First impression of the Deelerwoud

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On the Eastern side of the Hoge Veluwe sits its twin, the Deelerwoud, a very similar parc but with no entrance fee and much less people. It was recommended by our landlady, so we went to check it out on our last day in the Veluwe and found it’s a great alternative.

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There too mushrooms were popping up all over the place in the undergrowth, showing off the details of their unique caps.  We enjoyed a quiet walk, savoured having the path all to ourselves, meeting only one lady with her dog during the whole time.

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It was sunny when we headed out and we chatted as we made our way, until all of a sudden when we stopped to take some pictures we realised huge grey clouds building up behind us and pretty soon after it started to rain.

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Soon it was pouring so hard, we had to cut short our exploration and head back to our bikes. We were lucky to come across a little hut at the entrace of the parc to take shelter in, while we waited for the downpour to calm down. It was a cute place, all made of wood, where you can self-serve coffee and tea and have a snack. There was even locally-made ice-cream in the freezer, but soaked as I was it’s one of the rare times I turned down ice-cream.  No problem though, that just means we will have to go back – both for a longer walk and to try the local ice-cream;)

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Half-day holiday in Utrecht

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #151

It turns out it doesn’t take much more than a few hours exploring another city on a quiet weekday morning to get a holiday vibe:-) I am grateful for a wonderful half-day spent in Utrecht with my friend Eva. Our initial plan was to go and visit the Oude Hortus (the old botanic garden) and we made it, though not before making a few spontaneous stops on our way through the city center.

We spent a perfect slow morning sipping delicious coffee in a cosy spot, then finding treasures in a great second hand shop, before enjoying a tasty lunch and chatting as the rain poured down outside. When the sun came out again, perfectly timed with the end of our lunch, we headed over to the Oude Hortus and strolled through the lovely garden showing off its autumn colours.  We also explored the laid-back green houses, home to succulents, cacti, waterplants and giant ferns. I felt my senses come alive with the smells of soft fuzzy japanese citrus fruit, the incredible textures of the plants, the splashes of sunlight falling on the foliage.

Mindful walk in the Amsterdamse Bos

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I’ve been enjoying some time off to explore near and further afield in the Netherlands.  Last week, I took a walk in the Amsterdamse Bos which is just a 10 minute bike ride away from my house. Initially, I was disappointed, having just returned from the Hoge Veluwe I was expecting lots of colourful mushrooms on the side of the path, but this was not the case.

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As often happens with expectations, it was just a question of realising I was holding on too tightly to them and letting them go. I reminded myself this is a different ecosystem and I should stay curious and keep walking along patiently. In the end, the mushrooms turned out to be much more discrete. Either a multitude of teeny tiny ones on a dead stump, or huge ones that push up from the ground covered in leaves and therefore harder to spot.

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I also tried to alternate looking very close up for details and staring out over the fields at the autumn colours and menacing clouds on the horizon.  It always takes a while to get into the creative flow and start to ‘see’ patterns, textures, combinations…

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My favorite find was this tiny little snail, perfectly camouflaged amongst the seed pods of this plant. Can you see it? Such a gorgeous colour combination!

Autumn Artist Date in the Veluwe

During our stay in the Veluwe, I spent a wonderful hour or so on a short exploration to take some pictures in the last light of the afternoon. It was the perfect Artist Date.

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I pedalled along the wet cycling path, beneath the trees starting to show their autumn colours, until I reached the place with open dunes and mossy hillocks that I had spotted the day before when it was too rainy to stop and take photos.

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Then I just walked around, undisturbed, looking for interesting details and observing the plants. My shoes were really slippery as I carefully made my way up and down the mounds, trying not to crush anything as I knelt down low on the ground to take closer looks.

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There was such a wide variety of plants, mushrooms, mosses and lichens, of all different colours. Every few meters, something new would catch my eye.  I was all alone, no one passing on the cycling path, just the sound of birds in the pine trees near by as the light diminshed.

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On this tree stump, a tiny colourful hope of renewed life was growing, hosting two ladybirds in its branches.

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Just as I was about to leave, I turned to look at the lanscape once more and noticed that the last rays of sunshine were lighting up the trunks of the pine trees as if they were on fire (though this picture doesn’t show quite how strange the light was…)

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As I cycled back to our cottage, darkness starting to surround me, I felt so relaxed, from just one hour of quiet, focussed only on observing nature’s beautiful details.  My body and mind, with their infinite wisdom, signalling that I should do this much more often.

Short trip to the Hoge Veluwe

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #149

I am just back from a few beautiful days in the Hoge Veluwe with Paolo where we had the joy of exploring the National Park and the surroundings of Hoenderloo by bike. Of course, mid-October in the Netherlands there is no guarantee with the weather and we did get soaked a few times, but on the whole it was not cold and we even got some sunshine here and there.  The key was simply to be equipped with good rain gear at all times;)

Actually Autumn is a great time to go because of the amazing colours.  The trees are shifting to orange and yellow, bright leaves strewn on the undergrowth and there are bursts of colours everywhere. I am also obsessed with the many different mushrooms popping up all over the place on the forest floor and at the foot of trees (prepare yourself to see many pictures of them here in the next posts;). It was a wonderful breath of fresh air and a good reminder that just a couple of hours from Amsterdam by bus and train we can easily immerse ourselves in stunning nature.

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.