The Beginning of My 10 Day Trip to Ireland

Every good story should start with the same thing:

Food. All kinds of food.

In this case, Irish food.

But to know Irish food, you need to know the history of the country.

There were people living on the isle going back to, oh, nearly the beginning of time. I know, because I saw a long boat in Dublin dated to 2500 BC and preserved in a peat bog. (As all good things are in Ireland, including butter. Apparently, the ancient Irish would bury butter to preserve it, and butter is still being discovered in bogs. Including this 2000 year old butter.)

More on the long boat and the National Museum of Ireland - Archeaology soon, but back to the history and food.

The Vikings invaded around 800 AD. They raided and pillaged and, more importantly, took wives and settled here. They assimilated and became part of Ireland, as much as the original Irish, while also leaving their own stamp on the country.

The Normans (Normandy was in northern France) invaded around 1150ish, give or take fifty years. Ever heard of Strongbow? Yeah, he was the guy. And I saw his tomb in Christ Church in Dublin! (Sort of, the real one was destroyed when the roof collapsed 150 or so years ago, but they found a grave from the same time period to replace it. Still a Medieval grave over his body, so it’s cool. Again, more on that later.)

But the Normans weren’t actually coming from France. They’d invaded England back in 1066, so technically, Ireland was being invaded by English Normans. Or a mix of those peeps. Either way, it brought Ireland under the rule of the English.

Following that was 800 years of English rule. And believe me, the Irish know it. So they should.

Then there was the Reformation, when Henry the Eighth got a bee up his bonnet (which is a polite way of saying it he took up with a girl who was not his wife), broke with the Catholic Church, got a divorce, founded the Church of England, then married his girlfriend Anne Boleyn.

For the record, Anne Boleyn is my second favorite historical figure. I love everything about her, right down to her alleged last words before execution by beheading: “I have a little neck.” She was also the mother to my first favorite historical figure, Elizabeth I. Cleopatra being number three. (Yes, I like strong women!)

So here are the Irish, circa 1600s, under English rule. Then the “undertakers” arrive, who “undertake” to confiscate Irish lands and give them to English Protestants for farming, etc. (Catholic was the name of the game in Ireland before that). These tracts of land were called plantations. This was a system where so and so worked the land, passed the profits up to a guy who owned the land, who passed it up to the guy who was the undertaker, who then passed it off to the government. Everyone kept their percentage and was happy—except that poor Irish guy who had his lands confiscated because he was Irish and the undertakers were in power.

Well, the Irish are rebels. Being of Irish descent, I feel them. There’s a bit of a rebel in me, too.

So the Irish started their uprisings, though I’m sure there were more before those I mention here. If you want a full list, you can Google it, but I’m going to the most recent. Uprisings during the French Revolution in 1798. More in the early 1800s, yet again around 1850, more in the 1880s.

Then came the Easter Rising of 1919: A declaration of the Irish Republic, men trapped in St. Stephen’s square and rebelling against the English, no matter what cost to themselves. 485 people were killed, the rebels were caught and eventually executed. Including James Connolly, if you’ve ever heard the name.

More fighting ensued and finally, in 1922, Ireland gained its Independence.

To that, I say, Up The Rebels!

Why is this important?

Because the food of a place is the food of their history.

The Irish traditional dishes are simple, because they did not have access to amazing foodstuffs to work with. They were oppressed. There was the potato famine, when a million died and another million emigrated. (I went to some famine cottages, more on that later.)

The ground is stony rather than rich. When I asked why and how there were so many stone fences everywhere in Ireland, my guide told me it was because stone is everywhere. They can’t plant fields without removing stone, as it’s just inches from the surface. When my guide was in America, he was stunned to see an excavator going 10 feet or more down and finding only soil.

But most of all, every country is a product of its location (the ocean!) and its history (invasions!)

So the traditional Irish breakfast of eggs, sausage, sautéed mushrooms, black sausage, white sausage, grilled tomatoes, and baked beans is similar to the British full breakfast. It’s meant to keep a body full to work the fields until dinner. FYI, it does the job. I ate a full breakfast every morning in Ireland and did not need to eat again until evening.

