Friday 25 November 2011

How I Took the Good Train from Nice to Aix

Today I am flying to Nice (why, yes - I will be tossing bouquets over the wing of my little plane) and then taking the train to Aix to visit the adorable nephews (and their lovely mother).

The TGV from Nice is slow: all the better to take in the views along the Cote d'Azur.   I will be sitting in 1st class (only €3 extra = flexible ticket), drinking wine and taking photos.

As my eldest nephew would say: ees disgoostin'.

A bientôt!

PS wondering about today's title?  See here.  And okay - it's a different Aix, but still.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Bold & Noble Type Maps

(image via
I've come across these type maps in a few places, most recently in the lovely Article shop in the Powerscourt Centre in Dublin.

While doing some Christmas present research, I landed on the Bold & Noble website and discovered 1. that they have type maps of many different places (including London, New York, Italy, Africa, Australia....) and 2. the nice people there are giving away a free A4 special edition print if you order something online between now and Christmas Eve.

I think a type map would make a great gift for the (Lady) Traveller in your life (and no, this isn't a hint, although I certainly would be very pleased to find one in my stocking).


Hints to Lady Travellers is not affiliated to Bold & Noble in any way.  She doesn't even KNOW them.  She just likes their stuff.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Overheard: Eithne Sang in Berkeley Square

I'm not sure if I can capture the enchantment of a walk I took in London a few weeks ago, but I'm going to try.


It was just getting dark when I said goodbye to my friend behind Selfridges.  I had the vague intention of getting the tube, but instead my legs pointed me down Gilbert St in the direction of Mayfair.

Mayfair encapsulates many of the things I love about the city ...  the opulence, the architecture, the history, the literary characters whose addresses you pass by (Lord Peter Wimsey over here, Bertie Wooster over there).  As the sky got darker, the lights of homes and shops illuminated my path: the art deco door into Claridges' bar was like a lantern on the corner of Brook St.

As I walked I played the delightful game of imagining which house I would live in if I had all the time and money in the world.  There was hardly anyone on the streets to see me running my hand along ornamental ironwork and skipping a little as I crossed the road.

From Davies St, I cut a corner into Berkeley Square.  Berkeley Square is one of the places that I can't pass by without singing its theme tune (St Paul's is another: I am obliged to hum 'Feed the Birds' from Mary Poppins whenever I'm within 100m of the cathedral.)

I kept singing (softly) as I turned into Curzon St and passed the lavish Lansdowne Club, once home of Gordon Selfridge - and his Hungarian cabaret artiste tenants (I think perhaps that should be 'tenants') the Dolly Sisters.

So from Selfridges to Selfridge's - a walk I would recommend to anyone, anytime.  But go at dusk if you want to hear the nightingales.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Liberty London

I have been giving this matter some serious thought over the past few months and I think that I can conclude that Liberty is the best one-stop shop in London.

(Mr Honey with the shopping bags in the fabric department.)

Reason # 1: The nicest, most enthusiastic, passionate-est staff.
Every salesperson I have ever spoken to in Liberty's behaved as though the best thing to happen to them all day was for me to come in to their department.  They are well-informed, interested, super-friendly and extremely professional.

Reason # 2: The Arts & Crafts building.  It's amazing.  Carved wood, faux-Tudor details, exquisite staircases (how many department stores can say that?), the bazaar-style lay out.

Reason # 3: The delightful mixture of high end, high concept, interesting fashion and objects (i.e. not the same old clothes and furniture you see everywhere) and staying true to their roots with ...

Reason # 4: The fabric department.  Be still my heart.  EXQUISITE patterns, many archival, not at all crazy expensive - it's the way to add a little luxe to the make do and mend ethos.

(I bought this fabric to make cushions to beautify the small 'ouse.)

Reason # 5: The Scarf Hall.  They have a scarf hall.  And my dear the scarves - divine.  (I have a vintage Liberty scarf from Cambridge Market: pure silk, beautiful red and blue pattern, wear it all the time, outstanding condition.)

Look, I hate the over-use of the phrase 'curated' (call it professional courtesy) - it gets applied to everything from parties (yes, really) to playlists, BUT, but, but - if ever oh ever a shop there was that deserved to use the term it's Liberty of London.  Everything in the shop has been carefully and cleverly selected so that, while you won't find the biggest range in London, I truly believe you'll find the most interesting.


Although I am the holder of a Liberty Loyalty Card, they are - sadly - not paying me in vintage print fabrics for this outpouring of love.  

