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.

Things I loved about Thailand

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  • Fresh fruit vendors in the street

Imagine if there were people selling fresh fruit that was peeled, chopped and ready to eat on every street corner in Europe?? It would be so much easier for me to be healthy and reach for fruit instead of getting a piece of cake when I feel like a snack:) Loved the mini-pineapples, watermelon, papaya, mango…

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  • Hundreds of colourful temples

I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of the temples with their flashy colours and intricate designs, the golden buddhas, feeling the cool pavement inside the temples with my beare feet, the quiet compared to the bustling city, only interrupted by the sound of monks chanting or people shaking budhist fortune sticks to find out what the future has in store for them…

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  • Offerings

Colourful offerings of bright flowers, water, ribbons, soft drinks and more near buddhas and spirit houses.

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  • Paradise beaches

Soft sand, colourful boats, transparent water, snorkeling with multicoloured fish and  observing the details of corals, finding tiny sea shells… It was so relaxing, good for the body and the mind.

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  • Children playing in the sea during magic hour

I loved to walk up and down long stretches of the beach at that time when the sunlight gets golden and the colours soften, and watch kids playing, laughing together and collecting sea shells in the magic hour.

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  • Amazing sunsets

On the western side of the islands the sunsets are gorgeous with their spectacular colours bouncing off the whispy clouds. Every day the colours are different and breathtaking. Such a simple pleasure!

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  • Wandering around night markets

Exploring the night markets was so much fun. I could spend hours walking around looking at the beautifully presented vegetables, trying to figure out what the plastic bags with bright mixtures contain, and people watching as locals buy their dinner… The markets are such a feast for the eyes (and tummy;)

50 shades of orange

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Hi my name is Fanny and I have an obsession with buddhist monks. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t help myself. Their stunning orange robes attract my eye with an irresistable pull and I love how each monk expresses their own identity with a slightly different hue of orange.

Also, they have these wonderful shoulder bags in different colours, with gorgeous designs.  I love these bags so much that I searched to buy one on my last day in Bangkok. I even tried asking one monk for some shopping tips (he didn’t understand English, so I dropped it). But to no avail, I couldn’t find a shop selling them.

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The monks seem so calm and somehow otherworldly, so it always makes me smile to see buddhist monks posing for a photo or a selfie and speaking on the phone like anyone else.

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I would like to be able to claim that this is a recent obsession, triggered by the multitude of monks peacefully milling around the temples in Thailand… however that would be a lie.  I vividly remember stalking a bunch of buddhist monks who were simply enjoying discovering the Bean in Chicago back in 2014… The camaieu of their robes is just so beautiful!

Discovering Thailand

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #23

My trip through Thailand was amazing!  It was a perfect blend of exploring Bangkok and making my way down to the South via Suratthani on my own, and then meeting up with wonderful friends to celebrate a wedding and travel on the paradise islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.

Everything was so different from Amsterdam that it took no time at all to switch into holiday mode, forget any thoughts about work and be in the moment. I must say trying all sorts of delicious foods, learning to navigate my way around Bangkok, observing buddhist rituals in the colourful temples, exploring the bustling streets with their tuk-tuks and street vendors, as well as getting regular massages really helped to disconnect from daily grind back home:)

I feel so privileged to have had the possibility to discover some of this beautiful country and had the time to explore at a leisurely pace without rushing.  I will be sharing some pictures and impressions over the next weeks.

Amsterdam Bee Park

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While Paolo was living in the Far West (Geuzenveld) we discovered a few lovely places to escape from the rhythm of the city for a while. The Bee Park is one of them, a hidden haven of peace, where you can admire flowers and observe bees close up.

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It’s lovely to walk along the tiny paths between the hedges of the allotments, catching glimpses of the carefully tended gardens and small sheds.

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As you explore you may bump into a beekeeper, fully clothed in this protective gear like an astronaut, carefully taking care of his bees and hives. If you’re lucky there may even be some of this delicious local honey for sale to take home with you.

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Bijenpark Amsterdam is open from April to October, I recommend to check the times and dates before going.

Discovering Nijmegen

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #18

I’m very grateful for a lovely weekend with Paolo discovering Nijmegen for the first time. Despite the cold, we walked around the park overlooking the river Waal from Nijmegen’s hill and wandered down the little streets of the town.

We had to warm up regularly and which was a great excuse to stop in wonderful cafés and indulge in hearty sandwiches and rich cakes:)

Thanks to Paolo’s perseverance and good luck, we even got the last two tickets to watch a play version of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road that just happened to be playing that evening at the theater. The actors  were captivating and their way of telling the story was gripping!

