There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all
Beatles “In my life”
Last night I was thinking about love. I have been happily in love with the same person for over 10 years – and when I say ‘happily’, I mean it. After having built a house, giving birth to the son and planting numerous trees, there is still space for the flowers, candles and dinners. So the only disadvantage of being this fortunate is the absence (or rather the ordinariness) of Valentine’s day. Such an ordinariness that I managed to schedule my doctor’s appointment on that day, with the full support of my husband. Oh well, we can have our chocolate fondue any other day, right?
But with all the red and sparkly agenda pouring out from my Facebook screen, I cannot stop thinking about love these days. I am a person falling in love easily and passionately, and having already used my capacity on falling in love with men, I fall in love with places instead. And when I think about my love for some places, I realise that the feeling itself actually is very similar to the usual romantic love – lightheaded-ness, elation, almost ecstatic happiness at the first sight of a place after a long parting. And the dark side of love too, how else without it? The pain of parting, the longing, the unwillingness to acknowledge corruption, dysfunctional sewage system, inefficient municipal policies and other problems.
The biggest inconvenience (or a tragedy, if you are as drama queen as I am) of loving several places is the same as with loving several men: at some point you realise you can’t have them all, you will have to chose one. And your heart breaks a little.
Let me introduce you to my sweethearts.
Hathersage, Peak District, United Kingdom
Hathersage is a little village on the edge of Peak District. It is only a 20 minute drive from Sheffield, where I lived for a year. It consists of a dozen of typical English stone houses, a couple of pubs, a great outdoor swimming pool and a souvenir shop. It is a great starting point for all the Peak District hikes, especially to Stanage Edge, which is right next to it, or further to Ladybower Reservoir.
Maybe it was because I grew up with “Wuthering Heights” under my pillow, but when I first saw the fields of heather and grey skies, I felt so much at home I wanted to cry.
In the souvenir shop of Hathersage you can buy a mug with the text: “I’d rather be in Hathersage.” Since I saw this mug almost 10 years ago before leaving the region for good, I catch myself so often thinking exactly that: “This is all very nice, but I think I’d rather be in Hathersage.”
Pavilnys, Vilnius, Lithuania
My current stable relationship. I was born in Vilnius and spent all my summers in Pavilnys at my grandmother’s house. Pavilnys is a district outside the city, originally built as a dwelling for the railway workers and a summer villa district. The villas grew old and shabby and even more charming with time. When Vilnius expanded, many people realised that Pavilnys is just a 15 minutes drive from the city centre and built their houses in this district. Including myself.
And Vilnius in general is the proper love of my life. A town, which I know best, with all its beautiful corners, cozy cafes, pieces of forest in the middle of the city, but also imperfections, corruption, sometimes outrageous policies. This love is of a familiar kind, where you would spend most of your time ranting about the bad things, but in reality would not trade it for any other place.
Notting Hill, London, United Kingdom
This one is a kind of first love, as Notting Hill was my first experience of living abroad. I went there to work and stay with my cousin for one summer when I was 19. I got a job in a cafe called S&M, without actually knowing at that time what S&M stood for (in this case it was Sausage and Mash, in case you don’t know it either). Every day I walked to my workplace all the way along Portobello Market, the exact route Hugh Grant walks in the movie “Notting Hill”.
And as it usually is with those first loves, it got imprinted in my memory in all the small details, so I can still describe the smells, the colours, the senses. Which I won’t do now, just take my word for it. But every time I get out of the bus or the train in London, I relive this feeling again and again.
Tel Aviv, Israel
You see no picture here not because your browser failed to load it. It is because I have not actually been to Tel Aviv in my life. But love has no reason. You can hang a poster of a singer on your wall and adore him, right? This is me and Tel Aviv (who does not even know I exist).
Seriously, it started some five or six years ago, when I began noticing different photos, articles and stories about Tel Aviv and loved each of them. I read about this city and talked with people who lived there or have been there and I loved what I heard. It felt like if there was a town planned specifically for me, with all the details, it probably would be Tel Aviv.