Thursday 17 November 2011

Ivory Towers, Misty Eyes

Last week I packed my bags for a tour of England.  First on the itinerary was a visit to Lady Traveller's Little Sister (LTLS) in Oxford where she is now in the process of becoming a Very Learned Lady and where, once upon a time, I was a student.  

LTLS made it clear that she would have limited patience for crying and/or nostalgia and/or yearning for my lost youth.  But it's hard: Oxford never seems to change very much and this, I suppose, is its charm but also its treachery.  Walking along Turl St I really wouldn't have been surprised to have bumped into my 20 year old self.  Instead, we saw these four dogs parked outside Exeter College.  LTLS surmised that the greyhound was the getaway driver.

It's all so goddamned beautiful, what with the golden stone, the golden leaves, the golden lights in the library...

 ... and a conveniently placed full moon illuminating the lady on top of the Sheldonian theatre.

The next day, I persuaded LTLS to put on her hat and embrace the time-travel feel of my visit.  She endured this (and my photography), but with a certain lack of enthusiasm.

Yay for the Pitt Rivers Museum, which - by not changing its displays for 150 years - finds itself bang in fashion.

One of my favourite things in the museum is the COLLECTION BOX featuring anthropologists who will perform a sacred rite if you give them money.  Pictured on right is LTLS who is almost an anthropologist.

Darn It & Stitch is new since my day: a very sweet haberdashery on Blue Boar St.

Another great new (well new to me) find was the Albion Beatnik bookshop on Walton St: new and secondhand books and tea.  Great selection of books including (frabjous day!) a copy of Uncommon Arrangements, a book about Bloomsbury marriages.  I gave my copy to the Salvos when I left Melbourne and regretted it ever since.

Finally, here's me, looking distinctly misty-eyed as I gaze at the window of my former kitchen in Jericho.

I haven't spent much time in Oxford since I graduated and so this was a somewhat bittersweet visit.  With Oxford, it's not so much a case of not being able to step in the same river twice.  More, the river is exactly the same, but it's full of other people who are entirely absorbed in the goings on of this one small city and all faintly pity you because you're not.  However, any nostalgia-induced blues I felt were satisfactorily countered by frequent stops for tea and cake.  And that's the other important thing to note about Oxford: there's always somewhere for tea and cake.

Wednesday 16 November 2011


The grey, gloomy and inescapable November-ness of today prompted me to dig out these photos from last month - photos that have an unmistakable air of spring about them.  (My upside-down, topsy-turvy travelling ways have given me so far this year: two winters, one and a half autumns, one and a half springs, one summer.)  

Just before I left Melbourne in October, my lovely friend Georgie suggested visiting Montsalvat, an artist's colony out in Eltham, on the edge of the city.  As it turned out, I had been here nearly ten years ago for a wedding, but didn't remember.  Anyway, I was glad we went back, because it is BEAUTIFUL.  

Founded by the fantastically Scanwegian-named Justus Jorgensen in the 1930s, Montsalvat was planned to resemble a French Provencal (or provincial - it's not entirely clear which) village.  Personally, I think it looks like an architect took one part Arts and Crafts design manual, one part 1930s cutting edge taste and put it into a Disney blender ....

Montsalvat is still an artist's colony, with little cottages housing workshops and studios.  There is also a good restaurant, a gallery and beautiful gardens.  Because there was an event happening the day we went and therefore access to some spaces was limited, we got in for free, which was really very kind of them.  All in all a perfect get-away-from-the-city springtime excursion.  It's just a shame that it's a little too far from my current location for a blast of spring loveliness.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Unpacking in the Small 'Ouse

After more than two years without, it's been very fun unpacking all of my books and papers and random assorted dinosaurs.

Among other gems uncovered is a notebook that I had in France as an 18-year-old au pair, containing the best chocolate cake recipe I've ever come across.  (You can tell how good it is from the chocolate stains on the page.)

Translated as best I can -

For 12 people:
240g chocolate
240g castor sugar
170g butter
5 eggs
100g of potato starch/flour
1/2 tsp baking powder (and incidentally, the French don't measure in 'teaspoons' but in coffeespoons.  One of those intriguing cultural differences.)

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie with 2 soupspoons of water; add the butter and gently pour the wet mixture over the creamed sugar and eggs.

Little by little add the potato starch, baking powder and egg whites whipped into stiff peaks.

Bake in a medium hot oven (200C) in a 23/24cm greased and floured tin.  Don't open the oven door in the first 20 minutes; takes about 30/35 minutes to bake.


