The Drama Chef

Prose – Travel – Recipes

Category: Travel

Vienna!

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Beautiful buildings wherever you look. Palaces and mansions and theaters and more palaces. Art nouveau facades, statutes, big parks, old trams, openness. Welcome to Vienna.

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It’s windy and cold, so wrap up, we are going for a walk.

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It’s not the big sites, the most famous monuments, the most hip bars that make a city what it is. It is the small details that reveal the mentality and the temperament of people. Like the traffic lights. Beautiful, playful, full of care.

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Like the Christmas decorations. Shuttle lights wrapped around the naked trees, glittering in the dusk.

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And the small alleys. So close to the city center, but so calm and despised by the masses of tourists that were drowning Vienna during the holidays. Let your map down. Let your lists at the hotel, let your articles on what to do and things to see. Just for a day.

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First snow in Vaud

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“How old is she?” “83 or 84, I can’t really remember anymore.” “And she lives alone up there, all alone?” “For more than 20 years now, right after the divorce with her second husband. She rented out her flat in Lausanne, she gave away most of her clothes and furniture, took 2 suitcases, 2 trains and there she was, at the village of her childhood summers.” The train is sliding around the vineyards that are soaked in rain; yellow leaves still linger on the vines. Not for much longer now. Dreamy châteux now and then, below dark cloudy skies.

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The smell of coffee, the silence of the wagon on an early Saturday morning. Old passengers reading through trashy free-press, paper bags of croissants, the smell of capucinnos dusted with cocoa powder. Swiss train life. The fabric of the seats a bit worn out by the bodies of passengers, hundrends and hundrends every month. We change to another train, they check our tickets again, greeting in French and German, just in case, changing to English if you don’t reply, move or smile. We go through colourful forests, stip hills, bridges, small chalets. Autumn postcards, wherever you look.

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She is waiting for us at the train station. Glasses, woolen scarf and matching bonnet, heavy brown coat, winter boots lined with fur. Unchanged and steady, the woman I used to thread as a kid. She gives her hand to Paul first, bonjour, echantée monsieur, all the kind words she has been performing all her life. She looks at me with an examining eye, scanning my clothes, my hair, my posture. In the end she smiles and hugs me, a short hug, a little tight and tender-to my surprise. Age must be softening her up. We walk to the chalet following a path at the banks of the small river I used to splash in as a kid. She doesn’t talk much, she’s walking ahead, Paul is glancing at me, I smile and make faces to him. We arrive.

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Spinalonga

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“The good old times, they say. When people were dinning under candle light, marrying once for ever after, had no mobile phones or computers. The good old times, when they had no antibiotics, vaccines, access to education, information. But I guess that’s not such a romantic thought now, is it?” he said, looking at Spinalonga approaching us, as the small ship was happily sailing, full of tourists. The tiny island floated on the zephyr sea of Crete. Small houses in the colour of sand, surrounded by a high wall. A fortress on the highest point, some pine trees too, breaking the monotony of the golden colour of dust. It looked like an abandoned resort, charming, quiet, exclusive. Difficult to grasp that it used to be the exile island of the damned.

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Balos of Crete

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“Watch out!” The warning came too late. I was already sliding down the hill, the sharp small rocks cutting in my flesh, desperately trying to hold on to the small plants on the sides of the path. Looking like a bug that flipped by accident and was sliding on its back, helpless. After 5 meters or so, I finally stopped, my white shorts all red from the dust, my skin scratched and sore, my hands bleeding. “I told you not to wear flip-flops” was all she said, passing beside me, not offering a helping hand or a word of compassion. Ahhhhh, mother!

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At the very west point of Crete, on the very last day of our vacation. Balos. A magical natural reserve, leading to a beautiful lagoon.

