Tuesday 31 January 2012

Packing + Maths = Illusion of Control

So, packing.  Item #92 on my life list is 'Master the art of packing a suitcase so I can always travel stylishly.'  This is an art that has eluded me for some time.  I always start with great intentions to create a capsule wardrobe but inevitably last-minute panic sets in and I end up packing for every eventuality (freak blizzards, unexpected invitations to the Oscars, that kind of thing.)

I've decided to approach this scientifically.

Last year, when I spent some time shuttling between Melbourne and Auckland, I developed a plan that kind of worked.  

1 dress + 1 skirt + 1 trousers + 3 tops + 2 cardigans + 3 pairs of shoes = wardrobe heaven?

For five weeks in Melbourne, I've decided on the following - it's based (loosely) on twice the Auckland Equation, bearing in mind that you can't wear exactly the same clothes week in and week out without getting a leetle bit bored.  At least I can't.  So I'm going with a two-week, on-again/off-again cycle.

For working - 
2 dresses + 2 skirts + 2 trousers + 4 tops + 2 cardigans + 2 pairs of shoes + 1 blazer

For evenings & weekends -
1 dress + 1 jeans + 1 shorts + 2 tops + 1 shoes + 1 casual jacket

Just in case of freak blizzards - 
One warm jumper (I can't help it, it's like I hear a choir of Irish mammies in my head asking, 'have you packed your woolly jumper?')

And that's it - I'll travel with my handy dandy trench coat (warm enough for wearing in Ireland on departure / arrival, not too warm for Australia if it gets wet and windy, which it might).

My suitcase is looking a bit more streamlined than usual as I've resisted the urge to pack all of my favourite clothes.  I've also kept to a strict every-top-has-to-go-with-at-least-three-other-things rule so I can mix and match.  Plus I keep reciting the following mantra: there have WASHING MACHINES and SHOPS in Australia.  

So, is this the magic formula?  I'll let you know...

Friday 27 January 2012

Think Pink

I think I may be entering what would, if I were an artist, be called my pink period.  Or to be strictly accurate, my second pink period.

Long ago, before blogging was invented, I wore a lot of pink.  When I was at university, I was known for my love of pink - all shades of pink, from candy to peony.  I have a photo of me at a college ball in a fuchsia dress with a little gauze jacket and a big pink peony in my hair and pink lipstick and yes, it was a lot of pink, but that girl is glowing (it was so long ago I can talk about myself in the third person.)

I realised that this had become perhaps too much of a good a thing one night when a group of friends was playing Psychiatrist.  (A game that is probably now banned because of its insensitivity to people with mental health issues - but we were 19 and clueless.)  If you don't know the game, one person leaves the room and the rest decide on a 'complex' or tic to adopt, like everybody compulsively scratching their heads.  On this occasion, we all had to adopt the personality of the person beside us.  The psychiatrist (sorry, 'psychiatrist') came back in and as soon as the guy beside me said, 'I wear a lot of pink', he guessed the tic.  And he didn't even know me very well.  That was the beginning of the end of my pink period.

In the years after, I wore very little pink.  Colour yes (working with a lot of designers makes me avoid too much black - too obvious), but not pink.

Then, just before Christmas, I was reading Vogue (I mentioned this before, but bear with me.)  On a grey day, the glowing Norman Parkinson photos of a Vogue fashion shoot in India lifted my spirits immeasurably.  I didn't realise it then, but I had been (re)bitten by the pink bug.

Symptom 1: Last week, glove shopping in Rome, I didn't plan to buy pink gloves ... but once inside the shop, realised that no other colour would do.

Symptom 2: Today, I put on a pink cardigan that I hadn't worn in years and only kept out of sentiment.

Symptom 3: Not just that, but (like one in a trance) bought a pink checked shirt in Gap because it was so obviously what I had to wear for my Australia trip.

I like to think that I'll wear pink a little more judiciously than the last time but don't be surprised if you see me sporting pink head to toe some day.  At a time of relentless doom and gloom, pink is an excellent tonic.