The result is a moist, decadent cake.  You can substitute regular flour but the potato starch not only makes the cake extra moist, it also makes it suitable for coeliacs or anyone who can't eat wheat.

I will now channel Julia Child and say - bon appetit!

Monday 7 November 2011

Monday Miscellany

Hints to Lady Travellers is slowly adjusting to the week after a weekend that didn't go exactly as planned (sick + burgled = sad).  HOWEVER, in the dauntless spirit of my pioneering lady traveller forebears, I am pulling up my socks and looking forward to better things ahead.

They include:
Going to Oxford and London later this week.
Checking out the Little Museum.
Learning to sew (again) so that I can use some of these beautiful Liberty fabrics and make cushions for my small 'ouse (TM Gregory the adorable French nephew).
Rekindling my love of Dublin Bikes.
Finishing my life list and publishing it here so I have no excuse not to start doing the things on it.

And because every post is enhanced by a picture, here's one demonstrating the return of the Mean Face.

Friday 4 November 2011

Airport Reviews: Canberra

[For more on the airport reviews, read the preamble.]
It seemed appropriate to start the airport reviews with Canberra, since getting delayed there gave me the idea in the first place. 

People mostly visit Canberra for one of two reasons: they have business with the federal government or they are visiting a National Cultural Institution.  There are (currently) no international flights to or from Canberra.  In consequence, the airport is small and designed for quick getaways.  You will spot: politicians, members of the armed services, people wearing grey.  You will not spot: celebrities, fashionistas, non-Australians (well hardly any).

The business end
The good news is – check-in and security are both super speedy.  The clientele noted above tend to travel light and efficiently. 
The bad news is …

The fun (?) part
All those frequent flying politicians head straight to the lounges.  If you are flying with Virgin, you can buy a day pass for their lounge.  If flying Qantas (and not a member of their frequent flyer programme) you have limited options for eating/relaxing.

There is a Relay shop that sells a great range of magazines and newspapers, a limited range of books, some okay souvenirs that won’t actively offend your loved ones and basic toiletries.  There is a Hudsons Coffee which – look, if you need caffeine, it’s not terrible.  Not good, but not terrible.  There is also a Tuk Chop which has pretty decent dumplings and fried rice.  For seating, you’re limited to the seats by the gates, but at least there are plenty of these.  And for bonus, the toilets are very clean and shiny.

If you have a delay of more than a couple of hours, I would recommend heading elsewhere.  The Australian War Memorial Museum is less than a 15 minute taxi ride away and most of the other big museums and galleries can be reached within 20.

Airport Reviews: A Preamble

In which a Lady Traveller introduces a new feature for hints day: the airport review.

The idea for airport reviews came to me on a dark day about this time last year.  Reader, I got stuck at Canberra Airport for five hours.  Unable to change to an earlier flight, I was stranded.  Admittedly the airport was in the throes of renovation, but – aside from the check in desks and security – there was only one small newsagency between me and abject boredom.  Luckily (and seeing my dismay) the friendly Virgin check in agent advised me to pay the (then) $50 fee to use the lounge.  It was totally worth it.  Comfy chairs, unlimited drinks (including alcohol), snacks, newspapers, tv, internet access.  Given that I’d just come from eight days in the wilderness, I fell on all of the above like a ravening beast.

As I got stuck in to my second glass of champagne, it occurred to me that it would be useful to have a real life guide to airports that dealt with such issues as ‘getting stuck at Canberra Airport.’  And this is why, channelling the practical how-to spirit of my mentor, Lillias Campbell Davidson, Hints to Lady Travellers is pleased to bring you the airport review feature.  (Mrs Davidson didn’t cover airports in the original Hints to Lady Travellers; to be fair to her, they hadn’t been invented yet.) 

The feature is not intended to be an exhausive guide to the airports reviewed.  For this you can visit airport websites.  It is intended to offer answers to the following:

- What can I do if my flight’s delayed?  Can I get a decent cup of coffee/drink/meal?  Can I buy pressies for the folks back home that don’t scream AIRPORT GIFTSHOP?  Is there a reasonable bookshop?  Are there pleasant and affordable shops in which to while away the hours?  Are there comfortable seats?  And are these things located before or after security?  There’s nothing worse than electing to get through security first – so you can relax – and then discovering that there’s nothing beyond.  (LAX and French airports generally are bad for this.)

I will add a disclaimer: these reviews are subjective, based on my own likes and dislikes.  Also, because airports seem to be in a constant state of renovation, they are liable to change.

Come back later for the first review!