Zwillbrock, hiking along the flamingoes and visiting the Baroque church.

Springtime, 2019

My last trip was in February, a long time ago. Work took all my attention, but during the leisure days I tried to discover new places. I met a new group of friends and we go on hiking tours together or visit musea, a concert or any other interesting event. Through these people, I discover many treasures of The Netherlands. Still, on various occasions I go exploring on my own and enjoy the tranquility of the countryside.

A remarkable place is Zwillbrock (Zwilbroek for the Dutch), just a hundred meter over the border into the municipality of Vreden, Germany and very close to my hometown. People say, that the border here never excisted; it was centuries long a place where German and Dutch people mingled together. This tiny village is proud owner of the Church of St. Francis, a baroque church and former monastary with a long history. In 1651 the first church was built on these grounds, which became an escape for the Catholics from The Netherlands, who were banned in their own country. The St. Francis church is dating from the early 18th century and although rich in decor, still beautiful in simplicity. Nearly every Sunday at 16.30 there are performances in the church. Many musicians are eager to play in this historic intimate ambience!

Zwillbrock is also famous for The Zwillbrocker Venn, the most Northern breeding area for flamingoes in Europe and a birdreserve with more than 100 different birdspecies. The only time I saw flamingoes in the wild, was on the island of Bonaire (Caribbean). Never thought I would encounter those beautiful creatures again, so close to my home! The first Chilean flamingoes arrived in 1982 and until now nobody knows where they were coming from. A few years later, also European flamingoes joined the group. After raising their chicks, they will leave again until the next year. For more information, visit the Educational Centre at Zwillbrock Biological Station.

The best time to watch the flamingoes is from April till the summer. Sometimes they are gone in June already. There are different birdwatching stations and with my 60 x zoom camera, I can get some nice shots.

I hike the roundabout of a rough 7 km along the shallow lake and marshland, witnessing many black-headed gulls and other birdspecies. On purpose, I choose a weekday and walk for more than an hour, without encountering other hikers.

 

 

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The fishing villages Llafranc and Calella de Palafrugell

19th and 20th of February, 2019

This Tuesday is a bit cloudy, so I decide to pay a last visit to Pals and some coastal towns on the northern side. In Pals I discover hidden corners where I have never been before.

It’s not great weather for pictures, until I arrive for a late lunch in Estartit, where I can catch the sunset over the small harbour and the lighthouse on the Islas Medas. Estartit has also changed completely and it takes a while before I can find the old centre, with the small streets and tiny stores. A nice change is the walkway along the rocky shore, but in summer it must be crazy busy here with all the tourists.

I finally find the (closed) restaurant, where we used to spend many great evenings. The owner behind the piano and his son playing the drums and we danced until the late hours, after our wonderful supper. The name of the restaurant annex bar is still the same (Eden Bar and Restaurant) and when I look through the window, I realize nothing has changed inside. The piano is still there and the bar is on the same spot. If I close my eyes, I can see my father and me dancing together. Very good memories indeed……..

My last day will be a day of hiking along the coast. I start at Llafranc, a lovely fishing village, and walk via de Camí de Ronda all the way up to the 19th-century lighthouse at Sant Sebastià. From here you have a view over the coast of the Costa Brava and the hinterland. There are also some ancient Iberian remains to visit. From Llafranc there is a path along the cliffs to Tamariú. I decide to go back, as I still want to visit Calella. While walking, I am impressed with the lovely views from all around. Very carefully, the sun is coming out and I grab my camera for some last pictures of the harbour below.

It is possible to go to Calella de Palafrugell by foot, along the Aleppo pine-dotted coastline. I decide to take the car, as I want to visit Cap Roig first, known for its beautiful botanical gardens. Once I arrive high above the village of Calella, I notice the gardens are only open during the weekends! Too bad, so I drive all the way down to the centre of the village and park my car in one of the side streets. By now the sky is completely blue and the air is warming up. Although Calella also grew way too big, with too many holiday apartments, the beaches are still pristine and the fishing cottages and renovated mansions are a delight!

