Friday, August 18, 2023

My sabbatical: Order of importance

At the beginning of my sabbatical I was freaking out about the fact that maybe I'm not able to take advantage of my time, that after a year I will look back and realise I've wasted my prestigious time!!

To preempt that, I invented 4 categories of stuff. 3 of them are "all you can eat"-style activities, so you can do them as often as you want, whereas there's one to be moderated and only performed during scheduled "office hours". 

These "awful stuff-category" activities can also be performed when everything else sucks and things are going badly anyway. In that case, as you already feel miserable, you might as well do such activities (this strategy was invented by a friend, it sounds strange, but it actually works). 

So the time management has been a bit of a worry all along, to be honest, some days I found myself working away, or being immersed in some boring admin stuff, although I was supposed to have a time of my life and enjoy all my liberties. 

One idea was to organise my week so that I have scheduled time slots for all things in all 4 categories. I actually didn't do that, but it's been at the back of my mind at all times, so in a way it maybe did its job in any case.

So today I reviewed my categories and I think they are still pretty right-on. Check them below, what do you think?


Avoid doing these chores outside the "office hours" otherwise you risk spoiling your sabbatical!!

  • Unemployment stuff, 
  • Admin work to sign-up in the community, social security, 
  • Any insurance stuff (car, health)
  • Taxes in 3 different countries, value-added-tax and all such
  • Deadling with Internet and phone companies
  • Utility bills such as water, electricity, gas
  • Rental contracts and deposits
  • Planning works and maintenance


  • Organing trips, booking flights, planning sightseing
  • Dealing w airbnb guests and organise their stay
  • Contracts for work


  • Reading news
  • Checking mails
  • Social media
  • Possible work assignments ( if they ever come!) 
  • Working on projects such as mom's memoires


  • Reviewing papres
  • Writing papers
  • Writing to friends (remember to start doing it)
  • Writing diary, blog entries
  • Doing/ curating photos, doing art
  • Talking and spending time w friends and family
  • Horses and yoga, sports 
  • Taking care of plants and garden

350 days of sabbatical

I realised the other day that it's almost a year ago that I stopped working so I decided to take toll of my days. I just counted that it's been 350 days ago that I last was employed! This also means 350 days of sabbatical - yeahoo!!

So, what have I done in those 350 days? 

The biggest change was to move back to Brussels. I counted that until today, I've spent almost 5 months in Brussels (and it's counting, I'm writing this in Brussels)! One of the goals for my sabbatical was to travel, I'm glad to say I logged in 3 months of travelling as a tourist and visiting friends outside of Brussels and Finland. On top of that, I wanted to spend more time with my family, that's being in Finland, and all in all, it added up to 3.5 months. It's kind of cool to see the split of days like this, I guess I'm pretty happy how things sorted out :)

Missä days months
Sevilla muutto 13 0,4
Brysselissä 140 4,7
suomessa 106 3,5
matkalla 91 3,0
  350 11,7

So a bit more fine-grained information, I'll start with my travels, that's probably the coolest stuff. The big picture is: 4 continents and 9 trips. The big ones are Japan, for the first time ever I visited Tokyo and Kyoto (2 weeks with Matt). Then there was one month in the Azores and Portugal, that was just in the beginning of my sabbatical to make sure I cut the ties with Seville ;) In the Azores, I spent 3 weeks with Matt and another week with gals who flew over. Then there is Claudia's 80th birthday in Pullman, WA, USA for (10 days with Matt). We even dipped-into Marcon side of the Mediterranean sea visiting Melilla with Rocio and her family! Smaller trips were twice to Seville (it was sooo lovely to be back!!), twice to Paris (it was soooooo lovely to be back!!), and two short trips to the NL (Doorn) and to Bucharest. So that's 4 continents and 91 days of travels. 

My stay in Brussels has not been a continuous one, there's actually been 10 different stays, many of them some 2 to 3 weeks' spells. Hmm, maybe I was not soo keen on spending time here in Brussels....? 

Well, one explanation could be that I had to spend lot of time for moving and arranging my flat, but also for all kinds of administrative crap. First of all, packing up the flat in Seville took some 2 weeks, after which some more 3 weeks in Brussels in October. As Matt was not in Brussels then, one needs to add some more days that we spent arranging the office space (and his stuff) once he got back in January 2023. I'd say that's almost 1,5 months with dusty boxes discovering stuff left behind 9 years earlier when I moved out to Seville (minkä  taakseen jättää sen edestä löytää... huh-huh...). 

