Category Archives: Travel

Gifts Received and Lessons learnt from Places I Love

So, along the lines of my current theme of Self Love – or rather, Radical Self Love, I am bringing you today a piece about some of my favourite places in the world. In my travels I follow my heart, and it is always right on the money. Here are some of my absolute favourite places in our amazing world, and here’s what I love about them.

Bali

With my old housemate Bazza from my Mallorca days, in the rice paddies north of Tabanan in 2018.

Bali is a magical island, a volcanic island where the volcanoes are active and ready to blow, and do relatively frequently. Along with the volcanic activity, there are sometimes tremors or minor Earthquakes. I felt these a few times when I was living in Ubud.

Here in Bali, ritual and ceremony are an ever-present part of life. Every second day, it seems like there is a ceremony going on somewhere, either marking the passing of life, or celebrating a special event on the Balinese Hindu calendar.

Most evenings, if you live in a smaller town or village, you will hear the haunting sounds of the Gamelan orchestra ring out across the rooftops, often accompanied by the very other-worldy chanting that is projected out through a loudspeaker.

The combination of the Gamelan music and the chanting transport me to another dimension. The music of the Gamelan, which is very monotone and free from melody, seems to be consciously designed this way to get you out of your thinking mind – out of your head and into another dimension. 

My biggest gift from Bali is always this – Spirit. I am constantly reminded of spirit to the point where I am living from that. I am reminded that spirit is where we came from and where we belong, and where we will return to.

Want to Join me in Bali? Come to my Radical Self Love Retreat!

Thailand

With Dharma teacher Marcelo and Tookata, teacher and caretaker of the Wat Kow Tham Monastery in Koh Phagnan, after co-facilitating with Marcelo at a 7 Day Vipassana retreat, at Wat Kow Tham, December 2017.

Thailand has given me many gifts over the years and over many visits. I would say my biggest gift from Thailand has been the teachings in Buddhism I have received at various monasteries there, including Wat Kow Tham on Koh Phagnan, and Wat Suan Mokkh, its sister monastery on the peninsula near Surat Thani.

Although there are dark sides of the monk culture in Thailand – IE, not all monks are true monks, there are quite a few instances where they break their precepts (monk rules to guide moral behaviour), in general, I love the flavour that Buddhism has given Thailand.

I love that wherever you are in the country, from the early hours in the morning, you will likely see a line of monks in their burnt orange robes doing their pindabat – the alms round collecting their daily food from their supporters.

I love that this reminds you every time that you see it that we are all interdependent. Apparently the Buddha made this rule for his followers, so that a mutually dependent relationship would develop with the lay community. The fact that monks are not allowed to till the soil and grow food, and they can’t have money, means that each and every day, they are living the lesson of impermanence or Anicca – all that arises also passes away. Each day they must ask for their sustenance to be provided for them through the beneficence of their supporters. This makes for such a beautiful interaction of giving and receiving that happens each and every day all over Thailand.

Thailand is one of the only countries in South East Asia which has never been successfully colonised by a foreign power. This says an awful lot about the Thai character – they are tough (if you need evidence check out a kickboxing match)! Thais are not to be messed with.

But at the same time, they are also very relaxed people. One of the Thai sayings that always sticks with me is ‘Sabai Dee’.

This is the Thai version of Chillax, girlfriend: take it easy. Have a coconut shake. The world will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

Something else I have learned from Thailand is delicacy of flavour and spice makes life taste better. In my opinion, Thais, along with the Japanese, are the masters of food. The complexity of Thai flavours never ceases to impress me, whenever I am there. Their interest in experimenting with everything is also expressed through the roasted insects that you find on the street there.

So en-light-en-ment – the magnificent teaching of the Buddha, and Spice – make it tastebud twisting tasty or just don’t bother.

France

‘The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to yourself’ – Michel De Montaigne. Here I am in the grounds of his beautiful chateau in Brittany. Up in one of his rooms was a mummified cat from back in Michel’s day. I guess he loved it so much he wanted to preserve it for posterity. Pic by my beloved friend Mercedes Socias Albaladejo. 2007

J’adore la France.

But it also has its downers. The people in Paris can be a tad haughty. A tad sexier than thou. This is the dark side Suave. A dash of suave, with the right style, and the right colour combination and the right wink can be enticing. But Suave taken to extremes – IE – I am just the most fabulous and sexy and exciting person you have ever met and as a result I am not talking with you letting along blessing you with my gaze – is haughty and sometimes just straight out rude.

But the French do have Savoir Faire – knowledge of how things are done, and Panache – a certain style of doing things. I love the recent film ‘C’est La Vie’ about a disastrous wedding where pretty much everything that can be fucked up gets fucked up – but everything is also somehow magically solved with a certain je ne sais quoi Panache – that French way of transmuting and transforming mishaps and mayhem into magic.  They must be alchemists!

France is also good at sexy. Along with Italy, it is the country where I feel most ‘womanly’ because there is a culture where men and women flirt openly and have fun and don’t take all of that too seriously. Sex is allowed and invited. France is not a prude. This is the stereotype, but I have also, in my various ‘experiments’ in the realm of sex and intimacy in France, found this to be the case. I was in France as a part of Operation ‘Why the Fuck Did He Leave me When Our Love Was the Love to End All Loves‘ otherwise known as ‘My Desperate Flight Across the World to Get the Truth and Nothing But the Truth from My Itinerant Troubadour Boyfriend’ and as a part of this experiment I chose to test out that hypothesis that one of my French friends in Barcelona told me years ago – that French are by far ze best lovers.

During that testing process, it is also true that I did nearly drown in the Basque surf, thanks to following a manic depressive French mathematics teacher down to Bayonne … but … that’s a story for another day (or, not, yes – or not!!).

