The joy of train travel

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Last week I took the train from Amsterdam to Cologne, I settled in with a book and lots of good intentions but ended up simply soaking up the warm sun streaming through the window as I looked out at the thousands of yellow flowers on the side of the railroad and people cycling along happily in summer clothes along the green fields bordered by small canals. A couple of hours of quiet, the pure luxury of just being, lost in thought and unwinding from the week…

While chatting with my sister over the weekend about climate change, she told me that now in Swedish a word exists for feeling guilty about taking a flight because you know it’s very bad for the environment. I looked it up, the word is flygskam, literally ‘air shame’ and it’s definitely something I feel more and more often, and from conversations around me I realise I am not the only one.¬† Having a word for it makes it easier to discuss and I don’t thing shame or guilt is really the point here, but rather awareness. I love to travel far away and I take the plane way more than I wish I did meaning I feel flygskam regularly and am keen to look for alternatives to reduce my flights…

Good news is that next to flygskam, I feel something else which is the joy of going somewhere by train. You could call it trainthusiam or exhilarailtion ūüėȬ† I enjoy looking for destinations accessible by train and discussing them with friends. There is the pleasure of travelling without needing to be two hours early at the airport with the stress of the security checks with the un-packing of liquids and taking off my shoes, and especially without carrying the inevitable CO2 on my conscience. And also the satisfaction of easy-going adventures, where I can settle for several hours with my journal, a book and snacks from my tupperware, feel the kilometers go by and watch the landscape evolve as I approach my destination…¬† I’m still deciding where I might go this summer and I’ll take travel mode into careful consideration;) Any tips are welcome!

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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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!

Life along Regent’s Canal

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Despite the fact that I am a rather slow traveller, sometimes on a city trip it’s tempting to try and squeeze as much as possible into those few days of freedom and end up overdoing it.¬† So I’m very glad that last weekend in London we decided to spend our last day simply strolling along Regent’s Canal, instead of catching public transport across the city to visit another museum and rushing back to take the train.

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I love walking along Regent’s canal because it takes you outside the city madness and into a quiet world of it’s own, close to the water where another slower rhythm seems to reign.¬† Passing close to Camden Town reminded me of that stint in the spring of my first year at university when I would go running¬†along the canal in the mornings with some friends from my hall of residence. I remember enjoying the morning light and watching the ducks, even though I was very much out of breath.

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This particular walk last weekend was beautiful, despite a few clouds covering the sky.¬† I loved looking at the small houseboats, imagining what it would be like to live in them or to plan a slow trip along England’s canals, living a life paced by passing the locks and¬†taking the time to moor in unassuming places along the way…

On top of the world

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On my 3rd day of walking, between Irun and San Sebastian, I followed the sign at the bottom of a very steep hill¬†that said: “Peregrinos alpinistas”. This alternative path had been recommended by the pilgrims who hosted me on my first night in Bayonne, who said it was a bit longer but really beautiful (I’m glad they insisted it was less difficult than it sounds¬†because I’m not sure I would have spontaneously considered myself an “Alpinist pilgrim”…).

At the top, I was totally alone, since it is not the standard route. As I walked on the path that followed the crest of the hill, surrounded by mountain peaks on one side and the sparkling blue sea on the other I felt such incredible joy!

I walked through this field, just a few steps from the horses who ignored me completely and went on with their peaceful activities in this breathtakingly beautiful place on the top of the world. Totally worth making the detour!IMG_3649

Soothing sea views

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On the Camino del Norte, the path mainly follows the coast and the sea is always just around the corner, making it one of the most beautiful Camino routes. However when you look at the route on the guide book, it’s difficult to imagine¬†what the day’s walk will really look like.

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The element of surprise was really helpful, because so often when I¬†felt I couldn’t go any further, or¬†I was wondering ‘what am I doing here??’, I would come across a view like one of these and then it would all make sense again. I’d stop thinking about my feet and¬†remember how lucky I was to get to see such unspoiled nature.

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I loved the fact that the nature looked different every day and I never knew what to expect. Stumbling on an amazing beach after a few minutes or a few hours of walking was always magical for me. Depending on the weather the colour of the water, the sky and the clouds would vary incredibly.

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Usually I was up on the top of the cliff which meant a beautiful perspective over the sea. Sometimes the path would go up and down all day with tiny coves at the bottom of the hill before going back up the hillside.