And if that doesn't convince you, maybe the fabulous Kay Thompson will:

Thursday 26 January 2012

Roman Holiday

(Sorry, couldn't resist cheesy title.  Also, spent much of weekend channelling la bella Audrey, hoping to bump into Gregory Peck.)

So, let's see - Rome Day 1.  What did we do?  What didn't we do?

First of all, the taxis were on strike so we had to bargain with a minicab driver to take us into the city from the airport.  We could have been annoyed by this, but I felt it lent a pleasing verisimilitude to the proceedings.  (When in Rome etc.)

Our hotel was near the Colosseum.  From there we walked and walked and walked.  We walked past the Colosseum, the imperial fora, the typewriter / wedding cake memorial to Vittorio Emanuele.

We walked around and around and around Trajan's column trying to find our recommended lunch spot - eventually we discovered we'd been standing in front of it and it was closed.  So we found somewhere else.

Replenished, we walked some more.  Along the Via del Gesu, through the Piazza della Minerva (stopping to gawk at the priest supply store),

over to the Pantheon,

into the Piazza Navona.  We swung into the church of San Luigi dei Francesi to see the Caravaggio paintings there.  (This is free by the way, but you have to put 10 cents into the box to turn the lights on over the paintings.  I found this strangely charming.  Also: check out the bling in the church - all of the gold paint in the land was used on the ceiling.)

Along the way we fortified ourselves with coffee (Sant'Eustachio il Caffe, allegedly best coffee in Rome, certainly best coffee we had) and a small, teeny-weeny canolo.

We walked over to the Via del Corso and past all the designer shops and even raced each other up the Spanish Steps (this is why I'm looking decidedly shiny-faced.)

And then we had puccinis (like bellinis but with mandarin puree) and walked some more.

And then we had dinner (three courses, silly not to) and walked back in the direction of the hotel.  Luckily - as at least 20 minutes had passed since we'd eaten and we were in danger of expiring - our walk took us by Gelataria San Crispino.  Possibly the best ice cream in the world, never mind in Rome.

Around the corner was the Trevi Fountain so naturally enough we walked over there and ate our ice cream.

And then we walked back to the hotel (swinging by Trajan's column for old time's sake).

Feet: sore.

Tummies: full.

Smiles: ear to ear.

Monday 23 January 2012

The Stones (but mostly Sounds) of Rome

Part inspired by Ruskin's book The Stones of Venice, part inspired by my surroundings, I made this on Saturday morning, sitting on an ancient masonry fragment in the Roman forum.

More (much more) to follow on our Roman holiday.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

The Little Museum

Once upon a long, long time ago, there was a Civic Museum in Dublin.  Squashed into a house on South William St, its collections were a mix of the historic and the nostalgic.  It was the kind of place people like to call a gem - and like many such places, it closed (due to lack of funding? interest?).  There were plans at various times to create a new city museum in its place, but none of these became a reality.

Then, in 2011, The Little Museum of Dublin opened, its stories covering some of the same ground as the old Civic Museum.  The project seems to have gone from idea to reality in a matter of months.  There's a refreshing air of hey-kids-let's-put-the-show-on-right-here that I associate more with pop-up exhibitions - though I'm willing to bet The Little Museum will be around for a while to come.

One of my favourite things about the museum is its setting, in (so far, I believe there are plans to colonise further) two rooms of a Georgian townhouse on St Stephen's Green.  There are comfortably over-stuffed armchairs pulled in front of a coffee table beside the fireplace and, yes, you're welcome to sit and read.

The collections are largely two-dimensional: photographs, paintings, menus, letters are framed and arranged around the walls in clusters, by decade.

There are also some groupings of souvenirs, food packaging, small sculptures, coins, memorabilia.

The layout is unashamedly domestic, in the best sense: the salon hang, the use of drawing room furniture to display the collections, the absence of labels (information about everything on display is available in the catalogue, which you can borrow or buy at the reception desk) creates an intimate atmosphere, very appropriate for telling the story of Dublin, which is, after all, a city on an intimate scale.

The museum is open late on Thursdays (this is when we went, a really lovely time to go) and costs €5 (reductions for senior citizens, the unwaged and students, children go free.


