Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Day 19: Victorians and Highwaymen


RANDOMOSITIES

Huge difference in riding the tube on a Monday morning vs. a Saturday night. Lots of suits and skirts clutching Kindles or newspapers instead of drunks clutching bottles.

Hounslow Heath is in London, but with all the green, you'd swear you weren't in the city anymore. No wonder highwaymen roamed this area.

Today I learned that Southwark is pronounced "suth-ock." Huh. Go figure.

For only the 2nd time on our entire trip, it rained today. But just for a little while. And really, what's London without rain?

Smoking is a lot more trendy here than at home. I haven't seen an ashtray in years, but they're on most tables outside of pubs and restaurants in London.

English mustard is a kick in the head.

TIMELINE

8:30 Hit the tube, bound for St. Mary Woolnoth Church.

9:30 Spend some quiet time in the middle of a noise city at the church where John Newton pastored.

10:45-12:30 Attend a Victorian London Walk (guided tour).

12:30-1:30 Tour the Old Operating Theater (oldest remaining surgical theater from the late 1700's).

1:30-2:30 Wander around and eat LOTS of food at the Burrough (pronounced burr-ah) Market, which is the oldest market in London, dating back to the 1100s.

2:30-5:30 Travel to a completely different type of market -- the high-end Bond Street area, where we didn't buy any Prada or Cartier, but I did manage to score a new book at Hatchard's, the oldest operating bookstore in London.

5:30-8:00 Head up to Hounslow Heath and dine at the Spaniard's Inn, in operation since the 1500's and known hang-out for highwayman Dick Turpin and his gang.

9:00 Return exhausted to our lodging and try to cram everything into our suitcases.

THOUGHTS

Today was one of the biggest highlights of my time in London. Taking time out of our busy schedule to sit in Reverend John Newton's church and pray was priceless. This is the church I set a few scenes in A HEART DECEIVED, so seeing it in person was a treat. Was it how I imagined? The outside, yes. The inside, mostly, except it was much more ornate than I expected.

If you ever get a chance to go on a London Walk, do it. Our guide was fantastic. Had I known, I would've done a walk every day. It was an hour and a half of sheer historic informational bliss where I learned tidbits such as most people didn't name their kids until they reached 5 years old because of the high infant/child mortality rate. This area (Southwark) was where Charles Dickens would walk the streets late at night as inspiration/ideas for his novels. 

The old operating theater was great. If you've got an interest in medicine, this is the place to go. The lecture on how surgery was performed was explicit, so it's not for the squeamish. I loved it.

As we were eating dinner tonight (a traditional plate of scrumptious bangers and mash), it dawned on me that I haven't cooked a meal in nearly 20 days. That is a record, folks. I've been responsible to get dinner on the table since I was 15, so this really has been quite the vacation.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Day 18: When New and Old Collide


RANDOMOSITIES

You could seriously spend hours upon hours at the Spitalfields Markets. We cruised through it in half an hour, but even so, I managed to put a dent in my pocketbook with a new purse and a few souvenirs for my girls.

Another history-in-your-face moment: Walking past skyscrapers and looked down a little alley. Tucked away was a tiny brick house (like in the movie Up), so we investigated. Turns out it was the 1600's birthplace of Susanna Wesley (mother to Charles & John, founders of the Methodists).

As much as I'd love to live in England, London would probably be my last choice. My impression? A big, dirty city with pockets of super cool historical stuff.

TIMELINE

10:00 Hit the tube for day two of our London adventure. First stop is the Spitalfields Market.

11:30 Queue up for the Dennis Sever's Museum.

1:00 Leave the museum for lunch. Japanese this time. 

2:00 Stroll the old Victorian streets of Spitalfields.

3:00 Tour the Imperial War Museum.

5:00 Eat dinner at The George Inn, an old coaching inn.

6:30-8:00 Attend a Gospel service at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

THOUGHTS

My biggest time warp today was visiting the Dennis Severs Museum, a very unique place. The premise is that you're "in" the painting, not just looking at one. The sign on the front door claims that beyond the door dwells the 8th century silk master Mr. Gervais and family. As you enter, they leave. As you leave, they enter. Although you never actually see them, you share their world. It's a silent museum, meaning no talking, because they play sounds in the background as if it's 1800. Each room has it's own smells, and it's completely set up for the time period, down to real candlelight and coal burning in the hearth. I loved it.

I didn't, however, love the Imperial War Museum. Oh, it's okay, but I was hoping for a complete history of war, not just a focus on WWI up to contemporary times. Apparently middle-aged men love it, though, because the place was swarming with them.

For dinner we had a traditional beef pie at The George Inn. Yummo! And even though it sounds like we're porking out like little horkers, I can honestly say this is the first vacation where I'll be going home with looser pants than when I came. The amount of walking we've done is phenomenal.

We attended an evening Gospel service at Charles Spurgeon's church, which has been around since the 1600's (not the building, though). I expected straight-laced Brits with stoic expressions eyeing us as we walked in. Not so. Oh, they were pretty conservative in their suits and dresses, but very friendly. In fact, I doubt a visitor at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis (my church) would've received a better welcome.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Day 17: Mind the Gap



RANDOMOSITIES

So close, but we didn't hit 3k miles . . . only around 2900.

The tube is really hot and frequently crowded. And just a bit smelly. C'mon people, ever hear of soap?

Looking at a Hogarth in a book is nothing like seeing the real deal up close and personal.

How can so much history be packed into so tiny a place?

London on a Saturday night reminds me a lot of York on a Saturday night.

Is getting drunk and stumbling around on the street a new trend or what?

TIMELINE

10:00 AM After a lovely full English breakfast, we packed up and headed for Heathrow to return the car.

11-12:30 Figure out how to use the tube and lug our baggage across London.

1:00 Dropped off our bags and headed out for an adventure. First stop: the John Soanes Museum.

4:00 Next stop: the British Museum.

5:30 Yes, we really did the British Museum in an hour an a half. Walked down to Bow Street, of Bow Street Runner fame.

6:00 Strolled past Drury Lane, as in the theater district. On a whim, purchased tickets for a show.

6-7:30 Ate dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant.

7:30-10 PM See Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

10-11:00 PM Ride the freak train, I mean the tube, back to our lodgings.

THOUGHTS

We returned our rental car today without any mishaps -- unlike the poor buddy in front of us who accidentally put unleaded fuel instead of diesel into his car. That's a 500 pound charge. Ouch.

It was oddly comforting to be on a shuttle with a bunch of Americans. I didn't have to listen quite so hard to what was being said. Don't get me wrong. I love a British accent as much as the next hot-blooded American girl. It just takes a bit of concentration sometimes to understand, and I didn't realize how much until I didn't have to concentrate. Savvy?

A few highlights of today were seeing the for-real-not-even-kidding-you paintings of Hogarth's The Rake's Progress at the John Soanes Museum, and then laying eyes on the magistrate's court at Bow Street. Not your usual tourist attractions, but who wants to do usual?

While eating dinner, I looked out the window and lo and behold. What did I see? A plaque on the wall directly across the street. Apparently that's the building where Thomas de Quincy wrote Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Yep. Right there. Bam! History in my face.