Fish and chips are common in both countries, but the fish is local to wherever you are eating. The mussels I ate were local, brought in just that morning from a port not 15 miles away. Coddle is a soup made with simple ingredients easily available. Potato and leek soup is a testament to what grows on rocky ground. Soda bread? I dunno. But it’s delicious.

And so…my meals in Ireland. I’ve included beverages too, though they are not quite as traditional. But the beverages were delish.

My very first meal in Ireland, at The Hairy Lemon Pub: Vegetable Soup with Homemade Brown Bread.

I ordered it because a local gentleman at a table ordered it. He was reading the daily newspaper, chatting with the bartender he knew by name, and ordered the soup. I thought, if this gentleman–old enough to be a grandfather and with glasses perched on his nose–was ordering the soup for his lunch, I should too. I expected something chunky, like a minestrone. But it was smooth and creamy and so, so good. The bread was heavy and thick, nothing like a loaf of “sliced bread” here in the US. I could have eaten a whole loaf, except they would have had to roll me out of the pub.

Full. Irish. Breakfast.

I confess, I did not eat more than a bite or two of the black and white puddings. And, no, it wasn’t because the black pudding is blood pudding. That slight metallic tang didn’t bother me in the last, nor did knowing that it was made with blood. It was the spices. I don’t know if it’s made with allspice or anise or what, but there is a spice there I really, really do not like. I couldn’t eat the white pudding for the same reason. I also don’t eat pumpkin pie because there is a spice I don’t like, so the blood pudding shouldn’t take it personally. 🙂

I decided to eat “healthy” on day 2.

I don’t know what I was thinking, lol. You don’t eat healthy on vacation! Still, it was delish, and the butter was Kerrygold and worth every bite. A little bit of orange marmalade on that butter and bread, the Kerry yogurt mixed with the granola. Mm Mm Mm. I didn’t miss the sausage a bit.

Mussels and shrimp on beautiful pasta. It was at my hotel bar, which I loved. Sophie’s at The Dean became my home away from home. Breakfast, a drink, dinner–all multiple times in the 5 days I was there (2 at the beginning, 3 at the end of my trip.)

Breakfast on my last first round of days in Dublin.

That right there is a bagel with cream cheese, avocado, prosciutto, along with a tomato and potatoes. Why do we not have a warm tomato and potatoes for breakfast, is my question.

So I roll into Cork and I wander, and I’m more starved than I thought I would be. So far my breakfast has held me over until lunch. I stop at a little pub called the Linen Weaver and have some shrimp. Which I ate so fast I had no picture.

I wander again, heading into a museum that I wandered in so long I was kicked out at closing time. I lost my sweatshirt somewhere and had to buy another. Then I found a gastropub I fell in love with. The name has totally escaped me now, but oh, this beef pie was ah. maze. ing. You could tell the stew under the puff pastry had been cooking all day, it was so full of flavor.

And, er. I’m hungry just writing this.

Still in Cork, and I venture a few doors down from my hotel to a little tea shop. It was packed with locals, so I knew it was good. (Yes, you can tell locals from tourists!) As usual, a regular Irish breakfast.

I still don’t know why we don’t have mushrooms and tomatoes at breakfast. This seems like a very good idea to me.

Also, I bought Kerrygold butter when I got home. It’s that good!

That, my friends, is fish and chips done right.

I have nothing else to say.

When I came into Killarney I couldn’t get into my hotel. Yet I had a backpack I was carrying around, and I was also exhausted. So I found the nearest pub, settled in to journal and then write. While I was there, I had potato leek soup and a ham and white bread sandwich.

Simple fare, but I could not have enjoyed it more. The soup was amazing, and I’ve decided to try it myself. It was so creamy, and had that light oniony, scalliony bite of the leeks. I know why this dish is traditional, but I also know why it is so loved!

And then I ate again, lol. Because my hotel room still wasn’t ready.

These mussels, though? So fresh, and when I asked, the manager of the bar said they’d been brought in just that morning from the coast. Which, in Cork, is barely 10 to 15 miles away. Can you imagine? Here in Michigan, mussels have to be frozen and shipped in. And though we have the great lakes, much of our fish is still frozen and shipped in. I adore the idea that you can eat fish caught just that morning. It’s common in so many places in the world–and yet a luxury for me. It is the type of thing that makes me wonder, what is common for me that is a luxury somewhere else?

