into the summer (the heatwave) | zeeland, south holland

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“August of another summer, and once again I am drinking the sun”
- Mary Oliver, Felicity

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  1. wheat fields near Sirjansland

  2. early morning over the Grevelingenmeer lake, Bruinisse

  3. on the road between Sirjansland and Dreischoor

  4. the road to Nieuwerkerk

  5. Suzi enjoys the garden, Bruinisse

  6. another morning light show over the Grevelingenmeer

  7. roadside stops and big skies near Beldert

  8. fresh cut grass on a dyke bordering the lake in Bruinisse

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India by rail: Bangalore to Mysore

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The man's face was like a book, but unreadable. It was so weathered, deeply darkened by time spent under scorching sun. The dark eyes seemed to hold stories, epics of unforgiving landscapes, a life where nothing came easy, where every day was survival and little more than that. My eyes met his for the briefest second, his train was just leaving. It was an all-blue second class sleeper. No AC, no windows. Battered benches. People spilling out into the walkways between the carriages. Their faces all spelled something similar. Restless lives. Funny that ours should overlap for that short second.

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There was a family on the platform across from where I stood. My backpack was the ubiquitous Kanken. They had none. A few jute bags, the young girls' heads were shaved, they'd been to some temple. They had on their best saris, powder pink, shocking blue, the men wore all white. They slept under the benches of the platform, I smiled at one of the girls, she looked away.

It was some sort of traveller's epiphany, if the concept exists. I realized why people did it, why half of the western world seemed to want to take one of those trains across India. To get lost, to wander, to meet the real people, to hear their stories. I'd never been interested. Maybe it was a kind of complacency that came from being lucky enough to have lived there, traveled around lots since before I can even remember. But I'd scoff at the mere idea of an Indian rail trip. And there I was, waiting for the Shatabdi express from Bangalore to Mysore. It wasn't one of those really rough trains; the people were all vaguely middle class, a few foreigners in the mix, but it was a taste of trains in a country that relies pretty heavily on them. Pigeons fluttered around the rooftop of the station, on the peeling panes of the railway house. My granpdpa was next to me, looking up at them. Years and years ago he'd stayed there, with grandma when my mum was still tiny, when the railways were a booming and well financed asset, before the pigeons claimed the rooftops for their own. His eyes are dark blue, always thoughtful, I could see him drift, his eyes, too, they were filled with something.

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nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail
nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail

Bangalore didn't fade away peacefully. The urban crush stayed, shanty towns seemed to rattle as our train chugged past, testament to a city that was growing quicker than its limbs could carry it . Nothing unexpected there, a stark reminder where you were. But it did fade to a luscious patchwork of green. Village life, pure and simple. Oxen ploughing the fields, buffalo here and there. At the railway crossing a lone rickshaw would stand, people were working the fields with scythes, growing maize and tall grasses. The sky was bright blue, the soil was deep red, the train was moving slowly and the sun was streaming in. My sister and I wanted to jump off the train, take off into that green wilderness, sit in the coconut groves in the shade. I could imagine the gentle rasp of the big leaves, the singing of tropical birds. So far from the chaos and dust of the city, from what you expect of this country.

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nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail
nutmeg-and-pear-india-by-rail

Mysore revealed itself, over the next afternoon and morning, to take life at a much more doable place than Bangalore. We'd rented a little apartment near the Chamundi hills, it teetered on a cross roads. From the balcony we watched a cow try to steal coconuts from a vendor, a fruit seller under a mango tree. Flame of the forest lined the streets, school girls in starchy blue uniforms tied their hair in braids knotted with jasmine. At Mysore Palace throngs of people stripped off their shoes to wander the halls with all their glory from the days of the Raja, I promptly turned my back on the monument and took photos of the people instead, a riot of color, confetti at an Italian wedding. Mysore felt less - less transient than Bangalore, the streets near the apartment seemed like the residents had lived there forever, there was a feeling of community that Bangalore couldn't quite muster.

