Back to Top

Tag Archives: travel

A little over two months ago now, my husband, my daughter and I boarded this plane–a LONG direct flight from SeaTac to Heathrow–for the beginning of our European adventure. I thought that over my next few blog posts, I’d share some pictures and stories from our journey, focusing on those of most interest to Regency readers.


If your vacation is going to focus on history, what better place to start than a TARDIS? (When we asked Miss Fraser what she wanted to see in London, her immediate response was “the TARDIS.” Mr. Fraser was able to track down a blue police box still standing, doubtless just for the sake of photo ops like this one of my two nearest and dearest.)


While in London we also stopped by Trafalgar Square, where we saw Nelson atop his column, and Hyde Park Corner, home of a handsome equestrian statue of my beloved Duke of Wellington.



Along the way we visited St Paul’s, where I spent some time in the crypt to pay my respects to Nelson and Wellington at their tombs, but as photography is forbidden in the cathedral, I have no pictures to show for it. Sadly, the same is true of Apsley House, the Great Duke’s impressive London home (my bored daughter’s understatement: “this IS a really fancy house”)…foiling my plans to take a selfie with the outsized and grandiose nude statue of Napoleon contained therein.

I do highly recommend Apsley House for any Regency fan visiting London, incidentally. It’s not one of the Major Big Deal Sights–which means it’s less crowded and you have more time to linger over all the portraits (many of which will look SO familiar to you if you’ve read nonfiction of the era at all), the furnishings, and the general sumptuousness of it all.

But after only a few days in London it was time for Brussels and the Waterloo reenactment. Our entire family loved Brussels. Compared to London and Paris, it has a parochial, small-city feel (despite the whole EU capital thing), and since we didn’t have tremendous expectations for it, almost everything was a pleasant surprise. It’s beautiful, in an echoes-of-antique-grandeur sort of way:


And Belgian chocolate? Even better than you’re imagining. AMAZING. When people ask Miss Fraser what was her favorite place in Europe, she always says, “Belgium, because of the chocolate,” and I can’t really argue that point. (That our Brussels hotel had excellent and reliable wifi doubtless raised it in her estimation too.) I also fell in love with the frites, especially the ones in this little storefront place across the square from our hotel with the tourist-trappy name “Belgian Frites.” I wouldn’t have tried it if I hadn’t noticed the long lines of local teenagers my second day there–after which I had frites with mayo as lunch or an afternoon snack four days in a row.

The Waterloo reenactment, however, didn’t quite live up to all my expectations. It might’ve been better if we’d been part of an organized tour with a guide to show us around. As is, it was a bit chaotic and challenging to navigate and understand what was going on.

The actual anniversary of the battle fell on a Thursday, but the organizers held the reenactment on Friday and Saturday evenings. I wanted to have the experience of standing on that ground two hundred years to the day after the battle, so on the 18th we schlepped out to the battlefield by train, bus, and long walk, and visited the Allied reenactor camp.




We didn’t get the opportunity to actually hang out with reenactors, somewhat to my disappointment–the handful of times I’ve visited reenactments in the past I’ve gotten to heft the muskets and chat with the people who carry them. Maybe it was just because the Waterloo anniversary was SUCH a big deal, but there wasn’t the same kind of approachability there.

As for the reenactment itself, it was a bit of a challenge to follow the action, even for someone like me who pretty much knows the course of the battle backwards and forwards. That said, it did give a good sense of how very smoky and confusing Napoleonic-era battlefields were:



And this was just 5000 reenactors out there for three hours or so. When you imagine what it must’ve been like 200 years before, when between the three armies involved there were almost 200,000 men engaged…whoa.

Even though the reenactment wasn’t everything I’d dreamed it would be, I’m glad I went. When I read or write about Waterloo from now on, I’ll have that much clearer a picture in my mind’s eye for having walked some of the ground and seen all those impeccably costumed reenactors. And, let’s face it, if it weren’t for Waterloo, the odds are I never would’ve gone to Belgium, and I would’ve missed out on that chocolate and those frites…

What about you? Have you traveled anywhere exciting this summer? And do you have travel tales of places that either exceeded or failed to live up to your expectations?

Next time I’ll post about our week in Paris (which exactly met our expectations–it really is that amazing). Expect lots of Napoleon…

Martin's Gate, sketch by Sandra Schwab

Martin’s Gate

This is going to be a super-short post because I need to dash off and be on my way to the Black Forest on a rather unexpected trip. Last week, the press office of my university was contacted by the BBC – do we have an expert on the Brothers Grimm willing to travel to Freiburg for an interview? Needs to speak English. The lovely people at our folklore department remembered me and forwarded me the e-mail, and now here I am, about to be … er … interviewed by the BBC. *gulp*

I’m going to leave you with a few impressions of Freiburg from my last visit. It’s such a beautiful town, with little open gutters (Bächle) running through the town center. The first were built in the Middle Ages to provide water for animals and for fire fighting. Other reminders of the medieval past can be found all over town: for example, there’s the Martin’s Gate, which used to be part of the old city wall and was first mentioned as Porta Sancti Martini in 1238.

