A hike on Mount Etna

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While we were in Sicily last month, we went for a hike on Mount Etna, accompanied by Pippo, a local guide who’s been exploring Etna for the last 50 years and told us lots of facts and stories about the volcano he’s passionate about.

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We didn’t go to the main crater, but rather avoided the crowds on a much more quiet route on the South Eastern slope. The views were breathtaking as we hiked along the crest of the Valle del Bove, a huge valley which was filled with lava of the 1991 erruption and is still the recipient for more recent lava trails.  You can see on the picture the darker lava trails from the latest erruption mid-June.

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The photos cannot really capture how enormous the valley is, a gigantic bowl catching the lava and protecting the villages and towns further down. The lava field is entirely barren with no plants growing on it, a huge dark moon-like surface, but on our path, above the valley there was plenty of life.

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It was a beautiful walk, with changing landscapes, incredible rock formations, and lots of plants that somehow manage to take root in the volcanic soil and survive under the blazing sun.  As we walked we were surrounded by butterflies and thousands of bees, buzzing frenetically around the flowers.

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As we made our way along the path that was sometimes marked just with a piece of red ribbon, the views on both sides of the crest evolved, always wild and spectacular… It left me wanting to return and explore more.

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Returning to a familiar place

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Just a few words today, as I ease back into work and the day to day rhythm. We had a great trip in the lovely town of Acireale, where Paolo’s family have an appartment. Returning to a place one has visited several times, is a very particular feeling, like peeling away different layers and going deeper.  Next to our usual favorite spots, some new discoveries for me were the tiny bakery that makes that one type of delicious sesame biscuit and the inconspicuous lupini bean factory at the end of an alley, where the legumes soak for ten days in a big pool of running water before you can enjoy them with lemon juice… I have plenty more to mention, but for now I want to savour mentally processing these latest adventures:)

Mini road-trip to Chavenay

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During the holidays my Mum suggested a mini road-trip to a pretty village called Chavenay, that she had driven through by coincidence, not far from our home town.  It’s funny how it always seems more exciting to go further afield, than to explore places closer to home.  In this case, we enjoyed some fresh air and had a lovely time exploring, simply by jumping into the car after breakfast on a beautifully sunny morning and we were home in time for lunch:)

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It was a cold and wintery, with frost on the grass and a misty haze spreading over the plain.  The light was soft, gently casting long shadows already around noon.

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I was captivated by the small clumps of moss along the frozen walls, which was half green where the sun was slowly melting the ice away.

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We took a short stroll through the streets of Chavenay and headed to the outskirts to see the horses, grazing peacefully on the side of the hill overlooking houses and old barns. We had a lovely chat as we walked along the road, taking in the view and the beautiful surroundings.

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Ideas on intentional tourism

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While we were in Lisbon I realised that in certain areas there were so many tourists that it took all the charm away from the view and I felt an urgent need to get away.  Street art showing annoying hipsters taking selfies being put in their place by a granny with spraypaint, and posters around the city explaining ‘How not to be a horrible tourist’ are telling of a situation that is spiralling out of hand.

Unfortunately I can’t close my eyes and pretend I am not part of the problem. I am torn because on the one hand I love to travel to new places and enjoy how easy it is to get from Amsterdam to most cities around Europe for short trips. On the other hand I see the effect that mass tourism is having on Amsterdam and the places I travel to, making me feel both guilty and frustrated.

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There is no straightforward answer, so I’ve been wondering what small steps I could take to be more intentional in the way I travel in order to make my explorations more sustainable. I realise that these points won’t solve the issue, however I’m hoping that keeping these points in mind are a step in the right direction:

  • Slow down: I can get a superficial idea of a place in a couple of days, but spending more time there allows me to see more than the main sights. Planning a longer trip means I can really soak in the atmosphere, return to the places I enjoyed and get to know them better
  • Stay slightly out of the center:  those neighbourhoods have more local life in them,  I’ll explore streets that I would otherwise never come across, it also allows me to experience the public transport
  • Explore without a plan: life is not about ticking things off a must-see list. When traveling my favorite moments are always when I wander the streets, without direction following an alleyway to see where it will lead, stopping for a coffee and people-watching…
  • Ask locals for tips: Paolo is my master in this. He easily asks shopkeepers and passers-by for directions and recommendations, they usually guide us to places we most probably wouldn’t have discovered by ourselves
  • Buy souvenirs from local crafts markets: as much as I can I want to avoid buying from the mass-produced tourist shops. Craft markets and independent shops are a nice way to both get unique gifts and support artists that are putting their independent and original work out into the world

This list is far from exhaustive and I plan to keep adding to it. Any other tips to add to the list?

Beautiful buildings in Lisbon

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One of my favorite things about wandering around Lisbon is looking up at the amazing buildings.  This blue one above with its corrugated-iron roof and azulejos is my favorite from this trip. It overlooked a tiny beco (alley) where an improbable banana tree was growing in the city center.

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The colours of the walls are individually beautiful, and placed one next to the other they create the perfect colour palette, like the pastel-coloured trio above (not to mention the gorgeous lanterns!!!:)

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As I explored the winding alleys, I loved seeing how the buildings were placed on small uneven plots on steep hills, their curves or straight edges squeezing into the space in sometimes surprising angles.

