Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Gwan's Year in Review - 2014

It's that time of year again (a bit early, even), where I look back on the year that's been (and, via reading last year's round-up, the year before last) and reflect on my life and travels for another year. Last year's round-up was entitled "2013: A Year of Changes" - appropriately enough, since I had two different new jobs, moved across France and started working in Luxembourg. But this year I once again put the "where in the world is..." into my blog title, moving to Belgium mid-year for a new opportunity. And I don't want to sopify all over the blog, but obviously another big change was meeting the lovely Jules almost nine months ago, time flies.

2014: More stuff happened

Like 2012, I managed to be mostly upbeat in last year's round-up. But, you know, sometimes these things are a matter of trying to look on the bright side and convince ourselves as much as others that everything's okay. It wasn't like the worst time of my life or anything, but as time went on it definitely got harder to live in my dank box of an apartment, where I could never open the shutters because of being on the ground floor and where I couldn't own things such salt because it was so damp in there. Not that that mattered so much when I was out of the house every day from 6.45 am to 8.30 pm, too exhausted to do anything but inhale a quick pasta or pizza before going to bed. I remember it would take me like three days to watch an episode of Downton Abbey because it would be time for bed after 20 minutes of it. When Jules asked me out on our third date on a Monday evening, he (as he told me later) took it as a bad sign that I said I wouldn't be able to stay too long. Truth was that I just couldn't face starting out the week with a late night since I had to get up at 5.45 am every day.

And the job itself - sheesh, borefest, especially grinding out those last few months after I knew I had a new job to go to in Belgium. But you know, hard times make you appreciate when things improve, or at least to a certain extent. People are adaptable, both to good and bad circumstances. I find the amount of money I require to have a comfortable lifestyle is infinitely adaptable according to how much money I actually have. That is, I somehow find ways to fritter it away when my income goes up, but equally, I've managed to adapt to living on not very much money at all without my head exploding. So, it's helpful to think "at least I'm not unemployed" when your job kind of sucks or "at least I'm not working/commuting for 14 hours a day" when you don't want to get out of bed on a cold winter's morning, but that still doesn't mean you won't find something to whine about at least from time to time. Maybe I'm just a negative nancy, but that's one of the things that really annoys me about the whole "first world problems" meme. It's just human nature to have things in your life that you're happy about and other things that you think aren't so great, even if overall, yes, you should be grateful you're not picking litter in a slum for a living. Anyway, I'm way off track here.

Point was meant to be, that yes, things improved. I got a new job in Belgium that pays better, is more secure and more interesting than my old job, and the working conditions are much better. And I do have to remind myself of those points because everyone there bitches and moans constantly about how it's so much worse than it used to be in the good old days. I swapped the damp cardboard box for a bigger, nicer apartment that actually gets light and fresh air and doesn't make my chocolate stash cry or my bread go mouldy, and the cat is much happier here too, which is a bonus. I don't have any friends, so that's a bit of a downer, but I've got to take some of the responsibility for that in that I haven't been so motivated to go out and make an effort to meet people since Jules and I only see each other on the weekends, so we just spend them together, and I've never really been the kind of person who wants to run around doing a lot of stuff in the evenings after work. I always vowed I wouldn't be one of those girls who dropped all their friends for a new boyfriend, so luckily I can live up to that by just not having any, ha ha. 

Enough rambling, now on to the awards portion of the evening -

Best trip abroad

So, again, this is a bit complicated since I lived in two different countries this year and worked in a third, so I'll make an executive decision and put them all in the "domestic" category. Thanks partly to this decision, partly to the inconvenience of having to move countries and jobs halfway through the year, my international trips portfolio is a little thin for 2014! I already have plans to get out and about more in 2015 though, so watch this space.

  • So that means that January and February trips to Brussels and Reims are out, for the moment, and we begin with a one-day trip to Trier, Germany. I'd been before, but this time I really had the time to explore the beautiful churches, Roman ruins and charming town squares. 

  • In May, I got an early taste of summer with a trip to Majorca to celebrate a friend's 30th birthday (although, looking back at my pictures, I see there was actually a lot of nice weather in April and May anyway). I was quite surprised by the beautiful, rugged scenery, although I wish we made the most of the good weather instead of going to the beach when it was a bit cold and grey. The reason for that was the interminable delays and haggling of group trips, so while I mostly had a good time, by the time it was over I was quite glad to be going home! I don't think I'm cut out for people, ha ha. 

