Sometimes there is simply nothing to be said, and everything to be seen and felt. Such was my experience as we drove along the lake from Lausanne to Vevey, home to Mathias and one of the most beautiful scenes I have laid my eyes upon. On the right, the savoy alps diving into the lake. On the left, the steep stairs of the vineyards (this human accomplishment has been awarded the Unesco world heritage).
Sometimes it is simply the feeling in the air and the resonating mood that a time and place create. Such was Gruyères, where we stopped for the night. I was immediately taken with this medieval town, shrouded by mist and inhabited by vagrant cats. For dinner we dined on a grand feast of fondue (we were in Gruyères after all) and fell asleep to the trickling of the fountain outside the window.
In the morning a blanket of fog covered the landscape as we toured the Château, a walk into eight centuries of architecture and history. In complete contrast to the grandeur of the castle, we delved into the fascinatingly twisted mind of HR Giger, the Swiss artist famous for creating the effects for the film Alien. He bought one of the old houses in which he showcases his unique style of sexualixed surrealist visions, extending this imagined world into his Alien-style bar next door. I did not want to part with this mystical town but it was time to return to the lake.
In the early afternoon I arrived in Bern, the capital of Switzerland, in time for lunch with a Zurich local who I had met in Hanoi many months ago. Bern is a tiny city of 130,000, considered one of the most charming in Switzerland. unmistakably the sandstone buildings create a uniformity of green. The perfectly preserved medieval street plan, with its arcades, street fountains and clock towers persuaded UNESCO to deem Bern a World Heritage Site. What I found most appealing was the Paul Klee Museum, a grand edifice constructed by architect Renzo Piano. Klee is my most revered artist and reason enough to come to this city where he spent much of his life. After many hours lost in the fascinating mind of Klee, I was met by a friend from long ago with whom I had shared many travel adventures. And now our Swiss chapter was about to begin…
The rain was falling in Geneva and I decided it was time to head to the mountains. Four hours aboard a train winding deep into the snow-peaked mountains, destination Zermatt, one of the great skiing and climbing centres of the world. Stepping into this mountain village, nestled in a deep valley surrouned by Swiss peaks, dominated by the gracefully curved point of the Matterhorn, I felt a replete calm. In this place so far removed from the world there exist no cars or congestion, merely a tranquil scene of ski-bound pedestrians amidst the barns and chalets leading into hidden cobbled streets.
I had heard much about Geneva from Swiss friends and all those who had traveled to this city of prosperity and elegance. I was most impressed with the old part of the city, where time (as precise as it was) seemed to stand still. Amidst the cobbled streets only the placid sounds of water flowing from a fountain could be heard, mixing with the occasional ring of a church bell. The air was crisp as I spent many hours walking around the lake, gazing at the mountains beyond the grand industrialization looming in all directions. One afternoon I took the street car to Carouge, the Mediterranean style village in the middle of Geneva. I was lost in tranquility. At least for a moment.
Due to the train strike (who would have guessed the strikes go on for weeks!?) Bartosz and I rented a car to drive North, I was headed to Lyon and he to London via Paris. The adventure continued as we drove straight into what felt like the twilight zone, from a blue sky into a snow storm!! Perhaps it was one of those moments shared between friends that will never be understood by another.
I have long desired to drive along the path to Sainte Victoire, the mountain apparent in much of Cezanne’s work, 444 oil paintings and 43 watercolors to be exact. It was my persistence and slight pleading that led us to the mountain as we exited Aix-en-Provence which in the matter of less than 24 hours I introduced to Bartosz who I know would find it as warm and inviting as I had. As the mountain loomed in our presence I experienced one of those rare moments in life when all rational thought dissipates and you can only feel with your heightened senses…
I have always been curious about this modern version of a medieval town, filled with yachts and terraced cafes, appealing to those desiring to enter a scene of wealth and glamour. When we arrived the town was sleeping. But undeniably charming with its pastel colored facades and cobbled streets leading to a night of over-priced cocktails with the locals who keep asking where have all the jet-setters gone, and a morning of fresh pastries and fruit markets. My regard for Saint Tropez is quite high in the low season. Perhaps one day I shall experience the other side.
