The Gardens & Greenery of Paris

As I begin to prepare for my upcoming departure to Paris, it gives me goosebumps to think that this time I won’t be trying to cram everything I want to see and experience into a few precious days.  No, this time I will let this gorgeous city reveal herself to me slowly…the lesser known places and spaces, as spirit and inspiration strike us both.  This time I get to experience it all as a local, while ensconced in my own cozy little apartment in the Marais…Paris’ ancient medieval heart.  I can’t wait to have my days and heartbeat begin to fall into rhythm with this city I love.  How will it change and challenge me?

When I think about all of the wonderful things I can’t wait to get back to, the beautiful gardens, greenery, and hidden courtyards dance playfully in my memory.  They provide  respite for the mind, body and soul from everyday life, or just the constant hum of the city around them.  Most have held their space for centuries, and seem to encourage quiet contemplation and reflection, especially for hopeless daydreamers like me.  I have to admit, my sabbatical to Europe was hatched while sitting in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

In tribute to these sacred places, I am including some pictures that I snapped of the verdure of Paris on my trip last autumn.  If ever you can’t find me, look in the gardens and green spaces of the city of light…

 

Learning To Let Go

I have been thinking about “letting go” a lot recently.  More to the point, letting go to return to my roots.  As mentioned in earlier posts, I have made the decision recently to completely strip my life down to the core, allow my heart to rule my head again for a change, and follow my dreams…wherever they may lead.  In case you haven’t read earlier posts, after taking a good shit kicking in 2017, I had the epiphany that now, right now…as in from this second forward, I needed to begin living authentically as much as possible.  Since that moment of clarity, I have been working on letting go of the stranglehold that I have allowed pride, ego, control and fear to place on my life.

Make no mistake, I have a wonderful life, filled with many blessings and people that I love with all my heart.  I just felt strongly, right down to my bone marrow that I was out of sync with my “best” self.  I realized that I was spending most of my time striving to be the Robert that others expected me to be.  At some point I had become a slave to an altered version of myself, and the energy required to maintain this marionette dance had exhausted me completely.  It was not a bad version of myself, pretty successful and happy actually, but somewhere in the distant corners of my mind, an earlier, wilder, more creative version of me was yearning for something more.

Somehow that free spirit, filled with wanderlust and awe survived, in spite of being banished to the furthest corners of my mind.  At what point exactly did I decide that this beautiful, wide-eyed child was no longer appropriate or needed?  Was it when I began to focus on career and climbing the corporate ladder?  Or perhaps when I took on student loans, a mortgage and car payments on the Mercedes.  Time to grow up and get serious, right?  Retirement savings account, check.  New stainless steel appliances and granite counters, check.  Aching back and broken sleep, check.  Climbing the ladder higher, check.  Heartburn and Champagne, check, check.  The little, forgotten voice from the dark recesses growing louder, check!

How did I finally realize it was time to get off the merry-go-round?  Loss is a funny thing.  It affects everyone differently, but it can also be a gift if we let it.  Losing my beloved Mom to cancer in 2017 was the greatest loss I have ever experienced, and I am not a stranger to it.  I lost my Dad at 18 years old, and in years that followed my grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends , but losing Mom shattered me completely.  She was truly the one person that I couldn’t bare the thought of living without, so her battle with cancer and then passing has left me split wide open.  It was through the subsequent grief journey that I have come to realize, sometimes the only way you can rebuild something better and stronger is to break it first, split it wide open.

I am trying to put the pieces of myself back together better then before, taking this huge shift in my life as an opportunity to create positive changes, that I wouldn’t have ever had the inclination, motivation or strength to make had I not had to rebuild my life.  Maybe now is the perfect time to call my precious inner child back into the forefront again.  Maybe I should let go of my white knuckle grip on the steering wheel of life for a while and let him play?  I think perhaps we should all allow some of the wonder, innocence and unlimited possibility of our inner child to come the surface.  Begin to say “yes” more to playfulness, freedom and joy for joys sake…take ourselves just a little less seriously?

