Of Bone Churches, Medieval Libraries, and Writerly Rewards

As it goes, I’ve caught the midwinter cold. I managed to stave it off all autumn, but it’s decided to hit and run. Should be back up and functional in a couple of days, but for the moment: I am the Queen of S’not. S’not feeling great, s’not sleeping, s’not capable of doing much more than drinking tea and reading books and coughing up everything that is unholy.

My travels tend to bring me to places that I’ve read about. Fiction catalyzes a passing interest and turns it into an obsession.

On the bright side: I’ve redone my 2014 budget while in the midst of being gross and couch-bound, and it looks like I’ll be backpacking in Europe again this fall. Now don’t misunderstand — this isn’t just me being bit by the wanderlust bug, although that certainly factors into things — my travels tend to bring me to places that I’ve read about in books. Fiction catalyzes a passing interest and turns it into an obsession. The next thing you know, I’m standing at the gates of some cemetery on the outskirts of London trying to wring information out of the tour guide about things they don’t necessarily want to talk about because it’s bad PR for a very lovely, peaceful place that had a few crazies running about back in the seventies, breaking tombs and exhuming bodies because they found few dead foxes — drained of blood, of course. They claimed vampirism. *cough* Likely inspired by a fervour caused by reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula. *cough* Or at least that’s been the suggestion from a few sources that are willing to discuss the accounts surrounding the Highgate Vampire.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s an urban legend. As far as my imagination is concerned, the lore has found it’s way into the first draft of Wake the Dead. I’ve talked about this here, in case you’re curious. (The post also has a few photos from my visit to Highgate in 2012. It’s hard not to be inspired when you’re standing in the middle of a place you’ve daydreamed about for years.)

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker

Given that my upcoming trip should coincide with the completion of the first draft of Wake, I’m justifying two weeks of wanderlust by calling it a “reward” for finishing the novel. I firmly believe in incentivizing the writing process, though in my heart of hearts, just writing for the joy of it makes it worth it. I imagine that holding those pages in my hand with the words “The Beginning” printed in the place where “The End” should be will make it worth slogging through the difficult parts where I hate myself and I think my writing sucks. Letting it sit a bit then rereading is usually good grounds to realize the initial doubts are oftentimes unfounded, but, my initial concern isn’t getting the damn thing done — I fear the revision. That’s where the real struggle begins.

Back to the point: Europe 2014. Four countries. Two weeks.

It begins with a visit to the birthplace of the man who adapted the vampire myth to the modern age: Mr. Bram Stoker. Also the birthplace of Mr. Oscar Wilde (whose Picture of Dorian Grey has been a favourite of mine since high school), Dublin is my first stop; a quick couple of days of literary sightseeing and haunted walks. Maybe a quick trip into the countryside to chase the bean sidhe.

Dublin is rife with stories of ghosts, haunts, spectres, and the Fair folk. It’s seen its fair share of Ressurectionists and poets, murderers and drunks, and I will gladly cast myself into its misty roads for a few days to chase down their legends.

On another note (since I’m a huge fan of Guinness and I intend to drink as much good home-brewed Irish stout as I can) apparently, it’s illegal to be drunk in a pub in Ireland. But outside it’s okay? See here. I also came across another rule about herding sheep in the city, but that’s too confusing for my sick brain to wrap around right now.

Bottom line? Spooky Ireland + gothic fiction + pubs = amazeballs.

Next stop is a quick jaunt across the Channel to London and Oxford; back to Highgate and its verdurous refuge among the tombs. This time I’m making an effort to stay in Highgate Village with the intention of exploring the setting and Crouch End; a curious little village to the east of Highgate that features in the Stephen King short story of the same name, allegedly inspired by a sculpture of a Spriggan near Parkland walk by Marylin Collins. Emerging from the ivy beneath an overhanging alcove, the creature from folktales lingers beneath the abandoned railway platform at Crouch End. Though the lore says its preference is towards woodland areas and general mischief making and other malevolent activities towards children and passersby, this particular Spriggan seems quite happy just hanging out.

I have a trip to the Bodleian Library at Oxford in mind where they shot several scenes from Harry Potter, but the initial trigger was actually the Oxford featured in His Dark Materials. It’s been a few years since I’ve read the books, but they left an impression the first film failed to match. (And, you know, there were two Oxfords: Lyra’s Oxford, and Will’s Oxford. Twice the fun!)

I wouldn’t mind popping back into Salisbury for a twilight tour of Stonehenge where I can actually walk among the stones. (I didn’t have the opportunity last time: I think October might be too wet and rainy, and the potential for erosion around the monument might be too great moving into winter. This is just speculation of course; I haven’t found anything to substantiate why October and November don’t allow for private tours of the site.) I think Bath might be on the agenda this time around too. More Harry Potter Walking Tours with Richard (he’s wonderful.) More pub grub. More tea and scones and clotted cream. More bangers and mash (please!) And this time, I’m visiting the Magnificent Seven. All of them.

This is all nice and easy. If you’ve ever travelled overseas before and you only speak a couple of languages and not a bunch, it’s usually a little less stressful to start with the stuff you can understand and increase the difficulty rating. I started in London in 2012, then moved on to Paris because my French skills are passable, then fumbled my way through Florence saying “Mi scuzi?” and “Grazie” and being overly grateful whenever anyone would switch to English instead of suffering my pained Italian.

For this trip, it’s easy enough for me to grab a Eurostar train from London to Amsterdam so I can get my Heironymous Bosch fix of devilries and demons, admire the profusion of Memento Mori painting from the Northern school, and pay a quick visit to the Anne Frank house to offer my respects, but that’s the end of bilingualism being any sort of service, because my next and final stop is Prague.

Segment from The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Heironymous Bosch

Segment from The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Heironymous Bosch

This is where the challenge begins. I don’t speak or read Czech. I’ve never been anywhere within a stone’s throw of Central Europe though my grandparents immigrated from Hungary in the 50’s (and frankly, I think if I don’t somehow end up in Budapest my mother might disown me for not visiting the “old country” at least once, so I might have to fit that in somehow.) BUT. BUT.

This:

“The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century—or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plasterwork and capped in roofs of uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Motzart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.”

 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

 

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

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Laini Taylor won Prague at the very first mention that, “The falling snow and the early hour conspired to paint Prague ghostly, like a tintype photograph, all silver and haze.” Much in the same way that Anne Rice made me fall in love with New Orleans in The Witching Hour, Taylor has turned my curiosity into heartache for this place I’ve never been. I’m ready to travel to see it for myself. From the bone church at Kutna Hora, the Medieval taverns in Old Town where you can eat roast pork with plum jelly accompanied by a stein of good beer, take a walk to the Astronomical Clocktower, and see the spires for myself — this is the end destination (this is where I might very well find the same magic that inspired Taylor to write these books.)

I’m very much looking forward to it.

Where possible, of course, I’ll take you with me through photos and vines and blog posts. The beauty of technology these days is that you’re constantly connected so long as the wifi holds.

Have books inspired you to travel? Where do you want to go?

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