Today's post is a wonderfully written piece from my lovely friend, Anna van der Kaaden - who travelled 22 hours just to see me in Venice! And best of all, she travelled with Wilson - which is something much better than a football, and the best present one could ever want before Autumn...
Those who know me will also know very well how much I hate cruise ships.
I cannot think of any worse ways to be near the seaside than being on board of a giant building floating on water making noise, and being stuck inside with only fake 'pool water' to get into. Not to talk about only being able to get off and explore pre determined places in a group following a pre determined itinerary.
So, my 'dislike' was already well instilled into me before the recent accident in Venice.
But apparently other people love it (I must be weird) and in 2017 a record was broken, with 25.8 million global ocean cruise passengers!
I believe that as a society we can be quite 'thick' to understand (thick being a nicer way to say that we are after all maybe just a little bit stupid...), and despite some big accidents ( do you need a reminder about theTitanic?), which include the very recent 'Costa Concordia' crash, we still think these huge things can be governed in safety. But can they? And how are they impacting the environment?
I have recently read an accusation: that many of the lifestyle / ethical / zero waste bloggers are in reality a bunch of hypocrites
While I believe this to be (for the most part) unfounded, it got me thinking
I like to reassure you that, personally, I only write about things that I truly deeply believe in and I do myself pursue.
That said, a zero waste lifestyle is a journey and, while I am doing my best I am also sure that I have not arrived yet. And that I have still some guilty pleasures..
So I will be honest with you and open up about one of my habits that is bad for the planet and what do I do to offset it as much as possible..
And especially flying, which is really not a very sustainable practice
Yes, I do fly a lot- I am probably on a plane at least once a month. If not twice..
Living away from home means I often go back and see my family (I miss them, do you blame me?). I also lived in many places, which is good but means having friends scattered around which I like to visit from time to time...
I am also a researcher and that means travelling for conferences. And I love travelling and exploring, I believe it enlarges the mind and widens perspectives, so I try to have a big trip at least once a year..
combine all of this and what you get is a lot of travelling
And a lot of flying
So how do I make myself feel a little bit better about it? by trying to offset my travels as much as possible. How?
Well first of all if possible not to fly and to take a train I will do that. I like trains more anyway. But that’s not always a possibility.
Do you have any more advice for me?
What do you think? Should bloggers be more open?
I will keep questioning my habits, so you might hear more of my ‘faults’ soon...
Venice. I love this city.
While I cannot exactly say that’s where I grew up (I didn’t go to school here, for example), I have enough family ties and Christmas memories to somewhat call it home.
I have seen it change, through the years, to become more tourist-oriented.
Yet, it still holds some secret quiet spots where to find relief from the crowd.
Yes, it is a very controversial place, where Venetians complain, yet open another ‘candy’ or souvenir store.
So, a blog article can only show a very limited percentage of this - and it would be far beyond my scope to explain it all, and get into the politics of what happens behind the scenes.
I want to, instead, focus on observations from my recent week there.
I decided to spend my week of holidays at home and, between the historic regata, the film festival and the biennale of architecture I have had a very culture filled one.
La regata storica (The historic regatta):
I was so surprised how this was kept so traditional. Strangely, however, many venetians consider it ‘just for the tourists’ but many tourists were completely unaware of what was happening on the canals and were, well, shopping instead! What a shame (?) . Result: not as many spectators as expected, still a lot but not an impossible-to-wade-through crowd. Good for us. Not sure for the regata’s future...
Have to admit: I didn’t catch any film at the actual lido, but watched some that caught my attention at the cinema nearby where they were screened the following day. The films I watched were definitely worth of a film festival, but I have heard the critics against some of the more ‘Hollywoodian’ ones...and then there is all of the costs that the film festival brings and while it does also brings some money in, the beneficiaries of this are limited, as breaks were not long enough to allow for money spending activities in the more central parts.. so who benefits from hosting these kind of events? For sure, not the citizens...
