Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, July 21, 2014

Travelling Cheaply: Tips To Save $$

Last week, I met a lovely lady in one of my favourite stores, The Rose Street Trading Co. She had one of my travel books on display and I thanked her profusely. (Which is what all authors should do.) 

"Oh, how I'd love to go overseas!" she said sadly. "But we just can't. We have two children, and they come with private school fees..." 

"Well, you're very lucky," I said sadly. "We'd love to have two children but we can't. So we just spend our private school fees on travel..."

This insightful exchange made us both realise how wonderful travel really is. Some people think travel is too expensive; that they'll never be able to afford it. I'm here to tell you that you can. 

Here are a few tips.

Use Google Maps To Find Secret Hotels
Many of the best hotels don't advertise, aren't on TripAdvisor and don't care about media exposure. They're found through either word-of-mouth or some serious due diligence. Or, do what many travel-wise people do and go on Google MapsLook for the neighbourhood you want to stay in – I love the Flatiron in New York, the streets around Rue de Seine in Paris (above), or South Kensington in London – then, use Google Maps to source hotels in that area. You'd be surprised how many under-the-radar places pop up this way. (You can then research them further via TA or the Net.) I've found so many fabulous places like this. It's a quirky trick, but it works.

Be Flexible With Your Dates and Times
If you don't care when you travel, go onto your preferred airline's website and see if they'll allow you to find the cheapest fare within a month's window. Singapore Airlines, United and Air New Zealand do this, and others are starting to. Their websites allow you to see the cheapest fare within any timeframe – and it's amazing to see the differences. One day may be $3500; the next day (quoting the same flight) may be $1200.

Fly on Tuesdays
I've mentioned this before but Tuesdays really are cheaper flying days. Wednesdays, too. Avoid Mondays, Fridays and weekends like the plague.

Take Overnight Flights
Try and book overnight flights. They're not only cheaper but they also save $$ because you can sleep on the plane. 

Book Hotels for Sundays
They really are cheaper on Sundays. 
(And if you want to try an expensive hotel for a treat, do a Sunday when it will be more affordable.)

Stay More Than A Night
There's a cutie little hotel in London called the Kensington House Hotel that gives you a free night if you stay x3 nights. As in a 3-for-2 offer. Savings? More than 150 pounds. Many hotels do this. Check their website and specials sections.

Spend More Time in Fewer Places
Last year, I flew from Sydney to the Bahamas (via 7 planes in 48 hours), for just 2 days, then to NY for work, then to Germany and down to Nice in France – all in 4 days. I was a wreck! Unless you're travelling for business, consider slowing down and spending more time in fewer places. It's more rewarding but it also saves money. Transport – flights, airports, taxis, transfer buses, hire cars – can really cost a lot And waste time. Do you really need to see 5 countries in 3 weeks? The best trip we've ever had was last year in Charleston. We did nothing and went nowhere. For FOUR days. It was bliss.

Find The Restaurants That Locals Go To
Do you really have to do Eleven Madison Parks of the world? The local bistros will offer just as good memories, and your wallet will thank you. (Tip: Look in the window. If it's full, it's likely to be good.)

Or – even better – have a picnic. My parents taught me this. They're the Picnic Experts. Now, my partner and I will buy cheap takeaway salads and sit in a park in the sun, or overlooking a beach, or in our hire car looking out to sea. It's bliss, I tell you. 

{All photos by me.}

The Quiet Kindness of Our Daily Lives

Apologies for not posting: it just didn't seem appropriate when the horror of MH17 was unfolding in the Ukrainian fields. Today, a sliver of humanity was shown when many of the villagers expressed – rather eloquently, I felt, given their circumstances – their deep sadness at the falling bodies that had now created their 'village of the dead'. One 60-year-old, Inna Tipunova, contemplated the woman who had fallen through her roof: "I want to know about her, who she was, her name, these things, but they just call her ‘Number 26’..." Another local, Tatiana, confessed that "Everyone here cried for two days. But then we knew what we had to do. We lined up shoulder-to shoulder and walked through into the fields to find these people. They deserved respect. And we went to get them.”

It's stories like these that restore faith in people. Don't you think? In an age when society seems to be becoming more agitated and outraged, when the media seems to be turning more tabloid by the minute (although I have utmost respect for those war correspondents in Donetsk at present), and when criticism and bullies take over the Internet, it's easy to imagine we're all heading down a very dark road. Then Tatiana and Mrs Tipunova speak up about their concerns for the bodies staining their humble Ukraine homes, and who their families might be? And suddenly we realise: there are indeed good people in the world.

I want to hug Mrs Tipunova. She gives me hope for humanity.

Last week, I had a visit from a lovely neighbour, Hyacinth. She bought her friend, Geoff, who's a gardner. Hyacinth thought I could use some horticultural help (that's not an insult: she sees me tearing out plants when she walks past!) and Geoff kindly agreed. Their generosity was so unexpected – how many of us even know our neighbours now? – that I immediately agreed to Geoff's suggestion of red geraniums. Even though I quietly prefer white ones in formal garden beds.