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Also the run-down facades are fascinating.  Each has its very own style with wrought-iron balconies, details in the shapes of the windows and doors and a certain charm in the way the paint peels off in the sunshine.

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Finally I love how alive the buildings are, with plants on balconies, hammacs and deck chairs wherever possible, people watching what’s going on in the street and clean laundry billowing in the breeze.

I’m off to Lisbon!

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Time for a holiday:) Last time we were in Lisbon was in 2014 for a few days only, so this time I’m glad we have 9 full days to get to know the city better and explore the surrounding area.  I’m looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere during long walks in the narrow streets that bring you to breathtaking views and I can’t wait for the delicious portuguese breakfasts and amazing pasteis de nata!

Photowalk: Amsterdam Oud-West

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This weekend with a friend we planned a photo-walk in the neighbourhood of Oud-West. It was like a scavenger hunt with loose rules, we chose some topics to search for and decided to see what we would come across. It was really fun and a great way to get out of my comfort zone, photographing different things than usual, whilst we were chatting and exploring the neighbourhood. Here are some of the highlights:

  • While strolling along throughout the afternoon, several locals started talking to us. Like the lady who told us about the beautiful mosaic hopscotch below and how she had made it with her daughter. She told us that kids often play on it, as well as adults and that it brings a lovely vibe to the sidewalk in front of her house. (In passing, I learnt the Dutch word for hopscotch: hinkelen!)

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  • It made me regain some faith in humankind. This is linked to the point above, people are friendly, eager to connect and busy with nice itiatives. For example, this little table with cherries and cool water was set up in the context of an ‘open gardens day’ by a lady who told us all about how she planted many flowers to beautify this little square which she takes care of herself.

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  • I was amazed by how many things I noticed.  Even though I had cycled down many of the streets before, walking allowed me to see the neighbourhood in a whole new light.  Also being on the lookout for interesting things to photograph made us more alert. We spotted new cafes and restaurants, shops and even this hairy caterpillar with its amazing yellow crests that was methodically chomping away at this leaf. 

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  • My curiosity was sparked by things we came across and I even learnt some new things. On seeing this mural, we pondered whether this gentleman was a mathematician…  as one of the topics we were hunting for was ‘mathematical object’. When I got home, I googled it and found out it is Huygens, who was indeed a mathematician, physicist and astronomer.
    I also looked up what type of butterfly would emerge from such a peculiar caterpillar and actually it is a moth – the Tussock moth. It turns out there are lots of different Tussock moth caterpillars, all rather hairy and in different colour palettes.

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Life along Regent’s Canal

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Despite the fact that I am a rather slow traveller, sometimes on a city trip it’s tempting to try and squeeze as much as possible into those few days of freedom and end up overdoing it.  So I’m very glad that last weekend in London we decided to spend our last day simply strolling along Regent’s Canal, instead of catching public transport across the city to visit another museum and rushing back to take the train.

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I love walking along Regent’s canal because it takes you outside the city madness and into a quiet world of it’s own, close to the water where another slower rhythm seems to reign.  Passing close to Camden Town reminded me of that stint in the spring of my first year at university when I would go running along the canal in the mornings with some friends from my hall of residence. I remember enjoying the morning light and watching the ducks, even though I was very much out of breath.

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This particular walk last weekend was beautiful, despite a few clouds covering the sky.  I loved looking at the small houseboats, imagining what it would be like to live in them or to plan a slow trip along England’s canals, living a life paced by passing the locks and taking the time to moor in unassuming places along the way…

Of dunes and mermaids

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Most days I love to take a walk by just heading into my neighbourhood of Amsterdam Zuid and roaming my usual paths.   However weekends offer more time to get out of the city for day-trips a little further afield.  This weekend for instance we took the train to Castricum station and went for a walk in the Noordhollands Duinreservaat, a place we regularly return to with great pleasure.

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I like the fact that the landscape changes a lot as you go along. The first part is in the shade of the trees with bluebells lining the path. Then when coming out of the woods, you find yourself in the flat, sandy landscape, peppered with windswept bushes of all different types creating beautiful colour contrasts, and lakes on which birds gather and play.

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After following the winding path, you end up at the final steep dunes which hide the North sea.  I love this colour palette of beige and grey sand, dry dune grasses and blue sky with passing white clouds.  We took a long walk along the beach, enjoying the sea breeze and the sound of the waves… Paolo exchanged a few words with a fisherman casting his rod from the beach, who when asked what he was trying to catch, answered “Platvis… en zeemeerminnen natuurlik” (Flatfish… and mermaids of course!).

Lunch by the lake

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Seeing that there would be warm summery weather over the weekend, Paolo and I planned a day-trip to go for a long walk in the dunes near Santpoort Noord.  The dunes were beautiful, coming back to life with the first leaves growing on the trees, large grey snails slowly making their way through the grass and small birds insistently calling to each other all around us.

Enjoying the rhythm of walking along the sandy paths that wind over the hills of the dunes and feeling the sunshine warm my skin after these long winter months was exactly what I needed.

We stopped to eat lunch in the shade by this small lake.  As we savoured our picnic, we took in the gorgeous surroundings.  It was so peaceful, the wind was rustling in the trees, carrying the lovely smell of pine needles reminding me of summer holidays past.