I am back !
Hi all,

I am back after a long absence from my website. Life has been pretty hectic so it was difficult for me to update this site regularly.

I have been juggling between family life in Malta, Brussels and Paris, I have a full-time job at European Parliament, lots of ACCA studies, freelance writing about various topics, from travel, to sport, to current affairs, photography, landscape being my favourite, my one true passion, fitness training, and my latest addition to my hectic life, giving Spinning classes.

I promise to write more frequently and will blog soon.

Have a good day all and keep positive .....

Destination: Côte d’Azur (Part II – Monaco)
No self-respecting motoring enthusiast (or not) on holiday on the Cote d’Azur can possibly justify not driving a few extra kilometres, or extend his stay by a day or two, to experience Monaco at first hand. One cannot miss out on the 25 km stretch of coastal road that links Nice to Monte-Carlo. During the whole of the 30 minutes drive along the coast one can experience breathtaking views of marinas with huge yachts and beautiful houses, old and new, dotting the hillside that encases the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea.

Monaco, an ancient principality steeped in a rich and colourful history filled with barbarians, kings and even a movie star, is considered by many to be Europe's most fascinating country. Though the Principality covers only two square kilometres, it stands as a proud monarchy with his Serene Highness Prince Rainier III as its Head of State. The city is full of the some of the finest, most beautiful and stylish architecture yet to be seen.

But leave your car for some time, and stroll around the principality’s three principal areas: Monaco-Ville, the old fortified town, with the Prince's Palace, the ramparts, the gardens, the Cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum; the Condamine, the harbour area; and Monte Carlo, created in 1866, in the reign of Prince Charles III who gave it its name, with its internationally famous Casino, its great hotels and several leisure facilities.

The Grimaldi ascent began one night in 1297, when François Grimaldi, known as Malizia, seized the fortress of Monaco from a rival Italian faction disguised as a monk. Over the next few centuries, Monaco prospered as an important port in major maritime trading routes. Prince Rainier III ascended to the throne in 1949 and later caught the world's attention with his fairytale marriage to actress Grace Kelly. Today, Monaco still stands as a proud monarchy with H.S.H. Rainier III as its Head of State.

Monaco, the capital of the Principality, stands proudly on a rock jutting out to sea some 140m above sea level and is overlooking the bay. It is dominated by the 13th century Palais Princier which has been the residence of the ruling Grimaldi family ever since. Every generation has left their mark on the place. It was originally a fortress and remained so for nearly 400 years. Its character as a fortress in those times was essential for developing its defences due to the fact that Monaco was coveted by enemies resulting in many conflicts with the Genoese, the French and the Spanish.

Towards the middle of the seventeenth century, Prince Honoré II took the first steps to transform it into a palace. The military structures were retained but the interior was completely altered. It now houses superb collections of paintings by famous artists, tapestries and precious furniture. A great gate, which opens to the Court of Honour, and still exists today, was constructed some fifty years later. A double staircase in white marble leads to the Hercules Gallery, considered as the old central part of the fortress despite modifications carried out over the years. This gallery is adorned with 16th century frescoes. Some battlemented towers remain standing till today.

The Court of Honour is paved with over three million white and coloured pebbles forming immense geometrical figures. This palace is worth a look inside but if one is pressed for time one can at least witness the ceremony of changing of the guard. This takes place everyday just before midday and lasts about two minutes.

Walking through the quaint alleyways of this pretty town one cannot miss the neat little eighteenth century houses with their salmon-pink façades. A short distance away from the Prince’s Palace is the Cathedral of Monaco. This neo-Romanesque, completed in 1884, was built with white stone on the ruins of St. Nicholas church and is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. It houses three naves and an ambulatory where the sepulchres of past Princes, including the one of Princess Grace, are to be found. At the entrance to the ambulatory is the altarpiece of St. Nicholas. This Cathedral has held several important ceremonies including the wedding of HRH Prince Ranier III and former actress Grace Kelly.

Cross the road to the St Martin’s Gardens, and savour the glimpses of the sea through lush tropical vegetation and shady walkways. The Oceanographic Museum, an architectural masterpiece just off the gardens, is entirely dedicated to the study of the sea and houses an exceptional collection of marine fauna and its world famous aquarium.

Monaco owes its renowned principality to its Grand Casino. It was established in 1856 by Charles III to save himself from bankruptcy. The first casino was opened in 1865 on a barren promontory (later named Monte-Carlo in his honour) across the harbour from Monaco-Ville. The Grand Casino was designed in 1878 by Charles Garnier, the same architect who designed the Paris Opéra. It comprises several sections with the oldest part facing the sea and offers magnificent views of Monaco. Inside the gambling rooms are sumptuously decorated featuring stained glass windows and admirable decorations and sculptures, paintings and bronze lamps. Opposite the Casino are magnificent flowerbeds and impeccably maintained green lawns interspersed with ponds. These gardens, embellished with pools and fountains, slope gently upwards in the direction of the main shopping area of the town. A definite must when visiting Monte-Carlo is a brunch (or even a dinner) at the Café de Paris. Just next to the Grand Casino, it boasts spectacular interior fittings and magnificent windows and its décor is deliciously old-fashioned in style.

La Condamine is Monaco’s commercial district stretching between the Rock and Monte-Carlo. It houses the Port Hercule and is skirted by a broad terraced promenade and crowded with luxury yachts. Prince Albert I had commissioned its building in 1901 when it became apparent that the Principality needed a harbour that was able to accommodate the large number of boats and yachts that visited the Côte d' Azur and to help open up the commerce of the area.

But who says Monaco says motor-sports. The Principality permeates with motor-sport heritage and tradition, several mementoes of which adorn its junctions, not least the life-size tribute to Juan Manuel Fangio. The Grand Prix de Monaco is a dream for the Formula 1 enthusiast and the fact that one can drive along the roads composing the actual track on any other day makes it even more compelling. That famous tunnel, that hair-pin bend, that stretch along the port, set instant goose-pimples onto any warm-blooded driver. And yes, Monaco’s fabulous streets do indeed host the highest concentration of sports and luxury cars – our typical jaw-dropping day brought out any number of Ferraris (including the coveted Enzo), Bugattis, Porsches, Aston Martins and Bentleys. That’s stuff that dreams are made of …
Extracts from Nirvana's final message to all

Unfortunately work and family commitments are leaving me with little time to work on my website and post my work but busy or not busy I felt I wanted to share an excerpt of Nirvana's, or Niri as she was known by those close to her, with you all. These are the words of a strong positive woman who fought so hard to overcome her illness in order to continue to live on to see her children grow up, one of many reasons of course, someone who learnt a lot about life while facing her death. Please read and share these words if possible.

Having cancer doesn't come with many perks. However, there are a few. One is the chance to tell people you care about that you love them and that you are grateful for their presence in your life. Another is the huge learning curve you go through. Being faced with your own mortality gives you perspective, lots of it. It aligns life and sets about creating order in the 'what matters and what doesn't' department. Yet another perk is that people really listen to you because every word you utter could be your last one, I guess! So I have taken these three advantages and used them to write this letter to all the people who care enough about me to be here today. A letter to thank you and give you some advice.

And because these ARE actually my last words, I really hope that you will listen!

The first words of advice I'd like to share with you is not to wait till you are sick to tell the people you love that you love them. Even better than telling them, show them. Spend time with them. Write them little notes, buy them little thoughtful presents, surprise them, shower them with hugs and kisses and try and be there for them, no matter what it is they need.

Forgive. If there are people who have wronged you, and there always are, even if they have not shown remorse, forgive them anyway. Someone once told me that holding on to anger is like holding on to a hot piece of coal, waiting to throw it at someone. In the meantime it's you who's getting burnt. Let go. Forgive.

Put work in perspective. Yes we all need to work to earn a living, but not all of us need to work so hard. Work to live; don't live to work. It's not worth it. And it's when you get sick that you realize how insignificant that 'important' report was. How further from 'life or death' that deal actually was.

Stop smoking. There is NOTHING good that we get from smoking. Only disease, bad breath, yellow fingers and a suppressed immune system. Quit. Today. When you leave this church. No excuses.

