I think I should have added a bit more coconut oil

Cleaning: 

  • Laundry. I have recently purchased the Ecoegg and I am very happy with it so far (third wash in)
  • Cleaner; I make my own all-purpose cleaner and have started adding more lavender oil in to take away the vinegary smell
  • Toilet cleaner; For the challenge, I am using vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. But does anything beat a good old bottle of bleach?
  • DIY kitchen towel made from an old t-shirt
  • Loo roll from The Good Roll 
  • Bin Bags; Ecodis La Drougerie made from 80% vegetable materials
  • Washing-up liquid- refillable from Ecover via Ecologish 

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Food

  • Veggies – all from markets/ unpackaged from supermarkets, meaning green leaf is most definitely a market item
  • Pulses; only using tins or jars
  • Pastas, rice etc bulk bought from Ekoplaza with my own container
  • Check out all your local market-style shops. Bringing my own containers, especially bread bags this is something I always get caught out on

I will keep updating this list throughout the week with any new discoveries. Let me know if you have any tips!

 

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In the past six years I have moved over ten times. Five of those moves have been in the last two years. I have become an expert at packing and an inadvertent minimalist, continuously avoiding buying many new possessions because it will be less to pack in the next move. Whilst these moves have coincided with some of the most exciting times of my twenties; travelling, moving to Amsterdam and leaving the job I detested, in the past year I have had a longing to plant my roots, to settle down and to find a place to call my own.

I have no problem with renting. I do not necessarily think renting is “money wasted” as we humble renters are repeatedly told by the conceited home-owners, but I do dream of being able to put a nail in the wall without asking the landlord first. I long to have my own furniture that isn’t a dark brown colour, lighting that is actually cosy rather than decrepit and a sofa that doesn’t make guests rub their bottoms in pain after they have flopped onto it at the end of the night and found the sofa is more wood than cushion.

I know, I know. It’s shallow, but there you are. My point is, that this gap has not been helped by social media. As I gently scroll through some rose-tinted squares of house interiors, instead of inspiration I feel a sting of self-doubt. I feel like I am the only one renting a 50m2 apartment, instead of having purchased my own baroque and beautifully light, plant emporium with florid walls of different sized art prints. I have a feeling of under-achieving, that somehow, I should have been able to afford a mortgage once I left university, on-top of a growing pile of student-loan.

The reality, of course is very different. I discovered after wailing out loud to my sister-in-law that my brother and his wife “were so lucky have their own place” that in actual fact, they felt rather envious of me, being free of any responsibilities and being able to pack up and move to another country without the financial anchor of a mortgage. Friends who have broken up since buying a house together have said their housing situation is giving them serious anxiety. Other friends have confessed that they have had financial help from parents for the down payment of their place. Everyone is on an entirely different path due to different circumstances  and the worst thing we can do for our own state of mind is compare ourselves to others.

At the moment, housing is my vice. For some, it may be scantily-clad fitness models that affect our body confidence (let’s face it who hasn’t been there), friendship group sizes that far surpass our own, travelling photos, jobs that look better than ours, people who have children, people who don’t have children. We can all look at each other’s lives and see something we don’t have. My boyfriend recently told me in all earnest that he has the same feeling when he sees photos of someone who has recently got a new puppy or a very handsome dog. Hey, we all have our weakness.

Self-comparison is an inevitable part of the human condition, and never before has it been so easy to access “real” people’s lives. Through social media, we can be in the knowledge of a huge amount of information of someone we have never met. We can get hooked living voyeuristically through someone else’s experience. If that is your bag and you don’t feel crap afterwards then that is great. We owe a responsibility to ourselves though, to self-preserve. We need to be aware of our mood after we’ve spent time on social media, and look out certain triggers that make us feel sad or depressed. Maybe self-preservation means giving ourselves a bit of time offline (Venetia Falconer is a great advocate of weekend digital detox). Maybe it means unfollowing/ muting certain accounts. Maybe it just means giving ourselves a good shake afterwards and telling ourselves  that that photo of the beautiful dining table with a group of smiling friends all crowded round for dinner, is just one part of the story. The person behind that photo probably has a million things they are personally insecure about and would envy about us. Let’s be kind to ourselves.  Let’s see the glass as half full and being grateful for all of the things we have accomplished no matter how insignificant they seem.

Let’s stop comparing and start and focusing  on everything we do have,  and giving ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back.

 

 

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