Sevilla by train from Brussels

In September we attended the wedding of our good friends Victoria & Karel in Sevilla. The obvious transport mode would have been the airplane, have tons of delays and cancelations and arrive all stressed out. Instead we adventured the other option: going by high-speed train, enjoying the scenery of France, from mountains to the mediterranean and all the way south through Spanish nature. We read books, played with August, slept, ate our picknick, meditated, talked, played games and dreamed away…

The trajectory was simple but expensive: 275 EUR per person one way.

  • Brussels – Paris Nord (D1 – 29 EUR)
  • Paris Gare Lyon – Barcelona (D1 – 122 EUR)
  • Barcelona – Sevilla (D2 – 124 EUR)

We booked the trip via sncf-connect.com (where you should get a “carte avantage adulte” to get more discounts!). You can do this exact same trajectory in a single day, leaving Brussels around 6h30 in the morning and arriving in Sevilla around 22pm in the evening. The connections are tight but possible if there’s no major delays.

There’s also an option with a night train between Paris and Perpignan, but since we had August, our one year old baby with us, we chose to split the trip in two each time and stay for the night in Barcelona. It was a good opportunity for Tine to see some friends back and take a rest.

To enjoy the trip we took the baby carrier (draagzak) instead of the stroller. We spent a lot of time in the bar car where August could play on the floor with a couple of simple toys, or sleep in the carrier on our breast.

Since the journey was quite long, spread over two days, we decided to stay longer than just the weekend and added a yoga retreat in Suryalila and a visit to Cadiz. For those who enjoy veggie food, yoga and nature: this is heaven! We stayed in the glamping tents, did yoga every morning at 8am, enjoyed the best all-inclusive veggie buffet I have ever seen, read books by the pool, went for walks and just enjoyed life at its purest.

Our highlights in Sevilla:

  • Real Alcazar
  • Catedral de Sevilla (and the view from its tower)
  • Setas de Sevilla
  • Plaza de Espana
  • Restaurants: El Disparate (& rooftop); Espacio Eslava

Our Highlights in Cadiz

  • Torre Tavira (amazing view and camera obscura guided tour)
  • Restaurante Contraseña
  • Breakfast in Restaurante Café Royalty
  • Jardines de Alameda Apodaca

For August we brought most of his stuff in our backpacks and bought extra milk and food in the local bio stores in Sevilla. To sleep we have a little 2″ baby tent that is way more portable than most of the travel beds for babies. We would certainly recommend this instead of a normal travel bed to anyone that likes to go on adventures. The baby carrier came in really handy, but when we arrived in Sevilla we did have a stroller that my parents brought along in their camper.

Stay tuned for our next adventure: The night train to Briançon with little August along… we are very curious ourselves if August will be able to sleep or will keep the fellow travellers awake all night…

Snow walk in Gedinne

You want to go for a good hike in the woods (with or without snow)? You’re looking for the magic of the first snow in the Ardennes?

Chances of hiking in the snow are bigger the more you go to the South of Belgium. So in January earlier this year we took a train from Bruxelles-Luxembourg, made a switch in Namur and continued until Gedinne. The switch in Namur was just long enough for Carmel, Hanne and Tine to grab a coffee to continue our breakfast on the train while enjoying the view. The route between Namur and Gedinne is particularly beautiful with views on the Maas and Lesse. Even if you would not get off, it’s worth going just for the sightseeing part from the train.

When we arrived in Gedinne we started walking towards the East, following some small paths that were shown on Komoot (hiking app), towards the “Monument pour les morts de Maquis”. We just tracked time and made a random loop in the woods so that we could do a 3 hour hike and get back at the same station afterwards. It’s best to take a picknick, since we actually did not see a single restaurant or shop for the whole hike. If you make your tour bigger you could build in a stop at one of the gites around, but best to check in advance if they serve food at noon.

It’s an easy and beautiful trip. Make sure to buy the weekend ticket or your NMBS Multi card and prepare a nice breakfast and lunch picknick.

Lustin safari

Some months ago I booked a surprise weekend in Lustin, close to Namur. To get there we jumped on the direct train from Brussels-Schuman to Lustin and took our folding bikes along. It took only 1h13 minutes to get from Brussels into this lovely spot in nature.