Love yourself. Love your self sick. Feed your body good stuff. Take exercise. Find time to do the things you enjoy. Every day. Try to dedicate 20 minutes a day to yourself, doing what you enjoy. Make yourself a cup of tea, put your feet up and read a magazine. Have a relaxing bath. Do some gardening. Go for a walk. Spend time with your pets. 20 minutes a day. It's not a lot, really.

Do not stress. Yes you can do it. Stress is how we choose to react to the problems in our lives. I went through a period of extended stress before I got sick. I am sure, beyond any doubt, that this stress was a major contributor towards my illness. It's just not worth it. No matter who does what to you or your family, don't let it stress you. It will just make matters worse.

Trust your instinct. You know better. If you ever sense that something is wrong, make your doctors rule out your fears with tests, not opinions. Had I done that I would probably not be writing this letter and you would not be here bidding me farewell.

Connect with God. Now. Not when you need a miracle. Have faith. Believe in Him. Believe that even though you might not understand it, the universe is unfolding the way it should. He's got it under control.

Count your blessings. Daily. I found so much more to be grateful for after I got struck with a terminal illness, it's quite sad really. I always tell my children, life is not about what you have, but how much you appreciate it.

For you parents out there. There is nothing you will do in this life that is more important than bringing up your kids. They are the future, your legacy. Put that phone down. That message can be sent after they go to sleep. Close your laptop. Playing with your child is more important than seeing what rubbish everyone is posting on Facebook today. Enjoy them to the full, give them time, take in their beauty, learn from them, make beautiful memories with them. That is what will matter in the end. Tell them they are wonderful and special and show them that they are loved and valued.

This past year was not easy for me in a number of ways. But during this time I have come to realize how important and precious life is to each and everyone of us and how we should never ever take anything or anyone for granted. I keep posting, repeating the same words on FB telling all to live, love, appreciate all you have and forgive to the fullest. To smile, even when times are hard. For yourself, for those around you. Nothing is guaranteed to us in our lives. We are all human, we all make mistakes, get upset, hurt or angry sometimes. In our own ways we are all beautiful from the outside and from within. I am thankful for all I have, my family, beautiful sister and her family, my numerous close friends, those who stood by me even in the hardest of times, my colleagues, past and present. Please do not treat life badly because it is not ours forever. stef
My interview with EP Newshound with the aim of raising more awareness on Rhino-poaching
22nd September marked World Rhino Day. Many of us do not know of this date dedicated to rhinos. Many of us are unaware of what is going on to the rhino species in Africa and Asia. Many do not know they risk becoming extinct.

A few months ago I was made aware of the cruelty that goes on in many parks in South Africa and many other African countries. Having never been to South Africa myself I did my own research and was introduced to the Protrack Anti-Poaching Unit, the 1st unit of this kind which was set up in 1992 ( who gave me an insight of what is going on and what they do to try to, well, I cannot say stop altogether as it seems an impossible task, but to catch poachers and have them arrested. Please have a look at their website in order to see more of what they do. A noble act in my humble opinion. I then proceeded to write an article which was then published on The Malta Independent and many read the story and expressed their concern.

On my part I feel that raising awareness about this crime is not enough. Posting pics and statuses on Facebook is not enough. Yes, true, people will get to see what is going on. But it is certainly not enough.

In order to mark World Rhino day I sent my article, which featured on the newspaper last June, to MEPs, senior officials and colleagues within the institution and the response was overwhelming. I came to realise that many would like to do something about it but do not know which way to go about it. Others had no idea of this crime and expressed shock and sadness to what is going on.

I want to go a step further and help set up an association within the European Institutions whose aim is to help those working hard and putting their all in trying to put this crime to an end.

I will be writing more about this issue but for now I wish you to read my article featured on my website as well as the interview via these links Stephanie Takes Up The Rhino Cause Meps Respon . In the Word document version Stephanie Takes Up The Rhino Cause you can click on the respective links in order to view the websites featured in the article (open hyperlink etc). It was my first time being interviewed for a magazine so I must admit I was quite nervous but the scope of it all is to continue to work on saving the rhinos and all our beautiful creatures on our precious Earth.

Scanned Stephanie Takes Up The Rhino Cause Meps Respon

Destination: Côte d’Azur (Part I – Nice, Antibes, Cannes, St-Tropez)
Tired of driving along your usual roads? Need a change of perspective? Need to stretch your motorised legs beyond our 30-odd kilometers? You can do much, much worse than opting for a motoring holiday along the French Côte d’Azur!

This stretch of coastline from Toulon to the Italian border has long cast a spell on its visitors. Known as the Côte d’ Azur or the French Riviera, it boasts beautiful sun-drenched, chic towns and villages, azure-blue sea and a truly spectacular drive along its coastline. The glamorous towns of Nice, Antibes and its adjoining Juan-Les-Pins, Cannes, Port Grimaud and St- Tropez are all synonymous with style and beauty, enhanced by a top-notch road network utilized by an amazing concentration of Porsches, Ferraris, Bentleys and other such exotic machinery.

Driving around Nice, the capital of the Côte d’Azur, one discovers a town of broad palm-fringed avenues, grand hotels, fine restaurants and outstanding museums. For long an inspiration for artists and musicians with its green pines happily rubbing shoulders with the blue shades of the Mediterranean Sea, its natural setting of rocks and hills is a scene to be slowly taken in and be fully appreciated.
Perhaps most inspiring is the Promenade des Anglais, a magnificent, wide promenade stretching about 7km and running the length of the sandy-beach seafront. Although traffic lights are placed with almost religious rigueur every 50 metres or so, it is possible, by sticking to the 50 km/h speed limit, to drive through the 7km stretch and not once be held up by a red light!

As expected, the promenade is lined with cafes, hotels, museums and posh apartments and provides spectacular views of the bay all the way from the Nice Cape to Antibes. It is a haven for swimmers, sunbathers, joggers and roller-bladers. Furthermore the Promenade is lined with old and grand hotels that were built at the turn of the century. A definite must when visiting Nice is a tea/coffee break (or why not an overnight stay) at the Hotel Negresco, a striking Baroque structure built by Henri Négresco, a Hungarian immigrant, in the early 20th century and specifically designed to attract the very top of the upper crust.

The old quarter of the Nice town center is made up of narrow streets curving in an irregular fashion between red-tiled roof-topped buildings. The Cours Saleya, once the elegant promenade of old Nice, is now lined with shops and restaurants, flower and vegetable markets, and also confectioneries. There is an array of façades worth viewing including Chapelle de la Miséricorde and the Caϊs de Pierla Palace, where Picasso lived in a small room facing the sea between 1921 and 1938. The Cathedral of St. Réparate, the patron saint of Nice, was built in 1650. It is adorned with a colourful façade and its interior is mainly Baroque.

A short drive away from the hustle and bustle of Nice is Cimiez. It is located on a hill that overlooks the rest of the city. Aside from some very impressive residences, Cimiez features the wonderful Matisse museum and some fairly elaborate Roman ruins. In July, Cimiez is home to many Jazz concerts that take place in and around the old Roman arena. Nearby a 16th-century Franciscan monastery with its gardens next to it affords superb views of the bay.

A short distance from Nice is the highly popular resort town of Antibes, sporting picturesque streets, bright with flowers and barely a stone’s throw from the sea. Antibes’s splendid Port Vauban is one of the largest in the Mediterranean and is used by luxury cruise ships; its promenade runs along the remains of 17th century fortifications, and allows an uninterrupted view of the coastline stretching towards Nice with the Alps in the background. The Chateau Grimaldi, nowadays housing a Picasso Museum, was built on a terrace overlooking the sea and until the 17th century was home to the Grimaldi family.

Just next to Antibes, in fact less than an hour’s leisurely drive away, is the coast of Juan-les-Pins, a haven of golden sandy beaches. Here water-skiing, paragliding, scuba-diving, fishing, sailing and swimming are all at their best.

An ideal driving excursion, not far from the coast, is to Mougins, an old village with narrow lanes and restored houses contained within the boundaries of earlier fortifications. Mougins is situated on a hilltop site and there is a panoramic view of the countryside as far as the sea. There are various restaurants here and their homely cooking and warm welcome with their pretty terraces overlooking the vast countryside beneath makes it a very attractive setting for lunch or dinner.