Add to that all the admin work!! It took me forever to re-register in the commune (I first sent them an email mid-August 2022 and on March 20 2023 I was finally notified it's done!!). Registering the car to Belgian plates was a total hassle, too, we got very mixed information about the procedure, besides, it didn't help that I didn't have the e-ID card to do some of the paper work. In addition, I had to take a car insurance (pain in the butt), unregister the car in Spain (a trip to DGT in Seville and in Spanish consulate here), We got a new internet provider, and yes, then there was a mega hassle with Sibelga who cut the gas for no good reason (I was with no hot water for a week!). I also got to know the unemployment office here in Brussels that I have a privilege to visit for my allowances (no comments). Anyway, all that is happily in the past now and I'm sure sun will shine in Brussels any day soon! 

I've also spent 106 days in Finland! That's like 3,5 months! There was a long spell in winter, more than a month mostly in Kuopio, and then again in spring, I spent a few weeks in Kuopio. Lots of time was spent on the book project and digging into archives (read dusty boxes of letters, photos, etc). Matt and I spent 3 weeks this summer in Kuopio and at mökki, and then again almost a month in Kuopio-Helsinki until now.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Bringing Leon home

Last February we had a great week to drive up from Seville, Spain, all the way to Brussels, Belgium. 

We took our time and stopped in 4 different places along the way, the trip added up to some 2000 plus km.

The first one was la Vallee del Jerte. Never hear of it? It's actually a known place, at least for the locals, the extremaduros, for its beautiful cherry tree blossom in spring. We were too early and saw about 2 trees in blossom, but we saw a lots of cherry trees, everywhere!! 

It takes some 2-3 hours to drive through the valley, formed by the Jerte river. There are also cool hikes around, like the route called "Garganta de los Infiernos". It's special for its natural pools (like hiidenkirnu) carved out of the rock by water erosion over the thousands of years. 

Our following stop was at Hondarriba which is a border town between France and Spain. We stayed two nights there in this beautiful Parador, I'm a big fan of Paradors :) So being a border town, the hotel was placed in an old defence castel, building of which started already in the 10th centry. The town itself is super cute too, but I can imagine it gets super busy over summer. When we were there, many restaurants were closed and they were fixing places to be ready for summer.

Getting to France changed much for driving, the toll roads are super expensive and full of trucks (see map Part 2 below). But you get to drive fast. We did some parts like that, and others where we took more time. Like to go through the west part of Bordeaux, the nature park of Medoc region. 
Yes, Medoc like the famous French wines, they do come from there!! But there is also a beautiful Atlantic coast with white sand, there's sandy pine forest and - yes, lots of vineyards and castles to visit. But they are more on the east side of the park where the river creates an estuary area before it comes down to the sea. There are some lagoons and wetland areas, too, good for the birds. To get back to the mainland, we took a ferry boat which was great fun!

That night we stayed in Rochefort, I thought it was the famous place for blue cheese (spelled differently!) but this place was famous for nothing :/ Well, they had this strange bridge there that Matt wanted to see and then we were off headed for Rouan, Normandy (see the map for Part 3).
Did I tell you that I love Normandy? My formative years in France were spent first in Caen and then in Paris which left an eternal love for those two places. I had not been to Rouen before, so I wanted to see the famous rose windown, but it was unfortunately under restoration and the cathedral itself was closed. 
Nevertheless, I had a divine meal in Rouen, oysters as starters, then Cocquille Saint Jacques (Great scallop) and a nice bottle of white wine. The place, called Le Fish, was very nice, super service and not even that expensive - take me back!!  

From Rouen we drove to Brussels in one go. Curiously, we were stopped by the French customs' officers close to the border! They flagged us down on the busy highway and signaled us to turn off the highway. Well, they were interested if I had more than 10 000 euros in cash on me - no luck!

 Part 1: Seville to Hondaariba
Part 2: Hondaariba to Rochefort

Part 3: to Brussels


Thursday, March 09, 2023

Return to my deloved Bois de Halle

I love cities that have forests nearby

So one of the big exitements about getting back to Brussels was to get back to my favourites forests! Last weekend, despite near freezing temperatures and ice cold wind, we went back to the Bois de Halle/ Hallerbos.

It's a special forest to me because of all the trail rides that I've done there. The stable I went riding for many years between 2002-2010 (or something like that) was just a stone throw away. 

I was just reading about it, the total area of the forest now amounts to 542 ha, so that's a lot of land to get lost in! My advantage on the horse back was always that horsies wanted to go home, so if ever I felt uncertain about turning left or right, I would be sure that the horse would take the shortest and smartest decision (they are like living GPS!). 

This time we had to use the map on a mobile at one point, we felt a bit turned around with all trails looking alike and pointing to 5 different directions. As all the roads are also called dreef of something (e.g. a tree Eikendreef), unless you have really memorised the name of the return trail well, you might have a doubt or two. 

Anyway, the forest is most special for its flowers. We already saw some daffondils (narciscus) and in a month or so, the blue wild hyacints should be up there. It's an amazing blue carpet that covers huge parts of the forest! 