Soooo… I might have gotten into the buffet at my hotel in Killarney. But really, baked beans and mushrooms and coffee and fruit? I could eat like this every day.

As long as someone else cooked it!

My last night in Killarney I stopped into a pub on the recommendation of my guide. I met a lovely gentleman, lean and tattooed and rough around the edges, but sweet as pie. Or Irish cream. A mason by trade, he had a smile a full mile wide. He was chatting with a couple from Holland on vacay who were there to learn English. Someone told them the best way to learn a language was to go where it was spoken and hang out in the pubs. So they did.

And there I was, chatting and laughing. And suddenly starving. So I ordered the local version of a surf and turf. I ate the whole thing–though I shared my chips (fries) with the mason.

That mason told me of a place to visit in Killarney that was his favorite. A grove of yew trees that were hundreds of years old. He said he was a recovering addict, and when he struggles, he walks to that place. To him, it is like wearing ear plugs. All of the world and the pain and the bustle is drowned out. All that is left his him and the yew trees and space to be.

My guide and I tried to find it, but we never did. I like to think it’s because it’s my mason’s special place, meant only for him.

That is an Irish coffee, made by my own hand during a food tour in Dublin. The guide walked us through every step of the way. I have to say, mine was perfect.

I’d give you the recipe, but then I’d have to kill you.

On my very last day in Ireland, I had my very favorite dish: coddle. It’s a stew with carrots, potatoes, sausage, rasher bacon…and that’s it. Still, it was so flavorful I asked the bartender what else it was seasoned with. The answer? Salt and parsley.

Now, this bartender was reluctant to serve it to me. I ordered it and he said it was unusual, I might not like it, was I sure? All I could think was, it’s coddle. It’s a local dish. Of course I want to try it–and if I don’t like it, my mama taught me to eat it anyway and pay my compliments to the chef.

I didn’t have to lie. I could have bathed in it.

Knowing what I do about food, it was the bacon and sausage that flavored the broth. It likely cooked for hours and hours, the spices and meat juices seeping into the potatoes and carrots, creating the depth of the broth. All I know is it was probably the simplest and best meal I at in all of Ireland.

Except maybe that potato and leek soup with the ham sandwich.

Just goes to show, simple is best.

Well, Here We Are In The Beverage Section

I drank everything from coffee to juice to gin to Guinness to a drink made with seaweed.


Speaking of Sophie’s at The Dean, here is their signature drink. The Sophie, of course.

Er. I might have paid the bartender 20 euro to give me the recipe, it was that good. We’ll see if I can recreate it.

This beverage has no name. I asked Cat, my bartender, to make me something yummy. This was made with Dingle gin, tonic, something elderberry-ish, and a bunch of dried fruits. Oh, if only I had this recipe too!

My first and only Guinness in Ireland

A Porter at The Hairy Lemon

An Americano (Espresso with water added)

An IPA from a local brewery in Cork

Water (See! I drank water!) on the train between Dublin and Cork

Something made with seaweed in Cork

I can’t for the life of me remember, but it was in Cork

An IPA (Irish Pale Ale) at a local pub in Killarney

Ravioli In Paris, Or The Beauty In Front Of You

I was doing some research this weekend, as authors constantly do. I needed to be in Paris, so I Google Mapped myself there.

As I was virtually walking down various streets, I came across the Rue de Rivoli. It caught my eye because I was in Paris in April 2016 and walked down that street. I giggled at the time. It reminded me of ravioli, and I thought how funny it was to have a Ravioli Street in Paris.

Then I remembered my actual walk down that street. I traveled it multiple times, as it borders some of the typical areas a tourist would visit. My first stroll down the rue was when I went to the Louvre, discovered it was closed on Tuesdays (why Tuesday?) so I couldn’t visit.

Me, upon discovery that the Louvre was closed.


It was the best thing that could have happened. Instead, I wandered through the Jardin des Tuileries, then over the Seine by way of the Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor footbridge, with its lovers’ locks clasped onto the railings.

Gentleman napping in the gardens.

Lover’s locks




During my second walk down the Rue de Rivoli, I was headed toward a fashion exhibit at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs. The museum is in the same building as the Louvre, though you can reach it from a separate entrance. The exhibit celebrated clothing from 1700 to the present day, and of course, I couldn’t resist.



