"If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad." — JANE AUSTEN, Northanger Abbey
"If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad." — JANE AUSTEN, Northanger Abbey
As I am writing this post, snow is falling down hard down here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. We tend to get some sort of snow around Asheville, North Carolina, but its hardly ever before Christmas! It feels so cozy and festive to be sipping hot cocoa whilst writing and listening to holiday music. It’s made me think about some of my favorite traditions to attend here in North Carolina during the Christmas season! Some of these places I’ve been going to every year since I was a child, and I’ve loved having these traditions for years on end. Even if you are from out of town, these events are worth traveling for, I promise!
The National Gingerbread House Competition-The Omni Grove Park Inn
For the past 25 years, the Omni Grove Park Inn has held the National Gingerbread House Competition, a prestigous competition that hundreds of people from all over the US participate in. The creations always have to be made with gingerbread, and every element other than the base has to be edible. Some of the creations that entries come up with are out of this world, and you’d never believe they were made with completely edible elements! Displayed throughout the Inn, the gingerbread creations range from top ten winners of adults, as well as kids. Over the years, there have been creations of Hogwarts, Panda Bears, toy chests and more that unless you took a third look, you would never know was edible!
Other reasons to go to the Grove Park Inn around Christmas, is to see some of their intricately decorated Christmas trees and reindeer sled display that many families pose in front of, as they’re such great backdrops for Christmas cards. With several restaurants, a spa, stores, piano bars and huge fireplaces, The Grove Park Inn is a unique place to stay or just visit for the day. Browse around the walls of the hotel to see how many presidents and celebrities have stayed at the Inn, from Helen Keller to Jennifer Lopez, the list increases every year as more and more people find Asheville an irresistible location for a Christmas mountain getaway.
For more info go to: https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/asheville-grove-park/things-to-do/upcoming-events/national-gingerbread-competition
Gingerbread House Making Events-The Biltmore Estate
If you want to get in on the gingerbread making action yourself, head on over to America’s largest privately owned home, the Biltmore House. Built in 1889-1895 and sitting on 8,000 acres, the Biltmore Estates looks more like a European Chateau than a “home” in the Appalachian mountains. If you’ve never been to the Biltmore Estate at all, you definitely need to start with a whole day there seeing the house, the winery, stables, shops and restaurants. If you’re a seasoned Biltmore goer, or you’ve got a bit of time on your hands during the holiday season, their gingerbread house making event is genuinely something out of a fairytale book.
Located at the Inn on Biltmore, the event is a day filled with decorating your own gingerbread house and having amazing snacks and drinks in between your genius creating! This is definitely not your homemade gingerbread making sesh, this is definitely a luxury event with Christmas music playing, a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus and just about every type of candy you could think of to decorate or eat (hey, I’m not judging).
The price is a bit steep, at $85 bucks a person, but I swear it is well worth it as a surprise for a date, a lunch date with your friends, or a fun afternoon with the family if you can all go! Its a relaxing and stress free event that keeps icing and candy from going all over your kitchen table and floor, you’ll be saying its well worth the 80 a person by the time you’re through, trust me!
To book your spot: http://www.biltmore.com/events/detail/gingerbread-house-tea1
Smith-Mcdowell House Twilight Tours
The Biltmore House isn’t the only historic mansion in Western North Carolina. The Smith-Mcdowell House is surviving house in the city of Asheville. The house has changed hands many times through the years, from a plantation, a busy house for successful business owners and a school for boys in the 1950’s. Now, all of its unique history is displayed throughout the rooms of the house which represent different eras of the house’s existence. With ever changing displays, tours, talks and events, the Smith-McDowell House is a great location for kids to learn hands on history, as well as adults to learn more about historic Asheville.
During the holiday season, the house is decorated up as it would’ve been in victorian times for Christmas, with toys from the period, garlands, and dried fruit decorations. This Friday, the house is putting on hour long evening tours, with costume interpreters, music and refreshments. There is nothing quite like seeing history being “brought to life” through costumes and interactive tours, and the Smith-Mcdowell House is one of the greatest places in Asheville to experience this!
