finding how to Travel Solo

She had her hand on her bag ready to go through passport control on her own.  With no idea what had delayed her friend, it was a choice of waiting and missing the flight, or going it alone and working things out.  Her friend made it, just …. but that decision to go anyway answered a question that had been playing on her mind for a while.  Would she be brave enough to travel alone?

The answer, to her genuine surprise, was unquestionably yes!

To a 50-something solo female first-timer, Florence seemed challenge enough for now.  A couple of hours flight (so not so far away that she couldn’t be “found” if she got into trouble, she reasoned), good weather (nothing worse than sitting alone in a hotel room if it was pouring), lovely people (she’d never met an un-friendly Italian), familiar cuisine (like a comfort blanket while she addressed the “eating on my own while trying not to look like I’ve been stood up” scenario)… and long on her bucket list.

Flying alone for the first time, the first thing she noticed, was that …. she was on her own! Tourists tend to travel in groups.  Excited huddles of giggly female travellers sharing “must-do’s” and “have I packed’s”, couples in their own couple-y world,  families trying to keep errant toddlers under control …. and her. It might just have been that flight, that day, but it felt as though everyone was staring at her”alone-ness”, as if she had a big arrow pointing down at her in the bustling departure lounge saying “she has no friends”.  She topped up her lipstick and tapped out a message on her phone …. signs to all concerned that she was being met at the other end by her Italian lover.  That would explain it, naturally.

Of course, in reality, no one was concerned at all about the pale slightly fidgety middle-aged woman sitting near the departure gate, passport clutched tightly in hand, ready for the off. Or that she’d checked three times during the wait that her currency and travel documents were still where they were … last time she’d checked.  Or that her hand never left the handle of her cabin luggage (can’t be too careful). Or that the message she was tapping out to her Italian lover … was actually a post on social media because she had to share her excitement with someone! Or that the seat next to her was … empty.  No one cared.  Absolutely no one cared.

And it was while she sat there getting used to the idea that, to anyone else, she was just another passenger waiting for her flight … that she finally got it!  Solo travel means that the only person you have to worry about is … yourself! You can do what you like, when you like, if you like, how you like – and no one gives a damn. How liberating is that!

So, just for the hell of it, she checked her travel documents, again …. and queued for the departure gate.  The butterflies in her stomach did an extra somersault.  Not nerves any more, but excitement. She boarded the plane, head held high, with a confidence that said to all those giggly girls, couple-y couples and frantic families, “look at me, not care in the world, I’m going it alone and I’m fine, I’m really fine!”

They actually didn’t care of course … but neither did she.

She was on her way …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

finding Another Day

“Morning, lovely day!”

She scurried past,
envying the time to sit and stare,
her pace quickening,
clock ticking.

The park,
winter’s fading rays piercing the oaks,
shedding their green,
extraordinary in their autumn coat.

Littered empties, discarded butts
surrounding the bench,
night’s cold and weary secrets,
unpalatable, unseen.

Lone dog yapping
for another stick thrown,
his mornings, a well trodden path,
same walk, different day.

Other workers,
like her, mind full, head down,
unseeing, blind to the day’s
patient calling to be admired.

Breath misting,
tears trapped,
like a silent reminder
of the pain.

Her thoughts elsewhere.

Life’s pulse happening anyway
but everything had changed.

He had gone.

 

finding A Second Chance

“There are no second chances in life, except to feel remorse.”
(“The Shadow of the Wind”, Carlos Ruiz Zafon)

Never a good idea, of course. Going back.  But she was the world’s worst at letting go, and if there was the slightest chance that she could salvage her dreams, then she didn’t hesitate to take it.  It was as if, by diving head on into that dark pool of emotional turmoil, she would know for sure if there was any hope, or if indeed it was just a dark black pool that, in all likelihood, would pull her down and down until she ran out of air and had no choice but to rise to the surface towards the light. But still, she had to know for sure.