But then I remembered something more from that day.

I was headed more or less west along the side of the building that houses the museums. Basically, from the back to the front, where you can enter the courtyard and see the huge glass pyramid.

Along that long, decorative wall of the old palace were tall windows, the rooms beyond hidden by curtains. In between, at odd intervals, were huge, ornate double doors.

And when I say huge, I mean huge. If you walk down the road using the map above, you will see the doors on your left, and the little tiny people in front of them.

For some reason, I loved the doors. I did not know where they lead to, but I could see soldiers spilling out in defense when the building was first a fortress, or later, those doors being thrown wide open for a ball during the days of the kings. Even guards during the French Revolution, when it first became a museum to display national treasures.


I remember I stopped walking and stared at those beautiful doors. Imagining. Dreaming.

A Frenchwoman—gorgeous, confident, and with heeled boots I would have killed for—continued to clip past me as I stood there. Dangling from her hand was a shopping bag, the square paper type you would find at a clothing store. She had an amazing leather jacket, neat and trim, over skin tight jeans, and long brown hair that reached nearly to her waist. In other words, I felt very much the silly American tourist in my sneakers and striped coat from Old Navy beside that lovely woman.

Still, as she passed, I pulled out my digital Nikon and snapped a picture of the doors. I was fascinated by their size, by the ornate face carved above and the designs embedded in them. Each dip and curve and exquisite carving was something out of the past that simply does not exist today. This is workmanship of the most delicate, intricate, talented kind. Created by artisans long forgotten, and probably not even fully appreciated at the time.

So many changes since then, I mused. The world is not the same. Art is not the same. This timeless, gorgeous piece of work sits here on the edge of a busy road, and no one sees it. Residents and tourists walk by, day after day, with their shopping bags or their briefcases or their cameras, and so many never notice the utter beauty, the history, right there beside them.

It made me sad to realize it. To know that the people who pass these doors everyday, or even tourists ready for a new experience, don’t actually see it.

I turned away, tucked my camera back in my bag, and continued toward the museum. A little heavier of heart.

Then I stopped again. Because the gorgeous woman with the high-heeled boots and the shopping bag was standing in front of the next set of doors. I remember specifically the way her head tipped back, because of the lovely fall of thick, straight, brown hair. Me and my thin, chin length bob were totes jelly.

She was looking at the doors. Not snapping a picture with her phone, not talking to anyone. She was just looking.

Was she seeing them for the first time, having passed by a hundred times before? Did she notice me, the silly tourist snapping a picture of the first door, and did it make her wonder about the next one? Does she understand the rich, wonderful history of her culture and country can be defined by that very door?

I do believe that if I had not stopped to study and imagine and dream at the first set of doors, she would not have stopped to look at the second set. And if she paused to look, she likely had never noticed the doors before.

Perhaps, with my small moment of wondering and dreaming, I was able to help someone see beauty that lives only a few steps away from their daily life.

And perhaps, by watching her, I learned to see the beauty that lives only a few steps away from my own life.

Adventures: On The Underground and About Town

For those of us growing up in the Midwest of the US, subways, undergrounds and mass transportation are just not a part of life. Sure, the downtown areas might have buses, and if you go to Chicago or Detroit, there are trains or subways. But where I live, everyone still has a car. If I didn’t have a car, I would have no way to get to work. Mass transportation just doesn’t come out to the rolling fields of farm country.

So imagine my terror of using the London Underground. Sure, everyone in London does. Sure, it’s clean, safe, easy—well, mostly. If you don’t have any idea where in the city you are, it’s a bit tricky to figure out the different lines. I can’t tell you how often I stood in a tube station for a good fifteen minutes staring at the map on the wall.

Or using this one:




Which made me really look like a tourist (as if the camera hanging around my neck didn’t do the trick), so sometimes I would surreptitiously used this one:




Which, as you can see, was well-loved and ended up in multiple pieces.

Still, navigating the Underground made me feel very independent. I got lost repeatedly, but I always found my way to my destination. Eventually I was competent enough switching lines at the stations that I fancied myself indeterminable from the locals.