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Lovely plants of Madeira

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At home we regularly tease my foodie sister about how she is into foodporn and how the majority of her travel pictures consist of new dishes she discovered along her journeys. However recently it’s been dawning on me that I’m obsessed with something similar, which I guess can be called plantporn.

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I love close up photos of gorgeous plants with their tiny leaves, colourful petals, uncanny shapes and intriguing textures…

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What made Madeira so special to me in terms of plantporn, was that succulents grow in the wild all over the place and in general there were also many unfamiliar plant species I don’t get to see every day.

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I spent a great deal of time in the holidays behind my camera attempting to take decent macros of the amazing plants that caught my eye. (Thanks to Paolo for the picture above and especially for his patience when I get mesmerised by yet another plant!)

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I took these last two pictures in the natural park of the São Lourenco peninsula – though to me these plants look like they really belong in the landscapes of Arrakis (Dune;)

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Beautiful hikes close to Amsterdam

Recently I was asked for some tips of good places to go walking in nature near Amsterdam. Going hiking in the Netherlands may not seem quite as exciting as say exploring the scottish highlands or climbing the volcanic peaks of Madeira… however I still believe it’s better to get outside and regularly enjoy nature close by, than waiting until the next big trip.

In the last few years with Paolo we’ve been exploring places close to Amsterdam on the weekends: just taking the train in the morning, walking a few hours and being home before night falls, whatever the season. We always take along a tasty picnic to enjoy on the way, which makes for a great low budget excursion.

Here are my favorite places to go hiking that are accessible by train and less than an hour from Amsterdam, making them perfect for a day trip.

Kennemerduinen

There are slight slopes up and down the dunes, pine trees, you can easily follow the paths and indications in the Kennemerduinen. We usually walk to the sea and back, always ending up taking slightly different paths. You will probably spot some beautiful highland cows (aka ‘hairy coos’).

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Train stations: Overveen, then a 15mn walk to the visitors center at the entrance of the park (where you can enjoy a hot drink)  or Santpoort-Noord

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Castricum

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Walking through the sandy dunes of the Noordhollands Duinreservaat is very relaxing. Here also we make our way to the coast, enjoy the sea front and walk back. There are forest parts and open dune landscapes.

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Train station: Castricum
You can have a coffee and cake at the very cute Hof van Kijk Uit cafe, which is in not far from the entrance of the park.

(This was a one off, but once in summer we came across a small shelf by the path where a local farmer had placed organic strawberries, a sign encouraging passers-by to buy them and a small box to collect the corresponding money.  I love these types of trust-based initiatives and the strawberries were delicious!!)

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Waterleidingduinen

The many dunes of the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen are not only useful to filter rainwater which is then turned into drinking water for the city of Amsterdam, it’s also a magical place for a stroll. You’ll come across deer grazing peacefully all around and if you’re lucky you may even see a fox.

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Also, the plants are beautiful and diverse (including many mushrooms), and even in the winter months there are surprising colours, as you can see below.

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Train station: Heemsteede Aerdenhout, then about 15mn walk to the park
Day entrance is 1,50EUR. No bikes are allowed.

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For more ideas of walks from one train station to another on NS information – you can filter per region, length and even type of the walk (forest, dunes etc).

On the way to Guadagnolo

Here are a few more pictures of our hike towards Guadagnolo in the lovely hills of Lazio.

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The great thing about hiking uphill is the panoramic view as you get higher (something I really miss when hiking in the flat Netherlands).

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As usual I was mesmerized by the moss, lichens and tiny plants growing on the rocks.

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The wintery trees looked quite eerie with the grey sky and the mist.

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The neighing sounds this horse was making echoed loudly around the valley  before it appeared over the crest of the hill. What happened next is described here🙂

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As we drove home towards Rome, the sunlight piercing through the clouds over the valley was a spectacular sight.

Curious horses

JOYFUL GRATITUDE #10

On January 2nd, Paolo and I went for a lovely hike in the outskirts of Rome, towards Guadagnolo. It was a great way to start the new year by spending some time outdoors, and despite being a grey day it was a beautiful walk.

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We didn’t meet one single person during our hike, but we did come across quite a few wild horses. Some of them stood boldly on the path, and others were half hidden and peeking out at us from behind the bushes, waiting to see what we would do. before they retreated up the slope of the hill.
img_4764This other family of horses came down the mountainside directly towards us. They initially ‘pretended’ to follow the road in the opposite direction to where we were walking, only to start following us as soon as we had our back turned.

The baby horse couldn’t contain his curiosity and came right up to where I stood. For a few seconds he looked at me and sniffed me a few times before continuing on his way.  A very magical moment:)