For 15 years, I’ve dreamed of getting to return to Europe. I even wrote a whole book (known these days as A Summer in Europe) about a woman spending several weeks there, visiting cities from Rome to London and drinking in the amazing atmosphere of every fabulous site. I wistfully daydreamed my way through the creation of every scene… Most of all, I fantasized about getting to show my “baby boy” (who’s now a teenager) a few of the places I most loved across the pond. To take him to the spot where his dad and I got engaged. To introduce him to a few real castles, Jane Austen’s stomping grounds, the coolness that is the Tube and Cadbury bars made in the U.K.—because, yes, they taste different there and are SO VERY delicious.
Well, a few weeks back, my husband and I took a look at both the calendar and our son…and we realized in shock that it had been 20 years since my husband proposed to me on London Bridge. (Spring Break of ’92…sigh…where did the decades go?!) And that, in just a few more years, our son would most likely be away at college or have a job and little time for vacations with his old, sentimental parents. So, despite our busy work schedules, the difficulty in being away from aging family members (my father-in-law just turned 90) and the significant expenses involved, we did something spontaneous, impulsive and oh-so-exciting: We booked spring break flights to England!
To say I was anxious and holding my breath that all would go smoothly is an understatement. I haven’t been abroad at all since 1997. That was pre-parenthood. Pre-9/11. Pre-homeownership. Pre-published authorship. Even pre-email!! (Well, pre-email for me—I didn’t begin really using the Internet regularly until I joined RWA in 2002.) Pre-digital camera, too, since I’d loved my old 35mm and hadn’t wanted to give it up. So, I knew times had changed and I figured I’d encounter a few major differences while we were away.
Truthfully, though, the lovely England of my memories was much as she’d always been. One might say, in essentials, she was unchanged… I did, however, get to have some new and thrilling experiences and, those of you here will appreciate these: visiting Winchester Cathedral, Jane Austen’s House in Chawton and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath!!
The very nice Becca Hemmings, who runs the online Jane Austen Centre gift shop, was kind enough to order additional copies of According to Jane to make available for customers, and I signed bookplates for them so readers who might be interested can have autographed copies. I enjoyed a visit to the Centre while my husband and son toured the Roman Baths. We celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary by having tea/scones at the Pump Room and then we wandered around the famous Royal Crescent and visited a number of wonderful little shops, including the bookstore where my husband had gotten me my 1894 “Peacock Edition” of Pride and Prejudice all of those years ago!
We did many other things while abroad, too. My son—a castle nut—got to finally see some truly impressive ones. We Brit-Railed up to Conwy Castle in Northern Wales (gorgeous!) and visited the Tower of London (amazing!) and walked the walls of Chester (so cool!). We also went to the “Ceremony of the Keys” at the Tower of London one night, which is a tradition that dates back 700 years. (My world-history-teaching hubby was in raptures.) And we took trips to Stonehenge and Oxford, too. We rode on the relatively new Ferris wheel, called the “London Eye,” and saw the beautiful city at night, peeked in on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (next time I’m traveling in summer so I can see a play there!) and had fish-n-chips with vinegar at a pub, just the way I love ‘em.
We also went back to London Bridge…so my husband and I could celebrate the site of our engagement and ask our son to snap a shot of the two of us, 20 years later. You can compare and contrast below!!
I can’t believe our 9-day adventure flew by so fast, but it’s good to be home, if only so I can finally catch up on sleep and stop eating those milk-chocolate Yorkies with the raisins and biscuit bits as if there were no tomorrow. Someday, if we’re really fortunate, I’d love to do this trip again…perhaps with our (future) grandchildren for Spring Break 2032… I’m already saving up my pence for more Cadbury bars .
A recent review of Marilyn Brant’s latest novel begins: ”A Summer in Europe is an armchair traveler’s dream come true. Brant describes the sights, sounds, and smells of Europe with incredible finesse and really brings her settings to life for the character. Her writing is really wonderful, and her descriptions and attention to detail leave the reader immersed in their imaginations.” (If Marilyn were asked, however, she would say her imagination is powered by chocolate, which is why she eats so much of it!!)
p.s. What’s your favorite kind of candy bar??! I’m a Yorkie addict.