Come sit with me

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If I had half an hour with you on this beautiful bench this is most probably what I would talk about…

How I had a lovely relaxed weekend, enjoying some precious down time in the sunny city and  strolling through the flowery streets of Amsterdam Zuid to try and capture the heavy rose blooms and the atmosphere with my camera…

How I had fun concocting creative plans with a friend over a delicious hazelnut iced coffee served with a sustainable metal straw (@Slowth Brunch: you guys rock!!!).

How it was a weekend of pizza making with Paolo (not even this heat will deter us from cranking the oven up to 240 degrees so we can eat some tasty homemade pizza;).

Little haven of peace

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #31

I’m grateful  for this time of the year when the sun sets really late, making the evenings seem so much longer.  During a recent after-dinner stroll with Paolo, I spotted this lovely little place by the water, which seems perfect for escaping the hectic rhythm of the city.

I love the palette of greens, and how the chair looks like it’s just waiting for a casual visitor to sit down and reflect on the origin of the universe, whilst watching the ducks and waterhens paddle by.

Photography afternoon in Blijburg

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Lovely colourful flags blowing in the wind in Blijburg, where I went with my photography class on Saturday for a photo shoot on the beach.  We were really lucky with the weather, as the overcast sky with just a bit of sunshine peeking through from time to time was perfect for taking pictures.

We had great fun creating scenes inspired from our moodboards, with two models and a random collection of props, as passers-by looked at us with curiosity. It’s quite amazing how many creative ideas a bunch of people can come up with using a pineapple, a guitar, a shovel and a red-velvet cake on the beach… I laughed a lot:)

I particularly enjoyed exploring the story-telling aspect of photography and plan to use that more as a source of inspiration. Also I definitely want to do more portrait photography.  It’s a good way for me to get out of my comfort zone, as it is much more challenging than my usual subjects like plants or landscapes.

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…

More botanic beauty

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Recently I found out that there is another botanical garden in Amsterdam and it’s less than a 10 minute bike away from my flat!  So on one of my free Friday afternoons, in between 2 rain showers, I decided to go and check it out.

It’s free and you can just walk in, while volunteers mill around doing their thing. It’s a lovely place to relax and you don’t feel at all like you are close to the busy Zuidas.

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The collection of succulents and cacti both in and around the glasshouses is spectacular, with hundreds of different species in every single available space.

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Observing all the different plants, with their details and colours was a real pleasure as usual. There were very few visitors so I was undisturbed as I got in close to photograph the details.  I think I’ll be heading back there soon for some more inspiration:)

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Check out Botanic Garden Zuidas for the opening times (it’s near the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam Zuid).

Observing the details

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Last weekend as the sun was shining, we decided to get out of the city and headed to Castricum. We enjoyed a beautiful walk through the dunes and had a lovely picnic on Heemskerk beach.

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I was looking for some inspiration for my homework for the photography course which consisted in taking close-ups.

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I’m used to taking a lot of close-ups of plants, but tried to challenge myself to look for some different subjects this time (except this giant poppy flower which was just too amazing to resist;).

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Really looking at things and taking in the details, is great practise for mindfulness as it takes a lot of focus.  I enjoyed the creative challenge of combining colours, textures and imperfections.

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Sending snail mail

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #28

Though I love receiving postcards and letters, I think I enjoy sending them even more! The idea of the recipient opening their mailbox to find something other than bills and junk mail for a change makes me very happy. So last weekend I took some time to write some postal mail to a few friends around the world.

Here’s my ritual. First I select a card or find some paper to write on (once on the Camino I didn’t have any paper so I just ripped out a few blank pages from the novel I was reading to write a letter, really anything will do).  I settle quietly and think of the person I’m writing to before jotting down a few words, it doesn’t have to be long. Then I attempt to write the address as legibly as possible, and stick on a stamp or two (bonus points for lovely stamps:).

Remembering to post the envelopes is usually my struggle as I tend to carry them around in my bag for a few days by mistake before I finally send them off on their way…  The uncertainty of when (and whether?) the postal mail will arrive is a large part of the magic of sending postal mail.

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Simple tips for writing more snail mail:

  • buy nice postcards or greeting cards when you see them in shops, having them handy at home makes it so much easier and quicker to write one
  • always have a stock stamps in the house, this saves the effort of having to go out to buy them specifically
  • write postal mail in batches of a few postcards/letters at a time for increased efficiency and satisfaction

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.