Not a Refugee
There comes a day when you must decide which way you are going.

The trigger may not depend on you or the circumstances. It will seem like just another moment for another goal to be achieved, another step to be made. It never happens at a time that you choose. After all, “time and tide wait for no man,” as you’ve probably heard. Our life is a vast tree with thousands or millions of branches or tiny tender twigs. We decide which way we will follow, which branch will blossom, and which will go dry. You never know if you’ve made the right choice or missed the opportunity to give birth to something meaningful and remarkable. There’s one thing for sure – when one door closes, another one opens. And the one who chooses the way is YOU.

Nothing accidentally happens to us. Our experiences lead us to take the correct step or walk to the cliff’s edge.

So, I once traveled worldwide, visiting so many incredible countries and places, admiring beautiful views of picturesque harbors of Italian coasts, or wandering along the mystic cobblestoned hilly streets of Georgian towns. Did I ever think of why I needed to travel that much? I guess I didn’t realize the reason, but there were moments when I listened to my heart and nature. And it made each of those days ever since my happiest. Should we question why we sometimes need to hide somewhere in the mountains hiking for a few days or in a crowd of people in a cramped nightclub with the beat of the music, which is so much louder than our mind’s voice? Or should we follow nature’s call to gain the skills and knowledge we will need one day not to miss a new door opening?

I still have that innocent, childish curiosity that makes me hold my breath while getting on a plane to a new unknown destination. At a moment like that, starting a new journey is when I feel like I came across something I thought I had lost years ago.

We get accustomed to so many ordinary things, and I noticed that I needed more and more moments of anticipation and discovery. It made me feel addicted to all my travels, and the only thing that could make me feel free was getting on a plane and going far away. It gave me the feeling of living a short new life utterly different from the one I had had before—the previous life of a slave of your walls, material possession, and daily routine. Every time I needed a fix, it would take me a few weeks and the new trip to come up with a solution to all the troubles I had to overcome before recovering completely.

I spent weeks in every country I visited, observing how the locals lived and trying to feel their spirit and nature. And I realized I was a stranger every time and asked myself what I was doing there. Whatever country I visited, I wondered if that was where I could stay and lead my life happily. As if I was trying to choose a new home. Could I ever imagine I would have to do that one day? And like a student caught in the act of cheating by the examiner, I stopped my travels and rushed back home again and again.

Wherever I went, I was never alone. There was always someone I loved nearby as I needed someone to keep an eye on me. And I always kept in mind one thing “It doesn’t matter where you are; the only thing matters is who you are with.” Probably that’s why now when I am alone in a faraway country, I feel so uneasy about getting on.

After going to nearly every corner of my native land, I started exploring the world and searching for landmarks that inspired the most outstanding representatives of humanity to create their bestsellers and masterpieces to find my inspiration.

I’ve got the wings. I stood there in Terminal F and could not take my eyes off the plane’s wings. I felt like they were my wings! A moment and I will be in heaven; a moment and here I am above the stout rocks of Austria. They look like giant pieces of chocolate that flew apart from a powerful blow and between which stretched long strands of roads. In the hollows, there are many blue water ponds with tiny huts nearby, which seem to have been accidentally spilled by someone. It’s like small settlements of trolls in green valleys between huge mountains. Gosh, people. We choose the most beautiful places on this planet to live!

How I missed this feeling! You fly. You live. In a moment, under the wing, the red roofs of the houses form neat, dense squares, and the small ones form larger and even larger ones. Then the courts become less dense and eventually dissolve into endless valleys. This is Italy!

I remember those narrow streets of Italian towns with smiling and emotional people, talking loudly, gesticulating actively, and not in a hurry. Tiny cozy Pisa, beauty – the royal Venice, so ancient and young at the same time Bologna, which has become a refuge for young people and free thinkers, noisy obsessively arrogant Rome, my favorite beautiful marble pearl – Florence and many ancient small towns surrounded by high marble mountains like Ameglia, with incredible trees, similar to baobabs, where there’s the kingdom of exclusively Italians with here and there lost tourists. When in Italy, I constantly thought about the difference in mentality. Their careful attitude to their family estates with hectares of well-kept land, grandiose construction of roads and bridges, stubborn manner of speaking exclusively in their native language, and immense love for their country. Passing long tunnels and small villages on the rocks, you understand that they have bitten into this land and are firmly holding on to those mountains, making their way through the solid rock similarly to those moles. Here you will not see another country’s ferns, except those in hotels, but only hundreds and hundreds of tourists who come to taste this country.

And here, at the exit from another such long tunnel, I could see the incredible sight of the town of Como, spread out in the gorge of rocky mountains, and then Lake Como itself, about which I had heard so much. It was the first time when I just had tears due to the majesty of the moment and the understanding that, at that moment, I was contemplating a unique miracle of nature! I had similar tears while watching the paintings by Titian in Uffizi Gallery. It was an epic moment in my life. An excellent narrow road stretched along the lake, where sometimes we barely missed oncoming traffic, almost scratching the facades of houses with the car. In the towns, looking at expensive vehicles and estates of the 19th century, plastered with cute houses of later construction and costly hotels. And bats at night on the shore.

