Silkbody on Tour
A wonderful customer by the name of Margaret Minney, from Adelaide in Australia, has taken it upon herself to write the most gloriously-detailed story of her trip to Austria, Scotland and Shetland in June 2016, the sights seen and the important role her Silkbody clothing played in her enjoyment of the trip. Read on for specific details of the items she found most useful. Thank you so much for your words, Margaret!
Weisdale Loch, Shetland, taken from the window of Shetland Jewellery Co. Photo by Margaret Minney
Whatever the question, Silkbody is the answer! My problem had been packing to accompany my husband to the 15th world conference of The League of Historical Cities in Austria in warm, summer weather, followed by a visit to relatives in Scotland and more relatives in Shetland in the North Sea. The conference required me to take formal wear, semi-formal wear and smart casual clothes. Scotland’s temperatures were going to be much like Adelaide’s in June, and Shetland’s temperatures were going to be colder than winter at home in Adelaide, South Australia. As it happened, the wind chill factor made Shetland far colder than the forecast appeared. After the conference we would be in casual clothes for rambling in hills and visiting dear friends and relatives.
The problem grew bigger than Topsy, until Silkbody dawned as the (nearly) complete solution. I added new, key pieces to my existing Silkbody clothes, and even, as a last minute thought, glove liners and a bright, pink head warmer.
My first surprise was at the Adelaide Airport check-in counter. My case weighed just 22 kilograms. Departing on a cold winter’s day, I was wearing a viscose long sleeved top for a long night on the plane, my sage silkspun cardigan, my silkspun wrap black hooded cardigan (longline with a belt) and my thick woollen coat. I had on a pair of thick, stretch pontes. The coat, hoodie and cardigan were discarded on the plane, but they all had to go back on for a change of planes at Doha in the Arabian Peninsula at 3 o’clock in the morning. Walking through the hot, thick air, I felt way too hot but was stuck with it all, of course. It was fine in the terminal.
The Vienna disembarking was complicated, entering the country as foreign nationals, but we were soon in a taxi and arriving at our hotel, at 11 in the morning local time.
To our dismay, our hotel was not receiving its guests until 3pm. I left my woollen coat, case and back-pack locked up in the lobby storeroom for the day while my husband and I wandered Vienna’s formal, gorgeous flowered gardens, taking in a drink and delectable icecream in a tree-shaded outdoor tea house. It was still, sunny and warm but the cardigan and hoodie adapted to the temperature and did not worry me. At last 3 o’clock came and we checked in, two tired people who had been in the air or in transit for 22 and a half hours, and wandering the streets of a strange city for another four. I hung everything in the wardrobe and wanted nothing more than to sleep. The grey lounge pants came out, teamed with a pure silk black singlet, and in perfect comfort with the windows open wide to the warm air, I slipped away to the land of nod.
Too soon it was time to dress, because we were going to the Vienna Opera House to take in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”. I slipped into my black Silkspun swing skirt, dressed up with ‘hose and high heeled sandals. I wore an English silk and cotton, short waisted, short sleeved top in cerise. Any travel creases in the skirt had hung out in that short time, and I felt good enough to mix with the smartest opera-crowd.
Luckily there were no walk-out breaks at the short, stage-darkened intervals, and the opera, which started at 7, finished at 8.30pm. We stepped out through Vienna’s light, warm streets and walked back to our hotel. I gratefully gave in to real sleep, in my silk crepe pyjamas under an Austrian feather-light doona – delicious.
Our first full day in Vienna was our own until evening. We caught the tram to the wine making district at the foot of the mountains, an enchanting old urban locality called Grinsing. On the plain, Vienna was sunny and warm and I wore my sage silkspun wrap skirt with sage sleeveless crew and cardigan, with no stockings and lighter shoes. These shoes were my compromise between sandals for an Austrian summer and walking shoes for Scotland. They were a kind of walking court shoe with an open top but a strap across the instep. They were practical, chunky in appearance, but the casual air of the wrap-around skirt carried them. By the time we got up to Grinsing I was looking for the sunny side of the street, because the mountain air was fresh. It was early. When the sun rose higher and I was perfectly warm, I removed the cardigan for the tram ride home.
The conference activities began in Vienna that night, with a dinner in the Piaristen Kellar restaurant, below ground in the former wine cellars of a mediaeval church. It had been constructed in 1680 and the genuinely historical décor maintained the period. I wore the same outfit as for the opera the previous night, except that it was raining now, so I added the black pure silk hoodie. This is an elegant garment, falling graciously at the back, and freely at the front. I accidentally dragged the belt ends in the footpath puddles, so they got tied loosely together. I had already knotted them into the belt lugs for the plane ride so that they would not get lost, and now they were also threaded through the opposite belt lug to shorten them.
