Back in the U.S. of A

Kristine here, back in the land of television shows in English and computer keyboards with all the keys where they should be. I did try to post while in France, but honestly, it was too frustrating. As Vicky has posted, once she is also back in the States we’ll be posting blogs and pics of our trip, but for now I’ll give you the highlights of the Wellington tour once Vicky and I parted ways. Vicky and Ed left us on Sunday morning, Battle of Waterloo day, in order to make their cruise connection. Brooke and I went on with the tour to the re-enactment site.

When we’d visited the day before to see the military camps, La Belle Alliance and Hougemount, someone had asked me if I were going to walk to the top of the Lion’s Mound, the great man-made hill erected to commemorate the Battle and I responded, emphatically, no. It’s an almost verticle hill with many, many steps to the top. Well, dear reader, never say never. It turns out that there were so many visitors to the battle that if you’d stayed on the ground, you’d never see a thing, being five or six deep in a crowd of spectators. It was absolutely freezing on the day, and had rained the day before so Brooke and I bought commemorative Waterloo blankets (not kidding) and began the long climb up the mound. We got about half way there and found ourselves spots from which to view the action. Once you left the stairs, you had to crouch down in order to walk to your place, the slope is so steep. Also, it’s covered in slippery grass, with no footholds to speak of. Talk about harrowing. Brooke later told me that she’d never before actually seen terror in anyone’s eyes as she had when she was helping me to our place. The fact that people above us kept losing their personal items – cameras, umbrellas and such – and that these kept rolling down the hill past us did not offer us much comfort. At last we found purchase, digging our heels and butts into the hillside in order to gain a bit of purchase, and settled in for the show. . .

And what a show it was. It was absolutely thrilling to be in the thick of the Battle, so to speak. The  formations, the cannons going off, the rifles being fired, the smoke enveloping the field as mounted calvary cantered across the field, all of it was fabulous. And to add to the authenticity of the thing, it began to bucket down rain. So now I’m precariously perched on the side of the Mound, watching the battle, holding an umbrella over us and trying to film the Battle. It was at this point that Brooke told me she wasn’t into Wellington as much as I was and this was all more of a sacrifice than she was prepared to make and that she was going down the pub to wait for me in the dry, with a drink. Thank God one of fellow tour members, an exceedingly nice man who was a retired police detective from Surrey, was with us and able to help me back down the Mound at the end or I’d still be sitting at the Battlefield.

Vicky and I took masses of photos all along the way and we promise to post them soon – shots of the military camps, the battle sites and lots of re-enactors in various uniforms. I also took much video – including footage of “Wellington” on horseback, galloping between regiments – and if I can figure out how to edit these, I’ll be posting them in the near future. It’s grand to be back and we look forward to sharing our trip via our posts here soon.

Do You Know About The National Trust and the Royal Oak Society?

Victoria here…a loyal member of the Royal Oak Society for quite a few years.  This is the U.S. organization that supports the National Trust in Britain. If you live in a major U.S. city, or visit one from time to time, you might find that one of the Royal Oak’s lectures could be on your agenda.

They bring historians, decorators, architectural critics and gardeners to the U.S. for programs in New York City, and several other cities, usually chosen from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D. C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. Sometimes Miami, Charleston, San Francisco and others. The programs I have attended are marvelous.

To learn more about the Royal Oak, click here. There are many other worthwhile activities, too. But the very best thing is that you are part of the British National Trust and you are admitted free to all NT properties, not to mention getting a discount at their shops.

Here is the connection to the NT. As you probably know if you are an Anglophile, the National Trust is a fantastic organization that works to protect the land and the heritage of Great Britain. I have this dream that someday I will get to all of the places run by the National Trust, particularly the stately homes.

While the NT is an exceptionally well run professional organization, with a wonderful list of publications, most of the guards/guides in the buildings are volunteers, well-trained, but nevertheless, volunteers.  I have heard some wonderful stories from these worthy souls about their experiences — and most of them are only too glad to chat with guests, especially when they find out you are a member of the Royal Oak — then you are really someone special.