So with these revelations simmering just beneath the surface, and my inner child’s voice now strong and clear, I have begun to let go.  I am slowly trying to let go of my grief, and replace the white hot pain with happy memories and loving thoughts.  Yesterday I let go of my position as a hotel General Manager, a position 21 years in the making, and one that has been a huge part of defining who I am up until now.  Next month I will embrace this new found freedom and leave for Europe, letting go of the security and routine of home.  I am working on letting go of the control over life that I seem to need, and just  living in the “flow” of the moment instead.  I believe this is the hardest part for me to master, and when I do, it is always when magic seems to happen.  Lastly, I am letting go of all things large and small that will no longer serve me on this new journey.

I really don’t know what to expect or how I will feel next month when I wind down my job, and then wake up in my little apartment in Paris for the first time.  Or how I will react to having nothing ahead of me but unlimited possibility and a blank slate for the first time in over 20 years.  I have a hunch that it is going to be one hell of a ride, and if I can just learn to let go and live in the moment, I think it will be pretty darn magical.  I hope that you will come along for the ride too!

 

 

 

Glorious Free Fall

I apologize in advance, but this post is going to be a self indulgent, raw and rambling reflection about some significant decisions I have made recently.  About totally shaking up my life in 2018, and marching bravely in the direction of my dreams.  I am talking about jumping off the freaking metaphorical cliff, into glorious free fall…letting go of the precious “control” I seem to wrestle so desperately with.

This intuition to control every aspect of my personal sphere (and probably those adjacent to it too) has had its place, and created a reasonable measure of “success” for me, however so defined.  At 38 years old I have climbed the corporate ladder in the hospitality industry to the position of General Manager with a well know and respected hotel brand, while getting a second education in Interior Design, and then subsequently taking on select interior design projects, and even opening a small lifestyle concept store simultaneously.

It has been a marvelous, balls to the wall 20 years…living, working and traveling all over Canada and the world, but the past 24 months or so have really put me through the meat grinder.  Lately I find myself physically, mentally and spiritually stripped to the bone.  Perhaps I burned my flame a little too brightly early in life?  I have always lived as though my life was an hour glass that the sand was running through a bit too quickly, trying to wring every drop of living into any given day.  Living in Toronto and going to college for design, I was working 40+ hours per week at a prominent hotel, while taking  6 – 8 courses per semester in school…sleep is for the weak, right?  This punishing self imposed schedule has continued for the past 18 years.

Yes, I have achieved, experienced and seen many incredible things, but somehow the traditional trappings of “success” just aren’t enough.  Further to that, my body is sending clear signals that it won’t put up with my shit anymore.  Anyone who knows me, knows that 2017 was my “Annus Horribilis”, and a wake up call.

My reservoirs of strength and courage were already reaching drought levels going into the year.  I had been commuting back and forth from Halifax to Regina approximately every 8 weeks for almost 2 years to spend as much time as possible with my dear, beloved Mom who was battling cancer.  I wouldn’t have given up 1 second of those precious moments with Mom for anything in the world.  She lost that courageous battle in her loving family’s arms in March 2017.  It is a moment in time that has forever changed me.  A moment filled with equal parts of love and sorrow, that has left a precious battle scar on my aching heart.

It is major life events like this that make you take a good hard look around you, and then in the mirror.  To assess if you still like what you are surrounding yourself with, and more importantly the reflection looking back at you.  Is it still in alignment with what you hold dear, what brings you joy, when you feel like your best authentic self?  This temperature check made me realize that I have a lot of work to do.

Somewhere along the line, the focus has become skewed towards security, possessions, and spending far too many hours at work.  When not at work, I am worrying about not being at work.  My precious “down time” peppered with calls, texts and emails.  Something about all of this seems so out of lockstep with how and when I feel my best.  Travelling, soaring, free.  Time spent with my family and friends, heavy with good food and drink.  Quiet Sundays at home doing nothing in the yard.  Lately I just can’t seem to turn things off to enjoy these moments.

Here is where the big change comes in.  While on my trip to Europe last fall, I decided that it was the first time that I had truly felt carefree in ages.  What bliss!  It reminded me of the innocence of being a kid, the seemly endless days that stretched out ahead, to fill with whatever my imagination could conjure.  I decided that everyone deserves a “redo” of childhood.  You know, later in life…when we can actually appreciate and influence the experience.  Some how “second childhood” just doesn’t have a ring to it, so we will call it “wildhood” instead.  I am staking claim to my wildhood in 2018, and hope to chronicle those adventures in this blog.

