Posts Tagged ‘travels’

My home landscape

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Hello, friends. We were recently in Tofino, B.C., and I took a walk along the beach at sunset. Here are some shots of the landscape I love best; the one I consider “home”.












Kingston is beautiful, too, but today I’m really missing the Pacific Northwest. See you next week, with a more substantial post!

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Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Hello, friends! I am not presently in North Wales, but our holiday was too lovely not to share with you. This week’s photos are from the Victorian seaside town of Llandudno.

We took an Edwardian tram car up the very steep side of a cliff called the Great Orme (Pen y Gogarth, in Welsh). Here’s the view from the midpoint:


And from the top of the Great Orme:


And then we descended to the seaside, which features one of the longest seaside piers in the UK (not pictured, sadly, as my phone was acting up). But here’s the beach, where bold and overfed seagulls snatch ice creams from the hands of children. (True story.)


Halfway through our ice creams, I was distracted by an extraordinary, piercing, squawking voice. I turned around and saw my first-ever, real-life, Punch & Judy show.


Obviously, I couldn’t just watch the show and move on; I was burning to find out more about this Victorian seaside tradition. As a result, the rest of this week’s post is over at the History Girls and it features, among others, diarist Samuel Pepys, Victorian artist George Cruikshank, and the notorious hangman, Jack Ketch.

Here’s Mr. Punch with Jack Ketch:


“That’s the way to do it!”

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Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Hello, friends. My whistle-stop internet tour of major tourist destinations in North Wales continues. Today, we’re in Conwy!

Here’s a view from the quay that includes the medieval town walls.


The harbour again, this time with Conwy Castle (Castell Conwy, in Welsh) at the right.


We began our day at the Smallest House in Britain. Here it is, with me standing by the door for scale. I’m about 5′ 2″.


As you can see in the photo above, it’s the end unit in a row of terraced houses. According to the owner/host, there was originally a row of terraced houses to its left, as well, and this smallest house was built to fill the gap between the two rows.

Here’s the main floor.


It’s very cleverly designed: the bench on the left (red cushion on top) has a lid that raises for storage (most recently, it held coal for the fire). A ladder on the right (not pictured) takes you up to the bedroom, which is just wide enough for a narrow single bed and a small table. There are two fireplaces, one in each room, so the home was probably warmer than many a cavernous country house.

The bearded man in the portrait is the home’s last occupant, a 6′ 3″ fisherman. He lived in the house for some 15 years, until 1900, when the Council declared the house unfit for human habitation. On being evicted he travelled around Britain measuring other tiny homes, in order to verify that his was the smallest.

The town has a delightful ice cream parlour, Parisella’s, where we lapped up Welsh honey and honeycomb ice cream. Outside, a twelve-person recorder ensemble played Beatles covers to raise money for charity. (This sounds like I made it up. I promise I didn’t!) Conwy also has a beautifully curated indie bookstore called Hinton’s, with an adorable baby working the register.

We spent quite a long time exploring the thirteenth-century town walls.


View from the town walls!


Sadly, we ran out of time to visit Castell Conwy, or Conwy Castle. (My 7yo took the photo below, hence the inclusion of car and bike.) But having been there since the thirteenth century, I’m hoping the castell will hold up just a little bit longer, until we can come back.


Next week, I’ll report on my first-ever Punch & Judy show by the seaside!




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Summer adventures

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Hello, friends. My family and I are presently revelling in the glory that is North Wales in the sunshine. See what I mean?IMG_20150718_134539368_HDR


Here’s some breaking news from Betws y Coed. You heard it here first.


A view from the town centre of Betws y Coed:


The three soccer hooligans in the foreground (red, white, orange) are cousins, aged 6, 7 and 8. Together, they produce an absolutely astonishing amount of dirt, noise and hilarity. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve even been able to slip away to do a little work on many days. (That sounds sick, I know. But I’m really absorbed in this project and it brings me a huge amount of peace and satisfaction to dip into it. I’m not striding ahead, but I’m keeping myself linked to it. It would be hugely stressful if I had to abandon it for the whole holiday.)

And here’s my most recent “office”!


The view from the office:


Another view from the office:IMG_20150719_150325696_HDR

I hope this post doesn’t come off as unbearably gloaty. We’re having a marvellous week and I hope you are, too.

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West Coast Bounty

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Hello, friends. We’re in Vancouver! For me, being on the West Coast in August means a bounty of local fruit: blueberries, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and blackberries, in particular. My parents live near a stretch of the Fraser River and its banks are dense with wild blackberry bushes (also crabapples, snowberries, and apparently salmonberries, though I haven’t seen any of those). See what I mean?


