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.

Cycling around Nieuw-West

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #180

In the nearly 14 years I’ve been living in Amsterdam, I’ve never seen such a long stretch of warm and sunny weather.  Yesterday, as it was a public holiday, the city was bursting with people which meant maintaining a safe distance was a challenge, so it was the perfect opportunity for a mini-adventure around the polder in Nieuw-West. It was a relief to escape to escape the crowds and take refuge in a much quieter area.

I love the feeling of freedom when pedaling without haste, being self-propelled with the light breeze and the warm sun on my skin. It felt so good to get away from the constructed part of the city and closer to nature.  We heard frogs croaking loudly among the reeds, passed large flocks of grey geese lounging in the grass by the canals and even saw a tiny baby Shetland pony.

We had a destination in mind, the beautiful Amsterdam Bee Park, but finding it out of bounds (for COVID-19 reasons) didn’t deter us from exploring the area.  Instead, we strolled along the wooden pathways of the poetically named Fluisterbos (Whisper Woods), which turned out not to be as calm as its name might indicate.  Then we found a quiet stretch of grass that we had practically to ourselves, where we could chill in shade and play Frisbee undisturbed:) A restorative bubble of calm before returning to the bustling city.

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Since we have more opportunities to explore close by due to the COVID situation, I really recommend to visit this area if you are looking for a day trip by bike from Amsterdam, there’s loads to do! See more info here, and for more of my own adventures: Fruit picking in Fruittuin van West, Local fresh fruit and Amsterdam Bee Park.

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:)