Monday, 16 March 2009


AACHEN When I saw the road sign – Achen/Aix-La-Chapelle – I immediately wanted to pull off the motorway and go in search of Charlemagne’s city. But it was dark, it was late, and I was on my way somewhere else.

AIGUES MORTES I have been there and I bought a postcard of it. The postcard has had a more lasting impression. It shows a mounted woman bullfighter on a horse, chasing her quarry through the streets. It leaves me believing that this is a very lively town, in spite of its name – and the evidence of my own eyes.

ALBANIA For so long it was a forbidden place, just a purple stripe, like dawn on the horizon, seen on the ferry from Italy to Greece. Ismail Kadare is one of my favourite writers: a paragraph about a boy smoking his first cigar in Chronicle in Stone is redolent with the exoticism of travel. Reading Kadare is the best way of finding out what has gone on inside that forbidden strip.

ALENTEJO I want one of their wide-brimmed black hats.

ALEXANDRIA I know it only from books. I was in the front row of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia when Emma Fielding (playing Thomasina Coverly) learned that the great ancient library in Alexandria had been burned down. Desolate, she threw herself on the floor and I found myself staring into huge, tearful eyes that stared back into mine. I know how she felt. We are all upset when we first learn that the great library in Alexandria burned down. I am glad they have built a new one now.

ALTAFULLA A dot by the sea near Tarragona. The winter here was full of sunshine and colour. We gave the houses a new lick of whitewash and gloss paint. Titan was the only brand on sale, and the doors and shutters on each house at the Bond Beach Villa Club were painted in one of its four colours: blue, red, green, and yellow. At the time, these were the only colours in Spain.

AMSTERDAM Here, for the first time, I learned you could put fish in a sandwich.

ANTIGUA In this noble Guatemalan city of chocolate, cakes and good breakfasts (especially at Café Colonial), a man in a three-wheel vehicle turns the corner at a slow pace, and watches, resigned, as his front wheel falls off and clatters across the cobbles.

APERLAE On the Lycian coast, our yacht pulled into the creek where sarcophagi rose from the clear water like boats ready to take their passengers across the Styx. On the shore 2,000-years-old pottery shards crunched beneath our feet.

AQUILEIA Mosaics on the cathedral floor are as startling as this major Roman port, and they made me think I was the first person to discover them.

ASWAN A vision of optimism: early one morning a fisherman was rowing by our island, about 20 metres from the shore. I waved and he waved back, calling out “Backsheesh! Backsheesh!” like a gull’s weary cry.

AVEIRO The portrait of The Blessed Joana of Portugal in the Convent of Jesus is so lovely and serene that I made a shrine to her, copied from one by a Greek roadside, to house my travel souvenirs. Anyone can put an item in it and make a wish.