Aloha, Carry On Travellers!

I write a column for our local paper. My sandbox is local issues, but sometimes I meander into other things that are meaningful to me.

I recently wrote a column about the power and joy of travelling alone. Once published, that column spurred a steady flow of emails from readers, including several women wanting advice about solo travel.

So, here I am. Dusting off Carry On Traveller!

A few weeks ago, I delivered my youngest child to the Honolulu airport and watched him walk away – turning back once to give me another hug and tell me not to cry – then head off to board a plane that would carry him clear across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand, where he will live for the next year, as he completes his studies.

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I watched him walk away – thinking the inevitable parental thoughts of where did the time go and please let him get there safely – and then I wiped away a final tear, gathered up my carry on bags and walked over to the inter-island terminal and boarding a quick Hawaiian Air flight to Maui.

When people ask me which Hawaiian island is the best, I usually answer with a quick overview of the main islands. They are all wonderful, for different reasons.

Oahu is the TV Hawaii that we know and love. Hawaii 5-0. Waikiki Beach. North Shore Surfers. Shrimp Trucks and Shave Ice. It’s busy – almost 90% of the states population lives on Oahu – and it’s a magnet for international shoppers.

Kauai is the kick-back Hawaii. Same shirt, different day, Brah! It’s the garden isle for a reason – it’s lush and gorgeous, the kind of place you could disappear into.

The Big Island of Hawaii is the rustic Hawaii. Lava fields and lush jungles. Positively gorgeous.

And Maui is the home of the humpback whales. Well, that is what it is for me. There are other good things, too!

Some come in a glass.

Some come on a mixed plate.

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Some come on land.

And some come by sea. Ah, Mother Earth. You are amazing.

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Some practical tips: I booked a lovely little apartment on HomeAway.com, a perfect one bedroom condo, in a small, older complex, just north of Lahaina. I like smaller resorts, because they are easy to access – parking close to my door – and are often less expensive, without the fancy bells and whistles. Plus, I find that they are more private.

I rented a crappy little car from Payless and bought my breakfast groceries – local banana bread and fresh fruit – at a fabulous and funky health food store called the Farmer’s Market, just up the street. I grabbed a bottle of Old Lahaina Dark Rum (I do love my dark rums!) at the Safeway and settled in for a great week.

I ate my main meals at lunch and had gourmet takeaway on my lanai- overlooking the ocean – in the evening. Aloha, fish taco heaven! And yes, that’s an absolutely perfect banana cream pie.

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Mahalo, Maui. Mahalo, Ocean.

Quick Trips are the best!

I like to have at least one trip in the hopper at all times – something a bit more complex or lengthy. It keeps me focused. Right now, that trip is a lengthy summer sojourn in Nova Scotia … stay tuned for that later this year!

In between the longer, more complex trips, I will often disappear at the drop of a hat. A cool, stylish hat of course. The kind you would wear on their streets of New York City, dodging the paparazzi.

Well, perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch. But the ‘hiding under a hat’ metaphor speaks to my need to take a huge step backwards out of my daily routine and clear my head. That’s the raging introvert in me, for the behavioural scientists in the crowd.

Here’s my highlight reel.

ONE spectacular lunch at Eataly.

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I love travelling alone because I eat what I want – in this case, oysters and sardines, where I want, when I want. I also love the spontaneous conversations that erupt when you sit ‘at the bar’. On this wonderful day, I lucked out by sitting beside a lovely, charming, Irish man from San Francisco named Edmund. We talked about Broadway plays, the high-tech world, American politics and Pinot Noir.

My quick lunch quickly turned into a marvelous boozy adventure! (Not THAT kind of adventure, ladies!) This isn’t a unique event – as you become more comfortable with being alone, you become more comfortable with chatting with perfect strangers. What a gift.

TWO amazing Broadway plays.

Seriously great art. I can’t get enough of Broadway.

Extra bonus of travelling alone – easy to grab great solo seats to almost anything. Love it!

Leaving the theatre after The Crucible, I walked the 25 blocks to my hotel (just north of Union Square) in the glory of a drizzly Manhattan night. I wasn’t ready to go to bed, so I popped into the neighborhood watering hole – Shorty’s @ Madison & 27th – for a quick drink.