Reading about the plants in the forest also explained something about a curious smell that we sometimes would smell. There were spots in the forest that, around late sping, smelled like garlic! It must be this one!

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Doorn, NL: Ever wondered where do exiled royals live for the rest of their lives?

I was visiting a dear frined in a small Dutch willage of Doorn the other day, now that I have all the time in the world :) 

We strolled through a castle park to admire some old conifers and pine trees, an area which was called a pinetum, a pinetree-garden.

From the original 160 species planted there between 1932 und 1938, some 60 were recorded still standing. We saw some pretty big and awesome looking trees there, but didn't see any name tags. Later I found out there were some audio tours, this one tells about pinetum.

So, who planted those trees then? 

It turns out that the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia from 1888 to 1918, Wilhelm II, planted the trees. During the first World War, which he himself started, at one point he had been advised to flee to the Netherlands, a neutral country during the war. He abdicated the crown(s) and lived the rest of his life in Doorn where he died in 1941. On the grounds, there is a mausoleum where he is burried. And get this, there are also graves of his 5 favourites dogs!

The somewhat controversial legacy of the last German emperor, and not knowing why the hec there is a house museum to commomorate a person who started the first World War, didn't make me want to visit the museum. It did intrigue my interest, though, and I had to read a ton about the history of this place. 

So next time in Doorn, I think a visit to the Museum Huis Doorn is due!



Monday, November 14, 2022

A bird encounter in Tokyo

I had a stroll by the bank of the Sumida River (the biggest river in Tokyo) just around the nightfall. I was walking over the bridge by the old fish market (now turned to a building site) when I stopped to look at the skyline. 

Then I spotted this big gray bird quietly standing still on a concrete slab. If you look carefully at the red markers in the picture, just in the middle of the middle row, you'll see the bird. I think it's a blue heron but could also be a crane, I always mix them up. 

In any case, the bird reminded me something like Japanese wood garvings or ink paintings where they stand motionless before catching their prey. I later saw two of them flying by over the skyline of Tokyo skyscrapers, it was pretty and impressive!

A "goofy" thing is that the water in the picture looks totally smooth. When walking, at one point I realised that there was some commotion and waves. Later I heard that there had been an earthquick around that time. I did't feel anything, but maybe that was it!

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The flower that looks like a spout of a watering can

My travels this year have been characterised by the late blossom, there is been something of a "oh, I wish I had come ealier"-feeling. In the Azores, we were getting only a hew of their blue blossom
So today in Tokyo, I was wondering about the plants that were crowding the pond (Shinobazu pond in Ueno park). The remains of the flower look like a strainer, or a spout, of a watering can, you know the type?

It turns out that they are Lotus Flowers - or what's left of them. All what we saw was a thick mattres of green round leaves, with a diameter of some half a meter (so really big), floating above the surface of the water. 

Impressively, the "strainers of a watering can" were sticking out, sometimes some 50cm above the water. It appears that what looks like a "strainer" is actually a seed head of a lotus, thier pods. That's pretty cool to learn!!

The picture below is how it looks when flowers are in blossom. The pond has apparently been an inspiration for many pieces of art, like the wood garving from 1866 (that's why no highrisers appear in the pic!).

Friday, October 21, 2022

Sabbatical - remarks on hostels (traveling in the Azores)

After having toured a month in the Azores, my observation is that there seems to be quite a boom to create tourist accomodations. When walking around, you see little signes of "AL" on the houses which stands for Accomodation Local. 

Many are hostels or bed&breakfasts, but interestingly, they seem to gater to people with a bit more money and with many more demands than your average young backpackers. We stayed in quite a few, the best ones listed below (ordered by our dates, nothing else!):

In our rooms, we had a private bathroom, towels, etc. just like in a hotel. The bed linens were also of a very nice quality (much appreciated by me!!). And additionally, we were able to use a shared kitchen (a pic of Matt cooking at Mantaray Lodge while I'm chilling with a glas of wine :). There often were also laundry facilities which made travelling for a longer period of time very convenient.

We really liked these places! Maybe one factor was that we travelled outside of the main season, so fewer folks, but we also liked bumping into other travellers  in a very low-key way and share hints. 

Interetingly, many of these places were paying attention to their environmental engagement, for example, not promoting bottled water, making guests to recycle, and some even said to use environmentally friendly cleaning products. 

Hmm, a little remark about cleaning products. A smell that you cannot avoid in the Azores is bleach, there seems to be a serious overuse culture among the cleaning personel. You cannot avoid it when entering any type of accomodation from hotels to rural houses (sure it might account for enviromental damage of micro-cultures....).

And on top of bleach, there are often various notes of cockroach repellent, yack, with hues of humidity&mold. With such warm and humid year around temperature, there surely are many issues around. This is a hidden secret of Azores that one cannot read in travel guides ;)