finding Crete (2016)

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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 The Algarve (2015)

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“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.”

finding Vienna (2015)

 

 

 

 

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”
(Saint Augustine)

The thing about the travel bug is that once you’ve caught it, it becomes a life condition.

He had always teased her that she did not have a list of places she wanted to see. Now that list was so long, she wondered where to start. He had introduced her to places Arabic, and pre-packaged Mediterranean was familiar territory from family holidays. Northern Europe, however, remained uncharted territory. The fashion was for the likes of Budapest, Prague – she was not about to follow the fashion.  So, in Spring 2015, Vienna it was …

She imagined a sophisticated city of imperial palaces, classical music, hearty food, snow and mountains – it was all those things … without the snow and the mountains, for Vienna sits on a plateau to the west of The Danube, the surrounding hills covered not by snow, but vineyards and dense undulating woodland.

A love of the arts, which drew her and her girlfriend together when they worked side-by-side in publishing in the 80’s, became the focus of their trip. So there could only be one place to start. Within hours of unpacking, they entered the magnificent doors of Vienna State Opera for the evening performance. Climbing the vast marble grand staircase to take their seats high in the auditorium, they marvelled at the well-heeled Viennese ensconced in their tiered boxes, classical music running through their veins. Spellbound by Schwanensee (Swan Lake) performed under glittering chandeliers.  Such a privilege to be there.

Vienna oozes the arts through its every pore. Klimt’s “The Kiss” at The Belvedere, took her breathe away … much reproduced on greetings cards, nothing could take away the magic of seeing the real thing. And with immaculate timing, Vienna’s naughty boy, Egon Schiele, had just opened at The Leopold.

A city of imperial palaces – the magnificent complex of buildings that form The Hofburg, Vienna’s former Imperial Palace – the obvious place to start to dip into Austria’s history, with a guided tour of the state apartments, room after room of porcelain and gilded candelabra, and a special exhibition about Sisi, Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria, and wife of Frank Joseph I.  Then to the south, the stunning Schloss Schonbrunn, former summer residence of the Habsburgs – reminiscent of Versailles with its grand mirrored rococo ballroom and formal gardens, laid out in the reign of Empress Maria Theresa.

Vienna, city of cake and chocolate – Demel tearooms, the heady sweetness of chocolate hitting the taste buds,  Sachertorte and a cup of tea sitting at the bar in it’s dark mahogany interior.  And city of a cuisine which exceeded any preconceptions. At Figlmuller, famous for its schnitzel large enough to fill the plate.  Rich beef goulash at Weibel’s Wirthaus and the faded romantic “Kleine’s Cafe”, sitting in the kind of cobbled square so reminiscent of WWII movies, where the Gestapo screech to a halt on a side-cared motorbike.  Tucked into a corner of this tiny cafe, with its smoke-yellowed walls, eavesdropping lovers in earnest conversation, their first taste of apfelstrudel. And Cafe Pruckel to drink late evening coffee, listen to piano recitals and mingle with the locals.

This was the life she imagined …. a culturally rich life.  Her appetite satiated, for now …. she was living that life ….. and she had only just begun.