The hidden Wetlands of The Netherlands

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Netherlands is a country of bikes- the number of bikes is higher than the population of the country!

Closely linked to this is one of the not so known charms of the country- the bike routes that it has. And one of the most picturesque from them happens to start from Amsterdam.

The route goes through the Dutch Wetlands- . It takes about 45 km which can be easily done in 3.5 -5 hours.

Start from Amsterdam by getting on the Buikslotterweg ferry behind Amsterdam Central Station and go on the other side of the IJ river and then go direction Durgerdam.  On the way pass the villages of Niuwedammerwijk and Scheillingouderdijk. You`ll be super surprised to see how the landscape changes so dramatically just a few kilometers away from Amsterdam! Make sure you stop for a break at the Oude Taveerne in Durgerdam which offers beautiful views of the water, authentic sailor atmosphere and great mussles.

After you reach Durgerdam go direction Monnickendam through the road called Uitdammerdijk. Here you will be on a dike road right next to the water, will pass through bird breeding areas and will enjoy beautiful water views. You will be ciclying right along the water watching the seagulls and the boats- it`s a beautfull trip which you won`t forget.

If you need a break once you reach Monnickendam make a stop at the beach pavilion – another nice place to take a break and enjoy the Dutch coutry side.

From Monnickendam go to Zuiderwoude and then continue to Broek inWaterland then cycle along the south bank of the Broekervaart canal towards Het Schouw from where head can back to the ferry.

And some useful tips for your trip:

  • If you don`t have a bike you can rent one from Central Station Amsterdam. A good option is the OV fiets- http://www.ns.nl/en/door-to-door/ov-fiets
    • Make sure you bring a scarf/body warmer/umbrella- Dutch weather can be quite unpredictable
    • Don`t forget your camera- there will be plenty of opportunities to take great pictures!

And now- enjoy the gallery! 🙂

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The colors of Ibiza

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At first sight Ibiza is easy going and very playful.  But she can also offer wonder and mystery for those who are looking for it. More about this versatile and colorful beauty –  coming soon in a three part photo essay  that will show the beaches, places and my personal favorite- the off beaten tracks.

The Amsterdamse Bos

I live in the city, but love spending time in nature and try to get closer to it whenever I can.

Engaging in activities outdoors gives me a boost, wakes up my senses and makes me feel more alive. It brings me to the present where I am fully aware of the sounds, smells and colors around me. In such moments I realize that it is the simplicity of life that really matters and beauty is all around us for those who can see it. That we are here to enjoy what we have – and nature is one of the most generous givers in this world.

Canoeing is one of my favorite outdoors activities because it brings me even closer to all this. When I was in India I stayed on the bank of a river and could do it almost every day. I was greatly missing it in The Netherlands until last week when a friend took me to the Amsterdamse Bos.

The park is a definite must see for all who want to escape the city hassle and just relax. You can rent canoes or water bikes, swim in the lake or just cycle or walk around. What makes it special is also its size (1,000 hectares) and the unruliness of its nature- something untypical for the tidy and super organized Netherlands.

More about the park – http://www.amsterdamsebos.nl/English

 

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Not an ordinary zoo

 

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The place where tree goddesses keep Buddha company; where a Zen Buddhist temple invites you to spend time in peace and quiet; and where you can actually hug a pelican. Pairi Daiza in Belgium is not an ordinary zoo. It is a special place where the contact with animals is made much more exciting by the unique atmosphere of the place.

My main trigger to go there were the pandas. And the snow leopards. And of course, the koalas. But the place offers much more than that.

Make sure you go there early – it is not a small zoo, so it`s best to have more time to enjoy it without rushing. And there are plenty of restaurants with great food, so you can effortlessly spend a day there. If you go late, you also risk not seeing all the animals, as the chances of them napping in the afternoon are high 😉

More information about the place and how to get there – https://www.pairidaiza.eu/en

Enjoy the slideshow below by clicking on any picture and then using the keyboard arrows to see the next/previous one.

 

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The Black Forest – Part 2

I hope you`ve enjoyed my post about the Black Forest from last week! If you need a refresh :  http://funandinterestinglife.com/the-black-forest-part-1/

And here is the second part.

