Books about walking

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Hibernation season has decidedly arrived and as the cold settles in and raindrops hit the windows, I’m happy to live vicariously from the comfort of my sofa, while I wait for the right season to pull on my hiking shoes and go for a long walk. Here is a short list of books about walking to accompany you in these cold months.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful memoir of how walking can lead you back to yourself in times of deep loss and grief.  It doesn’t sugarcoat the experience of long-term hiking, and it’s funny, desperately sad and hopeful all rolled in one.

Walking: One step at a time – Erling Kagge

I read this book in Italian, I was drawn to its title which is translated as ‘Camminare – un gesto sovversivo’, meaning ‘Walking – a subversive act’,  and therefore appealed to the rebellious part of me. It’s a poetic ode to walking on a day-to-day and a reminder of how slowing down and walking is a powerful way of resisting being pulled into the vortex of ever-increasing speed.

Walking to listen – Andrew Forsthoefel

The true story of how Andrew set out to cross the US by foot and actively listen to people’s stories. He shares stories from people from all walks of life, races, ages, who were generous on his way.  I enjoyed how it reveals a lot about privilege and how stereotypes are put to the test when we realise we are all simply humans trying to live our best lives.

Without ever reaching the summit – Paolo Cognetti

Cognetti’s account of his hike at the foot of the Himalayan mountains makes you feel you are right there with him. I like this book because with no intention of conquering the summit it is focussed on just experiencing the landscape at 4-5000 meters, observing its nature and wildlife, and describing the inhabitants and the human connection born on such a trip.

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Putting together this post, I took a dive in my photography archive to look for some relevant pictures from when I was walking the Camino along the Northern coast of Spain.  Just looking at these photos I am drawn back to the remote places along the path, I can feel the weight of my backpack, the exhilaration of having no other task than to walk 6 to 8 hours a day and the repeated joy of overlooking an amazing landscape after an upwards climb.

 

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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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.

 

Catching up

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #63

I’m very happy that Paolo is back from his month away in Italy!  For a while he didn’t have a return ticket and I wasn’t sure he’d even come back;)  Though I must say I wouldn’t have blamed him for staying, considering how warm and sunny the weather was over there! It’s a pleasure to catch up with each other whilst eating amazing Italian delicacies and to hear all about his time soaking up the culture in Rome and Sicily with friends and family.

In particular, Paolo’s latest stories about hiking on Mount Etna with his dad, have me aching to pull on my hiking boots and go straight there to feel those sensations again! This is a picture from our trip in August 2013.  It’s so impressive to see where the lava rolled down the side of the hill, destroying everything in its path and leaving only a few tree-skeletons standing.  Up high on the mountain the air felt surprisingly crisp and cool, and I loved the unique crunch of dried lava beneath my feet, as we walked through the majestic and desolate landscape… I have the feeling we will go there again soon:)

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!

Ginger bumble bee

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #33

While we were hiking up Sgurr Coire Choinnichean (the mountain with an unpronouceable name just above Inverie on the Knoydart Peninsula), I stopped to look out over the gorgeous view (and perhaps also to catch my breath) and came across this cute little fella who was also resting for a few moments. I love how even the bumble bees are ginger in Scotland:)

 

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).

On the way to Guadagnolo

Here are a few more pictures of our hike towards Guadagnolo in the lovely hills of Lazio.

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The great thing about hiking uphill is the panoramic view as you get higher (something I really miss when hiking in the flat Netherlands).

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As usual I was mesmerized by the moss, lichens and tiny plants growing on the rocks.

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The wintery trees looked quite eerie with the grey sky and the mist.

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The neighing sounds this horse was making echoed loudly around the valley  before it appeared over the crest of the hill. What happened next is described here🙂

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As we drove home towards Rome, the sunlight piercing through the clouds over the valley was a spectacular sight.

Curious horses

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #10

On January 2nd, Paolo and I went for a lovely hike in the outskirts of Rome, towards Guadagnolo. It was a great way to start the new year by spending some time outdoors, and despite being a grey day it was a beautiful walk.

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We didn’t meet one single person during our hike, but we did come across quite a few wild horses. Some of them stood boldly on the path, and others were half hidden and peeking out at us from behind the bushes, waiting to see what we would do. before they retreated up the slope of the hill.
img_4764This other family of horses came down the mountainside directly towards us. They initially ‘pretended’ to follow the road in the opposite direction to where we were walking, only to start following us as soon as we had our back turned.

The baby horse couldn’t contain his curiosity and came right up to where I stood. For a few seconds he looked at me and sniffed me a few times before continuing on his way.  A very magical moment:)