The next day the delegates all caught the tour bus from the shady park behind the City Hall to the conference destination, Bad Ischl, in Austria’s Mountain country. First the driver, with a guide, took us for a tour of Vienna’s sights, and then we headed for the high country. On the way we stopped for lunch which my husband and I ate on a wide, sunny terrace high over a sweeping valley, under a burning sun. Clothing was no problem. I wore my sage wrap skirt, sleeveless crew and cardigan. The cardigan came off outside, and went back on again in the air conditioned bus. In Bad Ischl little groups of us were delivered to one hotel or another, and finally we were dropped off at The Royal Eurothermen Resort for four wonderful days lying ahead of us.
There was an informal dinner at Zauner’s café that night and I dressed up my sage green garments with the simple addition of the black pure silk hoodie, not for warmth but for style.
True to silk’s properties, my clothes were neither too hot nor too cold.
The next day, the first day of the conference in earnest, my husband and I walked together to the Kongress Hall for him to register. The conference room took my breath away. There were delegates from 23 countries across the world, and each place was clearly labelled, and provided with headphones for the translation streams – 8 of them although the official languages were German, French and English. After registration there was time for a hot chocolate outside a pretty Austrian café in the clear morning sunshine. I was casually dressed in my sage wrap skirt and a Target pale yellow cotton t-shirt. The wrap skirt took this casual look very well. That outfit took me on a long walk in hot sun and I got over heated and thirsty. On my return to the hotel and a long cold drink, I flaked out in the silk lounge pants and puresilk black singlet again, once again with the windows open to the clean mountain air. My husband returned from a day in conference and it was time to dress as formally as I could muster, for the big dinner in Trinkhalle. The City Brass Band in its maroon uniform was playing smoothly in the small city square. Linen-covered drink tables were dotted around the square and smartly clad waiters carried trays of drinks aloft, and handed out canapes to the guests, readily distinguishable from the curious members of the public by our very formal clothes. I wore my knit/woven long sleeved simple black dress, with ‘hose and high heeled sandals. What a beautiful garment this dress is. It is so light it nearly carries me away with it. I lit its blackness with a large brooch of brightly many-coloured transparent stones set in gold, pinned to the waist where one might have tied a bow. Inside the glass walled Trinkhalle were two extremely long tables set with white linen, silver cutlery, and decorated with swathes of mountain flowers in a loose plait along the centre. Guests filed in wearing traditional Japanese kimonos, Arabic robes, Austrian dirndls and me in my softly flowing black silk dress.
I had one more day of freedom and repeated my outfit of a yellow t-shirt and sage wrap skirt, fitted myself with my washing hat, fruit, water and advice to my husband about where I was going, and set off up a mountain, the one that had defeated me the day before.
This sage wrap skirt was new for this trip, but it quickly became a favourite, adaptable to anything, even a mountain trek. Its below-the-knee length finish helped its adaptability.
Margaret and John Minney at the Wiener Staatoper; Margaret at Bad Ischl Siriuskogl Glade; Margaret and John at Bad Ischl Trinkhalle
The official social programme that night was a trip to Hallstatt, a 14th century salt mining town tucked higgledy piggledy into the small flat of land between a lake and a sheer, vertical mountain. I was back in my swing skirt, cerise top and pure silk hooded cardigan, the fine, black jacket that flowed over anything, smart or casual, and looked good. There were times, when we had ridden the terrifyingly fernicular to the watch-house at the top, standing outside on the terrace enjoying pre-dinner drinks with new friends from strange cultures, when I felt cold, for it was raining sometimes, and the mountains were high. I pulled the hoodie front closer to me and kept warm, wrapped in my fine silk garment.
For the last day together, the conference organisers had arranged a tour of the Bad Ischl Museum ahead of the first plenary session for the day.
A big rainfall had dropped the temperature, but still my stalwart outfit of sage green wrap skirt, sleeveless crew and silkspun cardigan stood me well, along with my ever present black pure silk hoodie.
Once it rained, some of our walking changed to running, and skipping puddles. My versatile wrap skirt handled it all. Two of the husbands (one of them mine) wanted their wives to join them for lunch this day. Lunch at the Kongress Hall was in a classy restaurant facing the sweeping lawns and formal gardens of Kongress Hall. The delegates of course were in shirts, ties and jackets at the very least, and my sage green outfit met this standard, probably because of the silk cloth, which always looks smart. Any creases dropped out quickly after being stowed in a suitcase for hours on end.