To book your space on the tour: https://www.wnchistory.org/event/smith-mcdowell-house-christmas-twilight-tour/?instance_id=50
Biltmore Village Dickens Festival
Though this event is only one day a year, it is totally worth marking it on your calendar. Originally built for the workers building the Biltmore House, Biltmore Village is now a historic, idyllic town full of shopping and dining. The architecture is protected by the National Register Historic District, and now any buildings being built in the area have to abide by these rules, including the Tudor style Mcdonald’s across from the Biltmore Estate entrance, which has a chandelier and a grand piano inside of it!
The first week of December there is the Dickens in the Village event, filled with everything you could hope for out of an old fashioned Christmas. There’s Victorian carolers, a tree raising, horse and buggy rides, roasted chestnuts and hot cocoa. Some of the shops have special treats inside and have extended hours to shop. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time a bit for this event, so don’t be a, Ebeneezer Scrooge, and plan to visit Biltmore Village the first weekend of December!
For more info: http://www.historicbiltmorevillage.com/event/dickens-in-the-village/
Jingle Bell Trolley Ride-Craggy Mountain Line Railroad
Most people don’t know this, but Asheville used to be the 2nd largest trolley system in the US! Though many of these railroad lines are buried and gone since the early 1900’s, a bit of its history has been protected by the Craggy Mountain Line Railroad in Woodfin, North Carolina, right outside of Asheville. A non-profit organization, the CML Railroad has been running for about a decade now, and what started out as a fun passion project has turned into quite the little tourist experience. Though they are only doing special events at the moment because they are small, the railroad is growing every year, and they are constantly buying, restoring and running new historic trains every year.
Their biggest event of the year is the Jingle Bell Trolley Ride, a popular hour long tour down the 3.5 mile restored railroad. Down the tracks you’ll get a little history of the line, a scenic tour of the town of Woodfin, and a festive restored train to listen to Christmas music down the tracks! When you return, there are several historic railway cars to look at and for kids to climb on, followed by a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. The tour also includes cookies and hot chocolate at the end of the event, with loads of fun lights, music, and Christmasy displays. At 12 bucks a person, and free for kids under three, this experience is a steal. On every weekend up until Christmas, Craggy Mountain Line puts on these events, so booking ASAP is recommended!
To ride down the rails: www.craggymountainline.com
Recently, I went to the Carolina Renaissance Festival in Huntersville, outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. There were acrobatics, performances, reenactors, jousts, amazing food and artisan crafts and gifts. Walking around, there was all kinds of workers and attendees dressed in different times in history, some even in elaborate Halloween costumes and Steampunk cosplay. Though there was too much modern activity to fully “go back in time,” looking at the elaborate costumes, and the enthusiasm of the crowd during jousting events, you really do feel as if there is something of the past that is missing today.
As I went around to the different shops, I realized how many unique things I was interested in, and how great some of these gifts would be Christmas time! Though this particular event isn’t on again until September 2018, many of the vendors travel throughout the year and sell their products at renaissance fairs all over the US, and this link will give you a list of all the fairs and festivals across the States.
While not everything sold at these types of events will be some people’s cup of tea, attending these types of fairs are great for gift giving for history enthusiasts, people interested in genealogy and young children experiencing this time period for the first time. Most fairs are from around August to November, so a perfect time to plan before Christmas, though they happen all year long in different locations.
Here’s some cool gifts I came across whilst at the Ren Fair! For the full list of vendors for the Carolina Renaissance Fair, click here!
For the Avid Game Player
This was one of my favorite stalls at the fair. These cool maps were just $10 bucks a piece, and ranged from historical maps of all different countries across the world, maps of North and South Carolina, and maps of fictional worlds in books, games and movies.
