A blissful soak

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #190

Armed with our swimmers and a picnic containing an unreasonable amount of brioche and cake, my friend Eva and I took a long walk through the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen headed to the coast.

We sauntered through the woods and dunes, stopping here and there to lay out our picnic blanket in the shade for a snack and a peaceful chat. It was very calm, finally far away from the sound of traffic, and since it was a Thursday there were few people and many animals, undisturbed by our presence.  We even had the pleasure of quietly observing some kingfishers, flying speedily back and forth over the canal giving us glimpses alternatively of their bright blue wings and orange chest, and diving at lightning speed from a branch into the water to catch fish.

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The highlight of the day was dipping into the sea when we made it to the beach in the late afternoon sun.  After walking for several hours, a swim was exactly what my body craved.  It was divine to enter the water, feeling the sand and shells in between my toes, small waves lapping at my calves.  When we got deep enough and were ready, we finally surrendered our entire bodies to the cool water. Mine wasn’t what you’d call an active swim, no, it was a glorious release of every muscle into total relaxation, a blissful soak, the joy of floating along with my toes peeping up on the surface, carried by the sea.

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Seaside walks

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #186

I’ve been working remotely for the past week in a beautiful old house in Le Touquet.  Living just a short stroll from the shore is wonderful. Everyday the beach and its surroundings look different, the weather varies a lot and it’s great to pop over and see what it’s like at different moments of the day.

I’ve been taking long after-work walks alone, savouring each step along the long white sand to the sound of the seagulls flying overhead, whipped by the wind, accompanied by the crashing of the waves as the tide comes up.

With my Mum, we’ve delighted in treating ourselves to delicious artisanal ice-cream, trying to combine swiftly eating the melting cones with chatting as we make our way in the sun along the esplanade.

I also explored the dunes, walking between the tufts of wild grasses blowing in the wind, taking deep breaths of fresh air and watching whispy clouds float quickly across the sky.

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Cycling to Noordwijk

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We’d been planning this mini-adventure with my friend Eva for a while already. Our challenge was to meet up in a ‘virus-free’ way, somewhere between Amsterdam and the Hague, our respective cities. So we decided to rent e-bikes and meet at the half-way point, by the seaside in Noordwijk, for an afternoon.

The joy of being outdoors, on the road to somewhere, exploring new areas, moving with my own power (and a little help from my e-bike) felt liberating.  Thought going for such a long ride was a sudden shift from my mostly sedentary days working from home over the last months. It was my first time on an e-bike and it became clear that you still need to pedal just as much as normal and having the wind against me made my initial progress towards Haarlem extremely slow.  (Also, it turns there are more powerful e-bikes than the one I rented;) Next time I’ll go for one with TURBO power!!)

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Cycling through areas that I normally only see from the train window or on a map was really interesting.  It made me realise how much constructed area there is on that route.  Following the cycling paths, I found myself mainly in (sub)urban areas, or surrounded by dry fields devoid of the colourful tulips from a couple of months ago.  These sad mono-cultures tear at my heart, a sorry reminder of how we are draining the resources of the land and reducing biodiversity.  Luckily there were some pockets of nature, with wild flowers and poppies, high-grasses, some gardens with lots of plants and little patches of forest where the sunlight barely passed through the foliage and the air was cool.

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Getting to our meeting point took me much longer than anticipated. I was pedaling hard and checking maps I saw on the way to make sure I was still on track. The bike path crossings are numbered and to be sure I followed them correctly I would scribble the next few numbers down on my forearm, like winning lottery numbers 11 – 44 – 6 – 31… to make sure I followed the right direction.

Once we met up at last, it felt even more rewarding to catch up and be able to chat in person.  We shared our experiences and enjoyed some delicious cakes, sitting on the beach overlooking the sea, watching some brave swimmers and kite-surfers, bare feet in the cool sand, the wind blowing around us. It was bliss.

