The Blue Chair Blog

It's not just about the novel


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Over the Sea to Scotland — Part 2

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From York, we were soon back on the train, this time for a brief stay in Edinburgh before an overnight trip out to Deeside. We were driven around by Your Tour Scotland (thanks very much, Don), so we were able to visit spots both on and off the beaten track, including on Day One a ruined abbey at Balmerino and another spectacular ruin, Dunnottar Castle (say duh-NOT-are) on the North Sea. Dunnottar is dramatic and windblown, so we followed our visit there right up with a warming lunch at the Marine Hotel in Stonehaven. Have you ever heard of salmon skink? I Here’s a recipe I found for salmon cullen skink, which is the same idea. Cullen skink is ubiquitous in Scotland, more or less a chowder made with cod. The Marine Hotel serves salmon skink in a bread bowl. Definitely one of the best meals I had on this whole trip!

Our post-lunch stops included romantic and mysterious Burn O’Vat and a ruined medieval church and churchyard, which was used until much later, at Tullich. We ended the day in Ballater, a lovely town with the River Dee running through it, overlooked by the Cairngorm Mountains.

Yes, it had been a bit cold and occasionally wet up to this point, but overnight the weather shifted and the morning brought both sunshine and warmer air. Yay! The scenery was beautifully on view for our Day Two drive along the river and visits to Crathie Kirk and churchyard near Balmoral (though not the castle), the villages of Balmoral and Braemar (home of the Highland Games, and the lovely, lyrically-named Linn O’Dee.

In more detail, the British royal family worships at Crathie Kirk when they are at their Scottish home, Balmoral Castle. One interesting person buried in this churchyard is John Brown, Queen Victoria’s faithful Scottish attendant brought to boisterous and rough-hewn life by Billy Connolly in the film Mrs. Brown, with Judi Dench as the queen.

Apparently, Queen Victoria herself was fond of the Linn O’Dee. Easy to see why, since the river flows rapidly through a picturesque rocky gorge at this point. In Scotland, a linn is exactly that —  where a watercourse has cut through a shelf of hard rock creating a narrow steep-sided cut through which the watercourse runs.

Braemar is another one of those appealing, higher-elevation towns with mountain air and a river (the Dee) running through it. We were not there long, but it was fun to note a tongue-in-cheek sign in the local butcher shop:

“locally caught” HAGGIS’s ‘sold here’ take One home!

For more about haggis, click here. It does actually taste better than it sounds.

Edinburgh

We arrived back in Edinburgh looking forward to a couple of  free days before our Best of Tour Scotland was due to start. We spent our first day in the city walking through Princes Street Gardens and exploring the Royal Mile. One of the very photogenic places on my to-see list was the Writer’s Museum just off the Royal Mile. The museum honors three great Scottish writers, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

As a matter of interest, it is hard to overestimate the importance of Scott’s legacy just as it is hard to overestimate the importance of whisky to experiencing Scottish culture. (More about that in Part 3.) Just be aware that the Scott Monument in Edinburgh is the largest monument to a writer in the world. And he was a historical novelist. Just saying.

Shopping was also involved in getting to know Edinburgh, since Scotland features loads of tempting cashmere and wool items such as shawls, scarves, hats, and gloves. And I never stop looking at books. I often take photos of those that intrigue me because I know I can’t carry them home. I did buy a crime novel set in the Highlands, though — His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. I’m well into it now and it’s pretty bloody entertaining so far, too.

The next day we found time for an outing to Rosslyn Chapel, now widely known because it features in the ending of The Da Vinci Code, but nevertheless an important and unusual structure in its own right, and in the ownership of a single family since 1446. We had fun traveling to the village of Roslin and back by public bus, which allowed us to see more of the city as well as suburbs and countryside. In the evening, we took in another photo op in a stroll through Dean Village, finishing in time to meet up with our tour.

More about that in Part 3!

 

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Over the Sea to Scotland — Bookended by London with a Stop in York (Part 1)

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Loch Lomond

Travelogue time! Even though the UK had a late spring this year, it was a joy to spend three weeks on the other side of the pond, mostly in Scotland. To keep the narrative digestable, I’ll post about the trip in parts. First up, London and York.

London

I love London and was so happy to be back in my favorite area, Bloomsbury. I was able to check a few things off my to-do-this-time list. (I never get to all of them.)

