Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The South of France!

In the spirit of adventure, we decided to take the night train from London to the south of France in lieu of an easy 2-hour flight. Mistake? Who knows. It was exciting for Clementine :-)

We arrived in Nice, rented a car, and drove to the neighboring village of Villefranche sur Mer. GOOD DECISION! Villefranche is beautiful! The loveliest town on the Riviera. At least that we saw, and we didn't see everything.

Lots of trompe l'oeil windows, check them out. This one really is a window, just a small one and look what they've done, so cool:

The water! The water! But oh, it was cold. We swam the first day and it felt so good to be in the sea. This was a constant in my childhood, and hasn't been for many years. I miss it! Perhaps we should have contrived to be here in true summer when it would be warmer, but then it would have been much more crowded and even more expensive! Some day soon though: REAL BEACH HOLIDAY!

Easy day trips from Villefranche: 

1. Nice. I'm not putting up many photos because I can't figure out how to shrink the file size of photos from my real camera and they're huge. But here's one pretty pic from Vieille Nice (the old quarter), where there was a fabulous market on:

2. Eze and the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild:

Eze is a tiny "village perche" (hill town) with an exotic garden at its peak, with spectacular view. This lady dwells there, looking over it all:

The village is full of art galleries.

And the villa! Highlight! Photos can't do it justice. It's this exquisite [PINK] Belle Epoque villa on the ridge of the hill of Cap Ferrat, with stunning coastal views in both directions. There are like nine distinct gardens strung in a row. You just want to stay all day. 

Cross this stones at your risk. This is seconds before the "water show" began and drenched us:

And the restaurant is really good, so plan on lunch there!

The view of Villefranche from the Villa Ephrussi:

We went to Monaco one day where we petted sharks! That was the coolest, though we kind of hurried away because it's such a big city, not really our thing.


Moving along the coast, we drove to St. Tropez (stopping on the way in Saint Paul de Vence, a bigger village perche than Eze (LOVELY), and we had one nice evening in St. Tropez (so beautiful) and swam in the pool before the storm hit! The whole next day, our only day in St. Tropez: rain rain rain!

Stormy sky in St. Tropez:

More later!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Goodbye, England

England is at an end. We have tunneled beneath the sea to France, night-trained to its southerly reaches, and are now basking in the Mediterranean sun (well, moon currently, but let's not nitpick). But none of France today. Today, England!

More Cotswolds. Famous Arlington Row in Bibury, "most photographed houses in England," or so they claim. Something like that. Incredibly picturesque:

Also, teeming with swans. Swan infestation.

Not just swans. CYGNETS!!!

Truth in advertising, I guess, since we did stay at the SWAN Inn. (Which is so beautiful. Stay there. Look at it. I mean, look. Next pic taken from a tiny island on the property, next door to which there is a trout farm. Egads, it's all SO PRETTY.)

For a few days we were on a streak of staying at inns with animal names: in Woodstock, the Bear. In Bibury, the Swan. In Great Rissington (near Bourton-on-the-Water, one of the famous Cotswolds villages, which, dear god, skip it. So hokey.) the Lamb. 

We liked the Lamb. It was a titch shabby, but in a nice way. Unlike the Swan, there were no real lambs gamboling about. Well, there was lamb, but it was not gamboling. It was, em, in burger form...

(So yum.)


Sudeley Castle:

The wife who outlived Henry VIII, Katherine Parr, died here. We rushed a bit through the exhibits (four-year-old in tow and all) so don't ask me any questions. Clementine did learn some Henry VIII history, though. There were mannequins of all the wives, dressed in beautiful clothes, and most of them were generic mannequins, but Katherine Parr was special and had an actual face, and so did Henry, at his puffiest and bloatiest and looking nothing at all like Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Jim read C the placard about his "ulcerated legs" and how Katherine Parr soothed and calmed him and even held  his gross legs in her lap, and so later Clementine's poor teddy bear Leon found himself suffering from ulcerated legs...which she cured by stealing a magic pearl from a dragon and surgically implanting it in his belly. 

I bet Katherine Parr never tried that.

Katherine Parr's tomb:

Gorgeous place. It was mostly destroyed by Cromwell's army, and restored in the Victorian era by a glove fortune. By which I mean a private fortune made in the manufacture of gloves. So thank you, gloves, for Sudeley Castle. 

There was a youth equestrian event going on while we were there!

