NOTE: A portion of this post appeared on the group blog I am part of, Embracing Romance. I’m generally not into reposting/reblogging. I’m all about the original content. At the same time, it would be very silly to rewrite this introduction to my trip. There is a bit more here than was in the original post, though, so you are getting some new content, I promise. Stay tuned for all new adventures!
I went to London and Paris. By myself. For ten days.
It was spectacular! Spectacular and marvelous and so, so amazing.
OK, enough superlatives. Let’s get down to business… I was trying to figure out how to summarize an entire trip in a single blog post, and the fact is I can’t. There were so many places I went, so many experiences, sights, sounds, smells (some good, some bad). It turns out I took over 1,000 pictures, and I have so much historical knowledge and fun research to share. You’ll be getting blog posts from me for, oh, years!
I chronicled some of my trip via Facebook with lots of pictures and a summary of my days, as well as a few silly selfies. I’m really, really bad at selfies, but I took them anyway to prove I’d been there! Still, here is a basic run down of my whirlwind 10 day trip…
In London I purchased a voucher from my hotel to eat breakfast at this little French Brasserie around the corner–except I ate traditional English breakfasts. Sort of an odd oxymoron, but still. So. Good. Even though I was eating baked beans and black cake (also known as blood pudding) at 7 am. Those English breakfasts stuck to my ribs, which let me skip lunch and keep doing whatever I wanted through the day.
I would set out with my maps and my camera, and walk all around London. I took pictures of architecture, windows, squares, parks. Hyde Park was huge and amazing and I loved it. I saw the Italian gardens, the Serpentine, Victoria’s
memorial to Albert, the Royal Albert Hall, Rotten Row (it’s still there!). I got lost a lot, and spent three or four hours at the Victoria & Albert museum taking pictures of historical fashion and jewelry. I got in trouble in the jewelry section because I missed the big sign that said “No Photographs.” Oops. But once the security guard forgave me, he spent an hour telling me all about the jewelry in there. More to come on that someday… I also saw the Marble Arch, Spencer House, Oxford Street, Bond Street–all in Mayfair, where my characters live. I accidentally found Buckingham Palace at just the right time and saw the changing of the guard. That was fun!
I got lost on the Underground multiple times, but those subway systems are amazing. So clean! I did finally arrive in Hampstead, however. It was so adorably quaint and because it wasn’t even 9 am yet, still very sleepy. I stepped into, of course, a bookstore. Because what else would an author do when she’s traveling? I didn’t buy anything, more’s the pity, because my trip that day involved the heath, and I intended to walk it.
Hampstead Heath is a really, really big and wild park, with open spaces and patches of forest and ancient trees I really wanted to climb. It was gorgeous. Wet, muddy, with damp spring air, but so verdantly, vibrantly green. I could have stayed there forever.
I went up to Kenwood House on the north side of the heath
which had the most AMAZING plasterwork dating back to 1760ish by an architect named Robert Adams. Plus, it has an old bath house, original French mirrors about 15 feet high, and a huge portrait collection. It was SO NEAT for a history nerd! More superlatives, I know… I spent an hour in a room with Tudor(ish) portraits talking with an Italian lady who now lives in England. She gave me a run down on the entire painting collection in that room and the family they came from. (Fodder for future blogs…)
Then I got lost again on the heath on my way back and ended up in a completely different town. It was a bit disconcerting to realize when I got back that it looked nothing like the town I had started from. This one was a bit more populated and fast paced. I had a pint at a pub, figured out where I was, and realized there was an Underground stop not far away. After more wanderings and wonderings, I made it back to London proper. Of course, it was 219 steps down to the Underground, but I made it anyway.
Oh, and I went to Westminster, which was gorgeous, and St. Margaret’s church, which had people buried under the floors, only the floors were so worn you could barely read the epithets. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, but I took notes on who was buried there, the plaques on the walls and the effigies. (Fodder for future blogs again, my dears!)