I treat myself on a light lunch right at the beach. Most visitors this time of the year are Spanish tourists and people from Catalunya, who come for lunch to this well-known beach town. While having my salad and sipping my wine, I dig deep in my memories…….Once we went on a warm evening in July to Calella to enjoy the Havaneres, the ‘Sea Shanties’. All visitors were sitting on the beach, while a big group of men were standing in a fishing boat, singing songs with amazing voices. We enjoyed that evening so much. It seems that nowadays, the inhabitants of Calella leave their own town on those evenings, as it is packed with people from Barcelona. They even are building stages and come with television crews!!! So glad we witnessed those performances in former times…….

After lunch, I walk up the cliffs to get some nice shots. Calella de Palafrugell is divided into a few small beaches and thanks to the walkways along the shore, you get a fabulous overview.

Tomorrow I will fly back to The Netherlands, so it is time to say goodbye to the Costa Brava. It is also time to say goodbye to my dad and I promise to return one day with my children.

 

Monday market in Torroella de Montgrí and lunch in ancient Peratallada

18th of February, 2019

Torroella de Montgrí is a culture town, with regular musical performances, expositions in the church and three museums to visit. It is situated on the foot of the Montgrí, a mountain with the remains of a castle and seen from a far distance.

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It is a very lively town, although there are not any specific spectacular buildings present, except for the church and the museum Palau Solterra, a 15th century palace.P1050445

We used to go on Monday morning to the market. Not only to buy the fresh produce, the tasty olives and cheeses, but above all to have a coffee on the placa (plaza). There is only one cafeteria and I still remember the old man, who owned the café a 30 years ago. He always had a big smile for me, when he noticed I arrived again for the holidays. After he died, the café was not the same for me anymore, although his sons took over. On occasions we went on special summer evenings to the intimate plaza, where we joined (after invitation) the Sardana dancing, the typical Catalonian dance, symbol for national unity and identity. The café served Cremat, a Catalan alcoholic cocktail, made with rum, sugar, cinnamon, lemon peel and coffee, prepared in huge terracotta bowls. The lights were dimmed and candles were burning and I still feel the atmosphere of the small idyllic plaza.

 

On my way back ‘home’, I decide to go for lunch in Peratallada. Like Pals, this very small and authentic town, with only around 250 inhabitants, is considerably renovated. The castle is dating back to the 10th century and the church of Sant Esteve to the 13th century. The name of the village is derived from ‘pedra tallada’ or ‘cut stone’. In the summer various restaurants, galleries and even some small hotels are catering the many tourists. Still, people often forget to visit beautiful Peratallada, as it lies off the main road. Now in February, I am surprised that a few restaurants still have their doors open. I decide to have a late lunch in El Borinot, a cute and tiny place under the arches. A nice way to end another great day!

 

The change of Palamos into a big coastal town……

16th and 17th of February, 2019

Today is time to visit Palamos. The first thing I notice is the change of the roads. While driving towards Palafrugell, the road becomes a highway with a speedlimit of 100 km. Wow, that was different 20 years ago! Also, there is Palafrugell North and Palafrugell South. What happened to the small market town? In no time I enter Palamos and follow the parking signs to The Playa. I don’t recognize anything anymore. It’s an enormous city in comparison with the small fishing town, tucked away in my brain.

It’s very busy at the playa and all the parking places are taken, so I return to the centre, where I find the very last empty spot. My lucky day again! Once at the harbour, I notice why it is so busy. There is the Optimist International Regatta with 550 participants from 29 nations! Today they have a day off, at least this morning, as there is no wind at all.

Wonderful to see all the small boats on the beach, while their crew is hanging around, waiting for the wind to pick up.

I spent quite a while walking around the different harbours and remember how it was 30 years ago. I realize I am getting old(er). In the far end you see Playa d’Aro and San Feliu, an area I rather avoid these days.

The lively old centre of Palamos is situated a bit higher and more peaceful than down the playa.

