Monthly Archives: September 2016

Calanques de Marseille

Another way of discovering the Calanques is by sailing boat

One way of exploring the Calanques is by sailing boat

Historic and modern Marseille, the European Capital of Culture in 2013, is not only known for its characteristic Vieux Port, the famous MuCEM*, its sun-kissed beaches, and much more, .. but as well for the limestone mountains that embrace the city. The Calanques stretch from Marseille along the Mediterranean coast down to the pretty town of Cassis. It has become a regular destination for me for an invigorating walk that can last a few hours but could easily take a full day. And still, I would only be scratching its vastness. 

Pine trees at a coral site

Pine trees at a coral site

The Calanques are a national park, well protected against industrial and real estate development, emanating a pristine atmosphere that only untouched nature can provide. The rugged mountainous landscape ends in high sea cliffs dotted with pine trees.

Exotic limestone formations

Exotic limestone formations

Much of the Calanques’ coastline holds secret beaches that are better visited by sailing boat or kayak, or reached on foot, as the region is kept car-free. For the more scenic parts, Nathan Boonen, the son of my friend John, who knows the terrain by heart will ensure I will get to see some great sites through the viewfinder of my camera. Over the years, his father and him have explored the Calanques extensively in all four seasons and hiking there remains their favorite pastime. It has become my favorite too.

Knowing the Calanques by heart, Nathan is the right guide

Knowing the Calanques by heart, Nathan is the true guide

Is it the silence, the beauty of the pine trees, the deep azure waters, the blue sky and the white limestone mountain range? They are all part of the Calanques’ presence. 

The vastness of the alluring Calanques stretches from Marseille down to Cassis

The vastness of the alluring Calanques stretches from Marseille down to Cassis

The high cliff-coastline holds exclusive pebble beaches only accessible by kayak

The high cliff-coastline holds exclusive pebble beaches only accessible by kayak

Under the Pine tree at the Calanques de Marseille

Under a Pine tree at the Calanques de Marseille

*Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, MuCEM

No need to speak Dutch in Amsterdam

Prinseneiland is an island of modern style living but still surrounded by canals

Prinseneiland, an island in Amsterdam of ultra modern architecture and surrounded by canals too

Being Dutch but having lived and worked for 26+ years in Bangkok, I thought it was funny when arriving in Amsterdam last month not to find anyone speaking Dutch when I asked for the way. People I asked said ‘English please’ but they had no clue where Vondelstraat was. When I saw an older lady with grey hair on a bicycle I thought she must be an Amsterdammer, and I stopped her. She also replied in English, ‘yes that is where I am staying’, and gave me the right directions. She was American.

Amsterdam is still Amsterdam but today very much catered to the numerous visitors that want to roam the streets and canals and museums, and all the naughty places you would not find anywhere else, .. so people think. Streets and canals have become busier and noisier for some Amsterdam residents. Two of my friends who live on the beautiful Herengracht will be moving soon to a quieter home a bit outside the city. Who would want to give up a wonderful apartment facing a canal? But they do.

Friendship and repose on the Herengracht

Friendship and repose on the Herengracht

Private touring the canals of Amsterdam

Privately touring the canals of Amsterdam

The terrific privilege of living at a canal is that once you own a boat, small or big, you can privately discover Amsterdam in all its nooks and corners. Want a pizza? Take your boat to a pizza shop at a canal. Want to show your friends Amsterdam by night? Just do it by boat. Or, leave the city and discover other towns in the water-rich provence of North-Holland.

Historic canal houses and the latest blockbusters

Historic canal houses and the latest blockbusters

Today, you don’t need to speak Dutch here, English will do better, well .. sort of.  But for me, Amsterdam is still the powerhouse of beauty, art and culture. The museums contain fantastic art, the authentic architecture of canal houses is unsurpassed, and the city has been dynamic since the 14th century, following the high speed changes through all successive ages.

Nine Swans

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In the beginning of August, I went to the Netherlands from Marseille to see my family and relatives and friends whom I hadn’t seen for several years. We are with seven children in the family: four sisters and three brothers, although my parents and my oldest and youngest brothers have died quite some time ago. The reunion point was at one of my sisters and her husband’s home in Boskoop. Their house is situated along a ditch-canal system which extends behind their garden into a large pond. On the same day in the evening, when all guests had left, a family of nine swans arrived in the pond area: two parents and seven children. They gave me enough time to take some photos before silently continuing their way in a nine person queu.

Dutch Glory - a windmill at the Kinderdijk

Dutch Glory – a windmill at the Kinderdijk

In Digne, France

Nathan, son of friend John, in front of the Alexandra David Neel Foundation

Nathan, son of friend John, in front of the Alexandra David Neel Foundation in Digne les Bains

Visited the inviting Alexandra David Neel Foundation with friends, last August, in Digne les Bains, a lovely town situated in the breathtaking mountainous lavender region of south France. The home of ADN has been converted into a museum that is managed by her personal secretary Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet who is now 86 years old. A fascinating biographic film on Alexandra David Neel is presented, depicting her deep spiritual side together with her inspirational but challenging travels in the East. An additional and tastefully designed museum displays authentic Buddhist artefacts from Tibet. 

Alexandra David Neel (1868-1969) was the first French woman-pioneer to explore the Indo-Tibetan spiritual cultures and to give lectures on this in France and Europe. Her house in Digne is called ‘Fortress of Meditation’. She has written numerous books on Eastern philosophy and her travel adventures.

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One of the Lavender patches in the late season around Digne, France

One of the Lavender patches in the late season around Digne, France