We’ve fallen in love many times. Had flings near and far. But there can only be one true Valentine – one country that snatched our heart and will never let it go.
It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was everlasting love. Brazil, winter, 2003. My level of excitement was high – I was going to South America for the first time! From the air everything had looked fantastic: on the way there I saw icebergs floating in the ocean and a glacier as we traversed the mighty Andes mountains. Approaching Rio de Janeiro, our pilot gave us a grand tour, skirting the beachfronts of Ipanema and Copacabana then curving round Sugar Loaf Mountain into Guanabara Bay. I felt another shiver of excitement as I spotted the statue of Christ the Redeemer in the distance on Corcovado mountain, holding out his arms in welcome. I was about to touch down in a land of wonders.
On the ground, it felt different. Brazil was in the economic doldrums. I was in awe of its natural beauty but saddened by the urban shabbiness. It was culture shock – I had been cocooned in the first world for too long. But as I began to unwind, I forgot about the bad points and began to fall for its charms. Instead of squalor, I saw sparkle, beaming smiles and happy faces. I loved the diversity of the people and the vibe of Latin culture. I marvelled at men and women in their 60s and 70s playing beach volleyball and dancing on the sand in their skimpy swimming costumes, regardless of their flabby thighs and bulging bellies. How often do you see such joie de vivre in other countries?
The holiday was awesome: romantic nights in coastal resorts; sorties into cool mountains and rainforests and into the urban jungle of São Paulo. The two weeks on the north-east coast were glorious and carefree: long drives in beach buggies on the sands, snoozing in hammocks under swishing palm trees and having lunches at tables and chairs half immersed in the sea. High on the dunes of Genipabu in Rio Grande do Norte, as I was gazing across at the city of Natal, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, as if I was being kissed on the cheek by someone who should have been the love of my life but fate would not allow it. Back in Rio, I became totally depressed at the thought of leaving.
Brazil is my Valentine. It changed my life: it inspired new passions, helped me shed my shyness and put a sparkle in my eye. It launched my travel writing career and opened so many doors. For every trip elsewhere I have done since, it has been the catalyst. The love story continues: my goal is to visit each one of Brazil’s 27 states and territories, and I’m about halfway there. And by the way, Genipabu and I have been out on another date. It went well. Might do another one soon. I’ll keep you posted.
It was a frisson of recognition, not a bolt of lightning and shaky knees, that made me fall in love with Namibia. When I landed at Windhoek international airport and looked out the window, it was the vast landscape stretching into infinity that welcomed me, not a city as the airport is over 40km from the capital. The overwhelming sense of space and arid emptiness left me gasping in anticipation.
It was a long, slow seduction, partly because I knew I was there for a year and nothing needed to be hurried. But it was also the sheer scale of the country with its delights spread out from the oldest desert in the world to Africa’s largest salt pan, Etosha. I became lovestruck by the springboks who pirouetted across my heart, the magnificent gemsbok who entranced me and the cheetahs, those most elegant of cats, who became my totem animal.
It’s been many years since I visited my love, but I know this unchanging and ancient land will hold my heart until next time.
Wandering the Parisian boulevards, sipping coffee, people watching, evening strolls along the Seine and, of course, drinking champagne! The longer and more often you visit Paris, the better it gets – a speed date that turns into a long, slow, languid love affair.
My most recent trip had me feeling very Parisian indeed. We stayed in a studio apartment on the Left Bank, a stone’s throw from Notre Dame Cathedral. The apartment had a cosy, stone cobbled courtyard, filled with lush green plants and a large, heavy wooden door that separated us from the crowds outside and reduced the hubbub of the city to a low murmur. It was bliss – a real sanctuary in the heart of the city. We sipped wine and nibbled baguettes, cheese and saucisse in our little oasis. I was in heaven.
We were the Flâneur and Flâneuse wandering around Paris, our pace was slow, leisurely. Beautiful gardens beckoned. The gorgeous Jardin du Luxembourg, created in 1612 – 25 hectares of French and English gardens with the Medici fountain and lovely Orangerie. We relaxed on the green chairs that surround the pond and basked in the sunshine like lizards, taking in the warmth, the sounds and the smells. Watching children push their vintage wooden sailboats around the pond, reminding me of a bygone era.
If it’s long time between French champagne in Paris, I live vicariously through French Film Festivals and literature, immersing myself into the stories and landscapes – I am there, in my head and in my heart.
For more information on romantic Paris, visit the Official website of the French Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For more inspiration, go and see a wonderful French film at the largest French film festival outside of France, visit Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2019 in Australia
I loved you long before all those other floozies appeared on the scene. I gave you my heart when you were nothing but a tiny fish in a gargantuan ocean. I heard your soft and sensuous call, and I came to you, Maldives.
I remember the first time I set eyes on you. You were the most exquisite thing I’d ever seen, a string of emeralds cast out upon a sheet of blue satin that shimmered in every direction as far as the eye could see. As I came closer, I saw that you were more than just a palette of green-and-blue: translucent waters ringed your islands like turquoise halos; reefs kept the indigo ocean at bay, reigning in the breakers’ foamy embrace as it lunged in your direction. You were a miracle of nature written upon the sea.
I remember our first touch. The sensation of silken sands between my toes, of your salty breath in my hair, of your heat caressing every part of my body. You loved me too, Maldives. You held my hand as I peered into your soul, seeing what you were really made of: bright corals and reef sharks and palm trees and atolls where people lived out their charmed lives. I sunk into your aquamarine waters, and as you embalmed my skin in your liquid embrace I felt we had become one. I swung from the tendrils of your banyan trees and thought you would never let me go.
Your fling with me lasted just a week, Maldives; but my love for you has never dimmed in the two decades since I last saw you. You’ve changed since then, I know. You’re no longer that little minnow cast upon remote and unknown waters, an unpolished gem just waiting for love to come along. You’re a big fish in an ocean that’s shrunk to nothing as the world has grown smaller and people have learned where to find you on the map. You’ve dressed up for new lovers, changed your style for them, flaunted yourself and languished unashamedly in the glow of their adoration. You’re a celebrity now, and though I long to visit you again, I fear it will sully my memories of that glorious love affair we had all those years ago.
For more information go to visitmaldives.com