The Treasures of Antwerp Square

If you think about it, the Flemish mush have been very neat people. I say this because when I was in Belgium, each of the major Flemish medieval cities was structured in the same way. Be it Ghent, Bruges, Brussels or Antwerp – each of these cities, built during the middle ages, sprawls around one large main square which is surrounded on all four sides by important buildings built in a gothic architectural style. Each square in each city has a Town Hall, where decisions about the city were taken by the Town Major, important meetings took place, and where people even got married (and still do actually). There is also always at least one cathedral, usually sporting a very tall tower with a magnificently crafted large clock at the top.

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This is the Town Hall, or City Hall in Antwerp, also called the Stadhuis. It stands on the western side of Market Square and was built in the 16th century. Its facade is richly ornamented and quite impressive, decorated with various well-crafted statues. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually get inside the Standhuis because there was a private wedding taking place, and access was, of course, prohibited unless you were invited. So, we turned right around… to be confronted by the majestic Cathedral of Our Lady on the other side of the square.

 

Hauntingly gothic on the outside and beautifully baroque on the inside. I can never have enough of visiting Gothic Cathedrals! And no, I am not Catholic, it’s the art and architecture itself that I love. Those people invested everything they had in their cathedrals, it was the place where they went to dream and hope for a better tomorrow. In a world of misery, pain, and poverty, peasants had nothing else beautiful to look at. Imagine, even today, when we have all our geegaws, out plasma screens and hi-tech computers, when we all know how to read and write and are able to amuse ourselves, even NOW we are awed by these amazing gothic structures… now imagine people who have absolutely nothing – how THEY must have felt when entering a place of such incredible breathtaking beauty!

Anyways, hehe yes I love art and I love architecture.

 

Moving on, the Cathedral is full of paintings done by Rubens, the artist whose house I had visited just before (see previous post). And just look at that stained glass!

 

Oh and by the way, did I mention all those other historic medieval houses around the square? Today, most of them are restaurants and pubs, but they still contain their original magic. Imagine having a drink in a 600 year old bar!

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In conclusion – 10 points to Antwerp Square!!

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The Streets of Antwerp

Waking up in Ghent is an experience in itself. Our room at the B&B we were staying in, was only a couple of floors up, however the night before, I had purposefully left the curtains of the two large windows open, so as to be able to see the sun rising over the medieval streets. I say ‘we’, but I really mean me. The bf started grumbling as soon as the first shaft of light hit the pillow, so I had to get up and close the curtains, however (and this had been my intent all along) I took the opportunity to take a couple of photos before going back to bed.

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The cobbled streets were silent and deserted. As I watched the alley across our room, an early-bird (possibly a baker judging from his overalls) locked his house behind him, got on his bike and pedalled off to work. Cars, of course, are not permitted within the small historic streets of Ghent. Only bikes. And boats of course. Did I mention the fact that Ghent is full of canals? Like Bruges, some actually call it the Venice of Northern Europe!

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More of that later. After another short nap, I heard the landlady tapping at our bedroom door, signalling that she had left our breakfast tray outside. As I opened the door, the scent of newly-baked bread almost made me swoon (she later told me that she went expressly for it at the baker’s at around 5.30am each day – blessed lady!). There were pots of jam, some delicatessen items, hot milk, eggs (we could prepare them on our small stove in the kitchenette as we preferred), etc… I must say it was one of the best breakfasts I ever ate. Obviously compounded by the peaceful medieval view from the breakfast table! As we ate, we planned our day, which we were going to spend in Antwerp.

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Antwerp, another Flemish medieval city in Belgium, is actually a port city, and its port is one of the largest in the world, ranking second in Europe. Its origins date back even before the 14th century. It has a large number of historical landmarks, not to mention cultural ones, since the artworks created by its famous 17th century school of painting (not to mention other arts such as weaving), were sought after throughout the world. Unfortunately, we knew we would be unable to visit as many of the places we were interested in as we would have liked, since we only had one day to spend in Antwerp, however we fully intended to try our very best.

