The Joy of Travel

Lately there has been quite a bit of talk about traveling from your living room, eating your way around the globe from your kitchen, experiencing the world in a video, in short knowing the joys of travel while we stay at home. The ask is that we fulfill our desires to travel while sheltering in place, while under COVID-19 restrictions. While I do appreciate the enthusiasm and the let’s all look at this as the glass is half full perspective, and not usually one to be the Debbie Downer, those of us that are in our hearts a traveler find it a poor substitute. Perhaps even a dismal substitute. After all it’s the process of going and being there, anywhere, that is what we crave. The chaos of a new place, the blissful confusion of a new language, the foreign smells of new foods, the beautiful lines found in new faces are all elements of getting lost in the sensory overload know as travel, and the wanderer thrives on the bedlam. From the misadventures that starts seemingly the minute you walk through the over processed air of an airport, we are in our happy place. We are not creatures of daily routine, we are creatures of chaos theory or the seemingly random occurrences which create interconnectedness. This is the key, interconnectedness. Our differences bring us together, and we know this. Curiosity propels us forward, brings out our brave and begs us to seek more. The more we seek, the more we learn and know and understand. Cultures offer insights into humanity that you simply can not know intimately from the TV or iPad. Traveling is truly one of the greatest means to get to know your fellow humans, opening your heart and mind to differences and seeing those foreign worlds as germane, equal, and fabulous, because it’s while we are in those new places we feel our most vulnerable and as a result more accepting. Something the world definitely needs more of right now.

As we all strive to understand exactly what is happening to humankind, and these seemingly random and challenging events continue to well, challenge us, dig deep and consider the butterfly effect. That butterfly flapping its wings in China, may not bring the hurricane, it may bring a tide of change that after this storm has passed, we find a new clarity and deeper understanding for all cultures and people. A simple lucidity that most will be able to grasp from the comfort of their couch, and perhaps it will instill a desire to know more and travel and in turn connect.

The Transportive Powers of Scent

I’m mindlessly pushing my grocery cart down the produce aisle, and mildly distracted by the broken wheel that refuses to roll straight. I need but a few items and am in a hurry. I’m always in a hurry at the grocery. It’s my basic M.O. Seek, retrieve, purchase, get out. Seven perfect lemons, smooth skin, juicy feel, then it hits. A wave of fragrance so intimate, I pause my focused pursuit to look around. For that brief moment I fully expect to see my grandmother standing next to me. It’s Coco Chanel. Unmistakable, and in my mind she’s the only person to ever wear this iconic scent as I have always felt no one wore it like her. It’s the fragrance of love and delicious kitchen smells, dragon breathing irritation and all things she was and continues to be to me long after her passing.

Scent has the power to send you catapulting to another time and place like no other. It’s the sleeper time machine that you didn’t see coming, and a huge piece of my world from my earliest memories. I often identify perfume shops as a destination when planning vacations, and in the processes of locating these often obscure locations, amazing discoveries are made adding to the memory bank.

You see, I grew up surrounded by strong women, each with their own personal fragrance. To this day I can still send my world into a minor tailspin when one of those eau de parfum wafts past my nose, thus the power of olfactory memory. I came to believe that your scent was as unique to you as the rest of your style. The particular perfume will likely change as you grow into yourself, but it will become clear, if only you pay attention, to what type of scent best melds with your being. It’s a marriage. The wrong scent would be akin to having the wrong shoe size on, uncomfortable and perhaps slightly unpleasant. It will certainly not feel like a second skin, as your scent should be something that envelops you in more you-ness.

Perfume itself is thousands of years old. The word itself comes from the Latin per fume, or “through smoke.” Evidence of perfume making began in Egypt and Mesopotamia, for use in rituals both spiritual and sensual, or maybe they just wanted to smell great. Either way, these floral, woodsy and spice notes were a part of their culture. The earliest use of perfume bottles dates back to around 1000 BCE also by Egyptians who also happened to invent glass. Perfume bottles were one of the first common uses for it, but the oldest recorded perfume vessels found comes from the island of Cyprus made of painted ceramic. Upon further analysis traces of anise, pine, coriander, bergamot, almond and parsley, all native to the region, were discovered as preferred scents.

