A day in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #211

I’ve been craving nature for the past weeks, probably because the weather is starting to warm up and my body is protesting against the sedentary lifestyle of working from home. I’m taking walks every day, alternating between the different parks in Amsterdam, but sometimes making the same routes day in and day out feels like a deja-vu.

So I decided to block my day off on Monday to go for a solo-adventure. I left just after rush hour to avoid crowded trains, arrived in the village of Rhenen and headed off under the perfect blue sky.

Within a few minutes I reached a river. It looked exactly like the one where my sister and I had bathed our feet on a very hot day last summer in Cologne, before being soaked by a huge rainstorm. It turned out that I was standing in front of the Dutch part of the Rhine, so the resemblance made sense. This time I didn’t dip my feet in because I was eager to continue;-)

I passed by the church of Saint Cunera, who I discovered was the patron saint of sore throats. (Good to know there is a specific saint one can turn to for these mundane health issues!)

As soon as I set off, I was brought back to the daily feeling I had when walking on the Camino. The excitement of starting the day with no idea what I would discover, as well as the rush of joy every time I saw an arrow indicating I was on the right track. Like a treasure hunt that goes on all day.

I had brought a tasty lunch, nuts and plenty of fruit with me, and in Rhenen I found a bakery which, next to the pastries with bright orange icing (ready for Kingsday), also had large selection of delicious looking cakes which were the perfect complement to my picnic.

In the national park, many trees were barely starting to bud, as it’s been rather cold for the season. Nevertheless the bright green shoots and fresh leaves were beautiful under the sun. I was accompanied by bird song and here and there a whiff of pine needles. Bright yellow butterflies fluttered along the path, as though they wanted to show me the way. There were not many other people which was a wonderful respite from the city.

All day I wound through the woods, up and down small hills caused by a glacier from the ice age moving the sand around it on its slow progression, along birch forests and open sandy spaces where heather grows… My feet were grateful to cover a long distance and my heart was singing from being surrounded by quiet nature.

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For the detailed route from Rhenen to Veenendaal-West: NS wandeling Elstenberg

Plenty of colours

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #210

Last weekend I took a little walk near Amsterdam Zuid station. Despite the biting cold and a short rain-shower here and there, the plants seemed keen on showing off their fresh beauty as I made my way around. It was so bountiful, with dashes of unexpected colour calling out for my attention every few steps.

A tiny magnolia tree in front of a brick wall (the shape of its unopened flowers reminiscent of the claws that my cat Villanelle is so determined to sink into my flesh when she sits on my lap to cuddle.)

The rugged green petals of an intriguing tulip, ready to unfurl.

The pink exterior of a bud just about to reveal its fresh green leaves.

A flush orange bush with tiny popcorn puff flowers.

The deep shiny green of these leaves wrapped so beautifully around each other.

Snowy walk

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #208

Recently storm Darcy swept across the Netherlands leaving a layer of snow over the city and immobilising public transport. The first couple of days the clouds hung heavy and the wind was blistering cold, but that didn’t deter anyone from going out. The streets and parks were full of people dressed in full-on ski-suits and colourful hats and scarves.

Wrapped in my many layers, I also went to explore, enjoying the crunch of every step in the fine snow. It’s amazing how these paths, that I’ve been walking along so regularly during the last months to keep my sanity during lock-down, looked so new and exciting just thanks to a beautiful dusting of snow.

It was also fun to watching people on long-distance skis making laps around the park, children on fancy sleighs or simple constructions made from kids’ chairs cleverly tied together, snow-people and snow-forts being built on the side of the road…

Purple

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #207

On the last day of 2020, I took a long solo walk in the Amsterdamse Bos. It was a calm sunny morning and I wanted to be outside and feel the cold air on my cheeks as I reflected about the crazy year that was coming to an end. The path I chose to walk down was a bit muddy at the start which I guess discouraged other walkers and so I was alone nearly the whole time, accompanied just by birds singing and fluttering from branch to branch. As I strolled along slowly, it turned out to be a treasure trove of gorgeous winter details. I especially fell in love with this beautiful purple colour – also to be found on the photo on my last post. I will never tire of the unexpected colourful details to be found in the forest and the joy of observing nature as it moves through the seasons.

