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Sparkle, Magic and Wonderment

Captivating Casares (and nearby localities)…

By July 11, 2016 Sparkle, Magic and Wonderment, Travel

When we planned our trip to Andalusia, in the south of Spain, we became intrigued by the idea of Casares, a fortified Arabian settlement of beautiful white-washed dwellings strategically nestled in the mountain-tops with a strong wall and sheer drops protecting the town.  Having hired a car with mobile Wifi, we were able to have a very free-flowing and spontaneous road-trip in Andalusia, deciding our route and plans as we went, booking accommodation online as we approached a town we wanted to spend the night in.

We planned to visit Casares as a day trip, because there appeared to be only one small inn in the town itself,  and Casares is close enough to many other towns.

So we decided to spend the night before in Sabinillas, at the Hotel Dona Luisa on the  beautiful Costa Del Sol. We rose early, eager to start the day.  After a leisurely breakfast, we walked out onto the beach and were greeted by a breath-taking sunrise, as the first rays of sunlight diffused orange and gold above the water. There was something very special about being up at the crack of dawn.  The prospect of the whole day, filled with promise stretched out before us.  A day with nothing to do but please ourselves.

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We bumped into some fellow tourists who suggested that a trip to nearby Castellar de la Frontera would be well worth the time.   It was a beautiful day so we took the suggested detour through the sun-drenched, mountainous landscape and found ourselves exploring a delightful little town.  There were charming winding cobblestone streets where ceramic vendors displayed their wares and weathered stone buildings reaching up towards a brilliantly blue sky.

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By now it was lunchtime and there didn’t appear to be many places to stop for a meal in this beautiful but isolated spot.  Actually just one tiny pub as far as we could tell…

So we went in.  There were very few tables and no one inside except one young bartender.  We resigned ourselves to the prospect of a simple and probably not very tasty lunch and asked for a few tapas.  Next thing we knew, our host brought out plate after plate of mouth-watering dishes, made with seemingly the simplest fresh ingredients but assembled and seasoned with such flair as to be unbelievably delicious.  The showstopper was the tastiest chorizo sausage which he dramatically set aflame before us!  We agreed that somehow the adventure of stumbling upon this gem of an eatery in the most unexpected spot made it one of the best and most special meals we had ever had.

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We expressed our appreciation as best we could in broken Spanish and finally headed to Casares.  The numerous white buildings clustered like gems in the mountains were everything we had hoped to see as we approached.  As we took a closer look on foot we saw that the town was immaculately kept.  Even the cemetary was beautiful.  We wandered up towards the highest point and past some castle ruins and  a church.

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By now, the sun was setting and we had found the perfect spot to admire the town.  From our vantage point above the village we heard the strains of habitation at dusk from below.  The voices and foot-steps of children playing in the streets, dogs barking, the breeze in the trees, birds, the occasional motorbike winding through the streets and the church bells ringing…

Watching the town from a distance, there was a stillness in the air, and we all fell silent, deep in our own thoughts.   I thought about how it was almost as if we had lived the best parts of a lifetime in one day.  From when the day was young and full of possibility at dawn, to a care-free day filled with adventures, spontenaeity, surprise and wonderful food shared in good company in amazing surroundings.  Then the end of the day.  The white buildings glowed in the last rays of the sun, as memories of this incredible day continue to glow and bring a smile to our faces well after the trip has ended.

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How to Use Memories as Inspiration to Inject Magic, Wonderment and Sparkle into Everyday Life

By January 4, 2016 Sparkle, Magic and Wonderment

Remember how you felt on Christmas morning as a child, that frisson of excitement, of magic hanging in the air after weeks of anticipation? Or what about the sparks that flew when you started dating someone special, when you woke every morning unable to think of anything but when you would speak to or see that person next, your impatience to see how the relationship would unfold?

If you are anything like me, these moments of exhilarating happiness and excitement still happen as an adult but became fewer and further between compared with when I was a child. I wondered why, and what I could do to inject more magic and sparkle back into life. So I decided to explore some more examples of magic-infused memories to figure out what made them so special.

Some of my magical memories:

1. Trip to Carcasssonne (see my post from earlier today)

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2. Aeroplane Trips

As a child, whenever we had an overseas trip planned, my sisters and I would be so excited about going on the aeroplane. More excited about the trip there than the holiday itself really…We loved having our own seats with our own light switch and music channels we could control ourselves (back then in the 80s there was just one large movie screen at the front of the cabin which we would watch through the gaps between the seats, never dreaming of the luxury of having a library of movies to choose from like we have today!).  We loved the cosiness of the aeroplane cabin with the soothing white-noise of the airplane propellers when the lights were dimmed.  We would plan what games we would take with us .to play and dream of eating food out of little boxes in a tray and even practice “aeroplane eating” when we played make-believe.  (Having since experienced economy-class aeroplane food as an adult I can’t really explain to you or myself why we had that particular fascination…).  I even loved airports, and still do.  To me, international airports all over the world all have the same air of excitement.  A tantalising port to exotic destinations soon to be reached.

3. Getting up early for road trips

As a child, we would regularly get up in the early hours when it was still dark to start a long trip to visit my aunt and cousins. I loved spending time with my cousins, but the trip itself was exciting. As with overseas plane flights, it was the start of an exciting journey, with the thought of the whole trip stretching out in front of you. But there was also a definite novelty associated with being awake and having somewhere to go at a time of day when I would normally not be allowed up. There was a certain magic in the night air, the crisp coolness of it, the blanket of darkness just beyond the window, sprinkled with the twinkling lights of stars and street lamps which made the interior of the car all the cosier. Then of course there was the magic of a beautiful sunrise….I enjoyed sharing these experiences with my parents and later my siblings.