By lunchtime I have enough of busy Palamos and drive home. This afternoon, I go hiking in the woods, where we always spent so much time walking our dog………

On Sunday, my goal is Begur and Tamariu. Begur, with the old remains of the castle towering over the town. Definitely worth the small climb, as from there you can see the coastline with the Islas Medas, the Pyrenees, the old town and the lushy back country. It’s very windy today, as most of the days now in February and difficult to make a steady video!

Also Begur is growing, but I do hope that most of the green area is protected and that one day they will stop expanding.

In the old centre, I find an empty place on the best known terrace (Bar de Placa) in town. Right under the bells of the church. Never go and live in Begur, as they cling every 15 minutes very loud!

From Begur you can take a small coastal road to the small fishing village of Tamariu. At least in Tamariu, time stood still. A cozy place with a row of fish restaurants surrounding the beach. All open on this cold, but sunny sunday and while the parents are sipping their wine, the children are having fun on the beach. This reminds me of our life in Greece! We used to spend our Sundays like that. Going with friends to the taverne on the beach and sit there for hours, while our children were keeping themselves occupied.

I choose the restaurant Rodondo for my birthday meal. Finally, I get my favorite dish again; calamares a la plancha! The people next to me have sea-urchins for starters and I ask them if I can make a picture of the dish. Immediately, they shovel one on my plate. I do have to taste it! There is not much meat in it, but the taste is good and the important thing is (according to the guy), that it has the ‘sabor del mar’ (‘taste of the sea’…)

After my lunch I go hiking on the rocky track along the coast. The first part is a bit a challenge and you have to look for the signs red-white, but later it becomes a real path. A nice track with gorgeous view over the coast. Later this week, I hope to start from the other side at Llafranc and Callela de Palafrugell and then visit the lighthouse of San Sebastian.

 

 

Market in La Bisbal and a visit to Pals and Sa Riera

15th of February, 2019

After a very cold night with frost on the ground, I hop in the car and decide to go to the market in La Bisbal d’Empordà. At this time of the morning, you still can find a parking spot. Markets are popular among the Catalans and they start early! La Bisbal d’Empordà is a typical provincial town, very well-known for the ceramics and all kinds of baskets. I notice that the stall with meat and cheeses is still on the same corner as 20 years before. They stick to their place! You can get good bargains here and most people buy for the whole week their fruits and veggies. I just stroll around, get familiar again with the Spanish atmosphere and buy some roses for my father’s grave.

From La Bisbal I return to Pals, park the car in town and walk up towards the cemetery. From now on, I will visit my dad every day of this week, to catch up with him on the stories. A lot has happened over the last 20 years…….

Pals is still Pals, a few stores more and a few less and, very important, more cafeterías! The medieval town has not changed at all and it’s lovely to walk around and admire the view from the old tower.

At the parking I start a conversation with an older guy, who is sitting on a bench. We talk about my economic rental car and I tell him the reason I came back to Pals. Long story short; it turns out he was the gardener of my parents!!! What a coincidence! The next day, I take him to the local café and we talk about the old times.

It’s lunchtime and I drive to Playa de Pals, to see if restaurant Mar Blau still exists. It idoes and as always running the whole year. It has a terrace at the seaside or at the back. There is a cold wind blowing, so I prefer to sit on the secluded terrace. To sit outside again is such a great feeling! I take my favorite avocado-schrimp and sip my white wine. This is holiday!

The beach is wide and empty. After lunch, I go for a walk over the rocky path along the sea, towards Sa Riera. Many times I walked this trail in the past and on some stretches it was not very safe, but it improved a lot. The nude beach is also still there and one person is sunbathing. Thanks to my 60 x zoom camera, I know it is a guy and yes, he is nude!

Sa Riera is empty, nearly all the houses are closed and not even one café open. In the summer these places are crowded with tourists and now I barely see a living soul.

I return my way to Play de Pals, via the tiny streets up and down the hill and arrive just before sunset ‘home’.

