Is it just you? Are you traveling alone? Table for one? Only you? You’ve come a long way by yourself! You’re so brave to be traveling on our own. Could you grab that table instead, because this one by the window seats four? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have a husband? Do you ever get lonely?
This morning I made a list of all the places I’ve traveled alone: Prague, Rome, Frankfurt, Florence, Toronto, London, Paris, Biarritz, San Sebastian, St. Petersburg (Russia), Pisa, Cinque Terre, Siena, Bayonne (France), San Gimignano, Pompeii, Hong Kong, Bali, Siem Reap, Bangkok, Kaplong Pluk, Madrid, Mexico, Melbourne, Fiji, Tuscany, Copenhagen, and most of the United States. I’ll be 38 next week, and I actually find this to be a paltry list, as I’ve so much more of the world to see. Continents left to navigate, languages to untangle. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I plan to experience the world on my own.
Ever since I was old enough to board a bus and carry a map, I’ve been itinerant. In high school I had few friends, so I spent weekends discovering obscure parts of Long Island, taking buses to miniature towns dotting the shoreline and others engulfed by trees. Waking up and wondering how the day would reveal itself thrilled me, and I never craved the company of others. I simply got used to my own company, and for a time, I lived a great deal of my life in my head. Being alone gives me the time and space to think and often this is the time when I write best. Often, I find it strange when people tell me I’m “brave” for traveling alone. What’s brave about boarding an airplane and planning a holiday? It’s not as if I’m fleeing to the Middle East or planting myself in war-torn countries. I’m acutely aware that there are a great deal of countries where traveling alone, especially if one is a woman, presents challenges. I’ve heard stories. Morocco, Goa, parts of the Middle East and Africa — these are dream destinations, but I plan to be smart and either travel with a group or hire a male guide. Because the freedoms and cultural norms that exist in the States don’t board a plane with me, even if I desperately want them to. Part of my work is researching the places I visit, and ensuring I fully understand the culture before I clear customs.
This is a roundabout way of saying that flying to Syria is brave. Traveling to Fiji is not. Is being alone with your thoughts brave? Is it because I am a woman and one assumes that women should be accompanied by others (perhaps a gentleman?) when they travel? I’m genuinely curious what makes one traveling alone brave, because, for me, I simply prefer to play my days as they lay. The idea of having to placate someone else’s schedule exhausts me. I spend the great deal of my life surrounded by people, and sometimes I just don’t want to speak unless I have to. There’s nothing more liberating than exploring a city on my own, and I guess I have to figure out what this means should I find a great love. Part of me knows that I will want to sometimes fly solo, and this love will have to accept that too.
When I arrived in Melbourne, I didn’t have much of a plan. Two days in a large city can be overwhelming, so instead of trying to cram a whole fantastic culture of art and architecture into 48 hours, I settled on a walking tour and food journey, knowing that I’ll likely return to this part of the world someday soon. This morning I woke and left my home at 7, not realizing that many shops in Melbourne don’t open to at least 9 or 10, but it was nice to roam gardens and streets without all the fanfare of a busy morning. I’m staying in an artists’ workspace in the S.E. Suburb of Richmond (think Williamsburg), so I didn’t have to deal with the frenzy of CBD (Central Business District), which is akin to midtown Manhattan, until the afternoon.
I found Martha Ray’s on a lark, really. Friends unanimously sung the praises of Brunswick Street (think East Village with its eclectic and vintage shops, art galleries, old houses, smart coffee houses and outdoor cafes), so I found myself drawn to Martha Ray’s clean, minimalist space, but its scrumptious menu (Broadsheet review). I’m told the eatery is known for their sandwiches, but this filling breakfast of puffed corn, rice, quinoa, baked in agave syrup and coconut oil, topped with local fruit, was TO DIE FOR. And did I mention the amazing coffee? Because I should.
If it’s delicious biscuits and cakes you’re after, Slowpoke Espresso is the right spot (Broadsheet review). After devouring a raspberry and white chocolate (you read right) muffin that married the perfect crunch of the cracked muffin top with the light sweet flavor of the cake, I chatted up one of the baristas. Coffee is practically an art form in Australia, and proprietors take their beans and brews pretty seriously. Melbourne isn’t a city where you’ll find a Starbucks on every block, and I’m relieved. Instead, you’ll find yourself ordering a “short black” (espresso), “long black” (hot water + double espresso), “flat white” (think latte + more froth), as well as the requisite lattes and cappuccinos — all strong and impeccably flavored. I sampled a few brews at Slowpoke, and after nearly shaking from all the caffeine, I nabbed a fat chocolate chip biscuit (cookie) for takeaway (to go).
You have to know that everyone in the free world told me to go to Chin Chin, THE place to eat in CBD. Part restaurant, part bar, part art space, this reservation-free spot (except for parties of 10-12), gets bawdy at night (or so I’m told), but since my habits are more of the Geritol variety, I decided to enjoy a tame early lunch. Luckily I arrived at Chin Chin at 11:30AM, as the place was quickly booking up. From the airy warehouse decor to the branded glasses to the Southeast Asian menu and chill vibe, you will not only want to hoover everything on the menu, you’ll want to score the Chin Chin Cookbook to recreate the experience at home. I settled on the corn + coriander fritters served with a plum jam (AMAZING!) and the Laab Gai — stir fried spiced minced chicken, lime, ground roasted rice, served with iceberg lettuce cups (HOLD ME!). You’ll find generous portions of noodles, rice, meat and vegetarian options with price points from $18AUD-$30AUD. So glad I listened to the hype, as Chin Chin definitely deserves their accolades.
After leaving Chin Chin, I was on the hunt for more coffee and perhaps another sweet, so I checked out Duke’s Coffee Roasters, a very busy spot in CBD (Broadsheet review). While the coffee was full-on, my peanut butter cookie was less so. A bit dry, poor crumb and a peanut butter flavor that overwhelmed the chocolate, I was a bit disappointed.
Special thanks to Sue Wells, Jessica Goon and Ginny Gruber for their amazing, lengthy recommendations!