As you may have noticed in my timeline, Mark and I went to the theater tonight, and it was a musical. I know. I hear you. "But you HATE musicals! You said you'd rather poke big holes in your eardrums with a fork." Yes, I admit I have said that, and it still holds true, but this was at the Theater Royal Drury Lane. Sheesh! You don't get more authentic theater than that. The sets were freaking amazing with a side of awesome sauce, which made up for all the singing. Plus, there was a fair amount of dialogue, so don't judge me.

Can we pause here a moment and talk about modesty? As if women running around in tights isn't bad enough, do you know what they have on the streets of London? Urinals. Like, out in the open, with no doors. Guys just whipping out their . . . wait a minute, there might be children present. Exactly! THERE MIGHT BE CHILDREN PRESENT! What the heck? Who's idea was the whole let's-let-men-pee-in-plain-sight movement? It's wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Want to know how I really feel?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Day 16: Nelson and Austen



RANDOMOSITIES

It's my first-born's 28th birthday today . . . his first birthday that I've missed. Frowny face.

My cartoon bubble of the Chunnel was just a big ol' tunnel you drive through. Not so. Apparently you drive onto a train, and the train takes all the cars through the tunnel.

Drove through the New Forest . . . new as in it was established with William the Conquerer.

Got stopped on road--by a roaming band of donkeys. Okay, so they weren't really roaming. They were completely stopped, and urging them with the horn didn't help.

Naval ships of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were absolute beasts.

Not going to lie--it really was a time warp to walk the halls of Jane Austen's home.

TIMELINE

7:30-9:30 Map out our London visit complete with which tubes & stops to take for our upcoming weekend, plus drink some very good coffee at our friends' home.

9:30-11:30 Drive south down to the coast near Brockenhurst.

Noon-2:00 Tour the Buckler's Hard Maritime Museum.

2:30 Leave for Chawton, Jane Austen's home.

4:30 After touring Jane's home, take tea at a sweet little cafe across the street from her house.

6:30 Find our authentic old inn in Old Windsor and have a fantastic pub dinner.

THOUGHTS

Buckler's Hard sounds like a goofy-butt made-up name to me . . . until I learned the meaning. A hard is a formation of land that makes a natural landing for a ship. Buckler was the name of a local family. Put them together and Buckler's Hard was a shipbuilding area, but not just any shipbuilding area. The place where Admiral Lord Nelson's ships were built, those that kept Napoleon from invading England. Pretty impressive.

The museum itself is a bit overwhelming with poster upon poster of hundreds of years of history. There are also a few recreated rooms to visit as well. But what really brought this visit to life was a historical re-enactor, who played the role of one of the ship builders. This guy was a wealth of information, pacing out how large the ships would've been on the grassy area. He recommended further reading (I bought Billy Ruffian by David Cordingly) and told tales from the late 1700's all the way up to WWII. My advice if you're visiting this site is to seek out the costumed volunteer and get a free education.

We drove back through the "New" Forest up to Chawton. Just the mention of that town usually gives Austenites a thrill. It's a cute little town, but what really inspired me was seeing Jane Austen's writing table. It was small, about 3' round, with a simple quill pen, bottle of ink, and plain wooden chair. That's where she penned Mansfield Park and Emma and edited Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. What author wouldn't be in awe of seeing that?

There were many artifacts from the Austen family plus period costumes that BBC actors/actresses have worn in productions. There were dress up clothes to transform yourself and a little craft in the kitchen area where you could make your own lavender sachet. The site closes relatively early (4:30) so I wasn't able to really peruse the gift store at the end, but that's okay since I bought a new Austenesque book in Bath. Jo Baker's Longbourne, which is the retelling of Pride & Prejudice from the servants POV.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Day 15: Low to High


RANDOMOSITIES

Did Britain hit a great sale on speed bumps or what?

Smuggling began and became so prolific because of a continual increased rate of taxes. Hmm. Nothing new under the sun, eh?

I'm about halfway through my copy of Dracula that I picked up in Whitby. Creepy! It's even more creepy because now that I've visited the area, I have a more vivid image of the scenes in mind.

Wow. People are really good at parallel parking around here. Maybe because they drive toy cars.

Inland, there are seagulls in the farmers fields. Shouldn't they be eating fish out in the sea?

TIMELINE

9:00 am. Eat breakfast at a little cafe in Hastings town centre then tour the Smugglers Adventure.

Noon Travel farther down the coast to find an old coaching road that's now used for hiking.

2:00-4:00 Hike the countryside. Crest a huge hill and we're able to see the ocean far off.

4:00 Leave for Cheam, where we'll reconnect with old friends and stay the night.

THOUGHTS

Dear British Women, I'm here to kindly educate you on the difference between leggings and tights. Leggings can be worn as pants, but tights? Umm . . . nope. It's awkward for me to know you're wearing a lacy thong and/or flowery print underpants. Tights are for skirts or dresses, girls. Lesson over.

Now that we've got that straightened out, let's move on to clearing up the meaning of an old nursery rhyme. Today while touring deep down in the caves in Hastings, I learned that Little Bo Peep is a commentary on smuggling.
Little Bo Peep (the Revenue men)
has lost her sheep (the smugglers)
and doesn't know where to find them (because they've scattered).
Leave them alone and they'll come home,
dragging their tails behind them (tails were tubs, where the contraband was hidden).

We traded the damp darkness of a cave for the fresh air of an old coaching road, and we couldn't have asked for a better day weather-wise. Sunny with a breeze. Perfect for a few hours of hiking in the countryside. Except for the occasional buzz of a chainsaw or plane overhead, it was easy to imagine what it might've been like for a coach to have traveled this part of the country. Not very comfortable, that's for sure. About as comfortable as my smoking thighs after we climbed the top of a whopping big hill.

One of the biggest highlights of this trip is reconnecting with old friends. Lucie and Martyn Payne (note that last name...which I use for my heroine in my upcoming release Brentwood's Ward) welcomed us into their home with fantastic fellowship and food. Lucie even made a legit dessert. Yes, chocolate. Yes, scrumptious. And Martyn is a wealth of information in giving me even more ideas for what to see and do in London, plus how and what to cluster together. Hmm. I might need a shoehorn to cram in even more, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Moral of the story: it's best if you can find someone familiar with London to help you plan a London trip.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Day 14: There Be Smugglers Afoot


RANDOMOSITIES

Hahaha! We're not the only idiot drivers on the road. There are signs around Dover reminding people to drive on the left. Also noticed that beginning drivers have a big ol' "L" magnet stuck onto their car to warn you to watch out.

English schoolchildren look so dapper in their school uniforms.

Umm . . . there are palm trees on the beach at Folkestone. #isthisflorida

I love all the old ladies out walking in their skirts and sensible shoes.

How much fish and chips can a man eat? I dunno, but Mark's on a mission to set a world record, so I'll get back to you on that one.

Judging by the texts I've been receiving, I'll be going home to a house full of broken appliances and angry people. Shouldn't adult children be able to figure things out and get along?

TIMELINE

9:00 a.m. Leave Deal behind and travel farther down the coast to Rye.

9:30 a.m. Stopped at the Battle of Britain Memorial. It's so hard to imagine the sky full of German bombers trashing this beautiful countryside.

