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2018 Grateful 14

This day, about 13 years ago, I was lighting candles in St Thomas’s Cathedral in Chennai. The lovely SF was very ill at the time and I was lighting one for him, even though he’d told me repeatedly that he wasn’t a believer and that the candles I lit were for me and not for him. All was good. As I touched the taper to the wick, time stood still and I was overcome by an anguish I’ve not felt since. I went from smiley, happy, to gut-wrenching hysteria. A quiet hysteria though – I wouldn’t have wanted to make a scene. It was over in seconds. I hadn’t a clue what had just happened.

Later that day, when we got back to the hotel, I had a message from SF’s mate to say that he’d died earlier about the time I was lighting my candle. I reckoned he’d passed through on his way over just to say Ha! Told you!

This week, while in a temple in Bangkok, I came across a prayer bell of sorts. People had bought charms and hung them from a bell-shaped form to create a bell of prayers. Many had written their names and the date on them; more again had written their prayer. And from those I could make out, career topped their list above health, wealth, love, and family.

Never having had a stable, trajectoried career myself, I found this difficult to relate to. I’ve never wanted solid, steady, secure, preferring the ifs and maybes that allow a little flexibility in the hours and days I work and the places in which I choose to set up shop. I like new. I like different. Or at least I thought I did.

Perhaps I’m still jet-lagged. Or maybe it’s the heat. Or then again, it could really be the strangeness, the newness, the difference that I’d thought I wanted, but five days into this Thailand trip, I woke up wishing I was in the village, in Balatonmagyaród, far from the teeming masses. I have a knot in my stomach the size of a baby elephant’s eyeball wondering if the train tickets we have for today’s 10-hour+ journey north to Chiang Mai are fake. I woke up anxious, no longer trusting my ability to spot sincerity and separate the genuine from the disingenuous. The events of the past few days have been a little  much. No threat to life or limb but my soul got a bit of a bashing. If I could fast forward 24 hours, I would. And that’s not good.

It’s been years since SF passed and yet my one wish for us would be that we could have just one more pint and say the unsaid. Had I added my prayer to that bell, it wouldn’t have been for career or health or wealth or love but for a little more time with those who matter, and more appreciation for the mundanities of life.

No fly zone

I breathed a sigh of relief today when I read that Trump et al. have decided not to go ahead with an all-out laptop ban on flights landing in the USA. Heightened security measures and extra screening, those I can live with [even if the logic behind singling out those particular six countries for special treatment is also beyond me…]. But not letting me take my laptop on board? That is one sure way to put me on a train or make the USA a no-fly zone for me going forward.

I can count on one hand the number of times my baggage has gone astray. But I could fill telephone books with the names and addresses of others who have lost theirs – for days, weeks, and even months at a time. Add to this list, stories of opened luggage and missing items, and it certainly wouldn’t entice me to pack my laptop into my checked luggage and hope for the best.

No doubt there’s a whole generation of people coming up behind me who store all their information in the cloud and don’t need a personal laptop to access it. Any laptop or iPad or whatever will do. More still will be accessing emails and such on their watches. Me, I’m old school. My fingers are used to my keyboard, my laptop. I don’t want to have to retrain them every trip to navigate someone else’s machine. But I can see the way the bytes are falling and no doubt, any day now, I’ll run out of options and simply have to conform.

Jon Russell wrote up his experiences of travelling without devices on Emirates back in May for TechCrunch. It cleared up a lot for me. I had wondered whether laptops, tablets, kindles, and cameras would be seized at random and disposed of (like offending liquids or sharp objects), or whether they’d be boxed, checked and delivered once you land. It’s the latter, apparently.

But when was it decided that laptops and tablets were the bad guys? What happened to shoes and large tubes of toothpaste? Who decides this stuff? Is there an anti-Apple lobbyist at the back of it all? And would it really matter whether the laptop was in the cabin or in the hold?  [Think Lockerbie and Pan Am flight 103.] If it’s going to blow, it’ll blow. I’m not getting it. I simply don’t understand how rational minds can reason this. Didn’t anyone do a cost-benefit analysis?