Though I got my fiancé a historical map of England, and one for myself of North Carolina, there were maps of the worlds in The Witcher, Game of Thrones, Avatar, Diagon Alley, Winnie the Pooh, Princess Bride, Skyrim and more. Each of them are drawn and printed by a talented map maker, and though he doesn’t have a website, he goes to many events throughout the US selling his maps.
For the Amateur Genealogist
This is another gift I got for my fiancé that I know will be personalized and passed down certificate of his family name. The Ancestors Names and Crests store researches your family name, and then within an hour or so, has a document specially printed with your family’s name, crest and historical background. The store has many different options of sizes of documents, framed or unframed, or things like hand stitched embroideries and crest rings if you want to wait for the items to be delivered.
For the Coffee Drinker
Coffee Corsets-Three Bells Artisans
This fun stocking stuffer is a great gift to give to friends who love hot drinks or just want to decorate their portable mug! With loads of different patterns and strings to pick from, the Coffee Corset is made by the owner, Maggie Porter, of Three Bells Artisans who has her own tapestry store at the fair. Not all of us can be in medieval garb all of the time, so these fun little corsets are a fun way to carry a little historical fashion with you everyday.
For the Mug Collector
I didn’t get a great photo of these, but the website above should give some further information. These leather mugs may seem odd, but they’re a practically indestructible mug. Made of leather, the D&U leather mugs are super sturdy and durable, as long as you keep cold beverages in them! They have different artwork on the outside of them, from the Welsh flag, breast cancer awareness ribbon, Thor hammer, and even Grumpy Cat! They can relax your mug at any time you like, and have different sizes mug which range from around $40-125 dollars.
For the Princess in Your Life
Jen's Crown Jewels
If nothing else, this fair had some serious flower crowns. These are no amateur put together daisy crowns, but well made crowns that can last year after year. If you’ve got a young one into princesses, faeries and knights, this is such a fun gift, or even for a Coachella-goer, these are not just for kids! There were several other hair accessories such as hair combs, feather fans and hair twisters. Here is one of the shops that caught my fancy.
For the Music Enthusiast
In the world of Pandora and Spotify, local and small artists can get lost in the sea of musicians online. From harpists, guitarists and singers, the Ren fair had people preforming their music in historical garb, and often explaining the history of the music as well. Many of them have music from certain time periods and original music. If your family or friends are like me and need a bit of music to make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time a bit, then a gift like this is great, and supports small time artists. Alternatively, there are also stalls for drums, flutes and wood instruments if your recipient is more of a musician.
For the Book Lover/Writer
Like many writers, one of my biggest weaknesses is leather journals that I never end up writing in. This fair was never lacking in anything leather, and journals and handbags were in abundance in every size. The Are of the Booke had tiny journals, all the way you to huge books that looked like something out of Harry Potter, many with symbols, crests and locks. They also had cool prints and signs such as this one, as well as books on the renaissance era and quirky items such as Tudor coloring books and ink and quill sets.
For the Cosplayer
One of the great things about going to an event like this rather than ordering gifts online is that you get to see the item in person. If you’re gifting someone an outfit, corset, hat, or jewelry, you have the chance to see it in person rather than just online. Plus the people that work there are knowledgable in their products, and can help you personally try on corsets, or help get the right size for your loved one. There are clothing like kilts, children’s clothing, wool, pirate clothing and renaissance costumes. Though some of the clothing items can be more on the expensive end of gift giving, they are very well made and typically more historically accurate than a generic costume. Here are some of the actors doing a dance near some of the shops in their costumes!
Bonus: For the White Elephant Game at a Party
This isn’t a “serious” gift, but it sure is a fun one! These Elf Ears were so funny to see on people walking around at the fair, and my first thought was how funny that would be opening up as a White Elephant/Dirty Santa gift this Christmastime. Though these weren’t meant for “Christmas Elves,” I think making someone put these on during a party with a Santa hat is the perfect Instagram moment!
These are just some of the things at my local Res Fair, who knows what else you could find at your local event!
Ever bought something unique at a Ren/Medieval Fair or a historical reenactment? I’d love to hear about your finds in the comments!
