Tag Archives: London

Venice, part II

According to my favorite custom of getting up early to explore new cities while the rest of the tourists are still sleeping, I grabbed a quick bowl of fruit for breakfast, then went to see St. Mark’s in the morning.

The previous night’s rain made lots of bathing pools for the pigeons.

But there’s always some folks that prefer a good shower.

Since the Palace and the Basilica weren’t open yet, I spent awhile just taking pictures of the carvings outside.

Some of it was rather creepy.

And then they let me into the Basilica, where I couldn’t take any pictures. Bah. It was beautiful, and had a feeling of immense age about it, which I didn’t feel inside the English churches.

Next was the Doge’s palace, which did allow photos.

One of the my favorite parts of the palace was the views through the windows.

The prison/dungeon was MUCH larger than I thought. All these little passages…if there hadn’t been signs to direct me, I’d probably still be there.

In one of the rooms, there was a little slot in the wall.

I peeked through it, and found myself observing a woman in the next room who thought she was alone. You just never know who’s watching.

My ticket included entry to the Correr museum, so I took a quick run through there. I found the chopines particularly fascinating.

I also loved these illustrated books.

Entirely hand-painted, and so tiny.

There was also tons of sculpture and paintings, but I’ve never seen the point of taking photographs of those. If I like a painting, I’ll just buy a postcard or print – much better than a snapshot!  I did take one, though, just to show you something amazing.

The Correr is a series of little rooms, and in most of them, there’s no guards or docents or anyone at all.  A lot of the time, I was the only person around. And there is no glass or barrier of any kind between you and the art. There’s not even any signs not to touch!  How do they keep people from messing with it? In America, you’d have kooks bringing in bottles of spray paint or something…or at least leaving fingerprints all over it. It’s puzzling, but awesome.

The last thing I did in Venice was take a boat ride down the Grand Canal.

It’s so much fun, because the boats rock with the waves.  After we reached the Canal, we slowed down, and I went outside beside the driver so I could get better pictures.

Although I didn’t take nearly as many as I could have done. I mostly just wanted to be there. Unlike some folks. This girl is in a gondola, on the Grand Canal, and she can’t be bothered to look up from her phone. I kept glancing over at her, and nope. I tell you, I hate smart phones.


Labor in Venice is interesting.

There was one small street I walked down, and workmen were gutting the inside of a building. All the stone rubble was taken out by hand, put in a wheeled cart, and handwheeled to the canal. Where it was emptied into a boat to be taken away.

I loved all the little gardens.

Sadly, a lot of the destruction of Venice is happening due to large cruise ships traveling up the canal. The residents are trying to stop this, but so far, no one is listening.

Although I loved it, two days in Venice was enough for me. I was ready to go back to London for one day…before I headed home to America.

My last day was all about bookshops and tattoos. My first stop of the day was Cloak and Dagger Tattoo in Shoreditch. They are super friendly and nice, and just the perfect place for a complete newbie to get her first tattoo!

I’d been thinking for years about getting one, and finally I’d settled on a place to put it – and a design that was properly meaningful to me. I went with a simple black silhouette of a dragonfly on the back of my ankle.

Dragonflies have a unique lifecyle. Depending on the variety, they can spend years living in a wingless form, underwater, completely aware of what they are truly meant to become. It is only when they leave the water, that they understand they are creatures of light and flight. I find it a perfect analagy for our life here on earth. We are wingless creatures, living in a world that isn’t truly ours. A lot of us are completely unaware that we are meant to be something else – and even those of us who do understand, well…is it possible to truly know the joy we will feel when we are finally able to leave this murky world and find our wings and the Light, our Saviour, Who is meant to live in us?

Everyone told me that having a tattoo done on the back of my ankle would be incredibly painful – but it hardly hurt at all. It felt like the artist was just scraping the tip of a safety pin over my skin! Even when he hit a sensitive spot, it was barely a 2 on the pain scale.  Even afterwards, it didn’t hurt. The hardest part was remembering to take proper care of it, since I kept forgetting it was even there.

After the tattoo, I went to Hatchard’s Bookshop to pick up a couple copies of the new illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. It was just being released on this day and I was super excited to be getting the British version, rather than waiting for the US one to come out.

Hatchard’s Bookshop is the oldest surviving bookstore in the UK, and it’s glorious. If bookstores were anything like this in the US, I might be tempted to give up my Kindle in favor of printed books again…but honestly…probably not. Kindles are just too perfect!

