To have a long stay in a new place works best for me. There is the time needed to rest, then slowly, I begin to just look at the room, to find out how things work: the lights; the plugs; the taps; the stove; the airflow. I seem to have to wait for the body to get its’ bearings. Then (hesitantly, If I don’t know the language) I head out to find groceries, bank, communication options, and a coffee shop I can begin to call ‘home’… where they know me. In stages, it seems, I begin to get to know a place. Things surprise me. I want to know more.
But sometimes only ‘short visits’ happen. This winter there were several of these. So far I have said little about them: Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Montenegro, and Cornwall. In each place I spent a few days to a week. Sometimes I had a guide; sometimes I was on my own. There was not really enough time to feel into the place. The experience was more like a ‘whirlwind’: A vista, some buildings, some food, a smell, a walk through some streets or an hour on a path, a little bit of history on a sign… or related by the guide.
Horses tied to window grill
Even if I have read about it, it becomes a jumble for me, rather like a smorgasbord, which always stuns me into a blithering state and I am unable to make a choice. I seldom eat anything at a smorgasbord.
Copenhagen is a beautiful little, old world port city:
Old fishing cottages at estuary
pretty buildings… never more than 6 stories; small iron sculptures of figures perched, usually at the end edge of a roofline, just where they catch your eye;
and a famous pastry shop. My good friend Anne led me by the hand. I lived in her home. We talked and laughed! We ate… well: Anne is a good cook, as well as, a good hostess! We attended art galleries. We took a boat tour of the ‘cultural’ harbor. They have an ‘anarchist state’ right in the middle of the city.
Sign above gate as you leave the anarchist state Christiania
They also have a park large enough to have deer free ranging; and miles of horse riding trails. The highlight for me was visiting the Issak Dinneson museum: I have watched “Out of Africa” well over 100 times… and read many books about the author and her contemporaries. I never thought I would actually visit her home…
Her home; now museum
it turns out to be just 20 minutes out of Copenhagen. My first visit to Copenhagen was last year for 3 days. This year I got 5 days. This year we drove out through the farm country… their oh-so-wonderful European bacon is one of their biggest exports; and to the seaside, on a fiercely windy day, and felt the full power of the North Sea. I am very impressed by the dependable quality produced by this small, yet historically significant, longstanding, independent country.
Dubrovnik I have also visited twice: stop over visits on my way to and from Mljet… 6 days in all. I stayed in the ‘old town’:
up a hundred stairs on the north side of the city, by the city wall, in a 15th Century house. My landlady grew up in that house; and lived there during her early-married years. The house has been in her family for so many generations, they might have built it, she said. Her family house survived the 16thC earthquake, one of the few in the city.
A home with a long family history… and lucky. It was one of the few houses in the city not to have its roof replaced due to the bombings in the 1990’s. No cars are allowed in Old Town. One walks the narrow old streets like sidewalks. The stone steps and marble roads are worn smooth with the centuries.
The recent war; and pirates are pictured in the tourist shops. My hostesses’ name was Anne, her daughter was Andrea, and the person staying in the upstairs suite was Caroline! Stunning. Anne arranged for my taxi from the airport; lugged my bags to and from the north gate in the city wall; took me to the ferry for Mljet and met me on my return. I was just beginning to hear about the transition from Communism to Capitalism; of the Serbian army and its night march up the highway from Montenegro; about her anxieties for her children in a country, which has sold off all its industry to multi-nationals. Prices are rising; work is no longer guaranteed.
“Communism had its guarantees; Capitalism is unpredictable,” says Anne.
Montenegro was a must! Rex Stout’s main character “Nero Wolf” was born in the country and left fearing for his life… no family remained.
I have read these mystery books repeatedly; and Montenegro was an ‘ache in the heart’ the author only hinted at. My first and only tour I have ever taken was to take a day’s tour from Dubrovnik to Montenegro. I don’t think I blinked the whole day. I wanted to know why it was chosen as ‘Nero Wolf’s” homeland. So small and obscure a country, yet a dramatically noble one perhaps?
The country is tiny, has only 600,000 people, yet we visited 3 ancient, medieval towns… one with the longest ‘city wall’ in the world.
The city wall snaking up the mountain
We saw the hotel featured in the recent James Bond movie, “Casino Royale’. The shops in the old towns were different from Dubrovnik… there was more ‘style’. There were many dress shops… these old medieval cities of Montenegro are on the Mediterranean, and it is only 3 hours by plane from Moscow. Many Russians have condos and yachts in Montenegro, and visit often.
Boats in the harbour
Russian women are very stylish. I went to the farmer’s market in Perast and had ‘’’’’’’’’’’’THE! Best mozzarella cheese ever… freshly made… never have I tasted ‘fresh’ before. It was literally dripping in that ever so refreshing liquid left over from milk curd. I want to make that cheese!
One last shot from Montenegro
When I went to Cornwall,
I went to the furthest south west point near St. Ives, by the sea. (St. Ives is known as the Riviera of England. I wondered if it would be like the Mediterranean.) I chose to stay in the small town of Hayle. From Hayle you can see the “Lighthouse’ that Virginia Woolf had in mind, when she wrote her book “To the Lighthouse”.
As a child, she had lived within sight of that lighthouse. I had a small cottage; I ate Cornish pasties; in St. Ives I had real Devonshire cream with strawberry jam, and scones. The walls of the teashop were part of the foundation of a 16th Century house.
The walls of the tea shop
They have a ‘Tate Gallery’ in St. Ives… there was a time when artists were fascinated by the ‘light’ in St. Ives. The very small town of Hayley, just 15 minutes by bus from St. Ives was where the Industrial Revolution began… the first steam engine was produced in the iron works foundry. My little cottage was within walking distance of the foundry, and the town’s millpond.
I walked on the dunes for a whole afternoon. The long, pale grass in the sand; the sand cliffs; and the sea’s distant horizon were an archetypal pull. “The Lighthouse” was always within sight.
I am left with disparate images; and disparate towns and countries: Pleasant; picturesque; historic; and leaving a lasting impression. I am very pleased to have been to the Issak Dennison Museum…
Painting by Issak Dennison of Farrad
to have seen ‘the place’ where the author lived most of her life (It actually lived up to the movies’ portrayal!); and very pleased to have gotten to Montenegro… the beauty of the placed was as I was led to believe; the pain of its’ many wars was on the faces of the people. Like in Croatia people do not smile until they hear you speak; and know your origin. A character would be deeply etched by a life begun in Montenegro. And the lighthouse! I have now read the book and will read more novels by Virginia Woolf… her artistry in creating the lighthouse as a central theme, was as an ‘Impressionist’. These short trips gave me gifts. I am thankful to have had the opportunity. I am only sorry I did not get to ‘live’ the cultures, at least a little… to feel the deeper stirrings that only start to surface over time.