On our last morning the owner of the apartment offered to take my sister and I on a hike in the Chamundi hills, 1200 steps to a sacred Hindu temple complex. We left before light, his radio blared out the morning prayers, the Sanskrit words shrouded in ancient mystery. We were by no means the earliest on the steps, locals were flocking down as we started to climb. There were others taking the steps purely for the sport; local boys did the whole trip at a run with Bollywood pop screaming out of their mobiles, the devout stopped at each step to make an offering with red and orange powders. Bare foot. Halfway to the top stood a man, I'll call him a sadhu though I don't know exactly what he was, he sung a haunting tune, maybe also in Sanskrit. Mournful words, robes all white, a graying beard, looking at the world through guarded eyes.

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The temple complex was unremarkable, it was too foggy to really get a good view of the city. Some of the trees bore light pink blossom, macaques stole bananas offered to the gods. There were more tourists climbing as we went down, the sadhu had barely progressed, but I had a feeling he wasn't in it for the sake of the climb or the dawn-lit photographs.

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We left Mysore that afternoon, back on the rails, Mysore station was quieter than Bangalore, we were on the first platform and I couldn't really see the second class trains. But I knew that the people would be there, people who'd have seen the stars pass through those grilled windows, people who'd have come, barefoot, to climb up to the temple for the blessing. When I was unpacking, I found my all white Stan Smiths, the shoes I'd stupidly worn on the hike to the temples. The toes had little marks of red and yellow, from where offerings had been made on the steps. I'd like to think that we'd been blessed too, in our own way.

Practical things I lived in Bangalore a while ago and I consider myself a bit of an India veteran buuut this was my first time really travelling as a tourist. funny. anyway, if you are interested in a very short, doable rail trip: - the indian rail system is quite clearly laid out for the AC, civilized type of train we're talking about :) the Shatabdi Express goes non-stop Bangalore to Mysore in about 2 hours. You can book tickets online, the official website is the IRCTC site but it's not at all user friendly, I thought the site Book My Trip was much easier, a lot like expedia or anything. If you shop around I'm sure there are others and trains are really affordable anyway. -in Mysore we stayed in a serviced apartment because we prefer to cook and do our own thing. The Red Lotus Suites were really close to the Chamundi hills and the palace but a fair bit away from the real city centre which we didn't have time to visit. The owner was also very helpful with organising taxis etc. They're simple but clean and spacious. Uber is huge here for taxis. - we visited Mysore palace which wasn't architecturally incredible to be honest but culturally was fascinating so it's worth a visit, there is also a rose garden which is nice. After the Taj mahal, it is also the second most visited tourist spot in India! - I think we probably enjoyed the steps to the temple in the Chamundi Hills most, it's a must do thing in Mysore apparently. Just be aware that some people do it for the religious aspect so just wear the usual respectful gear and you'll be fine. It gets very hot very quickly so plan on arriving by 6am, the pink skies at dawn are also gorgeous. - we also visited this Ashram. I'm no hippy dippie chakra talking person but it wasn't really like that. There is a rehabilation centre for birds with a pretty aviary, a couple of temples and a bonsai garden which we all loved. It's quiet and not too crowded and very green.

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I will include more details about Bangalore in my next post, as I said I lived here for a bit so I know a couple of things about the place ;) Anyways I hope you found this post interesting, if you are planning something similar you can always get in touch and I'll see if I can help. Sorry for the dearth of info about the trains themselves.

