Of dunes and mermaids

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Most days I love to take a walk by just heading into my neighbourhood of Amsterdam Zuid and roaming my usual paths.   However weekends offer more time to get out of the city for day-trips a little further afield.  This weekend for instance we took the train to Castricum station and went for a walk in the Noordhollands Duinreservaat, a place we regularly return to with great pleasure.

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I like the fact that the landscape changes a lot as you go along. The first part is in the shade of the trees with bluebells lining the path. Then when coming out of the woods, you find yourself in the flat, sandy landscape, peppered with windswept bushes of all different types creating beautiful colour contrasts, and lakes on which birds gather and play.

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After following the winding path, you end up at the final steep dunes which hide the North sea.  I love this colour palette of beige and grey sand, dry dune grasses and blue sky with passing white clouds.  We took a long walk along the beach, enjoying the sea breeze and the sound of the waves… Paolo exchanged a few words with a fisherman casting his rod from the beach, who when asked what he was trying to catch, answered “Platvis… en zeemeerminnen natuurlik” (Flatfish… and mermaids of course!).

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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.

 

Impressions of Orvieto

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In the first days of the new year, I was visiting my boyfriend’s family in Rome and we decided to look for an excursion a little further afield that was easily accessible by public transport.  We chose Orvieto, a fortified town on the top of a massive rock.

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Stepping off the train it was grey and misty, but as we rode up the hill in the cable car we pierced the clouds and at the top, from the walls of the fortress, we found ourselves overlooking the most beautiful sea of clouds over the valley.

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There is an amazing cathedral with incredible patterns and dizzy-making columns on the facade.  Once inside, we pretended to be part of an organised group and tagged along to listen to the explanations of their very knowledgeable guide who was pointing out the stories and details of the frescoes that made them come alive. Some of the paintings seem like they came straight out of a science-fiction scene including lasers and 3D effects.

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Orvieto is a small town and I was glad to be visiting it off-season (despite the biting cold) as I can imagine it can get swamped with hordes of tourists in the summer.  I particularly enjoyed exploring the winding streets a little outside the touristy center, looking at the details of the old stone houses overlooking the valley and imagining what must have been like to live there in the past.

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*****

How to get there by public transport: take the train from Rome to Orvieto station (approx. 1 hour), then simply cross the street where you can buy a ticket to get on the cable car that will take you right up the hill (it leaves every 10 minutes).

Hiking up Monte Autore

Today in Amsterdam, the weather is a drab grey with a bitter wind that turns cycling into a real battle if you are unfortunate enough to need to pedal against it. So I’ve decided to reminisce about that day during our stay in Rome when decided to get out of the city and go on a day-trip to Subiaco to climb the Monte Autore.

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It was a beautiful sunny day as we drove up the mountain, thoughwe weren’t at all prepared for snow as we’d only come with regular hiking shoes! Luckily many people had preceded us on the path and the snow was compact enough to walk on most of the way, if we just followed in people’s footsteps.

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Most of the way the path isn’t steep and we could just saunter along. As we got higher the views over the surrounding mountains became increasingly breathtaking. From the top, at 1854m, the landscape was amazing, with the clouds, mountains, trees and snow interweaving as far as the eye could see.

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On the way down, I suddenly found myself entirely alone as the others were further ahead. I took a short break, knee-deep in snow, surrounded by utter silence, just to soak up the utter joy of the moment.  I etched this moment into my mind, with all its sensations, to tap into when I need a boost (on a grey Sunday afternoon for instance). Then I proceeded to stumble/run giddily down the snow-covered slope to catch up with the others.

 

Catching up

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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:)

Spotting details in the streets of Rome

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Whilst wandering the streets of Rome and other cities in Italy, I love to look at the details of the shopfronts which look so different to the ones in Amsterdam. Some of them have clearly remained unchanged for decades, with their amazing old-school fonts, diluted colours and paint slowly chipping off.

To me it actually gives these shops a certain charm and I wonder whether inside they are still working according to the more humane rhythm of those long-gone eras… Here are a few of my favorites from my last trip.

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Beautiful imperfections

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When was the last time you really looked closely at what is around you? Most of the time I am completely on auto-pilot, rushing to and from work, completely stuck in my head thinking about all the things I need to do or annoyed at the rain pouring down…

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On Saturday morning, I took the opportunity of a ray of sunshine to go for a walk in the neighbourhood and consciously really looked at buildings, bikes, dogs, plants as I passed them. I started to notice tiny details. As autumn comes to an end, some plants are valiantly holding on to their last threads of life.

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I was so happy to observe the plants on my way and focus on the beauty in their imperfections: slightly bruised and fading petals, leaves drying into brilliant reds, gorgeous lace-like patterns…  It is the perfect trick for getting out of my whirling thoughts and truly being in the moment:)

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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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Sunday bike ride

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I’ve been craving nature recently, wanting to hear branches of large trees swaying in the wind and to smell the rich odors of humid leaves on the forest floor.  At the same time, my energy levels felt low and the thought of catching a train all the way to a place where we could hike just didn’t appeal to me.  So we found an in-between solution, closer to home.

Paolo and I simply wrapped up warmly and headed off on our bikes with no clear direction in mind. After a few random raindrops, the sun came out in earnest as we pedalled away, turning arbitrarily right or left, along roads we’d never been on. It was windy and for most of the ride we could hear the noisy highway, but it was still really lovely to get some fresh air, watch birds on the lake and look at the gorgeous autumn colours:)

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Impressions of Prague

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We enjoyed a wonderful weekend in the magical streets of Prague.  The Laver Cup was great. The two tennis matches we saw were full of suspense, keeping us on the edge of our seats the whole time.

I love the colours of houses with their light yellow, copper green and orange, as well as the beautiful facades and pointy towers.

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Armed with the USE-IT map of Prague and many great tips from my friend Eva, we enjoyed exploring different areas of the city. I especially liked spending time in the local cafés trying their amazing selections of delicious cakes and soaking up the atmosphere. Three days was way too short, there are still so many things we didn’t have time to see (and so many cakes we have yet to try), so we’ll have to go back:)

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