They didn’t have any of the Harry Potter books out yet, but when I asked, a clerk got them from the storage area for me. I took them up to pay, and the guy at the register refused to sell them to me (very politely, calling me ‘madam’.) He said the release date they had on their computers wasn’t for two days from now. I said I’d checked the publisher’s site, and they said it was today, and could he double-check that?  It took two clerks ten minutes, but they finally discovered I was right and their computers were wrong.  So I was the first one to buy one of the HP books at Hatchard’s – and possibly, the first one in the whole of Britain, if the stores had been given the wrong date (the US release date instead of the UK one.)

It’s a marvelous book. Well worth hauling it all over the airport the following day. It’s VERY heavy…and I had two of them. Look at these illustrations!



The most common question I’m asked is a variant of: Don’t you wish you were still there/could have stayed? The answer is: No.

Before I left on this trip, I was feeling very burnt out and stretched thin, like too little butter over too much toast, as Bilbo likes to say. Because I was saving for this trip, I hadn’t gone anywhere new in two years, and I was really feeling it. The trip itself was often stressful, because constantly having to find my way in new places (when I have zero sense of direction!) and figure out how to handle new things every day for twenty-three days was…out of my comfort zone, to say the least. This was my first solo trip, the longest trip I’ve ever taken, and only the second time I’ve been out of the States (unless you count Canada, which I don’t.) By the end of it, I was ready to come home. It was amazing and incredible and I’m so glad I went, but I was definitely ready to come home.

But it did its job of rebooting my brain. The final morning I woke up in London, I woke up with a new short story ready-made inside. The exact words were just there, like a gift. Before I went to the airport, I dashed out to the first shop that sold notebooks. On the plane from London to Reykjavik, I wrote the words down, non-stop. After a two hour layover in Reykjavik, I wrote for another three hours non-stop on the way back to Seattle. These gifts. These marvelous gifts.

I don’t remember dreaming at all while I was on the trip, but for two weeks after I got home, my brain was an explosion of color and sound and vivid, vivid dreams every night. More gifts.  These are the things you don’t think of, when you consider traveling, the benefits that you don’t realize will happen. I was in the middle of writing a particular novel when I left, and I was a little worried that I’d lose the thread of it – because it was already giving me trouble.  Now I’m back, it’s just bursting out of me, and I can’t wait to finish it, because the next book will be all about the things I saw in Europe – as seen through the eyes of a monster-hunting steampunk girl in Queen Victoria’s court.

But I’m happy to let Winnifred Sebastian-Veals do the traveling for awhile now, while I return to the calm solitude of my garden, my animals, and my art.

Besides, my chicken missed me.


Venice 2015

From Bath, I took the train back to London. I was really excited to do a little guided mudlarking along the Thames with LondonWalks.  At low tide, you can walk along the shore and discover all kinds of cool things, many of them from the 1700s or earlier. As my guide stressed, however, you do have to be careful. Wear gloves and don’t touch your face until after you wash up, because you can catch a really nasty (and sometimes fatal) virus.

The south shore of London is very modern, and thus not very nice in my opinion, but it did give me a chance to walk across the Millennium Bridge.  Didn’t see a single Death Eater, though….

I found several interesting things on the beach.


The red shard is part of an 1700s pottery plate, and the guide said it was unusual because it’s glazed on both sides. The long narrow pieces are also from the 1700s – the pipe stems from disposable clay pipes. Smoke once, throw it in the Thames. The piece in the upper right corner is my favorite thing, though. Since it has a fragment of writing on it, the guide was able to narrowly identify it as part of Victorian marmalade pot!

Then it was back to St. James Park for a look at the pelicans, which, once again, were on the far side of the island. Sigh.  I did see lots of young swans.

And this bird, which I saw all over Great Britain. I think it’s a magpie?

And this lovely heron.

I made an early day of it, because the British cold that I started in the Scottish Highlands was really starting to kick in. I felt so bad by the time I was settled into my hotel, that I even considered whether I wanted to catch my flight to Venice at all. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to enjoy it, and I was a little nervous about flying if my head was all congested. I stopped by Boots Drugstore, and threw myself on the mercy of the salesgirl. She set me up some special travel ear plugs, some fizzy Vit. C and zinc tablets, and some decongestants.  So I went to bed, and before I’d even properly gotten to sleep, the fire alarm in the hotel went off. I got up, and went out into the hall, but there was absolutely nothing going on, and after a couple of seconds, the alarm cut off. Another girl opened her door, and we discussed the odds of their actually being a fire, and decided to go back to bed.