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Summer of expats

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The moment I enter the plane, I feel free. It’s like the heavy burden of all the winters of my life is lifted from my shoulders. The gray clouds that darken my head evaporate, the fog that covers my emotions disappears, my dormant blood starts pumping in my veins again. My skin becomes crisp and joyful, my eyes regain their sparkle, my voice gets louder, my hands move in big rounds again while I speak. Motion and life return to me, the civilised neutral mask I wear at work, while going to take the train or doing the grocery shopping, breaks into a million dark pieces and falls on the floor like dust. I’m me again, as I left me back home last summer, I am picking it up from there, as if another year hasn’t passed, as if it was just a gray, brief moment that is gone forever.

Summer people. Sand. Wind. Sea. Blue. The waves and the salt, the dry yellow crisp grass, the smell of pine trees in the sun, music floating in the air. Barefoot again. On the burning sand, on the grass, on the hot concrete, on the wet stones. Sun cream. Ice cubes in café-frapé. Beer bottles with slices of lemon stuck up their necks. Octopus. Burned shoulders shinning on white hard hotel sheets. Flip-flops that will barely survive this summer and will blister your toes. Small boats flying over blue, blue waves. Blue. Again and again and again. The first day I go swimming after a whole long year, I run and jump in the sea, I kiss the water, I drink a bit too. It burns my throat, my eyes tear, I am home, I am home.

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Swimming in Bern

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I come out of the train in Bern, the warm air hits my face. People run around me holding groceries and suitcases, pushing kid’s strollers or eating a sandwich on the way to their train. It’s been unaturally warm in Switzerland on the last days of August; most people look fed up with the heat. I love it.

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Vejer de la Frontera

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A high green hill, covered with small white houses. The road going up is narrow and full of turns. It got even narrower when we got at the village, the car’s side mirrors almost touching the houses’ walls. Houses which were painted white, forming a labyrinth. Gardens full of flower pots, blasting with colour, hidden behind blue and green doors. Palm trees at the main square, a mosaic fountain decorated with frogs. Arabic coffee and pastries.

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Troglodytes in Purullena

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“Stop!!!” she screamed at me. I almost got off my lane, the car’s wheel turned sharply when I jumped in the driver’s seat. “What the hell?!” “Stop, stop, please!” There was an exit from the motorway in 100 meters, I flashed and pulled over. I stopped the car, my heart still pounding. “I saw something in the valley, it looked like Petra, please, let’s go and have a look” she said in a soft voice, her eyes not meeting mine. It wasn’t the first time she almost got us killed by shouting “stop!” out of the blue. Sometimes it was a village, sometimes a bridge, sometimes a beach. This road trip in Andalusia was turning out to be more dangerous than I’d have thought. This time it was a troglodytes’ neighbourhood, some miles away from Purullena.

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The rock of Gibraltar

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Let me take you somewhere you have never been before. Up on a rock which stands next to the sea, green and magnificent. No, we are not alone here and we’re just uninvited guests. That’s their home and we’re intruding, so be kind and quiet. But beware, for they like to harass you when you least expect it, jump on your back, pull your hair and steal your jacket or your camera. This is the rock of Gibraltar, their rock, and they’ll do what they want.

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The Seas & Dunes of Tarifa

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The smell of the sea. The Atlantic on the one side, the Mediterranean sea on the other. Surfers, flowers, dunes, dolphins, whales. Helicopters flying over the sea at night, scanning the dark waters with bright lights. Deserted tapa bars. Fishermen. Palm trees. Welcome to Tarifa.

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Under Swiss skies

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“You know, sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t quit my job. The pregnancy came as a surprise, and I wanted to keep her, but I shouldn’t have quit”. Pause. She is smoking, staring at the lake. The beer is getting warm on the table, birds are singing in the background, the sun reflects on the lake. I am sitting next to her, I am staring at her profile, at her eyes that are restlessly moving, barely ever meeting mine. Our shoulders meet, it’s the first time our bodies touch for so long; she did not move, I did not either. The very first time I feel her warmth.

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The colours of Scotland

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He took my hand in Ardross Street and held it tight for long. Petals were covering the paths, my eyes kept looking low.

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He told me his land was the land of myths and thrills and beasts and castles; all I could see was sun and spring. His eyes were glowing bright, his voice was fierce and mighty; was this indeed the land of myths and thrills and beasts and castles?

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