11:00 Arrive in Rye and walk around the town.

Noon Eat lunch at The Mermaid Inn, in operation since the 14th century.

1-2:30 Tour the Rye Museum/Ypres Tower (which was a prison, built in the 12th century).

2:30 Have a brownie and some shortbread at Simon the Pie Man.

3:00-6:30 Walk around Hastings. Tour the Shipwreck Museum and the Fisherman's Museum.

7:00 Find our lodgings, then go out exploring the 5 miles of a neighborhood nature center.


THOUGHTS
 
Rye is a cute little town, liked it better than Hastings. Teeny tiny streets -- as in freakishly narrow, even by English standards -- many of them cobbled with rocks. It's a smuggling town, leastwise it was. We ate lunch at The Mermaid Inn, where the Hawkhurst Gang used to meet and plan their naughty adventures. Loved the old graffiti carved into the hearth mantle. 

I knew the Shipwreck Museum in Hastings would be small, but even so, it's packed with a lot of information. One of the more interesting shipwrecks just off the coast was a Dutch ship that had been bound for America during the Civil War. Had it reached there, a huge shipment of guns would've been delivered to the south. Hmm. Wonder if that would've changed anything.

I'm also surprised that so many ships are wrecked so near to land. Yeah, I know. I'm not well-versed in nautical type stuff, but I figured if a ship's going to go under, it's going to be way out in the middle of the ocean. Not so. Not only are rocks dangerous, but sandbars.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Day 13: Romans to Nazis (almost)


RANDOMOSITIES

Hey, Premier Inn, either offer free wifi or don't. Your evil scheme of luring unsuspecting prey by offering only 30 free minutes doesn't work. It merely makes your customers cranky.

KFC is thriving internationally. I've seen more here than at home.

I'm hearing a lot of French in Dover. 

Can't see the coast of France. Too hazy.

TIMELINE

9:00  a.m. Depart for Dover Castle.

10:30 a.m. Take a side trip to Brentwood. Why? What's so special about that little town? My new release in January is titled Brentwood's Ward, silly rabbit.

Noon-4:30 Tour every possible nook and cranny of Dover Castle.

4:30-6:30 Walk the white cliffs of Dover.

7:00 Find our Air BnB in Deal.

7-8:30 Stroll through Deal's town centre.

THOUGHTS

Lest you think that a man trap is a bottle-bleached blonde in a leopard print body suit, I'm here to set the record straight. Back in the late 1700's, early 1800's, hunting in most places was illegal. The landowner wanted to keep as much game as possible so his hunting buddies could come have a good time each autumn. It was the gamekeeper's job to make sure a wealth of furry little mammals and/or feathered friends were available, and poachers were his arch enemy. So a gamekeeper would set man traps. Think bear trap but without the sharp pointy teeth when it snaps shut. Even so, it would likely break your leg or cripple you for life. You'd be stuck until the gamekeeper came along to haul you off to the magistrate, where you'd either receive a sentence of getting shipped off to America or Australia (depending on the year) or a simple form of capital punishment, like getting hung. Moral of the story: say no to poaching.

What a stupid idea to walk the stupid white cliffs of stupid Dover. Why? I hate heights, and Mark is a daredevil, creeping me out by going to the very edge. Okay, so maybe he was a few feet away, still I almost threw up my Hobnobs. 

Speaking of Hobnobs, I've become addicted. They're called biscuits, which are really cookies in disguise, and taste kind like big, fat graham crackers. We've been through 2 packs since last week.

I visited Dover Castle once when I came over in 2000. It's changed. They've redone inside the tower with period pieces. I am amazed at the color. Why do I always think of the medieval period in black and white?

Anyways, this castle is rich with history, dating back to the 1st century Romans. King Henry was the noble who really got things rolling with the tower. The tunnels were dug during Napoleon's time and expanded during WWII.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Day 12: The Workhouse: Living on the Streets Might Be a Better Choice


RANDOMOSITIES

Getting from point A to point B requires a lot of zigzagging from road to road, unlike at home, hopping on I35 and driving straight from Minnesota to Texas.

It's so weird to be driving along la-de-da-de-dah and blammo! There's a castle.

Note to self: find out what the heck a verge is. Apparently there are soft ones on the road we travelled.

A 32 oz. bottle of water at the beginning of a 4 hour trip is a bad idea. There are no rest stops in this country. Instead, there's a thing called a Lay By, which is really just a place for 3 or 4 cars to pull over and park. Sometimes there's a food cart parked there for snacks, but no bathrooms.

Seriously . . .  could road signs get any smaller? Isn't the point for drivers to be able to actually see them?

I have seen zero school buses. Parents walk their kids to school. Imagine. No, not the junior or senior highers. They walk in herds or take the city bus.

I love how the all the horse trailers are marked with the word "Horses" . . . as if a passerby might get confused and think that elephants were being transported to and fro.

TIMELINE

8:30-10:00 Take a last stroll on the wall around York and grab breakfast at a bike/coffee shop (which felt a lot like home).

10-2:00 Long drive to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.

2-5:00 Tour the workhouse and farm.

5:00 Drive to Ipswich to find our lodging for the night - not an Air BnB this time. A "for real" hotel.

7:30 Dinner at a cute little pub called The Beagle. The construction timbers are so old that there are worm holes in them.

THOUGHTS

Welfare has been around for a long time. Gressenhall Workhouse was built in 1777 as a means to provide a place for the poor to stay until they found work. The thing is, though, that if you were able to find work, you would've already found it. So mostly it was a huge warehouse of ill, old, unwed mothers, or unwanted kids. Sure, it provided a roof and a meager amount of bread, cheese and ale, but your freedom was limited. You became a number in the system, and your life was pretty much dictated by the whims of the guardian of the workhouse. Gressenhall was one of the better ones, but still, it was no Hilton.

As we walked around the farm, I was struck by how much alike England and Minnesota are (in the summer, of course). It was like taking a walk at home. Am I disappointed? Nope. Not at all. It will make it easier to write scenes more realistically.

Question: Do people over here not wash their faces? No, this isn't a commentary on the state of the great unwashed. I'm simply wondering where in the world all the washcloths are? I thought maybe it was an oversight on the part of all the Air BnBs we've been staying at, but this is the second hotel we've been in with nary a washcloth in sight. That's what I use to wash my face. Am I a freak or what?

I've also discovered that perhaps our great dessert debacle of a few evenings ago had to do with a miscommunication problem. Sheesh. I speak English, only English, come to think of it, but some of the words have completely different meanings over here. Apparently I should've been looking for puddings. When I think pudding, I think custardy goodness that goes into a pie filling, not as a catch-all phrase for dessert. My prize for figuring this out was a fantastic warm and gooey brownie with ice cream on top.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Day 11: Yes, More Vikings . . . Don't Make Me Get Out My Battle Axe


RANDOMOSITIES

Vikings didn't fool around, as evidenced by the cracked skulls I saw today.

Though English people are friendly, they sure don't give way on the sidewalk.

People around here walk everywhere, way different than at home.

Pet Peeve #57: When I visit a historical site and am told no picture-taking is allowed...only to find out at the end of the tour there happens to be a $10 picture book for sale. Yeah, antiquity must be preserved, but I don't think an iPhone is going to destroy a piece of furniture no matter how old it is.