Last year, I befriended a wonderful psychic called Sandi, who's been helping uncover the secrets of Picnic at Hanging Rock. She refused to accept money, saying "it was a honour to follow the story". Recently, she and her family stayed at a caravan park at Hanging Rock, huddling overnight under a shocking winter frost, in order to do some research for my story. How many people would do that? I hope she found the bushranger gold that's meant to be hidden there. She certainly deserves it.

Kindness seems to be so rare nowadays that it's almost a shock when it touches our lives. 2013 and 2012 were challenging years for me, made worse by serious illness, stress, unpleasant people, a house move, four books, a complex garden tour, four one-month overseas business trips, and some serious, life-changing decisions to work through. I can cope with stress, deadlines, decisions, illness and even an unkempt garden (!), but it's the unspeakably nasty people that really get to you, don't you think? We're all capable of being short-tempered – goodness knows I can snap under pressure – but the more I experience nastiness the more I veer right away from it. In fact, we're working on our Business Plan for the Garden Tours (I'm in charge of admin, which is much easier than being a tour leader), and one of the philosophies being put firmly in place is kindness. After all, who wants to travel with someone who packs their criticism?

The thing is, kindness is so easy to do. We are considering moving back to the inner city, to a 2-br high-rise apartment on St Kilda Road. Just until we work out if we're moving overseas. "Do you think our view of Albert Park Lake will be built out?" I asked the real estate salesperson, expecting a standard real estate reply. "You know, I suspect it will, in time," he acquiesced reluctantly, but honestly. "Better to tell you the truth now, so you can make a wise decision for the future."

He lost his $30K commission. But he renewed my faith in humanity.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” – Amelia Earhart

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Black-and-White Weekend, Part 2

A few more lovely black-and-white bits for the weekend...

Australian media was abuzz this week about the news that Neale Whitaker will be taking over the editorship of Vogue Living

Having been editor of the glamorous Belle magazine for years, which has kept pace with Vogue Living for quality of style, design and content, Neale is well placed to take on VL. It will be interesting to see if he changes it and/or takes it in a new direction.

Current editor Victoria Carey (who's lovely) will still be editor-in-chief of Country Style magazine, which is one of the prettiest magazines in the market.

I'm currently working on ideas for page designs and section dividers for the new Paris book, Paris In Style, which is due to be published early next year. (New York In Style comes out first, in Nov 2014.) 

These were done using paper cut-outs, and were inspired by the Matisse exhibition in London last month. Matisse did a much better job, of course.

Will post pages from the new Paris book next week, showing the design stages and how a book progresses through the production process.

If you're in Sydney this week, consider heading down to Bondi this Sunday for the Winter Magic Festival, and its fantastic open-air art exhibition. Local painters and photographers will showcasing their talents 'en pleine air', including a friend of mine, Victoria Hopkins, who does the most beautiful large-scale paintings of pooches I've ever seen. 

Her work is, not surprisingly, rapidly growing in popularity, so snap one up before the prices go up. She also does commissions – a great gift idea for those with dogs. (All she needs is a photo.) She's really lovely to deal with too. Email her at

WHEN: July 13, 10am - 3pm Roscoe Street Mall
WHERE: Roscoe Street Mall

Black and White in Paris

Have you see all the media attention about Raf Simon's 2014-2015 autumn-winter collection for Dior Haute Couture this week? Even Anna Wintour looked enraptured as she sat in the front row of the orchid-lined show. 

The astonishingly elegant show was held in the gardens of the Musée Rodin in Paris, a fitting venue for Dior's sculptural forms. (For gorgeous images, go to Dior's website and online magazine.)

Valentino's fall 2014-2015 couture show was also a collection to remember. In fact, many of the pieces were more beautiful than Dior's

Chanel also went with the trend.

So, in the spirit of all this black and white sophistication, here are a few images of black-and-white Paris for the weekend. Most were taken on the recent business trip and one or two favourites are from past archives.

The bridge of locked love.

St Regis on the Île Saint-Louis – a glamorous new cafe that's fast edging out its famous neighbours in the popularity stakes.

Vintage photography at the sublime Images & Portraits in the Marais.

Le Labo's wonderful parfumerie.

As a New York company, it certainly looks very Parisian.

Beautiful old stairs in a covered arcade.

The YSL studio.

Ornate ironwork: you never tire of seeing this in Paris.

Astier de Villatte: one of the loveliest shops in Paris.

Hotel Paradis, a cute cheapie within walking distance of the Gare du Nord.

A Left Bank florist in bloom.

The Dries van Noten exhibition.

Classic Paris.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Garden Libraries

When the late, great Stuart Rattle's estate was sold at auction by Moss Green, I wondered, with some sadness, who bought his 120 garden books valued at $7800? A bibliophile I knew believes you should never split libraries, so I hope the books were bought as one lot and not carved up into piles: Russell Page's titles over here; Gertrude Jekyll's over there.

There's been a surprising amount of media lately about garden libraries. As books become scarcer, people are stockpiling titles, esp rare or vintage books, and garden books seem to be particularly valued. 

Potterton Books in London's Chelsea has an entire area devoted to vintage, rare and antique garden books, some worth in the hundreds of pounds. It's one of the most browsed parts of the store.

