Karolien is a Belgian restaurateur who has long been bitten by the travel bug, criss-crossing the globe alongside her husband. However, this time she was looking for a chance to set out on her own and go on a solo trip without her husband or a friend by her side. When she found out she could visit a new country and learn something new on a VAWAA, with a local artist to guide her so she wouldn’t be totally alone, she knew she had found the perfect trip for her solo journey.
Even though she had never before practiced ceramics--or any other crafts, for that matter--Karolien journeyed to Slovenia to spend the week in ceramic artist Katja’s sun-filled studio, spending her days sipping tea, listening to music, and making her own set of ceramic bowls. We chatted with Karolien to learn more about her VAWAA experience, what it was like staying in the small town of Krize, and what this trip meant to her.*
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I’m Karolien, and I live in Leuven. It’s pretty small village in Belgium. I actually run a restaurant together with my husband. And I like to do these creative things, I like to travel a lot. So I think for me, VAWAA was a great experience to combine both. To see something in the world on my own, not just with my husband or a friend by my side. And just learn something new.
What was your most memorable travel experience prior to this?
Ooh, that’s a difficult one. I guess it all just started when I graduated and me and my husband, well he wasn’t my husband back then, decided to travel for ten months through Asia. And so I guess that’s where we picked up the travel bug. And since then we’ve been going on and off, mostly Asia. It’s fun to discover new places.
What were you looking for when you decided to go on a VAWAA?
I was planning to go for a yoga course, but then when I started to look into that, they all seemed a bit flowy and a bit too mindful for me. And I was thinking about traveling by myself, not with my husband for a change, and I thought that would be a good experience. VAWAA sounded perfect--a shorter period, and you have so many opportunities close by in Europe, and all these different crafts. So I immediately fell for it.
What drew you to ceramics in Slovenia with Katja?
First of all I like to stay in Europe, because then I wouldn’t be traveling for like a week or ten days or go that far abroad. And then the ceramics, I don’t know, I was looking for a couple months now to do something like silver making, or like a jewelry course, but that was difficult to find. And then I figured ceramics is also a little bit in that direction, like these movements you have, more delicate crafts then maybe something like photography or making paper or something. So that’s why I came with Katja.
And did you have any prior experience in ceramics?
No. So that was a bit of a question mark before I left. Like, will I be able to do this? But Katja was wonderful, she gave me the time to experiment. I entered the studio and she was like, these are all my tools, these you can use for this, and these you can use for this, just knock yourself out, and here’s the clay. So it was really fun. She encouraged me a lot so I quickly got the hang of it, thanks to Katja.
Do you practice any other artforms?
Nope. No, I do some small things, like I knit a scarf sometimes, or when we go traveling I take photographs of course, but actually I don’t craft much or anything, it’s brand new for me.
Tell us about the moment when you first met Katja and arrived at the studio.
Well Katja came to pick me up in the evening and she immediately brought me to the studio, where we had some tea, and she had baked some strudel, which was quite nice. So we kind of ran over the program, like what I expected to do in the week. It was quite clear from the moment we started off that she really wanted to cater to my needs. And then we just discussed things and ran over the program of the week quite quickly, and then the next morning we immediately went to the studio again and started working. It was actually fun because she’s really mellow and she really wanted me to have a good time. So it was really nice, we really hit it off very well.
What was it like working with Katja in the studio?
It was very nice because there was always cookies and tea. And as I said, she just showed me everything of her tools, all the small ones, the knives and stuff, she explained what everything was for. She just gave me a big stash of clay and was like: Okay, now you can start. And she showed some things like how you do this, how you do that, how you achieve this. And the first day was really about experimenting, getting the whole of the clay and the material itself. And then from the second day on it was really about what I wanted to do, and she helped me decide what to do. So it was really nice, she put on some music, and there was sunshine because the weather was brilliant. It was really atmospheric actually, with the tea, the cookies, the sun, the clay, the smell--it was all perfect.
How did you spend your days--what was your routine like?
