Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Get your body beach ready! Get your bikini body now!
What? Why? My body IS beach ready thank-you, lumps, pale skin, wobbly bits and all. I just want to swim, not to enter Ms South Beach. I’m not going out there to titillate the surfers. I simply want to build an enormous moat with the kids, skim perfect pebbles, and maybe look for interesting critters in the rock pools.
What I do want though is a new swimsuit. No, actually I want genuine fullblown swimming costumery, preferably Victorian, something that ends at my knees, that blooms over my bumps, that shovels up the ole boobs into a grand shelf and hides at least some of my sins.
I want to be comfortable.
I want it in stripes.
I want.

What I really want (from a 1950s Vogue photo shoot) only in Lycra, with support panels please.

I suspect Nigella Lawson wanted the very same when she tossed her languid, luscious self into the ocean off Australia dressed from head-to-toe (quite literally) in a startlingly unflattering black burqini. You’ve seen the photos taken by the paparazzi she was doubtless trying to avoid: our lovely Nigella plopped about in the waves looking remarkably like a clumsy sea lion with her button nose and shiny black roundy body, and I sighed in deepest sympathy, along with thousands of women on the curvy-to-morbidly-obese spectrum the world over.
Nigella, I feel your pain. I don’t want to prance about on the beach in the equivalent of Lycra underwear either.

Hold on a sec though: did I say I want a new swimsuit? Actually, I want a swimsuit full stop, with no “new” about it, for I currently don’t own one. Several years of swimwear shopping trauma, changing-room rage and scuttling to the water in baggy T-shirts worn over whatever I can borrow have brought me to this sorry point.
See, swimwear is not made for women like me and Nigella, women with hips and thighs and, dare I say, real-life labia. Swimwear is all bikinis and tankinis, with tummy-tucking ruching and breast-hoiking cups for those jugs, but I have yet to find a cossie for the classic pear: smallish on top but abundant down below. Equally, there’s nothing out there for the Nigellaesque hourglass either, unless she’s a size eight.

Nigella's burqini

The hot-pant style often suggested to us pears simply cuts straight through the meaty hip-thigh circumference like a rubber band, causing the sections above and below the elastic to bulge much like a squeezed balloon. The legs (often dumpy on a pear) are foreshortened, the bum oozes out and the body is often too short (we pears are long-trunked). Trying on a longer body and bigger size means the straps are too long and sad little boobs are left stranded, a couple of floppy fish sagging in spandex.
You can get two-pieces that are meant to do the job, with high-waisted bottoms to marshall the gut and a cute, padded bikini top — handy because two-pieces can be ordered in separate sizes for each half — but again, the bottom cuts straight through the leg at its widest point. There are great 1940s and 50s styled swimsuits out there too, but I just look squat in them all.

So I want a modern take on a Victorian swimsuit, only body-fitted, and with Lycra and support. All my friends want one too. It must end at my knees, lift my boobs, support my tummy and not go transparent when it hits the water. A cute frill (sewn down so it doesn’t billow in the water) or a bit of ruffle is optional. It must fit a size ten on the top and a size twelve… okay… size fourteen at the bottom, with a long body.
I have scoured the internet. The closest I’ve come so far is a picture of a cartoon hippopotamus doing ballet. It’s either that or a wetsuit.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of travelling. I can’t take people seriously when they talk about going away to ‘find themselves’ – I tend to want to point to them and go “Look, look, you’re right here! You don’t need to spend thousands of euros trekking across the desert or jungle, after all!”

A very large part of it is that travelling itself – actually moving from one place to another – does not agree with me. Boats make me seasick, while airports just depress me. This recent story about a six-year-old girl in the States being selected for an ‘enhanced pat-down’ while going through security dismays me, but honestly, fails to surprise me.

I’ve been on four short flights in the last month or so, to and from the UK. On the plus side, unlike travelling to the US, you don’t have to fill out wacky forms stating that you’ve never been involved with the Nazi Party. On the down side, there’s still the tedium of security to go through.

