Friday 17 January 2014

Hints to Lady Diners

View from Skybar at the Radisson Blu Plaza, Oslo, December 2013
I don’t think I’ve posted this hint before, but I was reminded of it because I was thinking about my erstwhile Melbourne landlady, the unutterably chic Bernie.  (Among other delights she introduced me to chocolate panettone, this amazing perfume - and confirmed my love of polished concrete floors.)  We often discussed travel and we had one particularly interesting discussion that has stuck in my mind about lady travellers eating out on their own.

I regularly eat out by myself of an evening when travelling.  And it’s – fine.  I assure you, the other people in the restaurant are not all wondering if you’ve been a) stood up b) have no friends.  Walk in confidently, ask for a table for one, take it as an opportunity to people watch and order EXACTLY what you want with no one to judge or steal bites from your plate.  Books, magazines, phones are all useful distractions if you tire of people watching and/or your own company.  Eating alone is a much better alternative than not eating or eating crappy takeaway or staring at your hotel room walls.

But – and this is a point Bernie and I agreed on: eating alone in the evening is not always the most comfortable option for a solo lady traveller.  (A lot of our debate was around whether it was easier for male travellers on their own – she thought yes, I’m undecided.  What do you think?)  It’s true that sometimes I feel a bit exposed if I’m by myself – particularly in a more formal restaurant.  Bernie argued that it exposed you to unwanted attention.  We both agreed that not all restaurants are welcoming to women dining alone – or, for all I know, to men dining alone.

So, here’s the hint.  Lady travellers on your own: save your pennies and your appetite for LUNCH.  Lunchtime tends to be more relaxed, even at more formal dining establishments.  For some reason, it’s more culturally acceptable for a woman to dine alone at lunchtime.  (And although I’d say absolutely flout the cultural norms if that’s what works for you, I know it does’t work for everyone.)  In the evening, I’ll more often go to a café or snack place (for gyros, say, or falafel) or – one of my favourite things – visit a market during the day and have a picnic back at my hotel.

Oh, and as a postscript – if looking for a good option to have a drink by oneself in the evening, hotel bars are usually a pretty comfortable bet, and often places you’d want to go anyway.  Three great examples: Housebar at Hotel DeBrett in Auckland, the Skybar at the top of the Radisson Blu Plaza in Oslo and the inimitable Duke's in London.

Friday 3 January 2014

Life List, Revisited (or: Happy 2014!)

I've noted this once or twice before: occasionally, travelling gets in the way of writing about travelling.  Just before Christmas, I added up all of the air miles I'd flown in 2013 and the total came to over 91,000 - almost four times the circumference of the Earth.  Lots of planes, lots of airports, a certain amount of travel fatigue.

But it's a new year and I'm not ready to say goodbye to Hints to Lady Travellers.  In an effort to kickstart my blogging (and reawaken the love of travel somewhat muffled by one too many delayed flights) I revisited the Life List I posted two years ago.  I wanted to see which of these I'd achieved, which no longer seem relevant, and consider what - two years on - I might add to the list.  So:

1. Stay overnight in a lighthouse
Still want to do this, still haven't done it.

2. Take drawing lessons

3. Paint a room in my house yellow
Not yet, but I'm currently in the throes of house-hunting, figuring that actually having a house of my own would be a good first step in ticking this off the list.

4. Write a novel
One day ...

5. Go to Siena and see the allegories of good and bad government and Padua to see the Giotto frescoes in the Arena chapel
This is something I want to do SO MUCH - and yet I keep putting it off.  Does my subconscious worry that it (or I) will be disappointed?  

6. Go to St Kilda in the Outer Outer Hebrides
I've discovered that there's now a regular boat service from Stornaway, so at least this is now more achievable than it was two years ago.

7. Buy, collect or otherwise acquire one piece of art every year
This one I actually have managed.  Hooray!

8. Read every book in Granny’s bookshelf
Though this one is currently on hold as the bookshelf (and most of my books) are in storage, I have slowly being working my way through all of Granny's collection of Irish poetry and plays.  