Driving down from the village of Mougins is Cannes, the ‘star’ of the French Riviera famous for its International Film Festival and the glitzy hotels, cars and beaches. Cannes offers a harmonious union of sea shores, wooded mountainsides, and dazzling gardens. The famed Boulevard de la Croisette, an elegant promenade bordered with gardens and palm trees overlooking a sandy beach is lined with elegant boutiques and luxury hotels, among which is the Carlton built in 1912 in Belle Epoque style whose twin cupolas are said to be modelled after the breasts of La Belle Otero.

Stretching your legs with a stroll to the old part of Cannes takes you to Le Suquet, which overlooks the old harbour. This old town has narrow streets climbing up and around the hill, with a fine view from the top and is dominated by the 17th century Provençal Gothic style church of Notre-Dame d’Esperance, the 12th century St. Anne’s chapel and the Castre Museum formerly a castle built in the 12th century. Just off the coast of Cannes are the Lérins Islands, which include the Sainte-Marguerite Island in whose fort the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask was said to be imprisoned for over ten years.

Driving along the coast, past St Raphaël, Frejus and St Maxime, some 70km south of Cannes is the charming Port Grimaud, the so-called ‘Venice of the South’, built in 1966 in Provençale style on a network of canals. It is divided into a few islands connected by small bridges and its many homes have their own mooring. Their terracotta tiled roofs, wonderful ochre and cream painted façades, a main characteristic of many Provençal villages, is no less illustrated here. Port Grimaud also offers superb views of the Gulf of St-Tropez.

The seaside town of St-Tropez has become one of the best-known resorts in Europe, the place where journalists, photographers, writers and artists all meet. Set on the lovely blue water of the Bay of St-Tropez, this modern version of a medieval town is most popular for the line of yachts along the quay, and the facing line of terrace cafés, divided by a parade of strolling tourists and slow cruising expensive cars.

At the turn of the century St-Tropez was a charming little village unknown to tourists. Then in the 1950s, Brigitte Bardot’s film, And God Created Woman, was shot here and no sooner St-Tropez’s fame was established. It gained the reputation of being the vacation spot for the international jet set and other chic visitors.

The harbour in itself is full of life. The fishing boats and other commercial vessels share the mooring with a crowd of yachts – from the most humble to the most luxurious. Along the waterfront and its neighbouring streets the old pink and yellow houses have been converted to cafes and pastry shops, restaurants, luxury boutiques and galleries. And yes, the beaches in St-Tropez are truly heavenly with their combination of fine sand and charming rocky creeks.

To follow

Destination: Côte d’Azur (Part II – Monaco)

No self-respecting motoring enthusiast (or not) on holiday on the Cote d’Azur can possibly justify not driving a few extra kilometres, or extend his stay by a day or two, to experience at first hand Monaco …
Destination – Marbella

Marbella was Spain’s Costa del Sol pioneer town and has since become one of the most famous resorts on the Andalusian coast, a holiday home to the international jet set. Legend has it that Marbella got its name from Queen Isabella’s exclamation when she saw the sea, Que mar tan bella! (What wonderful sea!) A large white 'Marbella' arch, spanning across the main road, marks the entrance to the town and greets its visitors.

However varied one’s tastes may be, Marbella offers something for everyone. It comprises two halves of different appearance: the old and the new. The old part – with its charming, winding, very narrow cobble stone streets and tranquil squares is flanked by white washed houses with wrought iron balconies adorned with a profusion of bougainvilleas and geraniums. This offers a striking contrast with the structure of the modern city, the latter being characterised by its large buildings and the lively atmosphere of the streets where shops, restaurants and discotheques are always crowded with people of diverse nationalities.

Marbella’s old quarter, known as the Casco Antiguo, dates back to Moorish times and the 9th century walls, which once surrounded the town, are still in evidence in parts. Architecture from different eras graces the quiet little lanes. This quarter is reached via one of the cobbled narrow streets just off the main road. There are many niches, or hornacinas, scattered throughout the old town. These niches are built into walls and contain religious statues depicting the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ, adorned with candles and flowers. A particular picturesque hornacina is the Rincón de la Virgen placed high in the wall with bright bougainvillea covering much of the narrow street below. A photo of this niche in one’s travel album is a must.

The labyrinth of streets of the Casco Antiguo lead to the Plaza de Los Naranjos, the ‘Orange Tree Square’. This square, which dates back to 1485, is surrounded by white-washed houses and three major historical buildings: the Town hall, or Ayuntamiento, the Governor’s house, or Casa del Corregidor, and the Chapel of Santiago. The gardens in the Plaza are full of brightly coloured flowers and orange trees and in the centre stands a bust of Spain’s Head of State, King Juan Carlos I. On the façade of the Ayuntamiento, built around the middle of the 16th century, sports a sun-dial and some perfectly preserved stone inscriptions most of which go back to 1485. The Old Governor’s house dates back to 1552 and still retains the original stone façade adorned with a multi-arched balcony. An elegant marble fountain, dating back to 1504, adjoins the square.

The Orange Tree Square is an ideal stop for lunch, and offers several good restaurants giving you the possibility of combining great fare, an enchanting ambience and the characteristic orange-blossom all-encompassing scent. A refreshing gazpacho and paella with mixed fish makes for a perfect meal, possibly doused by ice-cold sangria, all in good measure. If eating is your thing then you will be very happy in Marbella, offering as it does a wide selection of eating places in every corner of the town.

No visit to a Spanish town is complete without a visit to its main church; that of Marbella is the Iglesia de la Encarnacion. Built in the 17th century, it features a fine tower and its main façade is adorned with a beautiful red stone entrance worked in Baroque style.

Equally a must when visiting Marbella, is a detour to Puerto Banús, Marbella’s luxury marina, situated some six kilometres west of the main town. Created by José Banús some 30 years ago, it is known to be the playground of the rich and famous. Here one can ogle fabulous luxury yachts and exotic cars while sipping a drink at one of the many open-air restaurants and bars. The setting is close to ideal, with its impressive La Concha mountain backdrop and ocean views. Between the restaurants and bars is a vast selection of shops selling all sorts, from shoes and other leather accessories to souvenir gifts. Designer shops, including Armani, Chanel and Versace, are here in abundance. At the entrance of the marina is a large commercial shopping centre and Spain’s leading department store, El Corte Inglés. It is easy to understand why every year around five million tourists visit Puerto Banús.

The Costa del Sol is famous for its never-ending beaches – Marbella is no exception. The beaches here stretch as far as the eye can see with warm sand, and crystal clear sea. Most beaches in Marbella have showers and public services, watch towers, lifeguards and first aid services. The usual windsurfing, paddle boating, jet skiing, etc, are all on offer. Nevertheless, one can also simply relax on a sun lounge on the golden sand. Pure bliss!!

Coastal towns are usually thought to fall asleep in summer but Marbella is different, since luckily there seems to be some celebration or other nearly every other day. Amongst key dates on Marbella's calendar of celebrations are the traditional fair, or feria, around the second week of June, in honour of the town's patron saint, San Bernabé. This colourful event is a combination of flamenco music, typical Andalusian dances and parades of horsemen and horsewomen.

The feast of Nuestra Señora del Carmen takes place on 16th July and is the festival of fishermen and their wives and families. Visitors and locals join in the famous procession, part on land, part at sea, with their traditional dances. On a completely different note, during the St Joseph weekend (19th March) Marbella plays host to an international motorcyclists’ gathering, a must for any serious motorcycle enthusiast.

Marbella is truly a concentrate of what bubbly Andalusia is all about, and an excellent introduction to the pleasures and delights of Spain’s Costa del Sol.

Some images are courtesy of Wikipedia and Travelpod. When I visited Marbella digital cameras were not the norm.
Tough week

It's my Friday night. I thought of watching some TV, have a lazy night, but as usual, my mind was racing and wanted to put down all my thoughts and feelings 'on paper', so to speak. Only then will I probably be able to sit still and relax, or fall asleep in front of the box, or rather, the screen.

This week has not been an easy week, from a personal point of view. Some things of course I prefer to keep personal. However this week I learnt of sickness, physical abuse and death.

