Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Spanish Window

If there's one thing I can't get enough of, it's architectural detail. Doors, windows, columns, stairs, carved stone, shaped plaster - it goes on and on.
A recent trip to southern Spain simply presented more opportunity to bask in the warmth of more fascinating building styles. Of course, I can find some of this kind of stuff around my own city, but its familiarity provides ample cover and often tired eyes. Travel has a way of awakening one's mind and spirit to the new and old and the always there, and our time in Andalucia (and Toledo and Madrid) was yet more evidence that this is true.

The chronology doesn't really matter, but it will give an idea of how we travel. Since we only had two weeks, this wasn't slow travel, as in the manner of our 275 day trip around the world with our kids, but it was by no means fast either.
We arrived in Madrid, and within a couple hours were on a train to Toledo. Two nights in Toledo and the we whisked off to Seville for a four night stay. On one of those days, we trained to and from Cordoba, because, you know, more architecture. We then rented a car and drove to Arcos de la Frontera for a walkabout and some lunch, then to Zahara de la Frontera for a climb up the hill to the old fort for some dazzling views across the countryside. After a couple hours, we carried on to Ronda, and spent two nights. Back in the car for a lovely drive to Granada, where we spent three nights under the lights of the Alhambra, then busted it back to Madrid, with a pit stop in Baeza for an extended lunch.
We could've spent one night and a couple days in Seville, and one night in Granada, seeing the Alhambra in the morning and then taking off for somewhere else. That would've given us another five days (!wow!) to see more places. But that's not really us. There is just too much to see and enjoy in almost every place to breeze through without taking some time to just wander aimlessly, sitting at a cafe when your legs call for it, watching the city live and breathe.
In and amongst all this wandering and sitting and breathing, a feeling comes alive inside me, one that asks whether I could live in this place (language barriers aside!) Many times, the answer is yes. I don't know for how long, but for a few months? Certainly. A year? Maybe. I imagine all the places that I would sit with a book, all the new foods I would try, all the streets I'd stalk with my camera, all the alleys in which I would set up an easel.
Here is a celebration of taking it slow, a journey through southern Spain and her wondrous windowed glory.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago today, we spent our first full day at our villa in Volissos, on Chios Island, having arrived in the dark the evening before.
Chios was our first rest stop, our first holiday planned during our nine-month trip around the world, and we were doing it up right: two weeks of rest and relaxation on a Greek Island. What could be better than that? Well, arriving in the dark, and unsure what exactly was living in our attic, on an island that smelled like dust (we were later told that it had not rained in a year, and it had also been an extraordinarily hot summer with temps in the high forties celsius), I was thinking that I'd blown it. I spend a good fifteen minutes feeling sorry for myself and feeling like I'd let my family down. Did I mention the smell of dust? After almost eight weeks of travel, we'd be stuck here for two weeks, and somehow, through all my planning and research, this was the best I could do?
As it got a little bit lighter out that morning, I noticed that everything looked like it was covered in dust too. But then, the sun came over the mountains behind us, and the sky began to swell with a blueness that is patented by Greek history. I thought to myself, yeah, this might turn out okay.
The short version of this story is yes, it was a wonderful time.
Sadly, Laura's father passed away a few days after we landed on the island, and Laura went back home for a week to be with her mom. Our two weeks stretched into nearly three.
It seemed like this could really take the wind out of our sails, but Jake's death eventually reinforced our sense that it was important for us to do this kind of a trip while we were healthy and fully able to embrace everything that would be thrown at us, particularly in the coming months, knowing that Syria, Egypt, India, and a few other countries were still to come.
(It also provided an opportunity for us to discover how good people can be when you need them to be, and while I won't go into the full story here, just know that if you are going to Chios, Tassos and Margarita from Hatzelenis Tours are the people you want to talk to. Accommodations, car rental, advice, kindness, ability to help steer you through adversity, just pretty much anything you need, they can manage it.)
And of course, looking back now, and seeing how much has changed in both our family and the world in these ten years, this trip with our two young sons was a treasure that continues to reward us with shared memories and continuous inspiration.
Every country we visited on that trip was special in its own way, as was every single day. Our time on Chios was no different, and one son remains firm in his assertions that Chios was indeed his favourite place of all.
So. Chios.
Here's to you.
An image from the Airbnb listing for our house on Chios. Airbnb did not exist back in 2007 I don't think. Our house at the bottom right. The Aegean Sea at the top, a couple hundred metres from the house.
Another view of the house.

This was our beach, Limnos Beach, the 'north' beach.

Emporios Beach, the 'south' beach.

A typical west-coast beach (there was sand, just not in this picture - and watch out for the spikey balls of death).

Karfas Beach, the 'east' beach by Chios Town.
But it was our beach, Limnos Beach, that was to be our most consistent landing point, our sandbox for those eighteen or nineteen days.
A typical street in the nearby town of Volissos, home of our bakery and our market.

A view from our fort in Volissos.

Mesta, one of the idyllic little towns on our island.

Our trees on the island.

Our sunsets on Limnos Beach, version 1.

Our sunsets on Limnos Beach version2.