One day, a pal and I were at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire  which was used for many of the interior shots of Pemberley in the 1995 Colin Firth version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There was a large display in the stable of costumes from the film.  My friend and I walked slowly through the handsome rooms, reading about them in the guidebook and listening to the volunteer guides. 

We reached a large bedchamber decorated in red satin.  I turned to my pal and said, “Oh, this is the room where Darcy changed his coat!”

Well, the poor gentleman in charge of that room had heard that remark one too many times.  “Madam!” he sputtered. “This is not only the room where Darcy (here his voice dripped with exasperation) changed his coat. THIS was the bedchamber of Queen Adelaide after her husband died. She lived in this house for part of her life and this was her room.”
He meant the wife of William IV who had a rather sad widowhood, not really welcomed to court by Queen Victoria’s Mama, who wished Adelalide far, far away to reduce her possible influence on the young Queen.

My friend and I tried not to giggle as we assured the gentleman that we appreciated his information and felt ourselves quite well corrected in our views. This was a gentleman who took his history seriously, not to be toyed with by movie fans.

Another funny story I heard from an NT volunteer guide was a Saltram House.  She had been on duty during the filming of the Emma Thompson film of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  Her specific assignment was to protect the Chippendale sofas in the Saloon. They are too large and fragile to be moved, so one volunteer was needed at each of the pair to keep the technicians from draping their dirty cables and cords over the delicate satin upholstery. Every day. In addition, the guide told us that during the filming, the beautiful carpeting was rolled up and replaced temporarily by a painted floor cloth, which looks exactly the same in the film. Rolling cameras and all the crew could tramp around on the floor cloth to their heart’s content.

One of my favorite parts of being a Royal Oak/NT member is getting the annual guidebook to their properties and their quarterly newsletters, just packed with information I use to plan my next visits.

So hat’s off to the NT and Royal Oak — and everyone else who works so hard to keep Britain’s cultural history and precious unspoiled land  available to all of us!  Huzzah!!

Knole, Kent (left)

Bodiam Castle, Kent (below)

Brancaster, Norfolk, salt marshes (left)


 Right, Scotney Castle and Garden, Kent

Napoleon's old territory

Victoria here.  We have reached the spot in our Rhine Cruise where the river is the border between France and Germany. Today we toured the city of Strasbourg, home of the European parliament aand other EU institutions.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the first Place we encoutered was Place d’Austerlitz, where the Corsican general and his troops stopped on their way to the important battle of the same name, which thoroughly whipped the Austrians, IIRC. Hmmmm.

But despite that little reminder, the town itself is charming — parts of it are very French and parts monumentally German. It has passed back and forth, as has its whole region of Alsace a number of times. Here is some of the French part.

Many canals and the river Ill flow through and around the town center.  We saw lots of storks which live at the top of specially trimmed trees and quite calmly stared at us from their large nests.  Around the town I also saw evidence of the geese the region is famous for, but not a single one on the  river — just swans and ducks.

Of course the city is renowned for its ancient cathedral, combining Romanesque and Gothic features. It has a very complicated astrological clock that keeps the time, date, month, year, sign of the zodiac, lunar phases, etc.–all so old you would never guess they had the ability to fine tune such a huge instrument.  Some of the windows are extremely old and quite beautiful. The large rose window was destroyed in WWII bombing, so it is a new creation.

We finished off our stay with a lovely luncheon of French specialities: Quiche Lorraine and Flambe something, which was a very thin-crusted pizza aith local cheeses. And lovely wine from nearby vineyards.

Tomorrow we cruise further south, which is upstream, since the Rhine flows from Switzerland (Lake Constanz) to the Niorth Sea. Our curise direction,  from Amsterdam to Basel, has us moving south but upstream and the current is very very fast.  The boat must have a good strong engine to push us along, while going the other way, you’d hardly have to use any power at all except to stay in the channels.