 

A pilgrimage to Pals on the Costa Brava, Spain

14th of February, 2019

It has been a long time, maybe 18 years? I remember my parents left The Netherlands when I was 20. They decided to build a house in Spain and they started a new life. I always loved going to Spain. Especially Christmas and New Year, when all the tourists were gone and the air was crispy clear; great for hiking! Sometimes, I met up with friends in wintertime and we were crazy enough to dive into the very cold sea. After my parents passed away, I never went back, due to my own living abroad. Though now, I get a chance to have one week off from work and I give myself a birthday present; a flight with Ryanair to Girona, a small rental car with Firefly and a cute apartment in the countryside of Masos de Pals.

This will be my pilgrimage, my ‘peregrinaje’. I am excited to go back and hope to find my way again in the villages and on the coastal roads. My plan is to go back to all the favorite places and write about them on my blog. It will be a busy week!

This is also my first time flying from Eindhoven and my first time flying with Ryanair. Everything goes smooth, although I am way too early at the airport. There is always the chance you get stuck in the traffic in Holland, even very early in the morning! My car is conveniently parked at Eazzypark (58 euro’s a week) opposite the entrance of the airport building.

After hopping on small planes in countries like Cuba, Costa Rica, Ecuador or Mexico, Ryanair is not bad at all. The landing could have been way smoother, but hey, who cares? Only the baby in front of me!!!

I arranged the car rental ahead of time and took full coverage, out of safety reasons. I am satisfied with the price; 78 euro’s for a week.

Girona airport is simple and quick. Luggage was there in no time and within 30 minutes, I was on the (wrong) road to Pals….. I printed a description of the numbers of the road, but driving and reading is not working. There are immediately many roundabouts, while leaving Girona, and you need to focus on AP-7 Girona/Francia and NOT Barcelona. Too late, I did go to Barcelona and before you get an opportunity to return, well, that takes some miles!!! Once back on the right track, I realized I had to take a small stretch of tollway. I check the button to open the window, but there is no button. Where on earth is that button? I can’t stop in the middle of the highway. Panic, as I know I have to open the window for the machine at the toll post. While driving I push all the buttons I can reach and hope nothing weird is going to happen. Finally, I find them in the centre of the dashboard (what a weird place). Just on time!

In France it was never a problem, but here I find myself suddenly in the lane of the VIA-T people, who pay automatically. I only found out when no ticket came out of the machine and the guy behind me started making funny gestures. O.K, calm down, I go in reverse and try the right lane, pfffffff………

Funny enough, after leaving the tollway, I don’t have to pay anything. All the effort for nothing…..

I relax and drive without any other issues straight to my apartment in Masos de Pals, where the view stretches over the fields, with the mountain range of the Pyrenees on the horizon. It feels like coming home; the intense blue skies and the cold wind of february are embracing me…….

 

 

A festival of lights and culture in The Hague, ‘Royal City by the Sea’……

December, 2018

During these last days of the year, I have a house-and catsit in a city, where I haven’t been for many years. A city filled with musea, history, modern buildings and impressive government buildings, palaces, many stores and on a short distance the sea.

It is a rough two-hour car drive from my home in the eastern part of The Netherlands, to The Hague, but it is a totally different world! After getting settled in my temporarily home, I hop on the tram and the first thing you notice is the mixture of nationalities and languages.

I get off at Central Station, where I have an appointment with an old friend and I am impressed, as the station is huge and has changed completely. Our meeting point is the piano, where everybody can hit a few notes and which is placed in the hallway. Just a couple of hours after my arrival in the big city, I already get a sightseeing tour from somebody, who knows The Hague very well.

The first thing you notice, is the abundance of lights, illuminating the historical buildings all over town.

‘The Royal City by the Sea’ is a nice combination of old and new and during these few days, I just get a taste, what this interesting town has to offer. I visited Mauritshuis, where you find all kinds of famous Dutch and Flemish masters. While entering the museum, I witness a demonstration of the ‘yellow vests’. Interesting to see how just a few people are triggering the police, while all others are trying to have a peaceful demonstration.