Every time we go for a walk, we end up having a blackberry snack. If we ever manage to pick more than we eat on the spot, I’m planning to make a batch of blackberry freezer jelly.

The bounty isn’t limited to fruit, of course. I’ve long admired the community garden plots built along some 11 km of disused railway tracks on Vancouver’s west side. The gardens are charming, aesthetically diverse, and bursting with life. They’re an annual inspiration for our own gardens, and a lovely reminder of what we’ll return to. They’re also now now under an eviction notice: CP Rail is planning to raze them, as part of a dispute with the City of Vancouver.

The wrangling could go on for a long time yet. Before anything else happens, here are some shots of the Arbutus Community Garden plots along East Boulevard.


This is the most elaborate and established-looking of the plots. Its bulletin board advertises “the world in a garden”, offering garden shares to interested locals and organic gardening workshops for children. Their shed is a thing of beauty!


We’ve been talking about building a hoop house, like these gardeners are doing:


You cover it with sheets of polythene, like so:


And it becomes a miniature, morphable greenhouse. I’m ridiculously excited at the prospect of extending our growing season. We also saw growing frames made of old bicycle wheels:


While I love the way it looks, I’m not diligent enough to camouflage a water drum:


And sometimes, the temperate West Coast climate makes me sigh with envy. Look: grapes!


The lighting is terrible in this shot, but please believe me when I say that these gardeners are actually growing kiwi. Kiwi! They’ve trained the slender tree trunk to crawl horizontally atop their fence.


Finally, after an afternoon’s hard work, these gardeners can relax and admire their heap of freshly picked beets.


I’m only in the city for a week or two each year, but I would be so sorry to see these gardens go. Let’s hope CP Rail and the City of Vancouver sort themselves out and do what’s best for the community in general.


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Mythological maidens

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Hello, friends. We were in Ottawa this past weekend and I spent several minutes staring, transfixed, at the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald on Parliament Hill. I had cleverly neglected to bring a working camera with me, so this image is ripped, with apologies, from the Public Works and Government Services of Canada website.

statue of Sir John A Macdonald by Louis-Philippe Hébert

I’m interested, specifically, in the slightly-larger-than-life-sized sculpture that adorns the pedestal: the regal-looking woman seated with a spear. There’s a much clearer image of her here, if you’re willing to click through. Or you can just take my word for everything I’m going to say.

I didn’t know who she was, at first: some generic Greek-mythological nymph, I thought. There’s quite a tradition of placing decorative female figures (which I’ll call FFs, from now on) below statues of male politicians. I had read somewhere, years before, that the FFs embodied aspects of the politician’s best-known leadership qualities. Well. If that is indeed the case, Macdonald (or “John A”, as he’s familiarly known in Kingston) was primarily celebrated for an imperious gaze, carelessly worn togas, and very large breasts.

The most striking thing about this statue (the woman is more than an embellishment; she’s a statue in her own right, and much more prominent than Macdonald himself, if you’re standing at ground level) is how extremely young, firm-bodied, and nearly undressed she is. She’s bare-armed, the thin fabric of her toga leaving nothing to the imagination. And she’s wearing very minimal sandals, so that her feet are essentially bare. This is an extraordinary state of public undress for 1895, the year of the statue’s creation by Louis-Philippe Hébert, and a year when respectable women dressed like this.

I suppose that’s the point: the FF is not meant to be a respectable woman, or any kind of real human being at all. She’s a decorative element, the spirit of a person or nation or movement personified. (This one is sometimes referred to as the Personification of Canada.) But it’s another startling reminder of just how casually the female body could be used, even in 1895. It’s also part of a long artistic tradition of male sculptors and painters evading the standards of the day by using “historical” costume to undress female bodies for visual pleasure.

I’ve been wondering how viewers in late-nineteenth century Ottawa responded to the FF. Did adolescent boys flock to view her, to their parents’ consternation? Did MPs pause before it for a few moments’ distraction, during a break in the House of Commons? Or was it simply another semi-nude figure scattered across Ottawa’s terrain? I would dearly love to know.

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Viva the Victorians

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Hello, friends! When I last posted, I had just arrived in England and was feeling both stunned (about finishing Rivals in the City) and exhausted (by finishing Rivals in the City). But this week, I’m mostly full of glee. If you’ll permit me, I’m going to defer my post on the long-drawn-out writing of Rivals and talk a bit about what I’ve been doing, instead.