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After taking the train from Ghent to Antwerp, while leaving the train station, I was immediately enchanted by the beautiful flowering streets of this sweet city. Colorful flowers and plants flourishing in the warm spring sun, decorated every corner, as people from every imaginable country, ethnicity and nationality thronged the pavements. Shops sporting popular brands abounded, however to be honest I was more drawn to the tall medieval gothic-style buildings which majestically reared their sculptured facades right next to them! It seemed like there was so much to see! Everywhere I looked, the past sat right next to the present, and the mad cacophony of everyday life vied with the dreamy awe galloping through my senses.

Suddenly, incredibly, I heard a burst of classical music. It was a grand piano! Yes, right there in the middle of the street! A street-artist had somehow transported his enormous polished piano amidst all the flowers, gothic palaces and grand stores, and was playing a sonata as though his heart would break. Tourists, locals, and passers-by thronged around him clicking away madly at their cameras and mobile phones. Talk about live street-art!

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And we hadn’t even visited any of the places on our itinerary yet!

… more to come in a later entry!

P.S All photos are originals, taken by me on site.

 

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I don’t know how old I was, when I first became  aware of the bubble.

Crouched in a hollow darkness, I always felt as if I was enclosed in a sphere of shadows. A liquid-like transparent force creating a barrier between me and the rest of the world. In slow motion, I moved within it, out of sync with every one else. Almost matching… almost, but not quite.

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Maybe it was the terror, that harsh violent presence which made me stutter and hesitate, which first created the circular protective barrier. Or maybe it was the cruel indifferent light reflecting off everyone else which first brought it into being. For sure, my awareness of it only strengthened it. My shield. My cage.

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For a time, I believed it had gone. Disappeared with a pop. Finished. For a time, I thought I was here, un-veiled, un-masked, just like everybody else.

Of course, I was wrong.

My bubble is still here. It is dark, dank, comforting. Like an old musty blanket I can clutch around me and slap over my eyes whenever I see something which should not be. I am still here, in a way. But really, I am not. Because I do not want to be. I am not with you. I am not with anyone. And no one is with me. No one looks at me. No one wants to.

In the end, the bubble does not make that much of a difference after all.

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Visiting Blair Castle in Scotland

Blair Castle, found near the village of Blair Atholl in Scotland, is located between Perth and Inverness in Highland Pertshire. Being the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, and strategically located in the Strath of Garry, it holds an important place in Scottish history, both strategically and culturally. Whoever held the Castle was gatekeeper to the Grampian Mountains, and the most direct route to Inverness, which is also the reason why Blair Atholl itself possesses such a colorful history. It is situated at the entrance of Cairgorms National Park and surrounded by a magnificent backdrop of hills and forests. The village of Blair Atholl itself in fact grew up as a means of supplying the Castle, and lies at the confluence of the Rivers Garry and Tilt, 10 miles north-east of Pitlochry. Blair Castle is the focal point of the Atholl Estates, which once covered 350,000 acres, that is, 141,640 hectares of the Scottish Highlands. Currently, the estate lies on 145,000 acres, that is, 58,680 hectares, making it one of the largest in Scotland.

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Blair Castle stands on the ancestral home of Clan Murray, as it was historically the seat of their Chief. The first known structure to be built on the site dates at least to the mid-13th century, and the oldest part of the present Castle is known as Comyn’s Tower, which was built in 1269. This was commissioned by John I Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, who wasn’t even the legal owner of the estate at the time. Comyn was in fact a neighbor of the rightful owner, David I Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, who started building on the Earl’s land while this was away on crusade. When the Earl came back home, he found the interloper building on his land and complained about it to King Alexander III. The Atholls won back their land, evicted the Comyns, and incorporated the tower into their own castle.

In 1322, David II Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl lost his titles and estates after his rebellion against Robert the Bruce. The title was granted to a number of individuals until, in 1457, it was given to Sir John Stewart of Belvenie, King James II’s half-brother, as a reward for fighting against the Douglasses and Macdonalds. 

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The castle was engulfed in warfare once more in the 17th century during to so-called Wars of the Three Kingdom. At the time, the Murrays supported the Royalists, and this led to the castle being captured by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1652. These held possession of it until the monarchy was restored in 1660. In 1676, the restored King Charles II granted the title of Marquess of Atholl to John Murray, 2nd Earl of Atholl as a reward, and the 2nd Marquess was given the title of Duke in 1703 by Queen Anne.