Panorama Mesdag, with a special exhibition of The Storm, is a museum you have to visit, as it is one of a kind! The guardian of the museum showed me an optical illusion; he walked ‘into the painting’ and collected a clog, which seemed very big from a distance, but was just as small, as the one closer by……….

It is like a dome and you have the feeling you are standing on the beach! Many artists, besides Mesdag and his wife Sientje van Houten, have been working on this fabulous piece of art.

On New Years Day, I meet up again with my old friend and he treats me to a wonderful ‘saté’ lunch, in an Indonesian restaurant called ‘De Poentjak’. From there we stroll through The Hague and finally take the tram to Scheveningen (by the sea), where he shows me the different harbours. I am impressed, as everything has changed so much. It must have been many years ago, that I visited this part of Scheveningen.

We finally end up at ‘Simonis aan de haven’, a wonderful place to get your favorite fish! Here its ‘self service’, a great way to have lovely food for a fair price! We just grab a bottle of wine (for 13 euro’s), sit ourselves upstairs, from where you have a wonderful overview. While outside the fireworks are in full swing, we catch up on stories of the past………

Later, we walk over the famous boulevard and witness the woodstacks, which will be burned in the evening. This year they cause many problems, as of the increasing wind.

 

 

 

Along the promenade, there is an exhibition of statues.

It is all part of ‘Beelden aan Zee’, a museum in Scheveningen, which I visited a couple of weeks ago. At the moment, they have a wonderful gathering of artwork of Ossip Zadkine, the same artist I saw in France, in Les Arques.

From the boulevard, we walk through the Kurhaus. In front of the Kurhaus there is a skating rink and the Kurhaus itself, is nowadays surrounded by many other buildings.

I realize that I have been away for 23 years and time didn’t stand still………..

 

 

Exploring impressive Chateau de Bonaguil, Puy L’Eveque and Domme

October, 2018

You will find the fortified Château de Bonaquil in between the Périgord and the Quercy, in the municipality of Saint-Front-sur-Lémance. It is a hidden treasure and surrounded by pure nature. My second attempt to reach the castle was more successful. My advise; just go by car and not by feet!

The castle is an example of evolution in architecture. Built in the 13th century, extended and changed end 15th and beginning 16th century. It’s never attacked, thanks to its impressive defence system.

It is a great place to visit, with all different towers, cellars and even a small museum upstairs. If you walk all the way up, the views are something else!

During our visit we also could admire the work of a local artist. The modern statues against the ruins of the castle were an eye catcher……

From the castle to Puy LÉvêque is a nice drive, partly along the river and passing the famous vineyards of this area. The town is situated right on the river Lot and has pretty steep roads going down to the river. If you follow the bridge, you get a nice overview of the old town from the other side.

Frayssinet-le-Gélat is a great gateway for visiting many historic towns and other cultural attractions. To the North, in the Dordogne, you will find another ‘must see’; Domme. It is a famous bastide town, perched high above the river Dordogne on a cliff. Although it is very touristic, it kept its charme and as soon as you start walking along the promenade around the town, you forget the busy centre. While walking you will pass the remains of the fortified walls and the gateways into town, like the Port del Bos and the Porte de la Combe. There is a variety of honey-coloured houses and cottages and amazing views over the river and valley from every corner of the town. For those who are interested, Domme gives the opportunity to visit the caves, which are situated underneath the town.

During my stay in Frassinet-le Gélat, I tried to visit as many places as possible. Too many to mention in this blog. I fell in love with the area, as it has not only beautiful nature and wonderful hiking paths, but also so much culture. Every village or town is a museum and always there is river lingering through the countryside. A place to go back!

 

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Cahors, other gems along the river Lot

October, 2018

The Lot’s character is formed by its ‘causses’ (limestone plateaux), through which the Lot, Dordogne and Célé valleys have carved their way. Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is known as one of the most beautiful villages of France. Tucked away on a cliff, a 100 meters above the river Lot, this medieval village is a must see!