And how would these rules be universally applied? I can bring a penknife on board a flight leaving from Budapest Liszt Ferenc Airport (as long as the blade is no more than 3 cm in length) but I can’t bring a set of tweezers out of Havana. I can’t bring a knitting needle on board, but I can bring an umbrella, with its myriad spokes that could be sharpened to lethal ends. And don’t get me started on liquids. I am all for security. I’m all for screening. I’m all for making the airways safer to travel. But honestly, lads, can’t we rethink some of this?

So, as long as airlines comply with the new rules, then the laptop ban won’t be expanded. And those countries where the laptop ban currently applies, they’ll have a chance to get off the list, if they comply. It’ll mean tagging on an extra hour to your flight for more extensive pre-boarding security checks, but hey… that’s the price of flying these days.

But it’s time to start working on my bagging-handling trust issues and on curbing my separation anxiety – just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Grateful 40

Back in January 2009, having moved into a newly refurbished flat that was no where near as finished as I’d hoped it to be, I had forsaken my right to call the landlord when something went wrong. I was the landlord.

Far from the near ecstasy I’d expected, I was feeling a little blah. Somehow I’d thought that being a property owner came with a newfound sense of maturity, an entry into the adulthood that had so far escaped me. But I felt no different.

I wasn’t depressed. I’ve suffered from depression and I don’t use the term lightly. It was more of a general WTF feeling. The anticlimax of reaching a goal, realising that life hadn’t changed all that much, and wondering what next.

I was in contact with a number of people around the world who were following my move to Budapest with some interest. Back then, I wrote real letters. I’d spend an afternoon in a bar over a few pints, penning away on my foolscap pages (lined, of course) and then braving the post office. Someone mentioned blogging. Explained that I could write and post and let people know what was going on. If they wanted to read, they would read. And it would give me something to do.

So I started.

On Friday, I posted my 1000th post. Hard to believe. What began as an account of my renovation/refurnishing morphed into a travel blog peppered with random reviews, a grateful series, and some general commentary on stuff. It’s fascinating to see what catches people’s attention. My most popular post-in-a-day with 407 hits in just one day began like this:

Down3I fell completely, madly, hopelessly in love today. I’d met him before, briefly, a couple of years ago, and while mildly taken with him then, it was nothing compared to what I experienced today. A drop in the ocean. A grain of rice in a paddy field. A grape in a vineyard. Today, I fell hook, line, and sinker. He’s cute. He’s blonde. He’s constantly smiling. And he’s two.

[Update: Finn now has a lovely little sister and is still making the world smile.]

My piece on Ágnes Gereb got more than 1100 hits…

While the rest of us have been busy getting on with our lives, most likely taking our freedom and ability to travel from A to B completely for granted, Dr Ágnes Geréb is still in detention, of sorts. Can it really be five years since I first wrote about her? Yes. I checked the dates. My piece published in the Budapest Times on 25 October 2010. And that’s as good as five years ago.

[Update: Ágnes is still battling for that same freedom the rest of us take for granted.]

One of the most read posts, with close on 700  curious to know more, also involved people. It began:

IMG_0341 (800x600)I love a good speech. And I love a good wedding. And it doesn’t get much better when you have both together. One of the lucky ones who got to see the gorgeous Dora Nyiregyhazki marry the equally gorgeous  Edward Quinlan in Budapest yesterday, I was struck, not for the first time, by the wonder that is marriage.

[Update: Mr and Mrs Quinlan are still poster children for the institution of marriage.]

A piece on migrants in Hungary also got a lot of attention:

refugees_walk_beside_motorwayHungary has made the news in Ireland. When I was there last week it seemed like all anyone was talking about was the migration situation. Pictures of Keleti train station. Pictures of Szeged. Pictures of the fence. Pictures of families sitting, waiting for an uncertain future. The one overriding question asked of me was “Is it as bad as they say?” And the only answer to that is no. It’s worse.

[Update: Syrian refugees (and many others) as still fleeing to Europe and Europe is still dithering about what to do.]

Given the month that’s in it, and in memory of the man who never failed to make me laugh, I can’t not mention Ronnie (RIP).

IMG_3375 (600x800)Each year, for the last four years, Ronnie Thompson would come to Budapest in March. The Londoner visited at other times, too, but it was his March visits that I best remember. Ronnie wouldn’t have won any prizes for being the tallest chap in the room, but he made up for it by being larger than life itself when he headed up the annual St Patrick’s Day parade in the city. Ronnie was our mascot – our leprechaun – our piece of magic that made the day special.