With a weekend ticket you pay only 12,20 EUR p.p. going and back, only downside is that it requires you to leave Brussels after 19pm on Friday evening.

We stayed in La Fête au Palais, a small hotel on top of the hills next to the Maas river. The boss kindly picked us up at the railway station to bring us up the hill (inform him in advance). The hotel is no-nonsense and nice. The rooms with terrace towards the river are a pleasure to hang out and cost 109 EUR/night. You want to reserve well in advance since it’s fully booked most of the year. The restaurant of the hotel has a beautiful terrace so on Friday evening we ate at the restaurant of the hotel.

While going on a hike on Friday afternoon we encountered a small snake and some lovely shiny cockroaches… The big surprise came in the evening in front of our room when we heard some nibbling noises and got to see some beautiful racoons. They are a true ecological problem in Europe since they are an exotic species disbalancing nature by killing too many birds, squirrels and lots of fruits and plants. Apparently there’s hundreds of them in the Belgian Ardennes.

After a good breakfast in the hotel, we filled our Saturday with a nice hike and a long cycling trip along the Maas river. We cycled from the hotel all the way to Namur. Made a stop to picknick, chilled at the local hipster beach bar ‘The Flow‘ and cycled back. In the evening we ate at Pizzeria Venezzia, the local restaurant in Lustin, which is at walking distance from the hotel, following a small hiking trail.

On Sunday we first took a walk in nature, following the local tracks indicated through the woods. In the afternoon we took our bags from the hotel and rolled down the hill by bike.

As you might remember from other blogposts, I enjoy swimming in rivers… The Maas river is a very beautiful and calm river to swim in, with stairs all along the riverbanks.

We followed the Maas river until we got to Yvoir where we took the train back to Brussels (eating vegi takeaway on the train from Jin Xiu next to the station).

All in all, it’s an easy trip from Brussels and a perfect escape into nature both in summer and wintertime. There are also airbnb’s around the railway line from Brussels-Schuman to Lustin. On the hills around the Maas there’s a lot of forests with hiking routes to discover. No excuses to stay in the city!

Night train to Vienna

Have you ever taken a night train?

Most of you know by now: I’m a huge fan of travelling while sleeping on the night train. There’s nothing better than rolling through nature in a charming, calm and comfortable way.

We booked our train through the website of OBB nightjet and were a little confused: the price was better then on the NMBS website, but somehow I managed to make 2 mistakes that had to be corrected by the OBB customer service later on. Our return trip was only booked up to Aachen (no idea how that happened) and my name was linked to the bed in a women only coupé and Tine’s name to the men only coupé.

Luckily all went well during the trip and we had 2 private coupés all by ourselves from Brussels to Vienna: each our own shower, toilet, beds… 4 small bottles of sparkling wine as apero and a decent breakfast included in the price. Our train left on time from Brussels-South at 19h32 on Wednesday evening. For a bed in a 3 person coupé with own bathroom we paid 140 EUR p.p. to go, and 130 EUR p.p. on the way back. It’s not cheap, but the luxury was actually very enjoyable. We took our own dinner with us from the salad bar in Brussels-South. Without realising, a colleague of mine travelled along on the same train, so in the evening we could sit in our coupé to chat while sliding through the countryside.

Around 11am we arrived more than an hour late in Vienna and got a partial refund of 70 EUR a couple of weeks later, to compensate for the delay. Quite a nice gesture.

On Airbnb we found a place described as ‘Central Artsy Room, 7min to Stephansplatz & Center’… This turned out to be the most relaxing and zen airbnb we every stayed. The host Andrija is dedicating his life to meditation and kindly took us along by learning us some new techniques. The talks were really nice and inspiring and the restaurant and city recommendations he gave us were spot on. Andrija will remain in our memories and meditations for years to come!

We spent 4 days in Vienna. Since Tine was pregnant we took it slow and limited the number of activities we wanted to do. You can easily fill a full week with lots of interesting highlights, so we knew we had to skip on some parts. Next time we go we will certainly spend one or two more days to visit some of the impressive musea.

Day 1 strolling around the city

After dropping our bags we took the time to stroll around in the old center for multiple hours. Had lunch on a terrace (Mochi), saw the Saint Stephen’s cathedral, Albertina, Hofburg where we took a siesta in the park and Naschmarkt. We had dinner in Neni am Naschmarkt, a super good Libanese restaurant with lots of vegetarian options.