I want to start off with saying how sorry and saddened I was to hear of Sharon Sapienza's sudden demise. At 38. How unfair. A lovely girl, great talent, so bubbly, a little bit like me from that aspect, a great Flamenco dancer. Malta and Sevilla lost a gem. She will sorely be missed by her loved ones, her parents, Frank and Edwige, her husband Jose Antonio, relatives, so many friends. Her passion for dance was incredible. I first met her back in 1993 while I was living in Madrid. She had just moved to Sevilla at the time. We hit it off instantly. I met her a number of times on my trips to Sevilla and on her trips to Madrid. I could see her dedication and love for flamenco, it lived in her. It ran through her veins. I would say she was a female version of Joaquin Cortes. I also had the pleasure of spending some time with her on three occasions she came to Paris with her dancers and after the shows we went to supper together. We never stopped talking always having so much to talk about. I will forever cherish those moments I spent with her and treasure them for the rest of my life. When I was informed of her sudden demise I felt so cold, shocked, it sounded surreal. Sharon, when you think some people like her are immortal, death knocks at their door without even being given a chance to fight for life. She will remain a legend, a beautiful face, incredible talent. The world has lost an angel. And I quote what was written in her obituary, "Those we love don't go away, they walk beside us every day, unseen, unheard but always near, still loved, still missed and very dear". A beautiful life taken away so abruptly from us all. Rest in peace dear Sharon. She will be laid to rest on Monday 18 February.

Oscar Pistorius .. A hero, a legend, an Olympic champion, South Africa's pride and joy, and I don't blame them. He had it all, as he said "You are not disabled by your disabilities, but able by your abilities". Those words struck me. He was born with a congenital absence of the fibula in both legs. When he was 11 months old, his legs were amputated halfway between his knees and ankles. He lost his mother at a young age. Yet despite all, he went on to be an Olympic World Champion. What happened on that fateful night of St. Valentine's Day at his residence in Pretoria is not entirely clear yet. Except that of course his girlfriend, supermodel and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead at his residence. Some said he may have mistaken her for an intruder, but then this was dismissed. I have no words for what happened. I cannot and will never speak against him because I do not know what really happened. Having said that I do condemn what happened. No one has a right to hurt or kill anybody unless, of course it is self-defence. Why, what was going on through his mind? Was he troubled? Disturbed? It seems it was not the first time that the police was called to the house on occasions which considered as that of a 'domestic nature'. They could have had the world together. Love and passion unite so they say. They were known at the Posh and Becks of South Africa. I have a great affinity for South Africa, my dream of visiting it soon, some wonderful people I have grown to know and whom I worked with over the past years. I could never stop writing about why and why such a beautiful country, with a scenery that goes beyond our dreams, is still victim of so many acts of violence and crime. Innocent people, hurt, robbed, raped or killed. Back to Pistorius's case. As much as I condemn what he did, I still strongly feel that there is more to it. Perhaps a momentary madness that overcame him, fear. But now it happened and everyone is trying to pick up the pieces following such a terrible tragedy. What a sad ending to what was believed to be a fairytale love story.

I also want to talk about a dear friend of mine, who is suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitisa, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, in short ME. It breaks my heart to see someone at such a young age having to live with this condition. And I am sure he is not the only one suffering from ME on our little rock, Malta. I feel that there should be more awareness and more explanation given about this condition, which could be so easily misdiagnosed. The majority of ME cases start suddenly, usually accompanied by a "flu-like illness" while a significant proportion of cases begin within several months of severe adverse stress. I want to help raise awareness of ME and wish that all necessary health care and medication is given to each and every person suffering from it. I have read alot about it and recall studying about ME when I was pursuing my studies as physiotherapist some 20 years ago. What I want to say is that people suffering from ME should be given the appropriate treatment, physiotherapy where necessary and assistance they deserve. It is of utter importance to me as it is of many who have relatives or friends suffering from this condition. Kevin, you have my support. Hang on in there ..

I am getting sleepy now and I guess it is time to switch off and have a rest although I need to do some more studying before I hit the sack. I just want to say that my heart goes out to all those who in one way or another are going through their own sufferings, difficulties, sadness and pain. No one deserves to be unhappy. Finally I want to say that those in my heart will remain always there, in my heart.

Goodnight xxx

I feel I should write a few things that I was told about this week, sometimes we do not realise that we are blessed with good things, we must treasure our health, our children, our loved ones, whether we are in touch with them or not for various reasons ..

I live in Brussels, I often work from home, resumed studying and am glad to say that I have successfully passed exams I have written so far. I go to the gym as often as I can, do rigorous gym routines. I am hard on myself, aside from that I also tend to isolate myself, there are days when I feel the need to be alone even though I am in constant contact with my dearest friends. Having said that I want them to know that I am always there for them, in good and in bad.

Anyhow, this week I learnt of people being abused when young, being physically abused by their partners, then moving on, only to have more of same, cheated by their partners, verbal abuse and so much more. People going through serious illnesses, my age, not knowing if they will live through the end of this year, not knowing if they will be able to see their own children become adults. A mother whose three month old child just died, cot death, she was told. Trying to pick up the pieces of all she has built, thinking her little daughter would grow into a young lady, her princess. Now what ? A young boy, shot by his step-dad fourteen times, miraculously surviving but chances are he may remain a vegetable for the rest of his life.

These are the serious problems of our world. Why so much pain, why so much sadness ? Don't we all deserve a piece of happiness ? That is when I ask myself is there a God ? Why hurt those so innocent around us and let those who thrive in terrorism, violence and vandalism get away with it ? And more often than not they do. Why so much poverty in poverty-stricken countries and Africa and Asia ? Why wars ?

I hear of fathers not bothering to get in touch with their own children. How heartless can they be ? Their own flesh and blood ! How can they dismiss their children as though they meant nothing to them ? I call these people heartless no matter how religious they are. Our children are innocent. They need the love of their father AND their mother, no matter how young or old they are. Mothers who have sacrificed their all to give the best to their children, going through the hardest of times in their own life dedicating their life for their own child.

However, there are fathers who give their children the best they could possibly give them and I know a couple out there who really do and I cannot give a better definition to the term perfect exemplary dad to this respect. Their children are blessed to have such a father in their life. They will always love and treasure their father as they grow older, appreciate the wholesome love and dedication their dad has given them, just like my dad gave me and my sister.

Moving on to other territories, perhaps a bit more delicate. General elections in Malta next month. Some of the Maltese seem to be at war and it is so sad to see that happening. I grew having a particular political view, I grew to want democracy, fairness. I hate corruption, I hate arrogance. I hate greed. Sometimes I lose control and comment but I try to be fair. I try to see the good and bad of both sides, I try to be objective. But, on the other hand I am a hopeless in politics. I cannot stand it anyway. Both sides hurling hurtful comments at each other. It is just all too much.

Aren't there more serious issues in life than just ranting and raving against each other in politics ? Seems not at the moment on our little isle. I cannot wait for all to pass and come what may I hope our little rock will survive every hurdle it will come across.

We are all Maltese, until we are on this earth we must try to control our feelings especially those of anger, because as with all other elections, these will only be put in our history books, but what with our own personal attacks and accusations? We will sadly have to live with them for the rest of our lives .. we must think before we act.

I want to end this by saying that I am forever grateful to my dearest friends Liz, Antonella, Marilyn, Vicky, Manuela and Germaine for always being there for me, in good and in bad. I will love you always. Moreover as I stated on my FB earlier .. Throughout my years I have learnt to fight. Fight for what is right, fight for what I believe in, but most importantly fight for the ones I love, whether I am in touch with them or not. Those dear to me and who will always remain. We must never forget to let them know how much they mean to us and always will ..

Love to all .. stef xxx
Baby fast asleep till favourite song is played ..
I wanted to add this to my blog because I think it so cute and funny. I wanted to share it with everyone not simply those on my FB page because it is worth a view ..
The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle

Are you worried?
Do you have many 'what if' thoughts?
Are you identified with your mind, which is projecting itself into an imaginary future situation and creating fear?

There is now way that you can cope with such a situation, because it doesn't exist. It's a mental phantom. You can stop this health and life corroding insanity simply by acknowledging the present moment.

Become aware of your breathing. Feel the air flowing in and out of your body. Feel your inner energy field. All that you can have to deal with, cope with, in real life - as opposed to imaginary mind projections - in this moment. Ask yourself what 'problem' you might have right now, not next year, tomorrow or five minutes from now. What is 'wrong' with this moment? You can always cope with the NOW, but you can never cope with the future - nor do you have to.

The answer, the strength the right action or the resource will be there when you need it, not before, nor after.