Then, as I was taking pictures of Westminster, I saw a small building which I swore was Tudor or Stuart across the road. It was a “nothing” sort of building, no big signs to tell me what it was, no parking lot, no touristy arrows, nothing. So, naturally, I go there—what else to do when you’re in London all alone and want to see everything? It turned out to be the original part of Westminster Palace back in the 1300s where they kept jewels and Acts of Parliment and the King’s money. Seriously. There was a stone vault. Westminster Palace burned down in 1834 and the Jewel Tower that was one of the only parts that survived, apparently because the wind was blowing the other way.
After that little tour, a purchased guidebook and many pictures, I walked up (through the rain) to the National Portrait Gallery. But my rainy walk included Downing Street where I saw #10, the Banqueting Hall (built in 1800ish), the original War Office, Whitehall (all from my books! So. Cool.) Then I spent a rainy afternoon taking pictures of EVERYTHING at the gallery. Stuarts, Tudors, Regency, Victorian. I skipped everything from 1900 to the present because who cares about that?
And that concludes London, except that I ate at pubs all over town, talked to dozens of strangers who took me under their wing–including a group of mass spectrometists–and generally loved every second of wandering on my own schedule wherever I wanted and whenever I wanted! And it was like every minute was a new discovery of something wonderful, yet at the same time all old friends because I’ve spent so much time researching London. And the English people are friendly, down to earth and just darn nice.
OK, so France. I loved it! All of it! The Festival du Roman Feminin—my real reason for the trip—was fantastic! The ladies of Les Romantiques were warm and welcoming. The language barrier was fun and funny all at once, with the readers enjoying my inability to communicate as much as I did. I made wonderful new friends and hope to return to the conference next year.
And, to the poor reader who’s head I dropped the meringue on, again, Pardonnez-moi!
On my free days, as I did in London, I simply wandered around Paris. Again, I took pictures of architecture, famous places, funny things. I walked down to the Louvre and discovered it’s closed on Tuesdays. Oops. Should’ve checked the website on that one. But it was actually fine, because I ended up wandering around the Jardin de Tuileries where I had lunch (and dropped food down my shirt, which I then gave to a local pigeon), saw the Place du Concord and traveled bridges going over to the city center. There’s one where lovers come from all over the world to write their names on bicycle locks and then lock them onto the bridge. Apparently it’s making the bridge too heavy, but it was the most romantic thing!
So, let’s see, I wandered into little churches that were still operating, oh, 900 years after being built. I went to Notre Dame but that was a bit of a tourist trap, so I hustled out of there fast. The working churches where people were vacuuming after services were so much more fun for me. There was one, St. Nicholas des Champs, that was between my hotel and the conference. I walked passed it a dozen times and then finally decided to pop in one day when the doors were thrown wide open. It was gorgeous. Half of it was renovated and shiny and beautiful, but the other half hadn’t been renovated yet. It had centuries of dirt on it. How could you not sit and reflect on the thousands of souls who had entered and worshipped there? Life, death, war, blood, birth, marriage—all of those happened within those stone walls. Those pictures will also be another blog post. Stay tuned!
As for my wanderings in Paris I loved seeing the city. It’s different than London, yet kind of the same. I thought of it as a romantically chic, whereas London was more orderly and simple. I popped into these little galleries that were tunnels through buildings with shops in them. Some of the streets near the city center are weaving, cobblestone paths through buildings with every imaginable restaurant. I also went to a fashion exhibit. Three centuries of French fashion–you can imagine how many pictures I took! And oh, just wait until I start on some of those blog posts.
I think my favorite part of Paris was sitting at sidewalk cafes. They really do that. The French just pop in, take a seat at these rows and rows of tables outside the restaurants, have a glass of wine or an espresso and smoke and laugh. At one point a French lady next to me who was 70 if she was a day was rolling her own cigarettes and drinking beer. I totally wanted to be her when I grew up! I sat at a lot of cafes in Paris, and I wrote about 10,000 words while sipping wine and espresso. I’ll tell you what, the French know their wine and they know their coffee.
Also, I journaled like mad the whole time I was there. I wrote down everything I could think of that I saw, that I thought, that I did so I wouldn’t forget my trip.
I think it was probably the best experience of my life. Different from vacations with family, different than the typical big life things like getting married and having a baby or buying a house. Better, even, than that first book sale. It was part research, part vacation, and part self-discovery.
So. There you go. London and Paris in 5,000 words or less. 🙂