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Coming across a spectacular view point was always an excuse to take a break to eat an apple or simply sit to rest and watch the water. The snacks I ate¬†overlooking the sea were usually really simple, but enjoying them in front of these magical views made them taste like a real feast¬†ūüėČ

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20160518_135451I love how you can actually see that the earth is round on this picture!!

My dream greenhouse

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On my very first day of walking, heading out of Bayonne, I stopped to see the Sand Cemetery in Anglet, which was recommended by my pilgrim hosts the night before. The cemetery was original, but what really caught my eye were 2 long buildings on either side of the entrance of the cemetery which were full of succulents!!

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The plants were really well tended to and there were all sorts of different species. I tried to get in to take a closer look but unfortunately the doors were locked… so I could only sneak a few pictures through the bars of the windows. These pictures don’t really do justice to what a beautiful sight it was:)

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‘Having a green house to grow my succulents’ is on my dream list (as ‘walking the Camino’ was for many years), so¬†I took stumbling upon my dream greenhouse on my first day¬†as a good omen for my trip;)

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¬°Vivir es increible!

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I’ve been back from the Camino for nearly 2 months¬†and still working through my thoughts about the experience. I can’t believe how fast the trip flew by. Once again I am back home and sucked into the routine of work and daily life…

People keep asking me how it was to walk the Camino and I find it really hard to give an answer, as there are so many things to tell, so many aspects. Though the walking was sometimes tough, even when I was tired from walking and my body ached I felt extremely free, excited and grateful to be there.

The best way I can find to explain it is: ‘Vivir es increible‘ (Being alive is incredible!). These 3 words, hand-painted on the red step in the staircase full of wise words, jumped out at me. They express so simply¬†what¬†I felt intensely throughout my¬†trip.

Sometimes I feel like that amazing sensation¬†gets drowned out in the daily rush, the noise of emails, things to do and other busy-ness. ¬†I want to look out for it more.¬†I’m doing my best these days to use ‘Vivir es increible’ as a mantra¬†in day-to-day life¬†in Amsterdam too,¬†when I feel the routine weighing down on me or when I’m cycling to work in the rain for example.

In an attempt to process my¬†experience, I want to share some snapshots and thoughts about walking the Camino, even if they are just a tiny piece of the whole experience. I’ll be posting them in the next days:)

I’m leaving!!

I’m off to walk along the Camino de Santiago!

When I was 17 or so, I read a Paolo Coelho book about the Camino and since then I’ve had the desire to walk the Saint James way (as it is called in English). Since then the idea kept popping up every time I would write my dream list. Over the years, I did a bit of research about it here and there and once in a while I would browse the¬†book¬†my parents bought me¬†about the Camino del Norte. Every time I heard someone saying they had walked the Camino, I would feel a little tug in my heart and say “That’s on my dream list, I want to do it too!”, but never got around to actually organising it.

So why now, 16 years later?

I’ve been wanting to take a sabbatical for a long time and this year the timing was¬†good. I’ve been working hard for 10 years, with no more than a few weeks between jobs, so I felt like giving myself this gift of some freedom in the form of unpaid leave, which I decided to use¬†to explore the Camino. I also feel like time is always flying by so fast, so I’m glad to take time off from day-to-day routine to take a step back and reflect.

I’ll be gone for about 5 weeks, I’m starting in Bayonne and will walk along the Northern coast of Spain. I probably will not reach Santiago de Compostela and that’s fine. Firstly because I don’t want to rush, I want to make this trip about the journey not the destination (I know… such a clich√©). This means if¬†I feel like staying longer in a place I like or want to chill on the beach for some time, I can:) ¬†Secondly because if there is a bit of the Camino left to walk I will have the chance to come back another time to finish it:)

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I am really looking forward to walking every day. I’ve noticed that walking¬†helps me move through problems, get fresh ideas, find solutions to issues, get creative, feel more grounded…

I have no idea what to expect, but these are some things that come to mind as I am preparing my trip:
-I crave take time out from my routine,
-I want to spend time alone,
-to finally have time to process what goes on in my busy life,
-to take time to grieve the people in my life who passed away and
-to travel slowly to enjoy discovering a part of the world I’ve never been to.

I’m trying not to have too many expectations and let the Camino surprise me. I’m really excited to see how it goes!