The man with the basil

It was hot and sunny when I arrived in Antibes (typical summer weather in fact, nothing to be surprised about or even mention really), so I thought that an insalata caprese would be the ideal dinner. This is the well-known salad you have all had with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil.

I got good mozzarella from a supermarket but wanted to go to the local fruit & veggies lady, who is Italian by the way, for the tomatoes and the basil. Usually one can find excellent basil plants in her shop.

Not so this time. While the tomatoes were stunningly red, smelt lovely and felt just right to the touch, the two or three basil plants that were left looked more than sad. They wouldn’t make any insalata caprese.

I tried another fruit & veggies nearby, but the basil there was even worse, just some dried stems that were offered to me for free. I politely declined though. I wasn’t that desperate. Those few dry leaves definitely wouldn’t make any insalata caprese.

Should I have to change dinner plans? No!! I decided to try a third fruit & veggies, a very small shop. “Can you come back tomorrow?”, the man asked. He hadn’t brought the plants in from his garden yet, but tomorrow they would be ready for sale. I explained my dinner problem. “I will help you out”, he said and left the shop. He returned with a huge bunch of the most beautiful fragrant basil which he had just cut in his garden. He asked 90 cents for it.

The little shop now has a new faithful customer.

Map mysteries

Guessing game: What do the following places have in common?

  • Aberdeen
  • Chengdu
  • Surabaya
  • Antananarivo
  • Kilimanjaro
  • Hyderabad
  • Calgary
  • Ottawa

Over the past few years I have travelled quite a lot to and from Asia with Qatar Airways. Since I very rarely relax, let alone sleep, when I’m in the air I look around and observe insignificant, or significant?, little things, such as the map that is shown on the screen in front of you as part of the so called inflight entertainment. The places listed above are the only ones that appear on it when the whole world is shown. This has been the case on all the flights. Why? Does anybody know? I certainly don’t.

Note that there is only one European city, Aberdeen. Why not Groningen, Uppsala, Pisa or Dijon, if for some reason you want the map to feature a small to medium-sized city with a university? Asia is represented by  Chengdu, Surabaya and Hyderabad. Why didn’t they choose, for instance, Zhengzhou, Yogyakarta or Mysore? And how come there is nothing at all in South America? Because I was on flights to and from Asian destinations perhaps? But why then would Calgary and Ottawa figure on the list? Many questions arise.

Maybe these places are meant as travel tips? Of the places on the list I have been only to Chengdu, a city I remember for its sky, covered by impenetrable haze, and a memorable stop at a food stall where I tried to order local specialties for dinner. A very friendly Ukraine student noticed that I could do with some help in making myself understood. She was in Chengdu to study Chinese and judging from the tasty meal I got, she was doing very well.

In fact I have also been at the Surabaya airport once, to catch a flight to Lombok. That left no particular memories, apart from the fact that the airline had forgotten to communicate that the flight would leave one hour earlier than stated in the confirmation mail. No problem, my guide had seen to it that I was at the check-in counter very early also by my standards. I’m usually ridiculously early, in other people’s eyes, for all departures, be it planes or trains.

The photos have nothing to do with any of the places mentioned, nor with flights to or from Asia. In fact they show Botswana from above. But they do illustrate air travel!


Halong Bay mist

Everything on the ship was wet, but it wasn’t raining, it was just so incredibly misty. Together with some 20 people I had just boarded the Dragon’s Pearl junk for an overnight cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

During the previous days I had studied the weather forecast with great interest, hoping for the overcast days to end just in time for my trip. And the forecast did indeed show that the sun would pierce the clouds just around my boarding time. But the otherwise rather pessimistic site that I regularly consult (, I like it just because it is slightly pessimistic and it’s much nicer to get a positive surprise than to be disappointed) proved to be wrong this time. No sun. Just thick clouds.

But as soon as we had left the busy harbour my disappointment turned into sheer fascination: the seascape was unreal, all black and white (except for the flags adorning the junk), with the tiny islands and cliffs almost floating. It was nothing short of magical.

I soon got used to everything being wet too.

We moored in a little bay where some people, most people actually, went canoeing. I wouldn’t ever have dared. What if I couldn’t find my way back?? Sometimes my imagination is just a bit too vivid.

While we were moored the captain raised the sail, I suppose only because it looked pretty. There was absolutely no wind and the ship wasn’t going anywhere.

As darkness fell, the magic continued.

As soon as I got out of my cabin early the following morning I felt that the air was different. I touched the railing and it was dry! There was still some mist, but it didn’t look the same.

The morning programme was one of these tourist visits to a pearl farm, where my fellow passengers on the junk showed very little interest in buying anything at all. However, I had just the previous day lost a necklace with a pendant in Hanoi, so I actually welcomed this visit since I thought a little pearl on a chain might be a good replacement. I found what I was looking for, and that indeed awoke the buying instinct in the others! The pearl farm made good business that morning.