Wednesday 26 September 2012

The Pet Cemetery

I saved my favourite thing from Mount Usher for today: the pet cemetery.  Here they lie, the beloved companions of yesteryear, loyal hounds all (I'm pretty sure they were all dogs, but couldn't say for certain.)

Getting closer, we saw each gravestone had a name and a set of dates ...

... but some of them also had titles - badges of honour, you might say.

I do think my favourite might be 'Top Dog Muffin'.

Dogs, I hope you're all in a special dog heaven where you can play endless games of 'fetch' and have your tummies rubbed at will.

Monday 24 September 2012

Mount Usher

In case you start to wonder, the verdant-ness below was actually photographed in July, but I kept forgetting to post the pictures.

I visited Mount Usher with my mama; it's a stunning garden in Co. Wicklow, less than an hour from the centre of Dublin.  For a small fee (worth it) you can walk around a rare slice of loveliness, and the weather doesn't really matter: we were there on an overcast day and it was still beautiful.

There are interesting grouping of plants, flowers and trees.

There is also a river running through the heart of the garden and many bridges.

I keep thinking Penelope Bridge sounds like the plucky heroine of an adventure book.

No, she didn't jump - honest.

Friday 21 September 2012

Hints for the Weekend

Today I am flying to Nice.  EVEN THOUGH the realities of air travel are the opposite of glamorous, typing that sentence never fails to make me feel chic and carefree.  Like this lady, in fact:

I'm going to Nice, whence I shall take the Cote d'Azur not-express to Aix, arriving at my very exclusive lodgings just in time for supper.  (I will be sharing a bedroom with my eldest Adorable Nephew - an excellent host, he has offered to share his panda with me and tell me bedtime stories.  Now be honest: did you not just say 'aww'?)  Next week I'm doing an intensive French course, all the better to exprime myself en francais.

Hints for the Weekend:

What to do in Dublin:
Friday night is Culture Night!  Almost enough said.  I would also check out Dublin Parking Day (today) - when parking spaces are transformed into things of beauty.

What to do in the South of France:
I don't know about anyone else, but I'm planning to eat pastries, drink wine, and go to the brocante at l'Isle sur la Sorgue.

What to do anywhere:
Go to see To Rome With Love, Woody Allen's ode to the Eternal City.  (Incidentally, that link takes you to a review by the wise and witty Philip French.)

A bientôt!

Thursday 20 September 2012

Lady Travellers 101

Yesterday, this blog hit three!  I know, I can't believe it either.  HTLT's third birthday seems like a good time to post about my inspiration: the intrepid women who travelled the world (many at a time when travel meant enduring discomfort that makes a long-haul flight seem like a trip downtown on the bus) and then put their stories to paper.

Perhaps you've stumbled upon this blog because you're interested in knowing more about women travellers.  Or (she says hopefully) you may have become interested in women travellers since reading my blog.  Either way, here are some thoughts for anyone interested in pursuing the topic further.

The two holy books of women and travel (for me, anyway) are both edited by Jane Robinson.  The first is Wayward Women, a bibliography of women travel writers.  The second is Unsuitable for Ladies, an anthology of travel writing by women - and the book that got me embroiled in all of this in the first place.  Virago also has a good anthology of women travel writers (called, funnily enough, The Virago Book of Women Travellers - co-edited by Mary Morris, herself a great travel writer.)

So far so good.  Armed with these, where do you go next?

You could start with my Desert Island travel book list (ever-expanding, subject to change depending on whim, caprice, or what I've read most recently):

Unsuitable for Ladies
Out of Africa
An English Girl's First Impressions of Burmah
I Married Adventure
The Wilder Shores of Love
Cruises and Caravans
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (will keep you going for months, could also double as a doorstop or weapon if the need should arise)
And, of course, Hints to Lady Travellers

At least five of these are in print; second hand bookshops and Abebooks are great for finding out-of-print travelogues.  If you have an e-book reader, I'd also suggest hopping over to Project Gutenberg.  There you can download any number of out-of-print works, including travelogues by Isabella Bird, Beth Ellis and Margaret Brooke (who will be getting a book review soon!)