You can’t complain. No. You can’t complain, because then it looks like you’ve something to hide. I complained in a painfully polite way on one flight, when my contact lens solution was over the 100ml limit. Much in the same way as I wouldn’t bring the doctor’s original prescription with me if I had necessary medication – why on earth would you feel you needed to? – I didn’t have a letter from my optician stating the solution was necessary. I don’t stick things into my eyes on a near-daily basis for the fun of it, after all. But EU regulations are tricky little things – and, somewhat conveniently for those that work in airports, completely out of their hands. You can’t complain.

They’re small moments, but they accumulate. On another flight, a friend of mine had bottles of cosmetics tested. I asked whether they’d been under the limit. “Oh yes, of course they were,” she said calmly. “I think they were just doing a random check.” And then, seeing me getting cross and irritated by it, suggested we go for a cup of tea.

I freely admit that I’m not the most fun person to travel with when airports are involved. I do get annoyed. I do get bothered. I do get grumpy if I ask security folk what’s set off an alarm that necessitates my being patted down and they reply with a sentence that includes the word ‘random’. I do find the fact that you have a choice between the delay and expense of checking in a bag or having strangers scrutinise your hand luggage completely repulsive.

But I’m not apologetic about it. It should annoy us. It should seem invasive and intrusive – as many things in modern life are, of course, but there’s something particularly bothersome about airport security. It’s the way we accept it, grumbling quietly if at all, because we fear not being allowed to travel. Being labelled as disruptive or dangerous. Being troublesome. And we fear, perhaps, what might happen if the regulations weren’t there.

Only… I don’t feel safer travelling on a plane simply because a potential terrorist will have a limited amount of liquid. I don’t feel safer travelling on a plane because I’ve had a stranger (usually unattractive, alas) run their hands over me to ensure I don’t have a concealed weapon. I’m sure some people do. I’m sure that some of those who are nervous flyers find it vaguely reassuring to think that there are some measures in place to prevent certain kinds of disaster. I’m sure those who adore finding new places and, indeed, finding themselves, feel a bit of intrusion at one stage of their journey is nothing compared to the joys that follow. I’m sure that many people just get used to the strange dystopian universe that is airport security.

But I can’t. So I’ll continue to be grumpy, and complain. I’m honestly not sure what I can do about it, and I don’t travel enough to make it a mission of mine to pen endless letters or campaign or whatever might make some kind of a difference. (I suspect the answer involves getting the airlines on board, and lots of time that I don’t have.) I’ll just stay a decidedly un-fun person to be in an airport with. I still haven’t found a good enough reason not to be.

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According to the UN Global Report on Women in Tourism the tourism sector, one of the most significant generators of wealth and employment globally, is also credited with providing valuable income-generation and career opportunities for women. In contrast with other sectors women are almost twice as likely hold positions as employers in tourism and the leadership possibilities span the whole spectrum of roles from hotel proprietors right up to government ministers; women hold one in five tourism ministries worldwide, more than in any other branch of government. However, despite this relatively high representation it should be pointed out in this context that 20% is still appalling and that our own Leo Varadkar is quite clearly a man.

The issue is that, despite this high level of involvement in tourism, the women working in this sector are all too often “concentrated in low-skill, low-paid and precarious jobs,” and typically earn “10% to 15% less than their male counterparts.” The jobs that women are most likely to perform tend to include cooking, cleaning and hospitality, states the report. While the UN focused specifically on the developing world, a quick glance at this key industry here in Ireland is disheartening. Fáilte Ireland Authority members and holders of key positions are overwhelmingly male as are the boards and senior management of both major airlines.

I’m not offering any specific criticisms of the way tourism is organised and represented in Ireland. To date we have done very well in attracting and satisfying our overseas visitors. I simply feel saddened yet again that here is another  important and potentially very dynamic sector that is skewed at the upper levels in favour of men. In the future tourism represents a mechanism of attracting overseas cash into the country, enhancing our natural resources to the benefit of visitors and residents alike and, perhaps most importantly of all, improving our tarnished reputation globally. I would like to see a few more women at the helm determining and implementing policy rather than simply serving up the full Irish breakfast.

Anyone any ideas or opinions as to why this is the case?

