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.

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.

How to get lost on purpose in Flanders

To keep it fun we won’t tell you where we went for this trip. All you need to know is that we packed for 3 days and started walking from our apartment in Brussels. The rest was just purposefully getting lost in Flemish nature along the GR routes.

During the quarantaine we suddenly spotted the famous white-red GR sign in the King Baudouin park in Brussels. That’s when we decided to follow the signs for multiple days without looking at a GPS or map. It was all about the trail and not about the destination or a schedule to stick to. Don’t worry, these GR routes do not go straight from point A to point B but take bends and turns all the time to keep you in the fields. Not knowing your destination makes sure there is no goal for the day, no hurry or rush to get somewhere. It’s just about walking, reading, eating and sleeping.

What we felt was hard to describe, but I want to give you a glimpse just to convince you that it’s totally worth trying yourself. The GR routes have been carefully designed as long distance walking routes that go through as much nature as possible. Once in a while we crossed a village or the suburbs of a city, but very quickly the road turns left or right straight back into the fields and nature.

We’re planning to repeat this concept multiple times in the coming weeks continuing the GR where we left it, or with other routes, e.g. Compostella and other GR routes we saw crossing Brussels.

If you want it or not, when you see a sign you start setting a goal or expectation of where you think you’re going. That’s where the GR is great: it suddenly turns left or right and your expectation soon becomes unrealistic. You’re forced to keep your expectations totally open.

Prepare for 3 days: check the weather, dress appropriately and take a light backpack with the following with you: tent, mattress, sleeping bag, litres of water, picknick (more on that later), pillow, lamp, book and toiletry.

We chose our camping spot around sunset, so that we did not bother other people too much. The first evening we camped on a small plot of grass on the side of a forest, the second night we camped on the side of an open field where our tent could not easily be seen the next morning. If you like sleeping a bit longer the next morning then it helps to chose your spot in a place it will certainly not bother anyone. If you are hungry, find a nice place to sit and eat. If you’re sleepy, find a nice place to set up camp and sleep.

We would wake up around 8 or 9, have breakfast, read a bit and start walking. We took evening walks after dinner because they give beautiful light and help digest your food.

Camping in the wild at such is an interesting activity: it stretches all of your daily routines or processes. It’s not easy at first, since even the smallest or most basic process such as brushing your teeth or going to the toilet don’t go the usual way. It’s good to question yourself and your most basic needs, it gives you fresh insights and stretches the brain.

To make it a good trip enough water and good food is important. Some basic recipes of our all time favourites are the following. To keep the food fresh it’s best to take a small cooling bag in your backpack:

  • Cucumber salad with canned sardines in olive oil
  • Orange, fennel and canned mackerel salad in olive oil
  • Couscous with raisins (pre-prepared and deep frozen to eat on the second day)
  • humous (pre-prepared and deep frozen to eat on the second day)
  • Boiled eggs
  • Granolla mix with seeds, dried banana, grains and oatmeal (make in re-usable packaging per breakfast). If you just add water to it before eating it the water and oatmeal becomes ‘milky’.
  • Oranges and grapefruit

Practically, any type of salad that is easy to make on the road. The canned fish with oil allows to have an on-the-go dressing so you don’t need to take any sauces or oil with you. Try to avoid any food that gets bad when pushed in a backpack: e.g. no bananas. If you need water or a shop for something you miss: ask people, don’t take out your phone or gps.

In the afternoon of the third day we took our gps to see which railway station we could go to within 2 hours of walking. That’s where we left the GR route behind, walked along the water to the station and railed back to Brussels.

Hiking through Corsica

Our most impressive trip of 2019 was to Corsica. We took some late summer holidays at the end of September/early October and went by direct train from Brussels to Marseille, and then by boat to Corsica.

Since it was a two week trip, there’s so much we would like to share… but we’ll keep the text a bit shorter and split this post in chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Arrival in Ajaccio
  • Chapter 2: The South
  • Chapter 3: The mountains
  • Chapter 4: The West
  • Chapter 5: Cap Corse
  • Chapter 6: The boat

We did the South of the island by hitchhiking and hiking. We took a train to the inland where we hiked for multiple days, and than continued by train to Calvi. In Calvi we rented a car for a couple of days to visit the West and Cap Corse, which is more complicated in terms of public transport… and it allowed for a bit more efficient travelling than by hitchhiking.

