May & June 2016: Living in New York, What Is That Like?

July 18, 2017

My stay in New York was probably not as most people would imagine it to be. I was renting an old-fashioned apartment in Queens together with three Indian guys and I liked nothing more than spending my evenings looking for dinner in Little India (aka Jackson Heights) and playing games over a beer in the local pool bar. Despite this, I couldn’t imagine a better way to have spent my time in the Big Apple!

indian food friends jackson heights

Living with Roommates for the First Time

People who know me personally know that India had left a big impression on me. And because I haven’t had enough, I already bought my tickets to go back! Living together with Indians was something that could never work for someone like me (at first sight), but actually it was an amazing experience: my roommates (who are also my batch mates) offered me a lot of privacy. I think it is a combination between their culture and upbringing, and also their personality. They are just all three very chill dudes!

At first I had some difficulties adapting, but I tried as hard as I could. Because no matter from what angle you look at the situation, I was a minority (being a girl, being European). In the beginning I tried to go with them to dinner at 10PM every day, go to bed late, get up early… But if you aren’t able to catch up on sleep during the day, this isn’t a schedule you can keep up with for long. First of all, I experienced a lot of mood swings and I got digestion problems from eating so late. So after two or three weeks I started doing my own thing.

No matter how much everyone tried to adapt to each other, it was a relief that it only lasted for two months. The biggest bothers on my side were mostly things that all roommates might encounter I guess, it wasn’t really culture-related: different standards in cleanliness are a big one in this (but what do you expect living with three college boys?). But like I said, I wouldn’t have wanted to share an apartment with anyone else. These guys thought me patience, tolerance and unreciprocated kindness.

new york expensive living me

The Expensive Life in New York

Doing my own thing meant I went more often to the local Diner (Jax Inn Diner). It is one of those retro food spots with booths, free water and free coffee refills like you see in the movies sometimes. Meals at this place were relatively expensive, but still cheaper than in Manhattan. But I tried to be smart: I planned my meals in such a way that I would have enough food to bring home in a doggy bag so I could eat it another day. For example: I could easily eat twice from those $14 mac ’n cheese portion sizes.

Grocery shopping sprees we divided amongst each other: taking turns, we got whatever we needed at that point of time for an average amount of $20. Chores like dish washing, cooking etc. we delegated to those who were best at the task. (So, basically, I was always washing the dishes.)

For going around the city, I mostly used the subway system (a monthly card costs $117). Taking the subway is much cheaper in New York. Usually it is faster too. Nevertheless, a cab in NY is relatively cheaper in New York than in Belgium. Don’t be scared to take the subway by the way. Yes, you will most likely meet the strangest people, but they will cause you no harm.

For laundry, we went to the Laundromat down the street. The Chinese people who manage the place washed our clothes and sheets for us. This saved much needed free time and the price was totally reasonable. (And besides, this also reduced the chances of my white underwear coming out pink.)

Going out we did, as I said, mostly in the local pool bar and not too often in Manhattan. Alcohol in NYC is expensive. You easily pay $7 for a glass of beer, $10 for a glass of wine, and $12 for a cocktail. But if you have two terraces attached to your apartment, then what’s wrong with buying a complete bottle of Campo Viejo for $10 and enjoy it at home?

fordham university new york

Going to School in New York

Fordham University is not that different from your typical European university. The only difference is that you have to scan your badge every time you enter and leave the building (even to go from building to building) and that they have a Starbucks coffee machine in the cafeteria. Another difference is that the A/C was constantly turning every room into a fridge; I had to escape to the 30°C outside every break to defrost my hands and feet.

Our professors were amazing. You really got the feeling that most of them really knew what they were talking about. They succeeded in bringing their courses in the most interesting way. What wasn’t as much fun, was the amount of work we got on our backs every week. We all worked our heart out and even walked around as sleepy zombies for a few weeks… just to get the four-months’ work done in two. Sightseeing didn’t happen as much as I wanted it to. On the other hand, I did get the graduation I’d always dreamed of: caps, gowns, honor roll; authentic ceremony with a class valedictorian giving a speech that moved me to tears, and some of my favorite people there to support me.

Every day I used to walk by Central Park, over the busy Columbus Circle, in the direction of the theater center called Lincoln Center. Juilliard is in this area as well. The day I had to go back home, I made that same walk again one last time, just because it is one of those typical New York walks that allow you to feel the real, buzzing New York life.

graduation fordham new york

Calling New York “my home”

Who hasn’t wished or at least imagined calling New York their home at some point in their life? I sure did. Now, I was actually able to call New York home – or at least Queens, because it feels more homely there than Manhattan can ever make you feel. I don’t think I could ever live longer periods of time in the City. Even though I like buzzing streets, there is a reason why I prefer to live in a small city over a metropolitan one. The nice thing about living in Queens (which is basically a small city within New York) is that you still live in a city, but you have the choice to easily go to Manhattan whenever you like to.

I definitely want to go back to New York. I haven’t been able to do everything I wanted to do. But would I ever want to live there again? Maybe. Certainly not forever. The feeling that I could actually live in a city where I have stayed for a longer period of time… I haven’t had that a lot. Besides some cities in Belgium, I could call Barcelona “home”. But not Paris or London, even though I have spent a few weeks in a row there as well. Sometimes I’m afraid my expectations of living in New York were a bit too high after dreaming about it for so long and that this causes my dubious feelings about living there.

graduation fordham new york

Nevertheless, I did leave New York with a bit of heartache. But that was more because the 3CMGM program was over than that I would miss the Big Apple. I can always come back to New York, but I can never experience 3CMGM again.

Financially it was a big relief leaving New York. Living there, it’s not for everyone. I realize that now even more.

Living in New York is an experience everyone who wants it should get once in their life. It’s a dynamic city where you get the honest feeling that everything is possible. Just make sure your wallet is full, but also remember there are a lot of free activities in New York you can participate in.

Where in the world would you like to live if you had the choice?



Roadtrip on a Motorcycle: Miami – Key West

July 25, 2017

During the semester in New York it soon became clear that travel wouldn’t become a significant part of our time there. But how could I be in the US for two months and not go out of state? Logical choices would have been Boston or Chicago, two big cities I had never been to and would love to visit.

But if your boyfriend is complaining that he misses his Enfield and you actually don’t really mind being at the back of his motorcycle, then it is only a small sacrifice to look up “epic road trips in USA” on Google. The most straightforward choice would be Route 66, but it is kinda too long for a weekend away, isn’t it?