Monday 16 January 2012

Melbourne Hints

In the spring a young woman’s fancy turns to Australia.  Is that not how the line goes?

Anyway, it’s not spring yet (although it’s been so weirdly mild here that several trees have blossom on them … they’re going to have a rude shock when we get a cold snap, and you know we will) but I am making plans to return to Melbourne in February for a few weeks.

With this in mind, I decided it was high time to publish my hints for Melbourne.  In no particular order:

1. Visit the Collingwood Children’s Farm, say hi to Greta the pig, have a coffee at their outdoor café (with complimentary blankets in case it’s chilly) and then saunter over to next-door Abbotsford Convent for a look at the art and a drink at Handsome Steve’s.

2. A walk (and picnic if the weather’s good) in Fitzroy Gardens with stops to find the fairy tree, the model village and the statue of Robbie Burns (the statue is, strictly speaking, in Treasury Gardens which abuts – great word – Fitzroy Gardens.)

3. Be charmed by the home, art collection and stories of Sunday and John Reed and their circle at Heide (and have brunch/lunch/afternoon tea at Café Vue.)

4. Explore everything that the splendidly art nouveau Curtin House on Swanston St has to offer – it’s worth taking the stairs and peeping into the shops and studios on every level.  Particular favourites are Metropolis bookshop, Cookie for Thai food and the rooftop bar and cinema.

5. Go on a walking tour of Melbourne’s very happening art scene with Walk to Art.  Bernie Alibrando will introduce you to the best of the city’s street art (with a glossary of different types) and take you to artist-run spaces, galleries and studios that you would more than likely never find on your own.  The tour starts with a great coffee and ends with cheese and wine.  Perfect.

6. Take the tram out to seaside St Kilda on a sunny day.  Have coffee and cake at Monarch Cake Shop on Acland St (just beside the terminus of the 96 tram) and then go for a walk along the Espy.  (That’s Australian for esplanade.) 

7. Enjoy the splendour and colour of Victoria Market in North Melbourne.  The stallholders are passionate, the architecture of the original Victorian market building is fabulous, and the food – the food!  To fortify yourself, you can get coffee at Market Lane Coffee which may be my favourite coffee shop in all of Melbourne.  Maybe.

8. Walk the full length of Gertrude St and try to resist the temptation that so elegantly lines it.  Have breakfast at De Clieu, grab pizza to go from Fatto a Mano, drool at the clothes in Obus, buy an exquisite ceramic bowl at Mud Australia (or a hilarious souvenir from Third Drawer Down – are they tea towels or are they art?), drinks at Gertrude St Enoteca and tapas for dinner at Anada.

9. Go to the Indigenous Art Gallery at NGV Australia in Federation Square.  For non-Australians (even for Australians) the art is a revelation.  Fascinating, colourful, mind-stretching … will give you a heightened appreciation for the history and landscape of Australia.

10. Visit the State Library of Victoria for any of the following reasons:
- the great café, Mr Tulk
- the free wifi
- the comfortable chairs and extensive selection of magazines available in their reading room
- the free exhibitions about the history of Victoria (highlights include Ned Kelly’s armour) and rolling programme of temporary shows

You don’t need to join the library for any of this – and as a bonus, the building itself (which also used to house the collections now in the Melbourne Museum) is wonderful.

Friday 13 January 2012


This is a leap card.

Rarer than a hen's tooth, almost as elusive as a unicorn - at least that was the rumour around these parts when it was first launched.

In fact, I was able to get one relatively easily by going into Dublin Bus's head office on O'Connell Street.

'But what is it?' you cry.

It is Dublin public transport's attempt to catch up with the rest of the civilised world and introduce an integrated ticketing system.  Before now this didn't really exist.  Leap cards work a bit like Oyster cards for the Londoners among you - you tap it against a reader when you get on a bus (or a commuter train or a Luas tram) and it deducts the ticket price from whatever amount you've loaded on it.  EXCEPT unlike with Oyster cards, it doesn't automatically deduct a fixed amount - you still have to tell the bus driver where you're going.