  • In September, we made a long-anticipated (by me) trip to Aachen, Germany to see the exhibitions put on for the 1200th anniversary of Charlemagne's death. The historic significance was huge and some of the exhibits were amazing, but I also kinda went into full freak-out mode with all of the crowds, so I didn't always have a great time. On day two, however, we visited an empty museum (sigh of relief) and I fell in love with the gorgeously-mosaicked cathedral - definitely worth a trip to Aachen to see it.

  • Weirdly enough, I realise my international trip section has been left with only Spain and Germany in it, particularly strange since I'd only been once overnight to Berlin (didn't see anything) and once to Barcelona for a weekend before. This time, we took a family holiday to Madrid, which I really enjoyed. Tapas, sangria, sunshine and fine art, what's not to like? Well, the Reina Sofia museum, but hey, can't have it all.

And the winner is...

Boring as it is, I'm going to have to go the family holiday again! I didn't really have any big expectations of Madrid, and it turned out to be so relaxing and lovely, and a really world-class destination. I'm surprised it doesn't get more press, really.

Best domestic trip

  • The year began with an international trip that magically transformed into a "domestic" trip, as I came to Brussels for a job interview that led to me getting a job here and of course, moving here in June. I didn't stay long (in fact, I took an early train home because I just wanted to basically crawl into bed after the trauma of the interview), but managed to burn my retinas on the world's ugliest painting at the Musée Fin de Siècle.

  • By May, my plans for moving to Brussels were solidifying, so I realised the clock was ticking on seeing the sights of Eastern France before I moved father away. We packed quite a lot in those last few weekends, including a daytrip to Nancy, which is lovely and has a great Art Nouveau house museum.

  • Next up was Colmar, which is as picturesque as everyone says it is, but also just as touristy as you'd expect. We enjoyed wandering the streets and seeing the Issenheim Altarpiece, but decided to leave quite early the next morning to check out some of the surrounding villages.

  • The way home took us through the amazing scenery of the Route du Vin, including the small but also touristy villages of Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé. The weather was perfect, the landscape was beautiful and the food was great, so this was a very good day.

  • We topped our Alsatian weekend off with a visit to the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, which isn't that amazing inside (Jules liked it though), but has an incredible view.

  • In June, I moved to Brussels, and over the past five months, I've got to explore a bit of my new home, with trips to Antwerp (twice), Ghent (twice), Namur and Knokke. I loved the elaborate statues of St. Paul's, Antwerp, on both my visits, and we managed to find the beautiful part of Ghent the second time round (sorry about that, Jess). Belgium definitely has some nice things to offer!

  • At the end of August, we had a great weekend away in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, exploring Ambleteuse, Wimereux and the Caps Gris Nez and Blanc Nez. The weather didn't always play along, but the scenery was really beautiful and we had a fabulous weekend.

And the winner is...

It was a real toss-up between our Ambleteuse and Alsace trips. I think I probably had the overall best time in Ambleteuse, and was pleasantly surprised that a place that I thought I knew, and that has a pretty terrible reputation turned out to be so scenic, but I think a lot was down to the company and just chilling out with Jules and Susi the dog. So I think if I had to do it as a recommendation, then the prize should go to Alsace.

The weather was great, we had a fantastic lunch in Ribeauvillé (after a disappointing dinner the night before), and it seemed a breathtakingly picturesque vineyard, or cobbled street, or medieval building was around every corner. It probably gets a bit much in the height of summer, but it's definitely one for the bucket list.

What's next?

Travel-wise, we have a few ideas floating around, probably starting with a weekend trip to Lisbon early next year, Champagne at some point and we're tossing around longer trips to "Cathar country", France, and Albania (I've been banging on about Albania for ages and probably would have gone this year if not for the move and everything). After that, it will be time to start saving some pennies and leave days because I'll almost definitely be heading home to New Zealand for the first time in (by that time) over six years in early 2016.

Life-wise, things will hopefully be a bit more settled. My position has been confirmed after the probationary period, so that's several more years where I don't have to worry about having a job, which is nice. Longer term, obviously it would be nice to live in the same country as my boyfriend, but we don't have plans for that yet. Just looking forward to a bit more stability and a year without upheaval!


  1. Great review! I have to agree with Alsace as your choice for best domestic trip, but I must insist that everything about the Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg was amazing, even the inside.

  2. Love this (I always love these round-ups, though, haha!). It was so good you got out of that terrible damp flat - it nearly killed Bob and you'd have been next!

    Love you!

    Mum xx

    1. Yes, poor Bobby. Love you too x

  3. Great post! You're definitely in a much better spot than at the beginning of the year! I'm so happy for you!

    We also still have to meet up - all four of us (you, me, and our guys) should plan for an afternoon in Brussels or somewhere after the holidays!

    1. Thank you! Big year for you too! We do, we need to make some plans!


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