L.L. Diamond

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One of the major attractions of Rome is, of course, the Vatican. The Vatican is known for having a tremendous amount of artwork as well as the Sistine Chapel, so obviously a big thing to do and see when visiting Rome. We booked tickets for the Vatican Museums for our first day in Rome. Little did we know that even during October, this would be a packed and still crazy place to visit.

We crossed the Tiber river at Ponte Sant’Angelo, and turned left, heading towards the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. What I didn’t expect as we turned from the bridge towards the Vatican was the immediate assault of tour guides who line the path to St. Peter’s Basilica and around to the Vatican Museums trying to sell tours. They are paced about every 10-15 steps, and all start with the same line “It’s a 2 hour wait to get into St. Peter’s! Skip the lines!” This continues as you walk to Via della Conciliazione all the way until St. Peter’s Square.

Now, a couple of things we learned from this. They have badges that say “official” but they don’t work for the Vatican or St. Peter’s Basilica. They are official to their company maybe, but they aren’t employed by the church. Most of them use the same line, but sometimes, you’ll get one tour guide who will try a different approach. With us, it was “You know you can’t go in there dressed like that!” As far as we knew, our shorts and tops were fine, but the tour companies also make a mint selling souvenir scarves for 5 to 10 euros each and try to sell you their tour in that they can provide them to you with the tour or you can purchase the scarves from their shop just to the side.

St. Peters and the Sistine Chapel do have dress codes, so if you go, simply where a top that covers your shoulders and shorts or capris that cover your knees, and you won’t require any sort of scarf. We rebelled against the tour guides and purchased them from a street vendor for the same price. I will say that even with the scarves, we didn’t put them on in the Sistine Chapel and no one said a word. They were more concerned with the photography than my shorts or my daughter’s exposed shoulders.

When the Vatican and St. Peter’s were first built, Via della Conciliazione weren’t there. Instead, a bunch of old homes and windy roads led to St. Peter’s Square and Bernini’s amazing colonnade. Mussolini was the one who tore down those old homes and paved the road creating an impressive avenue and linking Rome more indelibly to Vatican City.

Now, the Vatican Museums are almost around the back of St. Peter’s Basilica, so you have to turn right before you enter St. Peter’s Square and follow the annoying tour guides still posted regularly, around the back to the entrance. We pre-booked our tickets, so we didn’t have to wait in line except to check in for our tour time because they stagger it to keep things from becoming too packed. We showed an hour early, but we still were able to enter and begin the tour.

The Vatican Museums are basically a crazy winding path through various old papal apartments, rooms, and porticos all decked in amazing frescos, tapestries, and both religious and mythological statuary. It takes several hours to get all the way through and at times you have to fight crowds to see particular pieces like Laocoön and His Sons in one of the small porticos, but it’s definitely worth it.

The security and guides become more rude as you approach the Sistine Chapel. We were told to hurry through some portions until we were packed into the Sistine Chapel. It is certainly a chapel and not large–especially considering the number of people standing inside to get a look. People are supposed to remain quiet in a show of respect, so security and a recording will tell people to be quiet. Security is also calling out for people to put away their cameras and not to take photos.

The frescos and the entire atmosphere is overwhelming really. While it was beautiful, I found it a little disappointing. We all stood and looked at the ceiling for some time and then the walls before we exited and moved on to the last little bits before we exited the museums.

Unfortunately, the lines were still extremely long for St. Peter’s Basilica, so we ate a late lunch and walked around before calling it a day with the plan to be at St. Peter’s first thing when it opened. If I had to do it again, I would’ve had us get up early and be at St. Peter’s within a half hour of opening and then book the Vatican Museums a few hours later. You could put lunch between the two viewings or you could simply walk down the Tiber until your viewing time.

 

Next… St. Peter’s Basilica!

 

 

For first time travellers to Rome, we did a number of things correctly and a number of things caught us completely off-guard. Hopefully, after reading our experiences in the next several posts, you will know what to expect and won’t run across the same pitfalls we did! We still had an amazing time, so it wasn’t anything terrible, but definitely something that would’ve made things much easier if we’d known at the time.