So, when he finally, after 3 months, responded to a message, her heart skipped and hope shone its faintest light.  She had got so used to hearing nothing from him, that when her phone pinged in the darkness of her car, she consciously told herself it would not be him, to protect her still fragile heart from the disappointment that had gone before.  But it was him.  He said, simply, “Same here, for me, never stopped caring”.

He was abroad now, a flight away, but a flight which he would never take back to her, and would always have a reason why she should not fly to him.  But she hung on to his messages, empty promises of a future together. He still had a hold over her heart, so she tucked these promises away like a warm glow inside, rarely shared with anyone – because she was too afraid they would not come true, and because, in her heart of hearts, she knew they never would.  But they were hope, and hope was all she had.

Maybe he believed it himself.  Maybe he was just stringing her along.  She wanted to believe him … but she would never know if, to him, she became a daily ego-flattering text message.  Though anyone looking in would say she was the fool, knowing him as she did, in the end, she believed he was a troubled soul who really didn’t know what he wanted. And she needed him to want her.  He could not or would not ever commit to that, and true love is not forcing someone to feel something they do not.  He did not want her … enough.  

So, in the end, she had no choice but to swim for the surface, gulp in the life-giving air that was her future without him, and so begin the long journey of letting him go … again. But at least this time, she knew. 

 

finding Change

“My feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping but I shall go on living.”
( Pablo Neruda)

There was a shift.  So subtle, had it not been her very mindset at that very moment, she wouldn’t have noticed it at all .. but there was a shift nevertheless.  

Records would show it was the hottest September day for a century.  The pair of black awnings outside the pavement cafe she had of late favoured for a lunchtime snack, did little to protect her, the midday heat piercing through the gap between with such intensity that her bare legs reddened in minutes.  Moving the table and chair closer to the frontage helped a little, and she envied the clientele outside the Italian opposite, who had had the sense to sit on the shady side of the street.

The couple on the next table taking a moment to rest from trying to shop with the tiniest of newborns snuggled to the mother, barely an adult herself.  They looked so young to be a family, to have the responsibility of such a precious new life. She marvelled how relaxed they were, with each other, with the baby and remembered those early days with hers, and she was heartened to see them pause, to see them savour this precious time.

On the other side of the street, a ridiculous attempt at parking a silver run-around in a lorry- sized gap.  A woman driver of course, who even asked a man waiting in the next space if he could move back to allow her to manoeuvre, while everyone sitting outside the cafe could see it wasn’t needed.  She watched fascinated as the driver to-ed and fro-ed, knowing of course that, if it had been her, she would have just driven past, rather than face the embarrassment of an audience!  Funny how it’s never a man struggling to fit a parking space.  Are they genetically engineered to be able to park a car?  Just as they seem to be genetically engineered to be unable to stay faithful to one woman.  She wondered if the biker casually sitting by the side of the road in his leathers, was waiting for the driver, a clandestine lunchtime meeting, since she had appeared to wave at him.  Rather too public to be clandestine!  On hindsight, the wave was probably just to warn biker man of her appalling parking skills and the vulnerability of his Harley.  They seemed an unlikely match anyway, and so it was, for as she turned to sip her coffee, he was gone.  

This treating herself to lunch was all part of the looking after herself, of being strong, of moving on. It was still a conscious thing, living life out of curiosity, without fear.  Perusing the menu as leisurely as an hour’s lunch break would allow, she had chosen the “special”, just because she always ordered their ploughman’s sandwich and wasn’t about to become predictable, even in a coffee shop.  How ironic therefore that the owner, a lovely man whose passion for the blend and commitment to his customers’ individual coffee foibles fascinated her, being basically a non-coffee drinker herself …. how ironic that the owner should mishear her and order her the “usual” anyway.  

The heat. The world felt slower, languid, indifferent to the lunchtime rush. Trees lining this old part of the town, perfectly still, dappling the pavement and holding on to their green as if they knew this summer’s day was still to come, when everyone else thought autumn must surely be here.   

