Off to Cologne for a few days

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #126

By the time this is posted, I will be in Cologne spending a few days visiting my sister for the long Easter weekend. I cannot wait to explore the city together, organising our adventures around nice places for drinks and food:) We’ll be catching up over amazing veggie meals, open to discovery and chilling in the park while chatting about everything and nothing!

Mini road-trip to Chavenay

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #111

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?

That post-holiday feeling

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Our trip to Lisbon was great! It was wonderful to have 9 days to explore the city slowly, having the time to head out without a real plan and just discover new places or return to ones we particularly liked, soaking up the atmospheres of different neighbourhoods.

Now that we’re back in Amsterdam, I can feel the benefits of having had some time off, I feel lighter and in a better mood. Also in a way the trip is not entirely over since I now have the joy of quietly letting all the impressions of the past days sink in: the tastes, colours, smells, conversations, laughs… It always takes me some time to process all the experiences from when I travel, to reflect on them in my journal and see what inspiration and ideas come up.

I’m off to Lisbon!

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #85

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!

Sunny London

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #80

Last weekend Paolo and I spent 4 days in London, a trip sparked, not by the wish to witness the royal wedding close up, but by Paolo’s gift for my birthday last year: a workshop with one of my all time favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert. The workshop was amazing and I am still processing all the magic that happened that day… It was the best gift ever!!!

Next to that we were really lucky to explore the city under the sunshine and blue sky.  I’m amazed by how much we experienced even though we took our time.  It was so much fun to roam the streets of my university days around UCL, go hunting for Caravaggio paintings in the National Gallery, catch up with dear friends, try delicious food in trendy new spots in Kings Cross, browse lengthily in second-hand bookstores, seeing Hamlet at the Globe theater and much more.

On my way to Brighton

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #68

Long weekends are the best! Heading off to Brighton with my dear friend Eva, a few days to breathe in the sea breeze and take the time to get to know the city. I last went during my student days when I lived in London (over 15 years ago… what??!!!) so I’m really looking forward to (re)discovering it.  So far our plans include perhaps going for a hike if the weather isn’t too cold, but we’ll settle for spending our days in bookstores, museums or cafés with tea and scones if we really must;)

Impressions of Orvieto

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In the first days of the new year, I was visiting my boyfriend’s family in Rome and we decided to look for an excursion a little further afield that was easily accessible by public transport.  We chose Orvieto, a fortified town on the top of a massive rock.

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Stepping off the train it was grey and misty, but as we rode up the hill in the cable car we pierced the clouds and at the top, from the walls of the fortress, we found ourselves overlooking the most beautiful sea of clouds over the valley.

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There is an amazing cathedral with incredible patterns and dizzy-making columns on the facade.  Once inside, we pretended to be part of an organised group and tagged along to listen to the explanations of their very knowledgeable guide who was pointing out the stories and details of the frescoes that made them come alive. Some of the paintings seem like they came straight out of a science-fiction scene including lasers and 3D effects.

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Orvieto is a small town and I was glad to be visiting it off-season (despite the biting cold) as I can imagine it can get swamped with hordes of tourists in the summer.  I particularly enjoyed exploring the winding streets a little outside the touristy center, looking at the details of the old stone houses overlooking the valley and imagining what must have been like to live there in the past.

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*****

How to get there by public transport: take the train from Rome to Orvieto station (approx. 1 hour), then simply cross the street where you can buy a ticket to get on the cable car that will take you right up the hill (it leaves every 10 minutes).

Exploring Knoydart

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It’s always a pleasure to look back at holiday pictures and I’m enjoying reliving the walks we took back in early June when discovering the spectacular the landscapes of the Knoydart Peninsula.

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Being outdoors all day long and exploring by foot felt wonderful. Sometimes we walked on proper paths and other times we improvised our way up the hill through the bracken, Paolo ambitiously choosing the steepest side of the hill to reach the summit.

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As we climbed the views were more and more breathtaking. The light constantly changes on the loch and the islands on the horizon, it’s impossible to portray in these photos how beautiful and vast the view was.

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Whoever said it is always raining in Scotland is… not entirely correct. We enjoyed lovely sunny spells, though the weather does change very fast. Luckily there are cafés with cakes (including lots of icing), just the right thing to cheer up after finding yourself in an unexpected rainshower:)

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Of course we couldn’t stay forever… This is the view of the cute village of Inverie seen from the ferry on our way back towards Mallaig, where we took the wonderful train ride back to Glasgow. It was a magical stay!

Beautiful Capraia

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Just back from Capraia with sparkles in my eyes about how beautiful the island is. With its 20 square kilometers it is the perfect size to explore by foot: walking to small coves for a swim or hiking up the hills to see the steep west coast plunging into the sea, with Corsica visible on the horizon.

The summer colours of the plants on the hills were beautiful (green, orange, yellow…) and apparently in spring with many flowers blooming it is even more spectacular (a good reason to come back;).

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The village at the top of the hill is very pretty with its warm colours and many tiny winding streets to explore and get lost in.  We had our appartment there, it is blissfully quiet, perfect for a good rest (indeed many afternoon siestas were enjoyed!).

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The sea is amazingly transparent, and it beckons you to jump in from the rocks and refresh yourself after hiking under the sun. Underwater a ballet of fish awaits you, swimming leisurely around the rocks. So beautiful!

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