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Growing up in Midwestern America, one of the first school assemblies I can remember being corralled off to was the annual presentation on the topic of Stranger Danger. This talk was carried out with heroic indignity by an ever-shifting but always-cheerful entity known as Officer Friendly, a for-hire, aw-shucks, perennially unthreatening police officer from the local precinct whose job was to instruct an unruly herd of squirming six and seven-year-olds that we should always listen to our parents and teachers, but never, ever talk to strangers. Particularly perilous were strangers offering candy. A curious child, I’d wondered if it was OK to ask the stranger what sort of candy he was packing in the backseat of his Ford Abductor (a handsomely wrapped Twix might be worth breaking the rule for). But Stranger Danger’s laws were absolute. The world was a dangerous place, but as long as you went straight home after school and didn’t talk to Them, you would be all right.

Traveling solo really can be this fun and carefree...

Officer Friendly may have been particular to my region, but its message is one drilled into every child’s brain. The world is a nuthouse, says the message, and you never know what nut you’re going to crack, so best not to crack at all.  Stranger Danger’s iron-clad rules may have worked wonders for the small set but they seemed hardly practical for adult life. If you didn’t talk to strangers, how would you ever meet new people? The answer came boomeranging back to me in sturdy, Midwestern black-and-white logic: you wouldn’t.

Then in my late teens and early twenties, I developed a chronic case of wanderlust. I’d always enjoyed our family road trips to the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest, but for the first time, I was booking flights and staying in houses or hostels without my parents for company. My first transatlantic journey (and by no means the last) was to Ireland, where my friend Kate and I spent a gregarious month cavorting in clubs and pubs, Officer Friendly a dim hologram from a dull and innocent age we had no use for anymore. Spend a month in Dublin? And not talk to strangers? You’d sooner go to a brothel to cure yourself of a sex addiction. No, not only was it was far richer to talk to strangers, it was virtually impossible not to.

So began my highly fruitful, well-traveled, stranger-infested decade, because as that notoriously unsociable W.B. Yeats once said, “There are no strangers here, just friends you have not yet met.” In the Troubadour Café in London my friend Rachelle and I passed an hour talking to Nino the Crazy Croatian with his titillating tales of fleeing KGB tanks and his as-yet-unrealized invention, the Karl Marx shoe polisher. In Cambridge I traipsed with a scruffy, soft-hearted busker who serenaded me with Oasis songs. I discussed the weather with a weathered woman in Connemara and traded travel tales with an Australian adventurer in Amsterdam. A med student in a death metal band showed me an autopsy on his iPhone in Phoenix, Arizona, while a bandana-clad bouncer in Amarillo, Texas confessed his life’s ambition to wrestle bears.

Not all exchanges, I’m afraid, have been so lively. James Joyce said he never met a bore. Lucky him, for he never sat next to the rubber band salesman from Pennsylvania on a six-hour flight. Longing for noise-cancelling headphones, I endured a litany of mind-numbing salesman’s minutiae. I responded with cheerless monosyllables, and when I feared I’d been too forthcoming in my responses, resorted to grunts. I longed for a decoy diamond ring to ward off any ideas he might be getting about me, a young woman travelling alone. By the time the red-faced rubber band raconteur had ordered his fourth baby Jameson’s and had started to lean lecherously over the all-important armrest, nothing short of brass knuckles would’ve done to help my predicament.

I suppose without the leering and leeching strangers, there’d be no need to sharpen one’s street smarts. Though it shames my social side to say it, I’ve learned that when the going gets truly rough, there’s no harm in popping in the earbuds and feigning deafery. Even so, I can’t help but wonder, as I tune myself out in the name of so-called self-protection, what stories I’ll miss out on from friends I’ll never meet.

Therese Cox lives in Brooklyn and lurks in Dublin. She is a fiction writer, indie rock accordionist, and volunteer writing mentor for Girls Write Now, an organization that supports at-risk teenage girls in New York City. She blogs about cities, road trips, and architecture at http://ampersandseven.blogspot.com and has just finished a coming-of-age novel set in Dublin, now making the rounds. Twitter: @ThereseCox

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For seven years, I was what I used to call an inadvertant ex-pat. I’d skipped off to the US from London because it seemed like a bit of an adventure and, you know, why not? I was unmarried, childless, in a transferable-enough industry, and the opportunity was there. A few months overseas, then back to our ‘real’ lives in England, that’s what we thought. But then one year turned into another year; Seattle turned into Dublin, and before we knew it, we’d been away for the better part of a decade.