Soon enough, the Overseas Highway from Miami to the Florida Keys appeared in the lists. A few year’s ago, I already did this road trip with my dad and brother. That time we did it by car, so I could only imagine what it would be like on a motorcycle! I suggested this plan to my boyfriend, and he didn’t have to think about it twice. Soon after, we bought our tickets.


One Thursday after class, we rushed home to pack our bags. Both JFK and La Guardia are in Queens, where we were living. La Guardia is literally only a 10-minute drive away! Despite that, Woodside is a very hard place to get a cab so we still had to take into account that small delay.

Once we reached the airport, we quickly grabbed a bite. During the flight itself, we worked on a paper that was due on Monday. That’s how you do it, study on the road!

The first night we stayed in Miami Beach, where I got us an AirBnb in the Art Deco District. It was going to be the cheapest night of our whole trip: €86 for 1 night. That evening, we went for a stroll on the promenade. I do have to say I remember Miami as being way more lively and crowded. It was soooo quiet…

The next morning, after a large breakfast nearby that was supposed to keep us more or less full until dinner, we set out to find a motorcycle rental shop to choose our ride to Key West. After walking around for about an hour we bumped into EagleRider. We rented a Yamaha Star 650 (incl. helmet, bags and all-round insurance).


With my iPhone serving s a GPS, we were on the road by noon. It was a sunny, hot, humid day and we were advised to stop often enough to drink. I took the time to cover myself in sunscreen as well. After an hour (or about 40km) I was already up for a break. I am not used to be on a motorcycle that long and it is fucking tough! The wind is smashing into you from all sides and the vibrations give you a backbreaking workout. After the break we continued for the next 230km.

Just like I had hoped, the views were spectacular! The Overseas Highway consists of a series of bridges that take you over the bright blue waters, from island to island, in the Florida Keys. On one side you see the Florida Bay and on the other the Atlantic. We stopped another couple times for food and drinks (a.o. at the fun The Wreck Galley & Grill, where many people looked longingly at our bike) and to get gas for the bike. Oh yeah, and also once to find shelter from a short rain shower. The last stop on the way to Key West was to enjoy the sunset the place is so famous for. It is also one of the reasons I wanted to come here with my boyfriend, to the most southern point of the States, to show him this famous Key West sunset.

road trip miami key west

Finally, we reached Key West when the sun had already set. The quest for a motel where 1) they still had a vacant room and 2) that was reasonably priced was quite hard. Eventually, we went back to our first choice: Spanish Gardens Motel. We made ourselves at home for one night in this spacious, clean room. Soon enough I lifted my soar butt back on the bike so we could go for a small dinner. Unfortunately, most restaurants were already closed, so we ended up in a sports bar (believe me, this isn’t the first time this happens).

The next day, we started on our way back to Miami. I wasn’t up for driving the whole 270km in one day again. Every inch of m body was soar and butt was in a hell-a-lot of pain. It seemed better to me to split the way back into two parts and work a bit for school in the middle. After all, we had an exam for our Finance class on Wednesday we had to study for!

Before we left the island, we took a circle around Key West so we could see it in daylight as well. On the way to what would become our final destination for the day, we stopped here and there to discover the other islands a bit. We had lunch at Kiki’s Sandbar. After another 80km we reached Marathon. We booked a room in the Coconut Cay Resort & Marina, where we got the room next to the reception. Again, a very spacious and clean room. That night, we dined at an alehouse where the locals danced happily to country music.

overseas highway miami key west

The last day, we drove to Key Largo under a blanket of thick grey, ominous clouds. We went to a beach bar to get a drink while we waited for the traffic jam to lessen. Everyone was escaping the islands because of a predicted storm. The traffic jam made the 190km trip we had ahead of us even worse, because it took us even longer to bridge the distance.

Our next big stop was at my aunt’s place in Coral Gables. We barely had time for coffee and a chat before we had to head back to make it in time for our flight to New York. Soon enough, we were back in Miami and brought back the motorcycle. This went super smooth and we thanked the guys at EagleRider for helping us achieve this awesome experience. Finding a taxi, however, wasn’t as easy. Luckily we made it in time to the Fort Lauderdale Airport, despite the fact that our driver was a weird, but funny Jamaican.

During the flight, I spent most of the time trying to find the less painful positions to rest my body. In the meantime, I also tried to focus on another chapter of my Finance course. But I couldn’t help it… memories of the breath-taking ride kept sliding in front of my mind’s eye, reminding me that this was probably one of the most unique and intensive trips I would ever make in my life (I mean, I would never be able to make such a trip on my own on a motorcycle right?!)

palm trees key west florida

Where we you like to make a road trip one day? Would you prefer going on a motorbike or in a car?


Free Stuff To Do in New York

July 11, 2016

I only had two weeks to recover from my trimester in India. Before I had time to get settled in again in Belgium, I left already for my third and last destination: NEW YORK!

After just one week it became clear to me that we would have to fight to get some free time. We all know New York to be a fast-paced and buzzing place and that high pace and busyness we would encounter everywhere we went and in all the things we did.

Even though I spent two whole months in the Big Apple, I still didn’t have time to do everything I wanted to do. I decided to first tick off free and budget-friendly things on the list to compensate the high cost of living.

Today, I am sharing with you a list of free (or almost free) activities that will make your trip to New York exciting and wallet-proof!


Free Activities in New York


1. Roosevelt Island Tram

Between the isles of Manhattan and Queens you’ll find Roosevelt Island. Mainly, it is a residential area, but it is still worth a visit because of the Roosevelt Memorial on one side of the island. Take the orange F train towards the island and as soon as you go above ground, you’ll get that amazing view of the Midtown Manhattan skyline. It is nice to go both during the day and in the evening. At night, you can sit in the grass and admire the city lights. During the day, you can stroll take a stroll by the water. When leaving the island, take the hanging tram. The ride is free is you have a subway ticket. The view over Midtown is a nice and different experience. Definitely worth a try! Mind you, during the summer the cabins are suuuuper hot inside!