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Chapter 1: Arrival in Ajaccio

We arrived around 7h30 AM by boat from Marseille to Ajaccio. After a good night of sleep we decided we were ready for a good breakfast, a stroll in Ajaccio and some good hitchhiking to Sartène. Ajaccio has a nice small city center with a nice market place and a fishing harbour worth visiting.

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Chapter 2: The south

(Day 1: Ajaccio РSart̬ne РBonifacio; Day 2-3-4: Bonifacio)

Contrary to what many people think, it is super easy to hitchhike. The drivers that took us along were each one of them so interesting and lovely that it really added an extra layer of enrichment to our trip. We never had to wait longer than 10-15 minutes and talked for hours with: a writer of police novels, a Parisian couple of pensioned real-estate experts, a theater couple, local kayak freak, … A nice and diverse set of local Corsicans and other tourists that shared tips and tricks and a bit of their life story.

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Sartène is the perfect spot for a stop on the road, a stroll and a good lunch at L’arbousier.

After stopping at some nice tropical beaches on the way, we arrived at Bonifacio. What a city. We camped at the local camping just before arriving at the harbour (not that good) and spent some time visiting the fortified city.

It’s touristy, but totally worth taking a tour at sea to visit some nearby caves and seeing the city from the water. So do spend some money on this.

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The tiny beach (Sutta Rocca – hidden beach) just next to the village is good for a quick swim and some even more spectacular views on the rocks.

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There’s plenty of good restaurants around… but there was one blast that truly amazed us due to the friendliness and the food quality: Lan’k. You need to take a reservation and bring some money (50 EUR/person for a starter, main and desert)… but if you are impressively lucky, like we were, you meet the most friendly people ever that suddenly decide to pay your whole bill without your notice.

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Another good place to recommend, but in a less fancy location next to the harbour, is the ‘Kissing Pigs’. Here we had a great salad lunch. And after lunch we set off walking with all our stuff, to the next village.

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We found this impressive campsite ‘Camping des Iles’ where we stayed for multiple nights.  From there we did multiple hikes, a kayak tour, some swimming, book reading, etc. The kayak tour was a bit rough due to the strong wind, but we did manage to go to the close by island ‘Ile Piana’ and could catch some good waves to surf on with the kayak.

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A lunch at ‘L’efet mer’ is a must do. The food is great and the views on the surfers and sailors on the blue water will entertain you.

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Make sure to take the hikes to the beaches of Petite Spérone and the Grand Spérone. The hike itself is nice, and the white sandy beaches are good to take a swim. Do notice there is no shadow, shops, nor bars or anything. It’s completely desolated.

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Chapter 3: The mountains

(Day 5: Bonifacio to Ajaccio by hitchhiking, Ajaccio to Corte by train; Day 6-7-8-9 hiking Mare e Mare and GR20; Day 9: from Corte to Calvi by train)

We hitchhiked back to Ajaccio, since in off-season there’s close to no busses in Corsica. The train system on the other hand is really good. You can buy your tickets in the railway station and there’s multiple trains per day going from Ajaccio to Calvi and to Bastia (with a transfer in the middle). We chose Corte as the base for our hiking trip and thus got out of the train there.

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After an evening visit of Corte and a good night of sleep we set off in remote nature. Don’t underestimate and make sure you take enough pre-cautions such as food, water supplies, warm clothes, camping gear, good shoes, etc. It’s not just a random hike. We made our own loop by combining the Mare a Mare route withe the GR20 and then back down via the lake of Capitello and Melo lake.

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On the first day we followed the Mare a Mare route to the Refuge de la Sega. A good full day of hiking where we met close to no other people on the trails. There were a couple of wells so we could refill our bottles on the road.

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At the refuge there were very few people since it was at the end of the season. We got the typical mountain food: starter with cheese, salad and bread and pasta for the main course. In the other refuges we also always got exactly the same food… so after four days we were totally saturated of this.

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On the second day we continued until the Bergerie de Vaccaghia where we had a late lunch. From there we continued on the famous GR20 to refuge de Manganu, where we set camp for the night. On the GR20 there’s a lot more hikers, so even at the end of the season the campsite was rather full and we heard that all beds were booked.