That night we were attending an Austrian Party after a tour through the Kaiser Palace. We stood in the very room where Emperor Franz Joseph signed the declaration of war against Serbia in 1914, the start of World War II. The large gathering of delegates and guests walked there. It was raining and the puddles had deepened on the footpaths all day. I wore a pair of woollen slacks, socks, and walking shoes, with my sage sleeveless crew, cardigan and black hoodie on the top. I felt warm, comfortable and just right, until I saw the other women in skirts, dresses and court shoes. I had misread the evening. We could have danced but I kept my slacks and walking shoes out of sight behind a table, thinking of that black swing skirt back in our room. When we all dispersed into the late night, the cool air and another walk in the rain, I was comfortable again. My silk garments were keeping me perfectly warm.
The sleeveless crew was easy to wash in a hotel basin. I would squeeze it dry rather than wring it, and I hung it on a coat hanger over the bath. It is dense, but it always dried in time for me, and did not really need ironing, although I would have ironed it at home.
The pyjamas also were light enough to rinse in the basin. They had to dry during the day time, so I laid them flat on my towel, rolled up the towel lengthwise with the pyjamas inside, twisted it all like a rope and squeezed. They then hung on hangers over the bath, and dried in time for bed.
Our last day of official activities, was a day in Salzburg. Our bus driver stopped by all the Bad Ischl hotels and picked up whomever had not gone home. Our little gaggle of delegates was now reduced to the Australians, some Asian delegates and one or two others. Nearby European delegates had mostly returned to their cities.
Once in Salzburg, the driver stopped at our hotel for us to deliver our bags to the lobby for storage, but not to check in. We were hurried back on to the bus in the clothes we stood up in. Luckily for me, that meant that I was in my sage green ensemble dressed up with my elegant black silk hoodie. I had not prepared myself for an hour or two of following a guide through a too-crowded city, holding aloft a set of coloured ribbons on a stick. The weather was perfect, and all layers of my silk clothes accommodated the warmth. I was unwilling to take off anything lest I should leave it somewhere. The tour officially ended before lunch but our guide stayed with us, for she was enjoying the company. By now we were left with the Aussies, the Greeks and a Spaniard and they were up for the best that Salzburg could offer. This included lunch in a swell restaurant, St Peter’s Kellar, where local patrons dressed to outdo each other in style. Silkbody took me there. After an interesting meal which included an extravagant flummery, a Salzburger Nockerl, the nine of us set off on the steep climb to the Hohensalzburger Fortress. It got hotter and still I kept everything on for fear of losing something. None of my garments was oppressively hot. We had all been to the very top, explored everything, from the torture chamber to the marionette museum and decided, before descending, to sit at a terrace café overlooking the Salzach River way below us, and have last drinks with our guide. The sun was beating down on my head and face but my hat was in my case in that far away hotel lobby. I removed my black silk hoodie, placed the hood over my head and held it out to shade my face against the sun.
The very last official function for the League of Historical Cities, was a Mozart recital by the Salzburg Kammersoliten, a string quartet, given in a gracious State room in The Salzburg Residence. The strings were joined by a soloist for Mozart’s clarinet concerto. There were mediaeval paintings on the ceilings, thick walls with shuttered windows open to the Plaza, gilt decorated white painted furniture, and crystal cut mirrors on the walls. The Mayor of Bad Ischl was in attendance and we were formally received by our civic hosts at the top of the wide staircase.
My packed case was still in a hotel lock-up somewhere the other side of the Salzach River, but my adaptable Silkbody clothes once again carried me for this formal function.
The next day in Salzburg my husband and I were on our own and we took ourselves for the long walk back across the river to the tourist part of town. It was nippy. I was wearing the same clothes as the previous day, and the pure silk hoodie over the cardigan, kept me warm, but when it rained I felt vulnerable. We had not expected rain, that is, we could not read the forecast in the foreign papers, but I did have my folding umbrella in my bag. I tried not to use it because my husband had no rain protection, but in the end the rain got heavier and I had to open it, because getting wet made me feel cold. In the meantime, the hood was invaluable.