2. Staten Island Ferry

Staying in the transport theme, I want to introduce to you the free boat ride that will take you by the Statue of Liberty, all the way to Staten Island. Just like the Roosevelt Island Tram, the Staten Island Ferry is an official transport system in New York that commuters use to go to work every day. That’s why you can take the ferry for free – even when you don’t have a subway ticket! The boat is really big and takes off every half hour. On the island itself there isn’t much to see. There is a nice terrace by the water where you could go have a drink, but you could also just go and sit on the boardwalk to enjoy the view on Manhattan and Lady Liberty.


3. High Line

Let’s switch to the green stuff: the New York High Line is an elevated railroad transformed into a greenway. The railroad had long been deteriorating and, eventually, the city decided to break down the railway. Until the citizens came with the idea to turn the railway into a park, based on Paris’s Promenade Plantée. Today, the High Line is a favored spot for a picnic or a walk/jog. You’ll enjoy wonderful views over the Hudson River, Meatpacking District and Chelsea. Pieces of art are placed on strategic places between all the greenery. I was super happy that I finally got to discover this place for myself and walk all the way from one end (14th Street) till the other end (Gansevoort Street). And also, entrance is completely free!


Source: Traveldigg

4. Central Park

To stay in the park’s theme, I probably shouldn’t have to tell you anymore that you can visit Central Park for free? A few centuries ago, the New Yorkers realized that very soon they wouldn’t have enough green and nature left in the fast-expanding city. That is exactly why they created one of the biggest parks of the world. You can participate in many paid activities in Central Park which are also worth trying – like renting a boat on the lake, going for a bike ride, or lunching at The Tavern on the Green – but like in all other parks, you could also organize your own picnic, go for a jog, or have fun people-watching (which is a fun pass-time anywhere in New York). You could entertain yourself watching one of the frequent baseball practices or attend one of the many free festivals (theater, concert, yoga) that are organized during the summer.


5. Coney Island

Coney Island has been on my to-do list for a looooong while. The peninsula is mainly known for its “peculiar” residents, the Mermaid Parade that takes place every beginning of June, the amusement parks and the white sand beaches. Even though the rollercoasters were my main point of attraction, it turned out the amusement parks are actually really expensive! Just like at the fair, you pay separately for each attraction. This means you’ll be putting down 10-12 bucks easily per ride. In the end, I went for the Mermaid Parade (check out this video) and the beach. If you are in New York for just a few days, skip this place. It takes a long while to get here. But if you are in NYC for a longer while or just really want to go for the rides, then go ahead and enjoy!


Extra Tips for a Wallet-proof New York Experience

Free museum nights: take a look at the website of your favorite museums to find out how you can get an (almost) free entry ticket. Some have a donation-based entrance policy after a certain hour. So basically you could visit the MoMa for just $1!

Discount discoveries: start following Time Out on Facebook or look out for the booklets they hand out near the entrance of big subway stations. Time Out lists the free or cheap activities that will take place each week all over New York.


Don’t mind spending a little more?

Top of the Rock: if you have to choose, go to the top of the Rockefeller Center. Not only won’t you have to stand in line as long, you’ll also be able to take pictures of panoramic views of New York with the Empire State Building in it! I went at night and got blown away by the city lights! (Price: $29, with time slots)

Bicycle Tour in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan: many parts of Brooklyn are quite impossible to reach because there is hardly any public transport going there and it’s too far to walk. Yet, they are totally worth visiting! Going on a guided bicycle tour was the perfect decision if you ask me. (Price: $49 with Rolling Orange Bikes)

Broadway Musical: Broadway… where stars are born and dreams turn into reality. I attended the Disney produced musical Aladdin and let me tell you: it was fucking awe-some! Genie was sublime and I got to sing along to all my favorite songs. I also heard positive reviews about Matilda, The Lion King, and Book of Mormon. (Price: from $50 during low-season)


Ready for your trip to New York? What are your budget tips to survive New York?




Mumbai Is More Than Slumdog Millionaire

Arriving in Mumbai felt a bit unreal. It didn’t feel like I set foot in the metropolitan city known for slums and Bollywood. Mumbai meant my final destination in India. Frankly, that made me feel a bit glum. Somehow, though, I succeeded in banning this feeling to the back of my mind. I was determined to make the most of these last three days!

I ordered an Ola cab to take us from the airport to Karan’s apartment. Karan was kind of the best man at the wedding that I attended last month (oh my god, that was only last month?!). He invited my dad and I to come and stay with him and show us around the city.

Since it was still my birthday when we left Goa for Mumbai, I was allowed to choose how I wanted to spend the evening. After enjoying the bottle of champagne my dad brought from Belgium (finally something that I could actually get down my throat!), I announced I’d like to go for drinks at the best rooftop bar in town, Aer, which is located on the 36th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel. I love viewpoints and could already imagine how spectacular the city lights of Mumbai must look!

At midnight, we went to a restaurant close to the sea, called Corniche. I had really good cannelloni there. After the dinner we returned to Karan’s apartment, had some fresh beers delivered and finally went to bed.

mumbai india

The next morning, we had a small breakfast before we headed out. We drove around the city; first stop was the Mumbai sign near the water, where we had our mandatory picture taken. After that we picked up a friend of Karan’s and stopped at Starbucks for some refreshments. (May I just clarify that this was my first Starbucks visit in 3.5 months?) We continued our tour by driving through a lesser-known neighborhood that kind of reminds me of what I think Rio de Janeiro looks like. Many residents of Mumbai don’t even know that this area exists!

For lunch we went to Colaba Social, which a famous burger place. And, yes, I had my first real burger here and it was soooo yummm. We walked to the Taj Hotel, which was the victim of a series of terrorist attacks in 2008. There was a lot of material damage and 167 innocent civilians died that time. It is like the 9/11 of India. Across from the hotel you’ll find the Gateway of India. The last British troops left the country through this gate after India became an independent republic. The gate is one of Mumbai’s most popular tourist attractions. As soon as I was asked by an Indian tourist to take a picture with her two small girls, a line immediately formed behind them of people wanting to take a picture with me!! Eventually, my dad had to drag me away from them, because Karan had arranged for us to go on a boat tour and we didn’t want to miss the boat.

starbucks india mumbai

That evening, we were allowed to attend an album launch party at Bonobo. It is a kind of nightlife spot where we would never have set foot in if we weren’t directed there. The music wasn’t really my style – I don’t really remember what it was called either… trance or something? By the time we left here, it had gotten so late that we couldn’t find a place serving dinner anymore (and that, too, in India!). Eventually, the Sun-n-Sand Hotel was willing to cook for us.