Ponte Sant’Angelo

We had a rather late arrival, and after reading nightmare horror stories about taxis from Ciampino airport to the city centre (which is anywhere in the Aurelian Wall), we ended up hiring a car. Yes, it was more expensive since there is a law in Rome that dictates a flat rate charge from the airport (30 euros from Ciampino and 48 from Fiumicino) for a maximum of 4 people and their luggage for licensed Taxis. It’s even posted on the outside of every taxi, but for one, we number 5 people. I’ve also read horror stories of people being dropped off at the walls or taxi drivers claiming that to the walls is the flat rate and beyond is an extra charge. The practice is illegal, but how many tourists really understand the law or are in a position to enforce it with the police if there is a problem. If it had just been me and my husband, we probably would’ve just made the attempt to get the lower price, but with three children along for the ride and the evening arrival. We weren’t willing to try.

We stayed not far from the Tiber and had a really quick walk to the Ponte Sant’Angelo when we crossed to see the Vatican. We had decided when we booked our place that we would walk everywhere and as long as you’re planning on touring what’s within the Aurelian Wall, it’s completely achievable.

So, if you’re not familiar with Rome, you might be asking ‘What is the Aurelian Wall?’. Most old cities had some sort of original wall that surrounded the city for protection and some cities still have remnants of that fortification to this day. Bath has bits of the original walls still intact around the city, though because they’re partially buried, they don’t seem much like walls; however, Rome’s Aurelian Wall, which was built by the emperors Aurelian and Probus in the 4th century still stands tall to this day. When it was first built, the entire wall, that encircled the right bank of the Tiber, was 26 feet high, surrounded 12 square miles, had 383 towers, 18 main gates, and over 2,000 windows.

When you approach the walls, even at night, you can’t miss them. We passed through one of the gates, which is one lane, and once we were inside, the traffic became even crazier before. If you’ve never driven in Rome before, you’re in for a shock! As opposed to British drivers, who tend to be rather mannerly on the road and rarely use their horn, the Italians are the opposite. Everyone uses their horn, they cut each other off, and then squeezing through tight spaces–I thought we’d never make it in a couple of places.

Arriving at night was fascinating and beautiful, though. We passed by so many historical places that were illuminated and looked just amazing in the dark.

Once we were shown around where we were staying by the property owner (We had the same experience in Venice as well. They took us around the entire flat and showed us everything.), we needed to eat. With several of us requiring gluten-free, that can always be a struggle, but my daughter found a place with 4 stars on Google, so we headed in that direction.

Voglie di Pizza is not large and it’s not the fanciest place when you look at it. It’s not much more than a narrow strip of hallway inside with outdoor seating, but it was one of our favourite places to eat by the time we left. We even returned on our last night. For those who need gluten-free, there is a regular menu as well as a decent gluten-free menu. A lot of places will only have pizza or only have pasta, but they also had Melanzane Alla Parmigiana (Eggplant/Aubergine Parmesan) and a few other options as well. I also had Tiramisu, which is something I haven’t had in forever. The food was good, the prices were not as high as a lot of places, and the people who worked there were extremely friendly and helpful. Definitely a recommend if you’re in the area!

We ended our first evening in Rome with a leisurely walk back to the flat so we could start sight-seeing  the next day. It’s amazing all the little things on random street corners whether it’s statues or paintings, and then the churches tucked up into little niches along narrow cobbled streets. It’s definitely worth seeing!

 

Next post… the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica

 

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurelian_Walls

For those who haven’t been, Bruges is lovely–and I’ve only seen a portion of it! Bruges is a combination of lovely old cobbled streets, well-preserved buildings, and waterways. The city centre is even enough to be made a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sometimes called “The Venice of the North.”

Historically, Bruges is first heard of in the 9th century and was probably first a coastal settlement, though by the 19th century it was a destination for well-to-do French and British tourists.

We left Mons with the intention of stopping in Brussels, but leave it to us to pick the one day of the year Brussels is closed to cars!!! Bruges was only an hour away, so we detoured in that direction since it wasn’t too far from the Calais. We found inexpensive parking at the train station and then with the help of a friendly local, we passed through the train station and in the direction of the city centre.

