Ghent by Night

Ghent by night is a magical place. We arrived from Brussels Airport by train at around 8pm, then took a tram which left us very near our B&B. Actually, the tram left us right in front of the Gravensteen, which is a medieval castle right at the heart of the tiny cobbled city. The Gravensteen, originally built in 1180, had served as the seat for the Counts of Flanders until the 14th century, and was brought to life again in 1885 by the City of Ghent, which renovated it.

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Needless to be said, the sight of those historic ramparts glimmering like a fairytale at 9.30pm, was a real sight for sore eyes, especially after a journey consisting of a tiring 3.5hr flight, 1hr train, and the 10min tram.

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We were travelling with only our hand-luggage, since we were staying for a romantic long weekend in Belgium, however we were so tired, that these actually seemed to weigh much more than they did.

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Hubby was hungry and I really needed to sit down (and admire Ghent-by-night). As we walked slowly down the main cobbled streets around the Gravensteen, young people and tourists thronged the many small bars and cafes dotting the landscape. Most of these, I was overjoyed to note, sported windows full of a myriad of different types of beers and ciders! What can I say – I simply had to stop for a drink! My other half took the opportunity to buy a cone of the famous Belgian chips, which, placed in (yes) a cone of rolled-up newspaper, seriously rivalled those of Britain… and the sauce! Omg!

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Thirst and hunger appeased, we walked on towards our cozy bed and breakfast. Actually, at that point I did not actually know what to expect from our accomodation. The trip had been a Valentine’s pressie by the hubby, who had arranged everything himself. As we rang the doorbell and waited in the nippy chill (it WAS around 11pm by this time), a sweet eccentric lady opened the glass door for us, while a black and white cat bumped jocosely around her feet. The Lady, we were to learn later, was a live-at-home artist whose Asian-inspired paintings belied the fact that she was a spiritualist and a Buddhist (she was Belgian, but had travelled extensively to Asia). Honestly, I wish I had had the time to strike up a real friendship with her, but we were there to explore Belgium and enjoy the weekend togather after all, not spend the time with our landlady hehe.

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The b&b was simply charming. There were only two rooms to let, and I admit, my love had once again shown he really knew me by choosing the one I would have picked out myself. It was called ‘The Peacock Room’, and it was decorated in a vintage chick style. The color was, of course, peacock blue, and the walls had been painted with a couple of interesting murals by the landlady herself. The double canopy bed was adorned with Chinese lanterns and wind-chimes. There was also an ensuite bathroom and a tiny kitchenette with a well-stocked fridge, and complete with a small collection of quirky teapots!! Cute!

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We were really exhausted at this point, so after a quick shower and some minor unpacking, we went to bed, obviously looking forward to the first day of our stay (as well as the home-made breakfast which the landlady promised to leave outside our door the following morning)!

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… more to come in another post

P.S The photos, of course, are originals and were all taken by me on site.

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The History of the Maltese Carnival

Carnival in Malta has a long history. The word itself originates from the Italian phrase ‘carne vale’, which means ‘meat is allowed’, since Carnival itself is usually celebrated before the start of Lent, during which meat consumption was not permitted by the Catholic church.photo-by-photocity-3-copy-1100x616

Although the origins of Carnival themselves have pagan roots, tracing back to the follies of the Roman Saturnalia and beyond, we first find actual traces of it in the Maltese islands as of the 1400s, as records were found at the general hospital which indicate that patients were given special meals for this festivity. Food and drink in fact are an important aspect of Carnival, as is the wearing of masks and costumes, signifying the suspension of the normal order of things where social class was all-defining. During Carnival, everyone could make merry. It was a time for jokes, laughter and pranks.

Carnival festivities increased during the time of the Order of Saint John, and the traditional ‘parata’, the sword-dance marking the victory of the Maltese and the Knights against the Turks during the siege of 1565, was introduced. The ‘kukkanja’ was also introduced at this time, this was a sort of game whereby all sorts of food and sweets were tied to a tree-trunk, and the general public was allowed to run and climb the trunk to pick items of food as presents.

