Is it a consolation to feel there are so many places in this world where you could easily live, even though you know quite well you never will? The consolation in seeing the richness of this world, I guess, feeling like home is a moving concept, even for those of us who aren’t constantly moving. Why so many of those seem to be in France for me?
First, I fell in love with Paris, of course, then came its Mediterranean coast, but in the last three years I’ve discovered a whole new territory on the Atlantic. Normandy is my regular getaway, La Rochelle was a sweet haven, and now there is Bretagne. Maybe, it’s the magic of the tide that has something to do with it : so weird for an Adriatic girl like me to see an island in the morning and walk to it in the afternoon, the subtle danger it implies. Or the wind, stronger here, so much every thought flies right out of your head, and even reading seems impressively challenging. If the delicious galettes de blé noir and cider weren’t enough, perhaps I could be fed by those views, the long promenades and hidden beaches, the nature whose character is somewhat rebellious and wild here, in a heavier sense than in the South (it suits the drama queen part of me).
So, the old town itself was the last thing I did here, although I appreciated its streets immensely, because the surroundings were calling loudly. I’m not sure I broke my record of kilometres walked per day, but I think I came quite close the first day. Aren’t those the best – lovely little towns, beautiful in themselves, where there is an awesome walk waiting for you, no matter the direction you choose, or almost? That’s where I would want to live.
There are two kinds of dreamy in our lives, aren’t there? The one we can see in our everyday, simple, but meaningful scenes, like that pinkish sky sunset paints for us after a long day at work, almost making us feel grateful we had to stay there till so late, because otherwise we wouldn’t see this view. Beauty is always dreamy for me, even when it grounds me in the present.
And then, there is the other one, the one making us dream about the future, about the open road ahead we might walk someday, even if we already rambled on some of them, even if some of them are circles, bringing us back to where we started. There are still countless possibilities of what might happen in-between the taken steps.
There was a truck driving by the exit door at work today with a huge CORSICA tag on it and yet again I fell back to reminiscing. Must be some kind of a torture device, this vehicle passing our Parisian winter frowns, reminding us of these magnificent open horizons on such a gray day as today. Nah, it’s actually quite pleasant to think some day soon maybe I might go back to this little paradise-like island and revisit its fresh air and pure sea and starry sky. Hell, it’s soothing to revisit all that just in mind, too. To look at some pictures and think about all the good stuff, existing in this world. Do you know I can’t help myself – thinking about food every time I think about this place… It’s an automatic reaction, an associative thought I can’t escape: ”And my oh my we ate so well there!” And that always brings a smile to my face, the grimaces I was making, digging into the refreshing desserts and pizzas with all of my favorite ingredients and grilled aubergine and … ah enough.
I’m not ashamed to admit there always comes a point in my travels when despite all the awesome people I might meet I need to get myself some alone time. I was lucky enough to spend one of those on my last day in Portugal in a nice little place that is appropriately enough called ”deserted” . As coincidentally it was the last day of my last year’s summer, some beach time was most welcome, too. And what a beach, nothing else but sand and sea and sun and wind, nothing more than my towel, hat, sunglasses, the last pages of a good book and the sound of waves. Exactly the kind of day you think about while looking at forecasts of snow, putting on your long coat and an additional sweater or two underneath… No, we need to see the beauty in all seasons, right! Still, thinking about this island now, I must say it (most joyfully) surprised me. Sitting on the ferry, departing from Faro, it could seem its name sounded a bit ironic now, all these tourists flooding it every day. But once I was there, letting myself go further and further away from the only restaurant on the island, the beaches didn’t seem to be that crowded at all (the season was slowing down at that point, true, plus I just came back from the ones in Lagos!). After a short walk on the hot sand I could easily find my own nice little spot, with a most amazingly magnificent view, nothing but the blue sky and the never-ending sea before me. I somehow managed to bring myself to tear my ass away from it to take the path all around the island’s flora, and again the impression of being alone in the midst of beautiful nature won me over. Sometimes, the top-things-to-do-lists are there for a reason and we might just be lucky enough to have the perfect timing.
Getting goodbye to Algarve in style, indeed. Quite in love, too…
28.8.18 : The first taste of this town is sweet. Because it’s kind and discreet, warm and agreeable. The South which always pleases. The white houses and strong sun switching with strong wind once in a while, mediterranean food, the oranges and the figs, perky birds, the soothing sea and sunsets at the pier. I can’t get out of the clichés because I appreciate them too much, need them too much right now maybe. They might get me through the blues.
I feel I turn in weird circles in little towns, walking through them quick, checking out all the streets, views, bistros and benches in the shade, round and round, going a bit further every time, but not too far, so I can get back on foot if tired (forgetting this isn’t Paris). Done within an hour, and giving up at some point and just sit down somewhere, ordering coffee or a glass of wine (depends on the time). Maybe, that’s the point. To sit down and watch. Absorb the spirit, and not just rush through it.
30.8.18 : This region suits me so well. All the good wine, all the good food, all the cheap coffee, all the good music (a music festival was waiting for me here), all the beautiful people, nice people. (Half of them are French, too, so I’m not even missing out on speaking in my favourite language.) So many of them, I started missing spending time on my own, the inspiration and the spontaneity of alone-ness, the freedom of getting lost, but never losing time, and taking trips on your own schedule.
5.9.18 : Another randomly awesome day, before I leave. Oh the joy. Chilling on the desert island, reading on the sand, turning pages with the help of the wind, a walk in the middle of nothing, talking with complete strangers (really, how could I guess they were French?). Then, finishing up my stay with a late jam session, so I can get my stolen hat back. This country has a positive effect on me, with its ease and randomness, the good life I somehow have to translate into my every-day. There is nothing dramatic about endings, nothing final, nothing hopeless in uncertainty, I wrote. Just let random things happen outside the bubble, too.
Sometimes, the town you’re in loses all importance and allure the very first night, and that is a good thing. It takes care of the necessary bed in an awesome hostel, watery morning coffee, food in one of those too many restaurants of the crowded touristy streets, late night sangria and a shower, and lets the essence of your stay to its surroundings. Oh the beaches around Lagos, the path along the cliffs enchanted me quite enough for a couple of days, making me feel lazy about any trips to the nearby towns for the famous caves… No, didn’t make it.
I let myself be charmed by the little nude beaches where you have to climb slippery slopes of sand to get to their rocky embrace, by the never-ending waves inviting you to use your own body as a surf and just let yourself play with them or them with you, by the free feet massage every time you decide to take a walk you somehow end with a bottle of (cheap!) white wine, sharing it with straws because glasses were redundant.
The little things that create the ultimate bubble of ease I just didn’t want to burst until reality inevitably had to kick in and I was left with the pictures of the solitary sunset that greeted my arrival and the sun-lit clouds at the lighthouse that closed up my stay, the animated conversations, juggling between English and French, and the improvised dinners and the very much approved combination of red wine and chocolate, and the laughs, the long, uncontrolled, loud laughs on the hostel rooftop.
I’m sharing my love for Algarve drop by drop. I can’t believe it’s been a month since I came back from Portugal and my Parisian life has already gifted me with new turns. I still sigh when I remember these streets, though, their sun bathed, time-worn stones and… the loveliest colourful doors! The best part of my collection is from a nearby town, but let’s start at the beginning, in this town where airplanes keep flying low over your head, fish joyously jump out of the water, with their bellies towards the sky (yes, they do), and where you definitely don’t get away from French … I mean, you know I love you, mon vieux peuple, but do you have to be so omni-present on my vacation? Well I guess I don’t mind as much as I whine about it.
I might as well start at the end. Quite close to it, at least. This is the nearest I’ve come to the end of the world (ok, our old continent), even made a walk, a little tour around its edges, but left the peak of it for next time. And it’s not even scary. Nope. Mighty it is, though, awe-inspiring and beautifully so. I think we’re going to be alright. Still, I did have the feeling there was nothing else to do than just observe and let it be, leaving any survival-mode items I might have in my backpack in there, only letting myself to snap a few photos, then absorbing what we’ve all come to realize is my favourite setting. Cliffs, edges, these boundaries I might any second now slip through.