A taste of that holiday feeling

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #206

Lately I’ve been trying to see things in grey scales – and no, I’m not referring to 50 shades of Grey;-), I mean less thinking in black and white or in extremes. For example, I’ve been craving a far-away holiday to ‘get away from it all’, but obviously that is not really ideal right now. Instead of thinking, ‘Argh, I can’t go on holiday’ and closing off that thought, frustrated, I tried to see if I could find an in-between way. I reflected on what it is about that holiday feeling that helps me feel so good, to see if there was any other way to tap into that without travelling anywhere.

I came to the conclusion that it was not so much about where I went, but that it was more of a mindset. When I’m travelling I tend to be disconnected from the internet and screens, more in the moment and attuned to everything new and exciting around me and to spend time outdoors without rushing, being productive or feeling like I should be tackling things from my to-do list. So a couple of weeks ago I planned an Artist Date that I hoped would give me that feeling, time scheduled just for myself to do whatever I want with no plans.

I slept in and upon waking made sure to stay offline and leave my phone in the other room. I made myself crêpes for breakfast, sprinkling them with sugar and lemon juice like when I was a kid, and ate them while looking out over the gardens and watching the birds.

Then, belly full, I went for a long walk in the sun along the Oeverlanden, close to where I live. Just as I would have done if I was on holidays, I switched off and refused to entertain any thoughts about laundry that needed doing or applications that needed sending. I slowed down and fully enjoyed traipsing along, listening to the sound of the water lapping at the bank, exchanging a few words with a fisherman who had just caught a gigantic carp, and generally let my thoughts wander to the rhythm of my feet.

When I arrived home, pink-cheeked from the ice-cold wind and ravenous, I dug up a home-made curry from the depth of my freezer, all I had to do was heat it up and I could tuck in, practically like going to a restaurant. Then I flopped onto the sofa to read cosily under a blanket for a while. By the time I reconnected with the world later that day, I felt fresh, recharged and rested. Turns out it was as easy as that.

Autumn details

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #202

My daily walks have been keeping me sane and connected to the season as it evolves. I’m grateful for all the details that catch my senses as I am strolling along.

Tiny drops of dew shining on hairy seeds.

The smell of wet autumn leaves decomposing at the feet of the trees and sensing the layers of humus that came before them as the soles of my shoes sink into the ground.

Orange seeds bursting forth from bright pink flowers.

The distinct sound of a woodpecker jabbing away at a tree and the flash of its red feathers as it flies to its next pecking spot.

Mushroom clans where it seems like the elders are looking out for the playful young ones.

That sound when you kick through a thick pile of dry autumn leaves and the joy of their multitude as they float upwards and land again, each one slightly different shape and colour than the next.

Natuurpark Vrije Geer

Thanks to the beautiful autumn we’ve been having, I’ve had the chance to go walking in lots of different parts of Amsterdam lately. I vary my destination based on which friend I am meeting up with, how long I have until the next predicted rain shower or if I am in another neighbourhood for some errand, and I usually try to loop through a park if possible.

The other day I needed to pick up second hand gum-boots that I’d found via Marktplaats in Sloten, an area of Amsterdam where I rarely go. While planning my route on Google maps I spotted a small green area and decided to take a look on my way back.

At first I thought I couldn’t enter the park and that it was just a green wetland for birds as there were many coots and geese pecking around in the grass undisturbed. But I cycled around the perimeter until I found an entrance and a plaque with the name Natuurpark Vrije Geer.