This year’s theme: free space. Sub-topic, sustainability. So interesting. Every country had a pavilion at one of the two locations (giardini or arsenale), and was very inspiring and mind spinning how the interpretation of this free space theme was very different between the different countries. But mostly, a general interpretation seemed to be that the space should be design to serve the people and the environment and be of multiple uses. Yet, in Italy in particular and in a city such as Venice even more, space can be limited and much of the space is dedicated to money. Money money money. Not for the citizens advantage but for the capitalistic system. And that more and more useful commercial activities and public palaces are getting shut down to leave space for restaurants, hotels and shops selling candies, masks and general ‘made in China’ objects. Controversial that exactly this was the city in which an exhibition about the free space was held....
Have you experienced similar things?
I'd like to hear...
The time has come to move to the new place I will soon call ‘home’ : The Netherlands!
I have just arrived (well I arrived on Thursday), and I have to say I am excited about this new chapter in my life.. One thing for sure, I am excited to get accustomed to the new foods (I will have to be careful with the cheese though!), but I am even, strangely, more excited about my first buy: a BIKE!
Because, can you live in the Netherlands without one?
Short answer: probably no. And it’s so flat, that it will be zero effort biking, just as I like it.
So I decided to dedicate this post to bikes and cycling..
Goes without saying that biking is part of a green and sustainable lifestyle. Faster than walking, you can use it as a great commuting alternative, perhaps integrating it to public transportation if your commute is too far (as they seem to do in the Netherlands a lot, with many train stations equipped with big bike lockers). Or why not go for the challenge and go the extra mile door-to-door?
According to the Queensland department of transport and main roads, cycling 10km everyday to work would save 1500 kg of fossil fuels each year..
Not only that, but parts to make a bike are less environmentally damaging (think batteries, and waste from parts that break on a car? And all the electronics… )
And you are not only saving the environment and being sustainable, you are also being healthy. Cycling can be part of your 30 minutes recommended daily exercise, you can incorporate some HIIT (high intensity interval training) as part of your commute to have some additional benefits, or maybe download a tracking app and see how you are improving, maybe challenge yourself to go faster, or maybe take your evening commute to a longer route to destress after work? And why not, maybe you will become addicted and go for weekend rides or even biking holidays or join a local cycling team…
However: CHOOSE WELL
First of all, choose a bike that is good for you: is it comfortable? Comfortability will determine how much use you will get out of the bike. Also, riding the wrong kind of bike (wrong height, wrong settings..) will potentially lead to accident or over-using injuries..
If you don’t like it, or are likely to get hurt on it, chances are that the bike will be left to rust in the garden, leading to waste. So, choose well, take your time, study. If you feel like you got the wrong one, try swapping, or sell it before changing it.
I would recommend that to limit environmental impacts, a bike should be bought second hand – why producing more if there are plenty of good ones already out there looking for a loving owner before becoming rusting waste? Maybe, if you fancy some extra work, you will bag yourself a nice bargain which just need some TLC – but hey you would have saved a bike from the dumpster and made a good action for our planet!
If you really really want a new bike (no judging here.. there are reasons for wanting a new fancy shiny bike, I get it…), then study well the company where it comes from. What are their environmental and ethical standards? Where are the bikes produced? Where are the materials sourced?
For children bikes, they will be replaced often during the course of the child growth, as the bike will need to get bigger and bigger. Thus I believe new bikes would be a bit of an unnecessary waste (of money too!). Second hand shops/online platforms should be your main point of contact – yes maybe the kid wants a shiny new pink bike, but it can always be fixed with a nice coat of paint and could do for a fun Sunday activity!
So, my aim for the next few days: find my perfect second hand bike for my everyday needs and commutes. Best point is that I love the look of Dutch bikes, and the second hand market here seems pretty good so…finger crossed!
Holiday food: trying the local doesn't necessarily mean loosing track of your sustainability and health goals!
Or better.. how to eat cheaply, healthy and sustainably while on the move...
Food, it can be hard enough to maintain a healthy and sustainable diet while at home, with plenty of preparation required, but, doing the same while travelling? While travelling abroad? Impossible.. And if you are on holiday somewhere different it goes without saying that you may want to (and you should) try the local food..
But where to start??
