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Making travel compulsory

I travel. A lot. And I love it. I like finding new places, seeing new things, meeting different people. And when I go back again and again to the same place, be it for work or pleasure, there’s an extra satisfaction in showing my special places to those who travel with me.

IMG_0365 (800x600)The Azure Window (Tieqa Żerqa)  in Gozo is one of those places. If you take an early-morning ferry from Malta across to Mgarr, then you can get there before the hordes descend and make it  too busy for comfort. I managed this one month with one friend and failed miserably with another some time later. The difference was inconsolable. The place was packed. First-time visitors were parroting the usual reaction – how amazing, spectacular, the blue – oh my what a blue…  Old-timers were looking disgruntled at the number of people there. Me? I was so sorry that the experience wasn’t what it could have been.

IMG_0370 (800x592)But the inland sea was relatively deserted because the water was too choppy to take out the boats. I was glad of this, in a way. To be fully appreciated, it needs quiet. Last month, we took a small fishing boat and travelled through the rock wall to the outer sea. It was the first time in I don’t know how many visits that I’d felt the need to do this and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve long since learned the value of realising that I can always come back – there’s no need for me to pack everything in to the time I have available. No where is going anywhere (except perhaps for the Maldives and the like, should sea levels continue to rise).

IMG_0371 (800x600)IMG_0385 (600x800)There’s a particular type of coral that only grows here – it’s purple and as eye-catching as a coral can be. With one hand on the side of the boat and the other on my camera, the choice between being tossed overboard and capturing the essence of what I was seeing made me long fleetingly for the days when cameras needed plugs, bulbs, and tripods. Days when a choice wouldn’t be a problem as it wouldn’t have existed.

I was torn between enjoying what I was seeing and my compulsion to share what I’d seen. I was reminded of a Venetian writer whose name I can’t remember telling me to leave my camera at home and enjoy the moment. But what about those who will never get to Gozo, and boat through the wall, and get to the other side – shouldn’t they be able to come too?

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I’ve never been much of an artist. My rather dark wardrobe will testify to my lack of imagination when it comes to colour. Yet there was something quite surreal about this purple coral as it mediated between the gray walls and the blue sea. Had it been a colour spectrum, the purple would have been out of place. And yet there it was, in all its glory, mediating between two shades of similarity – a foot in both worlds. And it reminded me a little of me…

IMG_0407 (593x800)On the journey back inside, what looked like an impossibly narrow opening gradually opened up. Crossing this gradual revelation was like travelling through time, in slow motion. And although I’d seen the inland sea many times before, this was the first time I’d looked at it from a different direction. There was a lesson in perspective there… should I choose to learn it.

Malta is one of the few places I visit repeatedly  – and each time, there’s something new or something old seen in a new light. And more often than not, that new light comes from seeing it from someone else’s perspective, experiencing second-hand the pleasure they get from places I’ve shown them. What’s not to like about travel, I wonder? Were I queen for the day, I’d make it compulsory.

IMG_0413 (600x800)Travel to Malta with Air Malta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grateful 3

Back in the days when I first started travelling, I had this urgent need to see everything. I’d visit cities having done my homework and armed with a checklist, I’d get up before the milkman and hit the streets. I was a woman on a mission. In Amsterdam one year, I finally realised that there was no rush. I could always go back. And go back again and again until I had seen all I wanted to see.

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When I’d come back from somewhere without having seen THE sight, it no longer bothered me. I was happy enough to have a reason to return. For me, in Malta, the thing to see was the Azure Window (Tieqa Żerqa) on the island of Gozo. I’d seen postcards and photographs. I knew what to expect. It wasn’t going to be a surprise. And yet it was – on so many levels. Photographs and postcards might capture the reality but they miss the essence: the smells, the sounds, the feel of a place.

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This natural beauty spot has starred in the  Clash of the Titans (1981)  and The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), in the television miniseries The Odyssey (1997), and HBO’s TV series Game of Thrones. The sad thing is though, is that it’s slowly wearing away. Large pieces of rock are falling from it and despite the signs, irresponsible idiots keep walking on top of it. Earlier this year, a sizable chunk fell, widening the window even more.

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Experts say that it’s only a matter of a few years before it crumbles altogether. This week, as I finally unpack my suitcase from that trip in preparation for my next one, I am grateful that I got to see it, in all its majesty, on a perfect November day in the company of three wonderful women. It is on days like this that I am reminded of how blessed I truly am.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52