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Carnival started to decline during the 19th century when the British governed the islands, as it was not part of British culture, however it still managed to survive. ‘Veljuni’ or masked balls were held in major theaters around Valletta, and even the British governor used to take part in the revelry. When Malta was granted the Constitution in 1921, Carnival evolved even further. Since 1926, outdoor Carnival festivities started being organised in Valletta by special committee. Carnival started to include a défilé of floats, carts and cabs featuring imaginary colorful figures, manned by young people in costume who would blow whistles, throw colored confetti, sound horns and jeer at the crowd while wearing beautifully crafted costumes. Shops or organisations sponsored these floats and they used the event also as an advertisement for their products. In fact, carnival boosts business since street hawkers, vendors and shopkeepers, not to mention bakers, start to plan for it well in advance.

Up to 1974, a part of Valletta’s main square was fenced to create an enclosure which offered space for dancing. Later, the enclosure was relocated to Freedom Square, however when this was closed for the building of Parliament, the enclosure was taken back to Saint George Square.

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Many people could be seen masquerading through the streets as of pre-war days. Some dressed up as ghosts, demons, clowns and fairies, while others simply wore masks. The Maltese Carnival always contained an element of political satire. Grotesquely costume masquers, not to mention floats or ‘karrijiet’ which derided and caricatured particular events and prominent figures, were and are plentiful during this time.

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – a complete version of it can be found here.

Have my Friends Forgotten Me?

Lately, it feels as if I have forgotten how to talk to people.

2015 was an enormously hectic and stressful year (though joyful too). I focused most of my time on my relationship with my boyfriend, on buying property and then later on refurbishing and moving into said property.

Now, in 2016, I suddenly realize that while my life was evolving and going forward in leaps and bounds, in a certain way, I also lost another part of it – the social part.

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As happens to many people when in a stable relationship, slowly but inexorably, most of my friends seem to have faded away from my life, becoming mere shady beings in the corner of my memory. I admit, yes, there were many invitations I turned down. Many girls nights out which I couldn’t go to. Many rain checks on my part. Many tired evenings when I simply did not have the will or the energy to dress up, put on make up and heels, and go dancing and drinking for some 5 or 6 hours. Which is the reason, perhaps, why so many people slowly disappeared from my life.

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These were mostly the fun-buddies – those many friends and acquaintances you have fun with during weekends. The drinking-buddies, dance-partners, funny friends I got drunk with in the small hours of the morning after having written fire and thunder all over the dance-floor.

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I missed out on all of this in 2015, simply because my energy, my time and my money were invested into something else. Which is why, at this moment in time, when I am finally taking a deep breath and looking around me, I am realizing that I am (almost) alone friends-wise.

Not all my friends have disappeared, but those with whom I am daily (or weekly) in contact, are mainly those who are in my same situation in life – that is, couples, people who are shacking up and buying a house together, or young parents.

Is this good, or is this bad? I miss those fun times, however at this point I think that to a certain extent they will never come again.
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Why? Because I’d rather not spend 50 euros (to say the least) on alcohol each evening and invest that money on my house, or save it up for travelling instead. Also because, I freely admit, many of these ‘friends’ I used to have so many good times with were either opportunists, hypocrites, people who wanted to get in my pants, or simply people who were there when everything was nice and happy, but disappeared whenever there was a problem – which I can well do without.

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So, part of me wants to go back and find those ‘friends’ I used to have. Go back to drinking and carousing with no limits. And another part of me wants to just go forward and find new friends who, instead of wasting money getting drunk and partying, would be content to enjoy my company during a DVD night or a picnic, and then later on, have enough money saved up to go on an extended holiday to Scotland or Hong Kong.

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What do you think? Am I getting old before my time, or is this just common sense?

An Unconventional Saint Patrick’s – One Day Later!

Alright – I SUCCUMB!

I’ve been reading posts about St Paddy’s, its origins, and how people got shitfaced all through yesterday. I promised myself I wouldn’t post anything relevant on MY blog… but… here we go! lol

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When I was younger (that is, up to three/four years ago hehe), I used to take the day after Saint Paddy’s off. After all – it was impossible to wake up for work at 6am, when you got back home, drunk and disorderly, at 4.30am right? The 18th of March was usually spent asleep and/or vomiting repeatedly in a plastic bucket and/or nursing an enormous headache while trying to nibble at some salty crackers.