The third day, we started by visiting Mount Mary Church, another popular tourist attraction. It is very colorful inside, for a church that is. Nearby, there is this altar kind of place where you can make a wish and “be careful what you wish for because it always comes true”. So… I wished I could stay in India a bit longer, since I was not at all ready to go home.

We continued the day’s tour by going to Bandra Sea Face. There is a park here that is better known as Couple’s Park and as soon as you enter you find out why. Every other meter, you’ll find couples sitting, holding hands, cuddling. It is the amount of couple’s that makes everything a bit awkward you know. At the lower end of the park, which is located on a hilly surface, you’ll find some rocks that are accessible but probably shouldn’t be. Many people have slipped and died here. But apparently it is also a common place for people to commit suicide…

But let’s not go there!

We had our lunch at another surprise location that we could have never found on our own. I can really recommend Pali Village Café. I discovered here that not all Californian wines are like Gallo (which is just disgusting if you ask me). It was divine.

In the afternoon we went for a walk on Marine Drive. At that time Worli Festival was taking place. There were stalls selling Indian products and at each end of the festival a stage was built where concerts of Indian artists were happening. Our refreshments we got at Doolally Taproom, which kind of reminds of an ecological version of Anti-café in Paris. We played Uno and Jenga here together with another friend of Karan’s who lives nearby. We went to his place for another drink and a snack.

mumbai india

Soon enough, we had to start packing. My dad’s flight was leaving 4 hours before mine, so he went to the airport before me. I was gonna try and sleep for 2-3 hours.

When I reached the airport, the problems started already at check-in. I will save you the whole story, but what it comes down to is that this girl working for Turkish Airlines made sure I was not allowed to leave the country because I was missing a certain form that I had to present at border control. I had asked XIMB whether I needed such paper three times throughout my stay and each time I was assured I wouldn’t need it. I was already aware that my batch mates who already left the country had encountered some problems at border control, but they had all been able to catch their planes. But alas, I was the unfortunate one who got the nosy check-in lady who decided for me and for border control that I shouldn’t be allowed on the plane. She ripped my plane ticket in pieces and put me on the street. I wasn’t even allowed to make accommodation arrangement from inside the airport.

So there I was.

It was 3 or 4AM when I called Karan and asked him if I could come back to crash at his place. Since I couldn’t change anything about my situation, I went back to sleep and started the next day early. I ordered an Ola cab and went to the FRRO (Foreign Regional Registration Office) at the police station. It took two days (and a lot of bureaucratic and administrative BS) to get the form I needed. And then you should now that it also took an hour to go from the apartment to the police station, one way. Mumbai is pretty big and comes with a lot of traffic.


City trip in Rajasthan: Jaipur

In the late afternoon, we arrived in the capital city of Rajasthan after a five-hour train ride from Jodhpur. It felt like the April heat in Jaipur just slapped me in the face. Whether you like it or not, you will sweat. Also, it appeared that another ten trains or so had arrived at the same time as us, so it was incredibly busy and crowded at the station.

We had to wait for almost two hours before our driver finally showed to pick us up. In the meantime, dozens and dozens of offers were made to us take us and our luggage anywhere we wanted to go for a “special prize, only for you my friend”.


Eventually the driver found us in the crowd. The driver wasn’t actually driving the car, but he was the one who was going to show us around. Actually, he is an employee at the company Nipun’s parents own. They also welcomed us in their home in Delhi one week ago. The driver was a short, but enthusiastic guy who’s English was just good enough and who kept being overly worried about our happiness and comfort. He was so eager to start showing us around, it took a lot of arguments to convince him that we wanted to take a minute to rest and freshen up. After we did exactly that, we left the Metropolitian Hotel (fyi: wifi not included, crazy right?!) to start our city tour.

During the drive to our first must-see it became clear to us why Jaipur is also known as the Pink City: all the buildings have a rusty, pastel reddish/pink color.



We started by visiting Hawa Mahal, also known as the Palace of Winds. The façade is famous for its characteristic 365 windows made up of colored glass. A long time ago, these windows were the only way for the royal women living in the palace to look at the outside world without outsiders seeing them. Because of their religion and royal traditions, they were not allowed to come on the street.

Next, we continued on foot to the City Palace, where we had a small snack and breathed in the atmosphere of this monarchistic location. We skipped the close-by must-see Jantar Mantar due to lack of time (and, frankly, because there is no shadow to escape into when it gets too hot).





In the afternoon we headed to Jal Mahal and Fort Amer. Jal Mahal is a private property that consists of a big, yellow, “sunken” palace in the middle of a lake. You can admire from a cozy boulevard, passing by a little improvised market place.

Fort Amer is, again, very different from all the forts we’ve seen so far. I don’t think I have to tell you that this fort is amber-colored? It is “guarded” by a whole family of monkeys. I think – and am not at all ashamed! – that we were looking at them for about twenty minutes. They just kept doing funny things that I wanted to film and photograph!





I think, even if you do know the way, you could still easily spend half a day in Fort Amer. It’s so big! I seriously got lost and, blonde and naive as I am, almost got cheated when I asked one of the “guards” to show me the way to the exit, for which he asked a tip. Jeez… At the exit my mouth fell open: there was an actual Starbucks here! Even though it being there seemed totally inappropriate, I was so thirsty by that time that I bought a cold drink anyway.

That night, we had a nice dinner in a restaurant we’d found on TripAdvisor.




The next day, my dad was feeling the worst yet despite the medicine cocktail he had been taken the past few days. I found out why this was the case: at the entrance of Fort Amer he had drunken not just one but two of the cold drinks offered at one of the stalls. It is a drink with lime and salt, Indians love it and apparently, my dad does too. But one important lesson you should remember when traveling in India: never drink water if you can’t tell where it is coming from (which should be a sealed bottle)! Otherwise you can never know whether it is filtered. So I am 99% sure this is why my dad got sick. You are warned!



I visited most of the sights alone the next day… in the driver and his sister’s company. We visited two more forts: Jaigarh Fort, which offers a panoramic view over Amer Fort and which houses the biggest canon ever used, and Nahargarh Fort, which basically consists of a maze of corridors. From the roof you also get a beautiful panoramic view over the city of Jaipur.

The afternoon I spent by the pool on the roof of the hotel, while my dad went back to the room to get some rest. In the evening we visited the driver’s home and his family.