To that end, I am leaving my job in February (I feel a little bit lightheaded just writing this), and going on a sabbatical to Europe to figure what the next chapter looks like.  I am off to spend 6 weeks in Paris, then to Salzburg and Vienna, then 6 weeks in Spain, then to Dubrovnik to grab a small cruise to Split Croatia in early July.  After that, who knows.  I am letting go of my white knuckle stranglehold on control, and the cliff that is my career and security.  Glorious free fall.  Beautiful surrender.  And who knows, perhaps I will find my best self again along the way?

Street Art

Street art – passionate, raw, powerful.  These unsung masterpieces, that brighten and elevate even the most drab corners of our urban landscape captivate me.  The artists motivation is not monetary, or even recognition, as they are most often anonymous.  It is a pure creative expression, an invitation to view the world through their lens.  Their experiences, their dreams, their destiny…poured fourth onto these borrowed canvases.

On yet another one of my self assigned photography missions during my recent trip to Europe, I captured the below images of some colorful, unusual and downright stunning pieces.  Street art takes on so many forms.  Paint, sculpture, mosaic, music, greenery and performance art.  My heart swells at the sight of any and all of the above.  What a joy to witness the power of the human spirit, harnessed in a brush stroke, musical note or other outpouring of creativity.

My sincere gratitude and admiration to anyone who shares their gifts and vision with the world, regardless of the platform used to bring that uniqueness forward, and regardless of what others think.  Share your light with the world, and shine on!  There is a masterpiece laying within all of us, just waiting to be born.

 

 

Cafe Culture

Is there anything better then enjoying a drink and some tapas in the warm Spanish sun?  While savoring this daily ritual in Granada, I am hard pressed to come up with anywhere else I would rather be.

Fascinating people watching, soaking up beautiful weather and scenery, cooling down with cervezas and sangria and indulging in delicious tapas…Spanish cafe culture at its best!  Day and night, Granada’s many cafes, terraza’s, restaurants and bars, all of which spill out onto the adjacent streets, squares and sidewalks are packed with life, laughter and love.  Even though my Spanish skills are rudimentary at best, I love to try to pick up bits and pieces of the conversations going on all around me, and then let my overactive imagination fill in the rest.  If everyone only knew what exciting, cinematic lives I was busy painting for them in my minds eye!

I love trying the endless array of amazing small plates that come as a complimentary snack with your drinks here.  I believe that Granada is one of the few places left in Andalusia, if not all of Spain that still observes the tradition of providing tapas free of charge with drink orders.  It is actually a pretty smart system if you think about it.  I know that I stay far longer (and for many more beverages) then I would without these small savory offerings.  If for nothing else, out of sheer curiosity to see what the next gastronomic treat might be.

I really dug in and did the leg work on researching the true tapas experience on this last stay in Granada, having cerveza after cerveza, day after day.  All in the name of research, of course…to catalog the astonishing variety of tapas for my little blog here.  It was a difficult assignment yes, but I faced it head on, with dedication and vigor.  My liver is still recovering a month later, but what a riot!  Aside from the delightful food and drink, I also enjoy the social aspect of cafe culture.  I find the Spanish to be some of the most warm and friendly people you could ever hope to meet, especially when you show interest in their culture and an openness to new experiences.

I have included a few pictures below that show a small sampling of the variety of tapas that I enjoyed while “researching” this post.  These images do not even begin to do justice to the bold and diverse flavors, or sublime surroundings.  You will have to use your imagination to fill in the sound of the Genil river and birdsong in the background, to feel the warmth of the sun on your face, or hear the distant flamenco guitar.

Please find a brief description below of the tapas enjoyed in these pictures.  Keep in mind, these are all provided gratis…free, free, free!