While an original edition of Hints to Lady Travellers has proved sadly elusive, a new version was issued in 2011 by the Royal Geographic Society, should you wish to partake further of Ms Campbell Davidson's wisdom.

Most Thursdays I try to write a post about a Lady Traveller (makes a break from rambling on about bikes, nephews, coffee etc) and these - plus any other references to the heroines in whose footsteps I try to walk - can be found by clicking on the 'Lady Travellers' tag under 'Labels' on the sidebar.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

La Donna è Mobile

I have recently returned to the original Hints to Lady Travellers for advice.  You see, I have acquired a bicycle and I knew that Ms Campbell Davidson would have something to say on the subject, as, indeed, she does:

Indeed, it is as well to keep up a continued ringing while passing through the streets of a town, or in turning sharp corners, since the noiseless approach of a tricycle renders it peculiarly startling to unprepared minds. Lillias Campbell Davidson, Hints to Lady Travellers.

Here is my bicycle:

This is a Cicli Cinzia 'Boulevard Lady'.  (I know - clearly destined to belong to a Lady Traveller.) Because she is Italian and a Lady she has been christened 'Donna'.  Expect adventures galore - but no continuous ringing, at least not yet.  For all her charms, Donna is not currently equipped with a bell ...

Monday 17 September 2012

Swiss Cottage

Let's just get one thing straight, to begin with.  The Swiss Cottage in question is not Swiss, does not look particularly Swiss and actually has no connection to Switzerland WHATSOEVER.

On Friday I took a road trip with a friend to Co Tipperary where, in the town of Cahir, there is one of only a handful of cottages ornés in Ireland. (Please excuse French grammar pedantry - if I don't do this I will get jumped on by the various French teachers in my life.)  For cottage orné please read: some 18th century aristocrat's highly romantic notion of what a peasant's cottage would look like.  In other words, nothing like an actual peasant dwelling.

This cottage was built for the Butler family of Cahir.  (The visitor centre included a slightly convoluted but hilarious story about some evil relations who stole the rightful heir away to France because his mother was LOWBORN but he was traced and discovered in a garret 'completely overgrown with hair'.  It was not made clear whether this mean he was some sort of wolf child or whether he was just in serious need of a haircut.  Anyway, he grew up and had a very fancy faux-rustique cottage built for himself which I hope compensated him for the childhood hair & kidnapping trauma.)

The Swiss Cottage is well signposted from Cahir (which is a really pretty town - definitely worth a detour) and there's a very picturesque path from Cahir Castle to the Cottage ... which makes sense since the Butlers lived in the Castle and just used the Cottage for parties.

You get to the Cottage via a bridge, guarded by eagles ...

... and then go up through the underground passage that servants used.  We liked the idea of them magically appearing with tea trays on the lawn and all the guests exclaiming, 'where did those scones comes from?'

When you arrive at the main level of the house, it seems much less Swiss (as previously mentioned) and much more like Walt Disney's inspiration for the cottage of the Seven Dwarves.

Photography not permitted inside, but there are four rooms: a tea room, music room and two bedrooms, all beautifully restored.  I particularly liked the hand-painted wallpaper in the tea room, showing scenes of Turkish life - probably about as true to life as this 'rustic' cottage.

But the cottage - for all its artful 'artlessness' (they went out of their way to make all the windows crooked, for example!) - is charming.   On a sunny Autumn afternoon it seemed like the fairy cottage of fondest childhood imagination.

Friday 14 September 2012

In Search of Beth Ellis

I was always the child who wanted to know what happens next.  Yes, but what does happily ever after mean?  How many children did the prince and princess have?  Did the wicked witch ever come back.  In other words, I will always read the sequel - even if it's a pale shadow of the original.

When I finished reading An English Girl's First Impressions of Burmah (henceforth known as AEGFIB because typing it out every time is seriously eating into my working day) I was left wanting to know more about its author, Beth Ellis.  There is no sequel to AEGFIB but when the principal character of a book is a real person, it means that they've left tracks in the historical record too.