I had to get up at four am, and fortunately, I was feeling better. And I’m so glad I didn’t miss Venice! My flight was fine, and the airport was simple to navigate. One tip: don’t buy your Aliliguna (water bus) tickets inside the airport. Everyone does that, and there’s a long line. If you wait until you get to the dock itself, there’s no line at all.

To get to the dock, you have to walk for about 11 mins through a parking lot and down the street (it’s well-marked), and then suddenly there’s the water, with a long line of water taxis and buses.

Around 1pm, I arrived at St. Marks.

All it took was one quick glance toward the square itself, and I decided to delay that part of Venice until evening. (Thank you, Rick Steves. Your Venice Guidebook was SO helpful, and never steered me wrong!)

Geez. Even in October, there’s too many people during the midday –  I can’t imagine the hell of summer!

I booked at the Casanova Hotel, which was right behind St. Marks Square, and easy to find. I was stymied briefly by the light switches – until a maid showed me how to insert the brass part of my room key into a slot to activate the power.

Also interesting was a bell pull inside the shower. To pull in case you fall, and need emergency assistance!

After I checked in, I went and got myself lost. On purpose, since good old Rick Steves told me I couldn’t get really lost.  All ways eventually loop back around to the Grand Canal, and San Marcos.

Once again, the weather was flawless.

The water was so gorgeous. So many different colors. I kept trying to capture its true colors, but I don’t think I ever did.  Beside the Grand Canal, it smelled purely of saltwater, but in some of the smaller canals, it smelled of deeper, riper things.  Not unpleasantly, though.

I spent almost all time in Venice just wandering around. The shopping wasn’t much – mostly very high-end designer stores, which I find boring – and glass/mask/paper stores, which after awhile,  all start to look alike. I did buy a beautiful wire mask, and a handmade black glass cat for myself, as well as a few Christmas gifts for people who might be reading this blog. 😉

I kept passing signs for McDonald’s, but never actually found it.

One thing you should know about me is that I am not a foodie. I really don’t like restaurant food – homemade is so much better! The only real reason to eat out, in my book, is for simple convenience – or because you’re being social with friends. Since I was solo on this trip, I had no reason to be social, so it was all about convenience. I never did eat at any of the sit-down restaurants in Venice; I just walked up to one of the many sandwich places when I got hungry.  I would have actually eaten at the McDonald’s if I’d come across it, because one thing I do find really interesting is how different a chain restaurant is when it’s in a foreign country. The menu is different, and and there’s all these odd little cultural details that fascinate me. In York, I ate at KFC – and I swear their chicken is a million times better than here. And you get little pots of gravy to dip your fries in.

The displays of fresh seafood along the street were beautiful, though.

After wandering until I was exhausted (I was still feeling a bit under the weather), I had a little rest in my hotel room until around 7pm. Then I finally went to St. Marks.

Most of the people had left, and the lighting had changed to one of those evenings where the sky is half stormy and half still blue.

Every so often, a flock of pigeons would take flight and fly by me, so close on both sides that sometimes their wings would brush my shoulders.

And then it started to rain, which drove away pretty much everyone but myself. The bells in the clock tower were chiming, and it was the closest thing to pure magic I’ve ever felt.

I walked down by the water, and managed to take the best two photographs of the whole trip:

And I think I’ll end this post here. Next up,  Venice, part II.

London: Highgate Cemetery & St. James Park

The flight from Seattle to Iceland is only 7.5 hours, and from Iceland to London is 2.5. Breaking the flight up as I did (taking advantage of Icelandair’s free stopover program) made it MUCH more bearable than a non-stop flight straight to London. Plus, on both these legs, I was lucky enough to have the seat next to me vacant! I barely had any jet lag at all, because having the empty seat to spread out onto meant I was able to sleep really well.

I dropped off my bags at my hotel, and got my Oyster card for the Underground, and went immediately to Highgate Cemetery.  By the way, if you’re planning to visit London, whatever you do, don’t fall for those “tourist Oyster cards” you can buy ahead of time. They cost you so much more money. An regular Oyster card is completely free – you pay only the amount you load onto the card. It’s super easy to get from the automated machines, as well. That “tourist” version is totally a scam!

I’ve always loved old cemeteries. They are so beautiful.  And Highgate is one of the best.

It is unbelievably crammed with graves. And there are modern ones, as well. They still accept new burials – though it will cost you, if you plan on burying anything other than ashes.

You can only go into the really old side with a guided tour. There are apparently many dangerous areas, with holes and drop-offs, and toppling headstones.

It’s legal to be buried anywhere in England – our guide put his mother in her beloved backyard garden. And did not tell the new owners when he sold the house. And many people do put their ashes here, in Highgate. I can see why. There is a peace here.