Day 2 – DRZ documentary & Hundertwasser

On the second day I went to DRZ. An innovative and inclusive recycling center where I took interviews and photo’s of how this project integrates recycling, repair, up-cycling whila also re-integrating people into the labor market again in no more then 6 months. It has its similarities with ‘de kringwinkel’ as we know it in Belgium, but goes a couple of steps further in the recycling and up-cycling of the materials that come in. More details on this and similar projects can be expected in an article for MO magazine that I should finish in the coming months.

On that very same day I discovered a new hero of mine: Hundertwasser. Already half a century ago this man developed the solutions that are needed to fight urban heating and other ecological challenges that we are now facing. He designed green cities and apartment buildings from which trees can easily grow out of the windows. His paintings are not what attracts me the most, but his lifestyle and believes certainly are impressive. -> go visit the Hundertwasser museum. Walking past the Hundertwasser haus is also fun, but the museum allows you to really feel what the man brought to this world.

To finish the day we got the sunset from the Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel. The 12 EUR p.p. ticket is totally worth the impressive views you get on the city. For dinner we tried out the vegan burger chain Swing Kitchen. They pay special attention to saving CO2, Water and forests, so that’s a nice mission… which certainly does not mean it’s healthy food 🙂 it’s fastfood but with a lower environmental footprint.

Day 3The vineyards

Our third day was my favourite one, since it had a good portion of nature in it. We had brunch in Dogenhof before taking the D tramline all the way to the last station in Beethovengang. From there you can start one of the many nature walks of the ‘City Hiking Trails’. We went for Stadtwanderweg 1 – Kahlenberg and made some variations ourselves based on the komoot hiking app. Walking through the vineyards, woods and hills was rewarded with many views on the city and plenty of wine bars spread over the hills to relax, eat and drink (even vegetarian platters in Weingut Wailand).

We finished the day with an accessible classical concert in the golden hall. It was some kind of a “best of” Mozart and Strauss. We bought the cheapest tickets at 55 EUR p.p. and sat on the first row of the Galerie, which we can certainly recommend. We would not have spent 100 EUR or 300 EUR for VIP tickets, since our seats, the acoustics and the whole experience was really good enough from where we were sitting.

Day 4relax

Our last day was a slow one to relax before heading back home. We started the day with a highly recommended vegan brunch buffet at Café Harvest. For as little as 17 EUR p.p. we had the best vegan brunch we ever had. So take your time and relax on the terrace.

Since I like to swim in every big river I pass, we went to the Donau and chilled at Porto Pollo where I could easily get into the water. We spent the day reading some books, strolling a bit more through the old center and finding the best place to get Vienna’s famous Sachertorte. Before heading back to the train station, we found it last minute in Cafe Ritter, one of the oldest bars of Vienna.

Our train left Vienna Hauptbahnhof right on time at 20h13. We were swinged back into the night for a good sleep and an early breakfast on Monday morning. A good shower on the train and some morning yoga prepared me to get of the train in Brussels-North and go straight to the office by 10 am.

Travelling more sustainably is important to us. I told you about my personal mission in life in my last post, and we want to show that we are not compromising on comfort or life quality, quite the contrary. Night trains are the way to go! Traveling by night train is way more relaxing than any flight, and polluting ten times less. As from 2022 you can take our European Sleeper, a direct night train from Brussels to Berlin and Prague. If you travel in the coming months you take the OBB Nightjet from Brussels to Austria, or after a short Thalys ride to Paris you get access to multiple night trains in France.

If you want to travel already tonight, then click this link for the best night train sleepstory ever. Almost 3 milion others have traveled along with Erik Braa on The Nordland Night Train straight from their own beds.

Cycling in “De Vlaamse Ardennen”

After a long silence there’s a strong motivation to bring you a longlist of inspiration for low carbon trips: Rome and Vienna by train, sailing, hiking, camping, … We’ll dive right in with a lovely trip we did last weekend to Flanders cycling paradise: De Vlaamse Ardennen.

We left from Brussels on Saturday. It took us only 20 minutes by train from Brussels South to Denderleeuw. We took our folding cycles but you can just pay 4.5€ more to take your normal bike on the train. With Tine being pregnant we made it a short cycling trip (35km) through nature, from Denderleeuw along the Dender river to Geraardsbergen and then to Brakel where we slept.

