Monday, 28 September 2015

Top Tips for Solo Travellers

I first experienced solo travel when my work in International Education required me to travel to various countries to attend education fairs and meet with recruitment agents.  I well remember, on my first trip, being deposited by the bus on a busy city street in Bangkok armed with a suitcase, a laptop and a huge bag of promotional materials. The temperature was in the high 30s and  I had no idea where my hotel was because I couldn't read the street signs. Consulting my map I worked out that I needed to get up an over-bridge to the other side of the multi-laned highway.  As I staggered up the stairs a kindly local helped me carry my bags before leaving me to trek about a kilometre to my hotel.  Rather than being overwhelmed by this incident I enjoyed the challenge of negotiating a new city and was elated when I reached the hotel. This is one of the things I love about solo travel, to expect the unexpected.

So, before having solo travel thrust on me by widowhood, I had already had some experience of it.  I have travelled to many countries alone now and always enjoy my solo trips.  I do enjoy other trips I make with friends and family however most of my travel is alone.  Here, for what it's worth, are some of my best tips to get the most out of solo travel.

  • Be brave.  Don't be afraid to head off into the world alone.  It is not as scary as you think it is and the rewards of solo travel are immense.
A selfie in a handy mirror, Lisbon, Portugal 
  • Revel in it.  You can enjoy the freedom to do what you want when you want.  You do not have to consider another person or make compromises and you can change your mind whenever you want. I love just doing things as my heart desires, jumping on trains on the spur of the moment and exploring things that appeal to me.
  • Be street wise.  Take care of your safety.  Be friendly to people but always be on guard for scams and cheats.  That very charming person who seems so polite and kind and has offered to show you the city is very likely waiting their chance to rip you off. Never accept a drink from a stranger and always keep an eye on your drink, I have heard some people even take their drinks to the toilet with them just to be sure.
  • Talk to locals.  I have found that travelling alone provides way more opportunities to speak to locals than being part of a couple does.  Couples are usually involved in each other and other people do not wish to intrude. Be happy to open a conversation and see what evolves.  You have nothing to lose.
Sunshine, the morning paper, coffee for one and the sea = bliss
Mooloolaba, Australia
  • Eating out alone can be difficult for some people but I don't mind it.  More and more restaurants have communal tables which is a great way to meet people.  A quick google search will usually find these restaurants in your location.  Or take a book, e-reader or note book to the restaurant with you.  Once, in Hong Kong, a kindly waiter bought me a book when he noticed I was alone and had forgotten mine. Most places have free wifi now so you can surf the net to your heart's content. On my recent trip on Australia's Ghan train I particularly enjoyed being seated with different people for each meal.  I loved sharing food and wine with strangers and having some great conversations as well.
  • Take walking tours or day tours.  This is a great way to see the sights and meet people even if only briefly.  I usually do this when I am in a foreign city and have always found it rewarding.  A lot of tours include a meal so you can enjoy the pleasure of dining with others too.
 Photo by a friendly stranger on my
solo trip to the Czech Republic
  • Get into your photography.  Being alone means you are not holding anyone else up if you want to take half an hour to get the perfect shot.  Ask people to take your photo and offer to take theirs.  Most people are only too pleased.    Once again, though, be streetwise and careful who you ask, you don't want that precious camera stolen.
  • Be prepared to pay the single supplement if, like me, you do not want to share a room with a stranger.  Yes, it is expensive to travel alone but only for accommodation, everything else e.g. airfares, food and tours you pay for one.  Some travel companies will pair the budget conscious traveller up with another solo traveller.
  • Get up early and have a large breakfast, then get out exploring. You don't have to wait for someone else to get organised for the day. Many hotels include breakfast in the tariff and  I find a big breakfast takes me through the day with just a light snack somewhere along the way. As an older solo traveller I have no interest in night clubbing so I make the most of the day and relax in my hotel room at night.  That said, I have wandered the streets of many Asian and European cities at night and never felt uncomfortable.  Just ensure you always stay on busy, crowded streets.
Train journeys are great for meeting people
  • The old politician's trick, admire babies.  All parents love to have their children admired and this can often lead to a friendly conversation, especially on long train journeys.
  • It is normal to feel lonely sometimes when you travel alone, occasionally I have felt  overwhelmed by loneliness so that's when  I concentrate on all the good things about solo travel. I dash off a few e-mails, write my travel diary, watch local television and try to work out what they are saying, use up all the hotel room's shower wash in a big bubble bath, order room service and retire to bed happy and sleepy looking forward to the next day's adventures.

Finally...just try it.  We all have just one life and it is up to us to make the most of it.  If you don't enjoy solo travel don't do it again but I am sure you will find the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  Enjoy!

And If you have any other hints please post them in the comments section.  I would love to have them!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Adelaide - South Australia's "free" city

The old man sitting next to me on the bus enquired if I was a visitor.  When I said I was he was eager  to tell me that Adelaide "Was never a convict colony, you know."  I was aware of that but rather surprised that it was still a source of great pride to some of the residents of this fair city.

Adelaide from my hotel room
I was pleased to be spending a few days in Adelaide at the end of the Ghan train trip since a friend of mine was born there and had long extolled the city's virtues.  And she was right, it is a lovely place.  One of the founding fathers of this "free" city was Colonel William Light who drew plans for a one mile square city centre in a grid pattern,  with wide streets and public squares, completely surrounded by parkland.  The plan was adhered to and although nowadays the suburbs sprawl out well beyond the parklands, which now have heritage status, the city centre remains compact, attractive and easy to walk around. I couldn't help but compare it to my home city of Auckland, with an almost identical population (1.2million). Auckland sprawls endlessly in all directions with little thought to planning and, unfortunately, continues to gobble up surrounding green space as fast as it possibly can.  One amusing fact is that the founding fathers of Adelaide believed that because the city was not a convict colony there would be no need to include a prison in the plans.  That belief was quickly overturned!