Our off-boat trip will be to a section of the Black Forest.  Then on Sunday morning Ed and I leave the Viking Sun and take the train to Paris where we merely change stations to return to London by Eurostar.  I am busy making plans for a few last minute visits on the one day we have in London before going home.

I believe that Kristine and Brooke are soon to be back home, so next week, we will try to fill you in on all our London activities (we didn’t have a computer until Ed arrived), and sift through our pictures and video. I hope some of them, at least, will be worth the wait.

London Libraries

Research in London is really a redundant term for those of us who love the place and want to learn more about it. Just walking in the streets is a worthwhile experience…however, sometimes we want to dig deeper.  I had that opportunity last week. 

The British Library catalogue is easily accessible on line and you can set up a log-in account and save titles you are interested in looking at.  It is all explained on their website and since I was able to manage it, I am sure others will find it user-friendly too. 

You can pre-register for a Reader’s Card on line, but once at the BL, you must go through a short interview and show a passport and a  document with your home address — I used my Wisconsin driver’s license.  If what you are interested in is easily accessible at other libraries, you might not be allowed to get the card. So be sure whatever you seek is relatively rare.  I asked for two documents which I ‘d never seen in any other library catalogues.  

Once you have the Reader’s Card (it’s good for several months and can be renewed), you have to put all your belongings in  locker except for your notepaper, pencil and/or computer, and maybe your wallet.  Though they said they had clear plastic bags available to carry these things, they’d been all used when I was there, so I filled my pockets.  This is the same system at many libraries to protect their collections — so if you want to carry much, have your own clear bag with you.

Then you proceed to the room you had indicated in your on-line request as your reading room of choice (I picked Humanities 1), choose a seat and note the number, then present your Reader’s Card at the desk for your materials.

In my case the two documents I had requested were only 21 and 12 pages long.  I was amazed — although I am sure if I had read the catalogue info more carefully, I would have known.  Anyway, I finished in about an hour and was most pleased with the experience.  I had lunch in the library cafe, filled with other researchers.  I could have requested something else to study, but they warn it takes up to 24 hours for many old things kept off-site, so being a bit jet-lagged, I decided to take a walk in the fresh air (as if there was any along Euston Road).

The next day I did research at Hertforshire Archives an hour north of London and also at the Vand A Museum Art Library, but I’ll give you the details of those experiences another time. Both have their catalogues on line — and will copy things for you for a small fee.

We are recently back from the tour of charming Heidelberg and a delicious lunch of wurst and beer — that reminded us exactly of home in Milwaukee. Now I need a nap — cheers, Victoria, who is really sorry she can’t include any of her photos yet. Stay tuned.

Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch

David Wilke’s famous painting, Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch, was commissioned by the Duke of Wellington and completed in 1822, when it was shown at the Royal Academy and was so popular that railings had to be put up to protect it. The painting celebrated the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Duke asked Wilkie for a picture of old soldiers outside a public house. It was Wilkie who chose the Royal Hospital at Chelsea as a setting. Nothing could have been more fitting – by 1815 there were more than 30,000 Chelsea pensioners, soldiers who were discharged as unfit for further duty because of injury. Most received cash payments and did not live at Chelsea. Many had served with the Duke of Wellington, whose body lay in state in 1852 in the Great Hall of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

As the Royal Hospital Chelsea website says: There are few institutions in the United Kingdom with an unbroken three centuries of service and none of them is so close to the heart of the nation as “The Men in Scarlet”, the Chelsea Pensioners, and their home, the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Founded in 1682 by King Charles II and intended for the ‘succour and relief of veterans broken by age and war’, the Royal Hospital, with its Grade 1 listed buildings, still serves its original purpose and intends to continue to further its role well into the 21st Century.

The painting still hangs at Apsley House and is on public display.