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Such a gem. Again, travelling alone … sit at the bar. A bartender is a solo traveller’s best friend. 

THREE local beers and a basket of french fries topped with cheese whiz.

Cheers to that!

My weekend finished with a fabulous Saturday in my favourite NYC Neighbourhood –  NOMAD – where I just hung out in the local park, enjoyed the sunshine, coveted the French Bulldogs and pretended that I was one of the many lucky people who live there.

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Where will you go, sooner than later?

Anna Maria Island Getaway

I don’t always travel on my own. 

This February brought a unique moment of time – my kids and I all had the same ‘reading week’ for the first time ever, so we grabbed the opportunity to head south for some family time.

I’m actually not much of a Florida person … well I wasn’t til I arrived on Anna Maria Island.  Now I am counting the days til I can return. 

Highlight reel: Sunset Kayaking. Beach Dining. Pine St. Shopping, Disaster Karaoke, made better by baskets of shrimp & pitchers of beer. 

  

A Perfect New York City Escape

Sometimes, I feel the need to hop on a plane and go ‘poof’ from my regular life. Luckily, I have the perfect place to go, at any time, during any season, for any reason. 

New York City. 

I often scan Air Canada’s offerings, just in case a gem of a last minute deal proves to be irrestible. And sometimes, if the timing is right, I grab onto those gems. It was one of those moments that landed me in the Big Apple a few weeks ago … for a perfect early winter weekend. Another benefit of solo travel – if an opportunity presents itself, you can grab it. 

  
Once in the air, it is hardly an hour until the iconic Manhattan skyline captures your attention. An hour between here and there … I need to go more often. 

I landed at lunch time, hopped in a yellow cab, and happily headed into the city.

My hotel of choice on this trip was The Lexington, at the corner of Lexington and 48th. As a frequent solo traveller, I always have a plan when choosing a hotel. In NYC, that means being within walking distance of the New York Public Library at Bryant Park, Broadway’s theatres, Grand Central Station, and Union Square. I also love historic hotels, so The Lex was a wonderful choice for this trip. I was able to get a fabulous last-minute deal through booking.com … I saved almost $150CA by making a switch. 

So, what does one do for 48 hours of solo time in NYC? 

  
First, I went for oysters at the ever delightful Grand Central Oyster Bar. Nestled in the basement of Grand Central Station, guests make themselves comfortable at lunch counters, settle in, and watch a steady stream of locals pop in for chowder or platefuls of fresh oysters. I had both. With a delightful glass of Cali Pinot Noir.

  
I went to Bryant Park and enjoyed the holiday market. They were skating … I was wearing sandals. 

  

I grabbed a last minute ticket to see a delightful musical. 

   
   
I woke up on Sunday morning and meandered over to the historic Chelsea Market, where I poked and pondered in the shops.  

 
Until lunch-o’clock. When I opted for another delightful treat…

  
A gorgeous Omakase for one. Perfection. 

I also sauntered on the Highline, shopped at Macy’s, wandered through Union Square, had an impromptu facial and a makeover at Blue Mercury, attended a taping of The View, and … cos I could … opted for popcorn and a movie (Brooklyn!) instead of dinner in a restaurant. 

So, what does one do with 48 hours of solo time in New York City? 

Whatever they want to. 

My ‘Vottage’ in Chianti.

Last year, I travelled with friends to Italy, staying for a week in a rather posh villa just outside of Greve in Chianti. 

I was enamoured of the neighbourhood, so I thought it would be a perfect spot in which to book a week of solo villa time. 

Sidebar: I honestly don’t know how people travelled before the Internet – I must have taken a deep and thorough look at over a dozen spots over the winter – video and photo tours, extensive reviews – before landing on Casa Allinuzza, a tiny 2 bedroom villa/cottage, high in the hills, situated on a working vineyard. 

My ‘must have’ list was short. Modern plumbing. Washing machine. Views. 

This is my neighbourhood.

 

This is my nighttime terrace view. 

   

  

It’s a working vineyard, as you can see. In fact, they make and sell three different brands of vino as well as olive oil. 