During the subsequent Jacobite uprisings, the Murray family was divided as to its loyalties. In 1746, Lord George Murray, together with a force of Jacobites besieged his ancestral home in an attempt to regain possession of it, however before he could succeed he was ordered to retreat in order to fight elsewhere, at the Battle of Culloden. This was the last siege to take place on British soil. Afterwards, Lord George Murray went into exile and later died in Holland, George Murray, his oldest brother, died as a prisoner in the Tower of London, and James Murray, the 2nd Duke of Atholl, resumed residence of Blair Castle.

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James Murray in fact later inherited the title of King of the Isle of Man via his maternal grandmother. The title came with a huge income and properties, which helped fund his project of transforming the medieval castle of Blair into a grand Georgian mansion, tearing down turrets and castellations, in order to create a more fashionable residence. The 3rd and 4th Dukes also prospered, and the grounds around the Castle too were transformed and improved.

In 1844, Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, visited Blair Castle and stayed there for three weeks, during which the Queen granted the Duke of Atholl permission for the founding of the Atholl Highlanders as a private army. This is today the only private Army in Europe. During the First World War, Blair Castle was used as a Red Cross hospital. During the Second World War, the Castle was used to house a displaced private school and a number of evacuees from Glasgow. Blair Castle was one of the first private houses in Britain to open its doors to the general public, which it did in 1932. The 11th and current Duke of Atholl visits each year, while the Blair Charitable Trust runs the day to day management of the estate.

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Blair Castle is the focal point of a breathtaking historical landscape. Its extensive parklands in the impressive magnificent Highlands are set in a number of walks and trails, and the grounds themselves form part of superb woodlands. There is a deer park and pony trekking center close by, as well as a woodland adventure playground for young children. One can most easily arrive at the Castle through Blair Atholl village. Once one passes the handsome gates, one can use the visitor’s car park to the east of the Castle, from which one can choose to explore either the gardens first, or the visit the castle itself. If one chooses the castle, this is reached by crossing a small pleasant footbridge over the Banvie Burn and walking across a large open area.

The first room one sees as one enters the castle is the 19th century entrance hall. Two storeys high, with wood panelled walls covered by muskets, swords and shields, the Great Hall is truly a picturesque experience. Crossing the main hall, across the vaulted ground floor, the Castle tour continues with a grand total of 30 other rooms. These give a rich and varied impression of Scottish life over seven centuries, and give visitors of the castle the opportunity of understanding not only the way the Dukes and Earls of Atholl lived, but also historic customs and traditions.

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One of the most spectacular of the Castle rooms is surely the Tapestry Room, which is hung with Mortlake tapestries, once owned by King Charles I. The Victorian ballroom is also impressive, with its display of 175 pairs of antlers. All the rooms are filled with iconic period furniture and fine art, including a number of Jacobite relics, Masonic items, fine porcelain, and collections of weapon and lace. The present dining room was built during the 18th century. 

The six-storey Comyn’s Tower is the oldest known part of the Castle, dating back to 1269, although it was later re-modelled in the 5th century. In 1740, the 2nd Duke transformed the medieval structure into a stylish Georgian home, removing the turrets and applying fashionable Georgian finishings. 

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Some of the rooms at Blair Castle are in use today for a number of ceremonies and events. They can be used as conference venues, for private dinners, business functions, corporate meetings, special receptions, and even weddings.

Beyond the Castle itself are its grounds and gardens, which flourish over 145,000 acres, and most of which were laid out in the 18th century. To the north of the castle is Diana’s Grove, home to some of Britain’s oldest and tallest trees, while to the east one can find the famous nine-acre Hercules Garden.

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My article on Blair Castle was published on the Polish website castles.today. If you wish to read it in its entirety, please click here.