She felt calm.  She felt the world around her and was thankful.  For all the hurt and the sadness, just a dull ache now and which she knew from experience only time could heal, she felt glad to be alive and the shift came imperceptibly.  It was the clarity of light, the intensity of the heat, and the sudden realisation that right there, right then, she was exactly where she needed to be.

 

finding Crete

image

What better for a broken heart than the kind of love that would never let her down … the love of her oldest and dearest friend. Where better for a broken heart than the kind of place that would breathe life and warmth back into her fragile, battered soul.

And so, a month after he’d left, she and said oldest and dearest friend, stepped off a morning flight into the blistering heat that is Crete in late Summer.

It felt as though the tiny family-run hotel just east of Rethymno, had been sent to take her in and mend her.  Somehow, on a Greek island saturated with tourists at peak season, they had managed to find a oasis of calm. Right next to the beach, she could, within minutes of leaving her room, feel the fine warm sand between her toes and breathe in the salty air.  It was perfect.

They fell into the island’s welcoming embrace, whiling away their days under the bluest skies, discovered that Greek salad tastes three times as wonderful when you are actually there, that sometimes it’s fine to seek out foreign lands and in the end do nothing at all, and that red wine and lazy sun-kissed days can soothe a restless mind to sleep. She talked and cried out her hurt while her friend listened, then listened some more, like good friends do.

In the end,  she could talk and cry no more. She would rise early every day to sit at water’s edge.  The tears she’d determined she would not cry for him, fell in rivers onto the sand as she searched for him where the sea met the sky … he was not there, and finally, as Crete’s magic worked its Aegean charm,  she felt her heart starting to let him go.

finding Heartbreak, Again

“Perhaps this is what the stories meant when they called somebody heartsick. Your heart and your stomach and your whole insides felt empty and hollow and aching.”
(Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

He was gone.

She always knew, of course, that he would leave to follow his dream – he’d told her that right from the start.  He never said he’d stay because of her … and even if he had, she would have told him to go anyway.  This was something he had to do, and though they’d talked of her following him one day, for now he had to do this alone, to find himself, to find his path.  It was a difficult time, an emotional time, when he needed space to prepare for the journey ahead. She found herself caught in the no-mans-land between the life he had and the life he was going to, and as her vulnerability grew, so did the distance between them.

She knew how it would end … yet she loved him anyway. The waiting game moved to a new chapter, one where she did not know if she would ever see him again. His leaving broke her heart.

The difference this time, she reasoned,  was that she knew she would be fine, she had survived this before. She knew how it would play out, the journey from loss to hope.  She was stronger now. She would not let it pull her down to the depths of despair, fear, longing and sadness she had felt before. She would not give it the head space.  She would be kind to her soul, her very essence of being, and laugh again.  She would accept that he had gone, and live her life to the full, without him.  That was her plan.

But her heart did not hear. There is no short cut from loss to hope.  Days of despair and fear cannot be shortened to just one day, sadness and longing do not give in to hope without a fight.  He had taken a piece of her with him, and so, like before, heartbreak wrapped its icy fingers round her soul, and she lived her life as best she knew how, while she waited for the thaw.

 

 

 

finding 445 Days

FullSizeRender (9)

Day 444. His message read, “I’m leaving with the morning tide”.

A lifetime before, it was his freedom of spirit that had called to her soul. Those impenetrable eyes that would always seem to hide his darkest secrets, sparkling then, as he told her of his plans to sail the world, of being brave enough to dream impossible dreams.

So how it would end, was written from the start.  A cautious heart with any sense of self preservation would have wished him well and moved on.  Hers was neither, and in that moment as she fell under his spell, the pendulum set in motion, marking their days.  