When I finally got the courage to attempt to write my first book, I knew exactly what kind of desk I wanted. Antique, functional, lots of drawers and compartments and a bookshelf above it. I wanted to be able to reach the books I wanted for reference at a moment’s notice. I knew that if my desk made me “step back in time” then maybe my pen would too. I’m not saying to write historical fiction you need to buy some 18th century antique, but for me it has been helpful.
Just having a “historical atmosphere” that I’ve stage before writing gets me in the state of mind to write, so these are my ways of creating a writing space to help me write within my genre…
I’ll be honest, I’m not exactly sure how old my desk is. Judging by the squeaky drawers, wear and tear and small research I’ve done on it, I’d say it was at least 70-100 years old. There are all these amazing drawers and spaces to put letters, pens and books, and I can just imagine an ink holder sitting in the middle of the hinged desktop.
I keep some classics and current historical fiction around to refer back to the language of the time. I used to be ashamed to do this, thinking I shouldn’t have to flop through other’s books to write mine, but plenty of actors watch tv, movies and read books to capture the correct time period of their character and this is much the same.
Occasionally if I am stuck on a story or the actions of my character I shut the glaring screen of my computer, pull out a piece of paper and pen, and write a letter as one of my characters to another. I find this separation from my computer and cluttered mind takes me out of the world of getting distracted by Facebook and Buzzfeed, and into the century I am writing.
I respect the writing space, creating an atmosphere of tranquility and positivity. Above my writing space, I attach encouragements and quotes to help with the struggles in whatever chapter I’m writing in.
In addition to this, I try and find music to listen to from the time period of my book or similar to it. Some of these are obviously music from soundtracks and scores, but some songs such as Schubert & Beethoven are from the Regency Period, and are two of my favorites. I create and follow Regency playlists on spotify and if you are interested in following my playlist, here is the link. I find that if I turn on the music 20-30 min before I write while I do other things, that it is easier to transition into a writing mode.
Time Limits and Restrictions
Though I don’t always follow my own rules, when I do I’m wildly more productive. I try to do 25 min increments in writing, This study talks about the benefits of writing in 25 min increments, and I swear by it. I attempt to use my in between time of 5 to 10 minutes to close my computer and read or answer messages, but some times some browsing occurs.
Is this all just silliness?
Though these tactics might seem tacky and cheesy, I’ve found that the more emerged I feel within my “historical” world, the more focused and interested in the setting I’m creating. I treat my writing space as cared and special, so I take pains to make it as affective as I can for my novel.
I get not everyone can afford or have a writing space, or even need it for that matter. I just know that as someone who struggles with procrastination, fear and distraction whilst trying to write, any tactics I can use to succeed in my writing is positive in my eyes.
These are just my own tricks to get into the writing mood, what are yours?
If you are a massive mini series fan or a serial Hallmark Channel watcher like myself, then no doubt you have heard of Hallmark Now (formally Feeln). If you are one of those people that either don’t have the time to watch Hallmark or don’t have it on normal cable but want to watch some wholesome romance or a period piece or two, Feeln might be the service for you.
I remember the days when I used to have to pay 30 to 50 bucks for one mini series at Barnes and Noble because they weren’t American made productions that you could find cheaper at Walmart. Now, there are all sorts of mini series and historical films coming and going from Netflix and Amazon Prime. Feeln, or soon to be Hallmark Now, is another one of these streaming services, offering mostly historical films, television series and Hallmark movies.
Though it is fairly new, the site is so tempting for people like myself, who can’t get enough of top hats and petticoats and a little light romance every now and then. If you’ve been hearing about Feeln and considering it, I’ve compiled a list of pros and cons below to help you decide if you should spend an extra five bucks a month.