Fun in the sun

Mountain coaster (a gravity driven amusement ride with bobsled-like cars ) and downhill carts are one of the really fun things that you can try in the beautiful mountain setting (http://www.schwarzwaldhochstrasse.de/64-1-freizeit–und-sport-zentrum-mehliskopf.html) – I personally enjoyed them a lot!!! The height differences in the mountains are also used in many places for hang-gliding and paragliding.

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The SPA

Baden Baden is one of the most famous spa resorts in the world and it should not be missed! My day in Baden Baden evolved around the Caracala spa center (http://www.carasana.de/en/caracalla-spa/home/) where I spent a super relaxing day. Tip- if you want to have a massage/treatment it is highly advisable to book in advance as there are usually fully booked on the day when you go.

Driving around

The beautiful scenic roads making driving around in the Black Forest a super enjoyable experience and there are many people who go there especially for this. Especially scenic is the route Schwarzwaldhochstrase from Baden Baden to Freiburg. You can enjoy a video summary of our rides at https://youtu.be/UJwy_1oli3U.

 

Sightseeing

Once again, there is plenty to see depending on your preferences! Here are some sightseeing attractions that I can recommend:

  • The Black Forest open air museum- a great place to see how people in the Black Forest lived back in the years
  • The source of the Danube
  • The ruins of Allerheiligen – beautifully set in a valley surrounded by lots of green. Can also be combined with the Allerheiligen waterfall.

 

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The Black Forest is pretty big and my advice would be to have a base around the center and/ or stay at different places throughout your stay, so you can explore more parts of it. I stayed in two hotels, with the second of which I was super happy and can totally recommend – http://mummelsee.de/berghotel/en/

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The Black Forest – Part 1

Beautiful nature, magical forest, idyllic views and not on the last place- a great spa. All of that enveloped in beautiful lush spring green – for all fans of outdoors and nature (and spa of course :)) the Black Forest is the perfect getaway.

 

 

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The Black Forest is a large forested mountain range in the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwestern Germany. The region is quite big (with a length of 160 km and breadth of up to 60 km) and there are plenty of things to do depending on your time and interests. Here is how I spent my time during the five days that I spent there.

 The great outdoors

There are plenty of opportunities for hiking/trekking/walking/exploring the routes and paths in the area (The total network of tracks amounts to around 23,000 kilometres!). One can do routes taking from a few hours to a few days. I had one day and the root that I did was recommended by the hotel owner of one of the places where I stayed and was absolutely beautiful! It goes for about 13 km – starting from the Ruhestein ski lift, through Wildseeblick, Seibelseckle, Hornisgrinde and ending at Mummelsee.

 

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The magical forest

The Black Forest is the setting of one of the best fairytales of the great Wilhelm Hauff (such as the “Cold Heart”; there even a dedicated museum to the author btw!), by which I was absolutely mesmerized as a child. Words can`t do much justice in describing the amazing sights of beautiful unspoilt nature in all shapes and forms that one can encounter. Enjoy the gallery – it will very likely inspire you to go and experience it yourself.

 

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Rivers & Waterfalls

There is literally a countless number of waterfalls to explore-more and less known ones. My recommendation is to see the famous ones, but also to be adventurous and get lost in the forest of the more hidden of them. The ones that I visited were the Allerheiligen waterfall, the Triberg waterfalls and the Gertelbach waterfall (a hidden gem that I super highly recommend!)

 

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The second part of the post with more experiences, tips & pictures will be coming soon!

 

And now- enjoy the gallery 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Spring celebrations

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Tomorrow  is the day of flowers in Bulgaria – on this day all people who have names of flowers celebrate their names (and I am one of them 🙂 ) . If I think about flowers the first thing that comes to my mind is – Keukenhof.  If The best way to celebrate spring in the Netherlands is most definitely a trip to Keukenhof- the largest and definitely one of the most beautiful flower gardens in the world.

 

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About 7 million flower buds are planted (manually!) every year to achieve the desired result – a mesmerizing mix of vibrant colours, fantastic flower aromas and an unseen variety of tulips breeds with funny names such as “pink storm”

 

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Apart from being simply beautiful, the part is very well organized ( as everything in the Netherlands) and designed in a way   that it is also educational for the visitor- for instance-  there are flower shows where professional florists give advice on arranging flowers.

