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Been a while since I've posted, hasn't it? Well, besides ordinary work keeping me busy, there have been writing projects - nothing I'm getting paid for (yet), mind, but slightly more official than writing LJ posts - and there has also been planning for the vacation radiofreecarbon and I will be taking in early April. We shall be spending two weeks in Great Britain. Huzzah! Plane tickets are bought (British Airways is a pleasant ride, right?), passports are mailed in for renewal, and I'm surfing for hotel ideas.

Observation: when an American plans a UK vacation, she will eventually end up in a cheerful mood simply because the place names start sounding funnier and funnier. Wodehouse did not exaggerate on these. I came across a Lower Limpley Stoke (street, I think) in the Bath area. Limpley Stoke. Limpley Stoke. Say it a few times; it's fun. Also found a Tooting Bec station on the London Underground map - the glorious, famous map that makes me happy just looking at it. And we're just scratching the surface on funny British place-names, here. But on to more pressing matters:

Since we'll only have two weeks, we'll have to pick and choose what to see. The British Museum in London is a must, and will probably take two or three days, at least when you add in other things we might want to see in London. I want to take a ghost tour in underground Edinburgh, which I somehow managed not to do the entire time I lived there. I want to see the highlands a bit - Inverness and nearby Loch Ness, say. Not sure what else. Bath, maybe? It consistently wins the Britain in Bloom competition, and things tend to be in bloom in April; plus it has nifty Roman ruins. Don't think we'll have time for the southwest peninsula (St. Ives et al), Wales, or Ireland, alas. So we're pretty much talking England and Scotland.

And here, friends, is what I need from you: what should I read on the trip? I want a book that, if you're not from the UK, made you long to go there, made you pine for Britain like you've never pined for a country before. Or, if you are from Britain, a book that made you proud of your heritage, that struck you as a good and flattering representation of the li'l island. It has to be an interesting book: I don't want to get bored, or find myself thinking that watching the numbers change on the train station arrival board is more interesting than reading. It also should concern itself with the geography to some degree. Jane Austen, for instance, while a lovely and fun writer, tends to keep her characters indoors, in one house, so although she was a British writer, you don't get a lot of feel for Britain itself by reading her. Shakespeare is plays and therefore just dialogue, albeit pretty dialogue. Locales in Harry Potter tend not to exist, so that isn't helpful either. The Mists of Avalon would be a good choice, but a) I've already read it, and b) it's too physically large to haul around while traveling. Keep size of book in mind as well. Also I'd prefer it to be cheerful on the whole (no Thomas Hardy).

Think about it. You have till April to come up with something, so late comments are fine. I just want to hear your suggestions and reviews before we leave. Thank ye!



( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 20th, 2004 12:13 pm (UTC)
Ah, that's right - Northanger Abbey is about tourism in Bath, more or less. I did read that one a number of years back. Quite amusing. :) I'll look into Jack Whyte as well.
Feb. 19th, 2004 11:37 am (UTC)
Books Of The English Persuasion:
Well, I've read the criterea, and the only suggestions I can offer are some books by Silas K. Hocking, Her Benny and Cricket. They both involve a bit of death (as the two books are both about street children in Liverpool/London), and you begin to see a pattern in the characters, but they're good reads nonetheless.
For cheerful books, well, there I can't help you. These ones are also amusing because they were written in the 1880s, so they use the typical slang from back then.
There's somehow something funny about hearing a young boy say, "Oh never fear, I's 'mazing strong, and I ken carry this like winkin'."

Feb. 19th, 2004 11:41 am (UTC)
Ah, lucky you! I've been yearning to go back to the UK for so long... *sigh*
Anyway, I don't think it's what you're looking for, but I do think Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island is a must-read before going to the UK. Absolutely hilarious!
Feb. 19th, 2004 03:07 pm (UTC)
Notes from a Small Island was going to be my suggestion as well. Bryson spends a great deal of time outdoors hiking, and interacts amusingly with the locals. Quite pleasant.

Along the Mists of Avalon line, you could always try the Mary Stewart Merlin books: The Crystal Cave; The Hollow Hills; The Last Enchantment; and The Wicked Day. For your purposes, I would suggest the first or second. The last will make you long to go to Orkney, which is out-of-the-way and time-consuming. Each volume is relatively small and transportable, but all four together = Mists of Avalon for inconvenience. Stewart spent a good deal of time researching location, language, etc. for these novels, and one can identify where most of the action occurs given a good map of Britain.

Enjoy your trip! I wish I could go back.