  • Perfect, crispy fried sardines with lettuce lightly dressed in oil & vinegar
  • Fried breadcrumbs and bits of sausage with refreshing melon
  • Lima beans stewed in olive oil with ham and garlic
  • Seafood paella with squid, mussels and cuttlefish
  • Mushrooms sauteed in cream, wine and garlic – bread to dip…yes please!
  • Buttery, flaky tuna tart with marinated olives
  • A stew of chickpeas, lima beans potatoes and blood sausage
  • Tender squid in a spicy tomato sauce
  • Chicken and seafood stew
  • Delicious jamon (ham) iberico on bread with cheese and a drizzle of olive oil

 

Eye Candy

On every trip to Paris, they never cease to amaze me.  The vibrant, creative, cool, drool worthy shop windows.  Seriously people, these are freaking works of art!  The only apt description that comes to mind as I roam around the city admiring these beauties, slack jawed…is eye candy.

The thought and creative energy that goes into these vignettes, selling seemingly simple, everyday items from eyeglasses, to baguette to clown wigs, is simply amazing.  It makes me want to spend the rest of my life emptying my pockets into the stores that would take such care in making a beautiful statement to the world.  Who can ever have too many clown wigs or pairs of vintage eyeglasses anyway?

When I was in Paris this past October, I decided to make it a mission to photograph some of its inspiring store fronts.  At the end of the day, it was hard to edit them down.  Literally, everywhere I looked was a picture perfect snapshot.  Just another example of the panache and “je ne sais quoi” that is so endearing and engaging about life in Paris.  Something tells me that I might have to spend more time in Paris to really explore and immerse myself in this way of life…nudge nudge, wink wink.  More on that later, in another post.  OK, full disclosure, it has already been decided…but more in another post.

The more I get to know it, the more Paris becomes my dream.  Cobblestones, flying buttresses, melted butter, and joie de viure.  These artful shop windows are just another tug at my already smitten heart strings.  Damn!  It turns out that I am a sucker for beauty, simply for beauty’s sake, who knew?  If you can make something as unassuming as the window of a sweet shop, bakery or cafe look this gorgeous…why wouldn’t you?  That is what the people of Paris seem committed to.  Making things lovely…as an expression of human joy and pride is, it would seem, an end in itself.  How civilized.

 

 

 

In Search of Moorish Granada

I love to dabble in photography when I travel.  Albeit with the humble camera that my phone comes equipped with, and an amateur attempt at best…but I have a lot of fun with it!  I like to give myself an “assignment”, a particular subject matter that speaks to me while in that unique destination.

On my recent trip back into Granada Spain, the topic of interest this visit was to uncover the hidden gems of its Moorish past.  It was almost as though the ancient Nasirid city was calling out to me, from beneath centuries and centuries of alterations, plaster, paint, pavement and dust.  Waiting to be discovered again.

During my two weeks in Andalusia, it became my mission to uncover the Moorish jewels that lurked just beneath the skin of the modern city.  Once I began my quest, it was as if I was being guided by Boabdil himself.  From obscure side streets and out of the way nooks and carnies in the old Arab quarter, to hidden Carmen’s and quiet courtyards, hilltops, gardens and construction sites.  I let spirit and intuition be my compass, and as a result uncovered more stunning and out of the way examples then I could have ever imagined.

Often I would decide spontaneously to take an opposite fork in the road or path then intended.  Somehow this would always lead to an old Arab archway, spectacular ruin, or restoration project that was busy exposing old Moorish architecture.  Beauty still lingering beneath the garish facades that have been troweled on over the elegant brickwork, fine lace details, and bright tile work of the ancient.

It as though the Emirate is awakening from a great slumber, demanding its audience once more.  The ancient structures almost seem to be pealing back their own skin to reveal noble roots, rejecting the later incarnations that were grafted onto the original.  Washington Irving alludes to an enchantment being cast over the kingdom of Granada by the Moorish before it was conquered by the Spanish monarch…to protect their sacred places and treasures for all time.

One really has to ponder this a bit deeper when they see these stunning cultural treasures that have survived hundreds of years of earthquakes, war, neglect, and attempts to alter them beyond recognition.  Defiant, beautiful and lasting…an Arabian dream that refuses to be extinguished.