Bruges, in some ways a lot like the Netherlands, has bike paths, so make sure you don’t stand in them when looking to cross the street or you will have some rather angry locals and you might just get run over! 😉 My husband tried that before we ever crossed the first road.

From the train station, it was merely a matter of following the crowd, which led us into the centre, which is lined with quaint shops for tourists, selling chocolate, souvenirs, and beer, as well as restaurants. We passed several canals, but unfortunately, not all of my pictures were what I hoped they would be.

Mainly, we walked around the different streets and browsed in shops until we headed to the Church of our Lady for a tour. Now, if you are interested in touring this well-known church, you have to first go across the street to purchase tickets in the Old St. John Hospital.

When you first enter, Michelangelo’s Madonna (1504) is in a small chapel just to the side. There are pews and such to a certain point, but barricades to keep onlookers back and a glass barrier around her to protect her (Can’t be too careful after the attack on the Pieta in 1972). If you aren’t familiar with this sculpture, it’s the one they focussed on in the film Monument’s Men.

Personally, I’m fascinated by Michelangelo’s sculptures. The serene, delicate expression on the face of this Madonna as well as Mary in the Pieta are beautiful. I had pushed for us to tour the church just to see her–not that she’s the only art treasure they have, but she’s the one I wanted to see the most!

Definitely walk all around the church, though! Don’t just stop at the Madonna. There are a lot of little lovely things about it. I particularly loved the remains of a fresco in one wall and how they had the crypts under the altar area open and covered for everyone to see the artwork detail in them. Definitely not to be missed.

After the church, we took a break for a late lunch, but ended up heading back to the Chunnel early and regretted our decision since it was booked solid. We ended up finding a beach in Calais so the children weren’t bored to tears waiting until we could enter the Eurotunnel station.

 

Next stop… Rome – starting with the Vatican!

 

The first signs of people in Mons date back to the Neolithic period, but wasn’t made a town until the 12th century. Though in its early days, it was a mining town, it has changed dramatically. Since that time, this city near the French border has also grown, though still not the size of Brussels.

We had a few hours one afternoon while visiting a nearby village and decided to go into Mons and see what was there. Our first views were typical of many towns or cities in Northern Europe until we turned a corner to find a sculpture shadowing the road. On rue de Nimy, an enormous arrangements of sticks was designed by artist Arne Quinze. You drive through on the street below.

IMG_3751

We found parking on a side street. When we paid, we thought we put in money for 3 hours, but it turned out that we covered our parking until the next morning. After shrugging it off and putting the ticket in our window, we walked until we happened upon a church. I always love to look around the churches here, so we stepped inside.

Sainte Elisabeth has had several churches since people first began worshipping there, but the latest Baroque structure was built in the 18th century. It was a lovely church and definitely worth the walk through with the 16th, 17th, and 18th century artwork inside as well as the architecture.

When we departed Sainte Elisabeth, we continued down rue de Nimy until we reached Grand Place. Most towns in this region have a Grand Place as it was their market centre and most still remain with quaint restaurants with outdoor tables and great architecture. In this case, it was no different.

We continued on until we hit the end of the pedestrian only roads and then doubled back. My son was aching for a waffle, so we stopped at a small stand to indulge his whim. They aren’t quite the same as in Brussels, where they are a waffle smothered in fruit, whipped cream, chocolate, and all other forms of the decadent, but a simple glazed sort of waffle you held in a piece of paper and if you wished, they shoved long strips of chocolate into the thicker parts.

We couldn’t resist but to duck into a store with the sign Fromagerie. If you don’t like the smell of aged cheese, you won’t care for the smell of this store. They had an amazing selection, though, and we ended up buying some beer cheese for my husband and apple cheese for the rest of us that I apparently ate way too much of, much to the dismay of my daughter.

Of course, we couldn’t have cheese without bread and a bakery next door had baguettes as well as an amazing seeded gluten free loaf I couldn’t resist trying. We stopped at a local grocery store for some more gluten free goodies and a bottle of wine (to go with the cheese and bread of course!!!) before heading back to the quaint farmhouse where we were staying.