There is something so poetic about it and while I was sitting on the rocks with the most magnificent view, dewy-eyed in the setting of inspirational music of the waves, crushing in, and the wind, whooshing by, I kept thinking about this song with its name as the title. When I listened to it back at the hostel it just seemed so appropriate for an almost-the-last day in a region, in a country that yet again got my heart. (Portugal, why it’s always you catching me in crucial moments of my life? I’m gonna stop believing it’s a coincidence…)
little screams into the wonder and a wild set of rides… *
You bet it was.
* Tallest Man On Earth, Sagres (from the album : Dark Bird Is Home, 2015)
What is it about that bubble we create when we get to another place? The combination of the distance from the familiar and the newness of circumstances, conditions that make grow different aspects of ourselves. Some we knew existed silently, some we ignored. During every trip, longer than a single weekend, something in me moves towards a certain direction, builds up another foundation in me, brick by brick, an understanding enriches its effects. Yet, I find it hard to pinpoint what exactly that means. Continue reading “Piece by piece”
Besides the occasional (delicious!) dinner and ice-cream at Porto Vecchio, this was the only Corsican town I can honestly say I visited. I mean, storm-drenched Zonza only half-counts, it seemed to rush us out with all the hard rain and made for the first picnic in the car (the view wasn’t bad at all, though). But, Bonifacio, oh Bonifacio, graced us with the loveliest of days. We decided to take the road because the weather was supposed to be not-beach-appropriate that day, yet the winds of the sea cleared the skies enough even before we got there. As they so often do, here, capriciously and good-heartedly. I preciously guarded the parking spot at the top when we finally found it, since we hadn’t follow everyone stopping at the marina and climbing up from there. We had soon understood why we should have, waiting too long and not being able to turn back, yet only regretted it for the first couple of minutes, our own parking being so close to town. Instead of smart, we got lucky.
And off we went (after a couple of laughs with the fellow French strangers that made me wonder again why we foreigners find them so cold and distant sometimes, while in fact they are the most charming people), starting our trip at the fortress and slowly, one view at the time, making our way inwards. What is so amazing about visiting a place like this, is that the streets themselves are nice and worth the walk, and sitting in cafés and taking the narrow alleys, and getting to the end of them to see the perfectly extending sea, still what’s the best of it all is just outside of its walls. Or under them. Taking the notorious hundred steps to be under the cliffs was literally breathtaking and legs-aching on the way back up, but young and in shape as we are we soon took another long path along the coast, breathing in the friendly sea and the fierce wind, exchanging silent ohs and ahs. Because every time we turned around, the view was just getting more and more fabulous. So, we continued, pretty much until it was time to head back to our temporary home, chatting joyfully, now.
Three days in our vacation and it was already our favourite day.
Maybe, the reason why I needed so much time to sit down and write a post about Corsica, besides basic procrastination, is a certain kind of feeling I admit I don’t get often. If I did, I surely wouldn’t start a blog. A feeling of wanting to keep a place to myself. Sounds ridiculous for a place, crowded with tourists in summer months, but I wanted to keep it as my little secret, my little haven. The weary unreasonable ways of our brain. Truth is I visited it at the best possible moment, probably, not yet high season, without unbearable heat and sea of people, certain stretches of beaches with only you gracing them with your presence, but already warm and sunny weather, appropriate for a swim, everything green as can be, enough shops and restaurants open to keep you yumming.
All French must feel that way, though. It’s the place everyone dreams about, and it certainly doesn’t need extra advertising. With its position of being disconnected from the continent, yet still not far, it understands well its benefits of an island, soaks in its pride. Ask the Corsican people and they will talk about it as a country of its own, about French as if it wasn’t their own nation, laugh hardest and most heartedly at stories of those French coming here, buying their land, being all righteous about it, but eventually being hunted right out. Not literally, though you sometimes wonder. Yet, what touched me is that this pride shows real appreciation, and more than that, genuine care for their own little paradise. They know what they have on their hands and don’t squash it inattentively. Try trash it and you’ll get their anger on your back. I wish Croatian coast would be as clean as theirs, remembering whole stashes of cans, bottles and cheap plastic bags on one of the Southern islands of our Mediterranean neighbour.
So, what you do here first is breathe in the air, salty, clean, oxygen full and smog free, air, then you watch green flashing in different colour palettes with the wind and the sun, immerse in it completely, watch the blueness of the sky that can only compare with that of the sea, although they are not really comparable, the sea with its turquoise and the sky with its azure. And then the night comes, and your friend calls you while you’re brushing your teeth ”Come out for a minute!” and you do after and he only points to the sky with its finger and your jaw drops. When was the last time you saw these many stars, finally seeing they’re not as lonely as they seem in Paris? It was surely in the middle of the desert. Little by little, your whole body starts opening up, making you suspect the city you call your home is a jail cell, suffocating it, and it seriously needed this injection of nature.
No, I won’t do a list of top things to do here. I mean, if you need it, you already missed the point. Just take a ride or two on the stomach-not-friendly roads, admiring the view, find your own favourite beach, and be sure to go inland, too, to see the more mountainous landscape and capricious weather. You’ll learn to trust them soon, the always changing, usually for the better, clouds, and the winding, never-ending roads.
What struck me on Tenerife was the contrast between the North and the South.
Soon after you land at the Tenerife Sur, you realize two things: the bareness of the landscape and the multitude of hotels. There is no way around it. Twenty years ago, they say, there was nothing here, now, buildings spread like vultures. Hotels, resorts, apartments, shopping centres, restaurants, fake charming markets. I never saw a place designed solely for tourists before and the feeling is, least to say, bizarre. Of course, the beaches are lovely, sandy, but not white due to the volcanic nature, with the beautifully blue sea, though cold and mostly agitated. Even some hotels are looking quite finely attractive as buildings (ours was quite fabulous actually with a lovely room view and almost uncomfortably kind staff), yet there is literally nothing substantial here. When we asked for a nearest town to stroll around, they just advised us : ”You better rent a car and head North.”
If we hadn’t, our perception of the island would sure be more than a little distorted. Luckily, we are at least a semi-adventurous family.
Two days to explore the island is a minimum. But hey – the week was still supposed to be a vacation. When it comes to towns, there are two that stayed most in my mind. San Cristóbal de La Laguna, which really seems like nothing special, relaxed and residential, but somehow super lovely. Although we only took a quick walk and lunch there (accompanied with live music, always a plus), I could see myself venturing around its streets through the afternoon. La Orotava, on the other hand, seemed to be the historical or the cultural one, not that it looks super old, but you feel its roots and its individual story more strongly on its hilly streets. The thing I loved the most, though, was the small, super bushy botanical garden we almost didn’t see the entrance of.
San Cristóbal de La Laguna.
Yet, it is not the towns that enchant you here. First, there is the almost desert-like landscape of the South, the dark tanned stones, cliffs and beaches, the thirsty plants, then you start to climb your way up to the volcano and you gradually surround yourself with luscious green and the reddish soil, cruise on the winding roads, aligned by trees, until you turn onto the lava dominated territory and it transforms again.
Yet, the favourites… For that, you have to go to the actual North, to the even more winding roads among a different green and a different kind of magic taken you over the views. Right down to the beaches that have nothing to do with the ones at your hotel. Brave driving’s worth it – not that I, licence-free, would know. We were so much more delightfully enchanted, because we hadn’t known this had been waiting for us all along. It made me wonder if there are people coming to the island and only staying in their hotels or (a bit fake) comfort of the South and what on Earth are they thinking?! I very much appreciated the chill moments at my hotel, the effortless fun and smiles and all the cocktails, the priceless family time in a calm, lazy-like, environment, but not seeing the magnificient nature outside of it would seem like such a waste of a week. I somehow took that contrast and its reflection with me on my next trip, but more on that later…
To be honest, I didn’t really feel that excited about going to Montpellier. I had seen a couple of unattractive photos ages ago, and somehow it had always seemed to be someone else’s town. I had that attitude of just letting other people have it, still mixed with a feeling I would someday go there myself. And lately, the more I thought about moving South, the more it kept popping up in my head as the most appropriate option, because of its size right in the middle, its location not far from the sea, its youthful spirit and cultural happenings – all so rational…
So, I went, finally, took that 3 hours and a half train from Gare de Lyon, with a little encouragement from my best friend who wasn’t particularly interested in staying in the centre of France and in its bad weather during the whole of her visit. We oblige to guest’s commands, of course, and sometimes it’s for the better.
