Once in a lifetime

There’s something about being out in nature that speeds up the relaxing and letting go process. If you tune in to nature around you, it seems easier to settle into a rhythm that allows you to shut off at the end of the day.  To celebrate the day at sunset, enjoying the view and finding your small place in the world amongst everything else.  And by this, I mean the trees, the animals, the weather: no self-inflicted stress, just necessary reactions to the environment.

These thoughts came to me as I was enjoying a sundowner on Morgan’s Rock, overlooking the Triple B ranch in South Africa’s Waterberg plateau. There was nothing to worry about.  There is nothing to worry about.  Just assess the situation, react and let it go.

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View from Morgan’s Rock

The day began with a ride over Hippo Dam, through a little village and back along the sandy tracks amongst the buffalo thorn trees. Tuning in to my horse’s movement, being aware of the other animals silently watching us and getting better at recognising the flora and fauna round and about.

Time to relax over lunch, feeling the heat of the day and seeking shade on the stoep allows you to figure out the important things. Not the urgent things that the media are trying to tell you are important.

And back to the animals, a steady ride to get the blood pumping, spotting game in their natural routine: feeding, communicating, safety. That’s what’s important. In human terms you can have that too: a cool drink, with a magnificent view, good company and lots of laughter.

This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity: horse riding in a game park in South Africa – I’m hoping it won’t be.

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A day in Amsterdam

I found myself in Amsterdam with about 8 hours to kill before meeting up with colleagues for some pre-work before an all day meeting the next day.

It was November, the sky was grey and it was cold.  But, as is my way, I didn’t let this put me off and I started out to explore the city. I got the train from the airport to the main station and set off towards the museum quarter. There was a big, busy main road that I followed for most of the way pausing only to navigate several sets of roadworks which involved pedestrian as well as vehicle diversions.

It was then, that my navigational skills temporarily deserted me. I declared myself lost and decided to create a loop to get back in the direction of the station. As part of the loop I spied a bridge over a park, and I descended into what turned out to be the Vondelpark – the largest city park in Amsterdam. If I’m going to gravitate to any particular area of a city, more often than not it will be towards green spaces.

Fortunately my route in the park took me past a clear map board so I could identify where I was and reset my navigation back towards the museums. I made it and headed to the Stedelijk – the state museum of art, filled with modern ions of design and different forms of art. I didn’t want the scale of the Rijksmuseum and felt that the van Gogh museum would be a little cliched. And I wasn’t disappointed – the Stedelijk is a combination of contemporary design, art and sculpture curated in a bright, balanced building. Refreshed at the onsite cafe, I felt ready to wrap up and head out again.

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The Swing Bridge, Amsterdam

I planned my route to take in some of the other sites of the city and wound my way back to the station alongside the canals. It gave me a feel of the history of the city as a trading port and was a pretty choice with plenty of photo stops.

It’s always worth taking the scenic route. Sometimes it’s the quickest way to get you back on track and you can focus on the journey whilst getting to your destination.

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Budget travel

So many people are put off travelling because they think they can’t afford it.  I had a chat with my travel-wise friend to get some tips on lower budget travel.

When you’re currently half way through a 4 month jaunt around Europe, you’ve picked up a useful routine and have things mostly figured out.  Add this to many years running hostels in Australia and you have a bit of a story to tell about the practicalities of travelling.

This is a bit of a cross-over post from my other blog.  if you’re interested in other stories to inspire you to do things you thought you never could, head on over to Doing not Dreaming Life 

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Celebrate the Journey

Le petit cyclotourisme en France

I have a fridge magnet that reminds me to “celebrate the journey” and whilst I often struggle to do this on my daily commute, when I’m exploring new places I find it easier. Especially when travelling at a slower pace.  Especially when travelling under my own steam.  So what better excuse to explore a little of northern France by bicycle.

In the UK, cycling is growing hugely in popularity, unfortunately infrastructure and the driving culture hasn’t quite kept up to speed which means that it can be a somewhat stressful experience on a bike, even when you think you’ve found a quiet route.  I’d heard that cycling in France was a different experience and fortunately this proved to be true.

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Mont St Michel

My route took me from St Malo to Caen.  Rolling off the ferry early in the morning before St Malo had properly woken up provided a good starting point. The aim for the day was to visit Mont St Michel and we followed the coast road until we saw it away over the oyster beds.  Actually getting to it became a little tricky until we found a marked cycle track, which then seemed to stop with no onward directions. Whereas all roads lead to Rome, it felt like no roads lead to the Mont St Michel. But all good things come to those who wait and eventually we came to the causeway (now a bridge) and approached the island.

Onwards with the journey and my highlight from day 2 was a “meal deal” from the boulangerie in St Pois.  A baguette and an exquisite pastry to take out, please!  Town squares, antique shops and peaceful cycling.