[Update: Ronnie was spoken of fondly at the recent St Patrick’s Day parade and was missed by many. Hope he was having a dram or three upstairs as he looked down on the shenanigans.]

All human interest. All stuff I like to write about. But I have a varied audience. Some are regular readers, some dip in and out, some save and catch up in bulk. When I travel, I write for a core few who, for whatever reason, don’t get to move around as much as they used to. And while those posts may not rack up the numbers, they’re even more important … to me. They’re my postcards, my letters from abroad, my way of staying in touch with people I’ve met along the way. People who have contributed to making me the person I am today. For better or worse 🙂

Thank you for reading.

What I miss most…

A1Ireland, Hungary, and the USA are three countries where I feel local, places I’ve lived for long periods. I still feel Irish and don’t lay claim to being either American or Hungarian but I am fascinated by what people miss when they’re abroad. Ask any American in Europe what they
miss about home and, odds on, their list will include Reese’s peanut butter cups and Butterfingers. I don’t see the attraction myself. I’m not a fan of peanuts, or of American chocolate. Ask any Irish person living abroad the same question and I’m sure Tayto crisps and Cadbury’s chocolate would feature alongside rashers, sausages, and black pudding.

But what of Hungarians?

I stood behind a woman in the check-in queue at Budapest airport recently. We were heading to Dublin. With only one check-in desk open the queue was glacier-like. The chap behind the desk was doing his job. Any bags over the allowed limit were turned away, their owners slinking to the side, cursing, wondering for the millionth time whether it was really worth flying budget airlines. As they stepped aside and opened their bags in a frantic attempt to remove the offending kilo or three, the guilty among us got antsy. Would we weigh in under the limit?

My woman thought not. She opened her suitcase and transferred heavy stuff to her carry-on. I had a peek. The contents suggested that she was going to visit someone Hungarian, someone who was missing the creature comforts of home. She had paprikas. She had kolbasz. She had pickled cabbage, pickled cucumbers, and pickled beets. She had enough food keep a family of four sated for a week. Her entire suitcase was food. Nothing but food, except for the homemade palinka.

A2I’m Stateside this week and doing my bit for the import/export business between America and Hungary. I brought over paprika powder, marzipan, and lots of chocolate. I brought books by Hungarian authors Magda Szabo, Antal Szerb, and Móricz Zsigmond that have been translated into English. I brought bottles of palinka and Tokaj. I brought things that have come to epitomise Hungary…for me. I wanted to give my American friends a taste of the Hungary I know.  And I’ll be bringing back the Reese’s peanut butter cups and the Butterfingers for American friends in Budapest.

It has surprised me though, that when I make comparisons, I make them with Hungary first and Ireland second. Perhaps it’s because Ireland is a country familiar to many in this part of the world, one that doesn’t need locating. Hungary is more exotic, not as well known. Out shopping today, some random stranger asked me where I’d bought the dress I was wearing. I could have explained that it was made by a Hungarian designer who has a small boutique on Ferenciek tere but I said simply that I’d bought it in Budapest, forgetting for a minute that not everyone in the world knows where Budapest is. She looked confused. Budapest, Hungary, I said, with a question mark in my voice. Where’s that, she asked. Europe, I said, waiting for the penny to drop. It didn’t. I smiled and walked away before I was asked to locate Europe on her mental map of the world. What would I have said? It’s beside Russia?

What I’ve missed most about living in America is the hospitality of its people and the stratospheric levels of customer service, comparatively speaking. I’ve missed the quirkiness and the belief that nothing is too weird to try once. I’ve missed the variety of food and culture, a product of the diversity of its people. And I’ve missed the grocery stores – those wide-aisled havens of choice in which I can lose myself for hours. It’s good to be back.

First published in the Budapest Times 4 March 2015

There are no ugly women; just lazy ones

Helena Rubenstein, the world’s first self-made female millionaire, was born in Kraków, Poland, in 1872. She emigrated to Australia in 1902. With no money and little English, she packed a great complexion and jars of face cream in her luggage. When her supply ran out, she started making her own. With all the sheep in Australia, lanolin was in good supply.