Ha. The camera. And, really, I’m very American-ish. They picked me out without me having to say a word!

Anywhoodles, I was utterly terrified the first time I stepped onto the Underground. I kept reading signs that said “Mind The Gap”, and I thought for sure I would be the one to fall into the gap and get run over by a subway car.

Headline: Stupid American Author Didn’t Mind The Gap!

Newspaper headlines and overactive imagination notwithstanding, it was lovely to ride the tube and then change my mind regarding destination partway through the trip. Traveling alone means that if you decide to take a detour, there is no one to consult but yourself.


April 15, 2016
8:30 am

.               .               .

For now, it is time to put my big girl panties on and brave the Underground!

.               .               .

9:25 am
On the Underground

Apparently going the right direction.

I love the signs. “Mind the Gap” on the door. Also, there is an advert that says “Love Your Ladyparts. Text Ladyparts 2 to #####”.

What would happen if I texted Ladyparts 1?

.               .               .

4:00 pm
Chandos Pub
Trafalgar Square

The Underground—no idea why I was so scared! Easy-Peasy-1-2-3sy! Minus the fact that I switched trains and went the wrong direction. Oops. So it took me 3 stops to figure that out, at which point I got off, hemmed and hawed, then found my route.

But partway to Charring Cross for the National Portrait Gallery, I suddenly decided to go to Westminster. I mean, I was so close. [According to the very small map. Turns out when you shrink the city onto a 5¾ x 11½ inch piece of paper, things are not as close as they seem!] So I got off at the station, pulled out my map to figure out where I was.


DSC_0206I step out, and there was the bleepity-bleep Big Ben. OMG. It’s BIG. So I start to take pictures, walk around and Holy. Hell.

Westminster this moning was utterly divine. It was mostly cloudy, just shy of rain, in fact. The building was utterly amazing. The architecture was so detailed, so exquisite, it was nearly impossible to believe it was real. It was like looking at a fairytale building. Gargoyles, saints, crazy-pretty carvings.

First, who dreams this? Second, who builds it?




Crazy Pretty











That, my lovelies, was one of the thoughts that ran over and over in mind that morning. I thought not of the architect so much as the builders. The stonemasons. The carpenters. The laborers. The men who shifted stone into place, who fell from the highest heights—because you can’t tell me they were tied and buckled to the building. Someone had to have fallen to their death. For as many people who have trod the stones of Westminster, so, too, has blood been spilled there in the name of beauty.

I felt sort of like I was at the Beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast—minus the police and men with machine guns.



A bit off-putting, to say the least. [But as the first bombing in Brussels occurred just a few weeks before, Europe was on high alert.] And I’m sure they all thought I was nutty, snapping a selfie or otherwise taking pictures all across the building.

But there I was, totally nutters, wandering at a snail’s pace, zooming in on every bit of architecture I could. God, it was divine. Utterly, utterly divine. I can’t wait to look at the pictures.

Anyway, I wandered, snapped, wandered. Then I saw a building in the middle of Westminster that was clearly Middle Ages. Clearly. And the sign in front said “Open Daily.” Naturally, as it was a day, and I was here, and it was Medieval, I went. But more later on that.

First, I walked in a little park south of Westminster, took some selfies, met some pigeons.

DSC_0260 DSC_0261And I found some little white and yellow flowers. I took a picture. Why? Aside from the fact that they were pretty, in Hyde Park [the day before] I came across an Arabic woman probably about my age. She was taking a picture just as I passed. She said to me, a little sheepish, “They are pretty flowers.” And I said, “I thought the same thing this morning!” I had. I’d looked at them during my initial walk through the park and thought how pretty and cheerful they were.

So there we were, she and I. Me in my Old Navy clothes, windblown and sweaty, she in her traditional garb and with an English accent, both of us marveling over pretty yellow and white wildflowers. That’s a moment I’m not likely to forget soon. Continents apart, and yet human in the same way—we stopped to smell the flowers. Or take a picture, anyway.

It’s more or less the same thing when you think about how few people ever stop.

Later that day I toured the Medieval building, St. Margaret’s Cathedral, and the National Portrait Gallery (more later on all that, of course, as I’ve loads of history to share). When I left the NPG, I went to Chandos Pub on Trafalgar Square for a pint and to journal. I met a very nice man there at the counter next to me, who directed me to the Charring Cross subway station. It was, apparently, right on Trafalgar Square (which was actually a roundabout). If I just went counter-clockwise, I would find it.