The view from my sofa in Seattle. Look, I never said it was *all* hard...

So, although I’m not remotely Irish, I have huge empathy for the ever-increasing number of emigrants setting off for foreign climes. And in case it helps just one person a tiny bit, here’s what I learned in those years of being the foreigner:

  • Milk the overseas-ness. We got really lucky in the Pacific Northwest, a funky, laid-back region of the country where the Americans go to escape America, but avoided by the Europeans bedazzled by the promise of New York or San Francisco (or, to be fair, anywhere where it doesn’t rain as much as home). People loved to talk to us just because we weren’t American. And that American over-friendly gene? Who cares if it’s skin-deep? You don’t need everyone to be your new best friend, but finding your feet in a country full of cheerful, helpful people is actually really, really nice. I wrote about this my first year in Seattle, and I stand by it. Embrace your other-ness, let people be friendly to you, and suddenly it feels less like exile and more like a holiday.
  • Accept every invitation; and the parent-friendly version of this: Nobody made friends sitting inside. For the first six months in a new place, we made a rule that we accepted every invitation that came our way. I’ve lived overseas four times, and each time, I’ve gone to a country where I’ve known nobody. So when those random hanging-out suggestions come in, I take them. Sure, time alone’s great; but when it’s your only option, it always feels a bit more…naked. Going out, even if it’s to something you wouldn’t ordinarily choose to do, gets you out of the house, provides a focus, and, who knows? Occasionally you might even enjoy yourself. At a barbecue thrown by a gun-toting Republican, I met one of my favourite-ever Americans, still a dear friend years later. You never know what’ll happen if you’re out; but you’ve got a relatively predictable idea of what will happen if you don’t leave the house…. Once kids are part of the deal, this obviously becomes trickier to manage; so I just suggest leaving the house daily, rain or shine. Again, you never know who you’ll bump into…
  • Don’t miss the funerals. Look, you’re Irish. You don’t need an Englishwoman telling you this. But if you’re away for an extended period of time, things happen at home that you miss. I couldn’t make it back to England for half a dozen weddings and countless births, and I was really, properly sorry about that because those were major things happening to my oldest, dearest friends (and however much you make new friends in the new places, it’s not like the old friends are replaced. They still matter). But in terms of actual, long-term regrets, it’s the two funerals I didn’t get to that upset me the most. There’s no chance of a do-over if you miss a funeral; no real way of saying your respects. And nothing makes you feel further from home than sitting at your desk working whilst, hundreds or thousands of miles away, your friends are following the coffin of the person you’ll never say goodbye to.  I’m not saying, come back for the funeral of your Mum’s neighbour’s uncle’s  dentist; but if someone ever mattered enough to you in life that you’ll miss them in death, it’s time to pack your black jacket and get on a plane.
  • It’s often better and worse at the same time. That’s the mad thing about living abroad. There are things you miss so desperately you think you’ll go crazy from it. And then there are the bits that are so, so much better. We all end up with a hybrid country we’d want to live in – the ace neighbour from that life, the eternal sunshine from this one, Mum’s homecooked roast dinner in all of them. And the bugger of it is, none of us would be able to live in the same country. We’d just all have to go visit each other’s private Utopias. Which brings us back to where we started…

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Almost twenty years have elapsed since triumphant Berliners cheered and quaffed champagne in response to the announcement that their city had once again been designated the German capital. Yet the decision to relocate the government 600 kilometres east of Bonn, capital since 1949, was unexpectedly divisive. On the 20 June 1991, after twelve discordant hours of debate the parliamentary vote in favour of reclaiming the building abandoned since the Reichstag Fire of 1933 was a slender 337 to 320.

Berlin - Evidence of the Wall Persists

The investment required to complete such an ambitious move led to a delay of eight years and parliament’s eventual arrival in Berlin, in April 1999, coincided with my own first visit to the city. I have an uncanny knack of arriving at auspicious moments. I visited Berlin for the second time in October 2010, just in time to celebrate two decades of unification. Significant change has occurred in the intervening years.