PERSONAL – December Ups and Downs

This has been one roller-coaster of a month. Plenty of highs and lows. So, in a nutshell:

During the first week of December, me and my boyfriend went to Sicily for a short 4-day break. You can read the first part of how that went here, but I’ve still got to continue writing about the rest of the trip. You might ask yourself – why is she taking this long to write about a mere 4-day long trip? The point is, I love travelling – I am simply enchanted by the plethora of emotions, new thoughts and ways of perceiving the world which open up whenever I set foot in a country different from my own, with ‘exotic’ mentalities, colors, history and trends, SO I actually don’t find it that easy to describe it all when I come back, because there is just SO MUCH TO SAY! In fact, if you look through my past posts, you’ll realize that I’ve never actually sat down and documented each and every one of the places I’ve traveled to – simply because there are so many of them. However I told myself I’d make an attempt with this 4-day Sicily trip just to see how it would go. Anyhow, there you have it, still to be continued. And don’t worry, it WILL be, all in its own good time.

Got sidetracked there. Sorry.

On our last day in Sicily, I woke up suffering from some serious back-pain. Sciatica to be precise. The pain extended down to my left leg and I could hardly walk. Needless to be said, the last day was the climax of our trip, as we had planned on going for a jeep-trip up Mount Etna… you think I flunked that? AS IF! I still went. Hopping and wincing and dragging my sorry carcass up the whole mountain. And boy, was I glad I did!

More of that in future posts relating to the actual holiday.

We came back on the 12th. Tuesday 13th was a local Public Holiday so I didn’t have to go to work, and spent the whole day in bed resting and hoping my back would get better. It didn’t. On Wednesday, I went to the doctors’ who gave me pills, painkillers, and the advice to get MORE rest. So, that was the second week of December – which I spent in bed sleeping off my pills.

Luckily for me, the pain retreated, and I was okeyish for the weekend. This was important since my birthday was on Saturday 17th, and I knew that my boyfriend had planned the whole weekend with events for me. That is what we do – I plan stuff for his birthday and he plans stuff for mine. We spent some days meeting friends and family, and I really enjoyed that. Kudos luv! Not to mention that one of the pressies I received is a nice voucher from Ryanair to be redeemed by November 2017! Yay!

On Monday I felt a bit better and so went back to work, taking a large cake with me for my colleagues in celebration of my birthday. The cake was in fact so large, that we are still eating from it (we are a small department). And today is the 27th! During the third week of December we also had our ‘official’ Xmas party at work. The food, I admit, wasn’t anything spectacular, HOWEVER I did make up for it with alcohol consumption… enough said. Unfortunately this also meant that I was too tipsy and suffering from a hangover to actually do my Yule ritual. Ah well, I’m sure the Gods didn’t mind all that much since I celebrated with libation anyways.

On the 24th I cooked and slaved the whole day to prepare an enormous family dinner. Family members came late, and I was quite angry about that, but it was ok in the end and the food was a huge success. We still have our fridge packed with delicious left-overs. On the 25th we ate an enormous Indian buffet, after which Aunt Flo came to visit, and actually floored me. I had to stay home and rest to cope with that, so I missed another family gathering in the evening.

I’m so so tired of eating… AND YES my weight has gone up again! Frankly after noticing the first 3 kilos, I stayed away altogether from the bathroom scales… they scare me.

January will come soon enough, and then it will be time to face the music all right!

 

A Writer’s Satisfaction

I must admit, researching and writing interviews is not my favorite form of writing. Of course, I do love the opportunity to meet new people and discover different modes of expression, not to mention taking part in the artistic local scene, since most of the interviews I conduct usually center around either artists or cultural events. However, some part of me still feels that this is not the sort of writing I’m meant to focus on.

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Still, it brings me great pleasure to see how my interviews are so very well-received.

My two latest interviews were totally different in nature. Both resulted in quite different, yet very pleasant results. The first such article, published on The Sunday Times of Malta, which is a leading weekly local newspaper, centered around a Japanese Cultural event in Malta and included an interview with the Secretary General of the Japanese Association. As a result of it being published, the Ambassador of Japan to Malta contacted me personally, asking for a soft copy of the article, in order for it to be shared and distributed among various Japanese cultural associations, as its fervor would further promote the communication between our two countries. I was really flattered about this! Imagine Japanese organisations, Ministries, and many other people in Japan will be reading my article! 