Adelaide Central Market
Adelaide  has regularly featured highly in the World's Most Liveable City lists and I can understand why. It has a pleasant vibe and although, as the capital of South Australia, it is a busy productive city it still felt relaxed and easy  to get around. Don't worry, though, it offers plenty of interest and all that a city this size should.  The Museums and Galleries on North Terrace are well worth a visit.  I particularly enjoyed the Aboriginal Culture Gallery at the Adelaide Museum and the Asian ceramics at the Art Gallery but, of course, both have extensive galleries of interest to suit everyone. 

Adelaide Arcade
The Adelaide Central Market has 80 stalls selling fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses and all the other
delights of a good food market. Right next to Central Market is Adelaide's China Town with a great range of  ethnic restaurants to choose from and across the nearby square is the beautiful St Peter's Anglican Cathedral. Rundle Mall in the heart of the city shopping district boasts the usual chain stores but I preferred the lovely laneways and beautiful little arcades, nearby, with their independent shops. Adelaide Arcade dating from 1885 is Australia's oldest arcade and is said to be haunted by the ghost of a caretaker who fell to his death there. Unfortunately, or maybe, luckily, I never saw him despite spending  a lot of time in the arcade, strolling, drinking coffee or simply people watching.

No visit to Adelaide would be complete without a visit to Haigh's Chocolates.  Haigh's is an Adelaide company founded in 1915 and now into the fourth generation as a family run business.  I think their chocolates are delectable, this from someone who rarely eats chocolate.

One day I took the tram out to the seaside suburb of Glenalg.  It has a lovely beach with golden sands and a pier and the usual seaside ice cream shops, cafes and bars.  Although the weather was fine there was a chill autumn wind and it was quiet and sleepy and a bit dead. Beach resorts are never at their best in the off season, I imagine it is a buzzy, busy place in summer.

So,   my friend was right, Adelaide is a beautiful city, one  I can quite happily imagine living in and that's something I don't say about many places I've been.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Australia's Barossa Valley and a wine master class

I'm standing at a bar in a winery trying to work out whether I am drinking a red or a white wine.  I am not blind folded, the wine has been served to us in black glasses so it is impossible to tell its colour.   As it happens all of us are able to pick which is a red and which is a white but the wine type is a little more difficult to judge, only one of us aces it.  Prior to the wine tasting we have sniffed at cotton wool drenched in various essences to test our ability to pick the key notes in various wines.Our group of ten  is at a wine master class at Jacob's Creek Winery in Adelaide's beautiful Barossa Valley.  This is my first wine master class and I had no idea it would be so interesting or so much fun.

At Jacob's Creek Winery
I am on a day tour of the Barossa Valley and a visit to Jacob's Creek was one of the stops which most attracted me to this particular tour.  For one thing I have a son named Jacob and secondly, as newly weds in the early 1970s, when the now famous New Zealand wine industry was still developing into an international industry, drinking wine from the Barossa Valley seemed glamorous with Jacob's Creek becoming one of my husband and my favourites.  A visit to the Barossa Valley was on my husband's bucket list which he, sadly, never made, so it is up to me to fulfil his dream.  It is no hardship.  The Barossa Valley is beautiful with verdant rolling hills, pretty villages, wineries and a number of unique points of interest.

Seppeltsfield Winery

Our first stop, after driving through vast plantings of grapes dripping gold for autumn, had been at the exquisitely maintained Seppeltsfield Estate. Seppeltsfield now belongs to a trust so that the lovely ochre buildings and courtyards adorned with palms and fountains can be enjoyed by the public.  There we had a wine tasting of 7 different wines. It's early in the day but, what the heck, I'm not driving!  We were also shown a 100 year old port which we could sniff but not taste.  It smelt like maple syrup.

Chateau Barrosa
Lunch is at Barrosa Chateau (the different spelling is correct) This faux chateau was built by Herman Thumm at the remarkable age of 85.  He lived to be 98. A tasty lunch is served here in an old fashioned  and slightly gloomy room. After lunch we tour Thumm's private museum in an  adjoining gallery.  This is an amazing collection of fine glass, porcelain, art works and furniture. The chateau's rose garden is purported to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere but it is the wrong time of year to see any roses.  It must be magnificent when in bloom, nevertheless, for some reason I find the chateau dreary and soulless.

Art Gallery at Chateau Barrosa

Next is a short stop at the Barossa Resevoir to test the Whispering Wall, a fascinating phenomenon, allowing someone to whisper a message at the far end of the dam wall which is heard clearly more than 100 metres away at the other end of the dam.  The story goes that it was discovered accidently by a boss who heard his staff complaining about him at the other end.  Rather embarrassing for his staff, I would think! We test works.

German Architecture, Hahndorf

The final stop is at the pretty German village of Hahndorf, founded by Prussian Lutherans in 1838.  It is a strange sight to see buildings with steeply pitched roofs designed  to cope with heavy snow which never falls in this part of Australia.  The shops are crammed with very expensive German souvenirs, cuckoo clocks, Christmas decorations etc.  There is a German bakery with delectable pastries and several German restaurants to choose from.  The village is pretty and quaint but rather ruined by the constant noisy traffic flowing right through it's centre.

German novelties, Hahndorf

Our trip back to Adelaide is through beautiful, lush, fertile countryside.   The long steep highway back into Adelaide from the top of the Adelaide Hills is a marvel, it seems to go down hill, almost straight, forever.  It's been a great day.  I'm happy.