Instantly, and I mean literally instantly, we both felt a connection to this city. We both felt a pleasant surprise. We both fell for its streets and its atmosphere, swept off our feet by the narrowness, the mood, the colours, the labyrinths, the corners, the painted sidewalks — I mean, putting poetry on my walking path is a good way to get to me, and putting palm trees in my friend’s first view from the train station is a good way to get to her, and putting nice little (hidden) cafés on our route after a couple of turnings is a pretty sure way to get to us both.
We both kept saying: ”Why do I like this town so much? What’s up with that? I like it sort of too much… I don’t understand.” I even ended up sending a text to a friend who used to be a Montpellier resident who much I adored it. (I’m sure he smirked a little.) And believe it or not, we only had 6 hours in total, so all we did was walk around the old town, giving up the idea of going to the coast after the first 20 minutes. We knew it was a good call when we arrived at the arch and the wind almost blew us away – literally this time.
My mentioned friend could only comment: ”But you didn’t see anything!” And we could only reply ”So, there is more?” Well, yes, there is, they say there are nice little villages not far away, not even mentioning the nature, the sea, the marshlands … And of course, we only really saw one district, so… A decent excuse for a next time if that delicious lemon and rasberry cakes weren’t enough and the fact that half the stuff seemed closed till April. We sort of have to see it in summer, right?
I will stop now.
Just one more thing. Maybe, it was the appreciation of the company of my best friend who always makes me feel so much more myself and balanced and, should I say it, empowered, because she allows me to be exactly who I am or want to be, but I felt butterflies in my stomach, knowing this place now has a place in my soul or heart or whatever. When we were leaving on the train, sentimental as it is, I had the same feeling as I did 4 years ago, taking the first walk in my beloved 11th arrondissement and knowing I would someday live there. Things sometimes just aren’t rational.
So, now there is no more questions. South it is, sooner or later. (My friend, I think, is enthusiastically rooting for sooner. — Yes, I got your hint, stopping in front of every possible real estate agency, no worries. — Truth be told, even I do, if only I get my life together soon.)
Should I hide that my trip to Avignon was somehow not just a casual weekend away? It was the first in my series of discovering French South anew to see if I could move there sometime soon, and I’m not even kidding. (No verdict yet about that, though.) Or maybe, that was just a really good excuse after a long Parisian numbness. Unfortunately for me, I was greeted with strong winds and what I hope is an unusual cold weather for the region. So much for the South’s warm sun, right?
Therefore, my plans for the day, which mostly included walking through all the old charming streets possible in two halves of a day, just getting a feel of the place, got messed up with a whole lot of coffee shop / tea room / bistro visits. Fortunately, one of the highlights happened during one of those…
The first being the view from my hostel room (the one below). I think it could be my second favorite ever.
Then there were those prolonged minutes of warm sun on a bench at the top of Rocher des Doms, finding a place with no wind. I felt like a plant, absorbing its rays till the very last drop, starved for months. Maybe, I got to be sunshine flower for a moment.
And finally, there was this lovely little place, called Theias, where I might have eaten the best (vegan) cheesecake of my life, with coconut and lime. I savoured every tiny piece of it like I was tasting heaven.
Who cares about Palais des Papes, then? And Pont d’Avignon and the greenery across were quite nice to look at from afar, but I didn’t want to get blown away like a balloon so… Next time. If I ever move there, I’ll have all the time in the world, anyway.
Still, I admit my feel of the place is sort of blurred, because of the emptiness of the town, it only comes close to Lyon when it cames to that dead atmosphere. How to not let it get you all judgemental and not let that be the main piece of an impression you keep? How to say it’s just a phase, that in summer it’s got to be another place all together?
Oh well the series to be continued next week, if all goes well, fingers crossed the weather goddesses are with me this time.
View from Pop’ hostel.
Palais des Papes.
Palais du Roure.
P.S.: Happy women’s day to all my fellow female travelers, adventurers and bloggers! Keep rocking 🙂
If there is one destination in Slovenia that attracts the curious wondrous foreign eyes, it is lake Bled with its lovely island and proud castle. For me, though, ever since childhood the only thing I could think of instantly was its ugly town. I don’t know why, but that’s how I saw it, hoping every time to move on soon to the neighbouring Bohinj and the omnipresence of nature. Maybe, it’s just the case of it becoming too ordinary over the years, losing the thrill with every passing trip (curiosly, kremšnita – the traditional cream cake, a must – didn’t). Still, countless visits after, it stayed the place to go for a family walk on more or less sunny free afternoons, again so a couple of days before New Year’s eve. Even I have to admit it has some pretty views and some charm when you look for it… The surrounding Alps region with its hills, the cliffs with the castle on top guarding the calm water, the succession of trees and ducks and swans, and the island church that makes a good photo from every possible perspective.
Anyway, I still do recommend the visit, just don’t get too caught on the first impression when you drive into the town. Rather wait for the lake panorama.
P.S.: If you fly into Ljubljana from the right direction, you might see it during the plane’s descent. It’s simple, watch out for a lake with an island, there is only one in Slovenia! Even if you miss it, the landing in (or departure from) Ljubljana is one of the prettiest, in my opinion, with its views on the mountains.
I’m usually not the one encouraging people to go to department stores and big shopping malls. Not just because I prefer little local boutiques, (yes yes I’m the hipster kind girl), but simply because I’d prefer to avoid consumption and greed and all completely… Yet, Paris always ends up being some kind of exception.
I can laugh at the Chinese coming to Lafayette with actual suitcases, I mean talking about getting your whole wardrobe in Paris… and I can never afford to actually stand in line at Chanel… Still, I recommend a walk through the galeries.
Don’t just look at all those bags and watches and perfumes and dresses, look up from the very first floor. (P.S.: And go out on the last one for the view of Opéra.) Or go to the top in Printemps to see the church-like ceiling…
Building itself and its interiors as much on display as all the products it offers.
Sometimes, it’s good to not have expectations and just go to a place you hear is nice. Not knowing what to do and just taking a walk around to get the impressions first. You might just fall into it like that, slide in like into a perfectly cut jeans. Because the streets suit you, the view from your hotel surprises you, the lake and the mountains get you wondering about the Earth’s stories and the sunny coast vibe tranquilizes your random twisted thoughts. Soak it all up. Lie down on the grass and try to remember to keep your T-shirt on, it’s public property. Get yelled at when you try to sneak in a closed beach and then find a better one a few minutes walk ahead. Take a fancy lemonade at a hotel verandah and go get bored at its casino after a dinner next to the old-town cute canal, when the sun sets and people finally leave their bathing suits behind. Just because that’s what the French do.
Summer’s gonna be gone tomorrow, still these days are ours.
Let’s forget the grand cities and go-to destinations. Not just the big avenues and famous monuments, but all those talked-about regions and their villages we are supposed to discover. Let’s go for the not expected modest charms, like this little one on Krk, not-the-prettiest-but-still-pretty Croatian island. I kind of wanted to check out the real estates right away and move into one of those houses on the narrow streets or climb those stairs and camp on one of the terraces for the summer, neverminding the wind, observing the curly sea separating me from the mainland. Eat that sheep cheese and drink vrbnička žlahtina, the local white wine. Plant some herbs and tomatoes to go with it and then just… live the other life.
So, the question I can’t get rid of now is: When do we move to the South?
A few of the best spots where those special, magical moments that make a journey worth it happened.
Sunset : Pointe de l’Islet, Tadoussac. I kept coming back to this place, pretty much every day, at different times, thanks to its accessibility and easiness in its air, usually to read or just sit there, sort of meditating. One evening I decided to stay longer than usual, digged up my stubbornness from somewhere deep inside my body and this is what I got…
Reading : Pointe de l’Islet, Tadoussac & Parc de l’Esplanade, Québec City & Canal de Lachine and Parc La Fontaine, Montréal. Just give me a bench or a grassy/rocky spot and I can read. Yet, there are places engraved in my heart, because they somehow add the allure to the books or the act itself (debatable). Because I can lift my head up from the sentences and have a view to rest my mind or eyes. These four were quite nice.