Day 3 involved the D-Day beaches and Pegasus bridge.  It was drizzly weather and I could imagine the feeling of arriving on the beaches from the water.  There are some smart heritage centres along the route telling the stories, so plenty to see and do if you were to turn it into a destination.

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the bicycles

And then on to the ferry port and back to Blighty.

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A road trip to Wales

“Have you seen the weather forecast?  Are you still going?”  I had several messages of this ilk, to which I replied “yes, of course”.

Although we love to talk about the weather in the UK, and more often than not this involves moaning about the rain, this year the summer had been late to arrive and I had seen sunshine every day for the last couple of months.  I was feeling confident that this weekend would be no different.

We decided to take the scenic route to north Wales, heading to Tywyn – an otherwise unspecific town that you would have no reason to visit unless you were wanting to Race the Train (or apparently partake in the International Sheepdog Trials later in the year).

Last time I came this way, we took the direct motorway route but it turned out that faster meant slower with general motorway traffic and festival goers getting in the way.  This time, taking the scenic route was definitely a winner.

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View of Cader Idris (and Snowdon if you squint a bit)

There was such stunning scenery and with slower roads, plenty of opportunities to stop and admire.  Given we were camping, and were fully prepped with supplies we pulled into a field, to make a brew and just look.  The weather forecast had been dire but we managed to travel with the sun until Aberdovey.  Once there, only a few miles from our destination it rained and rained hard.  The sun hadn’t given up, though, and the resultant rainbow was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

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Best tea stop

The rain had stopped by the time we got to the campsite so we only had to contend with a strong breeze  whilst putting the tents up. Fortunately everything was secured well and we, and our equipment, survived the gale force winds and driving rain.  Ready for the drive home, the sun came out for us to enjoy the journey.

I travelled to Tywyn to Race the Train.  You can find details here if you want to do it too.

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London in Summer

London, and the UK in general, changes from a grey monochrome to vibrant technicolour when the sun comes out.  And if the temperature goes up with it, as it does for a couple of weeks a year (we call this summer!), the city changes and life moves outside.

A walk across the city showed there’s more to it than shopping and museums.  I happened to have time to stroll, so wasn’t head down trying to get from A to B as quickly as possible.  This gave me the chance to experience London as a visitor.  I listened in to the languages being spoken around me – not much English – which added to my holiday vibe. The parks were green and glorious with people enjoying the sun and the shade of the trees in equal measure: lazing with a picnic and watching the joggers and cyclists burning calories.

My surprising discovery was the different village feel that changed  between the districts as i walked through them.  Because people were enjoying the outside spaces of cafes and restaurants, it gave life to areas that would otherwise be unremarkable shopping areas.  I got the feel that London wasn’t a single entity but very much a sum of its parts.

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London Eye

For me, an extended brunch stop gave me the opportunity to sit and watch -something usually reserved as a holiday activity.  Another reminder that sometimes we can take time to slow down, appreciate what’s on our doorstep and enjoy a holiday at home.

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48 hours in Rome

Based on recommendations from almost everyone I’ve ever spoken to, I booked a trip to Rome, Roma, The Eternal City.  Unfortunately I didn’t have eternity to explore, I only had 48 hours.

More than one person I’d spoken to described it as a museum turned inside out.  History is everywhere. And yet it is easy to find the normality: day to day life carrying on despite the tourists and general wow. There are also plenty of places to escape – a shady garden or unremarkable piazza where you can stop awhile before planning your next move.

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I like to get the feel of a city by walking. Rome has an efficient public transport system but I didn’t need to use it. Most of the “sights” are within a 40 minute walk and as long as you remember Rome has hills, it’s not too much trouble.  And if you get lost (which I did on a number of occasions)? Turn around, take a different street or admire the wonderfulness that surrounds you.

On Day One, my walking tour included the Roman quarter: Colosseum, Forum, and Circus Maximus.  I strolled in Borghese Park and hid for a while in the Orange Garden on Aventine Hill.

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Colosseum

Day Two was focused around the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica with an overlong pause in the cafe at Castel Sant’Angelo.

I was amazed at how easy it was to feel at home, to get familiar with the roads, the traffic, the expectations. But that’s what’s so great about a city break – comfortable shoes and some coffee money will usually sort you out wherever you are.

My trip was in early July and hot. Not too busy, but more than a smattering of post-exam celebratory family trips.  There’s more than enough to do, so don’t rush it.  Remember to give yourself some time to absorb it all and for refreshment, drink the water.  There are drinking fountains everywhere across the city and the water is good to drink.  The fresh, cool water is more than necessary to compensate for the heat of the day.

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Roman water fountain

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