Yeah. I went around the roundabout three times. In the pouring rain.

If I just went counter-clockwise… Pshaw.

Still, soaking wet or not, I will always remember the woman in Hyde Park. Have you ever met a kindred spirit? One that you just knew you’d met in another life? (Assuming there is such a thing, which I have yet to rule out). She and I looked down at those flowers and I knew we were kindred spirits, 3,700 miles apart.

Adventures: There are some that make me cry

Remember that trip to Europe? It wasn’t all fun and games. I laughed at myself, cried a bit, got in trouble with security guards, got lost—and was overwhelmed to the point of tears.


For those of us in the US who—like me—have never traveled beyond our own country (not including a couple of vacations in Caribbean resorts, which totally don’t count), you cannot possibly imagine the sheer enormity of standing in a spot others stood on 2,000 years ago. More, even. You can’t imagine what it is like to walk on the stone floor of a church that is 1,000 years old. How many other feet have touched those stones? Kings, princes, paupers, lepers. The Bubonic plague, the cholera epidemic. Wars, famine, the Middle Ages. THE MIDDLE AGES. Like, with swords and knights and fealty. Death, starvation, persecution.


All and more have happened in churches of every religion in every part of the world. It is simply that, for me, no church in my own country has existed more than 400-500 years. And those that did—Native American structures—are not plentiful.


So. This post is not about religion. I don’t care what religion anyone is, and any comment that strikes me as bigotry will be deleted.


What this post is about is history. Tradition. Connection. It’s sitting in silence beneath soaring stone ceilings, knowing that you are sitting in the same place another woman sat a thousand years ago. A woman who lived, died, bore children. Who made her own soap, slaughtered her own feed. One who probably buried one or more children, and possibly one or more husbands. A woman who got up at dawn to feed the fire and mended her children’s clothes by the light of a candle late at night. A woman who didn’t have aspirin or band-aids, skinny jeans or margaritas. (Because let’s get real about the important things in life.)


I left the V&A Museum on my first day in London, passed by a beautiful church with a gate standing open. Beyond that were heavy, carved, wooden doors.


I went in.


And I cried, sitting there in the silence of the church, basking in a single ray of light through a stained glass window while I contemplated an altar made of gilt and gold and marble.


Brampton Oratory Wikipedia Commons - Public Domain Credit: dcaster

Brampton Oratory
Wikipedia Commons – Public Domain
Credit: dcaster

April 14, 2016
The Oratory


I’m sitting in almost utter silence.


I’m in the Oratory, in a ray of light.


The only ray of light.


To my right is the most stunning depiction of Mary & Christ. Gilt and gold, marble and huge and carved. I have never seen anything like it. I cannot take a photo [per the rules]—but even if I could, I’m not sure I would. It’s somehow too beautiful to be photographed. It shall have to stay in my memory.


There are others wandering here, all quiet. It is like every one of us is holding our breath.


 A man just bought a candle, using another to light it. He is praying, as so many thousands have done before. And so many have died for that right. So many have died because of it.


Yet, as I sit here in my sunlight, watching it fade away, I cannot help but think about all the souls that have walked these floors, breathed this air, felt this silence.


There is something peaceful and precious in these walls, whatever religion it is.


Tradition. Love. Respect. History. Whatever else might be part of religion, there are also those four things.


The ceilings here simply soar, domed, high, painted and mosaicked. There is a loveliness that defies the imagination—and a beauty as well, that shocks the soul and draws it in. The corners with saints to pray to, for confessions, for quiet reflection. Each is as interesting and detailed as the last. The memorial to fallen soldiers 1914-1919 features a pieta-type statue that holds so much sadness—and yet grace and peace. I hope those soldiers found grace and peace.



Peace and reflection can only happen in certain places, when the soul is open and ready for it. I was ready for it, as I was again a few days later on Hampstead Heath. (A later post, my dears).