Pros and Cons:
Pro: Wholesome content
Most of what is on Hallmark Now is safe for teenage age and older. They also have a children’s section all on its own which is a bonus. Though I haven’t watched everything on Hallmark Now, it seems like the majority of it you can pop on the TV and not have to worry that some full frontal random sex scene will come on that you weren’t expecting. There is a good variety of contemporary and historical films and tv shows, with some from Britain, Canada and Australia that you most likely wouldn’t find on other streaming services.
Con: Some unheard of shows
Some of these shows you’ve probably never heard of. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, it might be a welcomed surprise! There are a plethora of Hallmark films new and old, but series wise, a fair few of them you might not have seen before as they are lesser known English shows or older mini series. This isn’t necessarily a con, its just something to think about if you were hoping for some key shows to be on the list.
Pro: Saving on DVDs
As I mentioned before, mini series that used to be shown on PBS or BBC America would often be pricey to buy at Barnes and Noble, and the same goes for Hallmark movies in the Hallmark store or Christian book stores. With Hallmark Now, you can save a lot by not having to buy some of the classics that are offered here. I’m not sure how often shows come and go, but it doesn’t seem that frequent, so you have the time to watch most of these shows and films without worrying that they’re going away next month.
Con: Limited choices
Hallmark produces an awful lot of films. Between their Christmas movies, now popular mystery series and Valentine’s Day films they make a lot of new stuff every year. You don’t see a fourth of that on Hallmark Now. I bought Hallmark Now thinking that since I didn’t have the Hallmark Movies and Mystery channel that I could see some of those shows on here, but a majority of the Hallmark Hall of Fame films on the streaming service are 10 years old at least. There are a few current shows such as Heartland, Ties that Bind and The Eleventh, but in total there are 11 shows on Hallmark Now, and most of them are at least five years old or more. Don’t expect to buy this service and there be a lot of current shows and movies that you are hoping to catch up on, because they simply are not there.
Pro: Supported on just about any device
Everything checks out as far as video quality, subtitles and devices that can be used with Hallmark Now. I have no problems using it on a playstation or laptop or tablet, and even when it takes other videos longer to load depending on where I am in the house, Hallmark Now is pretty quick.
Con: they are about to discontinue streaming on any Sony, Samsung and Blu Ray devices 2014 and older
All of the smart TVs in our house are now Samsung. Its so amazing just to be able to turn on the tv, and click on Netflix or Hallmark Now and watch the show straight from the remote. With this change, it could mean we have to get Roku for every TV in the house, simply because it will no longer work with Samsung. Though this obviously won’t affect everyone, having to buy a separate device just to play Hallmark Now for those who do have Samsungs when it currently works with those TV’s is extremely annoying.
Hallmark Now is a great idea. If you were to tell me I could have mini series and Hallmark movies coming out of my ears on a service like Netflix I would pay loads of money for it. Truth is though, their choices are pretty limited compared to other streaming databases, and much of what they offer is obscure or several years old. Not that there is anything wrong with old! (Trust me, I’m a lover of all things Clark Gable and Gregory Peck) But it feels like there is just not as much variety in old and new television as there should be. Certainly not enough to either replace using Netflix or paying for them both.
Feeln is rebranding to Hallmark Now later this year, and perhaps with it will come some more movies and shows. If you are strapped for cash I would say hold off for Hallmark Now for the moment. There are plenty of historical shows and light romances on Netflix or Amazon Prime, though the price you pay for not having something like Hallmark Now is that a lot of these shows have questionable content on them.
It honestly depends on what kind of streaming content you are wanting on your computer or television, but at $4.99 a month, Hallmark Now is a great addition to have along with other services. If you’re expecting it to replace what you already have however, you’ll run out of things to watch fairly quickly.
We needed some time away from University...
When my roommate and I decided on a weekend away, we knew we didn’t have a ton of time to plan out places to go, or a bank account to go to every travel destination in Holland and Belgium. Plus there was the business of getting there and back from Friday to Sunday in time for classes on Monday. So we chose a tour group to get the most out of our weekend.
Here is the low down on going on your own or with a tour...
