L.L. Diamond

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I’ve always wanted to spend countless time wandering the art museums of Paris. I didn’t get into all of them, but I did make the Louvre!

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The largest art museum in the world, the Louvre is situated on the Right Bank of the Seine and was very close to where we stayed while we were in Paris. The Louvre was once a Palace until Louis XIV moved to Versailles in 1686.

Now, the Louvre holds an amazing amount of artwork as well as being it’s own work of architecture when you take the time to look at the outside.

We purchased our tickets in advance. I’ve heard enough stories of people planning to go on the one day of the week the Louvre is closed, not to mention the crazy lines to get in, so we made a point of showing up with ours in hand. Happily, the Louvre does not charge for children, so only my husband and I had to pay admission.

After the usual security checks, we were shunted inside and up a huge escalator to the top floor of the Denon wing where you stand in line until you find yourself in front of the Mona Lisa, set up from the rest of the artwork, and the guides repeating over and over again, “One photo and you go.” Rarely does anyone adhere to that rule before they are shooed into the rest of the Louvre by the guides.

When you leave the Mona Lisa, you walk through a door into the remainder of the top floor (Sully and Richelieu wings). Be aware that you cannot access the Denon wing again unless you return to the ground floor. My advice is to see what you want in the Denon wing on your way up to the Mona Lisa, then work your way through and down the Sully and Richelieu wings. That way, you don’t have to figure out how to return like I did to see Vermeer’s Lacemaker.

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I love how you can see the light through Jesus’ fingers!

That advice given, the Louvre is enormous and unless you have several days to take your time, you almost have to walk through taking glimpses for works you know or works that catch your eye. The staff will let you know where works are if they know them, and most of the major works the Louvre has are indicated on the map. It’s a maze of wonderful things to see and I enjoyed the entire experience—even when my children were done by lunch and wanted to leave.

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The Louvre has something that will speak to your soul if you take the time to search for it. I never know what I’m searching for when I go to an art museum. I definitely have certain works I want to see, but I’m always caught by some work that either by beauty or something technical draws me in. The Louvre was no different, just be prepared to be tired and have sore feet at the end of the day!

Next up . . . Our last day in Paris!

It’s official and up on Audible, Amazon, and should be up on iTunes soon! Melissa Kay Benson did a fantastic job narrating our dear couple and bringing everyone to life—including a few of Grunt’s noises. Just have a listen!

To celebrate, I’m having a giveaway! I searched around for some fun things for you and I hope I didn’t disappoint. Just like the last giveaway, the cat is not included! He’s just very nosy and loves being in the middle of everything. As you can see by the photos, he didn’t hold still as well this time!

 

Included in the giveaway is an Unwrapping Mr. Darcy tote bag, a black cat mug, a package of Tea Pigs chamomile tea, a small black cat tea bag dish shaped like a tea pot (from my trip to Paris), some cat magnets (also from Paris), a felt black cat Christmas ornament (just like Lizzy’s in the book!), a signed paperback of Unwrapping Mr. Darcy (not pictured), and a copy of the audiobook from Audible.

Just leave me a comment below! The giveaway is international. I’ll be choosing a winner on Monday December 10th, so you have until then! I’ll be posting on Austen Variations too, which will give you another chance to enter, so check in there tomorrow.

From the time I was about eight years old, I wanted to go to Paris. Well, I finally went over Labor Day weekend! During a sale for Eurostar tickets, we booked the entire family. I had a friend coming in and we were seeing a play on Friday, so I traveled early Saturday morning to join my husband and children who were being terrible and sending me goofy photos from in front of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

Very early Saturday morning, I drove thirty minutes to the local train station where I parked and took the train to London’s King’s Cross Station. If you’ve never been to King’s Cross, there is nearly everything you can imagine from shopping to restaurants right there. I arrived early enough to grab coffee and breakfast before I walked over to St. Pancras International.

Check-in at St. Pancras was a lot like an airplane. They didn’t have the liquids restrictions but you had customs, of course, and you do have an x-ray for your bags. Only difference was they had a tray for my coffee while I went through the security check and I got it back on the other side.