By  1908, she was raking it in. She had plans for expansion. Again, on her own dime, in an era where women in business were not financed by banks, she moved to London. She married and had two sons.

In 1912, they all moved to Paris and she opened a salon. She set up a publishing company, too, the one that published Lady Chatterley’s Lover. All sorts of names and notables attended her salon, many of whose notoriety was still in the making. She was known for her dinner parties and her wit.

When WWI broke out, the family moved to New York where she opened her salon in 1915. This would mark the beginning of a lifelong rivalry with Elizabeth Arden, captured on film in The Powder and the Glory. She sold her US business to Lehman Brothers in 1928 for just over $7 million and bought it all back for less than $1 million when the Great Depression hit. From there, it was onwards and upwards.

Her second marriage was to a  Georgian aristocrat 23 years her junior. [That must have been some face cream!] She spent money on art and clothes but took her own lunch to work. She set up foundations, gave scholarships, and employed most of her relatives in the business. She was some woman.

IMG_3361 (800x600)In Kraków last week, I stood outside the house in which she was born. It’s in the Jewish District of Kazimierz and is now a restaurant. Or so I was told. There seems to be a little confusion about exactly where. Earlier in the week, I’d seen the Oscar-nominated Hungarian movie Saul és fia (Son of Saul) so senses were particularly heightened. But Helena Rubenstein escaped before the madness descended on this part of the world. Her reasons for emigrating were most likely economic. And it made me think  of the millions of souls of potential who perished – not just Jews, but Catholics, Roma, artists, intellectuals – millions of lives wasted because of one man’s ideal.

And this made me think about abortion and the screening tests for unborn children and the parents who for better or worse decide whether or not to carry to term babies who are less than perfect. I wonder what Hitler’s mum might have done with the benefit of hindsight. But then the same might be said for Henry Ford – given the number of lives lost to automobile accidents. And my mind took another leap and bounced to risk aversity and how many of us live our lives in fear of things that never happen. And that led to potential and the fulfilling thereof.  Parents reliving their own failed sports careers through their children? Is that right? And then I started on emancipation and the movie My Sister’s Keeper that I’d heard about. A story of a young girl of 12 who’d sued her parents for medical emancipation. They’d had her so that she could be a donor for her sibling. And from there to movies and how they no longer seem to imitate life but take on a life of their own. And what about our constant need to be entertained, and our low boredom thresholds. And why don’t we read any more? Surely a beautiful mind is light years again of a beautiful face – but then beautiful faces are there for the taking – as Rubenstein said – there are no ugly women; just lazy ones.  I wonder what she’d have made of me ….

PS – Son of Saul – worth seeing – a whole new take on life in concentration camps. Playing in Toldi with subtitles 8.45 Mondays and Tuesdays.

 

 

2016 Grateful 45

Two months in to the year and I’ve managed to get to Morocco, Ireland, Malta, Serbia, and Poland.  I head Stateside later this week, and plan on spending time in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia,  and the UK before the year is out.

travel as much as you canI’m not sure where I get it from. My dad has a thing about planes believing that what goes up, must come down, and not necessarily on schedule. My mum isn’t big on travel either. And they swear I wasn’t adopted.

I’m lucky enough to have a job that facilitates this need and luckier still that those closest to me understand it and recognise the signs. I’ve noticed myself that if I’ve been too long in one place, I start to get antsy. My tolerance levels, never high to begin with, sink lower still. I find it hard to concentrate. My mind makes the journeys for me. I worry what life would be like were something to happen that would anchor me to one place. How would I cope if I had but two weeks a year in which to explore, or worse still, not be physically able to venture abroad. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

I’m currently rereading Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series set in Alaska. I’m more than half-way through and find myself envying her life … again. She’s a five-foot 30-something Aleut who does what she needs to do to get by in the Bush. She hunts. She fishes. She investigates. She lives on a 160-acre homestead in The Park. She’s a force to be reckoned with. And she hates leaving her world and venturing outside. And ’tis there that our paths diverge. I reckon if put to the pin of my collar I could do all the other stuff… but staying put in one place no matter how jaw-droppingly gorgeous it was? Not me.

travelMany years ago, a good mate of mine who lives on the big island of Hawaii was talking about buying a place on another island – just to get away from it all. I remember laughing at the good of it. There they were living in the place to which the world escaped and they were feeling the need to escape, too.
It got me thinking. Do I travel to escape, to get away? Do I travel because I need a change of scenery? Do I travel just to say I’ve been?  And, as usually happens when I start talking to the universe, it sends me an answer. This time it sent me John Hope Franklin. A man I’d never heard of before. Had I studied history or grown up in America, I might have come across him sooner. But I didn’t and I haven’t. But his message was clear:

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.