On our one full day in London, we walked around St. Paul’s and across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. Later, after a pretty much obligatory pilgrimage to Foyle’s flagship store on Charing Cross Road, I dipped into the National Portrait Gallery. I had a particular reason for wanting to see works by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and then I just happened to stumble into a bust of him. Well, not literally.

By the way, during this trip I was reading Judith Flanders’ mysteries featuring Samantha Clair. They’re so engaging. Sam is a realistically rounded character — an accomplished introvert of a book editor who maintains a tangential, acidic, and astute inner monologue that I just love. I like her copper boyfriend Jake, too. Sadly, I finished the last current volume, A Cast of Vultures, on the plane home, but there’s a new installment coming soon. Pre-ordered.

York

OK, back to the travelogue. The next day, we took the train from Kings Cross to York. While waiting for our platform to be announced, we enjoyed watching youngsters and not-so-youngsters having their pictures taken as they pretended to board the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9¾. About two hours later, we were in the walled City of York. Since my first visit last year, York is one of my favorite places in Britain. Though it was cold, I was just glad not to be rained on so that it was possible to walk part way around the walls. York Minster dominates everywhere — which as one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe, it is entitled to do. The interior is alternately fascinating and awe-inspiring, with overwhelmingly beautiful expanses of stained glass and a serene octagonal Chapter House. To top off coming back to York, I returned to the warmest of welcomes at the same place I stayed last year, the delightful Parisi Hotel.

Next up, Edinburgh and the Deeside. Watch this space!

 


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Mexico

Ever been on a Road Scholar tour? No, me either, but that’s how I got to Mexico when a friend came up with the idea. We spent some time on our own in Mexico City and then joined others to explore San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. I left a piece of my heart there, where I’m still dancing the Mexican-style polka, drinking wine and margaritas, eating delicious food, and where my senses are awash with color and deep sentiment for Mexican landscape and Mexican people. I need to practice my Spanish and go back.
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More photos to come, I think, but for now I will leave you with this stunning view of Guanajuato.


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Travel photo update

My last blog post mentioned traveling to Kauai and New Mexico, but I never posted any details or photos. The details are getting a little hazy, but in the interests of continuity, here are a few photos.

Kauai

I do recall spending a lot of time at beaches (especially at sunrise) and shopping the sunshine markets, and drinking coffee.

New Mexico

Flew in and out of ABQ with a friend and met up with a new friend from the New Orleans trip but we spent most of our time in and around Santa Fe. I still feel bowled over by small towns like Madrid (MAD-rid) and Cerillos, the Sanctuary at Chimayo, Taos Pueblo, and the vibrancy and inclusiveness of Santa Fe. And oh, the cottonwoods!

 


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A traveling fool

I have neglected the hell out of this blog while finishing the manuscript for a historical novel, attending writers’ conferences, and traveling. Especially traveling for the last few months: New Orleans, Kauai, and Santa Fe – bing bing bing. So if you want to learn about the novel in progress, please do visit Of Ships and Sealing Wax. For more about these recent travels, read on.

Believe me, I know what a privilege it is to be able to travel so often, to such interesting places, and in such good company (even when it’s just my own). Travel does not, however, get easier with age. Accordingly, my motto is “go now.”

September 2017  ~ New Orleans

It was so much fun to visit New Orleans for the first time along with a group of friends. We attended the second All Souls Con, which celebrates Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy. Love these books and the All Souls community. There’s a TV series being made right this minute, too! But, New Orleans! Beautiful, complicated, haunting, and a little bruised in places. I just loved it. It’s hard to pick a favorite photo. Here are two, Preservation Hall and a street corner in the French Quarter:

 

October 2017 ~ Kauai

I planned this trip as a birthday present for myself. I know, lucky me. I  was happy with my home away from home, which was a cottage at Fern Grotto Inn near Wailua. My agenda consisted of books, beaches, sunrises, writing, coffee, and slowing down. And a lot of papayas! My favorite beach this trip was probably Anini Beach. I could not choose a favorite coffee stop. Java Kai and Small Town Coffee in Kapa’a and Hā Coffee Bar in Lihue are all terrific, each in its own way. I have to shout out for Talk Story Books in Hanapepe, too. Below, a couple of lasting memories, sunrise at Wailua Beach on my first morning, writing at Hā Coffee. By the way, hā means breath or spirit, or the sacred breath of life within us all.