Oh but, hmmm – I have already told that story. For any of you who have been following my work since the days of Global Yogi, you might remember it…! I think I called it ‘Adventures on the Wheel of Samsara: France’.

France has gifted me Style, Panache, Savoire Faire and oh, yes, Joie de Vivre!

I will never forget the bunch of amazing 60-something retirees who turned up one day at the local vegan piano bar I was frequenting (and playing tunes at times) in Siracusa and who literally lit up the whole room with their happiness.

French people are bon vivants – they know how to live well and to enjoy life, and in this particular case it seems the high jinks just increased with age.

Italy

Looking out across to Tunisia from my beloved Siracusa, Sicily, 2016

Well, where do I start – cosa posso dire?

Sono inammorata dalla Italia.

I am in love with Italy.

If I think of my favourite countries like my favourite lovers, Italy has gifted me with, more than anything – attention.

I feel seen and appreciated there, and not just for being my gorgeous self (yes, Self-Love system is operating well thank you very much!), I just feel seen. Perhaps because people are not afraid to look. There is not that Northern European or Anglo Saxon standoffishness and reserve there, especially, the further south you go. People are raw and real and embodied. They talk to you, and yes, invite you for dinner and coffee. And depending on the invitation you might say Si, grazie, or non grazie, ho un appuntamento… (I am not available).

Italy is one of my favourite countries. I am totally in love with Italy in all its incarnations but especially the South. And especially that island nearby Italy –  Sicily.

Similar to Bali, when I arrive in Italy, my heart just feels happy. Italians have this concept of  ‘bella figura’ which kind of translates as ‘looking good’. It is a style thing, a bit like the panache in France. It is important how things look in Italy, whether it’s your clothes, a cocktail, a restaurant table, your soup, your gelato, your escort, or otherwise. Bella figura is important.

From bella figura comes la bella vita – and this is also very important in Italy. Italians – especially Sicilians, know how to enjoy life. They know what’s most important, and that’s food, family and friends.

In Sicily I was always in sensual overload in the market in Siracusa, with its abundance of deep red juicy pomodori, in all shapes and sizes. I particularly loved the tiny ones and the kind of womanly, pear-shaped ones – the San Marzani. Each and every stall has piles and piles of them, which I literally just wanted to jump into and roll around in before eating them all. Then don’t get me started on the cheese. I am a vegetarian who has toyed many times with veganism but my dalliance with the plant-based life is sorely tested by the Giovanni’s (or was it Pietro’s?) deli in the market in Siracusa which generally has a line of people waiting to be served from early in the morning until late afternoon. 

This deli serves an incredible mother of a sandwich which has to be seen to be believed, and which is the reason why all those people are queueing up.  For only 6 euros, you get to co-create a focaccia skyscraper with the ebullient and effervescent owner of the deli, who helps you select from a vast array of delicious cured meats and cheeses, as well as delicacies like bell peppers stuffed with ricotta and luscious spicy and herb drenched olives.

You go there thinking you are ordering a sandwich, but you also get a dollop of Sicilian history (my Grandfather started this shop before it was a shop. Back then it was a piccolo vegetable garden behind da ‘ouse), a large slice of pure unadulterated charm (what lovely green eyes you have, bella), a sprinkle of Southern Italian food culture (this cheese – in the cellar for five years! …)…. And all the while he is piling on cheese, cheese and more cheese – he has to make up for the fact that I am not getting any cured meats! – and, though I would have tried my best to keep the cheese at a reasonable (read – not going to add ten pounds to my waistline with just one meal) level, I would always end up with at least 5 different varieties, from the ever present and obligatory soft, dusty Ricotta, the incredible stretchy soft white Vastedda della Valle del Belice, to fresh Mozzarella and graduating up to grate-able varieties like Provola and Peccorino.

What else?

I pretty much loved everything about Siracusa in Sicily.

Particularly the atmosphere every night when I stayed there (it was the height of summer) of a festa.

Each evening, at the time of the passagiata (the promenade, where people all over Italy come out and show their ‘bella figura’ to their neigbours, walking the piazzas in all their elegance and finery), I would wander the white stone paved streets of Ortigia and bump into many new friends who were so warm and welcoming I felt like I had know them my whole life. I might stop and sing a song with one friend busking on the streets with his guitar, and I may then continue on to the artisans street to chat with another, selling his handmade jewellery to passers by.

Something else I loved that in this tiny town of about one square kilometre (the old town of Siracusa which is on the tiny island of Ortigia) was that in this micro city there were at least five bars with pianos in them!

Amazing.

Most nights during the summer season, someone was playing the pianos. There was one incredible Sicilian pianist who had spent many years in the piano bars of New York, who regularly played a piano in the front bar of one tiny restaurant, and a few times I also played this one.

Oh, and let me not forget to mention my favourite Italian Yoga Retreat by far – Yoga in Salento in the heel of the Italian boot in Puglia, Italy. Yoga in Salento is both a yoga retreat and an ‘agroturismo’ – meaning, they have a whole entire fruit orchard, plus a bit veggie garden.

I loved this place so much I wrote a whole article about it!

And, I am hosting my very own Radical Self Love Retreat there in late September, which I have called ‘Divino Amore’. This could be the name I give to Italy – but for the moment, it’s the name of my upcoming and very first Italian Yoga Retreat!

From Italy I have received the gifts of attention – of being seen, and appreciated, of bella figura – it’s important that things look good!, of the sensuality and importance of food, and of warmth and friendship of the open hearted (particularly Southern Italian) people.

What are some of your favourite countries and why? I would love to hear from you in the comments!

xx