Monday 28 February 2011

Monday Blahs

Feeling a little blue after the weekend?  I confess to being faintly azure myself.  It's a very grey and rainy day here in Melbourne, almost (though I don't want to admit it) Autumny; I had a serious wardrobe malfunction on my way to work (strategic button came off my dress) and got splashed with mud.  My meeting got cancelled, but I didn't get the message until I was already at the venue.

But that's okay: tonight we're having chicken curry tv dinner in front of the Oscars, and I just finished watching this video, which cannot but make you smile.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Home Thoughts, From Abroad

[With deepest apologies to Robert Browning.]

Oh to be Ireland,
Now that general election's there,
And whoever wakes in Ireland,
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest of lowly incompetents and the general inertia and gloom,
Have led us to an uncertain future/impending doom*,
While the journalists sing 'we told you so!'
In England - now!

And after them, the other Europeans follow,
And Vanity Fair builds, sympathy sounding hollow!
Hark, where yet another cliché-spouting reporter
Leans towards us and scatters Schadenfreude
Images of tombstones and planes - sobbing mammies in their wake -
That's the 24 Hour News guy; he repeats each statistic twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first gabillion times he mentioned the fact that in the boom Ireland had the most helicopters per capita!
And though the election candidates seem tarred with the same brush,
All will be gay when the government gets the push
And the ECB takes over the little children's dower**
Far brighter than trusting our own shower*** ....

*Depending on which political party you listen to
** What's left of it after buying all the banks' bad debts
***I love the fact that TripAdvisor includes 'Áras an Uachtaráin/Home of the President' as slang.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Thinking of Christchurch

Travelling makes the world bigger and smaller, in different ways.  Bigger because of the wealth of experiences, the colour and interest of the differences between people and places.  Smaller because instead of thinking of places 'over there' (ober dere as The Adorable Nephew would say) through other people's stories and images, I have my own memories to draw on.

When I heard about the earthquake that hit Christchurch yesterday, it got me right in the solar plexus.  A year ago this would have been somewhere 'over there', now it's somewhere I've experienced first-hand.  When I blogged about visiting the city in December, I was struck by its pleasant greenness, its tranquility, its niceness; the quiet strength of a city getting on with rebuilding after a huge earthquake.

Seeing photos of the cathedral in ruins yesterday made me cry.  It's almost impossible to reconcile my memories of it at evensong, serene and beautiful, with the images of the collapsed spire, the rubble on the ground and the stories of people trapped inside.  It was a source of peace and comfort to me on a day when I really needed that - and I can't believe it's gone.

And if I feel like this - what must it be like for people there?

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Capsule Wardrobe

Over Christmas, I solicited opinions about my blog and how to improve it.

'More cakes,' said Cormac and Gillian.  'More clothes,' said LTLS and LTBS.  

I was thinking about the clothes thing and while I'm a little bit shy of posting photos of my outfits, I decided that if I could combine my love of clothes with some scientific research into packing, I would really be doing the world a service.  Alors, a new feature: the capsule wardrobe.  This is my holy grail, my quest.  I hate packing - probably because I've never mastered the art and no matter what I do, I still arrive at my destination with a suitcase full of clothes that looked like the cat slept on them.

For my five days in Auckland last week, I decided to try the following equation:

1 dress + 1 skirt + 1 trousers + 2 blouses + 2 cardigans + 1 jersey top + 3 pairs of shoes = wardrobe heaven?

I like Mighty Girl's idea that you should have sleepwear that can double as daywear at a pinch and so I took the very brave step of investing in a pair of leggings (I have leggings issues, but I wanted to try something new.)  

The first day I wore the dress, my yellow sandals and a blue cardigan - no photos because I could barely focus my eyes when I got up, let alone take pictures.

That evening I tried this out:

Day 2 was beige/gold Reiss skirt and printed blouse.  

I like the skirt/blouse combination (and check out my hair - my little sister gave me hairdo instruction over Christmas), but can't decide if the wrinkled look is good or just wrinkled.  (The skirt fabric is a cotton/linen weave so prone to creasing.)

