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.

 

Forest bathing

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Being in my hometown means I have the luxury of being in walking distance of the forest.  Yesterday I made the most of a rain-free afternoon to go for a walk. Though the trees have no leaves yet, the branches carry tiny buds and white flowers are growing on the forest floor, a glimmer of hope that spring is finally on its way.  The path is a little muddy, winding up and down the slopes and along old rock walls.  At some stage, we are deep enough in the forest to no longer hear the road, the sound of cars is replaced by the birds singing and the crack of the branches under our feet.

I love the feeling when my body gets into the rhythm after walking a while and my feet just carry me along, step after step with no particular goal, as I take in the beauty of the forest.  I could walk for hours like this, until my body is tired and my mind is clear.  In Japan they acknowledge the healing benefits of spending time in the forest and call it forest bathing (what a perfect name!), it’s even part of the national public health program. Imagine what the world would be like if every country did that?

Simple pleasures of Brighton

*The amazing colour palette of the cabins by the beach

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*Amazing cakes. I love that most cafés have home-made cakes. There were so many different types, leading to serious dilemmas on what to choose (and the risk of overdosing on sticky toffee pudding… but that’s another story)

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*Waking up to the sound of the seagulls. Whether it was raining or shining, there was no denying that we were close to the seaside

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*Walking on the beach, accompanied by the sound of the waves, no matter what the weather

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Healing walks on the beach

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #69

In Brighton, we enjoyed long walks along the beach, each step keeping us firmly in the present with the crunch of the pebbles, the cold sea wind on our cheeks, the waves crashing over and over again on the shore… We looked for pretty stones  until our pockets bulged with their imperfect shapes and their fascinating greys, oranges and blues. After a cloudy day, the sun came out, illuminating the abandoned pier with its last rays. It was good to be reminded how deeply healing being by the beach, no matter the season.

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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:)

Enjoying Autumn

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I’m just back from a blissful weekend visiting my family in France. Three days of intense chatting and laughing over cups of tea, baking (and then devouring) cakes shamelessly full of butter and sugar, celebrating milestones over delicious Lebanese food and sipping champagne, and generally just enjoying spending precious time together:)

I snuck out for a few hours on Saturday for a walk in the forest by myself. The colours of the trees were soooo beautiful (these pictures taken with my phone don’t do justice to their splendour at all), it was breathtaking! As I walked, it was like my senses were waking up from indoor life… I enjoyed seeing little birds flying from one branch to another and singing nearby, treading along on the muddy path and the smell the fallen leaves slowly decomposing at the feet of gorgeous trees was wonderful. It was the perfect environment for some quiet time to process my thoughts:)

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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!

Magical moments

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #30

I am extremely grateful for the lovely time spent last week on Knoydart peninsula with Paolo and some dear friends.  It felt so good to spend all day outdoors in such a peaceful place and go for long walks in the breathtakingly beautiful landscape, as the light and clouds constantly changed over the mountains and the lochs.

There were so many magical moments during our stay… like sharing fudge and a nice chat on the gorgeous train ride up from Glasgow; quietly observing an otter eating a crab it had just caught for it’s evening meal; reaching the top of a mountain with an unpronouceable name and looking down at the incredible view of the hills, the lochs and the islands all around; listening to an amazing concert of bagpipes, flute and guitar as the room shook with the audience tapping their feet to the beat and dancing all together as the musicians played on and on into the night…

Highlights and lessons from the Camino

One year ago, at this time, I was enjoying my adventure on the Camino del Norte. It had been one of my dreams for many years, however I had no idea what was in store for me and what it felt like to walk about 6-8 hours a day along the coast of Northern Spain.

Looking back after having processed the trip in the last 12 months, here are some of my personal highlights and lessons learned.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Architecture-wise, the coolest place was the guided tour of the El Capricho designed by Gaudi, so many insanely creative ideas built into one house!

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  • The favorite albergue where I stayed was La Ferrería in Alimandi. I remember the warm welcome from the host Sergio serving us local cider and picking fresh japanese plums in the garden. Great chats with the other peregrinos over a delicious vegetarian dinner, while rainshowers came and went outside.

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  • The most improbable place I visited was the sand cemetery near Bayonne, where the tombstones are made from sand and decorated with beautiful scallop shells. Since the elements erode the sand, the tombstones need to be made again every year.

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  • The awesome people from all over the world who I met and travelled with on the Camino made the experience unique.  I’m so grateful to have shared this experience with Tom and Cindy, Kim, Sara (and her courageous dog Freccia), Anna, Isolde, Justine and Mike, Maricruz, Carlos and Irene. It’s funny how quickly conversations with near-strangers become deep and personal when you walk kilometer after kilometer together and share a ‘menu del día’ after many hours on the road. Also the joy of meeting pilgrim friends again by chance after our paths seperated was wonderful.

LEARNINGS

  • Take more time off that seems necessary. I regret having shaved a few weeks off from the 2 months I had initially asked to have off work. In the end the difference between 6 weeks and 8 weeks off is minimal when you are at the office, but 2 weeks extra would have been wonderful on the Camino.

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  • People always want to give advice and tell you how you should walk the Camino, but in the end it’s your Camino. You will see people doing it differently and making other choices. They may walk more or less kilometers per day, stay in cheaper or more expensive accommodation, carry heavier or lighter backpacks, get up earlier or later, spend more or less money, taking leisurely breaks to drink wine at lunch time or rush to arrive first in the albergue…  Comparison is the thief of joy, in the end you have to do it your way if you want to really enjoy it. It’s your Camino.

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  • I loved the power of the Camino to make everybody equal. It is humbling to see that when we walk several hours a day we are all the same. No matter what our age, nationality, sex, strength, equipment or how healthy we are, everyone is doing the same thing, putting one step in front of the other and doing their best. There’s an amazing common feeling of empowerment linked to the simple act of being able to walk great distances.

Sparkling sunlight

 

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #13

Last weekend the sky was crisp blue and the sun was out, so on Sunday Paolo and I wrapped up in many layers of warm clothes to go for a brisk walk. There are a few nice places to wander close to our flat, and this time we ended up in De Oeverlanden park, a place we’d never explored together.

It felt great to be outdoors, and enjoy chatting while we walked along the water. It was so good to feel the sun on my face, and the reflection of the sunlight sparkling on the lake through the reeds was simply beautiful.