In Salzburg, packing for the flight to Aberdeen, I was feeling warm, and I simply rolled my puresilk hoodie and sage cardigan in to two little tube-shaped bundles and stowed them vertically alongside other items in my backpack. They took no room and added no weight. It was important to have them on landing in Aberdeen, because the weather was no longer summery. The estimated maximum temperature there was about 15 degrees, and it was overcast and windy. These two garments together kept me warm enough, in a late afternoon walk through the main street of Aberdeen, which runs parallel to the sea and the port where the ships come in, although I admit it was better out of the wind. The locals were wearing thick cardigans and parkas but I was determined to test my silk wear. I did have to steel myself in the wind, but Silkbody wasn’t bad. By the way, they unrolled from my backpack in a perfectly wearable state – magic.
I gave in the next day and put my woollen coat on top. I still had my black woollen coat on, with that puresilk hoodie under it, when we landed in Shetland a day later. We stood in bright sunshine at the airport, standing by a goods shed waiting for the Lerwick bus, but the maximum temperature was due to be 11 degrees that day, and I wished I had a beanie with me. I remembered the hood, brought it up over my head from under my coat, and felt fine.
Shetland’s temperatures were about 11 or 12, and even Silkbody was no match for them except that indoors, I was quite happy, and there was no need for any thick garments at all. I had a sage, long-sleeved crew and this added an invaluable layer of warmth and cosiness. The hoodie was turning out to be the most useful garment for the entire trip.
A few days into our Shetland stay I decided to try my new Silkbody head warmer and quickly became a fan of this slip of silk. Shetland wind never stops, slows or relents. It whips up an entire head of hair to the skies, and chills the earlobes. I noticed in the hand knitting shops that I could have bought a Fair Isle patterned woollen head warmer, but the silk one sits around my head almost imperceptibly to my sense of touch, in the way of all my silk garments which are barely there at all. It kept my hair tucked in from the wind, and it kept my ears warm. This has been a most successful purchase. I chose the fuschia colour, to contrast from my black and sage green clothes. It also meant that my husband could find me more easily in the crowds at the Midsummer Carnival! When one is away from home, with no reference point, that becomes important.
From Shetland we went to Glasgow where a formal dinner required me to dress. I wore my black swing skirt, my silk and cotton cerise top and my black puresilk hoodie, the garment which has taken me from formal to casual occasions and from hot places to cold ones.
The next stop was a visit to a dear friend on the Isle of Skye who invited us to talk to the Year 5/6 class at Portree Primary School about Australia, their subject for discussion this term. That was to be followed by a full day away from “home”, some of it at the side of an outdoor sports field (where there was a school-children’s semi final series of the Scottish version of hockey, Shinty, in which balls fly into the air and all players wear face shields!), other parts of the day at lunch in our hostess’ sister’s cosy, bright home, and some of it shopping in the charming streets of Portree. There was to be a massed pipe band marching and playing in the town square at 7pm for an hour, and after that we were planning dinner in a good restaurant. I have to admit that the wrap around skirt came off and was replaced by a pair of smart, grey woollen slacks, with woollen socks and good walking shoes. However, on the top I now wore the sage silkspun long sleeved crew, the cardigan and my inseparable black hoodie. None of this was a match for high winds and I did need my woollen coat, or at the very least my raincoat to stop the chill.
On the Isle of Skye it is midsummer. In Adelaide, home to me, it is midwinter. Today the weather forecasts were one and the same for each place, 15 degrees estimated maximum and chance of showers. Our hostess on Skye took us on an expedition to the part of the island which overlooks the Minch, the stretch of water between Skye and the Outer Hebridean Islands. It was not raining but the wind swept across the fields where the heather was beginning to bloom, in amongst the horizontally blowing white cotton flowers and tossing yellow buttercups. Sheep dotted the green rolling plateau and brown cows ambled and shared the paths we took. The grey sea was far away below massive, drop-away cliff faces.
In addition to the very useful head warmer, which kept the wind from my ears and my hair in some order on my head, I now wore my silk glove liners. This country is a photographer’s dream and I cannot operate a camera wearing ordinary gloves. The fine, silk glove liners allowed every camera operation I needed. They could even pluck a tissue out of my pocket.
Friday dawned sunny and warm, even to me. Today’s journey was a long one in the car to Elgol. Skye is a big island and Elgol was a long way south, for we were staying at Staffin, a half an hour on narrow, winding roads north of Portree. I removed my puresilk hoodie very quickly, and soon removed the sage cardigan as well, leaving only the long sleeved crew. At times I rather wished that the sage sleeveless crew was underneath but thanks to the silk cloth, the long sleeved one was wearable, even in 22 degrees.