So I went to the internet, but the first dozen times I tried Google I just got links to the AEGFIB online.  I did find a few bloggers proclaiming their love for the book but all mentioned that there was very little information available about Beth Ellis.  Through the magic of the British Library catalogue I eventually got a few dates and then hit gold: an entry on a genealogy website.

Beth Ellis was born in 1874 in Wigan.  She was one of the first women to go to Oxford, where she studied English.  After travelling to, and writing about, Burma, she then turned her hand to writing novels.  Most that I've found seem to be in the Baroness Orczy / Georgette Heyer vein of historical romance.  At the age of 34 she married a barrister and then (and here's where I got a bit teary-eyed) in 1913 she died in childbirth.

All of this makes me want to know more, not less about her.  Through the wonders of online census returns I know that she and her husband had two live-in servants ... but I still don't know what she looked like.  If she ever travelled again and, if so, where did she go.  What she thought of Oxford in the 1890s.  How she met her husband.

But she chose not to chronicle any of those things and so this sequel is a short one.

Beth Ellis, 1874 - 1913, author of one of the funniest travel books ever written.

On Blogging

GRRR.  The post that I carefully wrote last night, the better with which to entertain you today, has just deleted itself.

So here's a hint: when you write a very long post, save a copy in Word, lest Blogger chew it up.

Thursday 13 September 2012

An English Girl's First Impressions of Burmah

There, now.  Is that not one of the best book covers you've ever seen?  And for a book described, on its re-release in 1997, as "one of the funniest travel books ever written".  (And I would concur - certainly one of the funniest I've read.)

What's that?  You'd like to snap up your own copy.  Well, I'll wait here while you follow this link to Abebooks.

Yes, that is £1320.19 for a 1st edition.  But all is not lost.   This glorious book is also available to download from Project Gutenberg.  Ta dah!

Now that we all have copies, where to start?

The book was first published in 1899 and describes Miss Ellis' trip to Burma to spend some months with her married sister at a remote 'station'.  She starts by explaining how she came to put pen to paper:

Towards the close of my visit to Burmah I was dining one night at a friend's house in Rangoon, when my neighbour ... suddenly turned to me and asked me if it was my intention to write a book.  At my prompt reply in the negative he seemed astonished, and asked, what then did I intend to do with my life?  ... if, as my questioner clearly intimated, it was the custom for every casual visitor to the Land of Pagodas either to write a book or to 'do something with his life,' my duty seemed clear.  I had no desire at all to undertake either of the tasks, but as there was apparently no third course open to me, I decided to choose the safer of the two, and write a book.  So far so good, but what to write about?  I have considered the merits of unnameable subjects, from the exploits of the old Greek heroes to green Carnations, but each appears to have been appropriated by some earlier author.  The only subject which, so far as I can discover, has never hitherto formed the theme of song or story, is Myself, and as that is a subject about which I ought to know more than most folks and which has always appeared to me to be intensely interesting, I have adopted it as the theme of this, my first plunge into Literature.  

I can only conclude that Miss Ellis' friends and relations were either very forgiving or didn't read because nobody escapes having fun poked at them - however gently.  But then, she also pokes fun at herself:

In the 'Bull' [some kind of shipboard game ... like deck quoits, maybe?] tournament I was drawn to play with a Mr. Rod, whom I did not know, but who enjoyed the reputation of being an excellent player, and very keen to win.  One morning I was practising, and playing, if possible, worse than usual, when I noticed a melancholy-looking man, seated on a camp stool, watching my performance.  
was struck by his ever increasing sadness of expression, and enquired his name.

He was Mr. Rod.

And so she continues: from the ship, to Rangoon, to Mandalay - whose romance was somewhat marred by the party of American 'Globe Trotters' who 'could only satisfactorily demonstrate their complete association with their surroundings, by singing indefatigably, morning, noon, and night, that most un-Burmese song, 'Mandalay.'  After Mandalay Beth (we were on first name terms by now) travelled by cart and recalcitrant pony to the up-country station where her sister and family lived, casting a droll eye over everything - and everyone - she meets.  

Most of her observations are domestic: about the house (whose architect 'evidently an advocate of the benefits of fresh air and light' had designed it such that 'the builder had carefully left wide chinks in the walls, and two or three large holes in the roof'), the servants and the neighbours ...