These are the broad “main” paths we were allowed to walk on. There are tons and tons of smaller paths, many of those choked by vegetation and graves. They just pile the graves in, wherever they find any spare bit of room.

There are mausoleums as well. This one was built to resemble ancient Egypt, during the Victorian craze for all things Egyptian. It was not very popular, though, because while Victorians might have been fascinated with Egypt, they didn’t feel it was quite properly Christian to be buried there.

We were taken inside the one of the largest mausoleums, but weren’t allowed to take photographs. I was glad I had a little penlight with me, because I was able to study all the little details on the caskets. They were rotting apart, but you could still see how beautifully decorated they were.  On top of the mausoleum, are the Highgate beehives. Yes, they make their own honey here.  Life and death.

Some of the older stones leaned against each other. I imagined they had grown into a friendship, over the years.

Trees had grown up through others, draping them with roots.

There were so many beautiful little details.

After Highgate, I went to St. James Park.

I was hoping to see the flock of tame pelicans they have there, but the pelicans were sleeping across the lake.

There were lots of other waterbirds, though. More varieties of duck than I can put a name to, and Toulouse geese, and my favorite, the swans. They were friendly, and people were feeding them by hand.

Last of all, I took in a little of the Hammersmith Vintage Textile Fair. I found many, many things I couldn’t afford; I wanted everything I saw, really. I ended up with part of a Victorian beaded sleeve, in black, and a narrow yard of embroidered fabric.. Someday, it will be the perfect thing for a costume!

After all of that, I was so worn out that I curled up in my hotel room and ordered Takeaway.  I used just-eat.uk, and it was brilliant. Just put in your postcode, and it brings up a list of all the Takeaway places in your area that deliver, and their menus. You pick what you want, and either pay with a card or say you’ll pay in cash, and in about 40mins, it shows up at your door.  Lovely. I had the best wonton soup I’ve ever had!

Travel Plans

There are two places in the world that have always been mine.

Even before I’d actually traveled to England, it felt like home.  I think it’s partly because most of my family tree is rooted in England (and I do believe in genetic memory) and partly because I have fed that love all my life.  When I finally made it to England, it was home.  I have never traveled anywhere in the States that felt so completely comfortable and right.  I’d move there in a heartbeat if that were possible, and I don’t think I’d miss the States very much at all.

But there another place that is home to part of my soul, and this is a place I have not been…yet.  But in 2015, I’m finally going…to Egypt.

I honestly cannot remember a time when I wasn’t completely infatuated with Egypt.  When I decided to plan a trip for my 42 birthday, I considered lots of places I could go – I opened the choices up to anywhere in the entire world.  England, the Amazon, Venice, India, the Galapagos Islands…but in the end there was really only place I simply have to be.


Just the name alone makes shivers rise on the back of my neck.

I will be traveling solo, and since Egypt (unlike England) is not a place I would actually be comfortable traveling alone in, I have found a tour group that caters to solo travelers and offers the sort of trip I want to take.  But before that, I discovered that there is no direct flight from Seattle to Egypt.  All the flights dump you somewhere in Europe and you have to change planes to continue on.  It seems a waste to be dumped somewhere I don’t actually want to be…so here’s the plan.  It doesn’t cost extra (in fact it’s slightly cheaper) to fly to New York City, and from there catch a direct flight to Egypt.

So I will first go to New York and spend at least one night there.  Just long enough to see a few of the things that I’d really like to see.

The Statue of Liberty:

The Met…

…because of course I want to visit their costume exhibits!

I’d also like to see a Broadway show, if there’s anything playing that appeals.

From there, Cairo.

I want to shop the Khan al-Khalili bazaar:

But really, Cairo has just a passing interest for me.  I want to go out into the Egypt of history!

Abu Simbel:

The Temple at Karnak:

The Temple at Philae:

And of course the pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Valley of the Kings.  Hopefully one of the big tombs will be open to tourists while I’m there, because I’d love to climb down inside one.  I also want to take a hot air balloon ride over the pyramids or the Valley.

Part of the tour is a two day Nile cruise…aboard a traditional felucca.  You bring a sleeping bag and sleep out on the deck!  Sounds so heavenly.

There is also a night out under the stars in the desert of Wadi Rum.

Also, I will have several days at the Red Sea (containing some of the most gorgeous reefs in the world.)

As well as Mount Sinai (the mountain where Moses saw God and was given the Ten Commandments) and Saint Katherine’s Monastery (location of the original Burning Bush…supposedly.)