 

 

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There is little more to say about the park; it is one of those places that needs to be simply seen and experienced 🙂 more info about Keukenhof at http://www.keukenhof.nl/en/

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And here are a few tips on how to get the best out of it:

  • The park is only opened for month and a half every year (from early April to mid May), so plan your visit in that period. It is a to go in the last two weeks of April, so you can see almost all flowers in full bloom.
  • A visit to the park can be combined with the flower parade in the nearby town Lisse ( this is actually the best time to visit the park)
  • It can be super crowded and you might save time if you buy your tickets online
  • Get more information in advance about the timings and locations of the guided tours, flower workshops and boat tours so you don’t miss them.
  • The restaurants in the park are not great for vegetarians, so it might be smart to bring some snacks with you. If you are by car, you can check this nearby restaurant in a beautiful venue: http://www.kasteelkeukenhof.nl

 

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The Elephant Bath

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Elephants are one of the biggest but also the most beautiful and intelligent animals. There is a saying depicting a clumsy person – “like an elephant in a shop full of glass”, but I completely disagree with the comparison. There is a certain grace and elegance that they radiate which is even more apparent when they are in the water. I believe the pictures below depict this very well.

Elephants are also one of the most auspicious animals in India and especially Kerala which is also playing an essential part of the Indian culture and mythology. Experiencing an encounter with them is an absolute must for every visitor of Kerala.

Seeing elephants take a bath was one of the most interesting experiences in my life. The sight of them splashing their ears in the water , using their trunks as showers and submerging like cute submarines with only their trunk outside is something that will stay with me for a very long time.

There are a few elephant centers in Kerala; the one that I visited is Kodanad elephant training center which is aproximately 40 km from Cochin.

More information about the center at: www.keralatourism.org/destination/kodanad-ernakulam/123/

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Enjoy the Silence

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Life goes in cycles. There are times when one should focus on doing and other times meant for just being – this is something that is often mentioned in spiritual literature. But how manageable is it to just “be”- submit to the silence and to simply do “nothing”? To most people the concept of spending ten days in silence sounds completely unimaginable. What am I actually going to do there? Won`t I be supremely bored? No dinner?! The exact same questions had been continuously crossing my mind. But strangely enough they did not seem that alarming when balanced against the memory of the distinctive peace and serenity that enveloped the people whom I met, and who had done Vipassana. Overall, the feelings that the thought evoked in me were a strange bitter-sweet mixture of panic and supreme curiosity.  That is how I knew I needed to give Vipassana a try.

 

Vipassana means “to see things as they really are”. It is a meditation technique that was popularized by Gautama Buddha 2,500 years ago. Since the time of Buddha, Vipassana has been handed down, to the present day, by an unbroken chain of teachers. One of them is Mr. S.N. Goenka who began teaching Vipassana in 1969. Since then he has taught tens of thousands of people of all races and all religions in both the East and West. He had also given numerous speeches on Vipassana at big forums such as the UN World Peace Summit. An interesting fact is that Vipassana is now recognized as an effective method for reforming prisoners. The meditation technique has been taught to prison inmates and staff in many parts of India as well as the United States, Britain, New Zealand, Taiwan and Nepal. There are permanent Vipassana centers in two Indian prisons.

 

Currently there are Vipassana centers all over the world. The Vipassana technique is not taught commercially, but instead is offered freely. There are no charges for the courses – not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to experience the benefits of the meditation.

 

The practical aspects of the meditation are very straightforward: observe your breath for three days, and then observe your body for the next seven. By doing that you learn from firsthand experience how everything within and around us is impermanent and transitory in nature. As a consequence, you make first steps into developing a more calm, accepting and peaceful approach to life.