Afterwards, we went on to discover the Disney-esque village Choki Dhani. It is a beautifully lit, artificial town where you can learn more about the state’s history and try out the traditional dishes from the area. You can enjoy performances and take part in some activities, such as an elephant ride. I love these kinds of places!

We couldn’t stay long though. I was very tired from walking around all day in the heat, my dad was still feeling unwell. Nevertheless, Choki Dhani was absolutely one of the highlights of our visit to Jaipur.





The next morning, we left really early to the airport to fly off to our next adventure, the place that should be the absolute highlight of this whole trip: Kashmir.


Discovering India: Delhi & Agra

Even though I have written that a trip to India should start in Kolkata, for my dad it started – as most holidays in India, I dare to assume – in Delhi. After the trimester in Bhubaneswar ended, I left the capital city of Orissa behind and headed for Delhi to start a round trip in India.

Delhi often appears in the press with negative stories: there are huge smog and general traffic problems, there is a high crime rate, and the worst rape case ever reported in India also took place here. And still, from all over the world people are heading to Delhi.

My batch mate Nipun lives in Noida, a neighborhood to the south of Delhi. It was with his brother that my dad and I stayed the first few days. We were picked up at the airport by the family’s personal driver and were welcomed at the house by Nipun’s brother, sister-in-law and staff. Later, I would discover what an advantage it was that my dad – who still had to get his first real taste of India – and I  were getting so much help from my friends.

In my previous stories about India, you may have read that I never traveled solo in India (yet). Every time, one or more Indian friends had been by my side to help me when needed – even if it was just to translate some words here and there, or to bargain about the price for a tuktuk. It doesn’t even seem that easy to get around in Delhi without some help. The traffic is terrible indeed, the tuktuk drivers are (supposed to be) the worst cheaters, and generally everyone seems to try to rip you off.



But of course I also have a lot of positive stuff to say about Delhi! Over and done with the few complaints I have. I mean, there must be a reason why people come from all over to visit this city right? Delhi has an enormous amount of sightseeing you can do. India Gate, for starters, is a popular place to have a picnic and it’s always incredibly crowded around this area. India Gate is a memorial to remember the 82,000 Indian soldiers that died during the first world war. Then there is the Red Fort, which was built in the 17th century and which was called home by the Mogol Empire for 200 years. Now it houses a few museums. Across from the Red Fort, you’ll find the biggest mosque in India, called Jarna Mashid. And if you’re wondering about the famous Lotus Temple, well, it’s a bit out of the way from the other must-sees, which prevented us from visiting because the detour would take too much time (which we didn’t have).





What else did we do in Delhi? We ventured into the old part of Delhi and looked around in Chandni Chowk which is one of the oldest and busiest markets of India. The Red Fort is actually within walking distance from here. We also paid a short visit to Janpath, a Tibetan market. And do I have to remind you to keep an eye on your stuff at all times when visiting market places?

I really liked the Khan Market area. You’ll find a lot of cute little shops and boutiques. I also got my first Western meal since my last visit to Kolkata. Although my hamburger at Smokehouse Deli – a modern burger joint in French style – was actually a buffalo burger, it was absolutely delicious. What a relief to finally eat something different than chicken!




One of our evenings we spent in Hauz Khas. This area is like a village filled with nothing but restaurants and bars. I can imagine it is always lively and busy here at night. Another night we went to Gurgaon, a city just outside of Delhi which is called home by another batchmate of mine, Aman. He took us to one of his favorite bars, Downtown, which is known for its self-brewed Wheat beer.



The last day we drove over to Agra to visit one of the World Wonders. You simply cannot skip the Taj Mahal on a trip to India. It took the driver two hours to take us via the expressway from Delhi to Agra. He parked (I think) on the East parking. After I convinced my dad to try his first real chai and bought our entry tickets (remember to collect your free bottle of water and shoe protectors to enter the Taj!), we got into the van that would take us to the actual entrance to the Taj.

The Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum that was built by order of Shah Jahan after his wife Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth (it was her fourteenth child!). It took 22 years to build the tomb and surrounding gardens. The Taj Mahal is completely made up of marble and it is almost impossible to imagine how the engravers succeeded in getting such detailed decorations in the stone. The color of the marble is really being done justice in during sunrise and sunset (although there is often a lot of mist in the morning).




It was very crowded. Actually, the amount of people present also made me realize just how little the Taj really is. Yes, you read that correctly! I was constantly looking through the lens of my camera, where the tomb looks giant, and back to the real version right in front of me, which seemed almost disappointingly small (even though the Taj could never ever disappoint of course). It certainly didn’t stop me from taking about 50 pictures! The Taj is very photo genetic.

After this visit, we had lunch at a family restaurant on the way to the Agra Fort. The restaurant was very ‘tourist friendly’ in the sense that the food didn’t taste 100% Indian and was not too spicy. It was still good, though. Adapted to our western taste buds.

In the meantime, it had gotten super-hot outside, too! Inside the Agra Fort, we kept looking for rays of shadow to hide in, but there were very few. So, about this Fort. After Shah Jahan finished the construction of the Taj Mahal, he was “scammed” by his son and imprisoned… in the Agra Fort. From here, the Shah could admire his masterpiece, the Taj, from afar until his own death.


Just like the Red Fort, the Agra Fort consists of several parts. The outside walls are a rusty red color, but on the inside it looks completely different! That’s because Shah Jahan loved marble, so he remodeled the Fort to his tastes.

It was a bit less crowded here. Agra Fort is definitely worth the visit if you are making the trip down anyway. After visiting the Agra Fort, we headed back to Delhi.

After a small dinner, we said our goodbyes to Nipun’s brother and sister-in-law, and I also asked to send our regards and thanks to his parents. We also thanked the staff for taking such good care of us and, of course, the driver for taking us around everywhere for three days despite the language barrier. I think we wouldn’t have been able to do all we did if it weren’t for that driver!




At ten in the evening we were at the train station, waiting for the night train to take us to Rajasthan. Since every state is like a different country, I was very curious to discover yet another part of India! I was ready for the state of princes and real-life scenes from Arabian Nights!


Kerala, the Tropical Paradise of South India

April 26, 2016

During my study period in Bhubaneswar I decided to make one bigger trip. I decided to go to Kerala. It was supposed be completely different from Orissa or any other state in the north, so it should be fun! In February, the climate is at its best there. Not too hot, but you can already feel that the temperature will raise to a tropical level soon. During my roundtrip in April, after classes have ended, it wouldn’t be a good time to go south. So, I had to go now!