Clementine, all day, kept saying things like, "This is the closest I've been to a swan in MY WHOLE LIFE!" and "This is the closest I've been to a horse in MY WHOLE LIFE!" Ditto peacock. Ditto owl (and wow, the kid does a mean snowy owl call, who knew?). It's like we deprive her of animal encounters.

We loved driving around the tranquil backroads of rural England. They're timeless. Amazing. And I'm reading Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee about growing up in a tiny Cotswolds village in the aftermath of WWI, so evocative, such gorgeous writing. If you want to read something that creates an intense sensory portrait of a time and place, read it. 

This is the Broadway tower. Just walking around on grassy hills was somehow magical. I think the sky show had something to do with it. Those clouds. Also, there were deer! Really a lovely outing.

We ended the day at our first non-animal-named inn, Charingworth Manor, outside of Chipping Campden. Loved the shambles-y atmosphere. Doesn't it look half-abandonded? It was nice inside, and even has a giant indoor pool, which we did not use. 

Clementine made a bunch of daisy rings on the lawn, and decided to try to sell them to the fairies, so she made a sign and left it on the windowsill, announcing their price at 10 p. each.

Overnight, faeries bought out her whole stock!

The sky continued crazy:

Farewell, England! We hope to see you soon!


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Oxford & the Cotswolds, part I

Have you heard of the Radcliffe Camera? That's it, above! It was soooo cool, in Oxford, putting a visual to all these famous names, like the Sheldonian and Bodleian and Magdalen College and on, and on. And that was just in a few hours' worth of strolling. Holy CR**. OXFORD. It's jaw-dropping. My photos are uploading sooooo slowly on this wifi connection, so I can't put up pics to prove it, and anyway, pics don't do Oxford justice. It's the way you're just walking along and EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK there is an architectural wonder. The word for it is: ridiculous.

(the coolest of these pics are by Jim Di Bartolo :-)

We may have lost restraint when we discovered these Hungarian marionettes in an amaaaayzing book & stationery shop...

Oxford. We didn't even stay a night. We took the train from London, rented a car, went for a walk (that turned into something like six hours), then skedaddled out to more villagey destinations. But we'll be back. I can feel it.

Villagey destination the first: Woodstock, gateway to Blenheim Palace. We stayed here at the Macdonald Bear Hotel:

(Again, insufficiency of photos due to slow uploading! Imagine cuteness!!)

And, through the back door of that cuteness--literally, through a monumental stone gate, monumental like TRIUMPHAL, like an Arc de Triomph hidden in the back of a village, how crazy--out the back way through unassuming Woodstock lies...


Winston Churchill was born here, yo.

It, too, is ridiculous. (In the good way, the I-have-no-words-way.)


It was this extraordinarily windy day, which meant that rain clouds were scudding really fast across the sky, so it was: Rain! Incredible blue sky and sunshine! Rain! Incredible blue sky and sunshine! Repeat. All morning. We didn't experience the whole gardens, which are partly the work of Capability Brown ("England's Greatest Gardener") and include a massive hedge maze. I wonder if we'll ever return. With so much else in the world to see, who knows. It was spectacular though. 

And we moved on from spectacular to more charmingness, at the tiny tiny tiny village of Minster Lovell, which has this walk up a lane of thatched cottages to a pretty church and, behind that, a ruined great estate, just open to exploration...

The river that runs through Minster Lovell is called the Windrush. Is that the most romantic river name EVER? 

It was so cool. And I love those red flashes of Clementine darting around with her sword and shield. This was a magical day. A couple more of them, one hopes, before we leave England. 

And for now, cheers!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Greetings from London!!

Gosh, have I been gone from the blog for A MONTH?? Eeesh, don't know if I've ever done that before! I didn't manage to keep up while on tour, and now I'm done and the trilogy is complete and in the world and that's that. WHEW!! Thank you for all the awesome comments so belatedly published to the last post (due to spam overload, I recently had to enable comment moderation, and I always forget to check it unless I'm putting up a post!) 

Belated thanks to my awesome publishers, Little Brown and Hodder, for fantastic book tours, and for the wonderful readers who came out. It was so great to meet you all! [Hug.] Once I can gather my wits, I'll do a very late book tour post. It was just too much fun to let it slip past. Thanks to everyone!!!

Anyway, hi from London! We've been having a spectacular time. Man, what a city! The last couple of times I've come over for book events I've only had a couple of days, if that, and it's been maddening not being able to DO THINGS. But this time we gave ourselves time, and it's been a whirl of castles and palaces and museums and guards and beefeaters and plays and shopping :-)

See you soon! 

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