 

November 2017 ~ New Mexico

In November, folks who live in the Northwest yearn for the sun. You can find sun, color, history, and a unique kind of peace in and around Santa Fe and Albuquerque at this time of year. This trip offered up world-class museums (such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the New Mexico History Museum, and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque), fascinating glimpses into small towns like Madrid, Cerillos, and Chimayo, and an unforgettable visit to Taos Pueblo. Below: Cottonwood in Cerillos, el Santuaria de Chimayo.

 

Lots more photos from these adventures over on Instagram!

 


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Down memory lane into the Inns of Court

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Staple Inn Yard

Once upon a time, when I was a law student, I spent a few weeks on a study abroad course in London’s Inns of Court. A lot of American lawyers have a crush on the British legal system and wouldn’t mind if we got to wear wigs and gowns in court. This secret desire all started — or at least took on a life of it’s own — with Rumpole of the Bailey, in case you didn’t know. In Horace Rumpole, barrister and author John Mortimer created one of the indelible characters of the Twentieth Century. Mortimer’s stories are wonderful and the great Leo McKern will always embody Rumpole for me. He lives on, though, in radio plays recorded with Maurice Denham, later with Timothy West (and his wife Prunella Scales as Hilda Rumpole — She Who Must Be Obeyed), and most recently Benedict Cumberbatch as the young Rumpole. The stories, the radio plays, and the TV series are all quite entertaining and you should track them down if you can.

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Hare Court, Inner Temple

Getting back to the heady days of my own “mini-pupillage,”  I went to receptions and dinners in venerable old buildings, spent time in a barristers’ chambers in Gray’s Inn, observed a murder trial at the Old Bailey from the courtroom floor level instead of the gallery, and rubbed elbows with policemen, lawyers, defendants, and court personnel. I felt awfully lucky to have the experience but except for poking my nose whenever I can into Temple Church, which is one of my very favorite places in London, I haven’t really been back.

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Gardens in The Temple

Walking down from Bloomsbury, we threaded our way through Staple Inn (once an Inn of Chancery, now home to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries) and the four Inns of Court:  Grays Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, and the Middle and Inner Temples, eventually coming out on the Embankment. Since it was Saturday, pretty much everything was shut up. We eventually found our way into Middle Temple and through to the Inner Temple. Athough the church was closed, we could still hear the organ being practiced. On the positive side, the Inns were all blissfully peaceful and at this time of year the gardens were in their glory.

Read about Dickens, the Inns of Chancery, and the Inns of Court here.


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Dipping a toe into Oxford

Film Truck Under the Bridge of Sighs

Film Truck Under the Bridge of Sighs

I am quite sure that the impulse to make a day trip to Oxford came not only from an interest in history and tradition but also from any number of books, movies, and television shows, including Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, which is near and dear to my heart, and the venerable Inspector Morse TV series, but perhaps especially its follow-on series Lewis (known as Inspector Lewis here in the States). I’m so glad there is to be a ninth series  — it will be broadcast in the UK in October and I hope soon after in the US — and can’t wait to find out whether it includes any places I’ve now seen with my own eyes.

We traveled there on a breezy morning via the Oxford Tube, which is really a bus and which I can recommend if you have plenty of time and/or someone interesting with whom to pass the time of day, as I did. Our comfy bus was a double decker and we sat right in front for great views. The bus drops you in the High Street and you can easily walk to just about anything you would want to see in a day. It’s also a lot cheaper than taking the train.

In the time we had, we were able to wander through the streets, peer into colleges, take a short but excellent tour of the Bodleian Library, and have a bite to eat and a browse at Blackwell’s Bookshop. It was a short, sweet visit — enough to whet my appetite for more and I dearly hope to return sometime next year.

Oxford really does beggar my vocabulary of descriptive words, so here are a few photos. By the way, all my photos from this trip were take with an iPhone 5s. I still love an SLR camera, but you can’t beat this for traveling light, though you might need some sort of supplemental battery pack.

NB: In some cases I’ve used location data to caption these pictures and I’m not certain that all of the descriptions are accurate. Please let me know of any errors.