You can easily extend the cycling part by starting your trip in Aalst (43km), Dendermonde (55km) or even start cycling from the Schelde or Brussels. We knew it was going to be a wet day so even with rain pants on, cycling for 2 hours was enough.

We slept in one of the cabins of B&B De Groeneweg in Brakel. A great glamping getaway in nature with views on a beautiful orchard for only 55€ per night. The host is kind and super helpful so don’t hesitate to ask her whatever you need. The breakfast basket is worth its 10€ p.p. so if you’re not on a tight budget you want to go for that one. These “pods” are actually part of the “Trekkershutten” network, located close to GR hiking routes and big cycling corridors through Europe.

For diner there’s plenty of impressive restaurant options around… but most were already fully booked two weeks ahead, so make sure to reserve and check the menu prices before booking: Moeder Agnes, La Granja, De vijf seizoenen or La Villa.

On Sunday we slept a little longer than average, took a late breakfast and went for a lovely walk in the woods. Based on the application of Wandelknooppunt it is really easy to determine your walk in the surrounding woods. You just save or remember the numbers of the “nodes” and follow the indications along the path. It works exactly the same as the “fietsknooppunten” for cycling routes in Flanders.

During our hike we had a picknick. After returning to the B&B we packed our bags and started cycling back to Geraardsbergen…through the rain. Surprisingly, Tine enjoyed the weekend so much that she kept a big smile even through the pouring rain.

As for the culture part, except for the windmill we visited, you might have spotted a Manneke pis on the background of the second picture… Geraardsbergen claims that their manneke pis is actually older than the Brussels one. (note: it looks exactly the same and both original statues were made around the 1450’s).

Before heading back home we still went for pancakes in Montana – nothing special but cosy to warm up during heavy rainfall. A little sun would have surely invited us to visit Geraardsbergen more extensively, but we had our portion of nature so were totally satisfied.

To go back to Brussels on Sunday evening we took the train from Geraardsbergen. There’s a direct train from Geraardsbergen back to Brussels every hour.

Office work in nature

Due to obvious reasons we’ve all discovered home working this year. Working away from the office gives all kinds of freedom that we never thought were possible, so let’s get the best of it. To find a place to work more effectively and alone I decided to look for a campsite at easy train distance from Brussels, and I immediately baptised it as my favourite working spot of all: Camping Les Murets.

With my camping gear, notebook and laptop I took the train from Brussels-North to Liege, and a quick train connection from Liege to Hony. From there it’s a 5 minute walk to the campsite. From door to tent it took me a big 1h30 only.

To give you an idea on my daily routine working there:

  • 7h30 wake-up + granola with fruit breakfast
  • 8h00 morning walk to the river, working on paper (structuring, brainstorming, making to-do list,…)
  • 9h-13h working on laptop on the reception terrace (with Wifi and electricity to charge phone or laptop 😉 )
  • 13h00 lunch / picknick (making a fresh salad, some canned fish…)
  • 13h30 hammock time taking a nap, reading a book, working on paper, going for a swim in the Ourthe
  • 14h-19h working on laptop in the hammock without wifi (and without distraction)
  • 19h going for a walk, run, swim in the Ourthe, find a restaurant or food
  • 21h read a little
  • Sleep – Repeat

For 11 EUR per night you get a nice plot of campground in nature, next to a swimming spot in the Ourthe, access to showers and bathrooms and a terrace with food and drinks. It’s actually cheaper per night than renting your own apartment in Brussels. The campground offers pizza’s, but at 20min walking there’s some other restaurants. There’s a GR walking route passing along the campground, so that will always make for beautiful hikes as a break.

If you know other similar working locations in Belgium, please let me know and I’ll add them to this post. Can’t wait for spring to come.

p.s. for those looking for an alternative career, the campground is for sale and still open in the meantime.

Touring by bike in the Black Forest (2/2)

During the second week of our cycling holidays we entered into the woods of the Black Forest. The days were filled with a mix of cycling on mountain routes, some city tripping and a good bit of relaxing and reading.

It was our first time climbing 1000 metres with a fully packed bike. It felt really rewarding to suffer for a bit, before having an impressive view. A long downhill only adds to this positive experience.