At Elgol we boarded an open launch to take us across the sea between Skye, the Inner Hebrides and the Black Cuillin mountains. The sky over the Cuillins grew dark grey and the wind across the sea was cold. It started spitting. Back went the cardigan and hoodie and I was very comfortable. When it rained, I retreated to the Master’s cabin to keep dry, and this young man insisted on lending me his dark blue polo fleece, emblazoned with the boat’s name – Misty Isle, and that kept me dry! I still had it on for our trek across the rocky shores and inlets, where Bonny Prince Charlie hid after the rout of his men by the English in 1745.
Our hostess Amy is an intrepid walker and Saturday was a three-walk day, none of them short or simple. Amy is astonishingly fit and agile on slithery mountain grass, wet boulders, peaty bogs and loose round rocks by the sea. No challenge can beat a lifetime of exploration. We had awoken to a mist slipping up the voe and spreading over all the fields and hills in sight. The sun was behind there somewhere but the air was thick and white. We walked through this one, alongside the grassy crofts, and over the Kilmartin River, a deeply set, wildly overgrown burn that rushes under its bridge, around the ridge and down to the nearby sea. It was the woollen pants, long sleeved crew, cardigan and hoodie, and the woollen coat as well for this one.
I had been dying to explore the hill above Garafad. We had been to the end of it and around to the beach beyond and below, where we had seen a tempting path rise from the sea all the way up to its crest. Much of the cliff face was sheer, black, jagged rock, extremely high and impenetrable, but the early settlers, who had built stone dwellings and lived on the plateau behind the ridge, had picked a path through the grassy part, winding broadly left then right but still steep, narrow and tricky to negotiate. That path was calling me. In bright sunshine, the visitor from the Antipodes in her long sleeved crew and cardigan, set off with hostess Amy, north to the stone wall end of Garafad, opened the back gate of a vacant lot between two of Garafad’s houses, and climbed up that steep, green turf. At the top, the entire world opened up before me. The plateau was wide and undulating, and sheep and cows grazed comfortably there. Below us stood the sleepy houses of Garafad and all of Staffin. To the sea side was more wide plateau sweeping across to the sky. We explored points of interest, talked history, then picked our way down the long, steep, helplessly unformed and uneven path to the sea way, below, then wandered along the shore to the end of the wall that is Garafad.
Late that same day, Amy drove us south to a region called Cul Nan Cnoc (“The back of the Hills”) so that we could walk down to the coast to Brothers’ Point. Now, I have been in God’s country on Skye, but this place was a rural idyll. From the main road we crossed over to an easy path, reached the sea-ward end, then climbed down below a couple of houses to a grassy path that was so steep I was glad of the fence alongside as a grasping point. About half way down, and that was quite a way, a vista opened behind me that made my heart jump. The steep green hills dotted with sheep and their little lambs, surrounded me. In the centre the land fell into a grassy ditch all the way from the far away sky at the top, and at about the half way mark, underground waters broke out of the hills in a waterfall ringing from its rocky grotto. At the bottom, by the dark, raging shore line, endless rocks had been tumbled into the steep-edged bay, round, wet and loose, not quite big enough for a footfall, but too sparse to tread as one. We walked them anyway, rounded the last of the rocky shore and struck across a rising field of deep, grassy ground, split by deep burns. I had restored the hoodie by now, and a raincoat, and was perfectly comfortable and warm against the wild, seaward winds.
On Sunday we farewelled Skye and departed for a long drive to Edinburgh, and at last fell into bed for a good sleep.
Monday’s early morning sunshine was a mischief. Outside, a cruel north wind moved up Edinburgh’s hill, knocked over traders’ signs, tossed open tourists’ coats and blew through me to the bone. I had to come back to the hotel and put on my coat. In the evening we had been asked out to dinner at a private home, so it was the black swing skirt, cerise top and, naturally, that hoodie!
The following day we walked the long, winding roads of Edinburgh, in blustery sunshine, tucked into our woollen coats, me with my Silkbody clothes soft and comfortable underneath.
Finally we found ourselves at Edinburgh airport. I was back in my stretch pontes, viscose top, sage cardigan and my indispensable black hooded cardigan. It had been a star. On board it rolled willingly into my backpack and always shook out, wearable and smart, happy to greet our welcoming family back home in Adelaide’s dismal, evening wind. It was winter here, after all.
Margaret Minney Lawyer
9th October 2016
Margaret's key Silkbody travel pieces: