So here is the blog post about what I did on my summer vacation, complete with pictures. (In another life I was somebody's aunt who brought out the slide projector at every family dinner.) The full(ish) set is up on Flickr if you're curious.
First stop: Edinburgh, for Material Cultures 2010, which was one of the best academic conferences I've been to in recent memory: a nice mix of historians, literature scholars, librarians (I wasn't the only one!), independent scholars, and the occasional bookseller; a lovely atmosphere of friendliness; excellent keynotes and really interesting papers; and, not least of all, food, drink, and dancing. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
First there was sightseeing on a rainy Scottish summer day:
Then there was conferencing:
There was also a dinner with Scottish country dancing, which was great fun; and a whisky tasting, which was followed by haggis at Greyfriars Bobby's Bar. (Verdict: not bad, though I could've done with a bit less mashed potato.)
And I sneaked away from the last conference session or so to climb Arthur's Seat:
Then it was on to the Lake District, which gave me a whole new appreciation for the earlier generation of Romantic poets. I mean, wouldn't this make you want to write poetry too?
And now it's all in my head, for moments when I'm in vacant or in pensive mood. (That was the lovely thing about this trip. So much fuel for the imagination, which I hadn't even realized was getting pinched and starved from neglect.)
I didn't quite make it all the way up Helm Crag. But I promised myself I'd go back someday and try again.
My favorite walk was near Keswick: first the Castlerigg Stone Circle, then a stroll through the fields and woods back into town:
(I think I loved the view in the second of these three pictures best of all. It's hard to say why—and it might have just been the sun finally coming out, and the feeling of discovering something I hadn't been primed for by a guidebook—but that valley is going to stay with me for a very long time. More images for the inward eye. It's really hard to talk about these landscapes without coming over all Wordsworthian.)
And then I went to London, where, on top of all the other marvelous things about three days in London, I got to see a couple of friends from whom I'm usually separated by several time zones in different directions. There were visits to the Lambeth Palace Library, the Tate Britain, and the British Library's excellent map exhibition.
There was an excursion to the Keats House near Hampstead Heath.
There was a Sunday morning at St. Paul's Cathedral...
where we heard Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor. Which, even with the soloists facing away from where we were sitting, was as magnificent as you might imagine.
There was a splendid blogger meetup with Lady P and Krista, during which we went for a stroll along Fleet Street, then stumbled across Samuel Pepys' birthplace (at which all of us shrieked a little bit), then went for a ride on a London bus...
...and then went in search of William Blake's house in South Molton Lane, only to discover that it's now a waxing salon.
We consoled ourselves with insanely extravagant cocktails in the bar of Claridge's Hotel, which, as Lady P put it, is the kind of place where Bertie Wooster might pop in at any moment for lunch with one of his aunts.
I kept trying to superimpose, onto the London in front of me, pretty much every canonical work of British literature I'd ever read with a London setting or by an author who lived in London: trying to imagine John Donne haunting the Inns of Court, for instance, or Mrs. Dalloway making her way up Bond Street. Or all the 17th- and 18th-century booksellers in St. Paul's Churchyard. It didn't always work; as with Helm Crag, I'll just have to try it again someday not too far off.
And then I went home, only to wake at 5 a.m. the morning after, wondering what continent I was on. I'm already plotting how soon I can go back, and which of the places I didn't get to see on this trip I can manage the next time.