Bartosz and I decided to head south, as it was one of my most loved scenes in all of France and there was more to discover. And Paris was getting cold! In merely 5 hours we found ourselves in Cannes via the most efficient TGV train. (Now is not the time I will mention the endless train strikes I encountered in my brief time in France !!) Needless to say we did not meet any movie stars or attend any film premieres. There is something to be said about experiencing a city that has resigned for the season. There we found the little bit of sun that we were in search of. And another adventure began!
Upon returning to Paris I met Bartosz who had come from London for a brief encounter with this city and the places that had become so familiar to me in this, the French chapter of my journey. We spent the weekend walking from the Louvre and it’s collections to Montmartre with it’s views…
On my last night in Amsterdam I had the privilege of attending the preview of the Affordable Art Fair (if you can consider art under 5,000 euro affordable), the first year of this exhibition which I attend annually in NYC. Mirre and Marieke joined me for a wonderful night of art and play, running into our mutual friend Gijs, a small world indeed. Our night concluded in a local pizzeria before a long bike ride back to Mirre’s…and a return via train to Paris…
Sunday was a perfect day. After a proper dutch breakfast of pancakes and sprinkles, Bram took us on his boat all along the canals for a grand tour of the city, in the crisp fall air. For dinner we met Mirre and friends before heading home through the red lights and calm waters. The following morning Bram took me on another tour, this one via bike. We spent the morning at the flea market searching for treasures, lunch in Chinatown and a visit to the Stedelijk Museum where Warhol entertained us for hours.
I had last been to Amsterdam for the Millenium nearly 8 years ago. What fond memories I still had of this adventure with Karen, Brandy and Anna. How young we were! It was that long ago that I had seen Bram. It felt like no time had gone by as I was most warmly greeted by my favorite dutch boy and his darling girlfriend Marieke. We were soon joined for the weekend by Tomek, a friend from Krakow who I had not seen in many years, who arrived from Brussels, and Mirre who I know and adore from the time of Buenos Aires, a local who recently returned home. At Mirre’s recommendation we dined at Eleven, a very cool dining venue and equally hot spot for after dinner drinks and dancing. Somehow I ended the night carousing the red light district with Bram and Tomek…quite a varying set of lights than what I had been so accustomed to in Paris.
I am living on Rue Saint Saveur, near to Rue Montorgueil, a lovely pedestrian street in the 2nd Arrondissement. These streets speak of a deep history, an experience much like living within the walls of a museum. Often I do not understand these whispers in the air as French remains a language I struggle to decipher, mostly with eager optimism, though there are moments when I feel a bit lost amidst the many French peculiarities, both cultural and verbal.
I have indeed found a beautiful life here, having met many people such as Alexandre and Stephanie, friends of Delphine’s with whom I spend many moments wrapped in conversation (somewhere in the middle of English and French), Beatriz who lives next door, Gaia and Caroline with whom I am sharing a flat, two artists filled with a unique passion for life. And I cannot forget to mention Minka the cat, a most pleasant companion. Paris has become my school, as I spend many hours bicycling along the Seine, willingly lost in the streets of the Marais and St-Germain, studying French, speaking with anyone who will have the patience to listen…most of all this experience has become a lesson in life, as I continue to discover the inner workings of my mind and heart.