  
 

There are good things and bad things about renting a ‘Vottage’ on your own. 

Good things: I read 5 books on my iPad. I did my laundry. I was completely relaxed and it was nice to have a home base. I loved having uninterrupted hours on the terrace, looking out over the Tuscan hills.

Bad things: I have an overactive imagination. I heard noises that I elevated into much more. I’m sure I heard a wild boar in the vineyard, being either a) decapitated or b) having the time of its life. Perhaps I should not have been reading murder mysteries on my iPad. 

(One note – Waterloo Public Library’s OverDrive service is absolutely fantastic for accessing ebooks. Get a library card, folks!)

Another good thing – when you are travelling for an extended period of time, it’s important to take a day off once in awhile. It was nice to be in a place that made that easy, instead of a hotel room.

It was a great week – a lovely home base – but I must admit, I’m craving a bit of company after that experience. Good thing I have visitors coming next week!

We shall Carry On … to Florence, Perugia, and to Rome!

 

A brief step out of Italy 

Most wouldn’t know that there is wee republic – completely independent -buried in the Italian hills. 

I decided to spend a few delightful nights in San Marino. I didn’t really know what to expect, aside from a lofty drive to the top of the mountain. 

What I found, I liked.  

  
A beautiful miniature city, full of pedestrian laneways and lovely shops. 

 
Gorgeous homes and public buildings, suitable for a country with a thriving economy. 

 
A lovely atmosphere for artisans.

  

A tonne of tourists, which made for exceptional people watching. I am fascinated by tour groups. 

The best bit is that they are only there during the day, on bus trips. So, once 4 pm rolls around, the city gets very quiet, which is a perfect time for those of us who remain to poke around this gorgeous place. Delightfully lit streets and alley ways. Comfortable bars and really lovely restaurants. 

And the views … of the Adriatic and of the surrounding Italian countryside. I’ll let you go see those for yourself. 

Carry on! 

 

 

Off the beaten path

One of my favourite things about travelling is the chance to pop off the beaten path and stumble on to surprises.
I had one of those days, yesterday.

When you look at a roadmap of Italy, everything looks flat. Ok, that’s not exactly rocket science material, but it becomes relevant as my day unfolds. The point is … don’t assume anything is ever flat!

I started off my day, leaving my little Vottage (as in very rustic villa) and heading towards to Siena on the SS222. I’m not entirely sure of the road classification system in Italy, but I think SS means super-scenic and super-swervy. This 40km stretch takes you from Greve in Chianti to Siena. My plan was shorter, saving Siena until my mom and daughter arrive next week.

My first stop was lunch, of course.

  

I swear that I could survive on antipasto platters. They are so perfect, as they always reflect the regional cuisine. You may think that Italian salami is all the same, but that would be a grave error. I know from family experience that 20 km is a very, very long way in Italia.

So, after my delicious lunch, spent in the company of a gorgeous young Irish-Italian family and a dozen sport bikers (they are everywhere!), I carried on, in search of the Chianti Sculpture Park.

That’s when things got interesting … and spectacular.

Before I continue, this is a good time to thank my parents for making sure I had all the skills required to navigate a 70 degree slope, on a gravel road, in a 5-speed. Up and down. More than once. And laugh while doing it.
This is where I ended up. Pievasciata.

  

Before I got there, I saw incredible things. Classic Toscano.

  
This view of gorgeous Siena from afar.

  
At the end of the journey, I arrived at a little tiny village that is working hard to make itself the centre for contemporary visual art in Italy. At the epicentre of this effort is the sculpture park.

I had a great chat with the owner. He is a lawyer by trade, but contemporary sculpture is his passion. Here are some of the highlights – international artists – of the kilometre long trail that winds through a former wild boar farm.

  
 
 
  

All of the sculptures were commissioned and integrated into the trail. Very cool, very beautiful, very tranquil. Loved it. I ended the evening with a glass (or two) of prosecco in the square in Panzano, my local village, before heading back to the Vottage. Never alone in Italy!

I encourage you all to explore in ways that take you away from what we are supposed to do, to what we want to do. One of the absolute benefits of solo travel.

Carry on!