At the Beau Monde conference in Reno (which, BTW, was well-organized, informative, and lots of fun!), I did a short workshop on getting the most out of your travel for research, which seems to fit in with what current discussions on favorite museums. A few of my tips (strictly basics, but things which I wish other people had told me before I went stomping off across England the first time!) are:
1) Do all the research you can on the sites you plan to visit before you even leave home–the Internet is God’s gift to travelers!
2) Try to visit sites at “off” times, and always make a note of what time of year you are there, what the weather and surroundings are like
3) Take advantage of a good guide or docent–smother them with questions! I found that the vast majority LOVE to talk in-depth about the site and want to answer questions (even the weird ones we writers always have)
4) Don’t be afraid to explore (except where there are No Admittance signs, natch!)
5) Wear comfy shoes and leave heavy bags behind (load up at the gift shop AFTER the tour)
6) Take a camera or small notebook (a little tape recorder, if you have it)
7) Always buy guidebooks! (And, if you’re me, tea towels and figurines and magnets and other useless things)
8) Organize your info as soon as you get back to the hotel, then it’s ready to be input when you get home–label photos
9) Write off all your expenses (my CPA’s eyes light up when he sees I’ve been on a trip)
Author Diane Perkins also has an article posted online about research and travel (http://www.wetnoodleposse.com/Sept_2005/writerslife.html) that I enjoyed.
And all of this talk about museums and sites has me longing to go back to England ASAP! I have never been to the Herschel Museum, but it is now definitely on my list, and I second the Geffrye Museum. Two places I like that are a bit off the beaten path (and, strangely, they both have to do with music) are Finchcocks Living Museum of Music and the Handel House Museum
Finchcocks is in Goudhurst, Kent, a Georgian manor built in 1725. It is now owned by pianist Richard Burnett and his wife, and is a museum containing over 100 historical instruments (mostly pianos, clavichords, harpsichords, etc), the oldest dating from the early 1600s. They also have an extensive collection on eighteenth century pleasure gardens, such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall. There is a great staff there, who will happily play demonstrations on the instruments. Great fun.
The Handel House is at 25 Brook Street, Mayfair in London. It was (you guessed it) the home of Handel for over 30 years, and they have many of his possessions and original manuscripts (including one for a portion of Messiah), as well as beautifully restored Georgian rooms. The museum has expanded into the house next door, as well, and this has an exhibit on Georgian life in London that is not to be missed. On an interesting sidenote, this home was also the residence of Jimi Hendrix for a time in the 1960s, and they have a small exhibit of some of his items, which makes a fun contrast to all the Georgianness. 🙂
BTW, it was me, Amanda, who wrote this post–I just accidentally logged in as Risky Regencies rather than myself. I shouldn’t blog until after 12. Sorry. 🙂
I quite agree with your suggestions, Amanda! Especially checking ahead. I once took a daytrip from London to see Leamington Spa — having already seen Bath and Tunbridge Wells several times, and wanting a little variety — only to find that both the pump room and the assembly rooms were closed for repair! Ack! What a wasted day.
And I always buy tons of postcards whereever I go. If you take into account the cost of film plus developing, they’re sometimes cheaper than taking photos — plus they have commentary! 🙂
Cara King, http://www.caraking.com
MY LADY GAMESTER — Signet Regency, 11/05
Or to paraphrase: “I am Amanda, and I approved this message.”
I agree with all of Amanda’s suggestions, especially the one about guidebooks, for lots of reasons. They’re a great way of getting a lot of good pictures of the place (I occasionally jiggle the camera or get a thumb in my own pictures, sadly!) along with useful historical tidbits. And buying guidebooks and other neat stuff helps to upkeep these beautiful but expensive places.
So next time you buy a cool trinket in the gift shop, remember you are doing it purely in the interests of historic preservation!
So, my Duke of Wellington teapot is an investment in historical preservation, not just an indulgence of my love for kitsch! I like that. 🙂
I am a huge fan of guidebooks and postcards, mostly because I’m also not a good photographer. I often have blurry photos, or can’t get the whole panorama in the viewfinder, stuff like that. Plus books have captions and good information that you might have missed on the tour.
And I DO approve this message. :))
I buy guidebooks everywhere, and postcards, and other useful things… But I’ll be brave and also admit I have a (perhaps bizarre) love for tacky tourist trinkets! I love the cheap tourist shops in Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, and buy tacky-looking London mugs and little bobby figurines that bobble and that sort of thing! 🙂
In my experience guides in England love to talk about restoration and are thrilled if you ask a question related to what is original and what has been restored in a room–things like plasterwork, for instance, which is highly skilled labor. I docent at a federal era house called Riversdale (more on that later) which is undergoing restoration and we love to talk about how the paint colors were found and what research is being done.
Also, when going to England, bear in mind that many National Trust properties close in Nov and open up in the spring.
Has anyone visited Erddig? No idea how you pronounce it. I’m longing to go there–it’s one of those houses where they never threw anything away and have wonderful records of the servants.
Cara, one of the best souvenirs I bought in England was a ceramic egg-cup (a peculiarly English thing) in the shape of a camel. The egg formed the hump.
It may be a good idea to visit a local library because it usually sells local history books – usually written by local historians and/or regional history society branches – at very decent prices and there is usually a shelf of discarded history books [usually about 30 pence per book] and a selection of postcards and reproductions of illustrations of local landmarks and places.
Most local history books [many usually contain b&w reproductions of illustrations] are usually in form of pamphlets, so it’s very likely that a copy would be £3.
If you can’t get to the UK, you could look up online for the address of a library of your chosen district, and contact a librarian for a catalogue or listing. More than not, they would be happy to send you a copy.
A local library also usually has a local history section that has local paintings, illustrations, local reference books, history books, maps, and such such. It’s usually open [and free] to the public.
The local library suggestion sounds excellent. I do like reading history books written by local historians–you get a different kind of perspective on things. I like to pick up pamphlets and little historical booklets wherever I go.
Oh, great library suggestion, McVane! That reminds me that the Bethnal Green Library in London sells cool historical maps of the East End — including Regency-era ones! (Or close enough, anyway!)