And therein lay my answer: I travel to share. An old friend, an inveterate explorer back in the day but now confined to closer quarters, thanked me once for taking them with me on my trips, for showing them places they’d never been, and introducing them to stuff that would otherwise have passed them by. I liked that.

A mate in Australia told me recently how much their postman enjoys my postcards and how he wishes I’d write clearer so he could read them. I liked that too.

This week, as I unpack, do laundry, and repack my bags, I’m grateful, yet again, that I love to travel and I’m grateful, too, for those who travel with me.

travel escape life

2015 Grateful 14

Someone asked me today if I ever tired of travelling. The hassle. The queues. The lost luggage. The never-quite-knowing-how-much-a-flight-will-cost until you press the final button. The packing. The unpacking. Did I  mention the hassle? And I said no. Never.

Travelling is something you like or you don’t. Very few people are ambivalent. For many, it’s a chore. Something they have to do for work. They rack up hotel nights with the same frequency as others make cups of tea. For others travel is a choice. Something they do once or twice a year. The annual summer holiday with months spent planning where to spend those two weeks. And perhaps a week around Christmas, visiting family at home or abroad, or skiing. More still mark anniversaries and birthdays and notable occasions with a city break to somewhere foreign. But for some, like me, travel is an innate part of being. I can no more imagine not travelling than I can imagine not sleeping.

Yes, I’m lucky in that I have a job that facilitates my trips. I can work anywhere I have an Internet connection. Unless I’m giving workshops. And recently, when asked for dates for workshops in October and November, I froze for a minute as I looked through my diary and realised that for two whole months I would have to be in Budapest at least two days a week. Which left with with a five-day travel window.

time off

It’s not that I have anywhere in particular I want to go. Rather that I want to be free to go should the opportunity arise. A Serbian friend mooted a week in Israel – but I don’t have week. Two weeks in Iran was also on the cards but I don’t have two weeks either. And for a while, my narrative voice kicked in and I was caught up in a mental castigation of not being able to say no. I could have just said I wasn’t free. But that wouldn’t be true. I could have declined to bid on the job but that, as a freelancer, would be tantamount to heresy. You take what work you can get (within reason) when you get it, because you never know when the next lot will come along.

Some time in the last few months, my attitude to travel has changed. I missed out on tickets for Pink Martini who are playing next week in Budapest. I’m kicking myself. I’d give the toenail on my big toe to go see them live. So what did I do? I checked other tour dates in Europe and when I found myself trying to work in overnight train trips to Munich at mad h0urs mid-week, I realised that I enjoy a luxury denied to many. I’m living smack, bang in the middle of Europe. Getting a train to another country is often quicker than a drive from London to Newcastle. Flying between capitals is relatively cheap – and while the environmentalist in me screams NO!, the twenty-first century me pays her carbon dues and plants trees to offset her airmiles and reasons that as her dad wouldn’t set foot in an airplane, she can use his allocation, too.

This week is a quick trip to Ireland for a book launch. Next week is a quick trip to Malta for a workshop. Florence is also peeping over the horizon, as is Venice. And the States are calling – again.

If I’m not thinking about travelling, something is definitely wrong in my world. I’m grateful indeed that I get to indulge this particular passion and that the world is big enough to keep me thinking (and travelling) for many years to come.

Life is too short to stay in one place

These last two days have been awash with emails and phone calls and texts and Facebook messages in an attempt to take advantage of Wizz Air’s 20% discount on all flights and flight+hotel packages out of Budapest. Had they (Wizz) not emailed me and told me that this offer was available, I’d have been none the wiser and might have been somewhat more productive than I have been in the last 48 hours.