Day 3 was my tribute to Ava Gardner in Mogambo (LTLS and I watched over Christmas, so cool).  I like this one:

Day 4 was an experiment in lines and folds - overall I think it worked although still some wrinkle anxiety - and probably my favourite hair of the week:

Day 5 was trousers, printed blouse, blue cardigan and brogues ... on the fence about this one.  I had to catch a four hour flight and I am paranoid about being cold on planes, hence shoes (and stockings even) but I think there was a touch of leprechaun about my lower half, not really a good look for a grown woman.  More optimistically, a touch of Land Girl.  I'd let you decide, but again, no photos.  You'll just have to use your imagination.

So did the experiment work?  It was definitely a step in the right direction.  Having the skirt and trousers in a similar shade helped the mix-and-match and I compensated for the beige with some bright reds and yellows.  I probably had one pair of shoes to many (and also a trenchcoat I never wore) but the forecast was for rain, so better to be safe than sorry.  The hero item was probably the yellow sandals; they are FABULOUS, they make every outfit look better.

Next time: fewer things that need ironing, more jewellery.  And I'm still not sure about the leggings.

Monday 21 February 2011

Guest Blog: Sejour in Sweden

Yay for Guest Blogging!  I thought you might like a change from descriptions of the SUNNY SUMMER in the SUNNY Southern Hemisphere where it's WARM and, y'know, SUNNY.  Róisín, my favourite big sister, kindly supplied the story and photos of her recent trip en famille to Sweden.  Featuring: snow, cake, hilarious knitting/museum crossover, The Adorable Nephew.

It’s too warm in Provence, let’s go somewhere cold – like Sweden. No it didn’t really happen that way but rather that we were invited to visit our kind friends the Berggrens in Linkoping. For me it was the first time in Sweden (and for Gregory), my only experience coming from an embarrassing combination of the Swedish chef and the Millenium trilogy… (at least I didn’t say ABBA!)

The first night we arrived late but woke up early to a beautiful view of the lake near Linköping. Apparently there was skating planned on the lake but the 15 cm of snow that fell during the night changed the plans and further snow fall during the day decided us to visit an airplane museum in Linköping –not necessarily my choice but you can imagine how happy Gregory was.

Our visit to the museum had been preceded a week earlier by the Linköping Knitting club, who decided to decorate the fuselages with their knitted inventions. I am not a museum expert (unlike LT) but it was certainly an original effect! This combined with the flight simulator and the fighter jet cockpit with helmet for small (and bigger) boys to enjoy made life almost too good to bear for some.

Our visit to Sweden also happily coincided with a three week period during which a special kind of cake (another oft visited LT theme) called Semla is eaten. Semla is like a type of brioche split in two with cream and almond paste in the middle. Our verdict: very good especially instead of lunch. We ate our Semla in the old centre of Linköping, one of those recreated 19th century villages with artisans and people walking around in costume. The houses are all really pretty, mostly painted a bright red colour, a remnant from days of copper mining.

A visit to Sweden in winter wouldn’t be complete without some snow-associated activities so we all headed down to the lake to roll around in the snow. Gregory thought it was much like playing in sand and made ‘snow castles’. He also enjoyed sledding.

Given this is also a place for hints to lady travellers, may I just recommend cross country skiing for pregnant ladies. Provided there are no hills of course. Followed by a hot dog grilled on the beach by our accomplished host and his son….


Thank you and a big MAH to Róisín for her survey of all the best Sweden has to offer.  

Saturday 19 February 2011

Tales of the South Pacific

I made an exciting discovery this week.  I have always wanted to visit the South Pacific - inspired by the movie of the musical in all its glorious technicolour (no sniggering back there: aside from having the BEST tunes, South Pacific is a Pulitzer Prize-winning survey of racial and social conflict among people thrown together by war).

Anyway, whaddya know, it turns out New Zealand is in the South Pacific.  It is part of Polynesia, the south-west corner of the Polynesian triangle (the other corners are Hawaii and Easter Island).

With this discovery came a lesson in pronunciation.  It's not Ton-gah, it's Tong-ah (the 'g' is barely there); Sam-oah is actually Saam-OOa.  Niue is said New-ee.  (Okay, no, I'd never heard of it before now either.)

And I loved learning that the Maori have a complicated system of genealogy that relates, in part, to your ancestral waka (canoe) - or, as I understand it, the ship you came in on.  A bit like people in the US priding themselves on having ancestors who were on the Mayflower.