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Our friends in Belgium 😉

Because we overpaid for parking, we passed on our parking voucher to someone else, who was incredibly grateful 🙂

I wish I could say that I practiced more of my French, but the minute I spoke in most places, they reverted straight to English whether I spoke in French or not. 😦

 

Next stop… Bruges

 

If you’ve never been inside King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, then by all means go! We made an attempt two years ago, but we were told they’d changed the viewing hours to one day a week at that time and we were unable to see inside. This time, we travelled to Cambridge for a Jane Austen exhibit in the library, but traffic had us arrive too late. Fortunately, the chapel was still open and we decided to do that instead.

The initial building of King’s Chapel began on 25 July 1446 by Henry VI and took over one hundred years to finish. In the process, Henry flattened a good portion of what existed as Cambridge–houses, shops, and wharves–to clear enough land for the scale of the project. He wanted King’s College Chapel to be without equal in terms of its grandeur and beauty. There was supposed to be much more than the chapel by Henry’s plans. He desired more of a court, but he died before it could be completed, and despite instructions left in his will, only the chapel was built.

King’s Chapel is an amazing example of Gothic (Perpendicular) architecture with the largest fan vault in existence. A great deal of the stained glass also dates to medieval times and if you look closely, you can see the difference between the older glass and the newer by the detail of the figures and faces.

Carvings in the wall are all representative of the Tudors, from the Tudor Rose to the dragons and the greyhounds on Henry VII coat of arms. The greyhound represented Henry’s mother, who was a Beaufort, and the dragon the Tudors while a fleur de lis is present to represent his “titular kingship of France.”

If you go, also don’t miss the Adoration of the Magi by Rubens on the altarpiece. The altarpieces in Europe have some amazing artwork and this one is no different. We also were able to walk the grounds after since it was an open day at the college. I definitely recommend it if you have the opportunity. Unfortunately, the other buildings are closed to the public.

 

 

Sources:
http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/chapel/index.html
http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/chapel/history.html
http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/going-to-the-dogs-the-500-year-old-greyhounds-of-kings-and-in-the-fight-against-cancer

Hi, everyone! I’ve been crazy busy getting Particular Attachments launched and I’m so excited to be starting the blog tour for it! I’ve got a fun schedule planned. It doesn’t just end on September 17th either! Not listed below are a review at Austenesque Reviews either later this month or in October, a guest post with Madame Gilfurt on October 2nd, and review at Obsessed by Mr Darcy in early October. I hope you’ll join me for each stop. There’s going to be something new with each blog 🙂 OH! And if you haven’t pre-ordered your copy yet, make sure you do so it’s on your e-reader on release day. The special price of $3.99 is only until release day!

Happy Reading!

 

West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village is an archeological site and museum dedicated to the artefacts and culture found in that area of Suffolk. There is evidence that people lived here as far back as the Mesolithic period, approximately 11,600 years ago, and that people have inhabited the area off and on throughout the ages.

In 1849, people became interested in the site and was excavated in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as a more recent excavation between 1956 and 1972. The majority of the structures that were once on this site were called sunken-feature buildings. There were also a great deal of coins as well as pottery found on the site. The museum displays some of these artefacts as well as others that they have found in nearby areas of Suffolk.

On the site now is a series of approximately seven buildings built by researchers in an effort to determine how the Anglo-Saxons built their dwellings as well as what kind of buildings they used. There are also replicas of the weapons used from the earliest times to the medieval times and re-enactments as a part of the tour, including everything from slingshots, to trebuchets, to gonnes, which were medieval hand cannons.

The area also comprises of 125 acres with trails, countryside, heath, which has purple heather on it right now, and walks to explore. There is also a playground, picnic area, and a cafe.