Well I’d get up, have breakfast, then go the studio together with Katja. And then we’d work. We laughed about it because you’re so into the clay, and you’re concentrating on your bowl, that time actually flies by. We started talking and then after an hour or something it’s like, what were we talking about, or what were we thinking? We were working until lunchtime, which was actually quite late but we were so swallowed by the clay...it’s actually quite therapeutic working with clay. So then I prepared a quick lunch, and then we went to the studio once more. Then I guess around five o’clock, maybe six o’clock most of the days, we said like okay, no we’ve had enough. Because everything has to dry as well, so you can’t keep on working. So I went for a little run because it’s a very beautiful village where Katja lives. So it was very nice to go jogging from village to village. And you know she’s close to the mountains, so that’s very nice.
It’s a bit back-to-basics. Well the studio where I stayed was very nice, I had a small kitchen, and a bathroom, so it was perfect. But I mean, it’s back to basics because you finish your day and then you go to the one shop in the village, you buy your groceries, and then you cook something. And sometimes I met Katja in the evening, or I read a book. So it was a really good balance between getting to know Katja and some quality time for myself. Because when I’m at home I hardly have time to read a book. So it was actually quite perfect.
And I guess on the fifth day, the bowls had to dry so there was nothing we could do. So Katja took me to the glazing shop and we had a drink on the terrace in the sun in the village nearby. And then the next day we went to Lake Bled. It’s really pretty, so we did a big tour there. It was nice, Katja really wanted to show me her country, so it was a very good balance between being almost entertained by Katja and having time for myself to go jogging or read a book or just go walking around the village. So it was really nice and it was very relaxing.
What was Katja’s village Krize like?
It’s very pretty. It’s about forty kilometers out of Ljubljana. I just walked around by myself in Ljubljana at first to explore the city. But her village is very beautiful, it’s set against the Alps. So it’s a small village, a few hundred people. And there’s always people outside. So it’s nice just to go walk around. I also noticed there’s a lot of cycling. So I think it’s getting more and more famous for hiking and cycling the region. So it’s actually very beautiful.
What was your favorite memory from your VAWAA?
That’s a difficult one. I really just enjoyed the general feel of being with Katja in her studio. It has this feel of being really special with the smell of the clay and the glazing. And she always puts music on and we share a taste in music, so that was very nice. So I guess it was just this working on the bowls and getting lost in your thoughts as time flows by. It was very nice. It’s more of the feeling that I got from it.
What did you create with Katja?
I actually made a series of bowls because when friends come over to our home we always have dinners with lots of different side dishes and salads so I thought it would be nice to make something I could actually use, rather than just put something on the cupboard. And I’m actually quite pleased with them. They worked out really nice, they didn’t explode in the kiln, which is nice. So it’s a small series of bowls I made.
Ceramic pieces made by Karolien during her VAWAA
How has this experience impacted you personally? What have you brought back to your daily life?
I think it inspired me to go traveling by myself. It wasn’t really traveling because I stayed with Katja a lot but it did make the stuff smaller for me. So traveling without my husband or a friend. So that’s nice, something that I know I can handle. I’m pretty social, so when I’m devoid of people I get a little sad.
And I mentioned it one time to Katja, but I actually had an accident at one time with my hand, so my right hand isn’t the best as it was. So it actually was quite a victory that I was able to make these bowls that were quite fine and elegant. And it took some time because, you know Katja is fast and furious and she makes these amazing things in two hours time, but it was nice for me to create something with my hands, even though they’re not working 100% anymore. So it really felt like a victory at the time so say, yeah, see, I can still do these fine things. It really gave me a boost.
Are you planning on continuing with ceramics at all back home?
Well Katja is certainly encouraging me to do so. She said that I should look for someone who has a kiln so that I can make the pieces and someone else can burn them for me because that’s quite a delicate process. You really have to know these things. So yeah, I might do it. Except for the kiln, you don’t need a lot of things to get started. So I think I might work on some pieces, but first I have to find someone with an oven. Which I think I will be able to do.
Anything else you’d like to share with travel and art lovers? Any updates or special trips planned?
I’m a very bad decision maker, even though I thought VAWAA was really something for me. But it’s just one week, so if you feel like it might not be your thing, it’s just a week. And for me I really really loved it. So yeah, I don’t think you should hesitate. Just the combination of seeing something in another country, because I’d never been to Slovenia, and actually picking up a craft. And it’s not like when you go on a day course or something--it’s something completely different, because on a day course you get a taste for it but you don’t really get the hang of it. So I really loved it, that now you really have the time to discover something and get to know the materials. So I think that’s really kind of great.
*Comments have been lightly edited for clarity and length