Most port of calls for traveling to other places will be in a major city. So for us, it was London. So we made our way from Bangor to London on a three hour train ride. You would have to do something like this anyways to get on a ferry or a plane. Once you're there, its your choice whether to go it alone or have a guide and a group for your short trip.
Once we got into London, all our travel was covered from there. From Amsterdam to Bruges then back to London. It was a comfort to know we didn’t have to figure out planes, trains, buses or taxis for ourselves.
Con-Little to no Flexibility
You spend a lot of time on a hot bus. Traveling overnight, going under the sea, getting from one city to the other. You’re not free to take a later train, or decide to linger longer in a city.
Pro-Everything is Included
Most everything is included. Hostel room, transportation, walking tours, boat tours, breakfast and a tour guide. You have safety in the numbers of other travels, as well as meeting new people from all over the world.
Con-Having to skip Class
Tours start typically on a Thursday night or Friday, ends late on a Sunday. Well, Friday night-ish. So if can get into London before 5 at night, great! If you have class and you can’t, the tour leaves without you. Also, the tour gets in late Sunday, so spending a few late hours in a train station might be your fate.
Pro-Free Time to Explore
You get free time in the city to explore and shop. Normally around 3 to 5 hours to do what you want. For some places, this is plenty of time to see a museum or shop for presents.
Con-Fixed Times to Leave
If you want to stay longer, you can’t. You’re not free to take a later train, or decide to linger longer in a city or get to know the locals. Everyone has to be on the bus at a certain time and if you’re not, you’re left to fly home on your own, or with a big taxi bill trying to catch up to the bus.
It's up to you. If you have time to plan out a complete trip, map out locations, flights, hotels, meals and inland transportation, then I think there is a possibility you could have a less expensive trip depending on the time of year. However if you've got a small window time to see a new country, then a tour that is going to get you to locations quickly and safely and back to class by Monday morning, might be the way to go.
Spotlight Tour Companies
Anxiety can be a huge hinderance in traveling or trying to move abroad. For some, it can make them return home in the middle of their stay, or keep them from going altogether. For me, when I moved it Wales, anxiety was originally a shameful secret that I pretended not to have to come off as a “well traveled adventurer.” But moving somewhere new was stressful and scary, and there were times I wanted to stay inside and never come out again. Once I started accepting that I had anxiety, and learning what my triggers were, I could help my nervousness and moods through educating myself about my new environment and how I could help my body adjust to it. Here are some practical ways I dealt with my anxiety when I moved to the UK.
I walked almost everywhere
There was a time when I first moved to Wales where I considered buying a car. It was crazy that my commute was a mile and a half walk from my house to the university. Why, growing up, I was used to my parents driving around a parking lot several times just to find the closest parking spot in Target rather than parking a farther ways away. And in my university in the States before I transferred, most of my classes were in the building beside my dorm. Everything was easily walkable and what wasn’t on campus you could get into someone’s car and drive there. This resulted in me gaining around 30 pounds and struggling to get out of my dorm just to walk 3 min into my lecture room.
When I was forced to walk pretty much everywhere in Wales, I had to focus on getting there on time, walking briskly, and having everything ready before I left. I couldn’t spend loads of my time in my room alone because it was far away from campus, so I had to make an effort to walk to the library or the store, and to plan out my day accordingly. Walking everywhere forced me to be out of doors more than usual, and focused on where I needed to be, rather than what my anxiety was having me worried about.
I got an infrared light
There are seasons in the UK that the sun goes down at four in the afternoon. Not to mention that the UK can be just a little more drab in general year round. As an American coming from a somewhat sunny place, this was a difficult thing to adjust to right at first. A friend gave me her big low level infrared light to use during the darker months, to replenish the Vitamin D into my skin that the sun wasn’t giving me in the UK. I only used it to study with, and never on the highest setting, but I did feel like I was more positive and productive when I had that kind of light to study with.