When horticulturalist, gardener, philanthropist, and art collector Bunny Mellon passed away earlier this year, one of the wishes of her Will was that her enormous and celebrated collection of rare books, manuscripts, works of art and artifacts relating to gardening, landscape design, horticulture, botany, natural history and travels be available for public use. It's still early days, but many of Bunny's rare books have already been digitised and are on the website.

Other book and garden lovers are designing special libraries that are tailor-made for garden books. 

One of the most popular garden designs at this year's Melbourne Flower and Garden Show was the gorgeous Gardener's Library (above), designed by Carolyn and Joby Blackman.

Designer and author Bunny Williams (An Affair with a Houseloves her garden books so much, she created a special library in the corner of her converted stables-turned guesthouse. This is the guesthouse, above, with its own private parterre. (We'll be including this on future garden tours.) This is the equally beautiful interior, below.

Can you imagine being a guest here?

Even the dining room off the guest cottage is in a conservatory.

Carolyne Roehm also created her own library of design and garden books in her Connecticut home.

If you love books and gardens equally, consider staying at The Library Hotel in New York next time you're heading to Manhattan. The rooms are themed according to subject matter, so the Architecture Suite has architecture titles, the Poetry Suite has volumes by Keats, and so on. I'm not sure if there's a Garden Suite, but there are many rooms so I'm wouldn't be surprised. Upstairs, there's a Poetry Garden and a Writer's Lounge, with a fireplace and an enormous library – including garden books and a sunny terrace overlooking New York to read them on.

Vita Sackville West's library at Sissinghurst is surrounded by her famous garden, and in the summer when the doors are open it almost feels as though library and garden are one.

I loved this tiny garden hut in a corner of Hidcote garden in the Cotswolds. It would be the perfect place to retreat with a garden book and a cup of tea between weeding, don't you think?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Brush Strokes: The New Craze for Painting

Two business colleagues and I are trying to get together to have a catch-up about the 2015 garden tours. One arrived home from Canada yesterday (where she visited friends made on last year's garden tour), and the other is still in Bali. "I'll be available late July," she said. "I first have to paint 10 paintings in 7 days for the Bondi Winter Magic Art Festival." (link

Impressive, non? 

Have you noticed how everyone's painting lately?  It's a new wave of Prussian Blue, French Ultramarine and Cobolt Violet. (Forget the old-fashioned Burnt Siena: today's paintings are imbued with Diana Vreelandesque hues.) {Above work by Carolyn Quartermaine}

And people aren't just limited themselves to oils. They're trying drawing, watercolouring, ink, even paper-cutting art. 

Cecil Beaton's exhibition (above two pix) at Salisbury in England was an inspirational ode to elegant landscapes. "During the summer months, Rex and I would take the easels out of doors," recalled Beaton, speaking of his dear friend Rex Whistler. 

Can you imagine how idyllic that would have been, in the serene green landscape of an English summer?

Ever since I saw The Librarian's evocative photo of India Hicks' partner David Flint Wood's island studio on Harbour Island in the Bahamas, I've dreamed of an artist's escape full of easels and paints. It's the look of the space that's so inviting. All those books. All those rolled-up drawings. And a garden of palm trees for added inspiration...

Anna Spiro's recent photographs of illustrator Wayne Pate's New York studio were beautiful snapshots of creative life, too. 

French illustrator François Houtin works out of an extraordinary two-storey studio in Paris, where he did these drawings for a Hermès collection called Les Maisons Enchantées. {Vogue Living Dec/2010}

I loved Kathryn Windley's Hudson Valley studio as well, esp the wooden crates for her paints, which she created from old apple crates sourced from a nearby orchard. {Country Living}

This was a fabulous old framing store in Paris. The window display was a piece of art in itself.

Another gorgeous old art store in Montmartre.

One lovely reader emailed me from the US to say she had a painting that she'd bought many years ago that looked similar to this scene. She wondered where the street was because she wanted to go to Paris and paint it. Did I know, and could I give her directions? Luckily I did, and I did. 

Stephen Tennant's illustrated travel diaries are always a joy to look at. He clearly had no trouble capturing a scene on his travels.

California store French General has started offering art holidays to the south of France.

So you can learn to paint beautiful and whimsical bits and pieces like these French espadrilles by illustrator Sara Midda.

Or something more...abstract, like Cy Twombly, whose new book, Paradise, is out soon.

Even the new August/Sept issue of Belle magazine (out today) has a 3-page feature on the influence of watercolour and painterly patterns on many new homewares collections.

One of the surprising things about visiting Virginia Woolf's enchanting home Monks House (which will be featured on future garden tours) is the way the Woolfs' garden influenced their interiors. 

This pale celadon green was inspired by the garden. When the National Trust were restoring the house and mixing paints that closely matched the originals, they called this shade 'Monks House Green'.

After Virginia Woolf's suicide, Leonard Woolf fell in love with a married artist, Trekkie Parsons, who became his companion and co-gardener at Monks House for many years. She painted this poignant painting of Leonard in a colour palette that matched the house's famous celadon green. 

Virginia would have approved.
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