 

 

Sources:
https://www.weststow.org
http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/herefordandworcester/hi/people_and_places/music/newsid_9081000/9081966.stm
http://www.buryfreepress.co.uk/news/rotting-west-stow-house-reveals-anglo-saxon-builders-secrets-1-7008124
http://www.stedmundsbury.gov.uk/leisure/parks/weststow.cfm?aud=visitor
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Stow_Anglo-Saxon_Village

If you like Beatrix Potter, you might just find Melford Hall to be right up your alley. Built in the 16th century, Melford Hall was originally held by abbots until the dissolution of the monasteries when it was granted to William Cordell. It was passed and sold within the Cordell family until 1786, when it was sold to Harry Parker, the son of Admiral Hyde Parker and became the seat of the Parker baronetcy. The home was passed to the National Trust in 1960. The family still occupies a wing and some of the gardens by lease.

Beatrix Potter was a much-loved cousin of the Parkers and visited often after 1890. She was said to have brought mice and other creatures with her that she painted as well as painting or making pen and ink drawings of the house and gardens, which are on display in a small outbuilding as well as within the house itself. There is also a model of Jemima Puddle-Duck that she gifted the Parker children on one of her visits.

Along with the artwork, you can tour the room where Beatrix Potter stayed as well as many other rooms in the home. There is a small garden to the rear of the house that is tended by the National Trust and open to visitors as well as a small lawn to one side where there is seating for the tea room and room for people to play croquet. The National Trust also provides picnic blankets and Beatrix Potter themed toys for children to enjoy on the lawn as well.

The house is lovely, though more modern in some ways than others. There are current photographs of the family around the house, which you don’t see in many of the other National Trust homes, and some of the furniture is more modern since family resided in many of the rooms toured until the ’60’s.

If you’re near Long Melford in Suffolk, Melford Hall is definitely worth a look–especially if you’re a Beatrix Potter fan.

 

Sources:
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/melford-hall
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melford_Hall
http://heartofsuffolk.co.uk/visitor-information/melford-hall-long-melford/

When I first started writing Rain and Retribution, I didn’t think much about some of the phrasing I was using until my first beta tagged a phrase and asked, “When was this first used?” Wait, what? I never thought about some of the idioms or word phrases we might use on a daily basis and whether they were around in the time period I was writing. Now, I tend to catch myself as those pop into my head and I search them out and sometimes look for lists of fun phrases that would be more common during that time. Today, as I was editing a chapter, I looked up an idiom because I couldn’t remember if I’d checked it, and thought I would write a post with a couple of idioms I’ve had to check or that I’ve used just for fun.

Today’s idiom was “to turn up like a bad penny.”  This actually comes from a proverb – “A bad penny always turns up,” and refers to anything or situation that is unwanted but recurs.

While we don’t consider pennies worth much, in the Middle Ages, they were worth significantly more and people counterfeited pennies, but instead of throwing them away, people would try to spend them to get rid of them. The term “bad penny” actually goes back further than the 14th century and can be dated by a poem by William Langland. In Piers Plowman, it says “Men may lykne letterid men… to a badde peny.

By the 18th century, the proverb appeared in Henry Fielding’s translation of Aristophanes Plutus (“We have a Proverb in English not unlike it, a bad Penny.”)

 

One of my favourites that I like to use is “different as chalk and cheese,” which is simply saying that things are extremely different. “Like chalk and cheese” dates back to the 14th century and found in John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, published in 1390, “Lo, how they feignen chalk for chese.” The origin has never been really discovered, but given the date it was first used in writing, it’s safe to say it was used in Regency England. I’ve even heard it used in the England today.

 

 

Sources:
http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/a-bad-penny-always-turns-up.html
https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/212498/old-timers-referring-to-a-bad-penny
http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/chalk-and-cheese.html

I’ve been getting asked and I haven’t had an answer. Too many things were up in the air. I’ve been writing the story posting at Austen Variations, I hadn’t finished Particular Attachments, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to search out an editor! I finished and I was still superstitious about saying a release date out loud, but after a few things going my way, I decided to bite the bullet.

My editor is plugging steadily away despite the rigours of having a new baby, and I am starting the formatting as I get chapters back from her. I also have a pretty substantial blog tour (for me anyway) getting lined up around that release date. So when is this release date you ask? Mark your calendars because September 14th is the date!

I am super-duper excited and I hope you are too!

Thanks for reading!

 

Leslie xx

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