York is the birthplace of 3 English chocolate companies: Cadbury, Terrys and Rowntrees.

The cute little old lady guide at the Fairfax House completely surprised me when she explained that Georgian-era ladies often went commando. What the what?! How did that sweet little senior know what commando means?!

Whatever Chicken 65 is, it's fantastic stuff. Google a recipe. I will when I get home.

TIMELINE

9:30 Leave to tour Jorvik Viking Centre (grab some breakfast on the way).

10-noon Read every possible placard in the Viking centre.

Noon-2:00 Tour the Fairfax House, a Georgian era home.

2-2:45 Eat some fantastic Indian fusion lunch.

2:45-6:45 Walk the entire city, every nook and cranny, from the castle museum to York Minster, and all around the walls (except for one little section because it was dusk and they were closing it).

7:00 Return back to our lodging and collapse with a bottle of Ampleforth Abbey Cider, a traditional North Yorkshire Cider. My dogs are barking.

THOUGHTS

Today we left behind the car and walked. And walked. Oh yeah, did I mention walked? Nine freaking hours. Not even exaggerating, and not counting the 45 minutes we sat down for lunch. Good thing I bought those new Teva hiking shoes for this adventure. Not only comfortable, but waterproof . . . though today rain wasn't an issue. A single sunbeam climbing in through the window woke me up. 

If you're not seriously into Vikings, Jorvik Viking Centre probably isn't worth your money. Then again, if you are into Vikings, it's a somewhat touristy-type attraction the way it's set up, complete with a ride that takes you through the reinvented streets of Jorvik. I was disappointed I couldn't take pictures (not allowed) but pleased to see so many archeological remains on display. The skeletons with the slices in the ribs and femurs, skulls cracked like walnuts, shaved off shoulder bones, and hacked spines were sobering. 

I learned a ton of stuff at the Fairfax Townhome about Georgian-era life. Don't worry. I won't make you sit in on a two hour lecture. Here are a few highlights:

- Silverware was placed on the table facing downward so that the maker's mark or family crest could be seen stamped on the back as a matter of prestige. Big show-offs.

- One of their delicacies was baby eels served in a mound of gelatin. Eew! Looked like something that came out of my dog when she had worms. Sorry for the visual.

- Tea was shipped from China in porcelain bowls, teapots, figurines, yada-yada, to protect the tea from moisture and/or rats or whatever else might damage it. The tea was super expensive. The beautiful china not so much. Today that's flip-flopped and the tea is the cheap product whereas the old china is expensive.

Beeswax candles were used in public rooms (like the sitting room or dining room) because they didn't smoke. Other rooms used tallow.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Day 10: Jane Eyre vs. Dracula


RANDOMOSITIES

This is it, our half-way mark. We leave for home in 10 more days, which is probably a good thing because my head is going to explode from so much history crammed into every available space.

There's no better place to be stuck in traffic than in York.

I am always amused when I see a red telephone booth out in the middle of nowhere with a real working phone inside. Do farmers not have cell phones or what?

The moors are like being on a different planet . .  except for the sheep. I didn't expect free-ranging sheep around here.

Biking on a thickly fogged moor rood is a bad idea. Don't panic. Wasn't me.

Fog billows, like a grey curtain in the wind.

It's shocking how full cemeteries are. Tombstone upon tombstone. I suppose thousands of years of history will do that for you.

I have nothing but the highest respect for all the lorry drivers in England. Well done, you little champions!

TIMELINE

10:30 AM Leave for the Ryedale Folk Museum. Yeah, it's a late start, but my driver was tired and I figured I'd better let him sleep in.

Noon-2:00 Tour the museum then leave for Whitby. Drive across the North Yorkshire Moor.

3-5:00 Nose around in Whitby, mostly gawking at the abbey. Note: don't take pictures of the tombstones in the graveyard. Oops.

5-6:00 Explore Robin Hood's Bay.

7:30 Arrive back in York and go in search of some chocolate. 

10:00 Dessert in this town is nonexistent. Return back to our Air Bnb with a grocery store cake.

THOUGHTS

We drove through the North Yorkshire Moor on a perfectly misty and foggy afternoon. Soooo Jane Eyre! The sad part is the roadkill - dead sheep that've been hit by cars. The deeper we drove, the foggier it got, and if I looked hard enough, I'm pretty sure I could see creepy images, hence all the old folktales/ghost stories centered on the moors.

The weather was also spot on for visiting Whitby, known not only for pillaging Vikings, but for being   Bram Stoker's inspiration to write Dracula. Seemed like the appropriate place for me to pick up a copy, especially since I've never read it. So I did. And hey, if you're ever in Whitby, get some fish and chips at Greens (yes, Mark had that for the 3rd day in a row). Super delish, though. Melted in my mouth, leastwise the bite I had. I opted for the potato leek soup.

We walked Robin Hood's Bay, putting our feet right where legit Vikings once came ashore. Again, the sense of history here is overwhelming. Me being a Midwestern girl, the whole tide thing kind of freaks me out. There are warnings to not walk certain areas when the tide is coming in -- as if I can tell. Maybe the stinky seaweed on shore is an indication it's out?

Driving back, we crossed the moors at sunset. Jaw-dropping gorgeous. Still mostly cloudy, but the sun broke through on the horizon, lighting up an orangey brilliance smack in the middle of the somber sky. It's a rugged beauty out here. Simply stunning. Yay God!

So, which area did I find to be more inspirational: Jane Eyre moors or Dracula's seaside town of Whitby? Tough call. Both conjured up intriguing stories. But (and I've always got a big but) the eerie beauty of the moors wins.

A word about the nightlife in York . . . okay, several. Last night we observed quite a fight between a woman and a guy, where she ended up dropping his cellphone down a sewer grate. Let's just say he wasn't too happy. Tonight we walked into city centre around 9 p.m. Drunk people everywhere. Staggering. Fighting. I had to step around a pile of puke and we watched a cop chasing down a fleeing criminal. It was like we were in a movie. What the heck? 

And apparently going out for dessert just isn't done here. We ended up going to Sainsburys (a local grocery store) and picking up a small chocolate cake. Then we went back to our Air BnB and had cake and coffee with our host and his girlfriend, which turned out to be a way better evening than an uber expensive dessert (had we found one) in Crazytown.

Have I mentioned that Air BnB is the way to go? We've been meeting some great people and making new friends . . . which makes us sound like losers looking for someone to talk to. Not the case. It's just fun and interesting to get to know the people that live here and get their take on things.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Day 9: Where Vikings First Came Knocking at the Door


RANDOMOSITIES

Skip the cow, chicken or even sheep. It's a seal I really want. So cute!

British people take their dogs everywhere. Not that I mind, because I'm missing mine.

Crappy coffee is the norm.

On our ferry voyage, we saw puffins, seals and even a porpoise. Real ones, in the wild, sans zoo cage bars.

Trains don't fool around here. The train blurred by the crossing we were stopped at. If anyone had been on or near the tracks, they'd have been toast.

In most places, parking is quite a challenge. Or impossible. Mostly impossible.

Do you know what a bap is? Yeah. I didn't either. It's a bun.