I had my heart set on five days in Cyprus but that wasn’t to be. Those I asked weren’t free or had been there before and were in no rush to go back or couldn’t give the immediate commitment I needed. Cluj was another option – it’s high on my list for 2015 – but again, there was little interest out there. Sofia, too.

naplesA chance email about something completely unrelated opened up a conversation with one friend on travel. Negotiations started. Cities were considered and discounted. We needed somewhere neither of us had been before so we settled on Naples. The fact that I’m going to Italy for a week in April was neither here nor there. Flights were booked. Advantage was taken of the 20% discount, and I’m already scheduling my carb days to allow copious slices of pizza. Mission accomplished. Need to travel satisfied.

parisThen last night, I ran into another friend who was having a similar itch to go somewhere new. Anywhere. Just for a weekend. The ‘I couldn’t possibly justify another trip in March’ crossed my mind but was so fleeting it didn’t gain any traction. I remembered a hotel voucher I had for the K&K hotel group and thought of Paris. They’ve never been. I’ve been but years ago  and I didn’t like it. I’ve been promising it a second try for decades.  So we’re booked.

I blame it all on the Wizz Air marketing department. It’s their fault. What can I say? Some women spend their money on designer shoes and handbags – I prefer to spend mine on airplane seats and hotel rooms – when they’re on sale, of course. Life is too short to stay in one place. And as Robert Louis Stevenson supposedly said: I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.

2014 Grateful 11

I’m fortunate in that I have few things to be anxious about. Gone are the days when I’d fret over the fact that I had nothing to fret about. There was a stage when I had worrying down to a fine art, but no more. Somewhere along the way, that permanent worry gene was replaced by a sporadic one that now only engages when my mouth runs away with me and opinions best kept to myself are  vented or purged. Thankfully, the venting and purging are directly proportionate to my excess energy levels so they happen rarely enough for me to declare my life a relatively anxiety-free zone … except when it comes to baggage carousels and luggage.

luggageIt’s a first world problem, I know. And despite the fact that 99 times out of a 100 my luggage travels on the same plane as I do, that anxious gene kicks in when my suitcase doesn’t arrive in the first 17 on the conveyor belt. I have no idea why I count the pieces of luggage as they appear and can’t explain the increasing heart rate as I approach the magic number, or why it even is the magic number  – but I’m a counter.

If I’ve had to change planes, my anxiety is particularly acute. By my own peculiar logic, transferred luggage should be loaded last (all other passengers having checked in much earlier) and therefore unloaded first. If the stopover time is around the one-h0ur mark and the gates are far apart, then as I’m waiting at my final destination for my suitcase to appear, I expect it to be one of the first off and if it isn’t, it’s brown-paper-bag time: I have to consciously stop myself from hyperventilating.

It’s ridiculous really. I’m only a few miles from home where I have a change of clothes, toiletries, and food and if I don’t get my case for another day or two, it’s not the end of the world. I know this. I’m not stupid. But this doesn’t stop the anxiety.

luggage2Every suitcase I have has a little orange seed stuck to the inner lining – a seed blessed by the Dali Lama given to me years ago by a mate who spent some time in Tibet. But even with this added insurance, I can’t stop the mounting feeling of disquiet as I pass by 17 and 27 and 37 and 47 and 57. The relief as a familiar blue case peeps through the rubber slats is replaced by despondency when I realise that it’s not my blue case – and this oscillation in mood only adds to the tension. I watch with something approaching an irrational envy as others who disembarked after me pick up their bags and move towards the green nothing-to-declare (but a self-satisfied smugness) channel. And yes, I know that the seating order on a plane has nothing to do with the order luggage loaded or unloaded but by this stage logic has flown out the window and I begin to slowly, but steadily morph into bag of cats. It’s not pretty.

And when, as has happened a couple of times lately, my blue case is first off, I see it as an omen – a good omen. And if in Ireland, I play the lotto. [And some people think I’m intelligent!]

This week, with 2400 miles of Canadian and American road behind me, I’m back in Budapest. We had a short stopover in Munich and our luggage was amongst the last off the carousel in Liszt Ferenc. But it arrived. And for that I’m truly grateful.

 

 

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.