Extract taken from 'Mind Strategies for Avoiding the Now'
Love, that of the true kind ..

I haven't had much time to sit and write this week, particularly because I was quite busy and taken up with various commitments. Two things happened to me that were special in their own little ways this week. I had an overwhelming amount of likes on a photo on my FB photography page, which I have posted on this blog, together with a wonderful Rieki session performed on me by Vanessa Leleu, who has also become a very dear friend to me. If anyone reading this email living in Brussels would like to have a good Reiki session please send me an email on and will be more than happy to pass on her details.

During my Reiki session, which was my third (and badly needed) session, I was told I needed lots to work on, my liver, my heart, my mind, but I prefer to keep the rest of the details private. Strange as it may sound, it left me with a sense of serenity, peace. It was an exhausting session, this morning I had no energy to even get out of bed. All I want is for those dear to me to be happy, something I always wished for them and forever will. Those dear to me will always remain so, dear. No matter how far or close they are or whether they are in touch with me or not. Nothing will ever change how I feel, what I think.

Although I am only in my 40's I feel that life has taught me a great deal. Last year was a turning point and a particular issue threw me. But I have since forgiven, albeit not forgotten, the harm and pain it caused me and those involved. It is past now and one learns from their errs. I never knew I could have fallen so low but in doing so I learnt. And I learnt alot, and the hard way. If one does not learn from his/her mistakes then they are not worthy of being given that one last chance to be trusted ever again.

Humans sometimes tend to think with their hearts, well, I think most women do, but we should also think with our minds. Before we take any drastic decisions we must put circumstances before our feelings. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices and choices which do not always depend on us. This does not mean we must cease to love those who have been dear to us, who will forever remain in the depths of our hearts. NEVER. It is a matter of understanding a situation and learning to live with it and accept it. For the good of those around us who depend wholly on us, who depend on our love. Hard as it may sound this is the reality of life and I have, through circumstances, learnt to live with it.

Few may understand what I am trying to say. It does not mean it makes you love that person or persons special to you any less, oh no, but if you really care for them, you only wish them the best and stand by them making sure that they are happy and that nothing will ever come in their way of their own loves or passions. Even if it means complete silence. That, to me is true love, absolute love.

Real love lasts a lifetime, and, trust me, it is true.

Destination - Le Mont Saint Michel, France

Imagine a whole village built on a hilltop … imagine a whole village surrounded by water and quicksand at high tide … imagine a tiny rocky islet about 1 km in diameter visited by 1,500,000 tourists per year… Welcome to Mont-St-Michel.

Surrounded by sea, jutting defiantly above glistening sands, Mont St Michel is one of the most enchanting sights in France. It is located on the north coast of France, near the border of Brittany and Normandy, and is home to centuries of tradition. Perched on the isle of Tombelaine in the midst of vast sandbanks exposed to powerful tides this Gothic-style Benedictine abbey is dedicated to the archangel St. Michael. With its rich and influential history, and glorious architecture that combine to make it one of the most magnificent of all abbeys of France it is of no surprise that it has been called ‘The Wonder of the Western World’.

The isle, accessible by land at low tide, is also linked to the mainland by a causeway (built in 1879). Before it was built, the only approach to the Mont was on foot. When the tide is out, it is separated from the mainland by approximately one kilometre of sand. Due to its uniqueness the Mont is recognized from miles away, each angle is so different that a 360-degree tour is required and a detailed insight to the history of Mont St Michel is certainly a must.

One of the most spectacular features that makes this site look so fairylike both during the day and at night is the tide. Normally the difference between high tide and low tide varies from a few centimetres to several metres. The exceptional range of the tides in the bay of Mont St Michel is mainly due to its geographical position. The difference between these tides can be as much as 15 metres. They rise and fall with the lunar calendar and can reach speeds of 10km/h in spring. When the sun, earth and moon are aligned, a phenomenon takes place which provokes extremely strong tides, or spring tides. This is particularly evident during the spring and autumn equinox and more spectacularly so at times of the new and full moon. On the other hand, when the sun and the moon are at right angles to the earth, the gravitational pull of these two celestial bodies is in contrast and the range of the tides is much smaller. All this sounds like fiction, but is very much scientific fact!

Its historical events date back to as early as 708, when, legend has it that a dream led St. Aubert, then bishop of Avranches, to built a shrine in honour of St. Michael on the island, then known as Mont Tombe. In 966, the Duke of Normandy entrusted the sanctuary to the care of the Benedictine monks who in turn built a magnificent abbey. In the 11th and 12th centuries, a Romanesque monastery was constructed with the church on the top of the hill. A part of this abbey burned down in 1204 and was replaced by the famous "La Merveille" (The Miracle), a building often regarded as the jewel of the abbey’s architecture. From the middle of the 13th century to the beginning of the 16th century, the monks completed the ring around the church constructing the abbot's residence and buildings to house the abbey's legal and administrative services. During the Hundred Years' War the construction of fortified walls with imposing towers was undertaken. The abbey is thus an exceptional example of the full range of medieval architecture. In 1790, the monks left their monastery which was then used as a prison until 1863. In 1874 the abbey was declared a historical monument and was then restored to its former splendour. The belfry, spire and statue of St. Michael were added in 1895.

Upon entering the fortified city through Porte Bauole, a gate in the ramparts added in 1590, one finds oneself in the Grand Rue, the city’s main street now crowded with restaurants, souvenir shops and a few small hotels. A pilgrim’s route from as early as the 12th century, the street is steep, winding its way up and around the Mont, finally reaching the abbey gates.

The Abbey is a feast of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. The present buildings bear witness to the time when the abbey served both as a Benedictine monastery and as a political prison for 73 years after the French Revolution. The highlights of the abbey include the 13th century monastery (La Merveille), the Refectory, the Knights’ Room, the Cloisters and, of course, the Church.

Built in the early decades of the year 1000 the Romanesque church was constructed on the island’s highest point. The nave, whose structure is covered with a wood-panelled lined vault, is divided in seven identical bays, separated by the half-columns engaged in the walls and rising jet-like from the ground to the top of the wall. Each bay is divided in three levels in which large archways give way to aisles lighted by tall windows.

The Romanesque choir, which collapsed in 1421 was rebuilt after the Hundred Years War and today one can admire a very homogeneous ensemble in the purest style of the flamboyant Gothic.

The Cloister, situated at the top of the Merveille, comprises a covered gallery surrounding an open-air garden. This gallery provided communication between various buildings and was a place of prayer and meditation. Built during the early 13th century, it gives access to the refectory, church, dormitory and to various stairways. The garden we admire today was built during the restoration of 1965.

In the Refectory, or dining hall, the monks took their meals in silence whilst one of them gave a reading from the pulpit on the southern wall. Located on the 3rd floor of the Merveille, just above the Guest Hall, it is a long narrow hall with light flooding through the tall windows, each framed within an arch supported by two columns that offer a perspective of closed space.

The Guest’s Hall beneath the refectory was a princely hall, decorated with paintings, stained-glass windows and tiles, missing today, and was designed for receiving royalty and nobility. It was originally equipped with a fireplace, two great hoods to prepare meals, and a small chapel in the southern wall.

The Knight’s Room is located on the second floor of the Merveille and is illuminated by large round bay windows, placed high up. It was originally equipped with all the necessities to face the hard climate of the place, its two large fireplaces, direct access to the Cloister and the Refectory. This hall, divided by columns, was the work and study room of the monks.

On an outcrop of rock is the small 15th century chapel dedicated to St Aubert. At high tide this chapel is isolated by water. With its wealth in history, Mont Saint Michel erases boundaries between the imaginary and the real. It is open all year, day and night.

Rising up from an indefinable point in the sand and waves, Mont Saint Michel appears like a human challenge to the elements and time. Perched on its summit, the abbey is an invitation to come and discover its builders' wild inspiration - one which has driven so many to make this isolated place a universal meeting point for many years. From up here, everything comes as a surprise: the amazing feats of medieval architecture, the power of nature, the light ... everything.

No one can remain indifferent to this edifice. Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, the abbey of Mont Saint Michel is one of those ‘must-visit’ destinations in any traveller’s books.
Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine

Photograph of Henry Miller taken by Brassai in Paris in 1931

In 1932-1933, while working on what would become his first published novel, Tropic of Cancer, Miller devised and adhered to a stringent daily routine to propel his writing. Among it was this list of eleven commandments, found in Henry Miller on Writing


1.Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2.Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’

3.Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

4.Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!