TIMELINE

9:45 a.m. Board the ferry, the very same boat my heroine in UNDERCURRENT, Cassie, falls overboard from and ends up back in the 1st century. Don't worry. I will avoid any gift shops on Holy Island, where she bought the broach that she accidentally dropped over the edge of the boat, hence her tumble.

10:00 a.m. The ferry leaves for Holy Island. Lindesfarne Monastery is the first place Vikings raided in England in 793 BC.

11-1:00 Roam around the priory ruins. Honestly, could've spent at least 3 hours on this island.

2:00 p.m. Eat lunch at a little seaside cafe in Seahouses. The food isn't that great, but the scenery is.

3:00 p.m. Leave for York.

7:00 p.m. Eat at a Nepalese restaurant. Why all the ethnic food? Because I will barf if I eat any more fish & chips.

THOUGHTS

This is probably the biggest event of my entire trip. I have looked forward to this moment ever since I wrote UNDERCURRENT. This is where the story begins, and is it as magical as I expected? Well, the English weather seems to think so. The day began with a traditional mist. And yes, it was worth every penny and as terrific as I'd hoped.

The priory ruins are larger than I had in mind when I penned my story. I am fantastically disappointed, though, that the museum didn't even talk about the Viking raid. What the heck? Those monks were killed here, so it seems to me there ought to be some kind of memorial. Nope. Nada.

I didn't realize how big the island would be. Some people even live on it. There's also a huge castle, which we didn't have time for, that was built around 1200.

This was my first sea voyage. Okay, so the shore remained in sight the whole time, still . . . just sayin. I wondered if I'd get seasick, but nope, not nearly as much as when my crazed husband takes the wheel of the BMW (I've finally figured out half my road anxiety is because of his need for speed). I loved going up and over the swells in the ferry. I now understand the strong pull of the sea vs. land. 

In York, our Air BnB is a block from Micklegate. That's right . . . the Micklegate. As in the one where traitors heads were hung to keep people in line. Walked right under it on our way to dinner. Is that callous or what?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Day 8: Wordsworth Country


RANDOMOSITIES

Though the yards around here are teensy-weensy or nonexistent, that doesn't stop the Brits from gardening. Pots of flowers and plants are everywhere.

I now understand why Dorothy and William Wordsworth were such great walkers. The countryside around Grasmere is eye-popping.

Farmer's rock walls make a patchwork quilt out of the countryside.

I want a cow. Or possibly a sheep.

I expected to see more lakes in the Lake District. I mean, come on, it's the Lake District, right?

Hadrian's Wall is still standing. I checked.

I keep telling myself, "You're in England, Michelle." Though I've been here a week, it's still hard to believe this is real.

Man! One stupid wrong turn and you end up in Scotland . . . which was NOT on my itinerary.

TIMELINE

9:30 After breakfast in Kendal, depart for Grasmere, to Dove Cottage, which was William Wordsworth's home for 8 1/2 years.

Noon Leave Wordsworth's house for....wait for it...the Wordsworth House. Yep. Another one. His childhood home.

1-3:00 Hang out in Cockermouth, where we see the larger Wordsworth House and eat yet more fish and chips.

4:00 Look for Hadrian's Wall near Carlisle. Dang. Those Romans did a sweet job.

5:00 Leave for Cornhill-on-Tweed, where we'll stay the night.

Drive around lost until 7:30 p.m.

THOUGHTS

The people we've had interactions with are super friendly and helpful. Oh, occasionally I get a deer-in-the-headlights look, but more often than not, I get the kindly she's-a-ridiculous-American smile. We stopped at an antique store (note: antique as in old, like hundreds of years, not merely fifty) and the shopkeeper was delightful. She recommended us where to eat at our next stop.

Today I learned that Robert de Quincy used to write fan letters to William Wordsworth and even came twice to visit him but then chickened out at the last minute. Finally, Wordsworth invited him and he came . . . and stayed, even buying Wordsworth's Dove Cottage when the Wordsworth family grew too big to live in it anymore. Why the interest in de Quincy? Because he wrote Confessions of an Opium Eater, a book I used as part of my research for my own opium addicted hero, Ethan Goodwin, in A HEART DECEIVED.

A word about credit cards: Americans are apparently behind the times. We freak out pretty much every clerk with our silly little swipe and sign prehistoric plastic. The trend here is chip and pin. Is the U.S. turning into a third-world country?

The sense of history around here still blows me away. Imagine living across the street from a 12th century monastery. What the what? "Oh yeah, just turn left at the monastery where monks once roamed a thousand years ago and you'll see my house on the right." Sheesh.

It's hard to imagine Romans tromping this far north, red capes billowing in the wind. There's honestly not much here besides rolling hills. No wonder they were big into gambling and drinking.

We probably should've gone back the way we came after leaving Hadrian's Wall. We figured we'd just trust the onboard GPS. That was stupid. 60 miles of hair-raising backroads across country. And I do mean across country. We ended up in Scotland for most of the time. Quite the day to be there because it was their voting day to leave or not leave the United Kingdom. Each little village's polling place was open. The result? They voted to stay.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day 7: Crime & Punishment


RANDOMOSITIES

Toast is a big deal around here. Even my banana bread was toasted this morning, a whole new taste sensation.

In every city we've been in, there are posters/advertisements up for people to book their Christmas dinner. Does no one cook their own roast goose or plum pudding at home anymore?

Wimpy burgers are just that.

Note to self: find out what the blue circles with red x's on them mean. I see them frequently on the road ways. Hopefully it doesn't mean we're going the wrong way.

The grass is spring green here, way more brilliant than it "should" be in September.

18th century graffiti is beautiful.

The streetlights say they're not on from midnight till 5 a.m. Umm...hello? Isn't that when they should be on because it's dark outside?

Sheep are everywhere you look, dotting the fields as far as your eyes can see, and even up close and personal next to the side of the road.

TIMELINE

8:30 Take off for downtown Nottingham.

All Morning - toured the Galleries of Justice . . . well worth the money and lots more interesting than the cave tour of yesterday.

1-4:00 Drive north to Sedbergh.
4-6 Shop around in Sedbergh. Try to remember that towns actually do roll up the sidewalks at 5:00, so don't accomplish much shopping. Instead, get some fish & chips and eat outside.
7:00 Discover the town of Kendal, which is way bigger than I expected.

THOUGHTS

The tour of the Gallery of Justice was brilliant! See how I did that? Worked in some English collloquialism because, yes, I am just that awesom. Anyway, we were there over 2 hours but could've stayed longer. Things I learned:

Back in the Georgian/Regency period, wardens were not paid. They made money off the prisoners, charging them for absolutely everything. If you didn't have anything to trade with them, you were thrown into the pit. And yes, it was a pit.

Convicted women often brought their children with them.

You could be sent to prison for something as simple as "stealing" a piece of wood that didn't belong to you. Wood, as in a big stick lying on the ground. If you didn't own the ground, you weren't allowed to take the stick.

Sanitation? What sanitation? Eew.

Leg irons are heavy. It wouldn't take long before you had some nasty sores on your ankles.