Breakfast : Maison Smith, Place Royale, Québec City. One morning I decided to take breakfast outside the hostel and headed to the cutest square of the cutest quarter. Oh the good decisions. I just sat there appreciating the cinematic like scene and even more – the waiter’s impeccable ability to understand the length of my espresso (”Not Italian short, you know, but not too long neither.”). Thanks for the morning patience!
Chill : Anse à la Barque, Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay (Tadoussac). Probably my favourite place in the whole of Québec. And it’s not an exaggeration. It was on one of my favourite days, too. Whichever hiking path I took that day, I loved it. I wrote about it already, so I’m just going to say that sitting on a rock in this bay, completely alone, except the birds flying around me and a seal at the end of it, was one of the best breaks of my life. That apple in my hand tasted even better than usual somehow.
Lunch : St-Viateur Bagel, Montréal & Café Bohème, Tadoussac. First, was the unimpressive poutine, greasy stuff you eat after a long walk and then you don’t move no more for the day. Then, were the Montreal’s bagels. Well now, now we’re talking real food. I appreciated the bread with a hole much more than I’d expected. Later still, leaving the grand city, I went for the lovely bistros. Tadoussac’s one stayed my favourite of them all. Not sure if it was the home-made raspberry lemonade, the delicious (maple syrup!) marinated tofu burger, decent coffee, or super friendly waitress. All of them, combined.
Bus drive : from Rimouski to Gaspé. Most of it was along the coast, so different from the one across, with its scattered rocks and waves rushing towards actual beach-like shores, and water reflecting afternoon sun, the pictoresque villages to cross and many colourful houses overlooking the beaches, and then the forests. The Gaspé peninsula’s charmed me quite quickly, almost immediately after the bus left the shallow Rimouski station. I soon heard the uncomprehensive local accent, too…
Boat trip : Percé and Île-Bonaventure. Because it’s worth seeing the famous rock up close, from every direction, and then from a far in all its glory, only half observable from the coast. And especially, because the island is stunning, its landscape, its cliffs, toped with green, its rocks, nesting sooo many birds and even seals, its emptied houses on friendlier shores (no one lives there nowadays). I wonder what it has to be like to miss the last boat and stay stranded there alone during the night…
Evening : Rue St Jean, Québec. Because the street musicians come out and make it all wonderful.
View : Mont Royal, Montréal & Mont Adéla Lessard, Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay (Tadoussac) & Mont Saint-Anne, Percé. There were many. Each time you climb, hike, walk a bit, you’re due to get some. Sometimes, it’s the effort that makes them sweeter, sometimes it’s simply there. These are a few that stayed with me.
Tree : La Forêt Magique, Percé. Because I think I found my spirit/soul tree in the midst of the magical forest, right there in front of the bench I sat down on for a brief moment.
I wanted to include my favourite streets in Montreal and Québec, too, but realized that, although there were some I really liked, there were none which truly blew me away. So, why force myself then. If you follow the usual instructions and visit the main quarters, you’ll easily find them yourself anyway.
This day gave me the whole package, and with that I mean the whole range of possible weather and the corresponding moods, as well as all the timely intervals in a day of a town.
I arrived super early in the morning, with the fog embracing the main street, neighbouring hills and the coast, so much I hardly saw anything: the sea was mysteriously covered, the mountain tops non-existent and the street far less long than it really was. Plus, it was cold and drizzling. After the first couple of minutes, I already had enough of it. Still, I had to take breakfast first and luckily the nice little place of a bakery I chose (Boulangerie le Fournand) had good coffee – even better it almost took me back to Paris for half an hour with that bleuets pastry and a warm, dry chair. In the first horrible half of all-inclusive day, I walked to the each end of the street, probably spent an hour or two just sitting on different benches to let time pass by, trying to read, but mostly couldn’t, because the wind got to my brain. I even checked out the souvenir shops, which I had completely ignored since tasting maple syrup on my first day in Montreal. (It is to their coziness of the moment my family can thank for bringing something back home.) I was waiting, basically.
Until I had enough, picked some lunch (a very decent pizza in Resto du Village) and much-needed second coffee, and took off for the hikes. Via Mont St-Anne. What can I say, nature’s a healer. As soon as I started my walk, I got my explorer’s motivation back and soon enough, the clouds were beginning to clear away, too. Little by little, the fog lifted and the sun rays pierced through. Going up, I had a view of a covered town, no sign of the houses or famous rocher, let alone the island across. Going down, it was half present, the streets in sight, but just the tip of the rock and only a small portion of the sea. It was due to my stubborness, going up one more time two hours later (taking advantage of the last hour of the park being open), I got the view below. Oh well, now it all seemed worth it and the day transformed into one of my favourites of the journey.
What I did during those two hours? I finally looked at the rocher up close and then took the boat trip around it and the magnificient Île-Bonaventure which I definitely recommend. Because I waited for the sun (which I don’t regret, by the way), I took the last afternoon one which unfortunately meant I couldn’t go down to the island… Yet, what I saw already amazed me. So many birds! and such a beautiful coastline. From smiles of the people getting off the island, I suspect it has much in store inland, too. Plus, it was almost a private tour, because all in all we were only three tourists with three guides, explaining everything they had to in such a relaxed way, face to face and not in the mike, showing us photos of fish they had caught and eaten the day before, inviting us to dinner the following day which we couldn’t join, leaving the same evening… All that was left for me now was taking another pathway, to the peaceful meditation/prayer spot, La Grotte, and then watching the sunset of the so-appreciated clear skies. Soupe à l’oignon to warm me up for dinner, before a night promenade and late bus drive back to Gaspé.
The most intensive day ended up being the worst and the best in one.
Gaspésie had had a great allure for me before actual arrival, but the very first morning I woke up in Gaspé I felt like nothing was on my side. Like out of all the possible destinations in the amazing region I had picked the wrong one. A boring town in beautiful surroundings, but then I didn’t have a car, did I? Weather was wet and windy and gray, too. Still, I gathered the last remains of my shattered tired will and took some walks, the promenade, the long cycle trail (long if you walk it as I did) to the Haldimand beach, braced myself against the unusual cold, ate well in the local bistros and found some proper coffee in Café des Artistes, enjoyed the strange movie-like feel of my so-typical motel and its diner for breakfast. The quick un-attentive organisation went against me this time, but I managed to gather my lacking skills for a final try and made it, got something out of what nature of the region has to offer in the couple of days there still. Just next time, I’m camping in the middle of a national park, no doubt about it!
Reflections after my journey through Québec, june 2017, part II
That thing about travel, changing countries and distancing yourself from your own hometown, the change of perspective it entails. More clearly seeing a certain structure, or in this case, a subtle shifting of a mood back home, a shift you had noticed before, but now seems so much more apparent and comprehensible. Continue reading “Open up”
It was an hour away from Montreal I finally felt I was in Canada. Canoeing on a small lake with a friend I hadn’t seen in years, observing the charming houses on the coast, resident ones at that, not meant only for vacation, birds on the island and green green everywhere. For the weekend, I was in a home away from home, nurtured by the enormous hospitality, readiness to show me around, the getaways and the mundane villages, where even rich city folks climb a hill or two, or at least take the funicular and then chill in a restaurant. All the while, I was anchored in that real-folks life, peanut butter on toast and filter coffee for breakfast, local beer in the afternoon and sweet cider for the aperitif, home-made dinners and red wine that still came from Italy – ”Don’t get too tempted to try the one from Quebec, hardly drinkable!”. The huge supermarkets, candy bars, hunting stores, dollar stores, mini golf. My first hike of the season on a foggy Saturday, the rewarding clearing right when we got to the peak, the onion soup in the valley afterwards. Everything so easy and without pressure I was glad I was not going back to the city quite yet.
This city is so smooth. It may not overwhelm you, but you will still appreciate its lightness of being. It felt like people here live, with some quality of life that eludes the anxious Europeans. Am I wrong in my intuition? But then, why did I meet so many French, determined to make life for themselves here? Yet, for me, it was too calm still. I came there right before all the festivals and activities, in that period when people are preparing for the summer happenings that are not quite there yet. So, my impression of calm might be premature.
