Travelling Light

Travelling light…..
This summer I followed the route of the Orient Express, and took a fantastic train trip all the way from London to Istanbul

Travelling light…..

This summer I followed the route of the Orient Express, and took a train trip all the way from London (Clapham South in fact) to Istanbul, with my dear friend Julie.

Revelling in a new phase of holidaying on my own, and J’s husband being away on a business trip, we decided to revisit our teenage years and go Interrailing.  It really was the best trip ever!

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We stayed briefly in Zagreb, Belgrade and Sofia en route.  Each time we booked a small hotel or B & B and downloaded a short 48 hour itinerary from the internet.  Open Top Bus? – did 3; Orthodox Church? – saw at least 5; local markets? – tick.  We visited synagogues, cathedrals and mosques, sampled the local food and wine, and basically had an absolute blast.

We took a week to get to Istanbul and then spent two and a half days there, exploring. It is a truly amazing place.  We saw and experienced so many things and met many lovely people.

I have always been an advocate of train travel, particularly for visiting family in Yorkshire and in Scotland.   But travelling into and across Europe on the train, where the journey is an integral part of the holiday rather than a means to an end, is a new kind of adventure.   Spending a whole day watching the changing scenery through the window, brings a new meaning to the term ‘headspace’.  Not once on our adventure did I feel like reading my book or plugging into the music I had downloaded ‘to make the journeys pass more quickly’.

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And the night train is an experience not to be missed.  The only thing I can vaguely compare it to is taking a cabin on the overnight ferry.  However, whereas the ferry is relatively quiet and calm, populated on the whole with considerate families and their pets, all hoping for a good nights’ sleep before the long drive through France – the night train from Munich to Zagreb is noisy, and loud, and slightly edgy.  The carriages rattle and shake with a constant, urgent progress and you feel every bend in the track and the braking of the huge engine. The beds are small and the top bunk is so high that you need Jack’s Bean Stalk to get up there!  I didn’t sleep very well – there were people shouting and arguing, strange bangs and shouts – but I didn’t really want to sleep and miss any of the experience!

So back to travelling light and in particular, to packing.  We were going to be away for nine days, in a fairly hot climate, with no real access to washing/drying facilites. We also had to consider the fact that we would be travelling on some pretty basic trains and would have to shift our bags through various cities.  Most importantly, we had to be able to lift them onto the overhead luggage rack!  However, not for J and I the typical rucksack and bedding roll.  Being of a certain age, we decided that we would try and retain a degree of sartorial elegance on our travels.

I initally plumped for a small wheelie suitcase and a lightweight handbag.   I found the absolute perfect bag in Arket – their travel range is perfect.  Beige, so it goes with anything, and made from lightweight nylon.  Main pocket for purse, reading glasses(!), keys, passport, currency, tissues etc.  Within that there is a small pocket which was perfect for my phone and another zip pocket for ‘essentials.’  Essentials is one of those words that can mean different things at different times.  But believe me, from tampons to lipsalve, this pocket is ideal.

The front of the bag has a further slim pocket in which I kept my Interrail pass and seat reservation – genius!

I then had a choice whether to wear the scarf (intending to visit plenty of mosque whilst away) and the denim jacket (for emergency purposes only), carry them in my hands (awkward) or take a further bag.

Thinking ahead to our time in Istanbul, I correctly predicted that we might make a few cheeky purchases, and I would need some way of carrying them home – so I plumped for the extra bag option.

Again, I found the perfect item in Arket.  Their packable tote bag (in purple – great for summer or winter?) was ideal.  Made from the same lightweight nylon as the handbag, it is durable and has a tardis-like capacity (increasing to take three times its original volume on the return flight to London?!)

As for clothes, one pair of shorts (Boden circa 2006 – stiill love them) and one short skirt (Banana Republic 2008) – plus 4 white t shirts were the starting point.

 

I envisaged myself wafting elegantly around the roof top bar of our hotel in Istanbul in a long kaftan-style dress – so packed two beautiful, full length cotton sundresses with that in mind.  Did I wear them? – obviously not.   Often on holiday after a full day of exploring and sight seeing,  I find it’s easier to ‘go straight through’?  Returning to the hotel to shower and change, can break any momentum you may still have and brings the inevitable risk of actually falling asleep whilst awaiting your turn in the bathroom – thus missing the evening all together!  (Even on the nights when we showered and changed before going out, the full lengh ‘wafting’ thing seemed unecessary and inapproriate).

Three pairs of sandals – flat, lightweight – one pair on my feet, two in my bag.  Do not underestimate the joy of changing your footwear at the end of a long hot day, however comfortable your shoes are.