Medieval minster, Freiburg, sketch by Sandra Schwab

The Medieval Minster

Then there’s the medieval minster, which dominates one of the central town squares. When I was last there, the very top was covered with green netting: the red sandstone is corroding fast, and so the upkeep of the church is a continuous process.

Waterspouts at the minster, sketch by Sandra Schwab

Gargoyle Waterspouts at the Minster

Something I’ve always loved about the minster is the multitude of gargoyle waterspouts that watch the going-ons in the square from high above. It’s a strange assembly of grotesque animals (some of them are actually quite cute!), devilish creatures, grinning skeletons, and strange human figures. I’m looking forward to seeing them all again! 🙂

And now I better hurry and get on the road. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Posted in Places | Tagged , | 4 Replies

Celebrating Sandy's 10th blogiversaryA few days ago I celebrated my 10-year blogiversary. I started blogging only a few weeks before my debut novel was due to hit stores in July 2005. (Ten years ago — gosh!) At the time I was working on my second novel, Castle of the Wolf, a gothic romance (or at least it was intended as a gothic romance) in which my English heroine inherits a castle in the Black Forest, but, alas, finds it inhabited by the grumpiest man imaginable (but sort of hot, too) (of course!). And she has to marry him (of course!). There’s an unfortunate incident with a dead mouse, another unfortunate incident with a not-dead bat, and a lady with sturdy boots who stomps all the gothicness to dust. Quite… eh… literally.

And because my heroine needed to somehow get from England to the Black Forest, I decided it would be awesome (AWESOME!!!) if she traveled up the Rhine, past the lovely castles of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. And maybe I could put in one of those gruesome folk tales? (Because, see above, gothic romance.) Like, the story of the evil Bishop Odo of Mainz being devoured by mice in his tower in the middle of the river? Awesome.

So I spent about two weeks (or more) doing research on traveling on the Rhine and, incidentally, also on British tourists on the Rhine. (Two weeks of research for half a page in the finished book. Just saying.) I pushed back the date of my story to 1827 because that was the first year which saw steamboats on the Rhine, and even tried to see if I could dig up a timetable for said steamboats. (In case you needed any further proof that I tend to go a bit batty where research is concerned: there it is.)

The rising interest in the Rhine and in particular in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley (the super-beautiful part between Bingen and Koblenz, with all the pretty castles clinging to the hills on each side of the river — now a UNESCO World Heritage site) at the end of the eighteenth century was in large parts due to Romanticism as well as to the new aesthetic ideal of the picturesque.

A sketch of Castle Sooneck

A sketch of Castle Sooneck

The first wave of British tourists arrived in the late eighteenth century — among them Anne Radcliffe, who afterwards wrote a whole book about her trip, Journey Made in the Summer of 1794, through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany with a Return down the Rhine, published in 1795. And it seems that she was quite enchanted by what she saw:

“Sometimes, as we approached a rocky point, we seemed going to plunge into the expanse of the water beyond; when, turning the sharp angle of the promontory, the road swept along an ample bay, where the rocks, receeding formed an amphitheatre, […] then […] we saw the river beyond […] assume the form of a lake, amidst wild and romantic landscapes.”

The steadily increasing stream of tourists came to a halt during the Napoleonic Wars, but immediately resumed afterwards. Going to see the castles of the Rhine became so popular that later in the century the author Thomas Hood remarked,

“It is a statistical fact that since 1814 an unknown number of persons have been more or less abroad, and of all the Countries in Christendom, never was there such a run as on the Banks of the Rhine. It was impossible to go into Society without meeting units, tens, hundreds, thousands of Rhenish tourists. What a donkey they deemed him who had not been to Assmannshausen!”

Incidentally, the most wildly popular English poet also happened to write the most wildly popular account of a journey on the Rhine: since the publication of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, many British tourists would drag a copy along on their travels so they could trace Childe Harold’s steps. This becomes obvious in the Shelleys’ History of a Six Weeks’ Tour from 1817:

“The part of the Rhine down which we now glided, is that so beautifully described by Lord Byron in his third Canto of Childe Harold. We read these verses with delight, as they conjured before us these lovely scenes with the truth and vividness of painting, and with the exquisite addition of glowing language and warm imagination. We were carried down by a dangerously rapid current, and saw on either side of us hills covered with vines and trees, craggy cliffs crowned by desolate towers, and wooded islands, where picturesque ruins peeped from behind the foliage, and cast shadows of their forms on the troubled waters, which distorted without deforming them.”

Soon, a whole tourist industry grew up around Rhine travels: 1822 saw the publication of the first panorama of the Rhine, consisting of a folded map of the river with larger pictures of the most important sights. Three years later, a publisher in Frankfurt released a panorama of the river and included a small leaflet with explanations of the sights in French, English, and German. (You can take a look at it here.)

Soon, proper guidebooks followed, like Baedeker’s Die Rheinreise (Journey on the Rhine) of 1832. On the other side of the Channel, the firm of John Murray, one of the most influential British publishers with authors like Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott, started to publish the famous “Red Books”, the Handbooks for Travellers. And again, not surprisingly, the first of the series was the Handbook for Holland, Belgium and the Rhine.

