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Monday, April 21, 2014

Lost in London


My favorite vacation wasn’t quite a vacation at all. It was part of a 1994 class trip—a study trip—during my university education. The group of us who went were supposed to be studying 18th century London history and literature. I can’t say I learned much about either while I was in London, though I had studied both thoroughly before we left. Once we arrived, however, the city awed and seduced me, and I had trouble focusing on anything other than absorbing as much of it as I could.

A typical colorful row of flats
in Camden Town, London.
With my classmates, I lived in a student housing flat in Camden Town. It’s a funky, colorful northwest borough of London, and it made for a quick Tube ride into central London. Less than half an hour after arriving at Euston Station and then settling into our Camden flat to put our bags down, a group of us jumped on the Tube and headed straight into the heart of the city. We ate jacket potatoes (a.k.a baked potatoes) with exotic (to us) toppings like sweetcorn and tuna in a restaurant that overlooked Leicester Square. I was instantly and completely in love.

There is a palpable energy to London. The city has more personality than any I've ever visited, and it was a character that appealed to me on every level—I loved it history, its busyness, its colors and all its uniquely quintessential aspects, from Big Ben to the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, to the red double-decker buses that seemed to be everywhere. I loved the smells, the accents, and the variety of Londoners.

Every single day, my classmates and I would venture out to explore London. We’d pick a different area each day. We visited Westminster Abbey, took a boat trip down the Thames, toured around Bloomsbury on a red double-decker bus, shopped in Knightsbridge, ate Turkish food on Baker Street, climbed to the top of dome of St. Paul’s, and the very best day was the one when we got lost.


Big Ben, shining bright on a London evening.
I was out with one of my classmates and we’d done some shopping, including a browse around Harrod’s. Rather than jumping back on the Tube, we decided to wander a bit and soon realized we had no real idea of where we were. We eventually discovered we were in Chelsea, a pretty residential area of London. I don’t remember seeing a single window box that wasn’t graced by flowers. Bold red geraniums seemed to dominate and they made a lovely contrast with the bright blue English Heritage plaques that adorned several buildings, indicating they had once been the home of a famous Briton.

Pere Biart Reading in the Garden
(1890) by Belgian Impressionist
Henry Van de Velde.
Another fortuitous day we ducked into a building not far from Savile Row in Mayfair, trying to escape the heat on a scorching hot summer day. We were surprised to find ourselves in a small art gallery. They were featuring an exhibition celebrating Belgian Impression, and we ended up spending much longer than intended soaking up the beautiful art. This painting by Henry Van de Velde, Pere Biart Reading in the Garden (1890), made an enormous impression on me. A poster from the exhibition featuring this painting is one of my prized mementos from my first visit to London.


Years later, I was lucky enough to live in London for a bit. Living in a place is a different experience than visiting as a tourist. As a young tourist, I had been free to spend my days wandering London from dawn to dusk. As a resident, I worked all day as a cover teacher (what we’d call a substitute) in various schools around London and didn’t venture far from the southern borough where I lived for weekend outings. My love for London deepened as a resident, but nothing can compare to the initial flush of excitement I felt during my first visit. Twenty years later, I still miss London fiercely, and I can’t wait to visit again. For now, I visit in my fiction, using London as a backdrop for my historical romance stories, like my debut novella, Scandalous Wager.

6 comments:

Sarah Raplee said...

Your love for London shines in this post, Christy. It's the perfect setting for your fantastic Victorian Historicals!

I love Your stories!

Diana McCollum said...

Love the pictures and your blog! London has always intrigued me. Someday I'll get there. How lucky for you to have lived in London. That makes the setting in your books come alive!! Good luck on sales!!

Judith Ashley said...

Setting your stories in Victorian England makes perfect sense since you are definitely in love with London. Perhaps I wasn't there long enough - but, I think it is more that I'm not really a Big city person so I much more enjoyed my time in England in Glastonbury.

I do believe if we all lived in a different country for at least six month or longer, we'd have a better appreciation for the diversity that makes Earth a fantastic place to live.

Christy Carlyle said...

Thank you, Sarah, Diana, and Judith for your comments!

Yes, I do love London. :) As a resident, I got to see some of the more difficult aspects of living in such an enormous metropolis. Just parking in central London is a colossal and expensive undertaking, but I still love it.

And Judith, I am torn between being a city girl and a off-in-the-country girl. When I lived in London, I was living in Surrey, and visits to Box Hill and small villages like Shere (where parts of the movie The Holiday were filmed), were favorite weekend outings.

Thanks again for your comments!

Pippa Jay said...

I used to love my trips to London, especially visiting Camden Market and Covent Garden Market, both of which had a huge and often exotic range of interesting things to look at and buy. Then off to raid Forbidden Planet for books. Our last trip there was just a few days before we found out we were pregnant with our first child - we went on the London Eye and saw an awesome stage performance of The Hobbit. Now I find the odd trip up there stressful if we have our three monsters with us - the Underground, for example, with all its crowds and my youngest's inability to take 'Mind the Gap' seriously. >.<

Pippa Jay said...

I used to love my trips to London, especially visiting Camden Market and Covent Garden Market, both of which had a huge and often exotic range of interesting things to look at and buy. Then off to raid Forbidden Planet for books. Our last trip there was just a few days before we found out we were pregnant with our first child - we went on the London Eye and saw an awesome stage performance of The Hobbit. Now I find the odd trip up there stressful if we have our three monsters with us - the Underground, for example, with all its crowds and my youngest's inability to take 'Mind the Gap' seriously. >.<