When you travel somewhere alone, somewhere unknown and without friends, you are so much more open to new experiences and new feelings than you are at home while in the familiar. I sat in the church for a half hour, doing nothing but looking. Respecting. Feeling. I can understand the magnitude of faith, of dying for faith. I can almost hear the voices of the thousands of people who have sat there before me. Of those that have come before. Of those that have gone before me.


Almost as if they were still there.



I’ve stepped outside now into noise and bustle again. Cars, people, buses—so much life.


Yet I find myself wanting to step back inside and think about those I’ve lost.


May all of you find peace and grace.

Adventures: An Afternoon At The Museum

Adventures of an Author in Europe: If you haven’t read the beginning of my adventures, you can start here.

After my little foray into Hyde Park, and going around and around the same roundabout a few times, I finally got to the Victoria & Albert Museum. Of course, as per usual, I was very loud when I walked in. Why? Because as security was checking my bag for explosives (Europe was on high alert after Brussels) I was looking around for the ticket counter.

Me: Where do I buy a ticket?
Security: There are no tickets.
Me: [very loudly] You mean, it’s free? I can just come in and wander around for as long as I want?
Security: Yeah. Don’t get lost.
Me: [even louder] Oh, this is going to be GREAT.

And just imagine my squeal of delight when the very first room I see is the historical fashion display.

Oh, oh, oh, it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen—except maybe for the Three Centuries of French Fashion exhibit I saw a few days later in Paris. We’ll get to that. But first, the fashion.

I took pictures of Every. Single. Item. Far away shots. Close up shots. I looked at stitching on hems and gloves so closely I fogged the glass. I can’t possibly put every picture here or describe every item, but I have so much fodder for future historical clothing blog posts my heart goes pitter-pat just thinking about it.






And when I found the extant stays, I literally shouted “Stays!” and made the people around me laugh.








What makes me so excited? Certainly I can look at historical fashion books where the details are enlarged and I don’t have to fog the glass. The V&A also has a lot of images online, which I’ve used for research purposes in the past. I’ve seen some of these items already.

But it’s not the same. It’s just not. You can’t understand sizing, texture, color from a photograph. The people of the past really were smaller than us. I kept thinking the men were the same size I was, and some of the women’s gowns seemed impossibly small. And some impossibly large!


How the heck do you sit in that?














The shoes were much narrower than I expected. No way would my big ol’ wide feet get in them.

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The fans were exquisite in their detail, and I could just imagine a workman standing over them with a teeny-tiny paintbrush. My eyes hurt just thinking of it.

The other reason I love fashion exhibits like this—and why I like antiques in general—is because someone wore those clothing. They woke up one morning, put on their undergarments just like we do, then their outergarments, then their accessories. They lived their life, just like we do now. Just because their clothes and society were different doesn’t mean they didn’t laugh and love and cry. More, they came before. Who we are now is because of who they were then. Every day of my life is built on the days and lives of others no longer here, but who left a legacy.


DSC_0111 DSC_0109And when I see those gowns and morning jackets and horrifically narrow shoes, I think of where they wore them, and what they did in them, and how their actions shaped my life. Maybe some statesman drafted a world-altering law while wearing that jacket. Maybe the woman carrying this parasol fought for women’s equality.


Or maybe they lived, married, bore children, touched the lives of others, and left a legacy in that way.

OK, so now that I have waxed poetic about historical figures, on to the marble statuary and jewelry sections!

IMG_20160414_122412I took lots of pictures of the marble statues because I find it interesting to know what people looked like in the past (see me waxing poetic above). Put a face to the name, so to speak. And because marble is so white and pure, there is something both sad and beautiful about them, even when the faces are smiling.


Now, onward and upward! On the second floor of the V&A was a really cool room full of jewelry. The room was dark, with lights only on the jewelry so they sparkled in the cases. It was almost like walking into a night club—dim, dark floors, dark walls, with the flash and blink of lights here and there. Naturally, I start to take pictures, and what do I hear?

“Ma’am, no photography. Ma’am. MA’AM!”

I was busy photographing and didn’t hear him at first.

“MA’AM, there’s no photography!”

Oops. Turns out there was a really big sign next to me that said NO PHOTOGRAPHY.