Fast forward to the new me – living in my own apartment, with a steady income, a steady relationship and a penchant for loooon looong holidays abroad (therefore needing all the accumulated time-off and vacation days I can spare), and I’m not doing that anymore… HOWEVER…

Seeing that in around a month and a half it’s my bf’s bday, and that I honestly didn’t know what to get him as a bday present, I had the absolutely fantastic idea of gifting him with a weekend break at a great hotel + spa we love and whose food is just awesome, and combine that with St Paddy’s! So, as of tonight, here we go!

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Quite an early surprise for someone whose bday is in May – true, HOWEVER due to other unforseen circumstances, we’ll be quite up to our ears in other stuff in May (more about this later on, as we’re keeping it kind of low-key for now), PLUS we really needed this break – sort of like the calm before the stress-storm hits.

Anyways, to get back to my original issue, since we did not celebrate St Paddy’s yesterday eve like the rest of the planet, as we had to wake up early this morning, we are going to celebrate it in grand style tonight in our hotel room after a luxurious Mediterranean all-you-can-eat buffet. Is there something better than getting drunk in bed with your boyfriend/best friend?

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YES

I just remembered one of the most GODDAMN AWFUL Horror Comedies everrrrr – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzgjsTzwlU4

Gods, I just adore honest trailers. Anyways, I’m going to download this as soon as I get home, and WE ARE GONNA PLAY THE DRINKING GAME!!!

Oh boy, so looking forward to that ;p

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Then tomorrow, we can detoxify with another free-for-all buffet (this time, for breakfast), and go relax in the pool and jakuzzi for a couple of hours, before heading to the spa where I have booked us in for a couples’ massage… hmmm…

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Anime Review – Shiki – A Japanese Vampire-Story

Genre – Horror
No. of Episodes – 24
Anime released in – 2010
My Overall Grading – 3 Stars

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Shiki was a random find. I’ve been combing the anime market for good horrors/psychological thrillers for ages now, and wanted something good with a Japanese cultural flavor. Shiki seemed to fit the bill, even though the romaticised vampire plot-line made me a bit wary, since we’ve seen sentimentalized semi-pornographic versions of it so many times before.

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The anime itself was quite good. It sports Higurashi-like traits, in that it is set in a small, almost cut off, town in rural Japan, with its own customs and legends, where, obviously, something strange starts to happen during one hot Summer, when a large number of people start to mysteriously die off. There the story totally deviates from Higurashi however, in that, although interesting and at times, agonizingly full of emotion, the characters in this anime somehow still fail to gain that certain depth of perspective and credibility. The characters in Shiki are thin, cardboard-like and insubstantial. Although we are given sketchy backgrounds of almost each one, we know that the ten-minute background interlude is gifted to us each time, exactly before said character either dies (which does not mean that they do not actively appear on-screen any more) or otherwise falls into some misfortune. The characters never evolve, they never develop, and, alive or dead, their reactions are hardly credible or even probable.

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That being said, the art used in Shiki is very pleasing, when portraying kawai characters like Sunako, but totally irritating with bland ones like Kaori – and seriously, what’s with all the stupid bombastic hairstyles? And the BOOBS… Lol. Anyways, the guys are all hot, and I loved Megumi’s fashion sense too ;p

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I also loved the fact that in the end, we are so steeped in the lore of the town of Sotoba, that we don’t even see the undead as vampires anymore, but we really and truly perceive them as Shiki. They are blood-thirsty, they are romanticized, but in the end, like their human counterparts, the Shiki just want to live a normal life, they are afraid, they make mistakes, they need help – but no one helps them. The (hot) priest Seishin perfectly persnonalizes the troublesome issue everyone in the village, not to mention we the viewers, feel – the Shiki are parents, friends, husbands, sisters, mothers, loved ones who are just trying to survive – is killing them murder, or is it just self-defence?

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Although the characters leave something to be desired, the issues presented by this anime are quite clear and very deep. In the end, I couldn’t, however, give the anime 4 stars as it still had something lacking, but I would still recommend it.

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