I see London, I see France...
Memories of an epic pre-pandemic journey
Photos by Barrie Kreinik
This morning, if it all was gone
Funny thing, it wouldn’t phase me none
Might feel like I just got home
See I always had a taste for traveling alone…
Three times a year, I contract an acute case of wanderlust.
In early October, impatient for the air to crisp, I want to chase autumn northward till I reach its peak. In mid-February, when I’m sick of slogging through slush in a biting gale, I start dreaming of warm sun, cool breezes, and temperate water. And in late July, tired of sweating bullets every time I set foot outside, I long to be transported to colder climes. In the past, when those summer blues hit, I've escaped to cool Canada, or to parts of Western Europe where air conditioning isn’t usually required. So it was with bated breath that I arrived, one year ago today, in Paris—where the temperature had only days before reached 110°F.
I was leaving my life. At least temporarily. After more than a year of tragedy and turmoil, I was shattered. I wanted to do something meaningful, something energy-shifting—something to help me heal the past, own the present, and re-envision the future. I worked nonstop from April through July, spending lunch breaks researching hotel deals and dinners examining transport maps. I scraped some funds together and created a budget. Then I carved out a thirty-one-day gap in my calendar, booked my tickets, proudly packed only a carry-on bag, and took off.
I have friends in England whom I visit every few years, and I took a two-week research trip to the UK during grad school, but this lifelong Anglophile had always wanted to spend a whole month visiting all of the places I’d only ever read about in books. So I built myself a zigzagging itinerary, allowing for plenty of spontaneous day trips and visits to friends. Then I decided to tack Paris on for good measure. In fact, why not begin there? N’est-ce pas?
And that’s how I happened to arrive in the City of Light on July 29th, 2019, to find that the blistering heat had subsided to a comfortable 75°. I stashed my bags in my tiny hotel room and walked to the corner patisserie, where I bought a chocolate almond croissant and a bottle of Evian.
And my adventure began.
I’ve thought about the resulting monthlong retreat—for that’s really, at rock bottom, what it was—dozens of times this year, ever since travel was declared nonessential and any thoughts I had of venturing farther than the grocery store were nullified. I can’t express how grateful I am that the universe made that journey possible for me, especially now that the possibility of another such journey seems light years away. I grew stronger, bolder, more solid during that month. I rediscovered joy. I didn’t have to compromise or explain or accommodate or worry or ask myself anything upon waking each morning other than: What do I want to do today? And I never once, on any of those thirty-one days, felt lonely. After a sixteen-month emotional roller coaster, I’d finally reached the ground.
So this week I thought I’d dip into my travel diary—and the thousand or so photos I took to accompany it—and share some of the highlights of that trip. They'll tide me over till the next wave of wanderlust hits. And perhaps they'll inspire you to contemplate a journey of your own...even if it doesn’t take you any farther than the screen in front of you.
I walked over the river to Notre Dame, which looks sad but noble in its damaged state.
Saint Chapelle was smaller than I remembered, but just as breathtaking, with its intricate stained glass windows, each containing thousands of images...
My favorite room at Versailles was the Grande Opera, a theatre built inside the palace.
Though the Louvre was closed, the surrounding courtyards were open, and the view took my breath away. The sky was painted with puffy clouds against a twilit background and I took a million photos (well at least 10) of the buildings and the sky and the glass pyramids...
I'd forgotten how long it had been since I explored the Victoria & Albert Museum...the buzz and hum of the crowds on the first floor reverberated through to the empty second.
In Russell Square, I sat next to a table of American men and laughed my way through lunch as I listened to them.
"What was the professor's name?"
"It wasn't Doctor Doolittle..."
"Was it Wiggins? Professor Wiggins?"
The British Library was extraordinary. I kind of fell in love. Started wondering what sort of a project I could do that would require me to research there...
I've been surprised by how many things in London are reminding me of other times...like the summer I turned seventeen, when I first discovered the city for myself, and had a taste of the independence I now possess, and everything I saw was a wonder and a miracle.
The architecture is so varied, and King's College Chapel was awe-inspiring. I overheard a guide saying it's the second largest chapel in the world, next to the Sistine.
We walked quite a bit, and it rained a little but only sprinkles so I toughed it out like the Brits with no umbrella or coat. (My friends had a backpack with "waterproofs" in it, but I wasn't going to put mine on before they did theirs!)
I climbed the tower of the University Church and got some incredible photos of the view, feeling awe and glee as I looked out over the Radcliffe Camera and thought, "I'm actually here..."
Today was my first real washout, which in almost two weeks in England is I suppose pretty amazing. I walked through the pouring rain to the Bodleian Library...
Then I took the bus to Bourton-on-the-Water, which is built around a river (hence the name). From there I walked about a mile and a half to Lower Slaughter, a picturesque little town of which I took many pictures.
The chorus of "Ferry Cross the Mersey" went round in my head over and over as I walked along the river. Of course the Beatlemania here is intense. And the accents, oh, the accents!
I saw in front of me a rather massive hill. 'Surely not,' I thought...but yes: the only direct way up was via a steep, cobbled path that ran straight up the hillside. Then there were more roads to traverse, past sheep meadows and houses and deserted fenced-in places...until finally I reached Anne Lister's ancestral home, Shibden Hall.
The bus climbed up past the town and we were suddenly on the moors. And I suddenly understood just what "on the moors" really means! The fields were very green, so the rolling hills with their stone walls, long grasses, and purple heather were beautiful. But I can see how in the winter, with cold winds whipping and nothing growing, it could become quite desolate.
Then I trudged up the steep cobbled hill until I reached the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
I followed the signs toward the moors, but only made it as far as the end of a meadow full of sheep! (Which were very cute.)
I waited for it to stop raining (there was supposedly a 5% chance, but Keswick took that chance) and finally set off for Castlerigg Stone Circle...which might just be the most beautiful place I've ever seen. None of the photos I took do it justice.You could see for miles all around the hilltop, and the ancientness of the place hung in the air.
I caught a bus back to Windermere and decided to walk up to Orrest's Head. I found myself hiking through an enchanted wood, beautiful and silent but for the calls of birds. Finally I reached a steep set of natural stairs, which were treacherously slippery from the morning's rain, but which I climbed and climbed...and emerged for the second time that day into one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
The city is full of varied and beautiful architecture, and the best part about its center is it's all pedestrian plazas, so very easy to walk around. I walked down to the Quayside and over to the Millenium Bridge—which I recognized from various episodes of Vera...
TYNEMOUTH & WHITLEY BAY, NORTHUMBRIA
The ruined priory and castle were gorgeous against the backdrop of a sparkling blue sky.
Took the Metro to Whitley Bay...finally had an ice cream with a "99 flake" stuck in!
There was something quite magical about catching my first glimpse of the North Sea from the Metro, thinking about how I've zigzagged across this country and finally ended up on the northeast coast.
I'm sure I'll write further about my revelations.
Should I sign off ceremoniously?