Kerala is a popular state in India, both for Indian and foreign tourists. It is well-known for having the highest literacy rate in India (99% of the population can read), but at the same time it has the highest ratio of alcoholics as well. Kerala has long been an alcohol-free state, but a few years ago alcohol consumption was allowed again and that’s where things went wrong.

In the backwaters of Kerala, which are canals that come from the sea and lakes and meander their way land-inwards, alcohol consumption is still prohibited.

You should also go to Kerala for its paradise-like beaches, tropical views from the houseboats, and golden jewelry. You should go and try out the typical Ayurvedic massage, follow a cooking class, attend a martial arts show, and sleep in a tree house while sipping tea that comes straight from the tea plantations below you.

I will now give you an overview of what my one-week trip looked like.


DAY 1: Bhubaneswar-Trivandrum

Early morning I left for the airport to fly from Bhubaneswar through Mumbai to Trivandrum (which is now known as Thiruvananthapuram, but who the hell can pronounce that?!). The flight connections went smoothly and in the afternoon we arrived in the capital city of the state Kerala.

We installed ourselves into the second best hotel of the city, Hycinth by Sparsa, for which we had to pay only €17/pp. Can’t be frugal for that price right?

We decided to catch the sunset at Kovalam Beach, which is one of the many popular beaches. This one was quite close to where we were staying. After a long ride in a tuktuk we zigzagged in a narrow street around tourists and many souvenir stalls to reach the white sand beach. At first I was a bit shocked to see so many women in bikini’s, shorts, and short dresses… but Kovalam is very touristy, so apparently that makes it more or less acceptable for us to show our knees and shoulders.

While walking down the beach by the water, we ran into a travel agent where we booked the houseboat for the next day. Two nights, three days on a private houseboat for two people would cost us Rs. 18,000, or €243 all-in. Quite expensive, but totally worth it!

That evening, we ate on a restaurant’s terrace with seaview. After dinner we walked back over the sand to get a tuktuk to drive us back to the hotel. It was quite hard for me not to fall asleep on the way. But I did my best, thinking that soon enough I would be laying down on the super soft kingsize bed that was waiting for me. (Such a luxury after the hard mattresses at XIMB!)



DAY 2: Trivandrum-Kollam

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast with cereal and pancakes (!!), we left for the trainstation to catch the train to Kollam. There, our houseboat would be waiting for us. Seeing as we didn’t make a reservation for the train, we had to go in general sleeper class. Thankfully, it wasn’t too crowded on the train and we had a whole section to ourselves.

Upon arrival in Kollam, a driver picked us up. Because we were too early to go on the boat, we went on a search for beer first. Like I said earlier, alcohol is not allowed on the backwaters, so we wanted a secret stash for later on. But… no alcohol was to be found anywhere. They can be quite smart, those Indians!




On the boat, we got a tour of the frontside deck, the bedroom and en-suite bathroom, and the kitchen. When we sat ourselves down in the “living room” on the front deck, we each received a coconut as a welcome drink. I never had coconutmilk before and I actually quite liked it – it was a perfect welcome drink in this setting.

Eventually we went out on the water and my eyes almost fell out of their sockets. How tropical and heavenly can a place look?! The fact that the boat barely made any noise and that we chose a less touristy location made for a very chill, relaxing, peaceful atmosphere. I went for a tanning session on the very front of the front deck and already after half an hour my short was burned into my skin.

In the afternoon we moored at some random place and got ready for dinner. In the evening I watched Narcos on the laptop, while having a refreshing beer that the staff got for us from… somewhere. Alcohol consumption may be prohibited here, but rules in India are usually more like “suggestions”.



DAY 3: Kollam Backwaters

Spending a couple of days on a houseboat really forces you to relax. There is not much to do and phone reception is… poor to say the least. The second day, we were entertained with a gondola-like canoo ride which took us into the deepest canals of the backwaters. Often we had to lay down in the canoo to fit underneath the low bridges that connect the small towns with each other.

We also stopped in some of the villages. One of them was the home of our guide. He took us to the local café where we had some really good chai and discovered how they make ship ropes.

That evening I found a ginormous cockroach in the bed and rats were running from mainland on board. Eeeek! The staff did their very best to keep them away from us (and the kitchen) though!

Let me introduce the staff to you. There was a captain who barely spoke English, and a cook who was so friendly and tried so hard to speak English to me. He also made us food as if he were cooking for his own family, upon our request. And that is how I got to know the traditional, South-Indian kitchen. The cook had previously been cooking at weddings and other events. In short, the food had been superb!




DAY 4: Kollam-Munnar

Honestly, this had been one of the toughest days of the week. It took us almost twelve hours to get from the backwaters to hill station Munnar. Two trainrides and one looooong busride. And the busride was… an adventure. Without AC, without windows (only rails) and so so full of local people, we drove on the narrow, winding roads in the hills at quite a high speed. I was sitting by the window and had to look away a few times when we came extremely close to the cliff’s edge. This happened especially when we had to take a bend at the same time as a bus that came from the opposite direction.

Once we had arrived in the center of Munnar, we made a secret stach of booze again and continued our way during a half-hour tuktuk ride over roads with full of potholes.

We had dinner at the hotel. We chose this particular hotel because of its price (€19/pp) and because it was supposed to offer a similar view and experience as a treehouse but in the comfort of a hotel. All real (and affordable) treehouses were already taken, which is a downside of the last-minute booking strategy. The truth is, though, that from our terrace we couldn’t actually see the forest through the trees… Too bad. The room itself was really good and the balcony was big and cosy, so really only the view disappointed a bit. The hotel also had its own tea plantation where we went for a walk both during the night and during the day.



DAY 5: Munnar

Because we didn’t expect the journey to Munnar to take this long, we decided to stay an extra day and give ourselves some well-deserved rest. As we booked our hotel through MakeMyTrip – and because we booked only for one night – we had to shift to another hotel the next day. Thankfully, there was another hotel nearby where we could stay for only €16/pp. Bamboo Dale Resort is a hotel where everything is made of bamboo. It was awesome. We had a huuuge terrace around our room and a swing from where we could enjoy the amazing view.