We left behind the big city of Nottingham for Sedbergh, billed as one of England's "Book Towns." And so it is, though not as many bookstores as I imagined. Still, it's a picturesque little place and well worth the effort. As we drove by the school, I noticed the established sign said 1525. Yeah, as in almost 500 years old. Mind. Blown.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Day 6: A Change of Plans


RANDOMOSITIES

I think we're in hobbit country because I'm pretty sure we hiked through the shire this morning. Technically, they're called jitties around here.

Senior citizens are a wealth of information.

I didn't expect to find Aldi grocery stores over here. Or Hooters.

First thing I see when driving into Nottingham: high school students practicing archery. Robin Hood lives!

Everyone around here drives toy cars. There are lots of mini's . . . but not one of them a mini-van.

Checking on how things are at home is always a bad idea. Very bad.

TIMELINE

8:30-9:30 Enjoy a great cup of java and conversation with our Air BnB host, Kev.

9:30-Noon Kev walked us down to the River Severn to see the world's first iron bridge.

Noon-2:00 On the road to Nottingham, not quite as hair raising a ride since a lot of it was on the inter, umm, I suppose it's not really an interstate here, is it?

2:30 Take the City of Caves tour, a self-guided walk beneath the streets of Nottingham. Get this . . . the entrance is in a shopping mall.

4:00 Walk around the Castle ruins (which happen to be in the middle of downtown). After working up an appetite, dine at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.

6:00 Head out of Nottingham to Farndon to find our Air BnB. Farndon is pretty much in the middle of nowheresville, like cows and farm fields. Unless we took a wrong turn and are really in Iowa.

THOUGHTS

Originally I'd planned for us to tour an 18th century working farm in the area, but after chatting with Kev, our host for last evening, he suggested we at least just take a quick looksie at the world's first iron bridge. That "quick" look turned into 2 1/2 hours of awe and inspiration for my next book. Whoda thunk? Plus, forget Bath, Bristol or Blaise Hamlet. Ironbridge is where I want to move. Breathtakingly beautiful.

The misty fog this morning was completely magical and oh-so-English in every respect. It wasn't cold, but it did seep in every seam on my clothing, leaving me a bit damp around the edges. But then the sun came out and burned it off. Why am I giving you a weather report? Because even a grey morning in England is freaking amazing.

One of the most interesting tidbits I learned about the caves and tunnels beneath the streets of Nottingham is that when rogues met to plot evil down below, they'd station a boy up at ground level, near a hole that'd been previously drilled. If it looked like trouble was headed their way, the boy would drop a pebble into the hole, alerting the men to scatter. Other ways the caves were used:
- as a tannery
- as a stable
- as cellars to store things, especially things like casks of ale for the pub
- bomb shelter
- a butchery
- sewage pits

Tonight we ate dinner at Ye Olde Jerusalem. I know. Right? Stupid name. But the place is absolutely steeped in history, dating back to the early 1100's. Rumor has it that a bunch of knights ate here before they left the castle on their way to crusade in Jerusalem. True or not, the food is great.

Want to Meet a Spunky Red Head?

I may be toodling around in England, but I do not want you to miss out on the chance to discover a debut author. Meet my critique partner, Ane of Mean Gables, I mean Ane Mulligan . . .
Debut Author Ane Mulligan
I’ve heard you are the one who spearheaded the reviving of Chapel Springs. Is that true?
Are you from the mayor’s office? If you are, it wasn’t my fault. Whatever it was. Felix Riley takes credit for everything that works and blames me is anything goes wrong.

Really? Did anything go wrong?
Of course not. Unless you count the incident at Georgia Tech with the monkey.

Moving right along, I’ve heard of your Great Aunt Lola’s theatrical career. What was it like growing up with her?
 I adored her. Patsy and I both did. The old gal would give us her cast-off gowns to play dress-up with. But she retired from the screen when she was seventy-five I think. She wanted to leave her fans wanting more. She was quite the flamboyant character. She tried to teach Patsy and me to flirt, but it didn’t take when we were eight years old. She died a couple of years later.

She had a bit if a racy past didn’t she?
You bet your booty patooty. Aunt Lola never took second place to anyone or anything. She lived the high life, all right. Presidents and princes wined and dined her, while all I got was a TV tray in front of a ball game. I miss her and her stories and her advice.

Great Aunt Lola knew men, that’s for sure. What with having seven husbands, she might have been able to tell me how to get my Joel to pay me more attention. Right like that would happen. I’d have to turn into a high definition television set or a fishing reel to get some attentions paid to me.

I’ve heard that you...well aren’t the best cook in Chapel Springs. Any truth to that rumor?
Okay, I admit I failed home economics—twice. My culinary expertise maxed out at Jell-O jigglers. And coffee. I make a mean pot of coffee. Unfortunately, that lack got me into trouble with my firstborn’s future mother-in-law. But the woman coerced me.

How so? You’re no shy violet from what I’ve heard?
Who’ve you been talking to?

Let’s see, first there was Faye, oh and Gloria, then Bev and—
Uh-uh, that dog won’t hunt. Besides, if you’d heard my son’s future mother-in-law talk, why she’s wound tighter than an eight-day clock. The woman never takes a breath. She could talk the hind legs off a donkey. It wasn’t until she’d hung up that I heard the end of that particular conversation.

So, what did you do?
Oh, no you don’t. You’ll have to read the book like everyone else to find out.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that's a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband, her chef son, and two dogs of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction website, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Now Available at AMAZON
and other fine bookstores.
Chapel Springs Revival

With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel.

Everybody in the small town of Chapel Springs, Georgia, knows best friends Claire and Patsy. It's impossible not to, what with Claire's zany antics and Patsy's self-appointed mission to keep her friend out of trouble. And trouble abounds. Chapel Springs has grown dilapidated and the tourist trade has slackened. With their livelihoods threatened, they join forces to revitalize the town. No one could have guessed the real issue needing restoration is their marriages.

With their personal lives in as much disarray as the town, Claire and Patsy embark on a mission of mishaps and miscommunication, determined to restore warmth to Chapel Springs —and their lives. That is if they can convince their husbands and the town council, led by two curmudgeons who would prefer to see Chapel Springs left in the fifties and closed to traffic.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Day 5: Onward Toward the Midlands



RANDOMOSITIES

Holly and ivy really do grow together in the wild. Huh.

For some reason, my cartoon bubble of a thatched roof was a bunch of straw stacked helter-skelter on top of a house. Not so. It's lined up quite nicely and packed tight.

And I thought Minneapolis houses were crammed together? The homes around here are like sardines in a can.

Steam engines smell like a hot iron.

We haven't been rained on yet.

Trebuchets can throw things a crazy amount of distance.

Geese are really loud and sheep are fat.

TIMELINE

9-10 Ate a leisurely breakfast at a local coffee shop . . . malted waffles with bacon on top, oh yeah!

11:00 Explored Blaise Hamlet, a thatched roof TINY village of 7 or 8 houses.

12:30 Walked the village of Bewdley and hung out in the museum.

1:30-5:30 Rode the Severn Valley steam train to Bridgnorth, where we walked the city and took pictures of a castle that's tipping over.

6:00 Ate Chinese food on the Severn River.

7:30 Arrived in Ironbridge after a harrowing ride.