A picture of Baedeker's Traveller's Manual of Conversation

Another of Baedeker’s early publications: The Traveller’s Manual of Conversation in Four Languages

Murray and Baedeker soon joined forces and started to distribute each other’s guidebooks. To make them more uniform, Baedeker also used red cloth for the covers. Indeed, their guidebooks were all standardized, were regularly updated, and were made to fit comfortably into a coat pocket.

But that’s not all.

The star-based rating system that’s now used by online retailers, booksellers and review sites?

That was invented by John Murray for his guidebooks. (So now we know who’s to blame for that!)

The steamboat that were introduced in 1827 formed yet another part of the new tourist industry focusing on Rhine travels. The traditional way of traveling on the river was on boats dragged by horses, and the owners of the horses were not particularly happy about the new steamboats that took business away from them. And so, in 1848, the stable owners of the town of Neuwied fired cannon balls (!!!) at one of the steamboat to express their displeasure — a rather drastic measure (and not a particularly successful one: the boat was hardly damaged and, of course, the steamboat didn’t go away).

Have you ever been on a river cruise? And fellow authors, do you use guidebooks for your research?

My family and I are continuing to get ready for our four-week European trip, which will include attending some of the bicentennial events for the Battle of Waterloo. We’ll be spending the two weeks in the middle of the trip in France, and Mr Fraser and I have been trying to teach ourselves a little French using Duolingo. I’m not going to become an expert–for that, I’d need to go back in time and start studying several years ago, possibly at the expense of writing any books or otherwise having a life during that time–but I’m hoping to know enough phrases and words to greet people, make simple purchases in stores and markets, etc. The program has me practicing food and color words a lot, to the point where I found myself in the grocery store last night, staring sadly at an assortment of less-than-ripe strawberries. “J’aime les fraises rouges,” I murmured. (I like the red strawberries.) “But these fraises aren’t very rouges.”

While I’m in Paris, I naturally plan to visit Les Invalides, which houses the Musée de l’Armée (army museum) along with Napoleon’s burial site.

When Napoleon died in 1821, he was buried on Saint Helena. He didn’t receive his French state funeral until 1840. (And if you have time for a long read, the Wikipedia article on that event is fascinating.)

While I’m no great admirer of Napoleon’s, I expect I’ll find visiting his sarcophagus moving nonetheless. The world without him would’ve been an unimaginably different place, after all.

I also hope to visit Malmaison, Josephine’s chateau just outside of Paris.

And on a lighter note, while we’re in London I plan to visit Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s London home, where I’ll get to see this:

It will never not amuse me that Napoleon commissioned a giant nude statue of himself as Mars the Peacemaker, nor that the statue in question now guards the Duke of Wellington’s staircase. I don’t suppose they’ll let me take a selfie next to it…

As I think I’ve mentioned here on several occasions, this summer Mr Fraser, our daughter (who turns 11 in two months), and I will be going to Europe this summer, among other things to attend the bicentennial reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo.

We’re going to be there for nearly four weeks, so there will be far more to our trip than just Waterloo. While some of the trip has nothing to do with my Regency research interests–e.g. the five nights we’ll be spending in a cottage in the Dordogne River valley near Sarlat–we’re planning a week in Spain that’s turning into The Frasers’ Excellent Roman Ruins and Peninsular War Battlefield Road Trip Adventure.

I’m still researching the details, but at this point it looks like I’ll get to feed my Wellington obsession at the following sites:

Vitoria, where in June 1813 Wellington trounced Jourdan and the British army captured the French baggage train, laden with treasure Joseph Bonaparte and his courtiers had seized from Madrid–the incident that opens my 2013 novella, A Dream Defiant.

Salamanca, where Wellington, who is primarily regarded as a brilliant defensive general, proved himself pretty damn capable on the attack as well. As Maximilien Foy, one of the French generals there, put it:

“This battle is the most cleverly fought, the largest in scale, the most important in results, of any that the English have won in recent times. It brings up Lord Wellington’s reputation almost to the level of that of Marlborough. Up to this day we knew his prudence, his eye for choosing good positions, and the skill with which he used them. But at Salamanca he has shown himself a great and able master of manoeuvring. He kept his dispositions hidden nearly the whole day: he allowed us to develop our movement before he pronounced his own: he played a close game: he utilized the oblique order in the style of Frederick the Great.”

Badajoz, site of a bloody siege and storming followed by brutal and shameful pillaging in April 1812–and another battled that’s shown up in my writing, in my 2010 debut, The Sergeant’s Lady.

Talavera, the 1809 victory that first raised Wellington to the nobility as a viscount.

And last but very far from least, we’ll end up in Madrid, where we’ll visit the Prado and I’ll be able to see many of Goya’s works, including ones like the above illustrating the horror and brutality of war–something I try my best never to forget even as I write adventurous romances with soldier heroes.

I’m more thrilled than I can say that this trip I’ve been planning and dreaming of for a decade is now just a few short months away, and I can hardly wait to come back with pictures and stories to fill months of blog posts!

Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By