And I'd like to thank all of you lovely people who read nutmeg and pear, even once and a while. If there is anything you'd especially like to see on nutmeg and pear, please let me know, I'd love to hear what you think. Any certain recipes you'd like? Anything you're seeing too much? From what I hear 2016 was a bit rough for some people, so I really hope that 2017 is amazing for you all. Wishing you the brightest New Year's and hoping it brings you and your people lots of goodness. xo

summer Corfu: part 2

nutmeg and pear | the real Corfu: travel guide to unspoilt Greece away from the crowds
nutmeg and pear | the real Corfu: travel guide to unspoilt Greece away from the crowds

the sides of the valley were densely forested, covered in a quilt of pine trees. the trees cast a warm green glow over the little dirt path and in their shade ferns colonised. where the hills and trees fell away grew sudden shocks of wildflowers in gentle lilac and blushing pink, around them hovered hundreds of butterflies; white and delicate. on the right of the path, a crude wooden fence marked out pasture; on the left, a little stone hut that the ferns were slowly reclaiming. everywhere, a heavy hush. the call of a bird of prey somewhere in the forest, a view into the valley reaching the tree-clad slopes of the Turkish mountains. a feeling that here, nature presided - that you were in a rare place where the wild things could really run wild. you'd never see any, but you felt they were there.

nutmeg and pear | the real Corfu: travel guide to unspoilt Greece away from the crowds
nutmeg and pear | the real Corfu: travel guide to unspoilt Greece away from the crowds

we'd spent four days perusing Corfu's quiet northern coast, nosing in secret coves, climbing hills for sea views and eating feta. The European summer holidays had started and things were getting a little buzzy in our sleepy neck of the woods (one person. walking along the secret cliff path to our hidden beach. one person! shock. horror.)and we were so badly spoilt, we decided we needed to head inland. into the hilly hinterland of the island, which we'd read so much about in the books by Gerald Durrell. where there were endless fields of wildflowers in the spring, where streams gurgled through mossy dells. sure, the coasts were rugged and gorgeous, but we knew that for the real end-of-the-earth wild feeling, Corfu's vertiginous heart was where to go. But we hit a conundrum: we had no transport (long story), taxis were expensive and we didn't know where to ask to go ("a taxi please... to some place off the beaten track"). this, compounded by the fact that being just Layla and I, we didn't want to wander into Greek wilderness, yet we're not the type to join a tour. Solution: Corfu Donkey Sanctuary. yes, we are the kind of people who visit a beachy island and end up at a donkey sanctuary. donkeys aside (they broke my heart, but the work the people are doing is admirable) the place is a sanctuary, precisely because it lies somewhere in that valley under the watchful eye of the Turkish mountains. it's a maze of overgrown hunting tracks that criss-cross the luscious green, there is an incessant choir of birds. all the while, you're again imagining a goat herd wandering through the high grass, playing a flute; a conductor to the orchestra of cicadas who play the anthem of the middle of the earth. It's easy to forget a taxi brought you here.

nutmeg and pear | the real Corfu: travel guide to unspoilt Greece away from the crowds

we were kids again, playing in the ruins of the fort, firing the canons and looking over the shimmering bay at the enemy boats coming in. it was ubiquitous gray stone, no architectural marvel. but Corfu's old fort sat perched at a height in the old part of Corfu Town with a view over the slate rooftops, turning the labyrinth of little streets in the Jewish Quarter into a checkerboard interrupted by the loopy spires of the old synagogue. not quite the Acropolis, wild grass grew rife in the courtyards and between the cobbles, the place had an air of dilapidated mystery. but where else could we have wandered in the blistering mid day heat, hearing the footsteps of invading armies in the tunnels, the cries of the warriors echoing off the cool stone walls. we'd barely been on the island a few days and we could have written a novel, it is no surprise that Durrell could write a trilogy after growing up among these crumbling pieces of history. not that Corfu town was totally frozen in time - people were trendy, all golden skinned and wearing dark sunglasses, sitting on pavement cafes in the charming pedestrian precinct where the roads were a glossy cream marble. somehow we strayed away from the main course, into a warren of cobbled narrow streets, like the desert plates on the banquet table. washing fluttered on lines hung from wrought-iron balconies, black paint peeling while window boxes exploded in color. a cat slumbered in the shade of a doorway, Vespas rested against graying stone walls, the sound of someone practicing the violin floated out of an open window. we hadn't gone far looking for the real people: not on a tour that revealed 'local secrets', not into some seedy area of town, but just a step away from the buzzy main streets and we were immersed in Corfiot life.