Re: - mollyringle - Feb. 20th, 2004 12:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: - mollyringle - Feb. 20th, 2004 12:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 20th, 2004 12:15 pm (UTC)
Heh! Didn't know he'd done that. Well, it appears to be out of print. But maybe I'll pick up some other Adams book I haven't read yet. Or Wodehouse for that matter.
Feb. 19th, 2004 02:40 pm (UTC)
If you're at all interested in Jack the Ripper (or taking the tour), I'd suggest reading Lost by Gregory Maguire. He's one of my favorite authors, and the book is about a female writer living in London trying to write a book about Jack... I'm really terrible at describing books, but it was very well-written.

Another interesting one is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. My youngest sister was in London earlier this month and she was thrilled to see Knightsbridge and all sorts of other places mentioned in the book!

Also, eeeee! You lucky duck! I haven't been to England for seven years, and it's a wonderful place. :)
Feb. 20th, 2004 12:16 pm (UTC)
Those both sound cool. Will have to look into them!

It's been about seven years for me, too. V. excited. :)
Feb. 19th, 2004 04:48 pm (UTC)
I recommend Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove. It's a work of alternate history which takes place in 1597, nine years after the Spanish Armada successfully conquered England. The main characters are William Shakespeare and Lope Felix de Vega Carpio. Shakespeare is asked by the English resistance to pen a play which will incite the people to revolt against the Spanish occupiers. He is also asked by de Vega to write a play which will praise the dying Spanish King Phillip II.
Feb. 20th, 2004 12:16 pm (UTC)
Neat idea! Sounds like a good one to look up as well. Hmm, my list gets longer...
Feb. 19th, 2004 06:22 pm (UTC)
I've been reading the John Lawton mysteries, set in London--and one of the things I love about them is that you can follow the hero around London because Lawton is so specific about streets, locations, Tube stations. They're Black Out, set in 1942; Bluffing Mr. Churchill, set in 1944; and Old Flames, set in 1956. Lawton didn't write them in that order--Bluffing Mr. Churchill is actually the most recent published.
Feb. 19th, 2004 06:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, and add the Queen's Gate Hotel to the ones you look at. I've stayed there twice, and really, really like it.

Feb. 20th, 2004 12:17 pm (UTC)
For those prices, it better be nice! ;) I think we'll be looking slightly cheaper, though trying to avoid "dodgy."...
Feb. 20th, 2004 10:24 am (UTC)
BA are good for flying, but then I was in a 777 in World Traveller class, which was nice. What class did you go by?
Feb. 20th, 2004 12:22 pm (UTC)
Looks like it'll be a 747, Economy/Coach class. Not as spiffy as World Traveller, but we're cheap that way. The good news (well, the sort-of-good news) is that it's a nonstop flight: Seattle to London, 9 and a half hours. No sitting around in Detroit for 4 hours admiring the airport decor. :)

What I will need from you, though, is further information on what is going on with all the different railways in Britain. I was trying to find a fare online from, say, London to Edinburgh by rail, and quickly learned that British Rail is not the only option. Good thing, too - they were neither cheap nor fast, compared to some of the others. However, where do you get tickets for these others? Are they all sold at whatever station you plan to leave from (e.g., Kings Cross)? Or do you need special arrangements to travel on, say, GNER rather than Brit Rail? Forgive me for the lame questions. I come from a country where we only have one national passenger rail service, and it's a clunky one at that...
Re: - bluesound - Feb. 21st, 2004 06:45 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: - mollyringle - Feb. 21st, 2004 03:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: - mollyringle - Feb. 21st, 2004 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: - mollyringle - Feb. 20th, 2004 12:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: - bluesound - Feb. 21st, 2004 06:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: - welsh_branwen - Mar. 29th, 2004 08:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 20th, 2004 08:11 pm (UTC)
James Herriot!

really.. my mum used to cry when she read anything by him after emmergrating!

If Only They Could Talk, All Creatures Great and Small... anything by him really...

You could also try Anthony Trollop...

or if you wish for something more modern you could try Joanna Trollop... (others people's children is my fav)

although they both seem to be more centered about people and their relationships, they could work for you.

Georgette Heyer is good if you're after a bit of non- serious fluff.

Feb. 21st, 2004 11:42 am (UTC)
Re: hmm
Good ideas!
I used to read Herriott in high school. Haven't yet read either of the Trollops, but I did just pick up a Georgette Heyer book, as it happens. Must be fate.
Feb. 21st, 2004 02:31 pm (UTC)
If you're interested in the real Britain, and not in tourist brochures, read Nik Cohn's Yes We Have No, a tour through underground Britain. Jeremy Paxman's The English - Portrait of a People is also interesting, but the best of the lot is Nick Danziger's Danziger's Britain. These books will tell you the truth about the state of the country, and show you the aspects of British society that nobody talks about.