Eurostar, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a high speed train that travels through the Eurotunnel to several destinations in Europe—notably Paris, Disneyland Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. The trip to Paris takes on average two hours and sixteen minutes and there are trains all day long. My train took longer because a train had stalled on the tracks so we stopped not far outside of Paris for them to clear it. Luckily we weren’t terribly late as a result. I do think we never accelerated to the speeds we had on the return because of the obstruction on the line. On the monitor on the return we traveled close to 300 km/h. The speed is a bit weird feeling. I don’t like to sit backwards on a normal train, and I absolutely couldn’t on the Eurostar. During the trip to Paris, I ended up sitting on the floor in a corridor rather than in my seat until a woman told me the seat beside her was free and faced forward.

The Eurostar arrives in to Gare du Nord where my husband insisted I take a taxi to where they were eating lunch. However, the woman who offered me the seat on the Eurostar warned me of taxi scams at Gare du Nord and they had several signs warning travellers of the issue when we arrived, so I bought a ticket for the metro and fumbled my way around (In all honesty, I would’ve done well if my husband hadn’t insisted I was going the wrong way!!) until I arrived at the metro stop near where they ate.

My daughters retrieved me from the station and we made our way back where we ate gluten-free crepes and I drank more coffee. After, we simply walked around the city, soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying the scenery. We walked as much as we could around Notre Dame, walked across Pont Neuf, and passed by the Louvre on our way back to the flat where we were staying.

My husband and my oldest had found a wine bar near the flat, so the three of us topped off the evening with a glass of wine and some cheese while my younger children readied themselves for bed, which they were perfectly happy with.

 

Coming Soon: Day 2: The Louvre!!

The Apollo Victoria

My daughters have been asking to see Wicked for some time, but to be honest, I wasn’t gung-ho about seeing it. I can’t explain why, but it just never piqued my interest. After listening to them talk about all of the musicals they want to see, I finally booked tickets to Wicked. The tickets weren’t terribly priced compared to some, which made my husband happy, and we decided to make a day of it. He took my son to the planetarium in Greenwich while we saw the play.

 

Wicked opened on Broadway in 2003 to great success with Idina Menzel as Elphaba, who we more commonly know as the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. Who knew she was actually a heroine? I sure didn’t until Wicked.

I won’t go into all of the little details or give spoilers, but the show was immensely enjoyable, and after listening to Idina Menzel singing Gravity on Youtube, I have to say I preferred the woman who played Elphaba in the production we saw. The most fascinating part was the backstory created for all of the characters I grew up watching in the Wizard of Oz. Yes, it’s a statement on race and inclusivity, but it’s wrapped in an entertaining package.

The stage before the play started

 

In London, Wicked plays at the Apollo Victoria, which is virtually across the street from Victoria station, so very easy by tube. It’s also a very large theatre so there were plenty of seating options when we booked our tickets. My only complaint was that we had to queue to enter the theatre, despite having tickets for the show, but luckily, we were ushered in quickly and the wait wasn’t long.

The balcony at the Apollo Victoria

If you have the chance to see Wicked, I definitely recommend it!

 

Next up…Paris!

Hi everyone!

I know I’ve been a bit sporadic lately, but between work and writing, I’ve been a busy girl. I am still teaching fitness classes and I’m a personal trainer, so I’m either staring at my computer or in the fitness centre. Either way, it’s a good thing. I love doing both!

So, I’ve got a lot going on!

First and foremost, I have an amazing narrator/producer lined up and recording Unwrapping Mr. Darcy. I’m loving the way Melissa K. Benson sees the humour in each bit and brings it out in the recording. I know she’s hard at work and I can’t wait to hear it in its entirety!

Next is the last book in the Wedding Planners series! I have Charlie and Jensen’s story all written and through the editors. I have a couple of small tweaks to make and then the proofreading. It will definitely be out by Christmas! (I hope so anyway, or I’m going to have to look at making a new cover! 😉  ) I just debuted the cover at Austen Variations on Monday. If you didn’t see it, here it is!

Lastly, while Charlie’s story was in editing, I picked up a story I started five years ago. I was almost six chapters in, and I started chapter 26 yesterday. I want to get the rough draft of that finished so the muse doesn’t get distracted by taking care of those final little edits on Charlie’s story. I’m hoping this Regency will be out in the first half of next year, but it all depends on my amazing editing team. As anyone who follows me regularly knows, I don’t give hints, but I can tell you that it is a Regency. I can’t make any other promises 🙂 I’m just very superstitious I guess.