Breakfast on day one on our patio.

Our donkey.

Jonas's fingernail also made its return on the island.

And another view to the sea from Volissos Fort.
Our skies in Greece, the top-right six all from Chios.

Our friendly host, Tassos. Your go-to man on Chios. Sadly, Margarita was not in the office the morning we caught our ferry, so I didn't get her photo.

Margarita and Tassos's Hatzelenis Tours website -

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Little Bit of Toledo

I'm not sure if it's because it was the first town we visited or what, but Toledo is really something. Beautiful from every angle, loads of alleys full of a longing to bring you on board, and enough hills to keep an Olympic walker in prime condition.

Here is my Toledo.

Prints of many of these images are available to purchase in a variety of sizes. See my website for more details.

Today I Ate Cow Stomach

A story from Tuscany.

The guy at the community centre gives me the scoop on why there is no internet in Monticchiello. “Internet not work today. Come from next town, next town not work.” With that out of the way, he invites me for lunch. “Big lunch in church, with whole town. Come, I show you.” In the church’s lower level, long rectangular tables are covered in bright white cloth, fully set, and ready to serve. My new friend shows me the menu, which contains no English words. He recommends two dishes that, in his mind, are superb. See you at noon, I say.

“There is no room,” we are told when we arrive a few minutes ahead of schedule. We can come back for the dinner seating, I say. We’re just around the corner. “No, maybe there is room,” someone says, and that is followed by a flurry of activity. A table is added at the end of a row, along with four chairs that look like they were in the church’s garage sale pile.
I point out the two menu items like I’ve ordered them a hundred times before, a small and a large plate of each, and the server compliments me on my choices. Wine and water first, then the spaghetti-like dish arrives. The pasta is thick and fresh, and full of flavour. The four of us hover over the two plates until the second dish arrives. It has an interesting texture, and what can best be described as a full-bodied flavour. Jonas and Matthew try small fork-fulls, then wrap their arms around the spaghetti plates like alpha wolves who haven’t eaten in a week. Rats.
Laura asks the server what the dish is. He starts to say something, then says, “I will go back and ask so I can tell you exactly and correctly.” Okay. We’re thinking octopus, maybe squid, one of those chewy, fishy things. When he returns, he says, and this is a quote, not just a vague recollection that gets the gist of things, but the exact words, “Precisely, it is the cut up strips of the stomach of the cow.” He notices the shock that registers on our faces, and says quickly, “It is good?” Laura replies, It is different, in that sing-songy kind of way that let’s you know that while not an outright falsehood, she is not being entirely forthcoming. “Yes, it is different for you, for sure.”  As soon as he leaves, Matthew and I turn to one another and say at the same time, Which one of the cow’s stomachs is this?
Okay, we just paid fifteen euros for two plates of cow stomach. I have a tendency to work harder when things get physically tough, because that’s my arena. I thrive in circumstances that require endurance and strength. Not feeling well? Go play hockey, that’ll clear the sinuses. Tough hill to climb? I’m gonna run it. Your backpack getting heavy? Let me carry it for a bit.  I am particularly gifted in this department when there is a food element involved. Throw fifteen euros of cow stomach on the table, ha! You don’t know who you’re dealing with, Italy!
I dig in with gusto. I have a full glass of wine, enough water to fill my cup a few times, some bread, and some cheese that I think was meant for the spaghetti, not the trough de vache. But this flavour is like a cumulative entity, and after not too long, I can feel the beginning of the end. I put forth a valiant effort, with my back to the wall I give a hundred and ten per cent. I am in Italy, so I go to the mattresses. Wine, water, bread, and cheese disappear at a dizzying pace, and the boys watch my performance with smiles and snorts of laughter. Laura puts no stock in efforts like this, no matter how Herculean. Nor is she about to waste time putting a cow’s stomach into her own. It’s not about the stomach, I preach. We’re a team, and I’m not giving up on the team, we are finishing our meals. She rolls her eyes, in that loving, ‘You’re an idiot, but you’re my idiot’ kind of way.
Alas, with three forkfuls to go, I have no more wine or bread, and my water supply is dangerously low. I am done. I make a big show of shedding a phony tear, and apologize to my family. The boys giggle quietly until real tears come out of their eyes, but Laura is already heading out the door, pretending not to be associated with us.

Laura and I enjoy a quiet afternoon at the apartment, while Jonas and Matthew pretend to be spies and explore Monticchiello with our walkie-talkies.
In the evening we pack our bags again, and recall our favourite memories of the week. Jonas’s still nail-less fingertip looks a little better every day. And tomorrow, we leave for Florence.

Today I ate cow stomach.

A Little Bit of Seville

A trip to Spain as part of some random 25th anniversary celebration, with a birthday party mixed in as well.
Spain pulled out all the stops, and said, "We're here for you."
Endless fun. Lots of beautiful stuff, but the people were not to be outdone either. Everyone was friendly, and could care less about our inadequacies en español.

If you're inclined to visit Andalucia when the temperatures are bearable, try end of March or maybe into April. T-shirt weather in the afternoon, light sweater in the early morning or late evening.
Here's a little taste of Seville.