5.When you can’t create you can work.

6.Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

7.Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

8.Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.

9.Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

10.Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

11.Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Wash away

If the pure waters of this earth could wash away all the sadness, loss, pain, misery that is sometimes inflicted upon us or that we very oft inflict upon us, if only they could wash away all ill health from those who are suffering, if they could wash away the cruelty from all those with the intention of hurting others, if they could wash away wars, terrorism, vandalism, hatred replacing it with love, friendship of the true kind, peace and beauty .. oh what a different world this could be, how different our lives would be.

stef 27.01.2013
Pencil drawing by Olga Melamory Larionova
Destination - San Gimignano

Medieval, picturesque, fascinating, charming, quaint, skyline… these words come to mind when describing the little Tuscan town of San Gimignano... Rising up on a hill in central Tuscany, some forty kilometres north-west of Siena, San Gimignano, also known as ‘the town of the fair towers’, is a stunning medieval town rich in historical events offering fascinating architecture together with a maze of beautifully entwined cobbled streets that lead to quaint squares hosting several charming cafés.

Among the main attractions of San Gimignano are the high house-towers built around the 12th century, during the wealthiest and most powerful period of its historical timeline. In this period the city boasted over seventy towers, some as high as fifty meters, built by the patrician families that controlled the city as symbols and testimonies of their wealth and power as well as serving as private fortresses. Fourteen of these windowless towers have withstood wars and catastrophies and still stand today, giving the city its unique ‘Manhattan’ skyline feature. It is, in fact, known as the ‘Manhattan of Italy’.

San Gimignano, originally founded as a small village by the Etruscans in the 3rd century BC, became a town in 998 AD adopting its name from the Holy Bishop of Modena, San Geminianus, who was said to have saved the village from Attila’s Huns in the 4th century. The city thrived in wealth in the Middles ages in view of the fact that it was located along the ‘Via Francigena’, an important trading and pilgrim’s route which connected Rome to Canterbury. It became a reference point for many merchants, travellers and those who set out on a pilgrimage to Rome. The town became a free Tuscan municipality in 1199 AD while fighting against the Bishops of Volterra and the surrounding municipalities. However, around 1239 AD the town eventually divided into two factions, one headed by the Guelphs, the other by the Ghibellines. The reason was mainly due to its central position between the two great rivals at the time, Florence and Siena. Florence had taken the Guelph’s side and Siena that of the Ghibelline’s. Despite these turmoils, San Gimignano continued in its economic development. In fact the 12th and 13th centuries turned out to be its period of greatest wealth being notably richer, commissioning several public works. The Ghibellines governed until 1252 AD, the year in which the Guelphs took over, tearing down the city walls, but shortly after the Ghibellines returned to power, rebuilding and enlarging the city walls namely the Montestaffoli, with its two main gates on the ‘Via Francigena’, the San Giovanni and San Matteo. The latter two still stand until today.

An important date in the history of San Gimignano is that of the 8th May 1300, when Dante Alighieri visited the town in his role as Ambassador for Tuscan’s Guelph league. Sadly the town was hit by the Plague, known as the ‘Black Death’ and its population was drastically reduced throwing the city into a political and economic crisis leading to its submission to Florence. However it continued to flourish both artistically and culturally in the centuries that followed. A recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, San Gimignano has, over the centuries, managed to preserve its medieval architecture and is no doubt Tuscany’s greatest small treasure.

Walking around the tiny village is a must. One can indulge in a feast of medievality. San Gimignano is also known for its tiny shops lining its narrow streets, namely Via San Matteo, which, in contrast with the more commercial Via San Giovanni, sell food and wine, clothes, leatherwear and other typical Tuscan products. Via San Matteo leads to the Piazza del Duomo, where the three most important medieval buildings of the city are located : the Collegiata Cathedral, the old Palace of the Podestà, whose tower is probably the oldest in the city, and the Palace of the Commune.

The Collegiata, built in the 12th century and consecrated in 1148, was once the ‘Duomo’ , but since San Gimignano no longer has a bishop it has reverted to the status of a collegiate church. Its bare façade belies its remarkable interior, which is famous for the extraordinarily magnificent frescos which cover almost all of the inner walls of the church. Romanesque in character, the centre of the church is dominated by a large fresco of St Sebastian by Benozzo Gozzoli, which was commissioned after the plague hit the town in 1464 while frescos on the aisle walls depict stories from the Old Testament including The Creation of Adam and Eve, Noah and his Ark and those of the New Testament including the Annunciation, the nativity, the last Supper.. Two chapels, the Chapel of San Gimignano, and that of St. Fina are located within this church. The latter is dedicated to St. Fina, who was born in San Gimignano in 1238. When only ten years of age she contracted an incurable disease and spent the five years until her death lying on a board to increase her suffering before God. The chapel is adorned with naïve and touching frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio depicting events in the life of the young saint, and a superb alabaster marble altar.

The old Palace of the Podestà, located in front of the Collegiata, was once the seat of the Council. It used to be the residence of the Podestà family. It is one of the oldest buildings in town and has a 51 meter high tower, known as the Torre Rognosa. In 1255 a law was passed that no other tower should be higher than the Rognosa, the only exception being the Torre Grossa, that of the Palace of the Commune, also known as the Palazzo del Popolo (town hall), situated on the left side of the Collegiata. The Palace of the Commune houses the Museo Civico. The Pinacoteca, features a number of paintings from the Florentine and Sienese schools of the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries as well as several other works of art by Niccolò Tegliacci, Taddeo di Bartolo, and Pinturicchio. Several worn but interesting frescoes can be viewed on the walls in various parts of palace including the courtyard. This is open to the public and once there, one can climb up a staircase that leads to the top of the Torre Grossa, certainly worth visiting in order to take in the stunning sweeping views of the town and its surroundings.

Just a few metres away from the Piazza del Duomo is a small hilltop park which houses the remains of the Rocca, or fortress. From here one can get a spectacular view (and photograph) of the town's many towers and surrounding countryside. The Rocca was built in 1353 when the Florentines took complete control of the city, but demolished in 1555 on the orders of Cosimo I. In fact only a tower and fragments of the walls survive.

One cannot miss out on an ice-cream from one of the two gelaterias located in the Piazza della Cisterna, most famously the Gelateria di Piazza. Various newspaper clippings in German, English and Italian, pictures of visiting celebrities posing proudly with their ice-cream as well as letters from all over Europe adorn the walls of the little shop serving over thirty five different flavours and is testimony to his popularity. Its ice-cream has repeatedly won the title of the world's "best ice-cream of the year".

We dined at the Osteria di Sant’ Agostino located within the Piazza that bears the same name. The food was excellent, and certainly good value for money. We had bruschetta and plate of pasta served with a mouth-watering tomato sauce, all washed down with a fresh house wine, of course.

The drive to San Gimignano involves a lot of winding roads but the scenery on the way is that of pure Tuscan beauty. Just make sure that you type in San Gimignano and not San Gemignano if you are using a Navigator. The reason being that there is a location called San Gemignano further up north and if you take the wrong direction you are in for a long trip away from the actual San Gimignano. Cars are not allowed in the town centre, but there are a number of parking spaces just outside the walls of the town. Furthermore there are buses to/from Florence and Siena. Some of these are direct, but some may require a change at Poggibonsi. There are several services everyday, and arrive/depart just in front of Porta San Giovanni in San Gimignano. Being one of the most popular Tuscan towns, it is advisable to visit San Gimignano during the evening hours or off-season in order to avoid parking problems and masses of tour buses arriving from Florence and Siena.

San Gimignano : as good as Tuscany gets !!!
Life through my eyes
It's all cold and jam-packed with snow outside but, well, I got to see the sun today, which greeted me in the most welcoming of ways. Its frail warmth worked its way down to this side of this world and I could feel it on my face. Sunlight. It is still awfully cold, but it is Winter after all isn't it ?

Being a Mediterranean girl living in the Northern part of Europem I miss the sea, the real blue Mediterranean sea, the warm Mediterranean sun, my home, my family. I am Maltese born and bred, and proud of it. I would never want anyone to take my childhood away from me. From my early school days till my years at college, my friends, classmates, I wouldnt change anything. It is all part of my life, part of my growing up, a metamorphosis of my life so far.