Anyway! Thank you so much for following and reading my musings. I can’t wait to release what I’ve been working on and I hope you can’t wait too! I love the holidays and this one should be a lot of fun!

In the meantime, Happy Halloween!

 

 

Yes, I wanted to go to Brighton, but I didn’t need to spend several days, so we decided to make a day of it and take the train. I noticed something was up on the train and in true me fashion, I happened to plan the day in Brighton on probably the busiest day in Brighton–the day of the Pride parade.

 

Photo by: Derren Hodson

Nothing like being in the middle of millions of people for a sightseeing trip. 😉

Upon arrival, we were shunted through down the main thoroughfare from the station toward the beaches. We didn’t walk around town since it was packed, but made our way down to Brighton Pier, which was only just opening. The pier was originally constructed in 1822 and opened in 1823 as a chain pier, but was repurposed in 1866 as a pleasure attraction, which it still is today.

We walked around and took a long look around, sat down for coffee and a snack, and the kids rode a ride. The weather was lovely that day, so we spread a picnic blanket we brought on the beach and relaxed for a while.

The children wanted to go into Sea Life Aquarium, so we paid a pretty penny for admission. The old building is very interesting, however, I didn’t find the aquarium all that impressive, but I can’t help to compare it to Monterey Bay Aquarium and the aquarium exhibit at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.

When we left the aquarium, we navigated through a closed part of the beachfront north to the Royal Pavilion, which was not nearly as busy as everything around it. The Royal Pavilion was originally a farmhouse acquired by the Prince of Wales (later George IV) in 1786. He had it enlarged over the next eight years and purchased land around it.

When George IV was king, he had John Nash redesign the pavilion making it into what it is today. While it appears of Islamic influence on the outside, the inside is very Asian, more specifically, Chinese with the dragons and artwork displayed, keeping with the fascination with the foreign found in Regency times.

After George IV’s death, Queen Victoria disliked Brighton, and according to the infographics in the pavilion, disliked the overly ostentatious decor. She intended to do away with the building and even pulled furniture and artwork from the building which were later restored as possible.

The pavilion is a bit overwhelming in its grandeur and overblown style, but it’s a fascinating place to see. The ceilings and the ornate style were different than most old homes, making it a novelty of sorts. The dining room is definitely a must see with its palm frond and dragon chandelier.

If you travel to see the Royal Pavilion, please keep in mind that you cannot take photographs inside the building. I’m adding John Nash’s artwork of the Pavilion for you to get an idea. You can even see how ornate the stables were with the glass ceilings.

After touring the pavilion, we headed to a place I’d seen online called BeFries. Basically, they serve nothing but double cooked chips with a selection of sauces. I was crazy hungry and they were amazing so it didn’t take long to polish off a large with garlic mayo and frites sauce among my selections for sauces.

We thought to go to the beach until our departing train, but the parade was over by that time and everyone was waiting around for the Kylie Minogue concert later–on the beach of course. By that time, we were pretty tired. The train station allowed us to board a train early and make our way home.

 

Next . . . Wicked in London

 

Sources:
https://www.expertskiphire.co.uk/brighton-pier-history-facts

One thing I love about the United Kingdom is that most of the museums are free, and this includes the National Gallery and the Tate Modern. While the subject matter of both galleries slightly overlaps, the focus of each is very different with the National Gallery displaying art from the beginning of what we define as art to modern times while the Tate focuses on strictly contemporary art.

The National Gallery sits at the head of Trafalgar Square in a grand Palladian style building. The interior is just as beautiful as much of what is housed in it with marble columns and floors throughout parts. While not nearly as large as the Louvre, it is still a huge building with a great deal of artwork. We walked through looking at everything and then backtracked, asking those who worked there about specific pieces we’d missed.

On occasion certain rooms tend to be closed, which happened the first time I went to the National Gallery. Instead, we toured the portrait gallery that day instead.