9. Drink champagne in the Derry & Tom roof garden
Not yet.

10. Learn (properly) five new cooking skills: 1. Chopping vegetables 2. Jointing meat 3. Filleting fish 3. Tempering chocolate 5. Icing
In theory I still want to tick these off, but I'll be honest, they're fairly far down the list.

11. Look at the view from the verandah of Isak Dinesen’s house in Kenya
Oh, yes please.

12. Try indoor rock-climbing
I've investigated this and just need to find a date to do an introductory course.  So watch this space ...

13. Have a dress made for me

14. Buy a leather bag in Buenos Aires
No.  (But I will.)

15. Learn to identify 12 constellations
I'm getting better.  By the time I left Australia I was really good at finding the Southern Cross and I also know Orion, Cassiopeia and the Plough/Bear/Dipper.  Hey - that means this task is 33.33% completed!

16. Walk some of the pilgrim’s route to Santiago de Compostela
I would still like to do this though I hear it's becoming ever more popular and, as a result, ever more crowded.  We'll see.

17. See a camera obscura
Not yet.

18. Spend a week every year doing a volunteer project
And no, I haven't; need to reconsider this one.

19. Take dance classes
Well, I tried a couple of ballet classes but they didn't really take, so I think I need to consider some other form of dance.

20. Go on a road trip with my sisters
I have been on several trips by road with my sisters, but I'm not sure that any of them count as proper, epic Road Trips.  But we have time.

21. Visit all of Ireland’s inhabited off-shore islands
This is a work in progress.  So far I've visited Cape Clear, Rathlin, Tory and Lambay.  

22. Read a book by every Nobel laureate for literature
This isn't a work in progress, but still an ambition.

23. Learn conversational Greek.  Spanish.  Japanese.  Latin.
Um, I have the ability to converse in Greek with a two year old, but I don't think this counts, so no. 23 remains, as yet, uncompleted.

24. Go back to Japan and go to a hot spring/bath
This one is on a back burner, but I would love to go back to Japan.

25. Visit Santorini (preferably with a lover.)
Not yet.

26. Have fresh flowers in my home every week
I have mostly been doing this.

27. Learn to identify 100 flowers
I have singularly failed even to begin this project.

28. Watch all of Hitchcock’s films
According to Wikipedia, Hitchcock had 60 film projects, of which 56 exist now.  Of these I have watched six, so I have a way to go ...

29. Post a parcel to someone every month
I was very assiduous about doing this for quite a while, but have got out of the habit recently.  I like doing it, though, so I should resume.

30. Curate an exhibition about a pet topic
Haven't done this yet, but would still like to.

31. Ski a black run with perfect confidence (and a little style would be nice too.)
No ...

32. Write a children’s book
No ...

33. Start managing my money like a grown up
Getting there ...

34. Go on an archaeological dig
Not yet, but it may well happen in 2014!

35. See all of Shakespeare’s plays
Not only have I not seen them all, I don't think I've seen any new-to-me Shakespeare plays since writing this list - at least not live on stage.  Of 37 plays, I've seen 14 in the theatre.  

36. Take a trip on a flying boat
I've watched a documentary about a flying boat, so that's a start.  Also reread Beyond the Blue Horizon by Alexander Frater, one of my favourite travel books of all time and source of much valuable information and inspiration about flying boats.  

37. Learn how to do my hair
I have acquired a quantity of hairpins and become a bit more adventurous in my styling, so - half a tick?

38. Learn how to apply liquid eyeliner
Actually, yes!  A tick!

39. Visit a South Pacific island and sing songs from the musical on the beach
I'm torn.  I visited New Zealand and subsequently discovered it was in the South Pacific, but it doesn't REALLY fit with what I had in mind when I wrote this item on my list.  So I think it must remain unticked.

40. Improve my knowledge of Geography by learning to identify countries in South America, Asia and Africa
This is a work in progress but it is (she says with some surprise) actually coming along.

41. Learn Adobe Illustrator (properly)
I've signed up to an online course and completed a whopping one assignment.  

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
No.  (But really want to revisit New York and am making plans to go later this year.)