4. A special dinner after a busy day at work

I remember, one day I had a special romantic dinner at a restaurant to look forward to for the evening. I had quite a busy work day to get through beforehand, but having somewhere special to go afterwards infused the whole day with excitement. At the end of the day I was able to pack up and mentally and physically, close the door on work and enthusiastically start the next exciting part of my day.

5. Summer holidays after exams

I was something of a geek at high school and university… I studied pretty hard, and the end of year exams were associated with weeks of discipline, sacrifice, hard work, stress and fatigue. So handing in that last exam paper for the year and stepping out into the sunshine came with a certain euphoria (probably heightened by the delirium of sleep deprivation!). The moment was particularly exhilarating if I knew I had “aced” the exam, but even when I didn’t feel so great about it, there was a certain relief in knowing it was all over and I could look forward to starting the summer holidays.

6. An exciting new project

There is nothing like a new project you are passionate about to fill you with enthusiasm and excitement. For me right now, that is this blog! I don’t know where this will lead, if anyone will read it, or like it, or if I will still be writing it in a year. But I do know that I have always wanted to write for others as well as myself since I was a child. I am writing about things I am passionate about, am excited to share my thoughts with you, and am dreaming about the possibilities of what I will explore and where this might go.

7. Christmas…this deserves a post of its own! I will come back to this one next December…

 

So in considering what  made these childhood and adult memories so magical, I noticed the following:

a) All have an element of anticipation. Of looking forward to something that promises to be exciting and delightful for a reasonably long period of time. Anticipation of an exotic holiday, of a whole day filled with wonderful possibilities, of a whole evening out in a lovely restaurant, of the whole of the summer holidays, of all the possibilities and potential for success of a new project, of finding wonderful and delightful things when setting out to explore an exciting new place.I have decided anticipation at the beginning of something nice is possibly the best part of a pleasurable experience. When the entire experience is still in store, but yet tantilisingly close. The magical memory is complete when the things we look forward to are every bit as amazing as we imagined or if we are lucky even better!

b) Novelty

Being awake at an unusual time (for a nice reason!), seeing a new place, trying new food, doing something different –the novelty of these elements helped to add an extra sparkle to make the experience special. Trying something different is such a refreshing change to everyday life which can get a little mundane sometimes.

c) Contrast

Pleasurable experiences are heightened by contrast. The contrast of having something like a busy work day or exams and then being to suddenly switch into celebration/holiday mode, letting the pressures of whatever else there is to worry about in life lift away, if only for that period of time.

d) An interesting challenge

It is great to have hobbies you enjoy, and if you are lucky a job you love. The start of a new project you are passionate about is so exciting, a time filled with creativity, purpose and potential.

e) Shared experience

All of these experiences involve sharing moments with others, whether with loved ones, fellow students or you, my readers! This is not to say you can’t have magical moments on your own (I have had quite a few). But having someone to share the experience with,  whether at the time or by telling them about it afterwards often seems to heighten the experience.

Try this!

  1. List at least 5 memories of times that felt magical and exciting. Go on, take a stroll down memory lane and indulge in reliving some of your most wonderfully delightful memories
  2. For each memory, write down what you think made it so wonderful
  3. Use those reasons to inspire a list of ways you can inject more magic and wonderment into your life now!
  4. Think about how you can add anticipation, novelty and passion into your life and consider how you might share the experience with others.

À demain!

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A Magical trip to Carcassonne, France

By January 4, 2016 French Inspired, Sparkle, Magic and Wonderment, Travel

I have been lucky enough to have had many magical moments on overseas holidays.  However some stand out in my memories more than others.  Carcassonne is a charming hilltop town in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of Southern France, surrounded by a medieval fortress.  We were a travelling party of 5 and had hired a car to take a road trip, driving from town to town.  We loved seeing the landscape of gently rolling hills and green countryside as we travelled.  As we were travelling in a car we were able to stop to pick poppies in a field which we had never seen growing wild before and take lots of photos and practice our French on the locals!

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We stayed in a little hotel just outside the city walls of Carcasonne and had a breath-taking view of the medieval town, which certainly seemed take on a magical quality as it lit up at dusk (see above).  Immediately we began talking about how this conjured up romanticised visions of princesses and knights, and of the medieval citizens scurrying behind the safety of the city walls and closing the gates to protect the town…

It was a chilly, grey and drizzly evening, but already enchanted by this charming town, we were completely un-deterred and we put on our winter coats. armed ourselves with umbrellas and set off walking into the town.  The town shops were still open, but the wet cobblestone streets were empty and there were no other tourists to be seen.  It was as if we had the town to ourselves.  We ducked into a cosily lit sweet shop and spent a happy 20 minutes marvelling over the variety of and selecting some to sample before braving the rain again.

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We wandered around, and came across, among other sights, a square, a beautiful church with stained glass windows lit up by candles,   a well, and a poster exalting the local dish, Cassoulet!

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By now the light was fading and we looked for somewhere to have dinner.  We were welcomed by the owner of a charming country pub and climbed the stone stairs to the restaurant on the upper floor.  The room was delightfully warm and lit by candles and a crackling fire.  The waiter was hospitable, charming and of course knowledgeable about wine.  We did order the famed cassoulet, a provincial dish of duck leg, sausage and haricot beans cooked in a clay pot.  The warm and hearty meal was the perfect end to a magical fairy tale of a day.

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