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I rode home via a different route, part of it spectacular along the dunes with the light becoming softer at the end of the day, watching large groups of birds fly up together in shifting shapes before settling on shrubs, and big hairy caterpillars confidently crossing the bike path.  The rest of the way, heading east, with the sun in my back through the towns, a long stretch between a high-way and a road, until I started to recognise where I was and pedal the last kilometers into Amsterdam Zuid.  I’m grateful for such a lovely day, for the good company and the perfect weather.  Another great reminder that it doesn’t take much to go for a mini-adventure.

As day breaks

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During the holidays or on a day off, I sometimes like waking up at dawn to go on a mini-adventure.  I won’t pretend it is easy, but once the ten first minutes after waking have passed (where I curse my body for needing so much sleep), I am usually excited to go explore.  Those are the mornings I tend to remember best when I look back, since they break the routine.

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So one morning, during our recent trip to France, Paolo and I woke up when it was still dark, swallowed a quick breakfast and drove to the beach.  It was such a gift to get to witness the world waking up. We spotted a family of deers on the road which promptly skittered off as we slowly drove by, not wanting to scare them.  There were barely any other cars and the silence was broken only as we approached the beach, by the relentless crashing of the waves on the shore.

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I loved being in the moment with nowhere to rush off to.While Paolo was fishing, I had time to wander and observe the plants on the dunes with their pastel colours blending with that of the soft sand.  The vast expanse of dunes overlooking the long empty beach, surrounded by the sky changing colours, were breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful.

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Summer treats

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #89

I am extremely grateful for the calm summer days where there is enough time to walk aimlessly along a wide empty beach as the tide goes out, to watch clouds moving through the sky and find improbable shapes (do you see the seahorse??!), to spot footprints in the sand that must belong to tiny animals and imagine them running up and down the dunes when no one is watching, to read for a few hours uninterrupted and indulge in blissful naps while the sun is high, to feel the cool breeze as you stroll through a local village at the magic hour…

 

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.

 

Beautiful hikes close to Amsterdam

Recently I was asked for some tips of good places to go walking in nature near Amsterdam. Going hiking in the Netherlands may not seem quite as exciting as say exploring the Scottish highlands or climbing the volcanic peaks of Madeira… however I still believe it’s better to get outside and regularly enjoy nature close by, than waiting until the next big trip.

In the last few years with Paolo we’ve been exploring places close to Amsterdam on the weekends: just taking the train in the morning, walking a few hours and being home before night falls, whatever the season. We always take along a tasty picnic to enjoy on the way, which makes for a great low budget excursion.

Here are my favorite places to go hiking that are accessible by train and less than an hour from Amsterdam, making them perfect for a day trip.

Kennemerduinen

There are slight slopes up and down the dunes, pine trees, you can easily follow the paths and indications in the Kennemerduinen. We usually walk to the sea and back, always ending up taking slightly different paths. You will probably spot some beautiful highland cows (aka ‘hairy coos’).

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Train stations: Overveen, then a 15mn walk to the visitors center at the entrance of the park (where you can enjoy a hot drink)  or Santpoort-Noord

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Castricum

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Walking through the sandy dunes of the Noordhollands Duinreservaat is very relaxing. Here also we make our way to the coast, enjoy the sea front and walk back. There are forest parts and open dune landscapes.

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Train station: Castricum
You can have a coffee and cake at the very cute Hof van Kijk Uit cafe, which is in not far from the entrance of the park.

(This was a one off, but once in summer we came across a small shelf by the path where a local farmer had placed organic strawberries, a sign encouraging passers-by to buy them and a small box to collect the corresponding money.  I love these types of trust-based initiatives and the strawberries were delicious!!)

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Waterleidingduinen

The many dunes of the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen are not only useful to filter rainwater which is then turned into drinking water for the city of Amsterdam, it’s also a magical place for a stroll. You’ll come across deer grazing peacefully all around and if you’re lucky you may even see a fox.

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Also, the plants are beautiful and diverse (including many mushrooms), and even in the winter months there are surprising colours, as you can see below.

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Train station: Heemsteede Aerdenhout, then about 15mn walk to the park
Day entrance is 1,50EUR. No bikes are allowed.

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For more ideas of walks from one train station to another on NS information – you can filter per region, length and even type of the walk (forest, dunes etc).