Next was the ancient university city of Bologna. This is a city of towers and galleries, pizza, and wine. This is a city of people free from conventions, where ancient architecture coexists with modern art and an incredible number of young people and elderly locals who seem to enjoy the strange mix as if they are not part of it. The galleries stretching along all the streets of the historical part of the city amaze the imagination of even an experienced tourist!

Locals, passing by each other on bicycles, must stop and chat as if no one is around. Noisy students, perfectly dressed, come out of the classrooms, chat lively with their teachers, holding stacks of books in their hands. And others, sitting in cafes or simply on the stairs, smoke cigarettes of unknown origin, and this persistent smell fills the whole space literally.

An Italian man must think he is God! He must have a suit, shoes, sockless, and a lovely car. He is polite on the road – he gives way at the first need! An Italian woman behaves like a queen, no matter how old! Good posture, hairstyle, elegant clothes, and a glass of wine are all accompanied by joyful gestures; even while driving, she doesn’t have enough space in the car, so she opens the window and continues the conversation, already gesturing outside! All of this is Bologna! Another moment and I reach the edge of the coast, Marseilles, and the blue sea. I have been to France only once, and I dream of driving through the dusty roads of Provence and enjoying the romance of the vineyard slopes and a glass of red wine on the terrace of some ancient estate. Meanwhile, France for me is such a different Paris, on the border between luxury and beggary, ideal and slums. The grandeur of this city cannot be overstated.

However, no matter how beautiful this county is, I always felt I was a stranger there and in Italy.

Ahead there was the rebellious Barcelona and Madrid. Spain remained unexplored for me, but I looked a bit at the edge of Seville city while traveling in Portugal. I was impressed. This is a kind of mix of an Arab fairy tale, orange gardens with an incredible number of giant parrots. Seville is a city where you feel the Spanish flavor with every cell of your body, the elegance of the architecture, and the coziness of narrow romantic streets with blue and white patterns on the facades of old houses, Gothic monograms on the Cathedral or the majestic walls of the Royal Alcazar Castle. Madrid was ahead! Madrid is the sun, and the sun is Madrid. “Blue sky.” my gadget lit up as soon as I tried to take a picture, and so on, every time. Even the phone couldn’t believe it was real! I had never seen such a sky anywhere! Madrid is truly a city blessed by the Sun itself. Everything breathes with empire spirit, and every step gives a sense of the majesty of the moment. It is confident and calm, and freedom is in the air. It is the “Source of water” and sunlight. Every square or street is a work of art. Friendly and smiling people. The aroma of seafood and, of course, paella! For the first time in my life, I was sure it was my place. Parks here is a separate story. You fall into the plot of some post-war film, either in France or Spain. The feeling of the country is lost here. Nature reigns here. It is an exciting mix where you feel love and respect for the native land and its inhabitants!

I can’t help mentioning Toledo. The ancient capital of Spain. The city is a fortress, a world where three powerful cultures, such as Arab, Jewish, and Christian, are mixed. You feel it when you see the ancient cobblestones under your feet and when you look up at the old carved balconies where a lady once admired the sunrise. Arab bazaars buzzed here, and stout blacksmiths forged weapons for knights. Everything here is imbued with the spirit of the Middle Ages. Or Barcelona, a wonderful city with its Gothic quarter, narrow streets, an impressive port, and long avenues with palm trees stretching along and into the sky. But not my home.

I am not an islander, and I would definitely not stay there forever, but the islands of Spain are a world like no other, lost in the ocean’s waters, and it is fantastic! It’s always summer here. The west coast is very green, its picturesque slopes descend majestically into the sea, and the waves hit so hard that every blow takes your breath away! The Teide volcano is a majestic handsome creature! About three thousand meters above sea level and more than seven thousand from the bottom of the sea. The third largest in the world, it seems. What you feel here is challenging to convey in words. You are on Mars, the red planet, confidently stepping on the lava that has frozen and formed whole valleys .. Impressive!

Small towns like on the west coast Icod De Los Vinos, located on steep slopes, are famous for one of the few dragon trees left on this planet from the time of the dinosaurs and which scientists believe to be the oldest plant on Earth. It is very picturesque and green here, in contrast to the southern and eastern coasts, where there are only rocks, stones, sand, and harsh landscapes. There are banana palm gardens and a few beaches with black volcanic sand.

Maska Gorge. This is a small village lost in the mountains. To get here by probably the steepest serpentine I have seen and surpassed even the serpentines in Romania is already an incredible attraction! Two cars barely pass by. There is everything here as it used to be; only souvenir shops and a couple of cafes have appeared, where you can taste cactus ice cream.

Portugal – my love and passion! The small cozy towns that stretch along the Atlantic coast with the romantic names of Vilamoura, Armação de Pêra, and Portimão go deep into your soul and stay there forever with the quiet motif of fado and the sound of the ocean!