The Tate Modern sits on the Southbank side of the Thames just in front of Millennium Bridge. If you’ve seen Mission Impossible: Fallout, Henry Cavill crosses Millennium Bridge and goes through a door (That doesn’t exist in real life by the way. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble!) in the tower of the Tate Modern and meets a helicopter at the top. There’s even YouTube footage of Tom Cruise being hoisted to the top of the tower for a shot.

 

 

Anyway! Tate Modern houses art dating from the beginning of the 1900s until today. It’s collection is vast and covers so many different genres and political messages. It’s definitely an interesting collection, even if you do not typically care for contemporary art. One of the coolest parts of the Tate was the large floor in Turbine Hall by Tania Bruguera. You take your shoes off and you can make imprints with your hands or feet, but unfortunately, you need a large number of people to reveal what is underneath the flooring that reacts to body heat. While strange sounds emirate from these huge speakers and almost echo through the hall. I wish I could find my photos (I’ll be honest. They’ve disappeared. I’ll post some from my husband’s when I get the chance.) so I have a link to an explanation of the installation.

 

I found my photos from the Tate!

 

Next up: Brighton!

 

So, what do you do when you have a swim meet in Germany on a Saturday and an entire Sunday to kill before a ferry crossing? Spend it in Amsterdam of course!

For this trip, we’d taken the Eurotunnel through France, but we decided to give the overnight ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich, UK a try so we could take a detour to Amsterdam. We researched a place to park where we could somewhat easily walk to the town centre.

Our first stop in Amsterdam was lunch! With three of us requiring gluten free, finding a place to eat in a foreign country is always a crazy experience. Due to a gluten free blog, we found a place called Bagels and Beans. Now, one thing the blog didn’t mention was that while they serve gluten free, it’s very easily contaminated in their small kitchen. At the time, we were hungry and decided to chance it, but it’s always better to know up front whether it’s good for celiacs or not.

From there, we walked the bridges and canals. While I saw an art exhibition I would’ve loved to see, we kept going and enjoyed the walks rather than something indoors since we spent the day before in a huge indoor pool. We did joke around in one of the souvenir shops, looking at the selection of Cannabis candy.

 

Our last stop of the day was Hard Rock Cafe. One thing about traveling Europe gluten free. If you’re in a large enough city and can’t find gluten free, Hard Rock Cafe is an option! We then bought the obligatory t-shirt before we walked back to our car to head for the ferry.

The one thing I found tricky about locating the ferry is there’s no specification for which Stena Line port is which online or when you map it. We ended up at the freight port and had to backtrack about forty minutes to get to the passenger terminal. Thank goodness we always leave some extra time!

Stena Line runs two ferries between Harwich and the Hook of Holland-Stena Britannica and Stena Hollandica. You drive on and park your car. We booked a cabin for the night which had four bunkbeds and would fit five since one is wider than the rest. We checked out the boat and my husband and I ordered a cheese plate (which they had gluten free bread for!) and a bottle of wine at the bar to enjoy before we settled in for the night. We’d boarded about seven o’clock, so we had plenty of time.

I’ve found it a bit difficult to settle in on the boat for the crossing. It’s not that it’s rough but probably that it’s a new place. We pulled into port before six a.m. and my husband was ready to jump in the car and head out, but they off-load the lorries (eighteen wheelers) before the car passengers. Meanwhile, the other passengers eat breakfast.

The ship then plays “Don’t Worry Be Happy” when it reaches time to disembark. It’s definitely not a bad way to travel and we’ve used the ferry since. The second time was for another swim meet in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sightsee for that trip since the competition took up the entire weekend. We did, however, take the ferry in both directions that time. I will say on both occasions, I found the customer service much better on the passage from the Hook of Holland to the UK versus the trip out to the Hook of Holland. The crew was much friendlier and the process when we reached port was simply better.

 

Next up . . . National Gallery London and Tate Modern

 

From Strasbourg, we made the short trek to Reims, our last stop on our Christmas market tour. Upon learning that the Reims area is famous for Champagne and the Champagne houses, we decided to see what all the fuss was about before we checked into our accommodations and set off for the Christmas market.

After researching the local Champagne houses, we decided on Tattinger. I’d read some wonderful reviews of their tour so I went to their website and booked everything there, which was super simple and quick.

