I’m not going to lie to you—I miss travelling. Whether it’s a day spent exploring a National Trust property or a city break in London or a long weekend getting away from it all in the beautiful countryside, I miss experiencing new sights and sounds.
Everything else that’s mentioned in my tagline? I’ve managed to find ways of catering to it all over the past year.
I’ve kept an eye on nature through the happenings in the garden, from the birds and bees to the slightly larger visitors. Professor Alice Roberts has scratched my history itch with her fantastic Britain’s Most Historic Towns series and, most recently, Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed highlighted the latest research about my Wiltshire neighbour. And, as far as tea is concerned, Comin’s delivers! Being able to have high-quality loose-leaf tea posted throughout the pandemic has been the height of luxury.*
But travel serves so many different purposes that can be challenging to find in lockdown. It’s an opportunity to rest and recharge. It puts us in different environments which can allow us to see things in a new way or from a different perspective. By shaking up routines, it can foster creativity and potentially break us out of our usual ruts.
Yet I have found a solution in an unusual place: 19th century travel books have been a godsend, taking MrElaineous and I around the world and back in time. Mary Crawford Fraser’s collection of letters introduced us to Meiji-era Japan during a period of enormous transition and change. While watching anime is all well and good, this allowed us to stretch our travelling muscles by exercising our imagination.
At the moment, we’re visiting northern Italy with Charles Dickens, whose Pictures from Italy is often credited as the first modern travelogue. Indeed, his short, punchy—and often grumpy—descriptions call to mind a curmudgeonly blogger! His non-fiction comes across as far crankier than his novels, but with a very contemporary view of eschewing what’s set down in the guidebook and going off the beaten track:
I have such a perverse disposition in respect of sights that are cut, and dried, and dictated—that I fear I sin against similar authorities in every place I visit.
But why 19th century writing in particular? Much of it was written to be read out loud, whether in the household, as in the case of Mrs. Fraser’s letters, or to an audience in a theatre, as was common with Dickens’ writing. This has allowed MrElaineous and I to enjoy the books together and plan our own trips across the world … when, someday, we’re eventually able to venture beyond Chippenham.
If you miss travel as well, let me leave you with one more passage from Mary Crawford Fraser’s A Diplomatist’s Wife in Japan; any budding anime artists who are reading this, I suggest using this scene for the movie trailer!
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