Perfumery in Pyrgos, Cyprus — 4,000 years old

With hopeful determination to find something new and more amazing I will set off in search of the next great discovery in each destination. I am never disappointed. If I don’t find THE perfume, I always find something, a scented lotion, soap or room diffuser with a bouquet that will forever remind me of this particular moment in time, and quite possibly a part of the city or town I may never have seen. This is worth its weight in gold, and will certainly give me the warm and fuzzies every time I lay nose to it. This is the loot I plunder and lug home in my oversized suitcase without fail.

Long after I have forgotten the name of a particular cathedral visited, or what I may have eaten at a particular restaurant, I can count on the smells encountered and more specifically the perfumes sampled to bring me right back. It’s the ultimate souvenir.

In the Belly of a Dragon

Slow indulgent evenings abound in Taipei, a city of 7 million +. Taipei is an urban experience of controlled chaos, manicured canines, smoky incense filled alleys and surprises around every corner, but amongst all the bustle of the evenings and endless food markets, little pockets of calm can be yours. On such an evening, my partner in crime and I wandered up a dark, slightly bending street. Our destination, Indulge Experimental Bistro, a winner in the William Reed, Worlds50BestBars.com. This is a tall order, and it was our personal goal to determine for ourselves the veracity of such a bold statement. I am here to tell you- it is well deserved.

A fascinating element of Taipei is the very new mixed with the very old. You smell the incense first in the warm humid air, then round the corner to a temple.

Located in the Da-an District, in what feels to be a quiet residential neighborhood you’ll find yourself standing in front of a large frosted glass wall and blonde wood door of similar height. You are not lost. Keep going. Inside is a welcoming buzzy room of modern hued light and creamy tones. We grabbed the last two seats at the end of the bar, our preferred post to better observe the orchestration of the mysterious goings on behind the scene. As we watched as our bartender perfectly shape a sphere of crystal clear ice with no more than a pitchfork ice pick we sent our telepathic happy dance. 

and the gardens…

The bistro does offer a beautiful dinner specializing in the 4 distinct culinary regions of Taiwan, and we did eat, however this article is about Stanley, the barkeep, mixologist and voodoo maestro manning the helm of the Indulge bar. He is indeed master of his domain. If you’re wondering why his name is Stanley and not a Chinese name, we’ll save this curious topic for another story. Suffice it to say for those tongue tied westerners, this courtesy is a saving grace. Back to Stanley.

Stanley effuses calm, cool precision. From his crisp attire to his perfectly poised hair, he is decidedly put together. He commands his team with calm detailed instruction and delivers one masterful tipple after another. However, as often as not we chose to order off menu. It had been a full day and I needed to set my calm with something familiar and warming. I wanted brown liquor, possibly a Manhattan or Boulevardier- classic and fulfilling. My feet hurt. And he delivered, a perfect Man. Not particularly extraordinary as in unique, but you don’t want extraordinary with a Man—you want perfection. It’s not complicated yet many don’t deliver. The Manhattan delivered, the Boulevardier delivered and the world was rosy and round once again.

Thus lubed and somewhat fed, I was emboldened and wanted to know what they would do with a Sazerac. I hear you now, unfair unfair you holler, you’re in Taiwan not New Orleans, but oh ye of little faith, this lady of the south desired a Sazerac, and what an exquisite one it was. 

…these felt like wishes blowing in the breeze, but I honestly don’t know.

Did I mention they won a spot in the WorldsBest50Bars.com? Here is where Stanley stole the show. He spoke to us for a while about our tastes and would we consider something with a decidedly Asian twist on a classic. Why yes please. He set down in front of me pure art; a paper-thin crystal orb, with that same perfectly clear sphere of ice and a subtly sublime Sazerac. Hints of anise, a face of Rye, a touch of citrus all sweet-hot a coiling dragon and love all in one. He then presented a small smoking cedar box in front of my beloved. Inside was a cocktail of a different type of beauty, and mystery. A personal spa steeped in cedar smoke performing reflexology on your feet all while you sipped Oolong tea in a garden of lush greens. It was whiskey and an infused tea bitters with a hint of the orient. Mic drop. We are forever loyal Stanley, and will Indulge every time we visit Taipei.

Should you find yourself fortunate enough to be wandering the streets of Taipei, do yourself a solid and go see Stanley at Indulge Experimental Bistro. He will make your world a better place. Indulge Bistro. Da’an District, Lane 219, Section 1, Fuxing South Road

Written from the comfy bed of our room at the Eclat Hotel, Taipei.