When I was a child, I loved globes and maps. I mean, I still do; but when I was young, I would pour over them, especially if the map was in a book. Fantasy book? Doubly so. Seeing the map of an imaginary place made it that much more real to me – real not in the sense of “I can go there” but real in that “it exists so realistically for at least one person that it can be given form.” A sort of Velveteen Rabbit of cartography, if you will. You can full on guffaw at me if you wish, but there are places I’ve wanted to go since I was a child just because I saw the name on a globe, or on a map. I didn’t need to know a single thing about the place. Just the name was enough. The Ivory Coast (are the hills made of ivory, the way the Dover Cliffs are made of chalk?. The Isle of Skye (does everything float?). Greenland (is it like The Emerald City?). Iceland (actually have been there, but in summer, so saw no ice, only moss and rocks – definitely not a place completely carved out of the ice, but that’s OK, it was still awesome). To say I was not really grounded, as a child, might be an understatement.
My friend Hawk asked me the other day, since I’m (finally) coming over to Ireland to visit, what do I want to see? And I was like… HOLY SHIT. THIS TRIP IS REAL.
I told him I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to see! I just wanted to be there!
What are … kind of… my trip… requirements? Is there something I absolutely HAVE to see? HAVE to do?
I mean, if I were going to Spain, I’d 100% be all START A GAUDI CHECKLIST, Y’ALL: La Sagrada Familia, El Capricho, Palau Güell, Park Güell…. and so on. So why am I having a mind blank about the UK, a place I’ve wanted to for *checks notes* MY ENTIRE LIFE.
So what do I want to see? Where do I want to go?
In no particular order… castles. And churches with amazing stained glass. Granted, those are both “hey I’ll take anything on that list” and not, like, “I MUST SEE ST. PAUL’S CATHERDRAL”. I’d like to see the real Watership Down. The Yorkshire Dales. The view from the London Eye. Big Ben. Both Tintagel and the Cliff’s of Dover are on my list but they’re also both far away from where we’re going to be so neither one of them is particularly realistic. Conwy Castle. The Isle of Skye. Some sheep. Maybe a cow (a cooo!). I’d love to see some beautiful gardens. Some sweeping vistas. Did I mention castles? And I’d love some train rides.
Jeff would also like some train rides, so I’ve been looking at train tours. Which are… nothing like train tours in the US. I started off thinking there would be a plethora of sleeper car things and was imagining days on a train, knitting, watching the scenery. Who’s got two thumbs and forgot how ridiculously large her country is compared to some others? THIS GIRL.
A lot of the train tours I’m finding are, like, “see eight things in six days” sorts of things with one to two hour train rides and many of them with base camps in the same hotel for the whole thing. I did find one Scottish one that was both a sleeper train AND the focus was Scottish distilleries and the price of it was practically the price I’m thinking of for the entire trip!
But there are some neat train tours out there. But. The more I look at them, the more I’m like… two hours at this place? Then two hours at this other place? What if I want to spend more time at the first place? Or what if I don’t really feel a call to go to the first place but want to spend four hours at the second place? Oh my god my friend Marlo just posted on her trip about Traquair House, which is a museum but also a B&B after hours?! How can I NOT want to stay there?! It would be like the Scottish version of The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler! They even have an on-site potter. And brewery. COME ON.
But also, I’ve never particularly been a group tour person. I don’t really, really want to travel with thirty people I don’t know. I mean, I’d do it – the boat tours and stuff we did on the Alaska cruise were fun. But I also didn’t really talk to anyone other than Aunt Gay and Uncle Joe, on the ones we went on together. But I don’t want to take a tour to meet people and make friends. Maybe I would have earlier in my life, and maybe I’d like to later in my life. But this trip is going to be about seeing friends I have over there and spending time with them (Hawk, Donna) and spending time with people I already know (Aunt Gay, Uncle Joe, Jeff, everyone we’ll see at WorldCon).
So I keep looking up all these train tours and let me tell you, there are a fucking gazillion of them. And there’s something to be said for not having to plan shit. For letting someone else keep all the little ducks in a row. For just going where I’m pointed and not having to think about how to get from A to B. But they’re SO overwhelming I keep shutting down the websites before I’ve really looked at EVERYTHING. Which means when I go back to it later, I’m all “didn’t I already look at this?”. Or maybe I looked at something similar, because let me tell you, a LOT of these places have very, very similar tours. It’s enough to make your eyes glaze over, and it makes me glad I have a year to plan this because I can barely see the forest for the trees, here. Speaking of trees, I’d love to see one of those trees in Ireland that people tie ribbons to, a Wishing Tree. Although it’s going to be just past time for that, because I think it’s a May/June thing and we’ll be there in July/August.
Last night I sat down for about two hours with Google Maps, and just… looked. Looked at the map of Wales. The map of England. Looked at those somewhat helpful buttons on Google Maps for “things to do” and “places to stay” and then also had another tab open with the website Rome2Rio open so I could see how many different ways there are to get from one place to another.
I mean, if I were going somewhere here in the US for a week, would I buy into a tour? Fuck no. I’d find a hotel that was hopefully a little funky and close to whatever I most wanted to see, and I’d look around to see if there were traditional museums or living history museums or cathedrals with stained glass or very old cemeteries (perhaps with someone I admire buried there so I can go tell them ‘thank you’) and maybe walking or Duck tours (if you’re not familiar with Duck Tours, they’re amphibious WWII vehicles repurposed to give land and water tours in cities with rivers). Someplace with or near food that wouldn’t kill me would be a bonus.
And fortunately, I have friends who have been there, and friends who live there, so with their help I’m finding information on things that aren’t necessarily “here’s this see twelve things in six days”. Not that I don’t want to see twelve things, I’m sure I do! But I also want to sleep. And just walk around. And look out the window and daydream. And yes, Hawk, sit in your garden and drink whiskey!
I feel like Bilbo right before he stepped out onto the road. This is so exciting. This is going to be quite the adventure!
PS. I hope you like some of my favorite fictional maps. I would hands down absolutely go to any of those places. If they were real.
Why do we hurtle ourselves through every inch of time and space?
I must say around some corner, I can sense a resting place.
With every lesson learned, a line upon your beautiful face.
We’ll amuse ourselves one day with these memories we’ll trace.
Get out the map, get out the map and lay your finger anywhere down,
We’ll leave the figuring to those we pass on our way out of town.
Don’t drink the water, there seems to be something ailing everyone.
I’m gonna clear my head,
I’m gonna drink that sun,
I’m gonna love you good and strong while our love is good and young.
— Emily Saliers/Amy Ray