Monday 4 November 2013

Shake Shack, Covent Garden

I'm a fan of the high/low culture combination.  Well, I say that, but you should know that my tongue is really in my cheek (which, happily, doesn't impede typing).  What I like is combining forms of culture that might not be recognised as classic accompaniments but which, in practice, turn out to be delightful.

For example: ballet and burgers.  The Royal Opera House in London has a new neighbour, imported from the USA.  I had visited Shake Shack over the summer to check out their frozen custard (yummo) and agreed with my sister that it would make a perfect pre-ballet place to meet.  Shake Shack is a New York institution now going global - but as far as I'm concerned, if that means bringing their above-average burgers and the frozen fabulousness of their ice creams closer to home, all to the good.  The Covent Garden branch is conveniently located in the central piazza and has some (limited) inside seating, some undercover (but not really inside) seating and some outside seating with heat lamps.

First course:

Hamburger and fries

Second course:

Frozen custard

Third course:

Don Quixote

All round, grade-A, excellent evening.

LTLS modelling a burger

Thursday 31 October 2013

Freya Stark: Part the Second

I spent an eight-hour flight to the Arabian Peninsula becoming better acquainted with Freya Stark - this time through her biography Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse.  What comes across most strongly is Freya Stark's determination to break down the walls of her life, constrained as she was by lack of money, family obligations and health problems.  Plus a world war and the inescapable fact of her femaleness.

Freya Stark was 34 before she embarked on her first true adventure: to spend months improving her Arabic (which she had insisted on learning, despite protests) in the Lebanon.  She wanted to live a big life, an important life.  Perhaps this thirst to keep pushing, to score exploration 'wins', had a negative impact on some of her relationships later on - perhaps.  It's a truism to say that fame changes people; of course it does, but then we all change anyway, regardless of fortune.

The point, she observes, and I have observed, is that travel seems to bring out one's essential self, for better or worse.  Accordingly, Miss Stark suggests that 'the pleasantness of being liked for oneself might ... be added to the five reasons for travel give me by Sayyid Abdulla, the watch-maker'.

You would of course like to know what the five are.

Sayyid Abdulla's Five Reasons for Travel:
To leave one's troubles behind one
To earn a living
To acquire learning
To practise good manners
To meet honourable men

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Overseen: Oslo City Hall

I have a weakness for the socialist realist style of building adornment: all those stern, chiselled-jawed men and valiant, banner-wielding women.  So I was very appreciative of the decoration on Oslo City Hall - a mostly 1930s building, though some parts weren't completed until after World War II.

There is something of a gender bias in the sculptures, though.

These men are hard at work,

while these women seem altogether more frivolous.

Men build, women adorn?

Here at least is some equal-opportunity frolicking - 

while this stout fellow keeps watch below.

Monday 28 October 2013

Messing About In Boats

Oslo is a lovely and interesting - if expensive - city.  But I think to truly appreciate it, you need to see it from the water.  After all, this is a city on and surrounded by water; the capital of a nation of sea-farers and explorers (since way back in the way back, when sea-faring and exploring were means to an end of looting and pillaging.)

The beautiful opera house is reflected in the harbour, its marble structure more than a little reminiscent of an iceberg.

Given my love of islands and ferries and museums, you can understand that I'd be charmed by a ferry to an island of museums.

For 50- krone you get wonderful views of Akershus Fortress,

the colourful boats belonging to local sailors,

the container port,

and the distinctive A-frame of the Fram Museum.  Though I didn't visit on this occasion, it is wonderful and the trip is well worth it to find out more about the great Norwegian Polar explorers.

In fact I was bound for the Viking Ship Museum, housed in a building that looks more than little bit like a church.

The viking ships are glorious: three of the best-preserved (if not 'the' best-preserved) Viking ships anywhere in the world.  The Oseberg ship was the burial place for two women.  I like thinking of these two early lady travellers, embarking on their voyage to - they hoped - Valhalla.  Perhaps they hoped to make some interesting detours on the way.

Here are some other adventurers - when I saw them out of the corner of my eye, I wondered what they were waiting for.  It took a while for the penny to drop that this was tribute to Roald Amundsen and his fellow explorers, looking, looking out to sea.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Under the Matterhorn

One fine day in mid-September, the Swiss Family Lady Traveller set off on the Hohbalmen walk from Zermatt.  The walk is about 19km, starting at a height of 1620m and climbing to 2741m at the highest point.  So: steep, but all the while you walk you get the most glorious views of the Matterhorn and the Alps bordering Switzerland and Italy.

The first stretch of the hike, up to the Trift Hotel, didn't leave much breath for photography, but every now and then I stopped to smell the Alpine flowers.

Ro lifting her eyes to the hills.