The other lady in his life had stood proud and tall at the marina’s edge when at last they were introduced, and later, as the three of them glided out into the heady blue, the wind caught the mainsail,  and their spirits soared as one.  Anchored under the stars that night, time, it seemed, stood still.

The months passed. She waited and watched in awe, while he poured over tidal charts, swathes of blue surrounding tiny dots of paradise, and lavished his every waking hour on resolutely fettling his dream into a reality. She breathed his salty air as it seeped into her very core, and, for all the voices that told her she was crazy to give up everything she knew for his dream, she believed him when he said “meet me on the other side”.  

The last day. He silently slipped the ropes, a morning fog wrapping its icy fingers around the bow, stealing her heart and the promise of their tomorrows. She held her breath as the pendulum caught the final whisper of the prevailing breeze, it’s heartbeat faltered, and stopped.  

He took with him a piece of her, lost to the heady blue and the whim of the salty skies ….. and was gone.

First published by Reflex Fiction (Spring 2017)

 

finding the Other Lady in his Life

so serene at rest
calm and self-assured

as the sparkling dance
on the tips of the waves
fades with the setting sun

gone
only to reappear above
in the darkened sky
like magic
one by one

the gentle lap on her bow
as she wraps her arms around you
her hypnotic caress
a slow, lingering kiss
your bodies as one as
she whispers sweet nothings

“I am here, trust me, I am yours”

with the waking day,
she sleepily stirs
the breeze catches her breath
her sun-kissed limbs
languidly stretch
as she turns her face to the sun
calling her
an intoxicating desire engulfing her

“take me”

she arches her back
and groans with longing
as she strains to the call
of the heady blue

your powerful arms hold her tight
guide her
reassure her
as you take control
as she bends to your will

and you conquer the world

as one

 

finding The Algarve

FullSizeRender (10)

“The more places you see and the more people you meet,
The greater your curiosity grows.
The greater your curiosity, the more you will wander.
The more you wander, the greater the wonder.”

(from “Rise Up & Salute The Sun”, Suzy Kassem)

Travel means different things to different people.

For many, it is the opportunity to rest and unwind in sunnier climes, without stepping too far out of comfort zone, somewhere that is a home from home, which is what package holidaying first gave us in the 70s, and what owning a property abroad offers us today.

For others, travel is the opportunity to explore, challenge and discover … and whilst they would probably veer towards the later, none of us would pass on the offer to spend some time luxuriating in a beautiful apartment in Portugal’s Algarve.

Despite its name translating literally to “Moorish Town”, there is very little in terms of history in Vilamoura – in fact it didn’t exist until about 30 years ago,  when a Portuguese banker saw an opportunity to redevelop the local harbour into an opulent marina complex of harbourside restaurants and bars, with avenues of pristine holiday homes around exquisitely manicured golf course. Today it is an expat and summer tourist heaven … a man-made escape from reality.  Nothing wrong with that, and to escape from reality with him, just for a while, was like living a dream.

But it is not Portugal ….

There is a road that runs from Faro airport to Lagos, a main artery running along Portugal’s southernmost coastline. Take any turning to the left, towards the sea, to find communities like Vilamoura, white-washed villas surrounded by opulent green.

Take any turning to the right, to find a land baked to a parched, dry crisp in the Mediterranean heat … mile upon mile of wild and rugged barrenness.  All roads wind up through Serra de Monchique, a rolling mountain range offering breathtaking views towards the Algarve and west to the Atlantic and Cape St Vincent.  Careworn villages scatter alongside dusty tracks, stark reminders of the fact that Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe.  Up and up, winding towards Monchique, an irresistible and charming hamlet, cooler in climate and cooler in vibe than it’s coastal neighbours. They wandered the seemingly deserted streets looking for shade in the midday heat, enchanted by its faded tile-clad buildings and seduced by the heady aroma of the surrounding eucalyptus groves. It felt real … and it took her breath away.

Two faces of the Portugal … one saying “look how beautiful you’ve made me”, and the other, “I already am.”