Karlsruhe

Spread over a full week we took the following route:

  • Karlsruhe
  • Baden-Baden
  • Freudenstadt (camping Langenwald)
  • Wolfach (Camping Zur Muhle)
  • Freiburg (2-day city trip)
Museums in Karlsruhe – Make sure to check out the ZKM Centre for Art and Media

To spread the trip and keep time for some hikes, we took the cycling very slow. Sometimes we only cycled for an hour or two in a day, e.g. the trip from Karlsruhe to Baden-Baden.

The Trinkhalle of Baden-Baden

Baden-Baden used to be a fancy bathing city where travellers from all over Europe would go relax in the Roman baths. So we checked-in at Hotel Beek and went to the local baths just next door.

Baden-Baden

The city has plenty of old architecture, with some old hotels, springs, baths, a casino, etc. so we did take plenty of time to discover and stroll around by daytime, at night and again the next morning.

After climbing up 500m, going down another 500m and slowly climbing 500m again by bike, we arrived at camping Langenwald. It’s a lovely natural camping with the best bathrooms we have ever seen in a campground. The place is great to hike in the woods and mountains, with routes leaving straight from the back exit.

Happy face, sunburnt legs

After spending two nights in camping Langenwald we continued to our next stop, before heading to Freiburg. On the road we stopped to visit a bear sanctuary, which was nice, since they try to give mistreated bears a better life… but, even on a big plot of land, it’s still sad to see captured bears. Therefor I’m not going to promote it here.

On our way to Freiburg we had to do quite some climbing again. But just like all the other times, the views are extra rewarding after suffering a bit. Luckily we took more then 2 litres of water per person with us, since under the bright sun we were sweating a lot.

In general we only stayed one night in most of the places, so it was nice to stay multiple days in Freiburg. The city has lots of both new and historical highlights. The Vauban quarter is a sustainability hotspot with plenty of innovative ways of building, living and circulating. The historical centre and the hill-side view are another must see.

Bikepacking through the Black Forest in Germany. Cycling from north to south.

If the weather invites you to cool down: buy some beers and swim at the wasserterrassen in der Dreisam.

Wasserterrassen in der Dreisam

And since we like to spend more money on food then on hotels, we were happy to discover that Freiburg had quite some nice restaurants as well: Wolfshohle as a fine dining restaurant with a star, The SKAJO rooftop bar, breakfast at Manna, … plenty of nice places to discover.

Our original plan was to cycle back to Belgium through the Vosges region, but COVID numbers made us change our plans, and stay longer in Germany. One week before heading back home, we went to the railway station for some information on how to get back to Aachen, with our bikes on the train… And we discovered every realistic train connection was completely booked weeks before. We decided to go for the adventure of taking 7 trains in a row to get back to Brussels. And surprisingly, there were no delays what so ever. Transfers went smooth and there was plenty of space for the bikes. Sometimes we had to take off the bags to make some space for fellow travellers, but overall it was a positive experience. On top, the views from the trainride along the Rhine were impressive.

We were not alone traveling with our bikes on the train
Views from the train driving along the Rhine for most of the route

This was our first real cycling holiday of more then a weekend, so we didn’t really know how we would feel about it. No need to say more than quoting Tine on the way back: “Hey why don’t we do the same along the Donau, or the Thames”. I’m sure this kind of trip will be repeated.

Very shortly about our gear:

Tine’s bike had two big waterproof Ortlieb bags at the back, I had a bit more space with 5 Ortlieb bags dressed all over my bike. We took all our camping gear, clothing, lots of food and water.

For the Eurovelo 15 you certainly don’t need special bicycles at all, since it’s mostly flat and you just decide what camping gear you want to take along. My Surly did well, and our Schwalbe tires even better: not a single flat tire during the full two weeks.

Cycling the Eurovelo along the Rhine (1/2)

This year was different. All travel plans were impacted, and so were ours. So what is more flexible then not planning anything, except for packing your bags and putting them on your bicycle?

With the Eurovelo network of long distance cycling routes in mind we could go any possible direction depending on the weather and the number of covid cases. We started on the Eurovelo 3 from Eupen until we reached the Rhine river after a big day of cycling. From there we followed Eurovelo 15 for multiple days, all the way to Karlsruhe.

