Johannesburg - This may be difficult to believe, but I have never received a Valentine’s Day card.
The closest I came was a card from a (former) girlfriend on February 29, in a leap year: “Today’s the day, what do you say?”
Apparently – so I discovered later – on a leap year, a woman may ask a man to marry her (normally it’s the other way around – at least according to tradition). Also, apparently, “ha, ha, ha” is not the correct answer to such a question.
Needless to say, that little liaison ended in tears.
Valentine’s Day, commercial scam though it is, still presents the opportunity to display your romantic side by whisking someone away to that “special place”.
But where would you go for a special earth-moving, stars-bursting, violins-playing moment?
Here’s one of my favourites – with some disclaimers.
The Isle of Capri (pronounced car-pree, not cap-ree) is the clichéd slice of Mediterranean heaven: perpendicular chalk cliffs studded with conifers plunging straight into a sea of such blues that words like azure and turquoise seem flat and lame in comparison to the reality.
At the back of the island, a few kilometres from the main centre, where the conifers perch right on the edge of the cliffs and you look at impossible, massive, natural portholes in the rock which frame the sea and bleached white sailboats, there is a simple concrete bench.
It is the bench with the best view in the world. The sky meets the sea, the blues battling each other, while on the horizon the Italian coast blurs in and out of focus. Crying gulls ride the currents around the cliff faces.
It is a place for two hands, two chilled glasses of white wine (Champagne, if you must) and the contemplation of eternity in the way only lovers can.
I know this because I have been there. I know this because I was on my own – and I knew that place is special in the sharing of it.
But… some practicalities.
Take your beloved there if you must – but arrive there separately. Nothing kills romance quite as effectively as travelling together – and going to the hot, heady, chaotic Italian Amalfi Coast and its Capri island sister will test the patience of a good Catholic saint.
Flying into, and out of, the borderline Third World airport in Napoli (Naples) easily gets tempers frayed. Then the trip along the narrow roads… Don’t hire a car. That way madness lies.
Then there is the trip by ferry (crowded, hot and sometimes storm-tossed and sea sick-inducing), and the bus (or taxi) ride up the narrow road and perilous streets to the centre of the island.
After that, if you’re flush, you’ll get a porter to take your luggage to your hotel; if not you’ll do it yourself and end up exhausted.
But therein lies the secret of enjoying the magic of Capri: stay overnight on the island. At 6pm in summer, all the day trippers (80 percent of the island’s population) are herded back into their boats and dispatched back to the mainland.
Then, as the heat seeps slowly (but not completely) away, gather your special one, your backpack with the wine and glasses and hit the trail.
You will see no more than one or two other people – mainly joggers – and you will have one of the most beautiful spots on Earth to yourself.
That’s one suggestion – use it, don’t use it – but travel and romance is what you make it.
The trick is in understanding the person you’ll be sharing it with.
If you like a Zambezi sunset and your intended believes shopping in Dubai is heaven on Earth… well, compromise may be good, but I’d heed the signs.
Then there are places that always work: mountains, rivers, lakes, the sea, the wild African bush.
Paris, of course, is said to be the city of lovers, but even it is a bit seedy these days and crowded year-round with tourists.
If you both like art (and French Impressionists, particularly) then a few hours in the Orsay Museum taking in Renoir and Monet is good for your romantic soul.
Anywhere in Europe in winter is wonderful, but the German Christmas markets have a fairy tale air about them which suits wonderment and whispers.
Many may not agree, but I don’t reckon your stereotypical desert island – palm-fringed white beach and clear blue sea – is very romantic.
You’ll get burnt to a frizzle if you stay in the sun too long, and the sand particles have a habit of getting into every orifice.
The midnight sun in the Antarctic – not cheap but worth doing with someone special.
My most romantic (shared) places?
Alongside the canoes drawn up on the sandy bank of the Zambezi River, watching a stream of millions of quelea birds, more than a kilometre long, as the sun sank, growing impossibly large and impossibly orange and red.
Sipping lousy white wine (couldn’t tell the difference then, and ignorance sometimes is bliss) and listening to hippos and the inane chatter of 20-somethings.
A patch of Afro-montane rain forest in the Vumba mountains in Zimbabwe, wondrous as a guide called the rare birds.
A trout dam in Dullstroom, the only sound being the slight swish of a trout rod as her father cast. A place you can see the future in the open rolling grass hillocks. A place to say those important three words.
Another dam, ringed with pines, near Troutbeck in Zimbabwe. As something rippled the surface, another ripple through her body as I felt my son’s kick for the first time.
A hardwood fire in the Kuiseb River Canyon in the Namib Desert, while the child slept, dirty and happy, in the tent and the stars exploded above.
A little game reserve in Swaziland when the cold mountain mist swallowed us all up completely and my daughter grabbed my leg because dads are there for protection.
Call it romance. Call it travel.
I call it life. - Saturday Star