Still, this niggle aside, leap is the most exciting thing to happen to public transport in this city (where, believe me, pt is not one of the things we boast to tourists about).  Also it's green, which is pleasing to me, and I quite like the name.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Roma, Bella Roma

I am going to Rome next week.  I am very excited about this.

Believe it or not, I've never been to Rome before in my life.  People are surprised by this - a nice, art-loving, history-studying, food-obsessing girl like me, who hasn't been to Rome?

I'm going to Rome in the company of my mama and sisters, so won't lack for company and entertainment.

On the agenda:

a trip to the opera
the Caravaggio frescoes at San Luigi dei Francesi
a visit to the mozzarella bar Obika (hat tip to Tadhg's mammy)
much gelato eating
an archaeologist (Hints to Lady Travellers's Little Sister)-led tour of the forum
drinking our cappuccinos standing up at the bar, Italian-style

possibly going to the Vatican so I can cross off no. 49 on my life list: visit a new country every year.  (Although I'm also going to Hong Kong in March ... wait, does that count as a new country?  Perhaps the Vatican + Hong Kong together = new country.)

... and, I'm sure, more besides.

Any hints?  Please don't be shy - feel free to add in the comments.

Monday 9 January 2012

Lake District, with shakycam

I was in the Lake District on Friday, near Derwent Water.  We had a beautiful walk (rain, mist and wind notwithstanding) on Catbells and High Spy (someone had a little too much fun naming these fells) then climbed down through the bracken and into the woods.  These were very beautiful in a fairytale kind of way ... you expected Goldlilocks, a handful of bears and a wolf or two (red cloak optional) to appear from behind the trees.

I amused myself by playing with the video feature on my new phone - the result is a bit too Blair Witch Project and may induce motion sickness, but (if you can try to ignore/forgive that) the scenery really is beautiful.

PS see - I told you there were bears ...

Wednesday 4 January 2012

100 Hints to 1 Lady Traveller

or Eithne finally gets round to making her Life List.

Inspired by this site, I decided to make my own list of 100 things to do.  I'm a great believer in the to-do list.  The act of writing down an aim makes it more real - and then, of course, you have the great joy of being able to tick things off.

The list is also there to encourage me to stay true to the things I have been learning as a Lady Traveller: the importance of being open to new things, of being brave, of accepting that not knowing what lies around the corner is good - but that, conversely, it is important to plan joyful things to make your life better.

The list is fluid - I'm sure there will be things to add and few to subtract when I realise that I don't, after all, want to do that thing I added under the influence of a few glasses of red wine.

And with that, here's the list:

1. Stay overnight in a lighthouse
2. Take drawing lessons
3. Paint a room in my house yellow
4. Write a novel
5. Go to Siena and see the allegories of good and bad government and Padua to see the Giotto frescoes in the Arena chapel
6. Go to St Kilda in the Outer Outer Hebrides
7. Buy, collect or otherwise acquire one piece of art every year
8. Read every book in Granny’s bookshelf
9. Drink champagne in the Derry & Tom roof garden
10. Learn (properly) five new cooking skills: 1. Chopping vegetables 2. Jointing meat 3. Filleting fish 3. Tempering chocolate 5. Icing
11. Look at the view from the verandah of Isak Dinesen’s house in Kenya
12. Try indoor rock-climbing
13. Have a dress made for me
14. Buy a leather bag in Buenos Aires
15. Learn to identify 12 constellations
16. Walk some of the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela
17. See a camera obscura
18. Spend a week every year doing a volunteer project
19. Take dance classes
20. Go on a road trip with my sisters
21. Visit all of Ireland’s inhabited off-shore islands
22. Read a book by every Nobel laureate for literature
23. Learn conversational Greek.  Spanish.  Japanese.  Latin.
24. Go back to Japan and go to a hot spring/bath
25. Visit Santorini (preferably with a lover.)
26. Have fresh flowers in my home every week
27. Learn to identify 100 flowers
28. Watch all of Hitchcock’s films
29. Post a parcel to someone every month
30. Curate an exhibition about a pet topic
31. Ski a black run with perfect confidence (and a little style would be nice too.)
32. Write a children’s book
33. Start managing my money like a grown up
34. Go on an archaeological dig
35. See all of Shakespeare’s plays
36. Take a trip on a flying boat
37. Learn how to do my hair
38. Learn how to apply liquid eyeliner
39. Visit a South Pacific island and sing songs from the musical on the beach
40. Improve my knowledge of Geography by learning to identify countries in South America, Asia and Africa
41. Learn Adobe Illustrator (properly)
42. Go to a music festival
43. Go to Rome
44. Live in Paris for at least a month
45. Live in NYC for at least a month
46. Buy a house
47. Become a runner
48. Walk on the Great Wall
49. Visit a new country every year
50. Have a travel piece published
51. Do a residency
52. Facilitate someone else’s dream of becoming a (lady) traveller
53. Attend the New Year’s Day Concert in Vienna
54. Spend a night in a mountain hut
55. Donate platelets
56. Have lunch at La Colombe D’Or
57. Stay in a super-deluxe, fancy pants, 5 star plus hotel – and drink champagne in the bath
58. Relearn sewing and sew something for my home
59. Learn how to change a tyre.  Jump start a car.  Other car things.
60. Drive a convertible by the sea, top down, scarf in my hair
61. Create a family recipe collection
62. Print and frame my favourite HTLT photos
63. Go to the Venice Biennale
64. Go on an epic, continent-crossing train journey
65. Go on a yoga retreat (not as the cook!)
66. Stay in a Landmark Trust property
67. Do more reading/research/writing about my family history
68. Plant paperwhites in time for Christmas
69. Read the Odyssey travelling around Greek islands
70. Visit Istanbul (not Constantinople)
71. Attend religious services of other faiths than my own (respectfully)
72. Learn to play poker
73. Go glamping
74. Go to Port Eliot and Flat Lake
75. Dance till dawn in Rio
76. Finish the Observer cryptic crossword by myself
77. Finish the Alexandria Quartet
78. Do some further study
79. Learn five great ways to tie a scarf
80. Fly first class
81. Persuade Leon to open in Ireland
82. Welcome fellow travellers, whether friends or friends of friends or even strangers to my city and my home
83. Tithe
84. Cook one thing from a cookbook every week
85. Resurrect Jericho Tarts
86. Go to a U2 concert
87. Take singing lessons
88. Become better informed about science
89. Institute a regular weekend brunch party
90. Attend TED
91. Learn how to do a two-finger whistle
92. Master the art of packing a suitcase so I can always travel stylishly
93. Make croissants from scratch
94. Set up my own business and write a five year plan
95. Do a headstand in yoga
96. Go on an internet date
97. Volunteer to teach English
98. Go to an Olympic event
99. Make something special for each of my godchildren and nephews (+ any more I may acquire!)
100. One day, completely spontaneously, pack my bags, go to the airport and fly somewhere on a whim.

That should keep me busy for a while.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Escaping the Gloom

New Year's eve in Dublin was dull and gloomy.  My sisters and I agreed we were Christmassed out (we reverted to our teenaged selves and moped around the shops but even chips and cokes couldn't cheer us up.)  Tired of my surroundings, I clicked my heels and headed for the fragrance, warmth and flora of South Africa.


Birds of paradise:

See, it must be South Africa, there's even a sign:

My little hut in the jungle:

Suspending disbelief a little too much with that last one, perhaps.

The fynbos:

Banana palms:

The geometrically gorgeous curvilinear greenhouse:

The greenhouses at the National Botanic Gardens are among my favourite places in Dublin.  Squint, and you can block out the grey Irish sky and fantasise that you're somewhere warm and exotic.

Monday 2 January 2012

Christmas Was ...

 (absorbed in a new train set)

 (loving his new book)

 (not very bothered by any of it, really)

 (Christmas tree antennae)

 (it's a paper crown!)

 (making silly hats look good)

 ('most peculiar afternoon tea' at The Westin = gin in teapots)

(champagne and home-made sausage rolls = taste sensation)

(Lady Traveller's Little Sister's divine Buche de Noel.  
The eldest nephew stuck his face in a bowful and declared, 'I LOVE chocolate cake.)

Now I'm slowly getting used to the new year and making plans - including, of course, travel plans.