Here some hints and tips that I have learned from some of my travelling
Choose your accommodation well
Hotels or B&Bs type situations are not very friendly for the careful eater, you don't have anywhere to cook anything for yourself, or a fridge to store any fresh fruit or vegetables to snack on. You will rely on restaurants and fast foods, which is not only going to be costly for your wallet, but your health too! This is not to say you should never go enjoy a nice meal out, but perhaps not every lunch and dinner for a week. Instead, choose some kind of self-catering/apartment/airbnb/travel with a stove if you are camping. This way you will be able to cook for yourself sometimes
Cooking for yourself - grocery shopping!
Here comes the fun! Now you have to go find some ingredients.
What better to soak up even more culture than finding a local market? Plunge into the unknown and try some vegs or fruit you have never seen before - and don't be afraid to ask the locals how are they prepared.. In my Greek travels, I have encountered 'Horta' - which is basically a term for many different types of green leaves to be boiled (and often have a lot of stem to be cut off), I find the local people at the market are always so friendly and useful telling me how to clean them in advance. In the Seychelles I have eaten amazing pink fruit which was white inside and so crunchy and watery (no, not dragonfruit and i have no idea what it is called) sold by some women near the beach.
For proteins, if nothing at the market or there isn't a dedicated market for fish and meats and cheese (like the awesome meat market in Athens), try to go to the fishermen for fish, or find a fishmongers, and the butcher. Again if you happened to befriend some locals, ask them where best to go! And here again, let yourself be surprised by trying new things..
Basically, what am I trying to say is.. be brave!
But only with the raw ingredients.. if you are going to a supermarket and buying some ready mixed things (you should try to avoid but some local delicacies may come ready made) then the following advice applies
Learn some basic local language (google translate helps)
This is very useful if you are, for example, trying to steer clear of some ingredients such as sugar. Or maybe you are trying to avoid grains - learn how they are called so you can scan through the ingredient list and find something suitable! I promise, it's not that hard... And can be quite fun!! I love going to local supermarkets and challenge myself. Also, I believe supermarkets can be quite entertaining and give some insights into culture and demographic of the place... just me?
Lastly.. enjoy! And enjoy your meal out (or two) without worrying too much.. you are on holidays after all, right??
This is mostly a women-specific post but men, if you are here, please continue to read on!
Yes, you are guessing right - I am going to speak about what happens monthly to most women: periods!
Something so natural and so normal yet so little spoken about.
During this 'plastic challenge June' I would like to particularly put periods within the plastic issue.
Many people want to do it, yet the excuse always is "it's too expensive".
But is it? Can you travel on the cheap? And what are the risk? How do you avoid falling in some of the low-cost holiday trap? And most importantly what are the differences between traveller and tourist?
This is my breakdown based on personal experience and I don't mean for my personal account to be universally meaningful or valid - just to be a starting point / inspiration to some of you.
Traveller vs tourist
I see these two words as something with two very different meanings.
I would call a tourist someone who takes the flight to destination, reads the travel guide in advance and has a list of "sightseeing" to do, goes straight to the hotel (rigorously a chain hotel, or something offering at least free breakfast) using the route provided by the travel guide of choice or buys ticket in advance from the seller on the flight or the typical tourist guide on arrival halls in airports, takes guided tours, goes to all the museums and the "tripadvisors" 10 must see places, takes selfies with the "important" landmarks (without appreciating them really) and by dinner time he/she goes to eat at expensive tourist-trap restaurants which promise "typical cuisine". Also I see a tourist as someone who rarely would go alone, tourists often travels in at least pairs (couples, two friends..) or larger groups.