Eleven years ago, arriving into Zoo station I experienced the palpable sense of dynamism gripping this once-divided city. Berlin was enmeshed in a process of reinventing itself as the vibrant capital of a newly unified Germany yet was keen to preserve strong links with its turbulent past. My journey, on the pristine Deutsche Bahn NachtZug from Munich, was heavy with poignancy as I rattled through former East German territories along the narrow corridor that once represented a slender lifeline into West Berlin. Nowadays visitors arrive into the recently opened Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Europe’s largest railway station. I flew with Aer Lingus to Schönefeld Airport with my husband and two young children – the changes in my own life have been as dramatic as those immediately apparent in the city.

Changes fall into twin categories of absence and arrival. In 1999 Norman Foster’s sympathetically restored Reichstag, complete with resplendent glass cupola, was open to visitors. Beyond it lay a desolate construction site. This time a boat trip along the lazy river Spree took us past the ultramodern Paul-Löbe-Haus and graceful Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Haus, home to the parliamentary library. Memorials to victims of the city’s turbulent past have appeared. Most striking are: the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, sculptor Peter Eisenmann’s controversial field of 2,711 concrete slabs, each representing a page from the Talmud; the simple white crosses dotted along the banks of the Spree, commemorating would-be cold war escapees; the memorials to homosexual and Roma victims of the Nazi regime; and discrete plaques erected outside the former homes of holocaust victims.

The absence of the Palast der Republik, once the seat of the parliament of the communist GDR, is striking. Where once stood an imposing soviet style building, housing auditoria, art galleries, a theatre, 13 restaurants, a discothèque and a bowling alley, there is now a vacant lot awaiting the reconstruction of the Stadtschloss, the former Hohenzollern city palace. Nothing more clearly illustrates the cyclical nature of the city and its preoccupation with the past.

It has taken the two decades since reunification to successfully harmonise the disparate East and West sectors. Yet geographic and man-made boundaries still abound: the Tiergarten, Berlin’s expansive city park and final resting place for more than 2000 soviet soldiers who fell as they captured the city in 1945; the stark future-world of Potsdamer Platz, a bustling business and entertainment district that has risen from the rubble of a once forbidding no-man’s-land; Checkpoint Charlie, a preserved pastiche now manned by actors willing to pose for authentic cold war snaps; and of course the wall, whose route is traced by a narrow double row of cobbles.

The Berlin wall cast its shadow across the globe for decades. On 9 November 1989 we held our collective breath as citizens attacked this reviled barricade, demolishing much of it by hand and creating unofficial border crossings. Thousands surged through to be met by jubilant West Berliners cheering and embracing their once-exiled compatriots.

We were surprised to find that the wall in its disintegrated state remains inescapable. Brightly daubed fragments have been converted into paperweights, key rings, doorstops, bookends, and clocks. Tourists dispatch postcards with tiny pieces attached. Despite its size – constructed from 45,000 separate sections of reinforced concrete, each 3.6 meters high and 1.2 meters wide – it’s amazing that so much of the wall remains. Much of it was bulldozed, the resulting rubble used in post-reunification road-building projects. Few sections remain standing, although one stretch does run alongside the new Topography of Terror museum located in Niederkirchnerstrasse on the site of the former SS and Gestapo headquarters.

Berlin is one of the world’s most dynamic cities. Yet a collective awareness of the significance of the city’s past ensures that history will remain forever stitched into the very fabric of the landscape.

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Bus to the airport and a smoky, treacle-tongued, flirtatious French voice pours through the intercom announcing our arrival. Cooing, purring he embraces us into his delightful conspiracy; yes, we have arrived at Dublin’s International airport. We truly exceptional passengers are indulgently cautioned not to forget any of our belongings all the while confirming with a chuckle that he knows superior people like us would never make such a mistake. With a wink-filled afterthought he hints that if we were to do so that such an action would be recognised as the playful bit of cheekiness it was no doubt intended to be.  Voice a-brim with sighs and meaningful glances, we passengers, the truly sexy people he knows us to be, are advised that it is time alas to leave the bus and continue enjoying our intrigue-filled, exotic lives. As the treacle timbered, cat-lick rasp surrenders us with regret to the outside world the illusion is suddenly shattered as the English version bitchslaps us reeling into reality:

(Dublin accent)

We’re here. Get out.

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