It has always been a sore point with the ladies of Remyo that their Club House only contains one room.  They argue that if half the members wish to play whist, and the other half wished to talk, many inconveniences (to say the least) would arise.  As there are but four lady members of the club, this argument does not appear to me to be convincing, but I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of club life.

This is not, the author makes clear, a detailed survey of Burma's history and geography.  

This is not a book on 'Burmah,' but an account of my impressions of Burmah; therefore, for all matters concerning which I had no original impressions ... I refer both the gentle and ungentle reader to the many books on the subject which have appeared during the past few years.

But it is a priceless (in every sense of the word) account of the domestic lives of European women in Asia.  Women longing for Home, trying desperately to re-create Home, striving to ensure that the creepy-crawlies and assorted bogeymen stayed in the jungle and didn't cross the thresholds of their temporary homes.  

After all, not Burmah, but England is looked upon as 'Home'.  Even the man of twenty-five years service whose family, friends, and interests may be all centred in Burmah, who loves the life he leads there .... even he talks of what he will do when he 'goes home,' and in imagination crowns with a halo 'this little precious stone set in the silver sea, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,'....  However happy and prosperous the Anglo-Indian may be in his exile, going to England, is 'going home'.

I'm in danger of transcribing the whole book in this post ... but that would probably try the patience of my gentle and ungentle readers.  Instead I will finish by saying that I read the book in one sitting.  That when I finished I spent half an hour on the phone to my sister in Lesotho explaining that I wanted Beth Ellis to be my new best friend.  That I have been scouring the internet for information about her.  But that's a story for another day.  

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Rrrrum Punch!

Via my little sister, via her Trinidadian friend, here is a most excellent recipe for rum punch.  LTLS made it for our Rose of Tralee viewing party a few weeks ago and it went down very, very easily.

traditional recipe for Rum Punch:

1 part sour
2 parts sweet
3 parts strong
4 parts weak

which translates as:

Lime juice - 250ml
Sugar syrup (made with 1l water and 400g sugar; put together in saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolved, then leave to cool)
Dark rum - 750ml

Mix ingredients together and serve over ice, with lime wedges.

This makes a big pitcher; for fewer people you can reduce the quantities but keep the proportions the same.

And if you're wondering about the title of today's post, please refresh yourself with this clip from Mary Poppins.  The golden moment is at 1:35.

Monday 10 September 2012

Illumination (Mont St Michel II)

On a wet and dreary day in Dublin (and not many places do wet and dreary like my home town) I'm focusing on moments of brightness.  Which is why my errands this morning were accessorised with a cheetah-print jacket and a cocktail ring ....

The dampness reminded me of a visit to Mont St Michel on an equally wet day last June.

I had visited le Mont before, but never been inside the famous abbey, so that is where we resolved to go.  We wound up the narrow cobbled street, where shops and cafes were trying their best to counteract the dull day.

I focused on the small details:

The tap with the coat of arms of the abbey's founder,

the light in the cloister,

the light installation in the refectory,

these beautiful stained glass mobiles inspired by illuminated capitals from a medieval manuscript.

The theme of the installations seemed to be 'light' (as in 'let there be'), but about two thirds of the way through our visit we noticed that the building seemed to be getting darker and darker.  It turned out the electricity supply had been temporarily affected by the weather. Not just throughout the abbey, but throughout the village.

Oh, the irony.  

Friday 7 September 2012

Hints for the Weekend

I love this time of year!  Indian Summer, a hint of crispness in the air, the excitement of the back-to-school atmosphere (without actually having to go back to school, which I would enjoy less) ... and always, always, many great things to do on the weekend.

Today I bring you hints for this coming weekend - and to avoid disjointing the noses of readers who don't live in Dublin, I'm making this international.  This is what I would be doing if I still lived* in any of these places.

What to do in Oxford:
This weekend the Oxford Open Doors festival is taking place.  This is a chance to get behind the scenes of some of the amazing buildings in the city.  Designed initially for locals but open to visitors too.  So if you want to find out what the dons get up to behind closed doors, or reenact scenes from Harry Potter, or (and I would love this) get a tour around the Oxford University Press, now's your chance.  Booking is required for some events.