 

 

Tall Ships

I feel fortunate to live in beautiful, historic Nova Scotia Canada…a place that is surrounded and influenced by the mighty north Atlantic in every aspect of life.  You might even say that salt water runs through our veins here.  Steeped in history and brimming with lore about Privateers, Pirates and even the Knights Templar, this seafaring part of the north east celebrates its past and connection to the ocean with every beat of its heart.

A particularly special event that occurs about every 4 years is Tall Ships.  A time when the Halifax waterfront is once again taken over by schooners and galleons from all over the world, and for a brief moment onlookers are transported back in time, to the golden age of sail when the Halifax waterfront was teeming with life and prosperity.  By the mid-1800’s, had Nova Scotia been its own country, it would have been the fourth largest trading nation in the world.  Even the venerable British shipping line “Cunard” got its start right here in Halifax.

The day I went to see the Tall Ships was particularly magical.  The warm sunlight was interspersed with periods of fog that would roll in from the sea, adding a surreal, ghostly effect to the whole scene.  The silhouettes of what appeared to be pirate ships lined up along the waterfront, wrapped in thick shimmering wisps of fog made the moment feel suspended “out of time”, as though I was peering through a veil into an earlier era that was somehow existing simultaneously in another dimension.  Then the sun would break through and present day Halifax would revel itself once more.

 

Paris

My love affair with Paris blossomed slowly, gently over time.  Unlike many others, I never had any romantic notions about Paris, or even a strong pull at my heart strings to spend time there.  Our introduction was more out of necessity and convenience then by design.  My first time in Paris was to catch a reading my friend was doing of her manuscript at Shakespeare & Company while en route from Montreal to Granada Spain.

Even seeing Paris at her bohemian best on that first visit, it still only struck me as the ideal city to spend a quick layover in on my travels from Canada to other destinations…the perfect entrepot into Europe.  Just a stopover to catch my breath and re-calibrate for a few days after a red-eye transatlantic flight, prior to heading on to Rome, Venice, Istanbul, Prague, or some other bucket list destination that was the current object of my desire.

I was always smitten with her undeniable beauty and bountiful culture, but also found that the pace was hectic and overcrowded around any of the major tourist “destinations”, the cost of living expensive, and navigating the twisting, narrow streets of my preferred location in the Marais, Paris’s ancient medieval heart, almost impossible.  I pride myself on a strong internal sense of direction…but I spent hours lost, walking in circles trying to get to and from my hotel, which was tucked on a charming side street.  But hey, there are a heck of a lot less charming places to be wandering around lost!

On my fifth visit, something changed.  The only way I can describe it is that it was like a fog lifted from my eyes, and Paris suddenly touched my soul, profoundly and deeply.  Over the course of several visits I began to become more familiar with, and even attached to the lifestyle and heartbeat of the city.  Suddenly, for no explicable reason I could navigate not only the Marais, but the whole city with ease, almost as though I had always known her.  I now have my favorite local spots to grab the perfect roast chicken or bottle of wine and cheese, know secluded little court yards that provided quiet relief from the busy city, and have other wonderful rituals that I must now do on every visit.

Long walks all over Paris by moonlight, relaxing with a beer on the sloping lawn at the foot of Sacre-Coeur on a sunny afternoon, my morning coffee and croissant in Place des Vosges, or taking in an impromptu musical performance at the Louvre, I feel a part of the city and its rhythm now.  Paris is no longer just a layover, but a treasured highlight of each trip to Europe.  My stays have inched longer and longer each visit, and I now find myself melancholy when I have to leave this graceful and vibrant city.

What seemed to begin as a fleeting encounter, has now evolved into a full blown love story.  I am counting the days until my return in October.  Je t’aime mon Paris!

 

Rome

A little game I like to play when traveling to new places is trying to sum up my impressions of the destination in one word.  A word that captures the essence of my experience there and distills an overall sense of place.  Not as easy as it may sound. While sipping a Bellini in Piazza De Popolo on my last evening in Rome, I did just that. Reflecting on my wonderful first visit to the eternal city, the word that resonated most was: passion.