A traveller, on the other hand, is someone who has read about the culture of the place in advance (perhaps, or maybe not - maybe he/she wants to discover it as he/she goes), travels to destination, arrives and takes time to get accustomed to the public transport, finding a cheap and local way to get from the airport to the city centre, and from there walks, looking carefully around (up and around, taking the new place in), to his/hers accommodation. Accommodation-wise a traveller would normally be found staying in hostels (sometimes) in AirBnBs or, even better, couchsurfing. This will allow the traveller to get accustomed to the life in the city (e.g. by cooking meals in the kitchen, meeting with people actually living in the city, seeing the local houses and how people live). During the day, the traveller may wander around - seeing the sights, perhaps, sometimes by "accident". Most of the times the traveller would take in the sight from the outside, appreciating its architecture. At times, depending on personal preference, he/she may go in (e.g. some particular museums etc... depending on traveller preference, but these would be selected on personal preference not on advice from guides or internet sources)
Travelling on the cheap
As you can see from my above description, travelling can come at a cheap cost. Yes you still rely on low-cost flights companies however once you reach your destination (provided you don't choose a super-expensive-to-live-in country) you can experience the city from the local perspective. In my opinion a trip on the subway during rush hour and shopping at supermarket can tell you a lot more about a place than a guided tour! Plus you get new experiences and you develop new ways to deal with stressful situations, as you learn to become skilful with ticket machines and decipher weird languages and become quick with new currencies! Mention this at your new job interview...
Often room in houses such as airbnb are cheap and you get to speak to locals, hostels often are great places to meet like-minded people, and if you like adventures then I totally recommend trying couchsurfing (and also hosting people at your place). Couchsurfing is basically a free-stay in someone's apartment/room/couch/floor, however it is a lot more - you meet people, share experiences, great conversation, great food (sometimes the host will cook, sometimes you will cook, sometimes you will order in, sometimes you go eat out...) and it's always a cultural experience. And you get to stay in a real house!
The societal/environmental benefits of travelling vs being a tourist?
It goes without saying that being a tourist can have a great impact. Yes, sure, you may argue some places rely on tourist monetary input, thus by not being a tourist you are "robbing" them. However, just by being there and spending (even the minimum) I believe that you still feed into society. If you are a classic tourist, you often feed in big companies that own the big business chains of hotels, so effectively you are NOT helping the local economy. As an anti-consumerism person I am a strong believer that travelling is a better option.
Moreover, you will come back refreshed and for sure with some new perspectives!
Holidays, aren't they what we (most people) work for?
Thinking of holidays we think of sunny beaches, snowy mountains, adventures, culture-filled cities.. however holidays also come with a cost, both monetary and energetic: flights, check-in times to hostels or hotels, finding a good apartment to rent, bus connections... Not to think of the environmental impacts associated with taking frequent flights.
So, especially for a weekend get-away, the costs may outweigh the benefits.
But spending a long weekend stuck at home, while it does seem to have zero costs and not impacting on the environment may impact your own wellbeing! Everyone needs a change of scenery, new atmosphere, new experiences.. However I am ready to bet there is plenty yet left to explore just a short drive away from your home!
Lucky for me, living in Ireland there is plenty to do a short drive away!
On this bank holiday weekend I explored more parts of North Donegal (Inishowen Peninsula) and I was lucky enough to participate in the Culdaff climbfest, and climbed outdoors for the first time in my life. New experience, check! I might be addicted to climbing now and can't wait for the next adventure. For those who wonder: doesn't climbing have an environmental impact in itself? My answer it: it depends on how you do it. I can assure you that we made no damages to the cliffs climbed, care was taken not to impact vegetation on route to the cliffs and on the cliffs, not to damage the rocks themselves, not disturbing nests (by not placing routes in areas with potential nests). Being outdoors and enjoying the countryside and the seaside can have positive effects on both us people and on our perception and respect for these amazing environments.
Where do we sleep, you may wonder? We pitched up our little tent, together with other climbers, with permission from a local landowner. Again, little impact. We brought food from home and made sure to "leave no trace" of our passage by taking any refuse with us and recycling when possible. Tips to make camping as sustainable as possible: be mindful of location, both in terms of nature and the community, bring reusable bottles and containers for food and drinks, and most importantly leave no traces.
In terms of driving, try to limit driving once your destination is reached, explore your surrounding by walking, longboarding, biking, running.. and pack as many friends as possible in the same car - you might find some real face-to-face instead of face-to-book interactions may be fun (pack someone good with directions and a good dj as a minimum).
Your surroundings may surprise you, and you may find you will come back more relaxed than if you had to go through various security and passport checks! Last rule: remember to have fun!
And little 'daycations' to explore nearby areas can also be part of family adventures too, just be sure to have things at hand to entertain the kids (screen free of course!).
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