Or maybe, it was what I needed at the time. I could always find something to do instead of preferring to find one greeny chilling/reading spot after another, Ile Sainte-Hélène, Parc La Fontaine, Mont Royal, Canal de Lachine. Or just walk through the old town to get to the view from above where the new one reigns, mix up the hipster streets with getting lost in the residential ones, skip la poutine and go straight for the bagels. If I ever get back there, I’m done being a visitor, exploring every possible district, I will immerse into their life itself. Somehow.
Till then, I have the memories of super sympa Québecois, coffee too mild and watery to have any kind of caffeine effect (how do you function, how the hell you get through your days on that, really?!), that French accent that I hated at first and sort of grew on me later – Parisians even say I adopted it, oh well…, that one museum that occupied one stormy afternoon : MAC!, the grey skies above the tranquil streets where squirrels replace the rats. All in all, the equation is positive.
There are places, perfectly situated between the water and the hills, the rocks and the forests, where flora and fauna breathes and so you can breathe with it, in the calm and out the dirt. Where the reason you came there fades away the first day, because you found so many more. A touristy village cannot ruin that, when just a few steps up you find yourself alone on a trail, leading you to those distant views that make towns seem more enjoyable somehow. Or you take the most taken one around the ”almost-island”, sit down on the welcoming rocks and listen to the waves, pay attention and you might see the whales, too. The prospect itself is magical. Even if you don’t, you just found your favourite reading spot, and the one to observe sunset at as well. Whatever you do, take your time and it’s soothing.
But, the best – take advantage of a close-by national park and take those trails for a hike. Alone, again, you only stumble upon one group of three girls, multiple times, so that in the end you’re allies. Yet, you only make friends with squirrels, and that one seal you see chilling on a rock at the end of your now-adopted bay. You become a child again, wonder, wonder, where have you been… these plants, this magnificent world has all of a sudden obsessed your entire mind and you marvel like a baby, taking the first few steps on the smoothing grass, touching unknown flowers and observing familiar trees that don’t have names yet. On the top of a mountain, everything falls away, and you are a simple you again.
Tadoussac, I could easily get back to you, anytime.
Reflections after my journey through Québec, june 2017, part I
I could start with so many things, still there was one going back and forth in my mind all along the walks and the bus rides, following me through the streets and the hike trails. Some places open up your heart or soul, other just your mind.
Maybe, that is why I didn’t feel attached to Québec in any way, knowing I’d appreciate my return to Paris after the third week, despite the beauty and the experience. I was an observer only, and not much more than that. A listener, perhaps, a reader, a questioner. Continue reading “The mirrored feelings”
A few days had passed and I honestly started believing I would never get it, that I’m forever limited to checking things of some to-do lists, provided by guides and hostels. Then, I took an evening walk along the Rue St Jean and all of the supposed highlights of this lovely, but somehow mellow, town faded away. I was left with those moments when I stole the place’s ordinariness and made it my own… or vice versa. When what I love most in life succeeded to translate itself into the local language and found its place among the strangers.
Morning breakfast at Place Royale on a cool sunny day, on the cutest square in the cutest district, with a nice smoothly crispy chocolatine, resulting in my sending a message to my best friend : ”I found good coffee in Québec. I guess I could come back here.” (At La Maison Smith, btw.)
All the long breaks in-between even longer walks, on my favourite afternoon reading spot, just across the Parliament, sitting on the wall, with ants crossing the grass to get into my backpack. Putting down an excellent book, ”augmenting life” (- Henry Miller) in its own way, to observe children play, or turning a bit to watch the yellow line of the horizon blushing above the bare buildings.
Continuing my walk after the sunset along the main street, closed for traffic in these hours, to pass street musicians on every turn, and finally deciding to sit down on the pavement at the last crossroad. Absorbing energy of the amazingly good spirited Québecois and the tourists, infected by the joy of the music and the jokes coming from a young fellow, dressed as Mac DeMarco would approve. In a couple of minutes, he’ll be joined by his friend and they’ll start a dance party, inflamed by a long-haired, white-bearded man whose body is a rhythm absorber and a pulse performer.
I guess I can accept you, now, vieux Québec, your less grand than lively nature.
France, like many European countries, is a treasure chest of (long) weekend trips, whether you want to explore charming old towns or relax at the seaside. No matter where you’re located, the TGV train system makes almost everything feel close enough to just go and return in the same day or two. Cheap it is not, true, but with a bit of advance organisation or cutting the unnecessary budget expenses elsewhere somehow still usually doable. For me, it is a matter of priorities. I’ll make my own sandwich and give up coffee that day (no, this I never do…), not use any other public transport, only my own pair of legs, and skip the hotels, so I’ll manage. And it never quite gets old, exploring this beauty of a country.
First, of course, there’s the Île de France region, with all the castles and palaces, parks and villages, from Fontainebleau to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. I, however, am aiming further out. (I’m deliberately not including Provence here which, truth be told, itself alone deserves a whole two weeks minimum anyway.) Some of the places below would with all they have to offer easily demand more than just a weekend, yet they are even if you don’t have the time still worth giving it the few hours you do have. Hope the below gives a few ideas to start your discoveries.
After a few of my own, I decided to share my personal favourites …
Normandy: The North equivalent of Provence, I’d say. And so close to Paris, too. It’s probably best to rent a car if you have the possibility and just roam from town to town along the coast. Honfleur, Deauville, Trouville, Cabourg are a few of the Riviera essentials among so many. Just be prepared for the wind… and the crêpes. Then, you have the city of Rouen with its own cathedral and Le Havre for the impressionism fans. Another classic, of course, it’s Giverny, a nice village with the perhaps most known personal garden in the world – Monet’s. This, I find a bigger must than Versailles and a far more pleasing day trip from Paris, especially in summer and spring.
Étretat : The absolute favourite among the Normandy jewels. Despite the lovely village, it’s nature that reigns here with the magnificent cliffs and meadows.
Bordeaux : This city is the nicest of surprises. You hear talking about it only because of the wine, just to realize its charm has nothing to do with it. Get a good fix of strolls, markets, bistros, history and art. What more do you need?
La Rochelle : When in need of a seaside break in-between the beach and a little town life, think of this one. Take coffee at the Vieux Port, then hit the sand and the rocks and the welcoming sunshine. Again, be prepared for the wind, it’s still the Atlantic.
You can also choose among the other big cities/towns. Strasbourg, Lille, Bourges, Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille… I’d recommend the last two the most, but then they are the furthest from Paris. There, you can easily immerse into their old quarters for a few hours, explore the history and enjoy the laid back atmosphere, in my experience much more than in the others.
Then, of course, there are the smaller ones as well, often even more appealing with their innocent charm, for the last few ideas!
Mont Saint Michel : The magical historical place that competes with Paris for the number of visitors per year.
Chartres : For one of the most beautiful cathedrals and a simple walk through its streets.
Troyes : Another medieval destination, not far from Paris.
Colmar : The least French-like among them all, but so cute.
Now, ready, steady, go! I’ll sure be on my way to a new one soon, I haven’t quite completed the list myself…
Isn’t it funny how sometimes we get the biggest warnings for the things, cities, sites we enjoy the most in the end?
That was the case for Valparaiso, Chile. So many people warned me about this city I fell in love with at the first sight. Be careful at the bus station when you get there, thieves all over. Don’t go out at night alone… or at all. If I were you, I’d avoid the port area. Just in general, it’s a dodgy town, so you know. Even the free-tour guide told us ”we are entering a less safe area” while we were walking the street above.
Plus, at the spot in the photo, there was a big gas explosion years ago, ruining a lovely street. Oh well… I loved it anyways, the building’s skeleton gave it a sort of robust look, but some soul, too, which comes with every plot. It seemed like it’s a story, truly belonging to this city where everything seems on shaky grounds.
Luckily, I only had positive experiences, even walking around after sunset didn’t cause me any trouble, although I was never alone. All the kind words before my arrival had succeeded in making me a bit cautious, yet I felt at ease after the first few minutes. I adored just roaming around and exploring every possible street and it ended up being my favourite part of the Chile journey… At least excluding Atacama, that one is a real competitor!