You see and feel it everywhere, people here live with gusto!  They seem to devour every day with the singular goal of deriving pleasure from almost every aspect of life.   Even relaxing has been elevated to an art form, “la dolce far niente”…the sweetness of doing nothing.  It was around my third Bellini in the warm evening sun, languidly admiring the beautiful buildings surrounding the Piazza while delicious food arrived at my table that I sighed and realized, I think I could get use to “la dolce far niente”!  Even in this utterly relaxing moment, I was savoring every mouthful of food and the beautiful surroundings with passion and peace in equal measure.

Beauty surrounds you at every turn.  With every vista, shop window, quaint side street, piece of art, bite of linguine, sip of wine, or ancient monument.  I know this sounds a bit cliche, and you are probably imagining “O Sole Mio” in the background, but it is true.  The profound amount of history, art and culture is almost an overload for the senses.  You also realize very quickly that Romans are passionate about making everyday things beautiful as well.  It doesn’t matter if it is a piece of ravioli, marble sculpture or bouquet of flowers…they are all crafted with pride and passion.

Even the way people in Rome communicate is passionate, often with animated, gesticulating gestures and expressions.  There seems to be very little room in Rome for “beige” living.  Every aspect of life is rich, layered and full of finesse.  I won’t even get into how passionate Italians are about food in this post, but let’s just say that I have rarely eaten so well in my life.

It is very hard to sum up the history, culture, people, food, and robust energy that is found in Rome with one post, much less one word, but I stand by “passion” as mine.  I hope that some of this amazing passion rubbed off on me during my short stay, I think we could all stand to take a bigger bite out of life sometimes.  On my last day I tossed a coin into the Trevi Fountain and said a silent prayer, that I may return to Roma again and again.  There is really no place like Rome!

 

 

Soul Food

What is it that makes food and drink such an important part of our human experience?  It can evoke powerful emotions, trigger long dormant memories, or act as a balm to sooth the soul.  Think about the comfort that a steaming hot mug of coffee or tea can bring.  How about the curative effect of chicken soup or broth when we aren’t feeling well, and nothing says celebration like a table laid heavy with delicious food and drink surrounded by loved ones.  Food can also create a profound sense of place, which is what I have been thinking about lately.

Food, drink and travel always (happily!) seem to go hand in hand for me.  As I begin to plan my upcoming trip to Paris, Granada and Barcelona, I find myself getting excited about some of the favorite foods that I will enjoy at each of these special places.  In some funny way food is almost as important to me as the architecture, history or weather.  It is an unmistakable part of what makes each destination a unique and memorable experience.  When I think about the places that I choose to return to again and again…they always have wonderful food memories attached to them.

In Paris I will enjoy duck confit salad, shawarma picked up on Rue des Rosiers as the ultimate late night snack, and the best roast chicken, with potatoes which become golden brown perfection cooking slowly in rich drippings.  In Granada there will be fragrant lamb tagine, hearty seafood paella, and many sunny afternoons spent enjoying tapas and Alhambra Cerveza at my favorite cafe on the Genil River.  My trip will finish in Barcelona with some crispy fried sardines and a chilled glass of wine, and perhaps some succulent Galician style octopus with potatoes and paprika.

After a difficult year with my dear Moms illness and passing, my trip to Europe this fall is a pilgrimage of the heart to some of my favorite places, to enjoy some of my favorite things.  I will be indulging in more then my fair share of good food and drink, as this trip is one of healing and reflection, but also affirmation and celebration of life.  To experience joy in its many forms is to be truly alive.  Enjoying delicious food in beautiful surroundings is one of life’s greatest joys for me.  This need not be an expensive exercise, some of the best meals I have ever eaten came from street vendors, markets, or small local joints discovered by accident.  The best pasta I had in Rome came from a takeout that was tucked away on a lonely side street, selected because of the huge line of local construction workers outside.  I devoured the heaping container of amazing handmade pasta that I paid a whopping 4 euros for, sitting on the Spanish Steps watching Rome go by.  Now that is value!