The sky was grey as I walked along the path. The park had recently undergone maintenance as lots of reeds and grasses had been cut around the remaining shrubs and trees. It was quiet, with birds flitting here are there among the willows, tall reeds, ferns and autumn colours…

I also came across trees laden with funny fruit that look like a small brown apple with tentacles. Some light googling later on led me to the Dutch name mispel (or medlar in English) which is a plant that has been cultivated since the Roman times and carries fruit into the winter. Apparently you eat the medlar when it is overripe and has become sweet like apple sauce. I’m curious to try it!

*****

Back home I read up about the history of the park. I found out that in the 90s the city of Amsterdam was rapidly transforming meadows and nature in the area into constructible zones and also threatened to run the tram line through this space. There were protests against this, which led to a local referendum in which over 200 000 people voted. Luckily 90% voted against housing construction and that’s how the park is a thriving ecosystem to this day. I found it interesting to read that the municipality was surprised that so many people showed up to vote for keeping a piece of land barely anyone was aware of before. To me this is an important reminder of how vital it is to involve citizens in decisions that impact their environment.

Click the links for more info about the referendum for Natuurpark Vrije Geer and the fauna and flora it harbours (in Dutch).

More mushrooms

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #201

It’s that time of year again, after the switch back from daylight saving, when night falls so early. These days around 5pm it’s time to light candles on the window sill and curl up under a blanket with a steaming cup of tea and a good book. A good thing about not having a job at the moment is that I have chance to go on walks in the middle of the day and enjoy those precious hours of daylight.

It’s been rainy on and off, but when I spot some blue sky or it seems it will be dry for a little while I pull on my shoes and head to whatever spot of nature appeals to me that day. As I put one foot in front of the other, I process my thoughts, reflect on my writing assignment or potential applications I could write… I also keep my eyes peeled for small treasures like these tiny mushrooms among beds of moss.

Focused on ferns

Last weekend, I was happy to come across some bushy ferns on my walk in a park in the West of Amsterdam that I was exploring for the first time. I love ferns and enjoy every opportunity I get to practice capturing the beauty of their fronds (which I have learnt is the name of the large, divided leaves on ferns).

The orange-brown tips of the leaves caught my eye as I walked down the path, such a lovely autumn colour. I love how each tiny leaf has minuscule symmetrical lines.

On looking closer I was intrigued by these intricate dark grey rows which seem to be made of small beads. If I’m not mistaken these are the core of the frond before it opens outwards with the leaves.

From the front, they look like a multitude of fingers hugging each other tight one last time before unravelling. I’ve mostly come across ferns that uncoil from a circular shape (so poetically named the fiddlehead), but had never seen a fern growing this way. If anyone knows the name of this species, let me know as I’d love to find out more about it!

*****

For more ferns, take a look at the ferns in the Botanical garden in Cologne and winter ferns in the forest near my home-town.

A blissful soak

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #190

Armed with our swimmers and a picnic containing an unreasonable amount of brioche and cake, my friend Eva and I took a long walk through the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen headed to the coast.

We sauntered through the woods and dunes, stopping here and there to lay out our picnic blanket in the shade for a snack and a peaceful chat. It was very calm, finally far away from the sound of traffic, and since it was a Thursday there were few people and many animals, undisturbed by our presence.  We even had the pleasure of quietly observing some kingfishers, flying speedily back and forth over the canal giving us glimpses alternatively of their bright blue wings and orange chest, and diving at lightning speed from a branch into the water to catch fish.

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The highlight of the day was dipping into the sea when we made it to the beach in the late afternoon sun.  After walking for several hours, a swim was exactly what my body craved.  It was divine to enter the water, feeling the sand and shells in between my toes, small waves lapping at my calves.  When we got deep enough and were ready, we finally surrendered our entire bodies to the cool water. Mine wasn’t what you’d call an active swim, no, it was a glorious release of every muscle into total relaxation, a blissful soak, the joy of floating along with my toes peeping up on the surface, carried by the sea.

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