Then I rolled up and packed 4 knee length cotton dresses.  I had high hopes of wearing each item at least twice, but 12 hours on a train through Belgrade with no air con, and several 14 hour days on the streets of eastern Europe with an average temperature in the mid-30’s, soon put paid to that!

And I took one full-length, non-transparent nightie for the night train.  We had a small sink in our bunk room, but the toilet was quite a trek along the corridor.  And having been told by the Guard to keep our door locked, that night-time trip to the toilet took on a whole new level of intrepidation!

The denim jacket came out of my bag only once.  Our final train journey was overnight from Sofia to Istanbul.  At about 3am we reached the turkish border and were awoken by banging on the door and the Border Police ordering everyone to get off the train for passport control.  For the group of young men in the cabin next door, I’m sure it was no big deal climbing out of their bunks and queueing on the moonlit platform still dressed in their jeans and tshirts from the day before.  Cut to J and I, faces cleansed, teeth brushed, nightie and eye mask on and fully out for the count!  Luckily for me, as I eventually reached the bottom of the 25 runged ladder, I could grab the denim jacket and pop it sartorially over my shoulders….. you can never go wrong with a denim jacket – I carried it half way across the world for precisely that moment!

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A New Wardrobe, Literally.

Re-Working my wardrobe has been, and still is, an emotional process…. here are a couple of lessons I have learnt so far…

I think Spring is finally here?!  Well, to be fair, the beginning of the week was perishing …. on Monday I was so cold and wet, having completed various errands on foot, that I came home, ran a hot bath and lay in it for half an hour to thaw!  (And I wore a woolly hat and gloves to walk to my Pilates class, which is actually only a ten minute stroll away!)

But this end of the week, I’m definitely feeling more upbeat about the weather.  The sky is blue, the sun is shining and I’ve left the heating on at home giving me the impression that it’s a good 20 degrees outside!

And I’ve had my bedroom painted.  Big news!  In the List of Things you need to update, change, alter and re-work in times of separation and divorce, then getting your bedroom painted is right up there with ‘change your email address’ and ‘cut your hair’  (I’ve done one of those, so far…) Continue reading “A New Wardrobe, Literally.”

Scent and scent-suality…

It’s time for a new scent – something enticing but environmentally friendly….?

As I’m no longer buying any new clothes, I’ve decided that maybe a new perfume is just what I need to (literally!) spice up my wardrobe. Something that’s not too overpowering, as kind to the environment as possible, but still, in the words of Kelis, ‘brings all the boys to the yard’?!

Scent is hugely evocative.  Of all the senses, it has the greatest power to re-create memories and bring back thoughts and pictures, with such force it can be quite overwhelming.

I have clothes in my wardrobe that hold memories of past events. Highs and lows of my life, tucked within the silk folds of a favourite blouse or the sparkle of a sequinned dress. But it’s the scent I wore that really takes me back to places and events that have shaped my life.

It can be both positive and negative.  The other day I came across a perfume sample in my drawer and absent-mindedly dabbed it on my wrists. I used to love that particular fragrance, but as the smell drifted to my nose, I was instantly back in St. George’s Hospital and overwhelmed for a split second with the grief and trauma of seeing my child in intensive care. My oldest son is now 16 and full of the joys of imminent adulthood and independence(!) but for a short while at the age of 2, he was in an induced coma fighting for his life against meningitis. The scent, which a dear friend gave to me all those years ago as a small comfort to take into hospital, transported me straight back to that time.

On a lighter note, I bought myself a small bottle of body spray from & Other Stories earlier this year, for a (rare) girls’ weekend in Marbella.  Small so that I could take it in my hand luggage. For me now, the remains of that bottle hold the scent of anticipation!  Of a weekend of joy, laughter and female camaraderie.  Of being picked up in the early hours of the morning by a friendly neighbourhood police officer and driven to a party, because we couldn’t find the apartment we were looking for.  It is the scent of sunshine, skin, cocktails and dancing. Continue reading “Scent and scent-suality…”

Why Am I Doing This?!…

Why have I decided not to buy any new clothes for a year?!…

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This was the question I asked myself yesterday.  I was feeling low.  I’m practically a single mother, and two weeks of half term with 4-5 semi-teenage boys in the house (my own three, plus nephew, plus french friend ‘learning english’) is pretty hard work!  I’ve started my blog; unsubscribed from various emails to avoid shopping temptation; edited my coats; and purchased an elongated selfie stick with which to take some ‘totally amazing’ photos of the abundance already in my wardrobe – and what I really wanted to do, yesterday, was buy myself a new dress! Continue reading “Why Am I Doing This?!…”