On a lighter note, Alastair Scott's Native Stranger really enhanced my experience the last time I drove around Scotland. The author, having been away from his homeland for years, decides to get to know the country again, by biking around it. It's informative, thoughtful, and funny, and if you read it while you are there, you will recognise things he's talking about all the time.

And if you didn't go to The Pond while you lived in Edinburgh, go there now! Without a doubt the best pub in town, and a well-kept secret way down in darkest Leith. Worth it for the 1974 gaming machine alone.
Feb. 23rd, 2004 06:06 pm (UTC)
Cool! Insider's guides on many levels. And, no, I never did go to the Pond, somehow. This is good stuff to know - thank ye!
Feb. 22nd, 2004 05:18 am (UTC)
Woo to holiday! York is great, of course! Bath is a lovely city though, and you can easily do the sights in a day from what I remember, so it could be a nice place to stop off. London definitely needs a while to do. Glad you've got the British Museum there, for tis a most fabulous place. The Victoria and Albert museum is good, too. Hopefully the weather will be nice and you can take a stroll over the Millennium Bridge to the Globe and Tate Modern.

Getting close to the Welsh border is Gloucestershire, which is a lovely county. Gloucester is a nice city with an attractive cathedral, and even without crossing into Wales there are some good castles about, if you like castles.

As for books, it looks like you have lots of recommendations! On The Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin is a good read - it's about Welsh life and nothing much happens, but it's a lovely book. Bernard Cornwell is a great, entertaining author. He's most famous for his Sharpe novels, but I love the Warlord Chronicles, about King Arthur and set in the fifth century. Gallow's Thief isn't bad either - set during the Napoleonic Wars but mostly based in London. Or you could read his Stonehenge, which might be fun if you get a chance to see the stone circle.

The best London writer of course is Dickens. I'd recommend Little Dorrit. The plot's really incidental to some great description and biting social satire.
Feb. 23rd, 2004 06:10 pm (UTC)
Cool - it's very good to get recommendations from those who are actually in the know. :) If we make it up to York, you'll have to come out and show us the cathedral or something.

The Globe! I'd forgotten! That might be a must as well...
Feb. 23rd, 2004 02:49 am (UTC)
Depending on what day you travel and the type of ticket you want, you can save a huge amount by booking your train ticket in advance. My brother's girlfriend regularly travels between York and London and has saved as much as £40 by booking a week or 2 prior to travelling. You may have to do a bit of investigating to find these deals - I don't think the rail companies make it too easy for people to travel cheap!

If you do have the time, York is well worth visiting. It's a beautiful city, very 'olde English' and quaint.
Feb. 23rd, 2004 08:54 pm (UTC)
Am definitely thinking about York, maybe as a day trip from London. Looks lovely.

For the trains, the Britrail pass - available only to those visiting the UK from outside - may be a better deal. I'm doing the math on it to figure it all out...:)
Feb. 24th, 2004 04:54 pm (UTC)
as a Londoner i think i tend not to read books about my own city [concentrating more on the great american novel/travel books about america] but 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff is a lovely book about london [ish]. she also wrote a fabulous one about New York.
i will test my brain thinking of more for you to read. If you want a nice b+b to stay in instead of hotel, Alistair Sawday writes a book called "special places to stay", often cheaper, more personal and generally lovelier than hotels.
Mar. 12th, 2004 02:04 pm (UTC)
Jane Eyre is an excellent book. The first time I read it, I was a bit too young, and couldn't get through it, but then I picked it up at the bookstore a few months back and couldn't put it down. I wondered why I couldn't read it in the first place.

Diana Gabaldon's books are supposedly really good. I have never read them, but they're all my mom can ever talk about, and she's really into British History.

If you're more into comedy, or light reading, try Confessions of a Shopaholic. 'Twas hilariously funny - people were looking at me as if I was rather insane when I was reading it on a bench in the airport.

I have to second Neverwhere. I absolutely loved it.
Mar. 12th, 2004 05:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, I've read Jane Eyre, all right. Three times, even. :) I *heart* Rochester.

And I rather liked the first Diana Gabaldon book (Outlander), but it was getting kind of schmaltzy and silly by the end. It was like romance novel meets time travel. I'm not entirely sure why her series gets taken so seriously. *shrug*

But I'll look up the other one you mention, and as it happens, I've already bought a copy of Neverwhere to take along. Such luck!
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )

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