Arrival in Mehlem, where Eurovelo 3 joins Eurovelo 15

Figure that for many of our Belgian grandparents, a trip to the Rhine was their first holiday destination. Tourism around the Rhine started as early as 1830.

We followed Eurovelo 3 until Mehlem, and from there we followed Eurovelo 15 for 6 days:

  • Eupen (start)
  • Heimbach
  • Mehlem
  • Koblenz
  • Boppard
  • Oberwesel
  • Mainz
  • Worms
  • Speyer
  • Karlsruhe

We mixed sleeping in campgrounds, camping in the wild and staying in hotels to have a little comfort. The first night we took a camping in the neigborhood of Heimbach, next to a lake. From there we just took on the following rhythm: cycle until we see something interesting or we want to chill. No clear daily goals in mind. Whenever we get tired we either pitch our tent in the bushes or search the internet for a hotel or a campground.

Mehlem with Eurovelo 15 next to the Rhine
One of the many small ferry’s over the Rhine

With so many historic villages, nature reserves and wineries there’s always something to visit or to do wherever you are.

Side branch of the Rhine in Bad Honef

It was incredibly hot almost every day. Whenever we felt like it, we parked the bikes and swam in the Rhine to cool down. We were quite surprised to find proper sand beaches in many places, including naked sunbathers.

In an other occasion, we pitched our tent on the side of a lake. We went swimming in the evening before going to bed, and swam again the next morning to wake up.

We packed our cycling bags with camping gear, some clothes and a good bag of food: nuts, granola, fruits, canned fish, crackers, boiled eggs,… Whenever we passed a restaurant at lunch or dinner time, we would opt for a terrace and a good meal, but whenever there was nothing around we would always have our backup food with us.

Since there’s lots of vineyards along the Rhine, all restaurants have good local wines on the menu.

Most of the route was in nature or passing along smaller villages next to the Rhine, but once in a while we had to cross a big city worth visiting. Koblenz was one of them. Worms, Speyer and Karlsruhe were also totally worth spending a full day, doing some culture and enjoying a decent restaurant. On those days we would only cycle about 2 hours and hit the road in the late afternoon.

Koblenz view from the Ehrenbreitstein fortress

Whenever we were sick of cycling we would lock our bike, leave our bags in a hotel (or tent on a camping) and start walking. In Koblenz the hike up to the Ehrenbreitstein fortress is worth the detour. If you’re lucky you can enjoy one of the concerts with impressive views in the background. If you want to keep it cheap you can also stay in the hostel inside this fortress.

WormsOne of the oldest cities in North-Europe with pre-Roman foundations
Speyer – Another city with Roman history

Since the Eurovelo 15 passes both nature and some interesting historic cities along the Rhine, it allows for a very diverse holiday. If you want to cycle more, you just skip more cities and cruise straight to Switzerland. If you need more relaxing, you go slower and can easily have an interesting place to visit every hour or two.

After a full week of cycling around the Rhine, we chose to change the rhythm and dive into the Black Forest for some cycling in hilly nature. You can read all about it in part 2, the next blogpost.

Brainstorm in nature

Imagine you want to do a good brainstorm on a new idea or startup. You want to do an offsite and combine teambuilding, meetings, brainstorm and some adventure. What do you need?

  • A notebook
  • A pencil

So why bother spending money and effort on all the rest? Take a backpack with the minimum and start walking along your closest GR route. And that’s what we did. Just keep walking.

Our goal: take the first steps in launching a new night train operator. In our backpack: sleeping bag, water and some food. No tent, no mattress, no unnecessary fancy camping gear. We started following some signs in a park in Forrest (Brussels) on Friday. We stopped walking on Sunday afternoon somewhere deep in the nature south of Brussels.

Without any known destinations all that counts is the trip itself, so plenty of time to talk, sit down, take notes, challenge ideas, make some back of the envelop calculations and define next steps.

The process is so powerful that we actually decided that each new recruit we take on board should join us on a hike before we make any recruitment decision: a hike gives you time to talk, listen, think, see how a person behaves in challenging situations, how a person behaves in a team, etc.

The railway company is still under investigation. We are currently finalising the first business plan, have made the first good contacts in the industry, found good sleeping cars, a shortlist of potential investors and some very very passionate people willing to support building this dream: Travel slow, Feel every moment. The future of travelling happens overnight.