What to do in Washington, DC:
If I were in DC this weekend I would be checking out the DC Shorts film festival.  Short films, shown all over the city in great venues and some very fun things like film / food pairings and special viewing parties.  Plus the films look good too!  I'm amused to note that the closing party (next weekend, Saturday 15) is co-sponsored by Kerrygold.  So there will likely be lots of buttery food - and when is that a bad thing, ever?

What to do in London:
It seems like some tickets are still available for the final days of the Paralympics - including the closing ceremony.  You can book at - although I've heard it can be time-consuming ... but still - if you're not in, you can't win etc.   Follow @2012ticketalert on Twitter for more info.
Failing that, I would go to watch some of the fun on the big screens at Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square or Victoria Park.

What to do in Cape Town:
Well, if I wanted to laugh I'd go to the closing weekend of Nando's Cape Town Comedy Festival; if I was looking for something more sombre, I'd probably get tickets for Biko's Quest, a dance piece based on the life of activist Steve Biko.  However, with my new-found love of running and my old-found love of wine, I think I'd eventually go for the Cellar2Cellar trail run.  You have the option of combining trail runs with wine tasting (could be fun! could be dangerous?!) or just opting to run through beautiful vineyards.  Either way a win.

What to do in Melbourne:
Melbourne Spring Fashion Week is currently running and I think it would be fun to go to one of the free runway shows happening in City Square.  Also at City Square are free make-up and hair booths, so you can get styled like a fashionista.

What to do in Dublin:
So many things!  Phizzfest is still running and there's a free performance of Faure's Requiem in St Peter's Church tonight.  Bonus!  I'm singing....
If I weren't going to be there, I would be going to hear the always funny Maeve Higgins at Doyle's Pub.  (In case that's confusing: she's a comedian ... she's professionally funny.)  Tomorrow I'm going on a special fashion-themed Le Cool tour of Dublin (of course I'll be reporting back.  Of course!) and quite possibly visiting the pop-up vineyard in Meeting House Square.

Have a great weekend!

xxx HTLT

*after much consideration, I've decided I can say I've lived somewhere if I've spent enough time there to open a bank account

Thursday 6 September 2012

Turkestan and Back - Without Getting Caught

This time last week I was embarking on South to Samarkand.  I was worried it might be dull - but Miss Mannin wasn't a successful novelist (+ lover of famous men + celebrated gal about town etc) for nothing.  The book rattles along: highly subjective, impressionistic, biased, slightly smug (in parts) but NEVER dull.

Some choice sections:

Last year at this time I never so little wanted to leave a city as Moscow; now I was so burnt up with the desire to get away that I hated it.
'You forget we're going out to lunch in the country tomorrow,' Donia reminded me tranquilly.
'Oh God,' I groaned, 'isn't that just like life?  You reach breaking-point and decide to clear out, but you can't do it, because you've got to wait in for the laundry, or there's no one to feed the cat, or you're lunching out tomorrow....'

The esteemed authoress and her companion eventually leave Moscow without the necessary permits for Turkestan, deciding they will get there by hook or by crook - and a little subterfuge if necessary.  Under the aegis of Intourist (the state-controlled tourist organisation) and VOKS (the Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries) they take trains to Kiev, to Rostov-on-the-Don, to Sotchi - 'the  Black Sea Riviera' [?!] where Manning is extremely disparaging of the bodies encountered at the nearest (nudist) beach.

The further the ladies travel, the more uncomfortable the trains, and the worse the toilet facilities...

In our innocence we believed that we were looking at the most unspeakable sanitary arrangements human beings could devise.  We were mistaken.  This was merely a beginning.

Somewhere before Georgia, the travellers manage to give their escorts the slip (not as dramatic as it sounds, really) but from there on out they have to travel 'hard' as they have no guides / agents to secure them tickets for 'soft' travel (reserved for foreign tourists who brought in money or for high-up officials and Red Army soldiers.)  They also have no papers, so can't stay in any of the official hotels.