We went for a walk around the terrain, examined the “natural pool” near the waterfall, walked along the river and climbed up the rocks to get back to the main building – which was a piece of cake now thanks to our training at the survival camp from the week before. We ordered some supergood yet supercheap roomservice.

At two o’clock in the afternoon we had a Skypecall with our leadership and personal development coach in Belgium for an update. After that, we just rested and enjoyed the view.

In case you are wondering why I didn’t went out to go and visit stuff, then the answer is quite simple: we had already seen a tea plantation in our previous hotel, I don’t like to visit museums, the dams were too far away and we had been traveling enough the previous day, and visiting a spice plantation didn’t seem worth it to us either. Besides, we wanted to take full advantage of this really cool hotel!



DAY 6: Munnar-Trivandrum

Our second last day was one long journey again. After two long busrides (during which we lost a side mirror and bumped into an opposite bus and caused a traffic jam), we had to spend another four hours in the general class of a local train with no seating during the first half of the journey. A whole day without AC and being on the road that long… I was exhausted by the end of the day. A driver would have been a lot more comfortable, but when you’re on a budget, you can’t just spend €50 when you can just as easily spend €12 on an alternative. And besides, in hindsight, this way it also makes for a far better story. But in the moment itself, I was really sick and tired of it. I just reminded myself to be happy that I wasn’t traveling alone for once!

Since we couldn’t stay at the Hycinth again, we went to Hotel Keys and that was also quite up to the previous hotel’s level! In the lobby we played some pool while we waited for our dinner to be prepared. Once back in the room, I attempted to watch another episode of Narcos, but fairly quickly I was off to Dreamland.


DAY 7: Trivandrum-Bhubaneswar

The return journey via Mumbai to Bhubaneswar went smoothly. We flew with Indigo again, a national airline in India that I can recommend. The catch is that you can only take 7kg of hand luggage and check in only 15kg.


Lastly, I want to take an extra minute to explain MakeMyTrip to you. This website, which also has an app, offers the possibility to book everything through one platform: trains, busses, flights, hotels… If you book your flight with them, you automatically get 70% discount on your next hotel booking.

I, myself, always booked through the app to get that discount. That is why I got to stay in the best hotels for the cheapest price. However, the prices for the flights are not always cheapest through this platform. But the discounts you get on the hotels more than compensate for that in the end.

Kerala has been a unique, beautiful, and memorable trip. In total, I spent €520 on my own, all included. That is quite a good price if you realize that 80% of the budget was spent on the houseboat and flights. Otherwise, it is quite easy to live low-budget in Kerala.

An overview:

Hotels & houseboat: €215,78
Food & drinks: €61,16
Transportation (bus, train, tuktuk): €18,05
Flights: €223,92
Extras: €2,7

Total: €521,61

Should you add Kerala into your India travel program? If you are going in the winter season, absolutely! The period of November-March is ideal. Otherwise, I would first consider if you can handle the heat during the summer months. Maybe read what reviewers online have to say about it. In any case, I wish you a wonderful trip!



The Eventful Journey from Lo Pagan to Bhubaneswar

March 3, 2016

36 hours, 5 connections and 12.000km – how I succeeded in making all the connections and arrive on my destination in one piece at the predicted time… I don’t know, but I did it! Today, let me tell you all about my eventful journey from Lo Pagan, where I spent the Christmas holidays, to Bhubaneswar, the place I will call home for the next three months. And let me also share with you a couple of my first impressions about India.


On January 3, 2016 I arrived in Bhubaneswar after a long, eventful journey. On Saturday early morning, my dad drove me from our holiday house in Spain to the trainstation of Alicanta. For the first time, I took the AVE train (alta velocidad or high–speed train) to Madrid. I had never been on one and it was kind of an exciting experience for me! Next, I took a local train to the airport and, since I had arrived at the wrong terminal, had to get on a transfer bus to reach my plane to Istanbul. It was an omen for what was yet to follow.

The big question was whether I would be able to fly to Istanbul and, if I did, whether I would be able to fly to Mumbai or not. You see, since the day before my departure, I was notified that Istanbul was experiencing it’s most harsh winter storm in 26 years. Even though I succeeded in containing my stress, I was a bit worried about not reaching India in time for class. But I had no reason to panick, because I was able to get on the plane to Istanbul on time. The arrival there didn’t go so smooth, though… Even though we landed on time, because of the large amounts of snow and frozen ground, we had to wait in line with the other plans for a really long time before we were able to connect with the terminal. And since I had to make my connection to Mumbai, I got a bit nervous. In the end I had less than half an hour to make my connection, but I made it!


The flight from Istanbul to Mumbai was slightly delayed because of that same snow storm, but the journey to Mumbai itself flew by (pun intended). I watched the movie Everest, had an interesting conversation with my Indian neighbor (who was a student in Dallas), and even succeeded in getting some shut-eye (which was partly to make my Indian neighbor stop sharing all aspects of his life with me). When I reached Mumbai, I had a couple of hours before I had to make my connection to Bhubaneswar. You should know, though, that I was pleasantly surprised with the ease with which I was able to get through security in the airport. Because I am blonde and pale? Maybe, I dunno.

I was not so happy when I was urgently looking for a bathroom after the long flight and when I found one, discovered the Indian toilet inside (i.e. a squatting toilet). I really couldn’t handle that after 30 hours of no sleep. I decided to hold it up until I found a western toilet. But after twenty minutes of walking down a really long hallway, I had to give in. Fortunately, I bumped into a friendly cleaning lady who showed me where the western toilet was. I could have cried of happiness at that moment!

When I headed for my transfer in the domestic terminal, I was finally presented with the famous “Indian efficiency”. I had to wait 45 minutes before they let me on the transfer bus! Even though I was the first one to arrive there and even though the bus was only half full. Nevertheless, I wurmed my way in that bus a bit before my time, because I was tired of waiting. I desperately wanted to get a normal breakfast before I made it to my last connecting flight (I mean, who knew what my next breakfast would look like?!).


The journey on the transfer bus was an eye-opener. It was my first experience with Indian traffic, so when I saw some crazy people crossing the street seemingly without a care in the world, through the seemingly chaotic and deadly zigzagging of cars, tuktuks and motorcycles, I was 100% convinced they were trying to commit suicide. But not long after I realized: this is India, this is normal here.