We arrived at the Trift Hotel around 9, just in time for second breakfast: Apfelkuchen and coffee.  For any would-be wanderers I'd just note that the food is brought in by helicopter and the prices reflect this.  (Though the cake was excellent.)

Soon, though, we left our picnic table behind and pulled up another steep slope.  Here's one last look at the Trift Hotel before we turned a corner and arrived at the Hohbalmen meadow.

And the views ...!

Please note that over the left-most peak in that photo, is what appears to be an alien spaceship hidden in cloud cover.  It stayed there ALL DAY.  Just saying.

We were grateful for the wooden benches placed at strategic intervals along the path, many of which bore humorous plaques.

And here she is: the Matterhorn, kindly pointed out by Lady Traveller's Little Sister.

Many photos were taken of us + Matterhorn.  (Matterhorn + us, that should probably be.)

From this point, the walk is mostly a gradual descent through alps and valleys.  LTLS spotted an edelweiss and I spent quite a long time lying on my belly on the path taking photos of it.

Mid-afternoon, we reached Zmutt, which is a hamlet of sorts - a collection of chalets and an inn about 45 minutes walk from Zermatt.

My family, striding purposefully towards Zmutt.

We decided a cheeky beer wouldn't be a bad idea and, indeed, it was good.  From a cold start, the day became very hot, which is why I'm wearing my scarf around my head.

A sign to point us to the last stretch of the way:

And a mountaineer to greet us back at Zermatt, eight hours after we'd left.

Monday 14 October 2013

Geneva, Cite de Refuge

HTLT has been racking up the airmiles of late - even more than usual.  Switzerland, Norway, Sweden (briefly - running from one end of Stockholm airport to the other doesn't really count), the Netherlands plus my regular London commute.  The irony isn't lost on me: so much to blog about, so little time to blog.  Still, I'm trying to get through the backlog and I am taking notes as I go so at some point I hope to have caught up on myself.

First up is the beautiful sunny day we spent in Geneva - me, my sisters and my brother (family bonding + melted cheese = win).  One of the main sights of Geneva is the fountain on the lake, so that's where we headed first.

For the rest of the morning we wandered around the city and I photographed flags and signs, as is my wont.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Overseen: Storm in a (Non-tea) Cup

On our last day of hiking, we wound up at a perfect wooden chalet of a restaurant at Riffelalp, serving various kinds of melted cheese, wine, kuchen.

I got very excited when I saw a series of wooden rondels overhead bearing menu suggestions.  This one is for the Sturmtasse - the stormcup.  Rather than containing a storm-in-a-cup, I'm guessing the ingredients (milk, chocolate, cream, rum) are designed to counteract the effects of bad weather.

And yes I did order it but, very sadly, owing to some miscommunication, my Sturmtasse arrived without rum.  More of a Drizzle-tasse, really.

Monday 23 September 2013

Quarterly (or should that be quadrennial?) Review

Lost in a slew of deadlines and the depths of a stinky cold, I didn't mark an important anniversary on Thursday.  Beloved readers, my blog just turned four.  Four!  In blog years that's - what? - at least twenty.

Way back in the way back, I had the idea that I was going to do a quarterly review: a three-monthly survey of my travels and where my head was at.  I was inspired by Elizabeth Eastlake, a lady traveller and the first woman to write regularly for the Quarterly Review.  You will perhaps not be surprised to hear that there was exactly one HTLT quarterly review, back in November 2009.  But in the spirit of enterprise, I've decided that writing one review after four years is almost the same as writing four reviews in one year.

Here are some statistics.  Since starting Hints to Lady Travellers, I have:

- Travelled to 24 countries
- Lived in five cities
- Discovered many, many female travel writers, and written about 15 of them on this blog (which is really not enough.  Must.  Do.  Better.)
- Gained three nephews (to add to the original Adorable one)
- Written a book
- Completed five exhibition projects - including this one (look ma, I made a museum!)
- Gathered recipes for gin fizzes, Anzac biscuits, Bernie's Italian mama's vegetable soup, Mr Tulk's polenta/mushroom/poached egg combo - and many, many others
- Learned how to snap my fingers (old dog, new tricks)
- Seen constellations of fireflies
- Created a Life List, and ticked off several items, including becoming a runner (!) and visiting some of Ireland's offshore islands
- Became somewhat obsessed with swallows (see picture, above)
- Made new friends
- Offered some hints

I set off on my travels in 2009 with the goal of opening myself to new experiences and, as a result, becoming more open (I thought of it like a kind of slow-motion, long-term yoga pose).  I know that I have become more open, though in the last few months, since my travels have mostly been limited to a Dublin-London commute, I occasionally lose sight of that.  But the joy and the reason for keeping this blog going is - everytime I read through it I feel a surge of happiness that I have done and seen so many things, and this inevitably inspires me to make plans for more.