Throughout Moms illness, one of the strongest instincts I had was to cook for her…cook like there was no tomorrow.  Whenever I was home, I would make all of my Moms favorite meals, most from my Grandmas recipes.  I would make weeks worth of extra food and fill the freezer.  Something about providing joy through nourishment and food memory seemed like the most loving thing I could do.  When Mom was extremely ill, she had not really eaten much of anything for almost 2 weeks.  As soon as I arrived, I got to work making my Grandmas noodle soup, a favorite of Moms.  She managed to eat 2 bowls, and spoke about how much it reminded her of growing up and happy times.  Talk about soul food.

I look forward to “feeding” my soul in Europe this fall, and know that I will savor those moments spent enjoying favorite flavors under the warm Spanish sun, daydreaming about my next adventures.

A few pictures of some delicious food I have enjoyed on the road.  Bon appetit!

 

Prague

When I flew into Prague in spring 2015, I was drawn to it for its reputation as having a magical combination of wonderfully well preserved architecture in its historic Old Town, but otherwise wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.  It was just one of those destinations that “spoke” to me.  To say that I was blown away would be a major freaking understatement!  If you love history, architecture and food as much as I do…buckle up, Prague does not disappoint.

I had the opportunity to stay in a wonderful boutique hotel, The Iron Gate Hotel, which is just around the corner from Prague’s historic Old Town Square, the world famous Astronomical Clock, and within walking distance of just about anywhere you want to be. Think modern boutique luxury in a stunningly preserved 14th century building.  My suite had carefully preserved hand painted ceiling beams and partially exposed fresco’s, juxtaposed against beautiful modern furniture, colorful accents, a large bathroom with soaker tub and thoughtful touches throughout.  A treat not to be missed!

Once ensconced in Old Town, you feel as though you have somehow slid back through time, or perhaps journeyed to a place outside of time.  I was awestruck by how incredibly intact the marvelous mix of architecture still is, ranging from Romanesque and Gothic, to Baroque and Art Nouveau, with everything in-between.  That coupled with the street performers, markets and traditional food create a special sense of place, one that is distinctly Prague.  While strolling the cobbled streets soaking in the atmosphere, I paused to watch a magician do a trick for a young girl on the steps of Prague castle, and couldn’t help but feel like I was in the midst of a fairy tale or fable of old.

Even the early spring weather during my stay, mostly grey and misty somehow seemed fitting, adding another ethereal layer of mystery.  As I sipped hot mulled wine in Old Town Square while taking in the Easter Market,  the unmistakable scent of wood burning fire hanging in the air as twilight settled in, I decided a return visit would be a must.  My return will not be in late spring or autumn, which is when most travel guides would recommend, but in December.

After my first visit in springs earliest days, I now crave to further experience this beautiful city in the seemingly eternal dusk of winter.  There is something magical about the thought of exploring the twisting cobbled streets bundled up against the elements, or warming myself with hot wine while shopping a Christmas Market lit by millions of twinkling lights, perhaps reflecting on my travels in a cozy restaurant with a soul warming meal of roast duck, braised cabbage and dumplings, or happily tucked away beside a roaring fire with a drink and my dreams.  Prague has cast its spell, and I am powerless to resist the call to return.

 

 

Note: These pictures were taken with a less then spectacular phone camera during my visit in 2015, so they are not high quality but represent a few vignettes of old Prague through my eyes.  Enjoy,

Enchantment…

When I mull over the many, many things I love about Granada Spain, the word that sums it up best?  Enchantment.

It stands to reason…Granada has all the right ingredients.  A magical palace, hidden gardens, Gypsy caves, ancient Moorish ruins, meandering rivers and mountain views, the scent of jasmine, Flamenco, and legends that whisper in the wind.

It’s no wonder that a sensitive soul like Washington Irving fell under Granada’s spell while staying at the Alhambra.  He tried to capture the sense of magic he experienced here in his book, Tales of The Alhambra, a wonderful collection of local history and lore. The lines between fantasy and reality blur seductively in Washington’s tales, which leave the reader, especially one who connects deeply with this city, feeling as though anything truly is possible here.  Perhaps the remains of an ancient Nasrid enchantment that was cast over the Kingdom in days of old?

Granada is a rich layering of cultures, each leaving their imprint as a special part of the unique tapestry of architecture, history, food, music, and myth that make this enchanting place an unforgettable crossroads.  Where Europe meets North Africa, the past and present embrace, where dream and reality become one, and my soul soars free with grace.  Granada, I am mesmerized by your beauty and depth.