Life is one big great adventure .. good or bad moments we must appreciate it .. this world has so much to offer, colourful, a beautiful world enhanced with all forms of life, from birds, creatures, plants, flowers, to human beings hailing from all parts of the world. We travel through time, sometimes we have the fortune of being able to experience different cultures and it is a truly necessary experience if one can afford to do so.

Nature is a gift. Being one who possesses a passion for photography I look at photos and images of nature, true nature, safaris in Africa, forests in the Americas, the Australias.. If each one of us could help in any way to preserve the beauty these continents have gifted us with then the world would be a much better place.

But sadly civil wars, fighting, terrorism, vandalism, crime that the world is condemned with is happening all the time. The unfairness of this world. Why, we have such a beautiful world, some people have nothing but war on their minds. What a pity, I say to myself, perhaps I am naive, perhaps I like to look at the beauty of this world. This is the only world we have. Why do some people choose to give it to the dogs ? Well, yes those people exist, perhaps because they do not know any better.

If only this violence could be stopped, if only these people could be taught to see the world from a different perspective, perhaps, only, perhaps the world could be a better plplace. This is one of my dreams, but one that is very difficult to come through.

All we can do is simply to do our best and give our all, making up for the evil in this world, that which is made up of crime, wars and terrorism. And, oh yes I have no doubt, the number of people who feel same way I feel certainly outnumber those embroiled in bitterness, vandalism and violence.

Let us all make the world a better place and appreciate the beauty our world aches to give us, from the seas, oceans, forests, to deserts and mountainous landscapes.
Destination - Ronda, Spain

Savouring the beautiful Costa del Sol is one of life’s goals to be accomplished. The sun, sea, white-lime washed buildings of the Pueblos Blancos are as spectacular in real life as illustrated on tourist brochures. And the southern Spanish region of Andalucía offers that and so much more.

Located some 640km away from Madrid it takes some five hours by car to reach Ronda. Leaving the city landscape of the Spanish capital, dawn breaks to reveal some breathtaking scenery, changing from endless plains sheathed in olive trees to the mountainous Valdepeñas, an idyllic location for a well-deserved coffee break. As one heads south, the day gets hotter, and hotter.

Ronda is nestled in the hillside just 110km from Malaga. It’s a quaint town steeped in history and split in two sections by the Guadalevín gorge. This 100m gorge is bridged by the spectacular Puente Nuevo, which was built in 1751 and took 42 years to build. Local hearsay has it that the bridge was the site on which many accidents have taken place. During the Spanish Civil War Republican sympathizers were thrown in the gorge by General Franco’s troops. Even the architect himself had his fate sealed by a sudden gust of wind while reaching for his hat while on the bridge!

On one side of the bridge is the old Moorish town, or Ciudad, rich in historic buildings including the House of the Moorish King, which dates back to the 18th century, and on the other side is the Mercadillo, a more recent urban development.

Many of the important sights in Ronda can be seen in a few hours as most are located around the old part of the town. The traditional tourist route takes in most of them and is worth leaving the car at bay, although the Andalucian sun would recommend otherwise. The lavish Paseo de Blas Infante behind the bullring offers the best panoramic views over the mountains. The Calle Virgen de la Paz leads the way towards the bridge.

The most famous landmark in Ronda, with its long and celebrated history, is the Plaza de Toros, widely acclaimed to be one of the most important and famous rings in the bullfighting world. This is no coincidence as Ronda is considered to be the seat of bullfighting and equestrian sports. The majority of this praise is assigned to a man called Pedro Romero, undoubtedly the father of modern day bullfighting. He created a graceful style that involved fighting bulls on foot rather than on horseback as it had previously always been done. Incidentally this bullring was chosen by Madonna for the shooting of her video Take a Bow.

The Ronda bullring was built in 1785 making it one the oldest in Spain. It is entered through an elegant gateway and surrounded by fine arcades inside. The bullring is open to the public, with a small admission charge. It also houses an interesting museum dedicated to the sport, containing sumptuous costumes and various mementoes such as bullfighting accessories and photographs of generations of Ronda matadors including the Romero family and the famous Antonio Ordoñez. Writers have also found Ronda to be a source of inspiration, the most internationally famous of which has been Ernest Hemingway, pictures of whom adorn the museum. He worked as a newspaper correspondent during the Spanish Civil War and lived in a suburb of Málaga and befriended the famous bullfighter Antonio Ordoñez. His passion for bullfighting inspired him to write his novel Death in the Afternoon, a magnificent account of the sport’s inherent drama.

The Andalucian bullfighting season stretches from April to October, but the most important ones take place in Spring and Summer. It is best to enquire through the local tourist office when one arrives or directly from the ticket office or taquilla specifically dedicated to the sale of tickets for the bullfight.

Located just outside the bullring is the Pedro Romero restaurant, where various bull parts are on offer, although the more traditional fayre is also on offer, including the speciality Andalucian gazpacho and rabbit in garlic, ideally washed down with a carafe of Sangria.

One cannot but fall in love with this beautiful town and its inhabitants, invariably helpful and friendly, and one tends to promise oneself to visit again.
Destination - Scilla, Reggio Calabria
The Pearl of the Costa Viola

Mythical.. charming.. picturesque.. quaint yet vibrant.. these words came to mind when I first visited Scilla one evening back in 1988 (and reiterated more recently during a visit a few months ago), it was love at first sight. One could immediately guess that it had many stories to tell.

Stunningly located on the Costa Viola in the Calabria region of Italy in the Province of Reggio Calabria, this pretty little fishing village is straight out of myths and bears a history that stretches back thousands of years. Its mysterious origins have, in fact, made Scilla an irresistible subject for writers throughout its existence. One writer eloquently wrote “Once charming and regal, Scilla casts a powerful spell, a kind of enchantment which gradually creeps into the depths of the onlooker inducing him to dream.”

Scilla is a village full of evocative fascination whose origins are lost in the mists of time, a true blend of mythology, history, legends and poetic illustrations that merge into a distant past rich in character and charm. This picturesque village has been described by the likes of Homer in the Odyssey, Ovid and Virgil and owes its name to the legendary sea monster Scylla, entwined around countless myths.
In Homer’s Odyssey, when Ulysses began his perilous journey home, he had to cross a stormy strait. On one side was Charybdis, a sea monster which bore a single gaping mouth that swallowed huge quantities of water, and belched them out three times a day, creating whirlpools. On the other side, Scylla, the seven headed beast slumbering at the foot of the steep cliff. Any vessel coming near the whirlpool was inevitably engulfed. They were said to be located close enough to each other so as to pose an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too closely to Scylla and vice versa. Ulyssis is located in the Straits of Messina, Charybdis in Sicily and Scylla in Scilla.

The earthquake in 1783 destroyed most of Scilla and Calabria. Entire families were wiped out, buildings, bridges and the fortifications of the castle also destroyed. Whatever was left standing was then damaged and cancelled by the 1908 earthquake. The French took over Scilla in 1806, but were soon driven out by the British, but this was to be short-lived as in 1808 the French forced the British to evacuate the castle.

The 43 sq. km village can easily be explored on foot. It is made up of three districts: the beach resort of the Marina Grande, the castle and administrative centre, also the main residential area, boasting beautiful views known as San Giorgio and the picturesque fisherman’s district known as Chianalea.

The beach front, known as the Marina Grande, is the main attraction of this small village. This part is fairly modern, with a cheerful seaside atmosphere lined with bars and restaurants. It is generally bustled with seaside holidaymakers and locals during the summer months. One other attraction worth a visit is the fifteenth century Chiesa di Santo Spirito, located just beneath the Castello Ruffo, built in 1752 by devout sailors who came to Scilla during the eighteenth century. Here one can appreciate, various colourful marble works as well as the masterpiece of Francesco Celebrano, the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Spread out on the plateau above sea level is the central part of the village known as San Giorgio. San Giorgio is home to the famous Castello Ruffo, the Church of San Rocco, the patron saint of the city, overlooking the Piazza San Rocco which offers breathtaking views of the Marina Grande and other parts of the village. Perched on a promontory jutting out over the Straits of Messina and overlooking the azure waters of the sea is the imposing Ruffo castle, an old fortification built for military purposes then converted into a residential property in 1532 by Count Paolo Ruffo who resided in the castle for a number of years. This castle plays an important role in the history of Scilla and is considered by many to be the most beautiful castle in Scilla, not for its structure but for its historical and mythological significance. It has long been the emblem of the town and although myth states that its origins date back to Ulysses who built the oldest part of the fortification as a temple in honour of Minerva, its first foundations date back to the fifth century BC during Anasilla’s tyranny but it was built between the ninth and eleventh century AD. The earthquake in 1783 did not spare the castle but was restored in 1810. However another strong earthquake in 1908 destroyed most of the old structure. At various times this location has been a fortress, a home, a lighthouse, a monastery and, most recently, a youth hostel. It is currently a Cultural centre and holds a number of photography and painting exhibitions and sculpture symposiums. There is also a permanent exhibition of the luntre, only remaining ancient ship, once used for hunting swordfish.

