Dutch Ovens, Dykes and Daffodils

Tulip Fields
Tulip Fields

We made it to Groeningen, where the beds are comfy and the Gouda is ‘heer lekker’! Pretty sure anything would feel comfortable after a week sharing a very small tent with my brother.. Its our own fault really, we did read the reviews before buying the tent, but it said (promisingly I thought), that it was most suitable for two midgets with no luggage, and we thought it sounded just perfect. At 40 pounds, we figured it was a steal…

Camping in Ternaard
Camping in Ternaard

We lasted one night in that thing, before kicking mum out of her slightly larger tent and forcing her to sleep in “The Womb” (as we lovingly named it). We stole her tent, so it was a little more spacious, and by spacious I mean able to roll over and not be nestled into my brothers armpit.

Camping is so awkward. When you need a wee in the night, you have to thrash your way out of your sleeping bag and liner, stand on your neighbours face a bit, try to squeeze your bottom out of your tent door without getting your feet wet, wriggle your feet into your shoes which may or may not have slugs nestled into them, find your way to the toilet in the dark and also try to remember to take toilet paper with you… And then repeat backwards. Our first night was actually on an overnight ferry from England to the Hook of Holland, which I think may have softened us up a bit and we weren’t mentally prepared for the possibilities of slugs in shoes.

Overnight ferry cabin
Overnight ferry cabin

But all in all, its been a splendid week and my thighs are positively thriving on the challenge! I personally have been thriving on the challenge of eating enough to maintain my energies for cycling 60-80km per day with a laden bicycle, with occasional headwinds and a tender tush. Its a wonderful excuse to eat peanut butter on everything. I actually mean EVERYTHING. Trust me.

CHEESE PLEASE
CHEESE PLEASE

So we’ve cycled over 300km through sleepy beachside towns, sand dunes, tulip fields like rainbows, dijks and windmills, lakes, tiny villages with thatched houses.. A side note: Holland has the most unattractive baby lambs i’ve ever seen (their eyes are extremely close together and they have very muscular faces, and their tails protrude erectly from their bottoms like they were going to the toilet and then forgot about it)….The Dutch have an amazing cycle network from town to town – the Nordzee Cycle Route that mum is following for the next two months goes mostly along a coastal route, which is a pretty incredible journey with different landscape everyday.

A 30km Bridge
A 30km Bridge
Windmill
Windmill
Zandvoort
My noble steed.

The towns are all so so quiet, we’ve begun to wonder if there has been a zombie apocalypse and all that is left are small Dutch women who tend to their gardens and three children who emerge from the schoolyard at lunchtime on their tiny bicycles. We crossed a 30km bridge one day, luckily with a tailwind. I like to wave at the passing vehicles, and say hello to fellow Dutch cyclists (they say something like “Hoy!”, which I have taken to saying in return.) I also like to wave at the men working on the side of the road, and they quite like me, until I lift my bottom off the seat and they see the enormous protrusion of my cycle pants and second-guess themselves. Its all jolly good fun, and you have to have something to take your mind off peanut butter.

Koffie Break Ja
Koffie Break Ja

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I only had one minor crash, whereby I was distracted by something and my front wheel wobbled into the sand, threw me off balance and I charged the sea wall quite aggressively. My achilles tendon is a tad shaky, and it nearly got more hurty today when I basically just rode right into a fence post, completely oblivious to its existence. I came out of that collision unscathed but a little concerned for my state of mind.

Tomorrow Josh and I leave mother dearest to carry on her epic adventure. Josh is carrying on to Amsterdam and beyond; I’m going back to England for a couple of nights to sleep quite a lot and massage my buttocks. Mum is cycling 3000km over the next 8 weeks to fundraise money for a new wheelchair for her sister (my aunt). If you want to, check out her blog at overgroundadventures,comΒ and follow her adventures over the next two months.

Tot ziens (goodbye) , I send you a clog!

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Togs, Dogs, Not Many Jogs

One month in Achill and I’m not quite sure what I’ve achieved in that time… I’ve definitely put some new holes in my clothes. One large hole in my finger too, which will be a cute reminder of that time I was actually doing some work and I got all flustered and tore my index finger open on a door (don’t ask how).

This month has been a bit of a blur of dirty jokes, beaches, friendly faces, bonfires, parties, cheese with wine inside (I KNOW) and the occasional wander to the beach to reflect on all of the above. Mostly on the cheese.

I’m very balanced. ….

I drink red wine at night, and green tea in the morning.

I stay up late, and I sleep a bit later to compensate.

I go for walks…. To the pub.

I do yoga, then have a nap during savasana.

I eat a sausage, but I eat it with some vegetables.

I wash myself regularly, but not my hair…..

Achill island has a weird effect on most people that come here. Several people who have turned up to stay at the hostel have ended up staying for longer, because they love it so much and don’t want to go home. (Or maybe it’s because I am here, and I am like the sun).

At the moment we have a French language camp at the hostel, which comprises of 5 delightful Irish kids learning French in the morning then doing adventure activities in the afternoon. I tagged along on a kayaking excursion the other day, and enjoyed a tandem kayak session through the wilds of the bog and the never ending lake in Keel. We beached ourselves several times, which is obviously all part of the fun. You must thrust aggressively to shift the weight of the kayak, much to the delight of everyone around us.

Last week on my days off I cycled to the beach with a friend, went swimming, did yoga in the sand (easier said than done – I got sand EVERYWHERE), then went to The Cottage and ate some seafood which may have been some of the best I’ve ever tasted. All the seafood is local and we could not stop talking about dat mackerel, mmmhmmmmmm.