So picture me, in the South Pacific, skipping around singing Bali Ha'i and you pretty much have my week.

ps when I googled 'South Pacific' for pictures, this turned up.  I thought it would be mean to deprive my audience of this picture of that guy from Glee as Lieutellan Cable, sans shirt:

(image via

Wednesday 16 February 2011


A conversation threw up a passing reference to European settlers' naming habits in the New World.  Far away from home, the travellers looked for mirrors of their familiar places and landmarks ... so the Southern Alps get called the Southern Alps, for example.  All of this made me think about mirrors and reminded me of these pictures I took in New Zealand before Christmas.

The science part (as Jennifer Aniston, God bless her, would say) is that glacier lakes tend to be particularly still (I can't remember why - perhaps because they aren't fed by rivers/springs like other lakes?) and so you get amazing reflections.

Monday 14 February 2011

Right Here, Right Now

So, where are you right now, Eithne?  I'm in New Zealand.

Narrow it down a little, can't you?  All right, I'm in Auckland.  I'm sitting by the open window of my hotel room and for the last hour I've been watching the sky.  And before that I was drinking a very nice glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, crying salty tears into it as I watched the final ever episode of Gilmore Girls.

I usually am pretty good about going out and exploring when I'm travelling for work, but I have to say I draw the line at sitting by myself in a restaurant on Valentine's Day ....  Plus, I'm pretty exhausted, having arrived here late last night/early this morning for work.  I had only a few hours' sleep and then a full day of meetings but there are some compensations:

1. bright sunshine all day
2. having the foresight to download my favourite tv to my laptop before I left Australia
3. a glass of wine and a Reese's peanut butter cup (so wrong and yet so right)

I didn't really have all that much to share, but I just really wanted to update my blog.  

Friday 11 February 2011

A Good Sign

[This was meant to be sent from Sydney yesterday, but I had to board my flight before it had finished uploading.]

I'm in Sydney today.  I should have updated the 'Where in the World' sidebar, but that would have required a level of organisation I wasn't capable of reaching when I arose at 4.30 this morning.  Yes, ouchie.

I was in meetings all day, but at lunchtime I escaped for a brief walk through the Botanic Gardens.  I saw this sign, read it, did a double take, read it again, smiled.  There should be more signs like this - and yes, I did walk on the grass and smell the roses.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Book Review: Well, for a start it has the best title EVER

One of the highlights of my January was the arrival of a thick package in the post; opened, it contained my very own copy of I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson.

Many things are pleasing about this book: as well as the fabulous title, there's the fabulous zebra print cover.  Lady Traveller's Little Sister pointed out that (what with the somewhat distressed condition of the cover) it looked like some poor old zebra had been skinned expressly for the purpose (fear not, it's actually cloth).  (Interestingly, according to this blog, the book is highly in demand by stylists who prize the aesthetic appeal of the zebra stripes.)

(Zebra stripes were a bit of a theme with Osa.)

But even better than the cover are the contents.  Osa was just 16 when she met Martin Johnson; she had never been outside Kansas.  He, though also from Kansas, had recently returned from a trip with the adventure writer Jack London (he won his place on London's ship The Snark by winning a letter-writing competition.  Kids - pay attention!)  Martin had been a keen photographer from an early age and later pioneered documentary film-making.

The Johnsons spent their honeymoon in the Solomon Islands.  For exercise they lugged super-heavy camera equipment uphill and ran downhill, pursued by angry natives.  Martin's ambition was to film  a cannibal feast; eventually they did but only narrowly escaped being served up as dessert.

You'd think that would put any new bride off adventure for good, but not our Osa (little Osa, as she's often described.)  After the Solomons, they spent chunks of time in Borneo and East Africa and became famous filmmakers.

What I love about Osa is that she determines to be an active participant, rather than just tagging along behind Martin. Yes, she does worship her husband with a fervour that gets kind of old (or maybe he really was that wonderful?) but she's not just a passive tagger-alonger.  She works - hard - to put her own stamp on their adventures.  And yes, a lot of that involves creating comfortable homes for them en route - but this is no small feat of organisation, since their homes ranged from grass huts to little boats to mud cabins.   She was also handy with a gun, made friends wherever they went and learned to fly (they had two planes, Osa's Ark and Spirit of Africa, both - wait for it - in animal print, one with zebra stripes, the other with giraffe spots.)