I will also float in the Dead Sea…where the salt is so dense it’s impossible to sink.

I remember first reading about this place as a kid, and being so curious what that felt like.  Now I’ll finally know.

And THEN, as if Egypt weren’t enough, I’m taking a side trip to Jordan (with the same tour company.)

Petra.  I’m going to set foot in PETRA!

This is another place that I remember first learning about, and being completely amazed.  It seems too impossible to be real.

Including the pyramids, I will have visited two of the Wonders of the World.  I have the shivers again!

Seventeen days in Egypt and Jordan.  I can’t wait.

But the adventure still won’t be over.  Remember the no-direct-flights-between-Egypt-and-Seattle thing?  This means I will fly home via London.

I haven’t decided for sure how long I’ll stay in London.  Not too long…probably not more than three days.  Just enough time to catch a few of the things I missed when I was last there.

The Victoria and Albert Museum.  Because I have to see their costume collection.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum – and also probably a Holmes walking tour.  I LOVED the walking tours I took in London last time. They were a definite highlight.

I hope to get a B&B very, very close to one of the parks.  I adored the parks last time, and I didn’t get to spend hardly any time there at all.  Hyde’s Park was brilliantly gorgeous – and I was there in March, before anything much was growing.  This time, I’ll be there in early September…

I loved the profusion of water fowl.  Swans, geese, and more common and unusual varieties of ducks than I knew existed.  I love ducks.  Ducks are God’s perfect animals.

I also adored Regent’s Park, so we’ll see which one I end up staying closest to.

And maybe, just maybe I’ll see one of these:

There is at least one at large in London…I’ll have to find out where!  If I don’t come home at all – or if I come home five minutes after I left, you’ll know I found the Real One.

But my major reason for wanting to stop in at London is because of the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour.   I can’t help it…I do so want to walk down the ‘real’ Diagon Alley!

And then…sadly…home.

But only to start planning the next big trip!  I already think I have narrowed down to either Venice or an Amazon/Galapagos combo tour.  Until the world ends (and I wouldn’t be surprised if I happened in my lifetime…the signs are all there) I intend to do a lot more traveling.  And after the worlds ends?  Even MORE traveling.  Sigh.  It will so wonderful to have no monetary or physical limits – and to actually experience the world as it was meant to be, before it became the sad, sinful world it is now.

Steampunk Writings

In addition to the time travel novel (Breathing Ghosts) I’m writing, I’m also working on a steampunk urban fantasy.  It is yet unnamed, but I’m piling everything I think is cool about steampunk into it.  In addition to the goggles, airships, and steam-powered machines, it will also contain magic.

I have this idea for a Lovecraftian world of ancient monsters and magic – basically the place where all our world’s legends began.  Victorians have managed to create a Gate into this world, and colonized/subdued it with brick, technology, and social mores into a semi-civilized place they call “New London”.  They are happy to use the inherent magic as another sort of power/science.  But when the Gate unexpectedly closes, the people trapped on New London discover their transported science and technology is dying, and the ancient magic of the world beneath New London is rising up against them….

There will be no vampires or werewolves here.  I like the idea of digging out lesser-used creatures, such as the vodyanoy and the banshee.  There will be magical bartitsu, sewer krakens, criminal masterminds, and more-than-slightly-cracked inventors.  There might even be a pair of zombies (but only two…no zombie plagues in this book, sorry!)

I *think* I will post chapters online, but I haven’t quite decided.  In the meantime, I came across this picture of the real Victorian London, by Gustav Dore.  I’ve just ordered a book containing all his London drawings, because this is my image of New London:

I just love how cramped and…brick…it all is.  If you were an ancient Lovecraftian beastie, wouldn’t you rise up against this?

The Old Bailey

This is fascinating.  The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, the main law court in London from 1674 to 1834 are now online.  You can search by sentence, crime, keywords, age of perpetrator, by name, or by year.  You can even see the scans of the actual documents.  Rich with detail, this is an incredible resource!


BPAL Update – “London” and “Blood Kiss”

I put on a little Blood Kiss this morning, and ew, hated it. On my skin, at least, it had a very harsh, cheap-perfume smell. I suffered with it for a couple of hours, and it didn’t improve. Scratch this one way off my list!

So next I put on London. This one was a very nice rose scent, but it was only a rose scent. No undertones, nothing but rose. I doubt I’ll buy a full sized bottle of this, since there was nothing unique about it, but I’ll keep my little imp. Possibly I’ll layer it with one of the other scents – it might even smell nice with Bordello…