46. Buy a house
I'm trying...

47. Become a runner
Yes!  Although running activity does seem to fall off in the colder months.

48. Walk on the Great Wall

49. Visit a new country every year
Actually, this is one I have succeeded with (so far).  Finland, the UAE and Oman were all new-to-me countries visited in the past two years.

50. Have a travel piece published

51. Do a residency

52. Facilitate someone else’s dream of becoming a (lady) traveller
I don't think I've done this yet - at least only in the smallest way.  But I'm always happy to help!

53. Attend the New Year’s Day Concert in Vienna
I will never not want to do this, but competition is FIERCE.  Still, if I entered the lottery every year, that probably would increase my chances.

54. Spend a night in a mountain hut
I have actually done quite a lot of hiking but for some reason no overnight stays in a hut.  But I would still like to.

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
Sort of.  In so far as a kind person helped me to sew some cushions, although I think it would be a stretch to say I had 'relearned' sewing.  

59. Learn how to change a tyre.  Jump start a car.  Other car things.
To my shame I have not yet done this.  Which will doubtlessly come back to bite me when the car breaks down.

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
No - although like several other entries on the list, this one is on hold until I have a house of my own.

63. Go to the Venice Biennale
Not yet.

64. Go on an epic, continent-crossing train journey
Yes! Read about my adventure on the Ghan here.

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
Yes - although lots more to do.

68. Plant paperwhites in time for Christmas

69. Read the Odyssey travelling around Greek islands

70. Visit Istanbul (not Constantinople)
Not yet - but (fingers crossed) 2014 will be the year.

71. Attend religious services of other faiths than my own (respectfully)
I still haven't quite figured this one out, though I did visit a mosque for the first time last year.

72. Learn to play poker
Sadly, no.

73. Go glamping

74. Go to Port Eliot and Flat Lake
No, but am making plans for 2014!

75. Dance till dawn in Rio

76. Finish the Observer cryptic crossword by myself
I keep getting within a clue of finishing it.  Soon.

77. Finish the Alexandria Quartet

78. Do some further study
Not yet.

79. Learn five great ways to tie a scarf
I've learnt a few - and found this video, so I think I can call this one a tick.

80. Fly first class

81. Persuade Leon to open in Ireland
Not yet, though they have recently opened an outpost at London Bridge, near one of the offices where I am often to be found.  So that's something.

82. Welcome fellow travellers, whether friends or friends of friends or even strangers to my city and my home

83. Tithe
Not quite.

84. Cook one thing from a cookbook every week
Epic fail.

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
It's still a dream.

91. Learn how to do a two-finger whistle

92. Master the art of packing a suitcase so I can always travel stylishly
If anything, I seem to be getting WORSE at packing.  Although I have developed some strategies which I'll blog about anon.

93. Make croissants from scratch

94. Set up my own business and write a five year plan
Yes and no.  

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.

So, of a 100 items on my list, 7 1/2 are done (but that includes three half ticks) and 12 are ongoing.  Three of the things are proving to be great long-term projects: visiting a new country every year, collecting new art every year and visiting all of Ireland's offshore islands.  Several are related to my urge to create a nest for when I'm not travelling - so here's to 2014 being the Year of the House.  Some involve pilgrimages, of sorts (Isak Dinesen's house, the Arena Chapel frescoes) and I have a slightly fatalistic feeling about these: they will happen when they're meant to happen.  But I still think it's time to add a few new things to the list.

21a. Attend a course at the Firehouse bread school on Heir Island
23. Having considered it carefully, I've decided to ditch the plan to learn conversational Greek, Spanish or Japanese in favour of learning Arabic, inspired by Freya Stark.
38. Learn to play the ukelele (I got one for Christmas!)
43. Do more reading and research about lady travellers, starting with Beth Ellis, she of the incomparable An English Girl's First Impressions of Burmah
47a. Run a half marathon
64. Follow the golden road to Samarkand, see the tomb of Tamerlane

Reports to follow!

Happy 2014 from Hints to Lady Travellers xxx