The three days in this small Atlantic seaside town, three hours from Paris, was exactly what I needed. The mixture of lovely streets, charming port, lively marina, nice cafés, two opposite beaches and beautiful parks allowed me to do almost everything from my self-care list. Perfect scenery for bench reading or chilling, sunbathing lying on the rocks, after of course I did all the walking possible along the coastal promenades and the old town exploring. Those little joys of listening to waves and birds singing, taking coffee, ice-cream or a simple siesta in the sun despite the strong cold wind, getting your skin prepared for summer, observing people opening up to carelessness and men carefully washing their boats every morning, opening your window in the middle of the night and seeing a clear starry sky, almost impossible to capture in the metropolis.
Isn’t it funny how we measure our success as travelers in numbers sometimes?
How many countries on how many continents, how many towns and cities, how many mountain tops or lakes or islands, how many checks on our bucket list… How many encounters made and connections preserved, how many weeks on the road as a whole or months in a row away from home…
In truth, if it is about any kind of quantity, isn’t it about how much and not how many?
How much we opened our hearts and eyes to the world, how much we expanded our minds and how much less prejudiced our thinking got. How much we started living, how much we have learnt and changed. How much we have overcome.
Until, finally, we realize everything that is left to measure are the countless moments of sincere smiling and pure joy with all the opposite ones that make it all worth while. Moments we treasure not as parts of a list, but each standing alone, embraced as a whole and cherished as a unique portrait of the best in life.
In the density of city streets the air thickens between the walls of too-close-by houses, walls that cannot breathe in and out the toxic particles like green leaves do. Then, there is the constant palpitations, beats spreading out of so many hearts, beats quickening in the rush hours, so many beats of hearts in love, joyous, worried, passionate, stressed. Bodies swaying from and to each other. Life lived in so many forms, with so many stories, souls echoing and dreams whispering. Conversations started, arguments highlighted, singing offered in the middle of restaurants, humming kept for private bedrooms, broken glasses and drilling messes. Every moment a scene is watched and a comment listened to.
In winter, it is dense in the foggy, low and heavy vapour that fills and numbs my nostrils, in summer instead density seems to evaporate from my own skin in the heavy heat, drying out my mouth.
Thank goddess, there are moments in-between when the air lifts and life is heaped.
Le petit Paris. That’s how they call it, I was said.
Le petit Paris. That’s how they call it, I was said. The little Paris. When I got there, listening to the taxi driver, passing the famous bridge which has something to do with Napoleon (I forgot the next second what exactly), I instantly understood it. If I had to change venues over night, I’d choose Bordeaux as a comforting replacement for Paris in a heart beat. Luckily, for now, I only had a few days there, enjoying a well deserved rest with my mother.
Don’t believe people who don’t know your curious spirit drawn to the less polished districts, saying ”focus on the part after the bridge”. It is nice, the old clean and busy streets of Saint-Pierre. First day, you walk past the cathedral, Grand Théâtre, Place de la Bourse and observe the shopping mood at Saint-Catherine, go to the main art museum. But then what about Saint-Paul and Saint-Michel whose name recalls your young Parisian love. The food market des Capucins and antiques market at the basilique. Those short houses, those squares, all over town.
And on the last day, you’ll go North-West by foot, passing the Jardin Public and Palais Gallien, a relic of the past amongst the residential streets, to check the contemporary art at Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez. Wait for it to open, sun bathing in the cold garden, for the first time having an impression the gallery closed for a private tour, for your eyes only, no one’s there.
You’ll immerse in the clichés of the warm French bistros and a few quirky hipsters cafés, grab a glass or two of the house wine. You’re in the capital of your favourite guilty pleasure. No guilt there, really.
I’ll make sure I make a reservation in my mind – mid September in a nearby future I’m back to this precise same spot.
Markets, city markets, where everything that can be offered gathers: food, music, people with their voices, products, bargains, styles, street fashion in the glamour of wear, stalls as an ornament to the brick streets and enclosed squares, food, food. People with no fear, no shame, no affiliation, no subculture, each individuality on full display, blending in this mass where no one is threatened by no one. Bourgeois bohemians at every step, each hippie in its own way; wearing disco-gold from neck to legs, afro haircut as a crown; elegant gown to the ground; come up with a hair-colour and you have it; your ordinariness is always too noticeable. They carry me, without touching, tow me with them, to them, invite, attract me with their glances, moves, calls, singing… in an instant they grab me, flavours, smells, colours, bland kitsch. Here, while walking, I’m kissing the whole city so passionately that our mouths hardly touch, the movement of our tongues so insane that they fail to intertwine, hold, let go, come, get lost, the sound almost prevails over touch, a play of closeness and distancing, a play of attracting and directness. That’s why I rather never stop, I listen to the indistinguishable conversations, sentences planted into a foreign context, words repeated after a few meters: cheap, cheap… I turn when they try to sell me their CDs: it’s hip hop, reggae music, you know… only taste, grab something here, something else there, don’t allow to appropriate a thing. An odour of grilled meat, of fresh cheese, grilled vegetable, fresh fruit, the taste of sweet at every step. Folk music in adorable acoustics, concerts following the principle of ‘’give what you give’’, buy, support, clap, whistle, walk on. Retro knitwear, warm coats, chequered shirts, coloured dresses, light sleeveless t-shirts, wool for the shoes. Jewellery, silver, gold, iron, plastic. Life that expires in the moment one turns away into a hidden alley around the corner.
Sometimes, we can’t explain why a thing appeals to us, means so much or seems to be so close to what we are internally, even if it is just for a precise moment of being that passes soon. I find the same pattern to be true when I travel. There are parts of a country or a city which are objectively true and lovely, but our perception still definitively defines them. Who you are during your stay to some extent influences how you see, and vice versa. It may sound egocentric to think about a place this way, yet there is a side where, because of feeling unlimitedly everything in us as it is here and now, we allow the place to touch us in ways it otherwise couldn’t and reveal layers of its own being we’d otherwise ignore. Continue reading “The richness of personal perspective in travel”
You know what I miss so often? Someone who looks me in the eyes and sees me as I am. I’m not talking about trusting conversations or secretiveness we sometimes play. What I mean is just one look and he understood something about me everyone else had failed to notice. Does it matter then what we actually told each other? All the things we didn’t say out loud?
Even if this wasn’t my illusion and it is actually possible, are we strong enough to withstand it or do we run away from the intrusion?
Because eyes are powerful. It’s through them you realize someone’s place in your life, their soul as they say and what this soul can do to you. There’s the beauty and the terror. Continue reading “It is in the eyes.”
I used to be a local and now I’m an outsider – in a strange, still interconnected way. My top vacation place is now what I used to call my home.
So, I started thinking how and why it sincerely is a place worth visiting.
I used to be a local and now I’m an outsider – in a strange, still interconnected way. My top vacation place is now what I used to call my home. Does this weird position give me a different perspective? Maybe, but then it is a kind of love-hate relationship. I understand very well why I left it and still want to stay out of it, but at the same time it has never for a minute lost all the possibilities of being absolutely gorgeous to me. There has been more and more talk about our little precious country, though still not as much as about our beloved seaside destination Croatia, and while I travel or make new friends more and more people are asking me about it. Those at least who know where it is or are not ashamed to admit they don’t.
So, I started thinking how and why it sincerely is a place worth visiting.
1. The cutest capital. It is one of the smallest ones, yes, but that is not so important – besides the fact that you’ll probably never have to use public transport to get around. Ljubljana is pretty and welcoming, perfect for walking through the old centre and relaxing on the river banks or Park Tivoli. It won’t fascinate you with its majesty, but will grow on you in a matter of seconds. It’s hard to get away from its simple and modest charm, although I am biased – to me, it is the family I never got to choose, but love profoundly, because it was always there to imprison, gently bite or comfort me. It does it all well. One day is already enough, in two days you will know it as the inside of your own pocket and then… try to resist the temptation to just move there for good because it is oh so pleasant and comfortable. Or be like me and only come back when you need a bit of time off. Climb the castle hill, chill out on the ”beach” or Metelkova at night (or Trnovo, especially in the month of August), and check out the markets, food, art or antique ones.