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Last Monday was bonfire night, which is an annual event involving everyone on the island hauling all of their rubbish and old furniture down to beach bonfires and setting them alight. Then we all stand around and drink things whilst watching shit burn. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and really brought out my inner cave woman. I sat on a couch that may or may not have been riddled with fleas, and witnessed some fisticuffs between a young boy and a drunkard who was insulted when told to “go home to his mammy”. Scandal at the bonfire. Things escalated when we began to drink whiskey from the bottle, and the next morning I found myself hanging out on the beach accompanied by several stray hounds and no toothbrush.

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I had the last two days off, so we took a trip to Westport to catch up with friends. I saw my friend Izzy who I HelpXed with in France (my naked yoga buddy) and we exchanged hair washing stories over a glass of red wine and some enthusiastic banjo playing. Her hair looks like Rapunzel’s, whereas mine looks more like “Rumpelstiltskin”, but I have resigned myself to this. Tuesday may have been the sunniest day I’ve ever experienced in Ireland, so we moved our beds outside and got a small bit naked in the sun, much to the delight of the male flatmates (both called Kevin, because that’s all that anyone is called here).

“Um, can we take photos?”

“……no.”

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Then we went to eat some salads and took a trip to the beach. Once in the water we decided to go topless and wear our brassieres over our shoulders as handbags. We frolicked for a while and it was remarkably warm amongst the seaweeds. We almost floated about on our backs then realised our flotation devices would emerge from the water, which might have been a shock for the small children nearby.

So I’ve gone a bit feral once more, and I very much enjoy it. Whilst talking to mother dearest the other week, we observed that both of her children have gone wild. All of the snapchats I receive from my brother are something along the lines of, “yo just slept in a container and ate carrots for dinner now I’m going into the mountains with my beard”, and I reply with “yo just poured vinegar on my hair now I’m off to the beach on my bike with no gears to do some yoga and swim naked with the tickly fish”.

Sorry mum.

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Beached.

Saturday was my first day off, but like a good girl I arose early to do yoga, only to be told it was too windy to do yoga outside, and that we would do it in the evening.. Not a wonderful start to the retreat, but we can’t control the weather, and apparently the wind is the one thing they dislike about living up in these hills. They call it ‘The Big W’..

So we took the guests on a trip down to the beach in L’Ampolla, a fishing village with lots of tapas bars and holiday shops. You can automatically tell the difference between the Spanish people and the holiday-makers; the Spanish women lie sprawled topless in the sun (even when with family, which I find super awkward), and the foreigners are pasty white, and wriggle around on their towels trying to get their swimming costume on whilst revealing as little flesh as possible. Myself included… Although I do wonder what it would be like to just strip off and lie there, completely confident in my right to lie nakey in front of strangers. Makes me squirm just thinking about it!

I nipped into a cafe to use wifi with some of the guests (got to grab it when I can), explored the little town and then basked in the sun for a while, applying sunscreen whilst trying to ignore the fact that a massively overweight hairy man was lying on his stomach directly in front of me,like a beached whale, playing with his beard, surreptitiously staring at me behind his tinted shades. His umbrella blew away but he was too fat to get up and chase it in time. Ha.

That evening we did our yoga, followed by a paella cooking workshop led by Cherry who is our host Sarah’s mum. Cherry is an Ayurvedic teacher and a paella expert, and cooked us up a vegetarian and a seafood paella for dinner.

Traditional paella spices are saffron and pimiento, which is a very popular spice particularly in Catalunya, the region we are in. The reason that saffron is so expensive is because of the manual labour it requires to produce it. Stems of saffron come from tiny fragile plants that only grow in one region of Spain, by individual farmers who then have to pluck the stems one by one from the flowers, which is especially difficult in typically windy weather….

The difference between paella and risotto is that you do not stir paella. Once you stir it, it’s no longer paella! We used local seafood from the bay; mussels, clams, king prawns, and all the vegetables used were grown organically by neighbours or by Cherry herself.

Originally this dish was a sustenance dish for people working on the land during the Spanish Civil War; they would shoot rabbits (they all had guns during Franco’s time) and take whatever vegetables they could find, cook it up in the morning then let it increase in flavour over the day. They ate with their hands, scooping from the inside out. We ate with gigantic wooden spoons which was exciting. We also got to sample a vast amount of local red wine from a giant vat, which pleased us all tremendously.

Yesterday we did an Ayurveda workshop, which was quite enlightening. Ayurveda means ‘the knowledge of life’ and is all about the different mind-body types (Doshas) and how each person has a unique combination of the three Doshas. Vitality and health require your dosha to be in a balanced state, which can be achieved through diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, and massage. We did a little test to find out our dosha, discussed what this meant about us, and learnt a little about Ayurvedic diet and massage.

The three Doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. I am quite a strong Pitta, but I have little bits of the others in there too… The unique balance that each person has determines their constitution, body type, and mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses. It tells you a lot about why you are the way you are, why certain things irritate you , why you like the foods you like and also gives some insight into your relationships….. And it also gives you the tools to keep yourself balanced. It’s useful for looking at other people as well, and for understanding that they are that way because of their dosha.

So many fun things are being learnt! Today there is a bit of a storm, so we are hiding in our tents reading books. It’s hard work getting into the routine of doing yoga every morning at 8, and the classes are fairly intense so my body is a bit achey at the moment. I couldn’t even push myself up into wheel this morning, my arms are so fatigued!

There’s not much to do here when it rains….. I will use my allocated internet time then possibly do a sleep.

Buenos nachos!

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