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.

 

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 😉  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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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!

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 😉

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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:)