THOUGHTS

Seriously, by now I should not still be praying every second I'm in the car. Will I ever get used to riding in the passenger side on the wrong side of the rode. Yeah, no quotation marks around wrong this time because it is JUST WRONG! We got lost on a "road" tonight that was little more than a path. It will be a miracle if we don't kill ourselves over here, but I suppose I've got to die somewhere, and where better than England, eh?

This afternoon we toured the English countryside via a steam engine. Sheep dotted the hillsides. I drank PG Tips as the train chugged along. Ahh. Does it get any better than that?

One thing that surprises me is how much of the landscape around here is like Minnesota. Well, I suppose not in January, but right now when I look around, it's a lot like home . . . sans all the English ivy and holly, of course. Is that why I feel so attached here?

Staying in Air BnB's is really the way to go. In case you're not familiar with the system, you book a room in someone's house. I know, sounds kind of creepy, like what if you're staying with axe murderers? I suppose that's a risk, but we've met some great hosts and have had some fantastic discussions about life, politics and coffee.

You may be noticing we're not out till all hours of the night. Seems like we ought to make the most of every second of every day, right? The thing is, though, that after dark (which is around 7:30) the things-that-are-called-roads are even crazier to drive on, so we both feel safer if we park the dang thing and wait for sunlight.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 4: Townhomes, Shipping and Slavery



RANDOMOSITIES

A Regency breakfast consisted of a LOT of carbohydrates.

If God doesn't see fit to move me to Bath, Bristol is a nice second.

Can I just say that besides the wonderful coffee in Iceland, I've pretty much drank church coffee the entire time?

Curry is in the air everywhere. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. In fact, we had chicken tikka masala for din din tonight.

Bristol's city engineers might want to think about the traffic issues in the city. Just sayin'.

The white slave trade was a bustling industry as well, though less well known than the African trade.

TIMELINE

9:00 - Leave behind Radstock for our last visit to Bath.

10:00-Noon Enjoy a Regency Breakfast, learning about dishes and foods of the Austen era.

1:30 p.m. Arrive in Bristol.

2-3:30 Absorb every little detail in the Georgian House Museum.

4:00 Eat delicious falafels at a cart near the channel, or whatever it is they call the body of water around here.

4:30-6:00 Hang out at the MShed. I know. Sounds cool, right? It is. It's a history museum of Bristol.

6-7 Eat Indian and find our Air BnB for the evening.

THOUGHTS

Though it's been four days already of driving on the "wrong" side of the road, I still flinch a lot. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but I just might be a twitchy mess the entire time we're here. And what's up with these roads? There's like a bazillion words in the English language. Do we really need to have 3 of the exact same names for 3 different roads in the same town? Sheesh.

Bristol is a lot bigger than I expected it to be. I also thought it was attached to the sea, as in I'd see the sea. It's a port town, right? Big ol' ships used to flock here. But no. The sea is quite a ways off, surprise!

Visiting the Georgian House was today's highlight for me. Thankfully we no longer use film or I'd have gone through 53 rolls. And the price was right . . . free. Got a few story ideas, or I should say "snippets" of story ideas. A stairway window that looked into the window of the house next door - the creepy house with the dead ivy and peeling paint. What might someone see when looking into that window on a moonlight evening?

Or when we were at the MShed, I read of a stash of old coins from the 1600's that weren't found until the 1920's when an old warehouse was being torn down. Who put that stash there? Why was it never retrieved? Where did it come from?

The weather has been absolutely perfect thus far. No rain. Cloudy and hazy in the morning, burning off to sunshine and upper 60's. I wouldn't mind if it stayed this way for the rest of our trip.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Day 3: Taking the Waters


RANDOMOSITIES

Windows around here don't have screens . . . maybe because they don't have any kamikaze mosquitoes.

Whenever a little English kid talks, I want to pick them up and kiss their whole face because they are so stinking cute!

After watching the Regency Costume Promenade in Bath today, I totally understand why Lydia and Kitty were ga-ga over redcoats.

Note to self: Besides brilliant and smashing, add lovely to my vocabulary.

Pastys are bland. Go for the Thai food.

The Crescent is everything I dreamed it would be.

TIMELINE

8:30 Dine in the Radstock Inn breakfast room and feast on an almost full English breakfast (missing the beans).

10:00 Arrive in Bath to witness the Guinness breaking world record Regency Dress Promenade. At 549, they beat the Austen Society recent record in Kentucky.

Noon Toodle over to the Market Faire where there were sellers of fine Regency garments, silhouette cuttings, palm readings, yada.

Afternoon: Tromp around Bath and enjoy the street performers. What's up with the creepy gold people pretending to be statues?

4:00 Attend a lecture: Rummaging Through the Reticule.

6:00 Pick up some amazing Thai food.

8:00 Make it back to Radstock and take a hike in the dusk.

THOUGHTS

I want to move to Bath. Why? It's totally charming in every respect and so rich in history. Things I learned today at the lecture:

Many folks carried around their own cutlery.

Some women, like Jane Austen, kept small books in their reticules.

Widows mourned for 2 1/2 years, the first year of which was spent as a recluse, covered in black crepe. But widowers only had to mourn 3 months and were then encouraged to marry...at which point his new wife would be expected to go into mourning for his former wife. What's wrong with this picture?

The rolling farmland around here is stunning. Happy, happy cows. Plus, I had no idea a cow chewed so loudly.

We did not do the touristy thing and take the waters nor visit the Roman baths. We people watched instead. Highly entertaining.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Day 2: To Jane Austen Country and Beyond



RANDOMOSITIES

Mark's comment on our drive to Bath, "This pretty much looks like Wisconsin so far."

I seriously want to live here.

No, really. I want to live here.

Why is it so hard to understand someone who speaks my own language? Yeah, British accents are cute, but when they talk fast, it might as well be Swahili.

Does every little town have to be so picturesque? 

Sweet mercy! Why are sheep on a hillside so freaking amazing?

Note to self: start using the words smashing and brilliant.

TIMELINE

9:30 a.m. Dragged ourselves out of bed but I'm not really sure we are awake.

11:30 a.m. After driving around to find a SIM card for the phone, and stopping at a baijllion (3) places to find one, we came up empty handed. Grabbed a sausage/egg sandwich and hit the road for Bath.

2:00 p.m. Arrive in Bath and happen to find the last parking spot right in front of the Royal Theater.

2:30 p.m. Tour the Bath Royal Theatre...LOVED it!

4-6 p.m. Walk around Bath. Have coffee at a quaint little shop. Try to get the ATM to give us money. Finally find a SIM card that will work.

7:00 p.m.  Arrive in Radstock at the Radstock Inn. Eat dinner and walk around the town afterwards.

THOUGHTS

What surprised me most about Bath was how loud it is. Cars. People. Street musicians. Crazy.

Learned a TON of facts about Georgian/Regency era theater, things like:

- The audience didn't actually pay attention to the plays. They were there to shmooz with everyone else.

Red and green were the 2 staple colors all theaters of the time were decorated in.

- In order to perform Shakespeare, the theater had to apply for a permit and once received, was allowed to use the word Royal in the name. . . hence The Bath Royal Theater.

- Jane Austen loved mimes, but not mimes as we necessarily think of them, all in black and white and trapped in a box. Early comedies were performed by mimes. The one she would've seen was dressed like a Harlequin clown.