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Below you can see refuge de Manganu and the campground around it. This was before most of the other hikers arrived and setup camp.Corsica_LL_47_DSC09564

On the third day we left our tent and heavy gear at the refuge de Manganu, and just made ourselves a daypack to hike to Lac de Nino and surroundings. With a book and a good picknick we had a bit of a more relaxing day.

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On the fourth day we woke up before sunrise to pack our tent and start early for the most technical hiking day. That way we were before most of the other hikers and could take our time and have a bit of space whenever we had to climb over dangerous bits of trail.

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It was sure challenging multiple times and some slopes were rather steep with very deep gorges on the side. So I’dd rather not do this part of the GR20 with heavy rain or snow (which apparently does happen often, even sometimes during the summer!).

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Reaching the mountain pass was impressive, and from there you have a view on the two big lakes far down the mountain: Lac de Capitello and Lac de Melo.

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After four good days of hiking it was nice to go back to civilisation.

Chapter 4: The West

Calvi – Porto – Evisa

We took the train from Corte to Calvi and stayed the night at a good hotel with a nice swimming pool (Hotel Le Saint Erasme). Close by we found a must-go restaurant: U Fanale. The menu was not that expensive and having a candle light dinner under the big tree on the terrace feels like true holidays.

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With our rental car we drove to Porto Ota. There we stayed at another nice campsite Les Olivers. We took another boat trip from Porto Ota to see the nature park of Scandolla. This place can only be visited by boat since it is a nature reserve where no people are allowed in.

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The day after we took a good hike to Capo Rosso. If I’m not mistaken it was 2 to 3 hours to get to the famous Genua tower.

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To then drive to Cap Corse we chose to cross the island and spend the night in the small mountain village of Evisa. We stayed at hotel Aitone… which was as friendly and funny as the Fawlty Towers hotel you know from the old days on BBC.

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Chapter 5: Cap Corse

We saw Cap Corse as a good road trip of two days, where we crossed for Evisa to Cap Corse to Nonza and Ile-Rousse.

On the road it was our turn to take some (local Corsican) hitchhikers and get to know the small villages in the mountains around Sisco. Strolling around we visited the small roads, huge villa-like family graveyards and enjoyed the views on the sea.

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Afterwards we took a bigger hike at Plage de Tamarone and had a good salad lunch at ‘Sporting bar’ under the plants in the harbour of Centuri. We took another walk in the village of Pecorile.

After multiple hours of driving we finished our day in Nonza. We stayed at a superb small bed and breakfast called Casa Lisa. This was by far the most beautiful Corsican house we stayed at during our trip. We had a small sandwich/cheese platter dinner with the locals on the cosy terrace of Cafe De La Tour. During the season the restaurant of La Sassa is supposed to be a good one with impressive views… but that one was already closed for winter at the end of September.

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After breakfast on the terrace of the B&B we continued to Saint-Florent for lunch in La Vista (the city itself is not that special). In Ile-Rousse we did a bit of walking and had some good food at L’Escale.

Chapter 6: The boat

To go back to Marseille the next day we took the night ferry again. The famous Corsica Ferries and Corsica Linea boats go up and down between mainland France and Corsica (and some from Italy). They go extra slow so that you have enough time to take dinner on the boat in the evening, can have a good night of sleep in one of the cabins and have an early breakfast before arriving.

Try to imagine a completely out of date interior, possibly a live bar with maritime copper elements and foreign soldiers drinking cocktails or whiskey at the bar. The impressive charm of long lost days of glory is endless on board of these boats.

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We are still waiting to get a 220 EUR refund of the taxi we had to urgently take from Ile-Rousse to Bastia… They decided to change the hour AND city of where the ferry would leave, because of weather conditions. They send us an email a couple of hours before (that we did not see on time) and they did not call us at all. They arranged a taxi for us that they promised to pay back… but so far they decline to pay back.

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We took some drinks, but preferred our own fancy picknick with good bread, houmousse, olives, cheese and wine over the average but overpriced boat meals. So make sure to buy some good quality food before boarding.