 

In terms of immediate changes that you observe- what happens after a long period of silence is that after all the noise is over (be prepared for a vast amount of mental noise in the beginning) and you greet and say bye to all the thoughts, emotions and body sensations that come and go like waves, you are left with a vast amount of peace and a feeling of connectedness with yourself. Not talking to people allows you to detach from the all the clatter, worries, hopes and constant distractions of the modern world and gives you the space to experience being yourself without thinking how others would perceive you. Realizing how uncontrollable our minds are, putting active effort in taming and seeing the results from your work (improved focus and concentration, better sleep and calmer mind) gives you a feeling of being on the right path in your spiritual adventure. One of those adventures that change your life and the way you see things.

 

In case you would like to give it a try, here are some practical tips that will help you make the best out of it:

 

  • The ten day program is very structured and is applied in the same way in all centers around the world. At first sight it seems tough, but don`t let that put you down. It`s true that you are silent and don`t talk to anyone in the course of the ten days, but there are always other people who are there as well, so there is a feeling of doing something in a community of people. The daily schedule is quite packed, so there are hardly any times when you simply hang out and do nothing, so don`t even worry about feeling bored.
  • There is only tea and light food for dinner, but as you are really not physically active during the day, you will not feel hungry, so there is no need to get freaked out by that.
  • You might want to get a yoga mat in case you want to do some light exercise, or sit outside.
  • Take earplugs and a sleeping mask with you. This will help you sleep better and the sleeping mask can be also valuable during meditations where you feel an urge to open your eyes.
  • Centers around the world are different in terms of set up/facilities, so it is highly recommended to give them a call in advance and gather more information of what you can expect/what to bring, etc.

 

I did the Vipassana in Dharamshala and I can give some specific tips regarding the center there:

 

  • Facilities in the center are pretty basic, so bring your own bed sheets and towels
  • Due to water scarcity washing your clothes in the center is not allowed, but there is an excellent laundry service at super reasonable prices so there is no need to bring a lot of clothes along.
  • Bring a torch, as it gets dark relatively early and the paths are not well lit.
  • Be careful of the many monkeys in the center- no need to be scared, but still acknowledge the fact that they are there and follow the rules related to that (don`t walk around with food, don`t tease them, etc.)
  • Bring warm clothes as the weather gets chilly in the evenings

 

More about Vipassana and how you can register for it can be found at: https://www.dhamma.org/

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A Sprinkle of Rothschild Luxury in The Netherlands

For those of us used to the traditional Dutch sobriety and down-to-earth attitude this castle will come as a big surprise. It is probably one of the most luxurious private venues in the country, more richly decorated than the Rijks museum and Het Loo Palace (which belongs to the queen of The Netherlands)

 

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The young owner baron Etienne van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar acquired the ruin of the castle by inheritance in the late 19th century and decided to engage in an enormous project and build a luxorious home for his wife- the French baroness Helene de Rothschild. Helene was a member of the extremely wealthy De Rothschild family, whose family fortune actually enabled him to build the castle in the extravagant manner that he envisioned.

 

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The place is all about comfort and extravagant spending- from the involvement of a famous Dutch Architect Pierre Cuypers (who was the architect of Rijks museum and who spent 20 years designing the castle), through the absolutely impressive interior (unfortunately taking pictures inside was not allowed, but I also really don`t want to spoil it for you guys) and ending with two interesting facts:  It had its own electricity generator in the 1900s and at that time the plants in the park were brought from outside, so could enjoy their 100 old trees right away.

For the last century it has remained a tradition for the Van Zuylen van Nijevelt van de Haar family to reside in the castle for one month a year, each September, and use it as a party house visited by celebrities all over the world (famous guests included Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, Yves Saint Laurent, Joan Collins and Brigitte Bardot). In 2000, the family Van Zuylen van Nyevelt passed ownership of the castle and the gardens (45 ha) to the foundation Kasteel de Haar. However, the family retained the right to spend one month per year in the castle.

Despite of its extravagant splendor, what captured my attention the most were the magical gardens and their royal atmosphere. The deer, swans, the castle at sunset, all of it radiated a fairy-tail like atmosphere and the afternoon spend their felt like a getaway from the real world.

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The castle has enough to offer to keep you busy for the whole afternoon. I would recommend booking a guided tour (there are also ones in English that need to be booked in advance). It can be ideally combined with a lunch in the restaurant of the castle and a walk in the gardens.

 

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More for the castle can be found at http://www.kasteeldehaar.nl/english-version/

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