 

 

Let There Be Light!

I sometimes forget that Paris is called “The City of Light”, La Ville Lumière. That is until I go for my first evening stroll when visiting, and am reacquainted again with how utterly, magically beautiful it is lite up by millions of twinkling lights.

I know that this reference to Paris has more to do with it being front and center during the Age of Enlightenment, and in more recent history as one of the first European cities to embrace gas street lighting.  However, I can’t help but feel that this term of endearment is a timeless description of her luminous soul, a fulfillment of Paris’s destiny to become a beacon of inspiration for so many from all over the world.

I have a special fondness for Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris.  It really captures the surreal air of magic that exists in Paris at night.  It is my favorite time to explore the enchanting neighborhoods, islands and landmarks…finding a new hidden gem every time.  I spend hours and hours roaming the city at night on every visit.

The pictures attached with this post were taken on one of my nightly walks during my visit to Paris in 2016.

Roots & Wings

Reflecting on starting this travel blog, I think back to how my family and friends have always referred to me as a gypsy.  Even as a small child I loved when our family traveled, and always felt that “the road” called to me with whispers of unlimited possibility.  At 18 years old I answered the call, and have been moving or travelling ever since.

What gives a prairie boy who grew up in the relatively small city of Regina surrounded by loving family and friends, the desire and determination to strike out on his own, to travel and roam?  Two words resonate as I ponder this: roots & wings.

My dear Mom, who wanted me to leave less then anyone, had the courage and faith to let her son have his freedom.  Freedom to wander and follow the call of my curious heart.  Secure in the knowledge that my family would always be there, right behind me…no matter where my dreams took me. Family roots that gave me wings to fly.

I remember when I was 21 years old, leaving Toronto for New York with all my worldly possessions crammed into a couple of suitcases, someone asked my Mom if she was worried.  She responded that she stopped worrying about me when she watched me move from city to city and coast to coast…always landing on my feet and taking to my new surroundings like a duck to water.  A true gypsy, a nomad.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my beloved Mother Eadie Stetner, who lost her courageous battle with cancer this past March.  Sometimes since her passing, it feels as though my life has been shattered into a million pieces.  She was more then just a loving parent. She was my best friend, co-conspirator in my travels, adventures and dreams, loudest cheerleader, greatest inspiration, and the all around best “partner in crime” one could ever ask for.  Oh the fun we had!  Celebrating my 21st birthday together “barhopping” in New York, eating delicious curry at a little pub off the beaten track in London, cooking lobsters in Nova Scotia, or falling flat on our faces on the wet rocks at Ogden Point in Victoria…laying there splitting our sides with laughter.  Priceless memories that I will keep safely tucked away in my heart, always.

As I begin to wade through the murky waters of grief, I have found myself grasping at straws, looking for something, anything that I can use to pull myself back into the light. One word echos in my heart again and again: Travel.  My wonderful family and friends have been incredible throughout my Moms illness and passing, trying to provide comfort in any way possible.  But grief is a strange, unpredictable, insatiable creature, that can sometimes produce actions that seem counter-intuitive.  Their love and support mean the world to me, but somehow I know that I will find my healing on “the road”, through Travel.  Counting on loving roots to once again give me the strength and wings to fly.

I have explored many beautiful places in Europe, but two cities in particular enchant me more than anywhere else.  Granada in southern Spain, and Paris.  Knowing that these are places where my soul is truly at peace, I have booked a trip this October that will see me spend my first four days in Paris, then to Granada for two weeks.  Time to re-calibrate after a difficult year, and hopefully figure out how to put the pieces back together again.  A pilgrimage of the heart.

In this blog I will share memories and photography from past trips, along with new content as my journeys continue.  In some small way I hope that I can share the joy, inspiration and wonder that travel brings me.

Mom, I will now travel farther and more fearlessly then ever before, knowing that you are my lodestar and guiding light from above.  My roots and my wings, I love you.

*Mom and I on her last Mothers Day in 2016.

Mom & Me

*Photo taken of the dome at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, 2016

Vatican 1