We booked a cabin for 2 with a bathroom and shower…and honestly, you have all the comfort you need. Just make sure to take your earplugs since the boat engines or vibrations can be heard at night.

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Nothing nicer than an early sunrise at sea after a good night of sleep.

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Mediterranean hike in Spain – GR92

The trip I’m describing in this post dates back from the summer of 2016. But since it was one of the nicest hikes I have done in Europe so far, I still wanted to share it.

The start of the hike is easy to reach by train. If you come from Belgium you can take a high-speed train to Perpignan (probably transfering in Paris or in Lyon), and then a smaller train (or hitchike) to Vilajuiga. When we did the trip we first spent 2 days in Barcelona visiting some friends and then took the train to Vilajuiga. On the way back we hitchhiked from Argèles to Perpignan where we took the train back to Brussels.

This part of the GR92 is a rather easy part, except for the heat when hiking inland. So make sure you always take enough supplies so you can easily spend a full night and day in nature without having to worry about food and water. The heat can be impressive so taking plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat is really needed. For sleeping we made a mix between camping in the wild in the mountains or on beaches, some campings and some small hotel rooms. To be specific: we did not always walk on the GR92 itself but made some variations first to get to the GR92, and later to avoid lost kilometers when looking for a camping spot.

Day 1: Vilajuiga to Serra de Rodes

On the first day we took the time to get from Barcelona to Vilajuiga by train and to do some grocery shopping so we would be well prepared for the hike. In the tourism office we asked a map and best route to start, since the first part is not directly on the GR92. We left Vilajuiga around 16pm so there would be a little less sun for the first climb. After about 3-4 hours we reached the top and took our sunset picknick with a five star view on the sea.

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Day 2: Serra de Rodes to Cadaques

Waking up was impressive: the location where we pitched our tent was actually above the clouds and we couldn’t see the sea, but where we were the sun was shining. By visiting the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery, we split the hike in two parts to avoid walking in the heat at noon. In the afternoon we continued our hike to Cadaques where we spent the night in “camping Cadaques” at the side of the village. It’s worth spending enough time here: very good restaurants, lovely village and plenty of culture since Dali had a house there that is now transformed in a museum.

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Day 3: Cadaques – Cap de Creus

We started the day relaxing in Cadaques, having a very good lunch at Lua with seafood: highly recommended. We rented a sit-on-top kayak for a couple of hours and did a tour in all the small bays around Cadaques. The hiking part only started by the end of the day to avoid the heat.

Nature between Cadaques and Cap de Creus is impressive. It looks like a moon landscape and has plenty of small bays and beaches to relax on. That night, after visiting the lighthouse and the restaurant of Cap de Creus, we camped on a small beach (Cala Fredosa) next to the Cap, since there was way too much wind and thunderstorm expected for that night.

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Day 4: Cap de Creus – El Port de la Selva

The fourth day started very rainy, so we hiked faster to Port de La Selva and stayed in a small hotel (Hostal Sol i Sombra).

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Day 5: El port de la Selva – Colera

Camping Sant Miquel, a nice place with a swimming pool to relax. The village itself is not the most impressive place… but hiking on to Portbou would have been just a little too much.

Day 6: Colera – Portbou

A short walk away from Colera crossing the mountain is Portbou. The views on this frontier city is impressive, mainly due to all the railway infrastructure. In the old days trains had to be switched from the French to the Spanish wheel base to continue their journey.

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It’s in Portbou that we met with David, an old university friend from when we studied in Mexico. It’s a small city with some nice atmosphere and a modern art installation in nature south of the esplanade. We were there when the local festivities were taking place. We stayed at David’s place for the night.

Day 7: Portbou РCerb̬re РBanyuls-sur-mer РCollioure

This was a long hike of more than seven hours passing multiple villages and crossing the Spain-France border walking.

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Cities are always harder to camp, but in Collioure we found ourselves a good spot behind the Miradou fortress. Nicely hidden in the bushes.

Day 8: Collioure – Perpignan

On the last day of the hike we started hiking up to Argelès-sur-mère. And after a couple of hours decided that it was time to hitchike to Perpignan. If you make sure to check the timetables upfront you can certainly also catch a train.

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p.s. All images have been taken with an older iphone so the image quality is not always very high