Thank you for sharing my journey.

A Lady Traveller xxx

Thursday 12 September 2013

Freya Stark: Part the First

Why did it take me so long to read anything by Freya Stark?  After all, she was published by John Murray, and it was the John Murray Archive that was responsible for my starting this blog.  (I worked on the exhibition at the National Library of Scotland.)  Anyone lucky enough  to visit 50 Albemarle St where John Murray was based for many years would see portraits, sketches and photographs of some of their famous travel writers - including Miss Stark.

Copyright unknown 
Anyway, I'm just glad I finally got round to it (her?).  Freya Stark's prose reads almost like poetry; her insights about the people she meets and lives with in Arabia are profound.  She has an eye for detail and a wonderful gift for describing her surroundings evocatively.

I don't propose to write at length about Freya Stark today, given I've just read one book by her (A Winter in Arabia - about some months she spent living in the Hadhramaut, an isolated part of what is now Yemen), am about to start the second (Baghdad Sketches) and want to supplement my meagre knowledge by reading the recent biography.

But here are some thoughts of hers that have stuck in mind: is, I believe, a fallacy to think of travellers' qualities as physical.  If I had to write a decalogue for journeys, eight out of the ten virtues should be moral, and I should put first of all a temper as serene at the end as at the beginning of the day.

Then would come the capacity to accept values and to judge by standards other than our own.  The rapid judgement of character; and a love of nature which must include human nature also.  The power to dissociate oneself from one's own bodily sensations.  A knowledge of the local history and language.  A leisurely and uncensorious mind.  A tolerable constitution and the capacity to eat and sleep at any moment.  And lastly, and especially here, [in Arabia? in the Hadhramaut?] a ready quickness in repartee.

Excellent hints - not just to lady travellers, but to all travellers, everywhere.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Overseen: La Scala

Overseen in - no, not Milan.  This is the other La Scala, the one in Milford, Co. Donegal.  I took this photograph of a treasured institution on a glorious day in July, 2013.

We used to go to the pictures here when I was a little girl.  (Well, we went at least twice - highlights of my youth).  Sadly, the cinema is now closed, but the sign lives on in all its glory.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

When Are Churches Not Like Museums?

A few weeks ago, there was an opinion piece in the New York Times about the rise of participation in art museums.  Titled 'High Culture Goes Hands-On' the piece complained that art museums were trying too hard to flog the 'hands-on' and needed to concentrate on being places that support passive experiences - no participation required.

You don't have to look hard to find people sighing that art galleries need to go back to being more restrained: places for passive contemplation, quiet voices (or as I once read in a wonderfully awful visitors guide to a museum, 'indoor voices').  You don't have to look hard to find references to art museums as secular churches; shrine-like.

Shortly after I read the NYT piece, I attended evening prayer at a cathedral in Dublin.  Like many historic churches, this one helps defray the costs of its upkeep by charging an admission fee for tourists.  Outside of the summer, tourist visits aren't allowed while services are taking place, but for whatever reason, during the summer (when there's no choral evensong and attendance is smaller) the two take place at the same time.

So there I was, prayerbook in hand, hoping for a contemplative experience - and around me, people took photos: of the beautiful architecture, the famous encaustic tiles, the statues and memorials and - me.  Being the reluctant subject of the photography made me think again of the New York Times piece.  Wouldn't it be better if people weren't so preoccupied with a hands-on experience?  Wasn't the urge to record everything part of this mania for activity?  Where were the hushed voices?  Dammit, where was my contemplative experience?

But the thing is - that's nonsense.  Anyone who suggests that art museums and galleries (it's usually these, not so much history or other museums) should be more shrine-like, more like churches, is missing the point.  Churches are all about participation: though prayer may be a quieter activity, it's not passive.  In the same way, my yoga teacher explains that meditation is active - it's just a kind of active passivity, or maybe a passive activity.  And also - churches, temples and other sacred spaces are often full of noise and motion.  Singing, for example, is one of the oldest, most instinctive group activities.

The truth is, contemplation and participation are not poles, either ends of a spectrum.  There's a continuum of participation and, I would argue, contemplation is just one place on that continuum.  My experience in the church, though a bit irritating, reminded me that rather than saying a place should promote one kind of engagement exclusively, we need to remember that people interact with things in different ways.  And that's okay.

To be practical, some kinds of participation don't obviously coexist that well with others.  The act of prayer is somewhat disturbed by people wandering around with flashing cameras or taking iPad videos of the service.  But it seems to me that the cathedral's usual practice makes sense: when services are happening, don't permit - what should I call it? - tourist activity.  But do - do, do, do - invite people (believers, non-believers, believers of another faith or creed) to come in and be part of the service: level and type of participation at own discretion.