nutmeg and pear | the real Corfu: travel guide to unspoilt Greece away from the crowds
our flight home was scheduled for the evening. on our last day, we took the bus to a small beach town nearby, sands were quiet, we were pensive. the trip had been one of those last minute things: lots of hurry, little expectation. we'd lost the low cost high-rises of the package holiday brochures and found the coast where you could still hear the sea and not just other people. it's even thrum against those pebbly shores, white stones kissed by the sun. the pines still seemed to embrace the ocean; they tumbled down those rugged slopes into the water's open arms. the hot air was full of mystery, each landmark held a story, there was an inherently raw romance to the way the gnarled olive trees leaned and whispered in the breeze, how the cicadas chattered late into the night. like the hills, the crumbling stone walls, the old fort, the groves, the cicadas told stories, and after a week, we were ready to write our own. we arrived in howling wind and rain, black midnight at London Stanstead, shivering in our summer shorts and imagining the moon rising clear and silver over the sea, as the little island slept under the watchful eye of the Albanian hills and Turkish mountains.
nutmeg and pear | the real Corfu: travel guide to unspoilt Greece away from the crowds

Practical stuff

Places: Corfu Donkey Rescue: ok I know this seems weird but we can't go somewhere and not meet furry animals. Therefore, this place. It's worth the taxi trip out not only to help the cause (donkeys, till recently, have been treated very badly in Greece) but also because the location is gorgeous and the drive very scenic. I contacted the owner who gave me the number of a local taxi firm who knows the rescue center and it's not such a bad thing to have another taxi number on hand. The sanctuary is free to visit, we gave a small donation, cuddled the donkeys, brushed them and met some cute pups.totally worth it.

Corfu town: the main city is also definitely worth a day, at least. There are lots of small shops in the Jewish quarter, pretty decent shopping everywhere, lots of cafes, the old fort and some really nice looking museums too.

There is apparently lots of hiking on the island, we saw lots of trails but had no map and no desire to get lost. If you're more organized than us, there's hiking on the volcano which is probably amazing, judging by what we saw without climbing much at all.

I'd also recommend visiting the little towns Kassiopi (cue Indiana Jones moment in an abandoned Byzantine fort) and Kalami which is home to one of Gerald Durrell's houses (the White House). AND rent a boat! In Nissaki we rented one through Nissaki rent-a-boat, you can rent one for the day and stop in deserted coves and pretty places like that. Also, the boats are very easy to handle even for incompetent people like me, and the sea is very calm.

Transport Haha. Big warning here: rent a car from the airport through an international firm like Hertz or Avis or something. We planned on renting a motorbike, which is common, but were given a dud whose engine was broken and had no fuel. We tried to arrange a car instead but they decided you have to be 23 (yeah, what about 21 at least?) to drive a car and we lost the money we'd paid for the motorbike, real clever. So we really struggled: everything in Corfu is quite strung out. Taxis are available but unreliable at best - the central taxi company Alfa seems to organize most taxis. Also if you are renting a motorbike be aware that the roads are very, very hilly, so maybe best avoided if you've never done it before.

We ended up taking the bus around and though it's routes are not endless, where they did go, they really worked. We were very sceptical but they ran on time, had English speaking conductors and all had AC. Their website is not very clear but bus stops have schedules which are accurate and they operate between islands too! Island hopping by bus just might become a thing.

Before you go, I'd recommend you read at least one of the Corfu trilogy by Gerald Durrell who put the island on the map. His descriptions of the wildlife, the scenery and the people are insanely vivid and whether you visit or don't, you'll be taken there.

"as the ship drew across the sea and Corfu shrank simmering into a pearly heat haze on the horizon black depression settled on us, which lasted all the way back to England" - Gerald Durrell, My Family and other Animals. Corfu has that effect on you.

Hope you enjoyed the final part of the guide! If you have any questions or anything feel free to ask any time. Hugs xo