I arrived to Paris into a world of art! my Parisien life began with a grand tour of the heart of Paris, through the cobblestones of the Marais, into the natural tranquility of the Luxembourg gardens and the grand presence of the Louvre, my most venerated church of St Eustache…is there any place more beautiful than Paris in the Fall? For the moment there is not. My dearest Delphine was here from Jerusalem and together we admired the new collections at Christie’s followed by lunch at Cafe de Flore, after which I headed to FIAC to see the contemporary work from the many places in the world I have most recently called home. At the Pompidou I spent an afternoon with Giacometti, a most comprehensive insight into his life of art. The tour continues to the Grand Palais with Beatriz, a darling girl from Brazil, where we indulged in Courbet…there remains much more to see, savour and learn as my life in Paris evolves…
“Slowly in the morning, not too quickly in the afternoon”. Such is the pace of life in the Luberon region, the true heart of Provence. My journey began in Lourmarin, one of the most charming villages in this part of the world. There I found a small Provencal market filled with local lavender and handicrafts, a not so small castle, and winding streets in which to lose yourself, which of course I did.
From there I entered Roussillon, a landscape of ochre cliffs in brilliant hues of reds and oranges, illuminated most majestically by the late morning light.
I arrived to Aix-en-Provence in the midst of the rugby chaos, as France was playing against New Zealand in nearby Marseilles. I thought I would be safe in the charming little city of Aix, but it seemed to be most densely populated with fans of this sport I was mildly intrigued with. Had it been tennis I would have most fervently joined in the revelry! It took a few days to settle and find a home, (I will spare the details in between) but soon I was living within this maze of fountains and history, walking the streets of a city where Cézanne spent so many years of his life, drinking cafe au lait in his local haunt, a place where he, Emile Zola and the many artists of their time would disect their ponderings for hours. My mornings were spent in the sunshine, walking through the fruit and vegetable market, followed by the flower market…followed by a stop at a boulangerie for a pain au chocolat…slowly my French was improving as I met locals and found most creative ways to express my thoughts in a language that I am determined to master.
I was eager to reach Aix-en-Provence, a place I would call home, at least for a week. This is where my french lessons would commence. On the way I stopped in Nice, on the Cote d’Azur, for a visit to the museum of a most revered artist of the South of France, Marc Chagall. A lunch of fine art and french wine, two things I value dearly in life.
I once met the Prince of Monaco (true). He invited me to tea at his palace (not true), but why not stop off in this royal city-state enroute from Italy to France. In all honesty, I was eager to gamble and where better than in Monte Carlo? That is also not entirely true, though I did find my way to the Paris Casino where I made a little money….which soon afterwards I lost (those damn machines!). I must admit it was a night well spent!
As Lisa returned to the normalcy of life in NYC and Sooji ventured to Barcelona, time was now my own and I decided to remain on the Italian Riviera. A short stop away from Santa Margherita I embarked on the village of Monterosso, one of the five villages of Cinque Terre. Hidden in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean, I had discovered paradise. A day on the beach with my thoughts and a myriad of fond recollections…followed by a day of hiking through the most breathtaking vistas my eyes have seen (at least in this part of the world), followed by another day of the beach. A sunset upon the calm of a turquoise sea in a land far removed from anything that resembles reality is not easy to part with.
In Portofino we were joined by Lisa’s boyfriend Lele and his business school colleagues for a weekend sailing regatta. Italy is no doubt best experienced with the Italians, and we were fortunate to share this time with Lele and his family from Rome. The 4-course meals coupled with wine continued with this most gracious family, in a setting of warmth and royal splendor. Perhaps I was Italian once…or hope to be in the next life.
As this was Lisa’s most awaited holiday and Sooji and I had at this point become professional travelers, we planned a few days in Venice, one of the most unique, romantic (and touristy) cities in the world. We also ventured via Ferry to Murano, the island of glass, where we learned the fascinating process of glass blowing. I now have a new admiration for the art of glass! There is no better place than Venice to become tangled in the cobblestones and canals with two of my favorite girls in all the world…
It is time now to write the chapter of Italy, where Sooji and I reunited with Fabio and my dearest Lisa joined from NYC. The privileged life continues! Upon arrival to Milan, Fabio was the warmest host and we immediately felt at home in his grand apartment that was evidently well suited for three female visitors. I dare say he did not want us to leave! Aside from my cold caught between the air of Krakow and Hamburg, and Lisa’s undeniable jet-lag, we had a fabulous time indulging in long evenings of pasta and wine, and afternoons of Gelato and more wine…
On Sunday we joined Fabio for an afternoon drive to Lake Como where we were invited to a picnic. After Fabio demonstrated his skill at water-skiing, we sat in the sun and basked in the ‘art of doing nothing’, something that has clearly originated in Italy.