The Church of San Rocco was built in 1424 to celebrate the end of the Plague but its first construction was destroyed by the 1783 earthquake. It was rebuilt only to be destroyed once more by the 1908 earthquake. San Rocco is the patron saint of the town. He came to Scilla during an epidemic of plague, tended to the sick and is said to have affected many miraculous cures by prayer and the sign of the cross and the touch of his hand. This church overlooks the piazza from where one can enjoy scenic views of the town, castle and the Marina Grande.

Squeezed between the waves and the main road below the cliffs with only one principal lane running along its length, Chianalea is a charming little fishermen’s settlement with cobblestone streets and an atmosphere all of its own. Nestled into a narrow strip of land, this little historical district is lined with tiny cramped houses built right against the sea, separated from each other by small alleys with waves washing up to their walls and with little fishing boats drawn up on tiny slipways. Here one can while away time on a cafe terrace over the water or stroll out to see the boats in the harbour below the castle. This enchanting little village is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. At any time of day, fishermen can be seen sitting outside mending their nets or chatting with each other. Fishing for swordfish was in fact the base for the main economy of the suburb until a few years ago.

Getting there is easy as it is very conveniently on the railway line which travels through Italy’s Tyrrhenian coast and is only some 20km north of Reggio Calabria. It can also be reached fairly easily by car. Flights from Malta to Reggio Calabria are to resume once again shortly.

One cannot but fall in love with Scilla, with its beautiful beaches, historical charm, vibrant colours and Mediterranean flavours and fragrances. Along with its invariably helpful and friendly inhabitants, it offers a good mix of culture, history and good food.
Destination - Brussels

When planning a weekend break places that normally come to mind include Gozo, Taormina, Rome, London or Paris. An interesting city worth visiting, which would not be an automatic first choice, is Brussels.

Of course when one thinks of Brussels, one thinks of the capital city of the European Union, with the various EU institutions, but there is much more … this city promises more than one can imagine.

The so-called ‘Lower Town’ is the historical and commercial heart of the city, and home to the famous Grand Place. Most of the city's best historic sites, restaurants and shops are located in this bustling quarter. Its layout remains essentially medieval - a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled lanes and alleys whose names mostly reveal their original purpose as markets, as for example, the Rue du Marché aux Fromages.

The Grand Place is an outstanding example of the eclectic and highly successful building of architectural and artistic styles that characterizes the culture and society of this region. It is usually the first port of call for most visitors to Brussels and is known to be one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe. This charming market square is enclosed by a beautiful set of Guild houses and dominated by the Town Hall and the Maison du Roi. This bustling cobblestone square remains the civic centre, many centuries after its creation, offering the finest example of Belgium’s ornate 17th century architecture. The origins of the Grand-Place, however, are humble. Open-air markets took place on this site as early as the 11th century. During the early Middle Ages small wooden houses were scattered around the market. Brussels’ town hall, the Hôtel de Ville, was completed in 1459, emerging as the finest architectural masterpiece in the country, a stature it still enjoys. In the following centuries most wooden houses were replaced with beautifully decorated guild houses in a whole array of styles. Gradually the market turned into the main commercial and administrative centre of the city.

The main buildings forming the perimeter of the Grand Place include the Hôtel de Ville, with its imposing belfry, topped by a statue of St. Michael, the city’s patron saint; the group of six guild houses now housing the Cocoa and Chocolate Museum; the Maison du Roi, once the residence of the ruling Spanish monarchs, now home to the Musée de La Ville; Le Pigeon, home to Victor Hugo, the exiled French novelist; la Maison des Boulangers, a showpiece built by a wealthy and powerful group of bakers, now housing the Grand Place’s finest bar with a view of the bustling square.

Just off the Grand Place is the ‘Manneken Pis’. This very famous bronze statuette, just 60 cm high, represents a little boy tirelessly filling the basin of his fountain with his stream of water. Several attempts to steal the statue were made during the 18th century and in fact was stolen and smashed in 1817. A replica was cast the following year and returned to its original place. This is the copy we see today. It is a tradition for the statue to be dressed in a costume on special occasions, a wide array of which can be viewed at the Maison du Roi.

Another statue wrought in tradition and superstition is that of Everard t'Serclaes, a 14th-century popular Brussels hero. In 1388, when riding alone on the road from Brussels to Lennik, he was ambushed, mutilated before being transported to the Maison de l'Étoile, where he was to die. It is this episode which is commemorated by the reclining statue underneath the Étoile house. Local superstition says that caressing the statue, especially Serclaes' arm and the dog's nose, brings luck. Be that as it may, it certainly keeps the statue shiny!

The Upper Town, to the southeast, has a vastly different atmosphere. The traditional base of Brussels' French-speaking elite, it is home to wide boulevards, major museums, chic shopping areas around Sablon and Avenue Louise, and monumental buildings including the Belgian parliament. The Place du Grand Sablon, one of the most prestigious areas in Brussels, has recently become the centre of antiques shops and art galleries. The name ‘sablon’ is derived from the French ‘sable’ meaning ‘sand’ and is so-called because it was originally a sandy road along which people had access to the main city gates. The triangular shaped square is home to up-market antique dealers, fashionable restaurants, trendy bars as well as pleasant cafes. A visit to Wittamer, a well-known chocolate shop, is a must.

Dominating the square is the Notre Dame du Sablon church, one of the most beautiful gothic churches in Brussels. Its interior is simple with inter-connecting chapels but the eleven magnificent stained-glass windows, each 14m high, dominate the church. As the church is lit from the inside, they shine out at night across the street. The Place du Petit Sablon, opposite the Grand Sablon, is surrounded by a magnificent wrought-iron fence, topped by 48 small bronze statues representing the city's guilds.

The Cathedrale Sts Michel et Gudule, situated between the upper and lower town, is the national church of Belgium, and is the finest surviving example of Gothic architecture. In 1047 the Duke of Brabant, Lambert II, had the relics of St. Gudule transferred to this church. This 7th century saint is very dear to the Bruxellois and is known as the woman whose candle the devil tries to blow out and is miraculously re-ignited. The interior of the cathedral is very bare but the magnificent richly decorated glass-stained windows contribute to the gothic style and allow light to fall into the church.

A favourite during the warmer months of the year with joggers, families and civil servants from the nearby EU headquarters is the Cinquantenaire Park, with its huge lawns and several museums. The Triumphal Arch is the most eye catching monument found in the park. It was built to serve as a new entrance to the people entering from the eastern side of Brussels.

To the north of Brussels, Heysel offers attractions whose modernity contrasts with the historical city centre. The Atomium, built in 1958 for the World Fair, stands next to the Bruparck theme park. It is probably the most identifiable symbol of Brussels, as recognisable as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It is a symbol of the atom concept, because it represents a crystal molecule of metal, magnified 165 billion times. Now a small museum, each of the nine spheres that make up the ‘atom’ are 18m in diameter and linked by escalators.

With its sites and range of theme restaurants, Bruparck is a very popular family destination. Located at the foot of the Atomium, Mini-Europe is the only park where you can have a tour around Europe in a few short hours. Reduced-scale reconstructions take you around the landscapes of the European Union, displaying buildings of social or cultural importance from the Tower of Pisa to the Maestranza bullring of Seville, accompanied by the incomparable chimes of the Big Ben which welcome you to the heart of London.

Brussels is definitely a compelling ‘get-away-from-it-all’ destination, offering a good mix of culture, history and entertainment. A weekend-break there is very definitely worth considering.