Coffee, style, history, fare bella figura, fine dining and excellent wine, art on every corner, winding shady streets, palaces and fountains. Beauty everywhere you look, and above all, light. There’s a moment, just before sunset, when the light in Rome becomes golden. More than a mere sunset, the air itself takes on a different hue, and bathes everything it touches in shades ranging from pearl to amber.
The first thing that hits you is the colour. There’s just so much of it about. Just imagine: one day you wake up and suddenly realise your house or business would look better in lime green and shocking pink. Well, there’s nothing stopping you. Meanwhile in this kaleidoscopic town, the kerbs are painted yellow, red, green and blue to denote different parking zones. It’s quite a shock if you’ve just arrived from grey Brittany in the northwest of France, where your parents had an alpaca farm. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…Read More
Sofia is full of unexpected surprises. Today’s city of 1.68 million people was but a small town of 11,000 when Bulgaria became independent in 1878, after 500 years of Ottoman rule, and the presence of a colossal quartet of Orthodox church, Catholic cathedral, mosque and synagogue in the centre bears silent witness to its colourful history as a crossroads of cultures, with a reputation for tolerance.
Two owls strike up a conversation on either side of the house – an altogether gentler sound than the honking of Canada geese flying overhead as they prepare to land in a nearby lake. In the distance there’s the faint buzz of a neighbour’s chainsaw, while the rumbling of a passing truck or train is carried by the wind from far below. But mostly, you hear the sound of the wind itself, whispering in the trees, but at times whipped up into a howling frenzy, accompanied by a chorus of yipping coyotes. Otherwise, all is absolute silence.
It’s early morning. You wake up to the smell of newly baked bread, and the cries of peddlers hawking their merchandise. Living right on the edge of the official economy, they ply the streets on foot or by bike, laden with bags or wooden boxes containing anything that’s worth selling. “Fresh garlic and onion!”, “Clothespegs, brooms and mops!”, “Bleach!” and “Mattress Mender” are among the most common cries.
Ask your average viewer of the news what comes to mind when you say “Syria”, and you’re unlikely to hear them describe a liberal, cosmopolitan city with an elegant Corniche, a rich culinary tradition, colourful markets groaning with fresh fruit and vegetables, and a 12th-century cathedral. Not to mention the castles, towers, artefacts and ruins of a whole palimpsest of civilisations, from Phoenician to Aramaic and from Canaanite to Christian and Islamic. What’s more, a city surrounded by virginal landscapes of undulating, forested hills, dotted with ancient ruins, and watered by sparkling rivers. But then again, perhaps your average viewer of the news has never seen, or even heard of Tartus.Read More