The Berlin wall divided the East and West for 28 years, from the day construction began on August 13, 1961 until it was dismantled in 1989, following several weeks of civil unrest. The fall of the Berlin wall formally concluded on October 3, 1990, paving the way for German reunification. In the years of Germany’s separation, up to 1,245 people had been killed trying to flee East Germany, which in recent years has become a place of opportunity for people from the whole of Germany. It was fascinating to walk along this historic division of freedom which forever stands to tell the story between East and West. Thomas, a talented photographer adding to the creative energy of a new Berlin, joined us on this reunification tour of the city.
I arrived in Berlin mildly rested after an all night train ride from Krakow. This inbetween time of reflection is indeed sacred. Upon arrival I met with my friend Manuel, who most graciously took on the role of tour guide. I was so pleased to learn that Marc, one of my oldest friends from the teenage years of doc martens and indie rock, was in town for several weeks. I had heard so much about the energy and movement that was filling the streets of Berlin, what an incredible art scene was thriving, how much spirit filled the newly liberated East…and in fact I was well impressed with this ‘work in progress’ that was Berlin. Much of my time was spent in Mitte, the rather chic part of East Berlin, home to many of the galleries. My days in Berlin were spent biking with Manuel from east to west and back again, Often meeting with Marc for a pint in the evening, after a hearty meal of shnitzel.
Back to my beloved Krakow where I met with Jimena from Buenos Aires. Naturally, a tango was in order! Jimena is on a journey of her own, and most serendipitously our paths crossed. Together with Ola we shared many memorable moments, soon joined by Sooji…
The day began in the manner that all days should begin, with a massage. (Dream or reality?) My body was then ready for a little yoga on the terrace, as the sun welcomed me with it’s late summer glow. For breakfast my mom and I filled our palates with raspberries in the garden. Yes, life is good! Nature was beckoning and along with Dagmara we took a long walk into the woods. We reached a grand rock upon which my grandparents inscribed their initials so many years ago. The peace in the woods is truly immeasurable. For lunch we had a date with my eldest aunt Aleksandra who prepared quite a feast.
After lunch we headed to Sanok for a little shopping and preparation for a visit from my mom’s friend of long ago Elizabeth and her brother, a respected and accomplished composer and poet, Wojchiech Rybicki. It was a full and rousing day. And now for a moment I shall sit beneath a sky illuminated by stars, in gratitude of the wonder and warmth surrounding me. As tomorrow I temporarily part with these woody paths for the cobblestones of Krakow…
As I so fondly recall my childhood in Poland, so many endless summers spent outdoors, playing in the haystacks, finding refuge in the depths of the woods, creating worlds that only a young and curious mind can understand. At one with nature. so too have my cousins Dagmara, Michał, Ewa and Julia found a home in the wilderness, creating a world very much their own, composed of branches, twigs and rocks and great imagination. The line between fantasy and reality exists outside my doorstep.
I arrived to Sanok to the warm embrace of my dear mother who I have not seen since my departure so many months ago. There is nothing like the feeling of home. Bykowce lies in southern Poland, not far from the town Sanok where my mom was raised with her 6 siblings and where I spent much of my childhood. My aunts, uncles and several of my many cousins remain in close proximity, and there is much activity and laughter filling this ancestral air. Our ‘villa’ is tucked away beneath the woods, designed and built 13 years ago by my mom and her brother Grzesio who lives here with my aunt Gosia and their daughter Dagmara. It is a beautiful life filled with simple pleasures. When my uncle is not healing the sick at the hospital or at home, he escapes to the woods to hunt, sometimes joined by another uncle Eligiusz, a forester. My hunting consists of picking berries in the garden while the rooster crows…I find refuge in the solemnity of the woods, the same woods where the Jews were saved by the local peasants during times of war, so many stories lay upon these lands…in this time which is told by the rising and falling of the sun, I have found quietude.