- In order to reserve a box, one had to go to the "box office," which is where the term came from.
Plays were only rehearsed about 2 days before the showing, were not very professional, and often lasted for hours and hours on end (think like 6-midnight).

Oh yeah, one other thing. If you'd like to see more pix, check me out on Instagram (Michelle Griep) and I'll post some on Facebook.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Day 1: The Adventure Begins


LOCATION

Reykjavik, Iceland


RANDOMOSITIES

  • Eating black beans for lunch on the day of an international flight is not a great idea.
  • People in Iceland are way less fat than slobby Americans.
  • Kaffitar in the Keflavik Airport totally rocks a soy latte...whoda thunk?
  •  Pinning feels like home.
  • If you visit the Blue Lagoon, it's better to refrain from complimenting someone on their tattoo. Wet back hair can swirl into some realistic looking patterns. Eew.
  • The top sides of clouds look like a mangy old mattress cover.
  • Keflavik Airport wins hands down over Heathrow in cleanliness, style, and friendliness.
  • Why is it whenever a car rental company wants to "upgrade" you, it's always a detriment? Sure, a BMW is a great car...but not a manual. In England. When it's confusing enough to figure out how to drive on the wrong side of the road without killing anyone and decipher how to work the GPS without killing your spouse.


TIMELINE

7:30 p.m. left Minneapolis

6:30 a.m. arrived at Keflavik Airport near Reykjavik, Iceland (but really, in our Minnesota time, it was 1:30 a.m.) Had the best soy latte ever.

10:00 a.m. left for the Blue Lagoon

3:00 p.m. arrived back at airport. Grabbed some lunch, the strangest thing being a shrimp sandwich.

4:30 p.m. plane left for Heathrow

8:00 p.m. arrived in London

11:00 p.m. arrived at our Air BnB after driving around lost for a LONG time.


THOUGHTS

I hope to write this section each evening, when thoughts are fresh, but yesterday was a 36 hour day and honestly, when I saw a pillow last night, I didn't care. It was a whirlwind, mega-trek, never-ending day that was full of fun and adventure. I don't remember the last time I was that tired, though.

We spent 2 hours soaking at the Blue Lagoon, a natural hot springs near Reykjavik. I felt like a decadent rich person, just floating around. It was great.

We got totally lost trying to find our accommodations outside of London. Sometimes street signs are minuscule and remind me again why a single street needs to have two different names? We ended up calling our host and he drove out to where we just quit and parked. Nice fella.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

When Typefaces Coexist

Lots of things can be averaged. The number of times a batter hits a ball vs. missing the dang thing. Miles per gallon. How much chocolate milk a toddler can drink before yakking it all up over the kitchen floor. Oops. Sorry for the visual.

But no one has ever averaged handwriting into a universal typeface.

Until now.

Bic -- yeah, the ballpoint pen people -- has started a Universal Handwriting Experiment. Anyone, from anywhere in the world (that means you, dude) can contribute a sample of their handwriting, as in printing in uppercase. They've developed a special algorithm (whatever the crap that is...oh, wait minute...I think it has something to do with math...something I avoid at all costs, hence my never-been-balanced checkbook) which merges contributions into a single, ever-changing and evolving typeface. Their plan is to unify the world's handwriting into a universal typeface.

If you haven't contributed your John Hancock yet, toodle on over there already.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Must One Have a Prescription For Cranky Pills?


I've met a lot of grumpy writers in my day. Angry at publishers for not buying their books. Ticked off at reviewers for having the gall to give them a 1-star. Annoyed with agents, critique partners, and the bleepity-bleep UPS man for not delivering their Amazon order fast enough. Here's the deal, though, succinctly put by Seth Godin:
"If you choose to be in the dog food business,

be delighted to eat dog food."
Oh, get your undies out of such a bunch. I am not calling writers dogs. I'm simply saying that if you can't do something cheerfully, such as pursue a career in writing, then you ought not do it at all. Once again, in Godin's words:

"If you treat the work as nothing but an obligation, 
you will soon be overwhelmed by competition that sees it as a privilege and a calling."

I'll take that a step further. If you are of the mindset that publishers/agents/readers are obliged to consider you and your work as God's gift to mankind, then the competition will definitely steamroll over you.

And then you really will be cranky.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Evolution of a Book Cover

Never again will I mock stupid cheesy book covers because dang...a book cover is stinking hard to design. And I didn't even do the work. All I did was offer my opinion on each revised copy.

So many things go into making a book cover. Color. Font. Typesize. Images. Placement. Chocolate. Hey, don't judge me.

Anyway, I thought I'd take you along for the ride via pictures of the evolution of the Writer Off the Leash book cover (soon to be available, stay tuned) . . .

Rough Draft: Color Ideas, Copy Placement
Purple is my favorite color, but I didn't think this image represented a book on the craft of writing. 

New image...too bad it doesn't fit properly.
Really liked this image a ton better. It fit with the whimsy of the title, but the image just wouldn't work size-wise. Back to the drawing board.

Love blue but with a tree, I'm thinking green.
Came up with an image I liked, but now the Real-World Tips for Hopeful Writers doesn't tie in with it at all. Need something more, umm, organic? Leafy? Nope. Growing.


Getting closer, but some of the type is hard to read, especially on the cover. Growing in the Writing Craft is just lost. Revise.


Oh, so close. Growing in the Writing Craft needs to be a smidge larger and the back cover copy needs to be edited a tad to allow for more breathing space. Plus the quote on the back cover at the top is super hard to read. Ready for the final (well, probably) cover? Drum roll please. . .


Bingo! We have a winner. Probably. We'll have to see a printed version hot off the press to make final color tweaks. But in the mean time, where did I put that chocolate?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Need Some Money?

There are only 107 days remaining until Christmas. Got your shopping done yet? What's that? You haven't even paid off last year's credit card bill? Don't worry. Writer Off the Leash is here for you with great writerly ways to earn some moolah to not only kick that debt to the curb, but pay in cash this year when you head out to the mall.

After scoping the web, I found some paid writing jobs that might be right up your alley . . .

BootsnAll
Did you go on any vacations this year, ones which you could write about? BootsnAll posts travel articles, and if yours is accepted, pays $50 a pop.

Austin Briggs
Got something writerly to say? As stated on this site: "My vision for this site is to turn it into an insanely useful resource for writers, and just as insanely entertaining place for readers." He pays $105 for an article and $55 for a post (which is shorter). Even if you don't want to write a post for this site, it's still a great one to nose around in.

Krazy Coupon Lady
Do you have a penny pinching super hero cape hanging up in your closet? This is the site to write about your saving adventures. KCL contributors are paid $50 per post.

Read Learn Write
Even if you're not a writer, you are a reader (as evidenced by the fact that you made it this far into today's post). For $50, here is what they're looking for:
"I'm most interested in your personal experiences with reading, learning, and writing. Your personal experiences with specific books are my favorite posts to read and publish."

And just in case those aren't enough for you, here are a few more for you to try on for size: ACHS, Leaving Work Behind, Matador Network, and Penny Hoarder.

There you have it, little buddies. Make some cashola then shop till you drop.
 
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