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The other interview which was published a couple of days ago concerns a local painter and was published on EVE magazine. The artist in question is not very well known, yet he was so pleased with the interview that he left the following comment on EVE’s website, which I really appreciate:

‘I’d like to thank Melisande Aquilina, for this fantastic article about my love towards art. She has done a really excellent job. I feel tremendously grateful towards her talent as a writer. Melisande is giving a great contribution towards persons like me, whose work is hardly known. This is a great day for me, thanks to you Melisande.’

Thank YOU!

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The article in question can be found here – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/12/04/benny-brimmer-painting-in-light-and-shadow/

The interview which was published on The Sunday Times is unfortunately not available online as a whole.

Things like these are what really make my day!

 

Travelling Bucket List – Natural Wonders around the World!

Being both a list-maniac and a globe-trotter means that I have a never-ending bucket list of places I want to visit and countries I want to travel to.

Technically it’s not a list, because it’s on an Excel sheet, so I guess you’d call it a spreadsheet. Anyways, this plethora of monuments, ruins, heritage sites, palaces and religious places has one particular special section entitled Natural Wonders. And as the name itself specifies, it concerns those spectacular vistas, amongst which are forests, waterfalls, mountains, caves, and deserts which were created solely by Mother Nature, and which, for the most part, remain untouched by man.

This part of the list is extensive, and I’m sure many more target locations will be added to it in future. Dreams, like stars, are infinite. Here are some of the places I wish to visit, and journeys I hope to make someday. Of course, dreams never take practical issues, like money or time, into account, so I don’t actually know when, or if ever, it’ll be possible for me to go there. Still, one can always hope!

The Aurora Borealis – This is not, strictly speaking, a place, and yet there are many places where one can admire it. The Northern Lights have been something I’ve wanted to experience ever since I was a little girl. My mind knows that, scientifically, it’s a phenomenon which takes place when there are “collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen.” And yet, the thought of a naturally-produced light show sounds truly magical. Sometimes referred to as Polar Light, this sky display can be admired in different places such as Alaska, USA,  Northern Canada, Northern Russia, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

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The rest of this article was published on EVE.COM.MT and can be read here – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/11/17/natural-wonders-around-the-world/ 

Feeling Intellectually Snobbish

I guess one should be grateful about Plebs trying to write in English. People say it’s the effort or the thought that counts, and not the result – they say it when someone loses a competition or gives a lousy present, so I guess, seeing people whose written English is just so terrible, trying to make an effort, should give one a bit of hope right? At least they are TRYING to write.

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And yet, the conjugation of the verbs, not to mention the turn of sentences, or lack thereof really, are so bad – that I end up wondering. Wouldn’t it be better to just resign yourself to the fact that your English is terrible and that you are just not capable of writing, in English at least, instead of pushing yourself, and others, to suffer through that horrifying syntax? It’s torture really, especially when you’re a voracious reader tenderly minding your own business, and suddenly there it is. Like a freezing squall surprising you out of nowhere. Like a sudden punch in the face. Those bloody sentences which go nowhere, the lack of auxiliary verbs, the mixing of the past and present tense. And don’t let me start about the vocabulary. Ugh.

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Yes, I’m kind of a language Puritan. What can I say? Would the term ‘Grammar Nazi’ fit? Perfectly I’d imagine. Oh yes, I make mistakes, especially when I’m typing using some itty-bitty mobile keypad, or when I’m distracted. But making a typing error in a status or a hurried comment is one thing, while actually publishing a whole article without even bothering to edit the bloody thing, is something totally different

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For Pete’s sake, one can even do that with the auto-correct function these days!

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Ugh, yes rant over.

And THIS is why I hardly ever read local amateurish stuff.

PLEBS

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My Secret Fear

Are you afraid of old age?

Ever since I can remember, it was not the thought of death which really terrified me, but of actually growing old. The thought of not having complete control of my body, and not being able to function in a self-sufficient manner, has always been a nightmare. I hate depending on others and being a burden, and the knowledge and certainty that someday, this time will arrive (if I do not die young that is), has always terrified me.