Krakow is one of my most beloved cities. the main square is perhaps the most charming in all of Europe, lined with cafes and eateries, the sounds of a street musician in the distance mingling with the clanking of a horse and carriage upon the cobblestones… Time seems to flow at a slower pace in this old capital of Poland, once the home of kings and queens, drawing great scholars and artists from the entire world. It is fascinating to experience this city which so eloquently connects tradition with modernity.
My dear friend Ola lives in this cultural mecca and we had a wonderful time catching up on all the beautiful stories of our lives…wandering the mysterious streets of the Old Town and Kazimierz…breathing in the life that is uniquely Polish.
My return to London was eagerly spent in one of my most loved vicinities near Bond Street. It was there that Sarah welcomed me to her mews on Wigmore Place, perhaps one of the quaintest of streets in all of London, or so it became for me. Several days wrapped warmly against the chill in the air, Saturday spent at Portobello Market (more vintage shopping!) followed by an afternoon of pints with Bartosz, Sooji, Azfar and Sarah…lunch with Aga and Peter in their lovely flat in North Acton..and several afternoon teas on Marylebone Lane.
Every morning I wake up in Asia and take the ferry across the Bosphorus strait to Europe. Istanbul is the only metropolis in the world which is situated on two continents. Once called Constantinople, this city is deeply steeped in history, having served as the capital city of the Roman Empire (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empire (1204-1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922). This city is filled with colors, cats and sights that are simply breath-taking.A mosque in the lovely neighborhood of Ortakoy.
The Underground Cistern was known as the Basilica Cistern during the Roman period. After the conquest of the city by the Ottoman Turks, it was forgotten of and nobody knew that it existed. Re-discovered in 1545, it was used to water the gardens of Topkapi Palace. Today it has an eery and mystical ambiance with fish dancing in its waters.
The Hagia Sophia, built by Justinian between 532 and 537, is widely regarded as the masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral ever built for more than a thousand years, until the completion of the Seville Cathedral in 1575, during the Renaissance.
The Blue Mosque, one of the most impressive structures in the world! According to legend, Sultan Ahmet I wanted to have a minaret made of gold which is “altin” in Turkish. The architect misunderstood him as having said “alti” which means “six” in English. The architect fearfully asked “am I going to be beheaded?”. Luckily, the Sultan Ahmed I loved the minarets. Prior to that time, no sultan had a mosque with 6 minarets.
Cappadocia is unlike any other place in the world, and I have seen many! It all began with the eruption of several volcanoes whose residues became prone to successive erosions through wind, rain and variations in temperature and began to take myriad forms. In time a series of earthquakes in the Goreme region increased the impact of erosion. As a result this magical land was formed, consisting of a vast array of ‘fairy chimneys’ resembling mushroom caps. Ihlara valley reveals many shelters, churches and monestaries built into these rock formations, home to a dozen civilizations beginning with the arrival of the Christians in the 4th century. A world that is beyond the realm of my imagination. Walking amidst this volcanic terrain of minarets, cones and spires I had the sensation of living within a dream. The dream continued when I awoke in a cave dwelling with sweeping views to this mystical rock landscape.
The history of Ephesus dates back to 2000 B.C., a famous city of 250,000 inhabitants, a place of festivity and celebration for the many skillful artisans and wealthy merchants. Ephesus was founded by the Amazons and later conquered by the Ionians in the 11th century B.C. Artemis, the goddess of abundance, was believed to have ruled over this land that is now considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was incredible to experience this rich history, walking amidst fragments of this venerable civilization.