When places of worship do this, I think they offer a valuable lesson to art galleries and museums.  Different kinds of participation are possible, valuable - even essential.  Some of them are difficult to programme at the same time, so set aside times when the space is devoted to specific activities.  But, when you do, make sure that you extend the invitation to all your visitors - not just the target audience.  They may or may not not love it, but at least it will help to remind them that the institution is about trying to meet the needs of many different audiences.

One final thing though - in fact, I'd say this qualifies as a hint: whatever about taking photos of a shrine, church, temple, mosque, synagogue or other place of worship, it is almost never appropriate to take pictures of people actually engaged in worship.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Oveheard: Good Guide, Bad Guide

(Well, sort of an 'Overheard' - at two heritage sites in July 2013).

First person interpretation (i.e. a living, breathing, human guide) at its best is what all other interpretation aspires to be: personal, intimate, detailed, tailored to fit individual needs and interests.

The guide at Glebe House (to my sorrow I've forgotten her name) was wonderful.  Warm, personable, clearly both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about her subject.  It helped that she had known Derek Hill and so was able to act as a link between him and us, telling us anecdotes about him and the people who had visited him.

Contrast that with a recent experience I had visiting a National Trust property.  The guide  reeled off from what was clearly a prepared script (I have no issue with scripts, I've used them myself, but you shouldn't sound as though you're reciting from one) displaying absolutely zero enthusiasm for the house or the history it represents.  The lowest point was when the guide referred, several times, to a wealthy 'higher-ess' who had revived the family fortunes.  I promise this is not a dig at the pronunciation - just that it was symptomatic of a general 'can't be bothered' attitude.  She seemed bored - and in consequence the tour was boring.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Derek Hill, His House

Imagine a brick red Georgian house, ringed by dripping greenery, set in a sodden valley under a rainwashed Donegal sky.  Imagine walking into the front hall, walls the blue of billiard cue chalk (walls covered, in fact, with billiard cue chalk) and paintings as far as the eye can see: Augustus John, Jack Yeats, Louis LeBrocquy, Oskar Kokoschka.  Welcome to the home of Derek Hill, English portrait painter, Irish landscape painter, founder of the 'Tory School' (yes, that Tory), resident of Churchill, Co. Donegal.

Derek Hill in a series of vignettes:

Hill's friend Henry McIlhenny (of the Tabasco McIlhennies), connoisseur, philanthropist, who bought nearby Glenveagh Castle and later left it to the Irish State, didn't care for Hill's style of decorating.  When asked his opinion of a Tiffany lamp in the dining room, McIlhenny sniffed, 'it's vulgar. But it goes with the rest of the house.'

Hill painted the great and good and many of them came to Donegal for their sittings.  One visitor was Greta Garbo, who graced the tapestry chair by the fire in the sitting room with her presence.  She had a perfect profile, but for some reason Hill never painted her.

He did paint Yehudi Menuhin and it's said that Menuhin treated the people of Gartan to a performance.  The legend goes that Hill's housekeeper Gracie was asked by one of the locals who the grand fiddler was.  She wasn't exactly sure of the name, but Hiúdí McMenamin sounded about right.

The pipes in the kitchen are painted in different primary colours. On a shelf of the red dresser is a ceramic platter designed by Picasso.  There's also a portrait of Gracie, by Hill, hanging above Gracie's chair.

His bathroom - still with his toothbrush in its holder - is papered in rose-spattered wallpaper and has a pile of Country Life magazines within handy reach of the bath.

He liked bright silk ties and embroidered slippers.

The walls, and more interestingly the ceiling of his study, are papered in original William Morris 'Blackthorn' wallpaper to create an illusion of lying under a woodland canopy.

The house is preserved more or less as it was left in 1981 when Hill donated it, its contents and his art collection to the Irish people.  Every surface is adorned, every wall covered; every room a story, a work of art in its own right.

Glebe House and Gallery, Churchill, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.

Monday 26 August 2013


Zut.  Today I'm taking a break from all things island and returning to France.  I don't know why I didn't post these photos at the time (they were taken at the end of June) but I thought they'd be a nice celebration of the summer before we get into September and autumn - and an antidote to a Monday morning.

Alors, HTLT presents la Sardinade: starring sardines, sardine grillers, the village square, bright colours and two adorable nephews.

Just a few euro bought you a plate of grilled sardines and bread; frites were also available with mayonnaise or ketchup or both, for the indiscriminate (like me) who like to mix.

The eldest adorable nephew discovered candy floss.

The slightly smaller adorable nephew discovered sardines, frites, churros and ice cream.  He likes to eat, this one.  Like his auntie.

A la prochaine!

Thursday 22 August 2013

Tory Blue

Unlike yesterday's red features, nobody has been applying blue paint to Tory.  I think it's more that the island's colour palette creates a beautiful backdrop that allows all things blue to shine.