2. Diversity. While in Ljubljana, you are never more than one or two hours away from climbing and skiing destinations, beautiful lakes and rivers, seaside, vineyards, caves and Pannonian fields. It is all there, the richness of different landscapes on a small hen shaped land. It is something we keep repeating to ourselves as some kind of comforting mantra, a solace for our inferiority complex. It is no less true, though – we are caught between Mediterranean, the Alps, Karst and Pannonia, and of that at least we can be proud of, sort of… Let’s not even begin to dissect all the dialects and accents a seemingly unimportant Slovenian language can boost about!
View somewhere around Štanjel.
3. Culture. No, it is not a cultural history of one of the Grand European Nations, still there is something about it. It might be a culture of a peasant and too-long-opressed nation as we keep seriously joke about it, yet it is there, it survived, although it never triumphed. When I think about it like that, I feel there is beauty in this fact alone. An old history that is very far from being uninteresting. The pacifist hymn and all the beautiful paintings, writers who seemed to be so close to the heart of the people in its misery and drunken joys…
4. Expansion. A certain youth of our country (it is of my own age) and culture gives me a feeling of growth sometimes, even though I’m far from being patriotic. I know most Slovenians wouldn’t agree and would only see a naive or idiotic child, nevertheless I do see it in the occasional buzzing of the actual youth and its projects. In the midst of suffocating simple-mindedness, there are living and breathing and beating individuals and groups. We have a tradition of meaningful art and even rebellion, and it is good to notice it is still there, in music, films or lines worth paying attention to and it might even be finding some new grounds, precisely because not everything has already been done and seen. Best of all, it is not only happening in the capital.
5. Nature. We could go on forever. When you get out of the city, green surrounds you everywhere, and even in the city it’s hard to avoid it. Still, go far out. To Soča, for example, a pristine river of stunning colours. To Bohinj, a lake to meditate next to. Or Cerkno, to wonder about all the holes in the ground. To Postonjska jama, the cave, to indulge your touristy needs, or Rakov Škocjan if your needs are less touristy. Or turn to the other side and explore the charms of Štajerska and Prekmurje. Climb some hills, appreciate the forests, observe the fields. Just find your own little haven.
6. Food & Wine. We won’t pretend we are France or Italy, but if you want to, you can eat and drink so well in Slovenia. A few restaurants that would definitely deserve Michelin stars and vineyards that are already gaining international reputation. Traditional food might be heavy, yet finding a good place to eat with a bit of an effort shouldn’t be so hard. And what you get for the price you pay it’s usually still far more satisfying than in some other corners of Europe. All in all, quite a few chances it might positively surprise you.
I’m not used to follow the to-do lists even if I do usually check them before departure-arrival time – just to get the sense of what to pay closer attention to. But there is one to-don’t I always comply with: don’t know exactly where you’re going.
It’s not only about the anti-adventurous spirit of precise goals and the narrowness of top-sight lists. It’s a fact: you ignore most of the city and definitely miss its point if you’re only interested in its monuments and the famous streets, statues, museums, cafés or whatever. When you’re focused on that one or a few things you absolutely have to see, then you forget about the fun and the view you might enjoy on the way there. You stay blind for all the possibilities, for the true face of the streets, for the essence of the city that is hiding right in between the main scenes. Continue reading “Don’t know exactly where you’re going”
I remember how I loved the journey, the act of being on the way to somewhere, as a child, always being a bit disappointed at the moment of arrival when it inevitably ended, even if I sincerely wanted to see my destination. It was the moments of observing the world around me I adored so much.
There was a certain unconscious thrill and a conscious delight in the calm back seat of the car, going to my grandmother’s or being on a trip in an unknown country, devoting all my attention to the passing scenes of the streets and the highway, fields and forests, people on their errands, sneaking a peek on their balconies or through the windows. All of life seemed available on the plate to my eyes, thoughts and feelings. It was a meditation of sorts, maybe it was even an escape. Continue reading “The under-appreciated moments of being on the way”
If I had to personally define autonomy (it’s the daily prompt, yes), I would say: ”that independence from anyone and anything as the one single thing I’ve strived for my whole life”. I’ve been too stubborn about it, like a blindfolded hurt buffalo thrusting my way through every relation I had, family, friends or love, it didn’t matter. All they had to know and what I wanted to feel was the eternal I don’t need anybody, any-F*-body, ok?. You can guess it all pretty much went wrong, except my precious family and a few friends who somehow saw through my walls to the core that they, God knows why, appreciated. I was lucky.
That’s the thing with travel. The best and the most memorable moments catch and refresh you unexpectedly like a shower of rain on a steamingly hot day. They smooth your mood like the soft comfort of your own bed after a long series of hard-working hours. They are pearls found in the field of grass. Admittedly, it is the all-of-a-sudden-ness and the contrast that highlights their beauty.
I remember a grey day in the middle of October, somewhere between Cappadocia and Olympos, in a town with no other obvious landmark or a must-see sight than its own melancholic feeling, sneaking around the corners of blackened houses. I remember our own fatigue and weariness after a night spent on a bus that seemed to swallow the remains of our enthusiasm. The clouds were pressuring low on our heads and the raindrops had no sympathy for our clothes.
We expected nothing more, nothing worth mentioning. We were just waiting for the weather to pass, for the time to come when we would get on the road again, in thoughts already on the pretty beaches of Olympos. But we had to eat and fortunately enough our guide treasured in his soul the everlasting excitement — and the knowledge of the region. We let him lead us, knowing there is no escaping following him: the hills and paths of Cappadocia taught us well.
He brought us to a small cosy restaurant on a not-really-busy street and we sat among the dirty walls, behind simple large tables with jars of water in the middle of every one of them (no one dared to drink it). Our laughter fuelled by curiosity filled the air between the seats. I remember looking at other girls, wondering who would check the toilet first (one of them later returned shaking her head with a smile). We had no idea what was about to be brought before us, we were only aware of our own longing bellies.
Two meals soon came, followed by murmuring response of a common ‘yuuum’. I was glad to be a vegetarian immediately after the first bite. Even others were for the first time envious when they tasted the non-meat option of the menu, despite the tasty chicken on their plates. It was simple baked dough with lots of melting cheese on top, but it left such a deliciously amusing sensation on my tongue, it left me wondering what else was in there. I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to know.
It still seems improbable, but this stayed in my memory as one of the most memorable meals of my life to this day. I sometimes ask myself if it can really beat the pad thai on Koh Lipe, the falafel with its amazing red sauce in a tiny Parisian shop, the veggie burger on one of the London markets, the uncountable flavours of Tuscany. It is definitely up there somewhere in my mind with all of them and more, locked as the symbol of hidden and unexpected treasures on the way to everywhere.
Oh yes it was a pearl found in the field of grass – of the dry yellowy one for that matter. But what travelling with a whole bunch of precious stones you came home with teaches you is that sometimes these stones are the grass itself, no matter what colour, size or thickness, doesn’t it? — Oh yes you do learn to be all sentimental about the meaning of life when you try to assemble these footprints of the past, but why avoid it? It spices up your life like that secret ingredient I’ll never know.
I’ll never forget that weird Saturday afternoon 8 years ago when I arrived to Paris, alone for the first time, driving with a stone in my guts to the 19th arrondissement where I was staying, but not sure how to feel really, me – a petite and timid teenage girl.
I just stood in the middle of the room that was meant to be my home for the next couple of weeks, looking at my own hands, not sure what to do next, somewhat nervous, yes, but mostly just confused. Should I unpack or go out, eat something or find the nearest metro station? After some time had passed without any kind of specific action from my side, I heard the old lady’s voice, shouting my name with her harsh tone and strong French accent, saying she was about to go to the market. ‘’Would you like to join me?’’ Continue reading “Joie de vivre”
There is a point in solo-travel when you get uncomfortably nervous. It only comes once in a while and you can recognize it right away by the feeling it leaves in all of your vital organs and on both sides of your limbs and you can separate it from sheer excitement by the squeaking sensitivity in the back of your head. And it’s not the same as simply being worried about missing your flight because of the bus delay and constantly checking your watch. It’s much nearer to the reaction of your guts when a somewhat odd guy sits next to you and just doesn’t stop talking and asking you for your phone number or time to meet-up. It’s the point when your desire to walk everywhere and get lost in the unknown streets turns against you.