I managed to travel through Lisbon to Porto from the country’s south to the very north. It felt like the scenery was different, changing palm trees, sun, and yellow sand to a landscape more similar to my native. Less and less English and more French. Luxurious Viviendas and cozy white houses turned into gray multi-apartment blocks. And I already thought I shouldn’t have expected anything from Porto! But I was wrong! Porto – once a majestic port, where, probably, their nobles had a good walk. Palaces and estates impress with their former grandeur, and cathedrals make you, raising your eyes to their vaults, silently enjoy the mystery of the moment! And the most significant impressions came from the bookstore where Joanne Rowling was inspired, and I bought such a desirable book, Oliver Twist, although not by her authorship. We will get back to you, my dear Portugal! I’ve been to so many fabulous places on Earth that my life is not enough to share. Choosing a route on land, I had the choice of going through some neighboring countries and further. Slovenia became a wholly new and unexplored culture for me! The spectacular beauty of mountains, tunnels, and the pearl of Slovenia is the magical Lake Bled, which I had dreamed of visiting for a long time! The picturesque views of the Alps were sometimes so impressive that emotions went over the edge! It is a country with friendly people, especially in the mountains. We felt it for ourselves when we stood in front of the destroyed road to the hotel late at night and stopped a random car of a local who dropped all his business and led us to the hotel along the forest road. We would never have found it ourselves! It is a spotless country, which especially caught the eye. Clear language completed the perfect picture!

Then was Switzerland. Switzerland is a kind of Jurassic Park! It feels like you are in the scenery of a science fiction film and a giant dinosaur or some other creature is about to come out from behind the mountain. It seemed that all this was not real. And sometimes, it seemed like a prehistoric era when giants still walked the planet. The mountains were so high and strange that sometimes they resembled elf hats. And from time to time, thin strands of waterfalls appeared on both sides of the road, falling from the very top. The houses were scattered on the slopes sparsely, and nothing special attracted attention, and the cities were distinguished by their urban style. I felt it immediately as soon as I arrived in Switzerland! And even the tunnels were no longer round but square and had open galleries on one side, which allowed us to contemplate all the beauty of the Swiss Alps! Through this country, I could not take my eyes off that beauty and think about how carefully the Swiss treat this treasure, trying not to disturb the pristine beauty of nature!

Liechtenstein remained to the right of the road we were traveling on and did not leave a mark on my heart. Austria met with cheap fuel prices and neat roadsides planted with corn, probably four meters high. Ahead was Germany. Bavarian cities are similar in their tidiness and the amount of beer that pours over the weekend for the hastily organized Fest. In the center, many tables were set up, where the locals relax! On weekdays, everything calmed down and entered its measured rhythm. In general, everything was very predictable. They lead a life when “no news is good news.” They work hard and drive good cars. Germans have very high taxes. They are proud of the family and develop the family business.

I passed cities like Bamberg, a city with a thousand-year-old history, and the streets bishops walked along. Let’s omit the history. This is a city with a thousand-year-old church and cute Bavarian houses. Frankfurt is a huge hub, a financial capital with high-rise office blocks! Frankfurt left the impression of a city where Germans once lived! Düsseldorf – a city on the banks of the Rhine, impressed me with its cleanliness, toy houses, and, of course, a fantastic atmosphere, which is a mix of German, French, and, for some reason, English style. The northern location is indicated. Five o’clock in the morning – dark. Six o’clock – dark. Seven o’clock – dark. Eight o’clock – where is the sun? Nine o’clock – barely dawning!

ALGARVE, PORTUGAL

Given all the difficulties, circumstances, and sometimes terrible periods of history, I wonder how they rose twice as much after two grueling wars. I love Germany and am convinced it is the most comfortable country to live in but not my home!

There were many other countries and stories, like mystic Georgia with cobblestoned hilly streets and misty small towns with local women wearing black and baking bread. Romania with its deserted sandy beaches and unbelievably gorgeous mountains and Dracula Castle. Poland impressed me with its cozy historic squares of Wroclaw and amazing port cities like Gdansk. I even crossed the Atlantic Ocean and appeared on a fairy tale island of the Dominican Republic and the beautiful deserted islands of the Caribbean Sea. There was unforgettable Cairo with its giant Pyramids and Luxor with outstanding temples. I was sitting there admiring the view of the pre-historic sight and couldn’t believe my eyes as I had only seen it on the pages of school books and couldn’t even imagine then I would be able to travel through time like that. But life changed completely when the war broke out in my native land. When it happens, it hurts so much and so long that you start getting used to it. And it scares more than the war itself. Then there came the day when I had to take a step to the edge.

So, here I am, alone, walking along the waterfront of the Atlantic Ocean. I am in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, the one that takes your heart and never lets it go. My dear Portugal became my temporary home and treated my soul with its sunny days, soft fado tune, and the ocean’s light breeze, unique colors of the sea and the sky similar to my native ones. It slowed me down, and I needed that so much. To live at the pace of fado. To exist.

So, what was the purpose? And is it the edge? I am not sure I want to know the answer. I know only one thing. Our life is a vast tree with thousands or millions of branches or tiny tender twigs. We decide which way we will follow, which branch will blossom, and which will go dry. You never know if you’ve made the right choice or if you haven’t given birth to something meaningful and remarkable. We need all that experience we get to take the right step or the step to the edge one day.

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