Enjoy the Silence


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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Fifty Shades of Pink

One of the largest Gay Parades in the world- the Gay Parade in Amsterdam took place on August 2nd. The parade was the highlight of a week-long yearly Gay Pride Festival that is usually celebrated in the last week on July.

This is a must see for all of you who want to experience street parties, canal parades, low key events and performances in local clubs/pubs/restaurants and most of all – provocation in a wide variety of forms and shapes 😉

Being famous for its acceptance for all lifestyles and behaviors as long as they don`t harm others, Amsterdam is all in different shades of pink on that day. It is a day to be out there, make a statement and provoke- thoughts, awes, laughter, and maybe criticism. But the most important thing is to express yourself in any way you want.

I think that for events like this pictures are speaking much louder than words. But before that, here are some tips for getting the best out of it in case you are planning to visit the parade next year:

  • Timing is important- in case you need to travel to Amsterdam make sure you are there early in the morning otherwise trains will be jammed
  • Select a good spot to watch the canal parade and be there early- it is great to make arrangements in advance and watch it from one of the boats parked along the canals
  • Don`t forget your camera- there will be plenty of opportunities to take awesome pictures
  • Make sure you check for interesting events after the parade. There is a lot of stuff going on, but for many of the parties/events you need to buy tickets in advance and for some others they stop letting people in once it gets too full. In any case, it is best to know what you want to do and at what time you need to be there.
  • Have fun, enjoy the atmosphere and leave your judgmental attitude at home. It’s of absolutely no use on a day like this 😉


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Good Old Vintage

I`m not a particular fan of second hand items and the idea of using/wearing something that belonged to a stranger. But on the contrary and more importantly- I just love beautiful things that are unique and I inspire me in a noncommercial way. I also love the “hunting” process and the feeling that I ran into something amazing that I wasn`t looking for and couldn`t have found in any other place.  It`s like a treasure hunt! And vintage markets can be full of such treasures if your eyes are opened enough to see them 😉

Ijhalen is one of the biggest opened second hand markets in Europe, opened for one weekend every month and an absolutely must visit place for anybody who is in Amsterdam. It’s a buzzing place, where almost everything can be found-shoes, clothes, jewelry, books, electronics, furniture, antiques.. Prices are mostly really low and could go even lower depending on your negotiation skills. But it`s so much more than just super cheap stuff-let me illustrate by sharing the discoveries of my last visit:

  • A pillow for my sofa  – 0.5 Eur
  • A leather belt- 1 Eur
  • “And other stories” sweater in a perfect condition in a nude colour that I`ve been looking for the longest time, but could not find because it`s “from last season”- was 7 Eur, got it for 5 Eur.
  • Absolutely beautiful handmade Italian notebooks- on the more expensive side – 2 Eur each.
  • Awesome cufflings with the logo of Amsterdam that are just the perfect gift – 15 Eur
  • And the most unexpected and awesome discovery- A set of three huge american painting textbooks piblished in 1964– 5 (!!!) Eur for all of them.

More info about the market can be found at: http://ijhallen.nl/en/

And some tips on how to get the best out of your visit:

  • Bring cash and small change- you want to spend all the time hunting for great deals rather than queuing at the ATMs.
  • Make sure you bring a backpack or some extra bags with you to carry your purchases. Things might get tricky if you decide to buy a coat or a huge pile of books (like I did) and the seller doesn`t have a bag.
  • Take regular breaks- looking at all these unrelated items could be overwhelming and you need a fresh set of eyes to spot the good stuff!
  • Make sure you put those negotiation skills in practice- it`s a part of the experience!
  • For early finds make sure you go on Saturday morning, and for great cheap deals – on Saturday.
  • Getting there by public transport is absolutely fine, but if possible go by car as you might be carrying a biiig pile of stuff on your way out.

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Happy times in De Hoge Veluwe

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It is not the usual place where people in their 20ties would choose to go. For somebody who wants to do something cool and fun during a warm weekend in the Netherlands, spending the day in the park somehow does not sound that appealing.

Well, it is. Spending time in nature has numerous benefits such as increased positivity and  improved outlook towards life; it also strengthens your immunity and boosts vitamine D levels (more info on these at http://news.health.com/2014/09/29/health-benefits-of-nature/ ). But what makes it really special for me is that I have shared one of the best days of my life with my friends in that park and spent some true quality time with them.

You can find free bikes at the each of the entrances and the 40 km of cycling paths are just perfect to cover for one day. In between you can take breaks and enjoy the various landscapes (the park can literally transform itself from a savanna lookalike into a deep cozy forest in a span of a few kilometers) and animals (there are a lot of deer walking around). A visit to the beautiful Kroler Muller museum located in the park is also a must, but if you would like to do that, I would recommend starting the day really early, as there are plenty of beautiful art pieces (both indoors and outdoors) to be seen. A perfect way to end the day after a relaxing bike ride is to have a picnic at the lake (you can easily carry the food at the back of your bike). Just make sure you carry enough food and drinks, as the only restaurant is in the center of the park.

More about the park can be found at: https://www.hogeveluwe.nl/enBackground Colour cool


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Orange World – A Kingsday Reportage

The Netherlands is a country of orderly ways of living, where rules and procedures are strictly followed. There are however, some exceptional days when all the rules are forgotten when the air smells like party from early morning. When almost all ways of celebrating are absolutely acceptable. One such day is Kingsday.

There is one thing that you can notice very explicitly – orange. Orange costumes, hats, sun glasses, wings, wigs, and all sorts of weird accessories. You might encounter some victims of over partying here and there, but overall the crowd is very friendly and the overall atmosphere is happy, free and joyful. I haven`t seen a holiday to be so celebrated so wholeheartedly and intensely in any other country (even though Norwegians are claiming that their madness on their national day is even bigger, but I haven`t seen it in person 😉 )

It is a lot of fun, so make sure you see it! A few tips from me:

  • The three main ways to experience the day are to walk around the city, get on a boat or party on one of the many stages around city. My advice would be to go on a boat if you want to have a good party, or to stay on the ground and walk around if you are more into taking pictures and exploring the flea markets.
  • Do not trust the weather forecast for that day- the weather somehow turns out a loooot better than predicted.
  • Do not forget that the date is April 27th and not April 30th (the day when Queensday was celebrated) any more 😉
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