Simenon’s work features some of the most searingly genuine and true characters I’ve ever found in a novel. They can often be bizarre and are never bland but I cannot think of any that aren’t strickingly human. In seven volumes, Proust explored jealous love. Time and time again, Simenon captured a jealous lover in a paragraph or two.
Like his detective Maigret, we are led towards understanding a whole from a select few details. Not from analysis or minutiae; but from a selection of snapshots that reveal something deeper. Maigret’s investigative approach – to not have a method, to observe and understand – has struck a chord with me. It is how I most prefer to travel.
I don’t want to vaunt my way over others (I’m sick of reading prescriptive advice on anything so personal). I’d sooner berate myself for not taking full advantage of the opportunities I have had to travel. I ought to have visited more sights and attractions. But without fail, I chose to wander aimless and to soak up a new atmosphere in a cafe, bar or restaurant.
And as such, some of my trips have consisted of nothing more. I won’t claim the impressions I form are correct (they are always up for reevaluation). But I don’t always have the chance to stay longer and delve further. I must hope a day – or a few hours – is better than nothing at all.
A long time ago, I spent a weekend in Bregenz, Austria. We had flown to Zurich, Switzerland. We stayed in Lindau, Germany. And to round off the trip, passed through Liechtenstein.
The day in Zurich coincided with an event that saw the town overrun by people in black leather and other outfits of an acquired taste. We had just enough time to walk in a loop through the centre and the growing crowds. Our days in Bregenz were more productive, walking through the beautiful old town on the hill, strolling along the lakeside, enjoying the concerts and Aperol spritz. Lindau is an island town, decidely detached from the waterside for the most part. The port is guarded by wonderful statues but soon forgotten again once you turn towards town. Liechtenstein was quieter even than I had imagined, seemingly with more doctors than patients. The land is flatter than I expected, sitting on a plateau.
More recently, my amore and I went to Aachen, Leuven and Brussels in two days. Aachen I had passed through a handful of times before, each time neglecting to give it its due. Leuven and Brussels were known (somewhat) to my girlfriend. It is far from enough to discover a new city. It is however long enough to try some local food and local drinks.
Similarly, when I went to Austria via Fankfurt, I hadn’t quite anticipated the distances involved. But it didn’t discourage my firned and I from dipping a toe in Slovakia; which was a very refreshing surprise. I know I didn’t do Bratislava justice, but I’m grateful to have seen it if only briefly. With so much to see in this world, there is also so much to miss out on.
More recently, I traveled through Romania at breakneck speed. We had booked a flight to Bucharest and one back from Budapest thinking that 5 days would be plenty of time to cross the country. After a fun few days in the capital, we discovered it would take longer than we had expected. In Brasov, we had time enough to enjoy the Hollywood-esque sign, sample some local food and savour a glass of wine. Sighisoara we enjoyed with more leisure with most of a night lost in town, searhcing for a hotel and almost a whole day, braving the cold to see the fortress town. We only changed trains in Sibiu but our thre hours there were a revalation. They all made their impressions. A return trip will be in order.
17th March 2017
I finally found time to visit two friends of mine in Huelva this year. And for a change, my restless, ever-in-demand girlfriend was free to come with me. We both try to balance seeing our scattered friends and also travelling to new places alongside working full-time; so the oportunity for holidays together are few and far between. (This year, however, we have quite a few lined up. I wonder how we’ll manage…).
Now on the rare occasion we do travel together, my amore does not like me to organise trips. (She would probably put “organise” in speech marks). She is of a more coordinated, precise nature than me. But for some reason she allowed me to book our visit to Huelva.
Huelva does not have its own airport. The nearest are Seville or Faro in Portugal. “Great,” I thought, “we’ll visit all three.” Only after booking, did I find out it isn’t too easy to get from Faro to Huelva. From landing to the last bus leaving, we had an hour and a half. My girlfriend wasn’t too impressed.
But we landed early and caught a taxi the 5 minute ride to the centre. The marina was functional and the square next to it was charming. A group of school children were hanging out in the street. We had a coffee, pasteles de nata and I was able to charge my phone (another gripe of my long-suffering love).
We were on the bus soon enough. With time for me to tell her I didn’t know my friends’ address.