In the land of Karakaya, an 800 year old village named for its dark rocks, shining silver in the moonlight, lives a man named Musa. As we ventured to this land, we were invited to share its secrets upon our chance encounter with Musa who became known to us as Moses. Captivated by tales of his life as an archaeologist and prophet, a conversation in Turkish translated by Emre, mingled with phrases of French to my delight, his world became ours for a timeless moment. Ela too became enchanted with this wiseman. With his eyes and his heart he spoke, ‘love and friendship will make the world go on.’
Every morning I wake up to the turquoise calm of the Aegean Sea, in the village of Turgutreis on the Bodrum peninsula. This is the summer home of my dear friends Karen and Emre and little Elanur, the most adorable Turkish American baby I have so quickly grown to love! The first 3 months of her life she is spending summering in the Hamptons and Bodrum, quite a privileged life! Needless to say Ela and I have bonded in the last few days as I learn the many lessons of motherhood. Yesterday Karen, Ela and I ventured to the Greek island of Kos for a little tsatziki. These paradisic days are spent on the beach, swimming, boating in these tranquil waters, dining on grand turkish feasts of meze…in warm reminiscences of many years of friendship in a life that continues to unravel much like a dream.
On July 29th the London skies shone bright and blue, providing the setting for a most happily spent birthday. In the morning Bartosz and I feasted on a gluttunous breakfast at a cozy farmhouse followed by a stroll through the Columbia Street flower market, many quaint antique shops and cafes and a bit of vintage shopping on Brick Lane. I have discovered the countryside in East London! As evening drew near, I caroused the Bond Street vicinity, shared a tea at a lovely Morrocan cafe with my darling cousin Aga and met with friends for a grand dinner at ‘The Garrison House’, a charming pub near London Bridge. To share in this celebration of a life I value deeply, were Bartosz, his brother Rafal and girlfriend Joanna, Micheal, Aga and Peter, Ben who I befriended during the Bali chapter, Brandy and Sarah my dear friends of many years…on all accounts it was a beautiful day!
London feels like home, ever since it first entered my heart many years ago. My reunion with this charming city began in East London, the home of one of my dearest friends Bartosz, and continued on Bond Street with a private tour by an Aussie Londoner, Ian. These London days were illuminated by the elusive sun, many hours spent wandering these once familiar streets…my nights were quite short due to weary jet-lag. Thankfully the pub culture begins at an early hour!
My return to Tokyo proved to be another 2 days and nights of carousing, this time with John who I had last seen as we raised a glass in Rio. His journey was to begin as mine continued. Our night began in Roppongi, where the heartbeat of Tokyo is felt on every corner. Following a sushi feast we found a suitably tacky karaoke bar, and there began my attempt at singing the classics. Another whisky please!! John was a natural! Upon a restful slumber in my Ryokan I spent the day shopping in the Shinjuku district where John and I met once again after viewing this magestic city of lights from the 59th floor of the Park Hyatt. After many failed attempts to enter one of the dozens of private clubs which seemed all too enticing, we made friends with the locals over several games of darts. The morning sun beckoned us to inspect the catch of the morning at the Tsukiji fish market. In the manner that my first night in Tokyo had begun several weeks ago, so it was to end. Over a 6am plate of the most incredible fish I will ever have the pleasure to savour!
The following day I encountered the majestic Himeji Castle, nicknamed “White Heron” due to its white walls covered with white fireproof plaster. The castle took 8 years to build beginning in 1601, rising atop a hill called Himeyama, 45.6 meters above sea level. Himeji Castle is famous for it’s huge main tower as well as the highly effective and complicated defensive maze-like design. It stands fully intact and preserved, as it is one of the few castles in Japan never to have been attacked by warfare.
It was time for a spa adventure as I jumped aboard a highly esteemed Shinkansen train and found my way to the hot spring resort of Shuzenji on the Izu Peninsula. Named after the local temple, Shuzenji was founded 1200 years ago by Kobo Daishi (Kukai), one of Japan’s most important religious personalities. After being filled with such intense sights and sensations, the steamy waters of my onsen felt like heaven!