In the end, I arrived in one piece at the domestic terminal of the Mumbai airport. There new problems arose as soon as I arrived and had to check in my luggage. Apparently you can only bring 15kg with you. That meant: extra charges of €20! O well… Nothing to do about it. I did hide my heavy backpack from the lady’s sight though. Or they would have charged me for that as well, I’m sure!

Finally I was able to have my breakfast in some coffeebar – afterwards I found out I was at the famous Indian coffee chain CCD (Cafe Coffee Day). I immediately felt a lot better. At that time, the lack of sleep also really started weighing me down. When I was searched by the security guards, had to unpack my carefully packed and puzzled backpack and lost my secret santa gift (a swiss pocket knife I forgot I put in there), I got really rude.

I did make it to the other end of the baggage control, though, and was finally able to make my way over to my gate. The further I walked down the hallway, the less white people I saw. And indeed, when I reached my gate, I was only surrounded by Indians. I would be the only European on the flight to Bhubaneswar. I also had my first celebrity experience here. I was openly stared at by almost everyone and even had to be in a selfie with someone who didn’t even ask. Your welcome!

3CMGM-India-XIMB After a two-hour flight, during which I wasn’t able to keep my eyes open any longer (even though it was really uncomfortable being stared at like that) but couldn’t sleep well anyway because the girls in front of me were continuously leaning back and forward with their chair, I arrived in sunny, hot, humid Bhubaneswar. I waited for more than half an hour for Krishna, one of my Indian batchmates who lives here, came to pick me up and take me to my new home/school. Hellen arrived an hour after me, so we waited for her to join.

And again we made our way into the Indian traffic.

Cows. Everywhere.

On the side of the road, in the middle of the road, on the sidewalk… really everywhere.

I really had to bite my tongue to not keep pointing them out. They almost distracted me from the chaotic zigzagging of vehicles around our car (which, by the way, didn’t have seatbelts). Then there was also the fact that everything I saw was dirty. Shabby stalls along the road, street dogs amongst the trash… At that moment I could only yet imagine how it must smell like out there.

But, like I said, I made it to campus. Sweaty and exhausted, yes, and wondering why the hell I decided to enroll in this program. Was three months in India really worth it? Could I still cancel this whole thing? How could I not get sick and dirty in this place?

I think it is pretty obvious that I was experiencing a big culture shock. But whether my first impression of India is a consequence of my exhaustion and whether my superficial glance at my new temporary home is what is seems, you will find out next time. But I promise I will keep you posted!



Blonde Gone International #10: I call more than one place ‘Home’

I am a girl gone international because I call more than one place ‘Home’ – Girl GI


When do you call a place home? Is it when it is the address on your ID? Is it when it is the place where you sleep most often? Or is it more conceptual than that? Is it a person? Is it a feeling?

Home is where the heart is.

Home is where mom is.

Home is where you’re wifi automatically connects.

Home is where I can run around with my eyes closed. 

There are a lot of such combinations around online. But the only thing what matters is what it means to you. I’m curious to know how many places you call home!

For me, it is quite complicated. I have lived in many places for varied periods of time: Mechelen, Paris, London, Barcelona, Bhubaneswar, New York… I wouldn’t call all these “places” home though.

Mechelen is where I grew up, where I went to school, where most of my family lives… I lived through highs and lows here, achieved milestones here, spent most of my time here. I have a deep connection with ‘my’ city. Of course this is a home to me. But within this city, I have three places I call home. My friends never know where I am when I say “I’m home”. Am I with mom? Am I with dad? Am I with grandma? It can get quite complicated, even for me!

I lived in a host family in Paris for two weeks. But it feels less like a home than London, where I also used to live for two weeks in a host family, to whom I have returned multiple times already and where I am always welcomed as a second daughter. Nevertheless, London still feels more like a place of discovery than a home.

Barcelona, on the other hand, is home to me. The city itself. I lived in one host family for a month for a language course and another 6 months when I did my Erasmus exchange. The smells, the atmosphere, the streets, the general views… Barcelona is home. Every trip I came back from, I was happy to step out of the plane, out of the bus, and smell the Barcelonean air. I knew I was, totally, home.

India is home. Although it is more complicated than that, again. I will never truly fit in in a country where I look too different, don’t speak the language, can’t handle the spiciness of the food, and will never completely understand the culture. But I sometimes say: it’s the people that make the place. And this is truly so for India. My friends have made a place that is often called hell-hole by people my age home. I reached milestones here, I changed, I learned, I fell in love, I was pushed out of my comfort zone so many times… I have family here now, too. India is definitely home. And yes, the fact that the arms, that so often held me, are still there is a big part of this feeling. (Gosh, now I’m gotta be careful not to get too emotional! Moving on!)

Lastly, New York. I easily found a routine here, but I wouldn’t call the Big Apple my home. NYC is like one big system. When you live here, you are just one of its many moving parts. I loved the vibe, the pace, the atmosphere that airs an everything is possible if you work hard enough and can keep up attitude. But because of this, it will never feel like home. It was too much like a movie. Surreal.

To me…

Home is where I can be myself. Home is where I lived, changed, where I made the most memorable memories. 

Where/Who/What do you call home? 


Blonde Gone International #9: My FB feed is in 6 different languages

I am a girl gone international because my Facebook newsfeed is in 6 different languages – Girl GI


Dutch, English, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Spanish, Swahili… These are the languages that most often adorn my Facebook feed.

When you travel, or meet foreigners in other ways, you add them on Facebook to keep in touch, right? So obviously, you’re feed will get a multicultural edge as well.

Honestly, I think this is what makes my feed interesting. Not the content itself – because really, people post a lot of bullshit online these days (and that is not excluding myself) – but the variety of people.

Having such a wide range of different kinds of people, from all over the world, talking in so many languages, sharing news from all over the globe and how they feel about it… Who needs to watch the news?!  When you can get it straight from the people who are affected by it…

Being someone who loves to learn new things, new languages also, I find my Facebook feed so incredibly interesting. Recently, I took up learning Hindi as a new language. To practice, I often scroll through comments of my Indian friends and try to pick up the words I know or try to pronounce their sentences out loud till I get it right. It is also a nice way to see when I need to refresh my Spanish.

I love watching pictures and videos from my fellow travelers. Besides this, Facebook is also a good way to find out if anyone you haven’t seen for months or even years is in town. So I can catch them and meet up.

Even though I may waste too much time scrolling through Facebook, it is such a handy medium in so many ways…

I’m curious! Which languages do you see while scrolling through your Facebook feed?