We were a bit early for our 1:00pm tour so we found food and snacked before we checked in for the tour. We didn’t wait long before our tour guide appeared to usher us into the first room where we watched a brief video on the history of Tattinger champagne before he led us out and down into the tunnels under the Champagne house.

Reims was once a huge chalk mining town so underneath the city is approximately 200-250 km of tunnels that are now used as wine cellars for Champagne. These tunnels were also used as refuges for the citizens of Reims during the world wars, giving them a place to hide from bombing raids. In WWI alone, nearly 80% of Reims was destroyed by bombs. During the tour, it’s easy to spot graffiti left behind during the wars.

The tour was extremely thorough, teaching the exact process of how Champagne is made and taking us through the different cellars all the way down to the lowest cellars which were chalk mines dating back to the 4th century. These caverns are 60 feet below the surface and are incredible to see. It’s no wonder the caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site since they’re steeped in so much history.

Tattinger Champagne House is also built on the ruins of the St. Nicaise Abbey which originated in the 13th century and still has old staircases and embellishments from that original structure. The monks who lived there also made wine so the site is steeped in history when it comes to the tradition of making wine.

When the tour ended, we enjoyed our glasses of Champagne before we found the flat where we were staying the night. Once we settled in, we walked a mile or so to the town centre for the Christmas market.

Unlike Strasbourg and the German markets, the Reims market wasn’t spread around town but was isolated around the amazing cathedral. After clearing the security checkpoints, we wandered all through and toured the cathedral while we were there. It’s a beautiful Christmas market with lots of wares and great food to sample. The location really made it magical but all of the Christmas markets we visited had their own charm.

We roamed until we were tired and walked back to the flat. The next day we drove to the Eurotunnel and left France behind so we could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day at home. It was a long trip but worth it to see the mixture of European Christmas markets. I want to do it again but maybe not so many in one go! It made for a long trip.

 

 

 

 

Sources:
https://www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk/discover/weekend-town/reims/cellars-champagne-reims
https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/champagne-caves-wine-cellars-france
https://www.taittinger.com/en/emblematic-sites#saint-nicaise

 

I’m back! Sorry for the interruption in posts but it’s been crazy around here.

After Heidelberg, we drove into France, stopping at a small hotel just outside of Strasbourg. I would’ve loved to stay closer to the town center but finding a place with parking wasn’t possible and we learned why when we walked into the town center that evening.

Now, I’ve studied French but my speaking is weak compared to reading and I had several different reactions to my attempts at trying to speak. The first was when we checked in to the hotel at 3:00 in the afternoon and I said, “Bonjour” only to receive a crabby “Bonsoir!” in return. Fortunately, most of my attempts were more politely taken 🙂

Once we were settled in, we walked out to the Tram station just in front of our hotel, bought tickets, and boarded when the next train came to the platform. A nice gentleman pointed us in the right direction when we reached the town center and we followed his directions. We knew we’d headed in the correct direction when we came to security posted around the middle of town.

Strasbourg had been the site of the terrorist attack this past Christmas and we had to let them look in our purses/handbags as well as open our coats before we were allowed past.

I do feel that Strasbourg is one of the most beautiful Christmas Markets we visited. The atmosphere around the various markets, the Baccarat crystal chandeliers hanging down the middle of one of the streets, and the cathedral all make the place rather magical. It’s just a neat place. I’d love to go again just to take in the ambience of the town. I think the only thing that could’ve made it better was snow!

Unfortunately, my attempts at photos of the chandeliers didn’t come out well at all. If you’d like to see what it’s like, they have some great photos online and here.

We walked around the stalls and ate sauerkraut with sausage and potatoes and drank the different variations of mulled wine. We enjoyed chocolate covered fruit. I had fraise (strawberries) with dark chocolate (noir) and my daughters had strawberries with milk chocolate (lait). This was one of those markets where we grumbled at being celiac because of the amazing bread with melted cheese at some of the booths. It looked amazing. Before the evening was over, I added another Santa to my collection. He had a face not hidden beneath his hat but he was too cute to pass up.

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Our only confusion was trying to find where to catch the return tram to the hotel.

 

Next up . . . Reims!

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