I’m on holiday! In northern England! During a heat wave! It’s been gloriously sunny and warm for 3 days in a row, which is outrageous by local standards. I had fish and chips for dinner last night. The news is almost entirely about Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory. And today, we went to a museum that made me shiver with excitement: the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

One of the reasons I love Manchester is because it’s such a Victorian city. Yes, it was founded some 2000 years ago by the Romans, and there are the ancient ruins to prove it. But its period of massive, intensive growth came during the Industrial Revolution. When you walk around the city today, most of the evidence of your eyes is solid, red-brick, Gothic-nostalgic, science-and-engineering driven proof of Manchester’s own belle époque.

Let me hastily acknowledge: much of the social and human history of that belle époque was entirely the reverse of beautiful. But feast your eyes on this!

This is just a small number of the many engines collected in one of the Museum’s several vast buildings. Entirely appropriately, the Museum is located in a former industrial district. It features an historic train station. An 1830 red-brick warehouse. An entire building devoted to airplanes and bicycles. Another dedicated to trains. Underground exhibits about gas and waterworks. And a gruesome recreation of an impoverished man dying, painfully, during the 1830 cholera epidemic. Among other things.

It also has a number of exhibits still being developed. Behind one of the fenced-off areas, I found this first-class carriage from the old Liverpool and Manchester Railway. It’s tiny and lovingly polished, and if you peer inside, you can see six very comfortable-looking plush upholstered seats per compartment:

Now, turn your attention to the next carriage: a second-class car on the same railway, from the same period.

It must have been bitterly cold for most of the year. And look at those bent metal rods, presumably for safety!

I love these hard and shallow wooden benches. They weren’t the least bit subtle about the class difference, were they? And this is an updated version. The second-class carriages didn’t have any overhead shelter, initially, and the third-class carriages remained what were called “open trucks”.

Midway through our visit, I was amused to realize that I was dragging my family around the Museum, exclaiming with delight, agonizing over which exhibits we’d have to miss (entire buildings’ worth!), and what else might be lurking around the corner. We’d originally gone for nostalgic reasons (my husband went as a child) and because we thought the children would enjoy all the vehicles.

But I’m going to have to return for me alone: I may have just finished writing my last Mary Quinn novel, but my obsession with Victorian England shows no sign of abatement.

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Apology (and short update)

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Hello, friends. I missed my Wednesday blog date this week, and I’m very sorry. I would like to offer you a reason (not an excuse; I know I was slack): on Sunday night, I emailed my editor a fully revised manuscript for Rivals in the City. And then on Monday, we left for England.

I’m sitting here now, on a clear! sunny! Lancashire evening, feeling both exhausted and contented. I have a steaming cup of tea and a square of 90% cacao chocolate beside me. I’m catching up on email and waiting for my jet-lagged son to fall asleep. And I’m planning to write a blog post for next week about writing Rivals in the City, and why it took so darn long to finish the book.

I hope you’ll pardon my no-show this week, and join me next week. And I hope you have a splendid week yourselves. Happy belated Canada Day, Happy Independence Day, and happy summer!

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A whole world of leisure

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Hello, friends. I’m on holiday with my extended family again, this time in Whistler, B.C. It’s a glorious break from reality: brilliant sunshine, sublime mountain vistas, and every time I wish for a cup of coffee, my brother is already grinding beans. How could I possibly complain?

So this isn’t a complaint, but rather an observation: one of the stranger things about being in Whistler is being in a place built entirely around the idea of leisure and luxury. It’s a wilderness of luxury hotels, twee Disney architecture, and elaborately landscaped boulevards. The “villages” consist of expensive stores and restaurants with holiday condos atop them. And it’s full of people who’ve travelled here purely to have a good time. It’s oppressively, deliciously, entirely synthetic. And you know what it makes me think of?

Bath. As in the city of Bath, in Somerset, England. It became a fashionable holiday place during the eighteenth century, and Jane Austen is famous for disliking it. Even today, it’s a popular spot – especially for Austenphiles like me, who are torn between admiring the Georgian architecture and trying to imagine how such a setting might have dampened Austen’s ability to write.

I’m not sure I have a neat and tidy point to make this week, except possibly that if Whistler’s buildings survive another two hundred years (good luck – they’re made of wood and stucco!), it’s fun to imagine reverent visitors of the future trekking through here, checking out the haunts of famous people in history, and trying to imagine the chaotic, fleshy, posing multitudes who are making it so very popular this summer.

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My favourite things

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Hello friends! This week, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite things about the English countryside:

1. Randomly occurring sheep.

2. Winding lanes.

3. Dry-stone walls. One day, I'm going to learn how to build them. Seriously.

4. The intense green-ness of it all. William Blake was precise when he wrote about "this green and pleasant land".

What are your favourite things about the countryside?

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