Last spring we went from Vilnius to our friends wedding in Jerusalem. I felt butterflies in my stomach looking at the tickets with magic code: VNO-TLV. The plan was to spend half day in Tel Aviv, and then continue to Jerusalem, but we changed it last minute and decided to head straight to Jerusalem instead. The butterflies disappeared, but I also felt slightly relieved. What if I would have not liked it? Or liked it so much it would break my heart to leave?
Stay tuned, some meeting will be arranged sooner or later.
Margaret Bridge, Budapest, Hungary
I lived in several places in Budapest. One of them was a street called O, and another – my favourite 8th district. I liked Budapest, and then disliked it, and then liked it again. It became a second home after Vilnius, where we go several times a year to visit family and friends.
But when I think of butterflies, I always imagine one place there: the middle of Margaret (Margit) Bridge, where the tram stop is. Always at night, so you can see the black water of Danube under your feet and the lit up Parliament and Buda Castle on your left and right. This is for me the essence of Budapest, which I first saw when I was 13 years old and Mark – when he was six months old.
Strasbourg of Spring 2011, France
My friends reading this are probably surprised to see Strasbourg on the list. I am known for expressing my dislike towards this European capital. But it was not always like that.
I first came to Strasbourg in January 17, 2011 for an internship. I stayed there for three months. In the middle of March a sudden heatwave came and everything bloomed at the same time: lilacs, daffodils, tulips, cherry and chestnuts trees, and the most amazing – magnolias.
I have never seen a city as beautiful as Strasbourg, with those canals and boats, unique architecture of Petite France quarter, the cathedral, narrow streets and Orangerie park. Of course I was in love – it was the most perfect place, where I was doing the most meaningful work, surrounded by the most amazing people.
Once my colleague was driving home with a friend, and offered to give me a ride home. I was looking through the window at all the beauty, getting lost in my happy thoughts, when suddenly a phrase caught my attention: “Magnolia is only beautiful when it blooms. After that it is just a tree with leaves.” I didn’t give this phrase too much thought, but remembered it for some reason.
Of course I tried my best to stay in this paradise, but at that time I did not succeed. I had to leave Strasbourg on 8th of April 2011. I took an overnight bus to Budapest, and it was probably the most painful night I ever had (at least giving birth was easier). I sat on a bus and felt each kilometer of the road away from Strasbourg like a physical pain. If I would be a character in a book, here the narrator would say something like: “And when she got off the bus in Budapest one night and 10 years older, her heart was shut for Strasbourg forever.” I actually love the drama, so I will leave this sentence here, even if it is not a book.
I came back to Strasbourg soon enough after that to live there, but it never bloomed again. It remained just a tree with leaves.
Opera House, Oslo, Norway
Oh, this was very unexpected! I was on a work trip, and we had a couple of hours to explore Oslo with my boss. We walked around and found it nice, but not too impressive. Then suddenly the Opera house appeared, and it was the most beautiful building I have ever seen, inside and outside.
The Opera House is built at the head of the Oslofjord and looks as if it is floating between the sky and the sea. It has so much air inside, but also feels warm because of the wooden panels.
If you have not seen it, do plan a visit. The opera tickets in Oslo can cost a fortune, I know, but even if you are not that much into opera, you can still see the building inside and admire its lines outside. And when I will come into possession of some huge sum of money, I am planning to spend it not on the opera, but on the ballet performance there.
The Baltic Sea in Lithuania
When I was little, I used to ask my mum: “What is your favourite colour?” And she would always reply: “The colour of the sea”. Having only seen the Baltic sea at that time, I was always surprised, why she choses this grey-brown dark shade, when there are many bright and beautiful colours, like blue and green. Only later I realised that the sea can be turquoise, and this was the colour she also meant.
But of all those beautiful seas in the world, the Baltic sea has magic powers for me. Whatever bad thing happens, going to the sea and whispering it to it has somehow helped me. Once I faced a particular dirty situation: let’s call it unwelcome sexual advances. It is something many of you I know have also experienced, so I do not need to describe how dirty that makes you feel. I longed for walking into the sea after that and when I did, it made me feel clean and light instantly.
Try it yourself. In this case the Baltic sea was so much cheaper and faster than a shrink. The only problem is that you can catch a cold so easily.
(cover picture of Ana and the Merry-Go-Round is by Dovile Dijokiene)