So I apologized profusely, stumbled on my words, stumbled on my feet. And the security guard/porter—we shall call him Fred to protect his identity—came over to tell me about the display I was stupidly photographing. It was the Townsend Jewel Collection, which had once contained the Hope Diamond. [Fred the Porter thought it was interesting that the Americans got the Hope Diamond and Britain got the rest]. The jewels were arranged in a swirling circle, with the hardest jewels in the middle (diamonds) fading to the softest on the outside (opals, etc.). They were also stunningly beautiful! So wish I could have posted a picture, but I think the one I took might be slightly illegal.

Fred the Porter then showed me their computer system and how I can view all of the items in the jewelry collection online. (GO HERE AND DROOL) Then he filled my head with fact upon fact upon fact about stones. He was a font of information, and I was a willing listener. A few of those facts are in my journal entry below.

The conversation then briefly drifted to history, the discovery of the Americas, and a few other subjects I’ve forgotten now. It was fascinating to get the world view of a man so enamored of stones and gems. He was my first of many interesting conversationalists on the trip! And if you ever are so lucky as to go to the V&A and find Fred (which of course you can’t, because I changed his name), ask him to tell you about the stones. The V&A couldn’t have picked a more perfect person to guard them!

Obviously, I have no pictures of the jewelry except a couple of illegal ones I took before Fred the Porter stopped me and we had our lovely conversation. But I can tell you that aside from famous jewels, there were displays going as far back as Ancient Greece. There were lover’s eye brooches, French chatelaines, 1970’s bangles, gorgeous medieval girdles, tiaras worn by princesses, death rings—oh, how I wish I could have taken pictures!

But at least I know—thanks to Fred the Porter—that I can see these all online!




April 14, 2016 3:30 pm
Courtyard of the V&A

I have now been here 4 hours! I think I’ve seen everything now but the paying exhibits.



IMG_20160414_155911 IMG_20160414_130324I’m sitting in the central courtyard at the little wading pool. There are perhaps ten children running and splashing and shrieking. I find myself wanting to join them, though I fancy the American would be taken up as crazy. [I took the pictures after the kids left to protect them.]


Since I left the fashion area, I’ve seen many marble statues and took pictures. Busts, statues in the classical style and a few funeral pieces that were at once a celebration of life and so very sad. The girl on the couch had the most lovely poem on the side of her statue.

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And the Finch family effigies, with father and mother, and the names of all twelve children was very interesting. It was commission when he died, but his died a decade later. What must it be like to look on your husband’s cold stone face every day?

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Then I found the jewelry. Oh. My. God. From Ancient Greece to 2000. I also got yelled at for taking pictures. Stupid American! But Fred and I spent a pleasant half hour discussing jewelry and history and the Americas and all sorts of things.

Notes from the jewelry collection:

The Townsend jewels; part of the Hope Collection.
The Londenderry jewels brought back from India
The green stones (chrysoprase?) that were for Charlotte’s wedding day
A rough cut green diamond – green from radiation a billion years ago
Death and love rings from the Middle ages
Tiaras from the 1800s
Steel that was intricate and black


Apparently much of the collection is online. Just need to find the jewelry page.

Also, Fred the Porter said that we are part of the earth, and all of the things inside stones—iron, magnesium, oxygen, radiation—they are all part of the earth as well. I would add they are all also part of the Universe, as are we.

Oh, and when tourmaline gets hot, it creates and electrical shock. They used to use them in Geiger counters!

After jewelry I looked at silver and gold stuff, mostly religious, but then I found the portrait gallery. I only spent about 15 minutes there, taking pictures of anything from my time period so that I can study hair and clothing. [That shall be a historical blog post for another day!]

Then I found the tapestries! My God, they were huge. 20 feet tall? 40 feet wide? More? They were from the 1500’s, mostly religious in nature. So intricately woven they were amazing. [Another post for another day—but these things were COOL].

Oh, and I bought a book about underwear. 🙂 All historical. 1500s to 2000 it seems. £10

Now I shall look at the architecture in the courtyard, watch the children, drink my water and figure out where to go next. The temperature is dropping and I’m starving. And tired as well. My poor feet! [Remember, I had walked Hyde Park that morning too!]

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There you go then. My Afternoon at the Museum.

But it wasn’t the end of my day. I made another stop that brought me to tears. You’ll have to wait for that one, though. (How’s that for a cliffhanger?)