Our oldest and newly graduated daughter, Lucy, loves all things Jane Austen. “Pride and Prejudice” is her favorite book of all time, and there are not many Jane Austen movies she hasn’t seen.
So a few weeks ago, Logan and I took her to England for the trip of a lifetime, where we visited not one but two Jane Austen museums, along with several houses and towns that have been featured in various Jane Austen movies. Die-hard Jane Austen fans – called Janeites, we learned – will properly swoon when I mention that we were able to visit both Pemberleys and dress up in Regency costumes while posing with a wax figure of Mr. Darcy.
Our trip started out not in the beautiful English countryside, but in the bustling streets of London. Our plane landed at Heathrow Airport around 10 in the morning, and in an effort to get over our jet lag as quickly as possible, we decided to plow through our day as if we were already acclimated to local time.
This meant that, even though our bodies felt like we should be crawling into bed, we instead dropped our bags off at our hotel and then headed out for a full day of London sight-seeing, among the crowds and climbing temperatures. Some of us in our party (mainly me) have been known to get a little testy under such conditions, so I suggested that we have a “safe word” that we could use when someone was getting on our nerves.
“Stop it stop it stop it” is what we decided on, and I’m happy to report that it only had to be invoked once or twice – as expected, by yours truly.
After exploring London for a day, we slept like the dead and then headed out to the English countryside to see all the sights that inspired Jane Austen’s work. You may think that Logan was an unwilling hostage as we meandered through estate after estate – and he definitely lacked some of the stamina that Lucy and I had – but he’s quite the Jane Austen fan himself. Each night, he happily joined in as we watched Jane Austen movies until the wee hours of the morning, including the five-hour BBC version of “Pride and Prejudice” while sitting in supremely uncomfortable wing back chairs provided by our Airbnb.
Once we’d seen all the Jane Austen sights, we took the Chunnel to Paris, which was just starting to head into its record-breaking heat wave. We quickly learned that there was hardly anywhere for us traveling vagabonds to cool off, unless we were eating in an air-conditioned restaurant or taking refuge in a dark and cool cathedral.
At one point, we trekked up a hill to visit the Sacré Coeur Basilica, a gorgeous Roman Catholic church that we hoped would provide a respite from the heat. Inside, people were communing with the very God of earth and heaven, but all we could think about was how good it felt outside next to the crypt, where a strong breeze was blowing through.
Several toasty hours into our time in Paris, I decided that I needed to ditch my tourist clothes and put on a breezy dress like many of the French women were wearing. We found a small shop and headed inside.
Let it be known that nothing can make you feel more dowdy than taking your eclair-stuffed tourist body into a boutique and trying on dresses under the scrutinizing eye of an elegant French saleswoman.
I was the only person in the shop at the time, so I had the full measure of her attention, and it was harrowing. One time, I came out of the dressing room in a pink polka-dotted dress that I thought was kind of cute.
“No,” the saleswoman said the instant she saw me, shaking her head like she’d just eaten a bad snail. She waved her hand to usher me back into the dressing room.
A few minutes later, I came out in a different dress, green this time.
“Yes,” she said in her thick French accent. “But thees ees not your cohlor.” She fished through the racks and held out a royal blue replacement, which – wouldn’t you know it – looked about 100 times better.
I wasn’t used to such undivided and honest attention from a salesperson, and it unnerved me. I bought the dress and got out of the shop as quickly as possible. It was only several pastries later that I was able to calm down enough to see that she had been spot on. The dress was beautiful. Had we still been in the countryside of England, it would have been fit for Pemberley itself.
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