Nonetheless, they eventually find their way to Tiflis:

'Have you heard,' [an acquaintance asked some months before this trip], 'about the streets of Tiflis?'
When we said that we hadn't, he produced a box of matches from his pocket, laid three on the table in a row, then three about an inch away, then held one upright at a corner, and announced, solemnly, 'The streets of Tiflis by day.'  He then struck the match he had been holding up at the corner of the little lane of matches, and holding it again in the same position, remarked: 'The streets of Tiflis by night.'
Some people, of course, see nothing funny in the utterly absurd.
When one or two of us had recovered from out laughter, and the rest from their stupor, I asked him: 'But why Tiflis?'
'Oh, I don't know,' he replied.  'It has to be Tiflis.'  
'Where is Tiflis?' I demanded.
'I don't know.  Persia.  Down that way, anyhow.  Does it matter?

[Tiflis, incidentally, is now better known as Tbilisi, is the capital of Georgia.]

Mannin loved Tiflis, but was less keen on Baku and especially less keen on the boat they took across the Caspian Sea in fourth class 'places' (i.e. a tiny space between hundred of other bodies on an open deck.)  But eventually they reached Turkestan and at Krasnovodsk pushed their way on to an over-crowded train ...

...and how far yet to Samarkand .... The next stop but one.  Then the next stop.  It seems queer to be thinking of Samarkand in such familiar terms - 'Next stop Samarkand' ....
Nothing can stop us now.  Yet I shiver with apprehension.  We shall not be truly in Smarkand till we stand upon the Registan.

And did she?

She did.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

A Travel Icon

These pictures are a tribute to Mary - who loves VW campervans - and her daughter Freya - who was born more or less as I was taking these photos.

As all lovers of VW campervans/kombis know, these are vehicles with personality:

The little van purred noisily as if glad to be on the road again.  I'd always felt that the van had a personality, like an animate being; it was not just a car to us, it was a home, even a vessel, in fact we'd named it the Ark, and it was to become more to us in the months ahead than many a house we had lived in.

And though now beloved for their retro charm, these babies were once pretty cutting edge:

In the summer of 1959 we had bought the van, a Volkswagen-Kombi; and with the aid of the local agents we converted it, strengthened it in various ways and made it suitable for a long journey.  I looked around me now with pleasure : the light grey-green interior was cool and restful to the eyes.  The chrome yellow curtains and cushion covers, which we had chosen together, were exactly right, durable and yet gay.  The silky covers of the foam rubber mattresses were soft and pleasant to feel.  The roof was insulated with fibre glass, and its neatly ribbed finish, a craftsman-like job, reminded one of an air-liner.  The cupboards for reference books and for clothes were now filled; my drawing-board and folio stowed in a slot behind the bulkhead of the driving cab; the sturdy folding table in place alongside the bed; numerous fitted boxes under the bed were well stocked with stores and gear ...

(Excerpts from 'Journey Out of Asia' by Katherine Sim.)

Monday 3 September 2012

Le Moulin de Daudet

I keep going through my photo archives and finding photos I'd forgotten about, of trips I'd (almost) forgotten I'd taken.  My thought process goes something like (in the words of adorable nephew #1), 'know dat? Oh yeah.  France.'  Or in the case of these photos, 'know dat?  Oh yeah.  Moulin.'

The French writer Alphonse Daudet (1840 - 1897) wrote a series of short stories called Lettres de Mon Moulin.  Daudet did spend time in a windmill in Provence, but the stories are definitely fiction - and very funny!

In June I went on a literary pilgrimage to Fontvieille, a small town about 8km from Les Baux de Provence.  Just outside Fontvieille you can find what's called 'Le Moulin de Daudet' - not the windmill where he lived (that's now a ruin, though you can walk to what's left of it), but a mill he featured in several of his stories.

The mill and the views are gorgeous and, as I discovered, it's a very pleasant place to sit and eat apricots, fresh from the market.  The only thing I regretted was not having my copy of Lettres de Mon Moulin with me to read under the pines.  I could probably have found it in the town, but it just seemed like too much effort to leave my perch ... however, my hint to you is: go on a sunny day, bring a book, buy a picnic at the market in Fontvieille and bask under the shade of the sails.  Repeat as necessary.