A missed turn in Transylvania on the way from Miklosvar to Viscri lead onto a forest track. Heading NW (or so we hoped) early spring leaves of birch & oak, plum & apple blossom lined the road as we followed a river. We passed some children collecting wild strawberries, a one–armed horse and cart driver, some campers with their beers cooling in the steam, many steep cart tracks leading into the higher forest and a coal burning camp.
These are medieval villages and many are not much changed. The Romanians are ploughing potato patches, ready for seeding by May 1st. The houses often have a brightly painted exterior and internally each has a yard, stable, barn & kitchen garden for fruit & vegetables. The villagers are forest foragers as well, collecting mushrooms, chestnuts, berries and tending hives.
Our favourite breakfast has become yoghurt with honey, bread & butter and soft boiled eggs. There is no slow food movement here, it is just slow food preserved and made in traditional ways. The coal burners set up summer camp on their yearly grounds deep in the forests, building Andy Goldsworthy-esque sculptures of stacked chopped wood in a large circle about 2m high and 15m wide with a 4m high pyramid shape in the middle. This is slow burnt for many days with hay as it slowly turns to charcoal. It is walking back in time, pre-machinery & commercialism.
I have watched Alastair Hendy’s career evolve alongside my own, his courage to pick up a camera and take the pics as well as style was much admired back in the day.
His book, Food & Travels Asia, inspired me to no end & was in the back of my mind when concepting my own book, Nomad. Alastair’s props are always to-die-for and now you too can have a little piece of AH’s beautiful world.
His shop, Home Store Hastings is open (see pics!) in Hastings, East Sussex, full of loveliness, I want to buy whole rooms including the kitchen sink. It is very much up my alley, based on an old-fashioned family run department store where you can stop for a fresh simple plate of fish if you so desire. Did I mention he is a chef too? The shop & kitchen is in a three story Georgian townhouse built in 1823, originally a soda bottling shop. He has a love of the beautiful, functional & utilitarian, I just cannot wait to visit. Congratulations Alastair, another job very well done.
On my first trip to Istanbul, I tried to get into the Empress Zoe on my Mum’s recommendation. Although unsuccessful on that trip, I was fortuitous enough to squeeze a couple of nights in on this trip.
An internal garden of secret spots to discover, sit and escape the hustle of the busy old city. All higgledy-piggledy with 26 rooms, up and down marble stairs surround the leafy, wisteria covered garden – it makes me want to miss some sightseeing & enjoy.
My room is a small apartment with two large rooms, suzanis galore, handcarved marble washbasins similar to those you see in the hammams. Arched doorways lead from one room to the next with softly sheered windows on one side, a small balcony overlooking the garden on the other. Plenty of room for more, and lots of space to think & relax. I could write a book here, or maybe I’ll jump on the Orient Express and change genres! Murder mystery coming up.
Other than looking like a fairytale, there is a lot of magic & mysticism surrounding the ancient area of Transylvania. Not only stories of Dracula and the Pied Piper, but I dare say Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks & the Three Bears amongst others originated in these areas. We hear of wolves, lynxes & bears in the forests: howling on a winters night, or dew sipped from the hollow of a bear’s footprint, ancient forests of tree nymphs and wood sprites.
It has not changed much since medieval times, with the background sounds of the clip clop of horses, church bells tolling, bees humming, cuckoos and woodpeckers. The occasional all-purpose tractors are the only motor noise!
Not many trips I do go unrecorded by a stone memento. I prefer the round egg-like shape, sea-tossed smooth. I even managed to pocket one in Milan (I write the place & date in pencil on mine to jolt my memory of when & where). I enjoy seeing them incorporated into new & old interiors: in Italy & Greece on floors & walls, at The Haymarket Hotel or a Sue Lawty site specific wall mount. For an oversized art installation look at the marble pebbles displayed at Naoshima’s Benesse Museum. If these are a little out of your reach, try the lacquered ‘pebble’ coffee table from Driade or simple line up your collection on a window sill.