It sometimes happens in Porto, on your first day there, only a few hours after you arrived and found an empty hostel bed at the last minute. It probably happens just when you start to love the rough side of the city, its messy mood and buildings with a character. It always happens after the night falls and when you still aren’t anything near your intended location. You know: when you come to the same place over and over again, not sure which turn you already took before, looking around for someone, but the square is empty and street lamps hardly shed a light on its corners. You have no idea where you are really. You realize your map (if you have one) is of no help at all. Then, your intuition plays a funny trick on you, saying you should take the darkest and the narrowest street of all.
So, you do. And guess what: it was right, as always. In ten minutes or so, you’re already taking a shower, forgetting about the intimidating feeling you had not so long ago, improving your mood by mute whistling. Because that’s how it goes: if you’re lucky enough to pass that point smoothly, you never think of it again with that same nervous feeling. While remembering it, you always confuse it with the exciting bits and believe they are all the same. Your memory only keeps the thrill.
”This is what happens when you travel.” ”No,” he said. ”This is what happens when you open up.” I didn’t answer, because what he said was so right it stood strongly on its own. I needed to come all wrecked to this desert, to this magic little place in the middle of South America to see the stars in all their clarity for the first time in my life. And in their shining tirelessly and obliviously to our attention, I heard a conclusion to a certain story. Atacama, this is for your gifts.
I was merciless to Santiago during my first week in Chile, finding a few places I adored and feeling a strong apathy towards everything else. I came wounded and the city buzz and violent chaos couldn’t cure my fragile weakness and mental emptiness. Not this time. Markets, street art and a certain hill attempted bravely to do their thing, but their powers faded after a couple of concentrated moments. And then came the Monday I happily left it, but feeling the knot of anxiety growing inside of me all along the 24-hour ride to San Pedro, I thought to myself I was getting into something I was even less ready for. I do not have the energy for dealing with all the unavoidable tourism agencies, I’m a self-organized solo-traveler, please no. When I think I almost canceled it and went straight to Valparaiso, I can only be grateful for my occasional stubbornness.
A post written on a frenzic day (so excuse the errors) in May that sort of got lost…
A personal reminder, in a way.
Maybe it’s usual and something everyone goes through to have a personal crisis about 6 months after you leave home and start a life someplace new. The initial enthusiasm wears out a bit of course and then you feel that even though the many basic things are already figured out, too much – everything is still missing. Where’s life, you know? Someone I met here defined that as ”lack of structure” of any kind, because everything you have and do seems to have a temporary or insecure nature. I’m not sure what brought it up for me, since I’ve already had so many crisis in my life and with all their differences they are all in some point or another just a repetition of an ancient story. As always it burst out at the least appropriate moment and as always it hangs around much longer than you think it would, long after you think ”you’re good now”. Even the lessons stay the same, but still you feel the urge to shout them out loud. So, I will.
I’ve been living my dream for half a year already and a part of me still feels like I’m stuck at the same place I was last year. When I’m lying in my bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to the newly discovered favourite French band and thinking about the past day, there is always this strange surreal feeling about something being somehow off. Is it true? For real? Isn’t that just a bit too much? Would you believe it if somebody told you? …
Because that part truly is still stuck in the past. And I need to say to it every day: ”No, you’re here with me, in Paris, in your own room, with a job that actually pays the rent and all the other costs, you walk the Grands Boulevards every day to work, you go for a walk on an easy Sunday afternoon by the Seine and buy your books at Shakespeare&co … you, you, you. Right f*** now!” Continue reading “Pushing through the blizzard”
At the first glance, one of the easiest questions one can ask me is: ”Why Paris?” It seems so obvious and intuitively self-evident, that I can’t help but hear a rhetoric tone in it. It’s when I try to answer it that I find myself in trouble. I start uttering nonsense after nonsense, feeling pretty naive, thinking I must have fallen for a tourist attraction or some cliché or the artistic history… But after a minute or two, I realize the question gets the answer it deserves and satisfy myself with a stereotypical rebellion: ”Because it’s simply stunningly beautiful and I feel good here!” However, isn’t there more, much more? To be perfectly honest, isn’t there everything here?
I so often find myself walking through some random streets I usually don’t know the names of and couldn’t specifically point to on a map, mutely saying with a sigh or almost singing: ”This is why I love Paris.” Of course knowing quite well what I mean by it, but would find myself in the same muttering predicament if someone approached at that precise moment and suspiciously demanded: ”What is this this you’re talking about?” I would probably feel the same old sentiment that words don’t quite do it justice and just pathetically point to everything that would pass us by, to the buildings and the cars, to the people and the birds, the clouds above and asphalt ground below us, even to the dirty air surrounding us. And that is all I could really do. Continue reading “Why Paris?”
What does traveling or moving to a foreign city/country change? Can it change anything, really? Isn’t it just an escape, a temporary illusion that your problems might resolve themselves there, that you might get to be a better and saner person in another place?
A lot of people were asking me these questions when I started talking about moving to France, just because I feel better here. ”Why do you? I mean – it’s just a change of scenery, how can that change you? You are still the same unstable emotional wreck…” But — wait, no: I’m not. Well, I am in a way, because it’s never possible to truly escape oneself. I still have my downs as well as my ups, I still feel melancholy as f*** most of the time, I still have to fight with my passive aggressiveness, I still feel stupid and silly and weird and well not normal and mostly just out-of-place… But I change. Something in the deep shadowy place at the bottom of my personality shifts. Something hidden before lifts up towards the surface and takes its place under the sun. Continue reading “But — why?!”
I have to ask: Do you imagine London markets without music? Port Vell in Barcelona? Lisbon or Paris metro? Jardin de Luxembourg? Sacré-Cœur? Prešeren square, Tromostovje, Čevljarski most in Ljubljana?
I know you can, but I don’t want to. After seeing and experiencing them with awesome melodies and rhythms, that is how I always remember and hear them.
Folk on Brick Lane, salsa and reggae at Barcelona docks, a girl with an acoustic guitar at Terreiro do Paço station, l’accordéon in a metro train, classical piano in one of the pavilions, a high-powered Italian guy on the stairs that lead to the basilique and countless acts at my best known places in Slovenia: from gypsy to country, from African drums to jazz saxophone, from people who have it – that special something, the energy – to the ones that… well not so much.
I have to admit: I’m not a huge fan of Barcelona. It’s a lovely city with fantastic energy, but I prefer Paris or London. But it’s the best city as far as street musicians are concerned. The best, really! All the tourists in Park Güell drove me crazy, but the fact that there was an interesting or excellent musician/band on every single corner captivated me. And I still remember every single one of them: the fado band, the bossa nova guitarist, the blues singer, the crazy hippy electric-guitarist, the trio with the most passionate and charismatic female voice I heard in a while.
Music is what defines the city’s atmosphere for me and leaves the long-lasting impression on my personal vision of the place I’m in (hometown included). And after all the lessons in walking through various, mostly European cities, a fascination with street musicians and their quality has only grown bigger and higher in my soul. I might be biased because of the adorable acoustics of charming streets, but aren’t artists in truth the ones who make them so delightful?
There are a lot of things that impress me in life. A melodic song on the radio that stays in my ears all day long and makes me smile every time I whisper its tones, makes me want to dance in the street. A simple sentence that conveys the sense of beauty in just a few words. A cheese-pie, especially my grandmother’s one, sweet, crispy … mhm … delicious. A magnificent cathedral, pyramids, Buddhist temples, mosques… Faithful people who can believe and pray to something never seen, never heard, never touched. Or sometimes it is just a simple glass of water after a long hot summer day.
But still – there is nothing like nature, despite the comfort, convenience, accessibility, accommodation and luxury of the human world. A scent of meadow in spring, daily sunrises and sunsets, all blushed, frozen trees, covered in snow, extraordinary shapes of clouds, blueness of the sky, waves, lonely island in the middle of a huge ocean with a small palm for its charming decoration. It seems so effortless, but so incredibly fascinating, marvelous, divine.
—- And here I was, somewhere in Africa, few kilometres from Mombasa, standing in a van while driving on a bumpy and dusty road, watching the landscape, trees and grass of savanna, flying birds, termite mounds. Continue reading “Mundus or Why I travel”