Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer in Vondelpark

Vondelpark is summertime and this year, Amsterdam's treasured park celebrated its 150th anniversary!

In the few weeks since my return to Amsterdam, I've probably already cycled through Vondelpark at least a dozen times. I've laid in the grass with my book, enjoyed a few picnics, watched the world go by from the Blauwe Theehuis, attempted some pathetic forms of exercise, and successfully finished my share of wine and snacks from a picnic blanket.

Vondelpark is synonymous with Amsterdam and this historic park simply comes alive when the days get longer during summer and trees are exploding with all shades of green. People are everywhere- rollerblading, cycling, or wandering carefree (until someone dings a bike bell at them). Kids can do their thing at variety of playgrounds and those, like me, who enjoy a drink on a sunny terrance have a few options too. Everyone else settles down for a picnic, BBQ or leisurely rest in the sun...which fortunately doesn't even set until at least 10pm during the summer months!

During my au-pair days we gathered in Vondelpark religiously, following the motto "Sun's out, let's picnic!" Every Amsterdammer surely has their favorite spot but I might keep mine a secret for now.

If you've ever enjoyed time in Vondelpark you may have seen the bright green parakeets who live there. On my first sighting, I couldn't believe my eyes to see such a tropical bird living wild here in the city. And did you know there are more than 70 types of roses in the rose garden?

Heading to Vondelpark this summer? You may want to check out the open air theatre offering an agenda full of free performances!

Also check out a 4th of July picnic, a sunny day videowinter scenes and winter photos when I'd first moved to Amsterdam (and it was so cold!)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Weekend Wanderings: Florida's Best Beach

With the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east, Florida's 1,350 miles of sandy, sunny, palm sprinkled coastline offer innumerable beach going days. As you can imagine, upon my return to the Sunshine State blue skies called my name and I flocked to the beach as much as possible.

You may think that with so much coast, it'd be hard to pick a favorite beach spot but for me, there is only one beach. Playa Linda aka "The Best Beach" between my friends and I. Unlike other eastern shores, cars are (thankfully!) not allowed at Playa Linda as it belong to a protected marine area belonging to the Canaveral National Sea Shore. And for those of you interested, clothing is optional in some areas too.

Twenty-four miles of undeveloped coast plump with sea turtle nests during the spring and summer months.

No cars, no houses, no shops. Just beach... as it should be. 

Playa Linda is quite literally a beautiful beach...

After receiving news of my acceptance to all three of my graduate school applications in the Netherlands (!!!) I knew my Florida beach time would soon come to a long pause, so I quickly opted to soak all the sunshine (Yes. All. Of. It.) and headed to the beach almost weekly before my time ran out. This was somewhat of a challenging endeavor what, with all the bits and pieces that come with moving abroad (again!).

Before flying back to Holland together, my Dutchman and I spent one more day at Playa Linda, after a morning of paddle boarding close by. An impending storm was headed inland and once a few rain drops sprinkled down, the other visitors packed up and left one by one. Eventually, we had the entire beach all to ourselves...

...Until a park ranger drove by and told us it was closing time. We took our sweet time to head out and paused at nearly all the look out points for one last view of arguably, the very best beach.

This morning I'm looking out our kitchen window here in Amsterdam and watching the grey clouds drizzle. I can't help but think back to the salty sea breeze, sun pinched skin, warm sand between my toes back in Florida. To be fair, since returning to our canal filled city, the weather has been surprisingly warm and sunny with dreary days as the major influence to when I actually sit down at my computer.

Rainy days may lend credit for my productivity but I'm wishing you sunshine where ever you are!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Weekend Wanderings: Camping at Ginnie Springs

Florida's springs have attracted visitors dating back to the 16th century when Ponce de Leon trekked around searching for the Fountain of Youth, a fabled, magical spring in St. Augustine. While I definitely wish even one of the more than 900 fresh water springs in Florida really were full of mermaids and magical powers, the clear blue waters and surrounding greenery is enchanting enough for me. I've visited a hand full of springs across my home state and recently added Ginnie Springs to that list. From scrub and pine to manatees and mangroves, driving a few hours north or south in Florida and you'll find a completely different ecosystem!

With our camping essentials ready, my Dutchman and I packed up the car and headed north towards Ginnie Springs. This natural Florida spring along the Santa Fe River near Gainesville boasts 72-degree water year-round, making it a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, cave diving, and tubing down the river (our favorite).

Ginnie Springs is actually a group of six natural springs nestled on about 600 acres of family owned land. Once the home of Timucuan Indians, their arrow heads and pottery shards can still be found around the site today. Fun fact: Ginnie Springs is such a popular spot for divers that even Jacques Cousteau has paid a visit!

Ginnie Springs was a great location for our much needed weekend getaway. We love camping and the natural allure and solitude felt when surrounded by a canopy of trees. Fortunately, we arrived early enough on Friday to snag a campsite with the river in view, an ideal spot for my Dutchman who invested in a fishing pole to keep here in Florida precisely for out door adventures like this one. Together, we filled our days with fishing, morning walks, afternoon swims and tubing down the river. In the evening, we cooked on the grill and enjoyred late nights talking around the fire. And of course, we ate plenty of s'mores! If only the droves of drunk university students slamming whiskey and blasting terrible music could have also embrace a few moments of silence to hear the wind whistle through the trees. Oh well.

On our second night of camping, we made it back to our site after a long, relaxing day of tubing. Dusk was on it's way, so we grilled up a piece of spicy teriyaki marinated salmon for a gourmet outdoor dinner. With our meal prepped and beers in hand, we finally enjoyed a cosy moment (no obnoxious party music... yet!) He was fishing while I snapped a few pictures and settled down with my book, using our tubes as a comfy reading nook. There we were, under a canopy of trees, the sun setting, the smell of food on the grill... Camping success! ...For at least 10 minutes.

As it turns out, the tubes were randomly set on top of a fire ant mound and I only read a few pages before the sting of fire ant bites set in... all over my bum! This is what happens when pants don't replace a bikini at the end of the day. Ouch! For someone as clumsy and accident prone as myself, I'm honesty not even surprised by topical injuries. Going outside, there's a 99% chance something will sting, bite or bruise me and admittedly, half the time the culprit is myself. But to get hurt while sitting down!? Now that's a new rate of success. My Dutchman loves to tease and say, "...But you're only clumsy today!" Thanks, a lot for reminder.

If you've ever been bit by fire ants, you're already aware that they swarm in masses and that the result isn't pretty. Excessive itching aside, at least our evening feast of salmon and couscous was delicious enough to distract from my mishap. Pretty sure that I earned a few extra s'mores that evening too! 

Curious about camping at one of Florida's many natural springs? Check out dozens of locations here.

Want to see inside Ginne Springs? Take a look at this video!

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