From Frayssinet-le-Gélat, you have to drive first to Cahors and from there it is around a rough 30 kilometer drive along the river; a lovely scenic drive and fairly quiet around this time a year.

Watch your speeding limit when driving in between Espère and Cahors! I got 4 times a fine, as it turned out I was driving 57 km an hour instead of 50! Probably, I was too much focusing on the directions that I didn’t see the 50 km sign! As I drove this road on various occasions, I received different fines for the same stretch…………too bad.

Saint-Cirque-Lapopie is more or less one big museum. Spend your day admiring the medieval houses, visiting the impressive inside of the Gothic church and taking pictures from the upper lookout point! The views over the Lot valley and the village itself are lovely.

 

There is definitely no shortage of tiny restaurants, cozy terraces and craft stores. In the winter, a handful of artists are the only inhabitants of the village. It must be pretty lonely, as it is quite isolated.

We had a great and very affordable lunch, on a secluded patio at ‘La Terrasse’. Don’t forget to walk to the other side of the village, from where you get a view over the old graveyard.

Best is to combine a visit with a trip to Cahors, but then you need at least two days. I got a taste of Cahors during my second week in France and visited all different corners of this typical French town, which is like a puzzle put together on a peninsula, in a loop of the river Lot.

Cahors is a city of art and history and best known for the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne and the famous Valentré Bridge. The city was founded in Roman times and became an important centre of trade and finances in the Middle Ages. The centre is still intact. The Valentré Bridge was built in the 14th Century and is found on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

A lovely town to stroll around, feel the French atmosphere and visit Les Jardins Secrets, which are scattered throughout the town.

 

 

Rocamadour, on the route to Santiago de Compostela

October, 2018

One of the neighbours in Frayssinet-le Gelat tells me Rocamadour is not worth visiting. Too many other more interesting places. I am pleased I ignored her advise and drove my car over the incredible small but fabulous road, in between Le Vigan and the place, where 170 miracles happened. I suppose you better avoid this very popular destination in high season, when several buses are unloading tourists and pilgrims on a daily basis. This time of the year is perfect for a visit, with barely any traffic on the road and the sky crispy clear. The best and only way to discover Rocamadour is by foot. Just park the car opposite the tourist information office and start walking on the road, from where you get an unforgettable view over the canyon and the old medieval village, with its churches, chapels and the Château.

We start our tour high up on the cliff, in the gardens of the Château. The interior is not open for the public, but you can walk via the steel bridge, bordering the garden and overlooking the Alzou Canyon. The entrance is 2 euros and you need coins for the machine to open the gate. You better start walking through the gate immediately, as there will NO ticket coming out of the machine (although it says so) and the gate closes right behind your back. A lot of people lost their money! If you are tiny, you can squeeze with two people through the gate in one go! Obviously, we didn’t try…..

Again, I had to push myself up the stairs, although I felt nearly sick of my fear of heights. The panorama is just something you should have witnessed.

From the top of the cliff, we descended over the winding road with the various stations of the Cross. At a certain point we found a small cave, where you could buy nails, and hammer them in a cross, as for protection of the pilgrimage journey. I refused to do such a thing.

 

The curvy and shady road ends where the 8 churches and chapels are draped around a little square. Here you find the Chapelle Notre-Dame with the Black Virgin and also the Romanesque-Gothic Basilica of Saint Sauveur. The beauty of these medieval buildings is stunning.

 

From here the famous 216 steps of ‘The Grand Escalier’ go down to the picturesque main street, where many boutiques and cozy restaurants are overlooking the canyon. Imagine the pilgrims were climbing all those stairs on their knees. Some of them still do these days…….

We leave the beauty of Rocamadour, while walking through one of the four gates. From time to time we stop and look back on the impressive three successive levels of this village above the canyon.P1040870

There is an old local saying;

‘Houses on the river, churches on the houses, rocks on the churches, castle on the rock’…….