I previously quoted her Christmas menu from Lake Paradise (their home in a remote part of Kenya) but now I'd like to give you Osa's thoughts relative to Lady Travellers:
A woman that's too soft and sweet is like tapioca pudding - fine for them as likes it.
And finally, here's a great movie clip from the 1930s that gives the Story So Far of the Johnsons:

I'd marry Adventure in a heartbeat if it gave me a zebra-striped plane.

Monday 7 February 2011

Back to the Future

Or ‘Why moving to a new city for the second time is easier’;

Alternatively: ‘I didn’t want to leave Dublin, but now that I’m here, I’m actually quite glad.’

As ardent followers of this blog [n=6] will have noticed, my enthusiasm for blogging waned at the end of 2010.  The truth is I was tired of travelling.  When I left my job in London and started The Big Adventure, I itched to explore.  I loved the freedom of No Stuff.  I liked the lightness it gave me.  I liked my new-found openness.  Greece, France, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia … the further, the better.  Until I found myself in Melbourne in the grip of winter, hard at work and feeling like I’d made a mistake.  This wasn’t fun, it was too far, I missed my home, my family, my friends and, yes, my stuff.  I persevered and reminded myself that this was a different kind of adventure: less holiday, more work.  But still, the feeling of having had enough lingered.  Certainly, by the time of my New Zealand trip at the end of the year, I felt, too often, like I was going through the motions: glacier, check; mountain, check; city, check.  When I finally made it home to Dublin, I never wanted to leave. 

Two months seems like a long time at one end, and like no time at all on the other.  As the date of my departure for Melbourne approached I went through the motions of getting ready to leave, but found it very hard to convince myself that I really was going back to the other side of the world.  Until, suddenly, there I was, in Dublin Airport again, saying goodbye again.  Is there anything worse than the moment where you have to turn your back and walk away?  I swear that I considered turning around, asking if I could stay, letting the plane go without me. 

The journey is strange: the closest thing to inter-planetary travel most of us will ever experience.  It’s a foggy cycle of announcements, movies, funny, compact meals that goes on and on and on.  Abu Dhabi airport at nighttime added to the surreal feeling: essentially one huge duty free shop with a few seats.

And then I got off the plane and it was summer and I thought, surprised, ‘oh I like Melbourne’ and realised that this wasn’t such a bad result after all.  The second time round the city is familiar.  I recognised landmarks on the way in from the airport.  I have a phone that works and a bank account (with money in it, even.)  I have friends here.  People welcome me back.

And what’s this?  Why, it’s my dormant sense of adventure, uncurling and stretching.  And so I have resolved to make the most of the next five months.  My name’s Eithne.  I’m a Lady Traveller – and I like it. 

Plans for the next few months include going to Tasmania to visit the recently-opened Museum of Old and New Art, going to Alice Springs so that I can see what A Town Like Alice really looks like (and finally see some Outback) and sorting myself out with a bicycle so I can explore Melbourne more thoroughly.  I also have a mad idea to visit Samoa, but will have to see how I go.  If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Long Live Luíseach

It was a dark and stormy night on Friday, in Melbourne as well as Dublin.
The rain fell and the wind blew and I had to wade through flood water up to my knees to get home.  And so I did not post on my blog in honour of LUISEACH’s birthday.  But it IS still her birthday weekend, and at the start of her 24th year, I would like to record the following:

Luíseach is awesome. 
She makes me laugh. 
She makes me things – including the origami crane earrings she gave me for Christmas which look like they were bought in a shop but were NOT. 
She invented the disaster movie drinking game.  (And for the inaugural event, made me French toast and martinis for dinner.  Fabulous combination, no?)
She has excellent taste in books and music.
She has a perfect genius for fancy dress.

Luí, when they told me I was getting a little brother or sister (some 23 and a bit years ago), it could have gone horribly wrong. 
I could have had a gin-hating, musical-despising, Mitford-loathing, Handsome Men [aka Band of Brothers]-resistant, cake-spurning, sensible shoe-wearing USURPER. 
Instead, I got you.

In the immortal words of that great poet of our day, Kelly Clarkson, My Life Would Suck Without You.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Picture Dictionary: Icy Pole

Icy Pole [ahy-see pohl]
A frozen, usually sweet, confection on a stick; sometimes ice cream based.  See: ice pop, ice lolly.

I am not making this up - you can visit the website

In the interests of research I've had one (well, you'd have to, wouldn't you?) and it's pretty good: vanilla ice cream inside toffee icecream, with a chocolate coating and biscuit sprinkles.