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When I was nineteen, my grandfather, who was a writer, a poet, and a very intelligent man and whom I loved very much – had a stroke. He ended up in a wheel-chair, was not able to move the left side of his body at all, suffered from incontinence, and had to be lugged about, washed, cleaned, and taken care of by his two middle aged children and their spouses in order to survive. Day and night. Every day. For years. He begged us to let him end it. Twice, my mother found he had dragged his wheelchair to the window and was trying, ineffectually, to jump. Since assisted suicide is illegal in Malta, and since we didn’t want to let him go, we aborted his attempts. He suffered immensely for two years. And then, he had another stroke. A worse one, which caused him to actually forget who we were. I don’t even want to go into the agony I felt when my grandpa, who had been so independent, witty, and wise, who had survived the war and taught me to love books, reading and knowledge – didn’t even know who I was.

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Anyways, after four and a half years of terrible pain, my grandpa died. I know that for him, this was a relief.

My grandma, his wife, is currently over 80 years old. She suffers from severe arthritis, can hardly walk, is almost deaf, and blind from one eye due to a botched cataract operation. She is lonely and misses my grandpa a lot. All she does is cry, swallow her pills (she has many of those), and pray. I love my grandma, but I know she is waiting for death. And that terrifies me.

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It terrifies me because when I look at her, I see myself, as I will be, in some fifty or so years. It seems far away now… but time is short and flies quickly… and someday, that part of my life will arrive…

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It does not bear thinking about…

 

Confession! Sorry dear bloggers!

FINALLY a moment of peace! Been so busy these past few weeks! In a good way though! Lol actually in a VERY good way.

And here I must admit to something. Something which actually I am not ashamed of, since it makes me reflect about how amazing my life really is. The confession is this – unfortunately this blog is not a priority in my life. Shocked? Well it’s the pure truth. Yes I adore venting and communicating random feelings and thoughts here. I love making friends and i’m flattered by the numbers in the stats section which show the popularity of my little random tit-bits of writing. Yet these past few weeks have made me realize how much is actually going on in my life and cherish the fact that I have so many vibrant priorities to continue fostering.

What have I been doing? Well apart from finally travelling extensively within the Scottish Highlands, the Hebrides and Scotland itself and enriching myself in the process, I have been writing like mad, taking amazing photos in order to hold such memories forever, updating my home and abode and also getting more and more writing commissions… which apart from being fun to research and write, are also starting to bring in some concrete cash (more than the usual tiny sums I mean).

You may notice that I referred to writing twice. This is because mentally, i tend to divide my writing into 2 different categories. Creative writing and commissioned writings. I enjoy them both but in truth it is creative writing which lets me give vent to my imagination and inspiration. After all, this is what writing is all about! And as another writer once said ‘A writer HAS to write’ (referring to Lucy Maud Montgomery) – it is not something one does to follow some agenda, have followers, or appear in the lime light. A writer cannot NOT write if you get my drift. About everything. Every day. Which is why i feel that this blog is not a priority. I never publish any of my pieces here – not the original real writings which reflect my heart and soul. That’s because there is no real copyright on publicly hosted blogs. I also actually rarely put on articles which i have written under commission, and when i do i always paste the original newspaper or magazine link too. So, after all my creative writing + commissioned writing (more and more such jobs are cropping up lately), I admit that I hardly have time to dedicate to this blog. Though sometimes, like today, i actually glance in here a bit 😜

Going back to my latest travelling adventure – each thing learned, historical place visited and experience made, only served to further inflame me, birth new ideas and inspire more writing. All is stored up in my head and heart for now, but will come out soon enough! P.S all the photos interspersed throughout this post are ones I took in Scotland.

And of course, all this emotion, passion, curiosity and fascination with life, is all wrapped up together with my love for my soulmate. That all pervading, mysterious, funny, ever-growing love, which makes all the days and nights so much richer. In the end, what can be better than seeing and travelling the world? Doing that with the one you love of course! And what can be better than writing? Writing while knowing that the one you love is there, in the next room, waiting to cradle you in his arms and kiss your lips when you are done. 

So, confessions apart, if you are reading my blog – this is what you will get. The wild meandering crazy thoughts of a girl who’s too busy and mashed up for comfort, but who nonetheless is prepared to offer an honest and clear-cut opinion and perspective. Not in an effort to attract attention or appear as something she’s not, but in the pure desire of being herself and reaching out to like-minded creatures.

P.S For those who were wondering, though I did sail on Loch Ness, unfortunately, Nessie was not to be seen 😛