I had my iron levels checked
When I first moved to the UK I had no idea that there was lower iron levels in the water than there were in the US. My body wasn’t getting the correct amount of nutrients I needed, and I had little to no energy my first semester to get to class and student activities. I thought perhaps it was just my anxiety keeping me up a lot at night, making me exhausted during the day, but finally a friend urged me to go to the doctor to find out if there was anything else up. The tests showed I was highly anemic and my energy levels were down because of this. As soon as I started taking iron supplements, as well as taking vitamins and melatonin for my sleep, I saw an improvement in my energy as well as my mental health. I highly suggest visiting somewhere like Holland and Barrett for things like natural iron supplements, B12 and multivitamins while your body is adjusting to somewhere new.
I told my lecturers and people close to me
There was periods of time where I would go without talking to my lecturers because of my anxiety, and draft work would be turned in late or not at all because I was so nervous about my work. Likewise, I would avoid some of my friends on social media or to hang out because I was too overwhelmed with work. I'm still learning this lesson today, but people can be a lot more understanding and courteous of the space you need if you tell them what is going on and that you have anxiety. It took a lot of courage to email them and tell them where I was at with my work and why, but many lecturers are more understanding of anxiety than you would think, most are there to help you. Though it didn’t make me feel better about the work I was behind on, when I finally did message my lecturers a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Once people knew the “why” of my struggles, I didn’t have the extra anxiety of trying to avoid emails or talking to my lecturers and friends.
I moved into a house with windows
The first year of my studies I lived in a basement apartment. While I loved having the space to myself, I didn’t really realize how much it was affecting my mental health trying to study somewhere with very little natural light. In my third year I moved to a house with two large windows, that lit up my room even when it was rainy. I sat my desk in front of one of the windows and that is where I did most of my writing. This helped massively with my mood and outlook, and I created a study space that was positive and full of light. There are many student houses in the UK with cheap, small rooms with little lighting, damp ceilings and little heating. It’s not the middle ages, but if you suffer from anxiety or depression, do yourself a favor and skimp somewhere else in your budget and get a decent room with a window.
I got near and into water
There have been many studies suggesting that being near water, whether it is a lake, ocean or pool, can improve people’s physical and mental health. Our bodies crave being near it, and according to science being near the “blue” space can be therapeutic to humans. When I heard a podcast on this from Travel With Rick Steves, I made a conscious effort to be in and around water more, and I found I had more energy, and my mind was less troubled. When I could I would cross the Menai Bridge to go to class instead of taking the bus, and I went swimming occasionally to get some exercise and increase my endorphins. It sounds crazy, but I definitely felt a difference when I consciously made an effort to get around the water, and if you want more info on this, Vice has a good overall article about the research done on water and mental health.
None of these things “cured” my anxiety abroad. I still had bouts of time where I found it hard to get my work done, where it was a challenge to get out of the house, and days where I stressed over which bus route to take to the next city. I think sometimes those who have anxiety put a lot of blame on themselves for the way they struggle however, and don’t see that factors such as weather, diet, and new surroundings can affect them.
It took me a long while to realize that I could help some of my anxiety by educating myself about my new environment and ways I could help my mind and body adjust to new surroundings. While you are researching about your new travel destination’s food and culture, have a quick look about the weather and the environment as well, you never know how you could prepare yourself for a less anxiety-filled trip!
Filled with some of the most beautiful landscapes, beaches and historical locations in the UK, North Wales often gets overshadowed by England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But I tell you, it has some of the most spectacular views. Oh and did I mention castles? Wales has some of the best fortifications in Europe that have lasted for thousands of years. Since I live in North Wales, I am going to focus on these. Some of these views will have you realizing you should be taking a left the second you get out of Heathrow.
This impressive castle is located in one of the most charming UK towns I have walked through. The castle goes back to the 11th century, to the Tudor period, all the way to Prince Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales in 1969. With a massive courtyard on the inside, and several towers to explore around, you can easily spend several hours taking a guided tour or walking through a massive Prince of Wales Chess board or Eleanor of Castile carousel exhibit. The castle also includes a Royal Welch Fusilier Museum that gives a unique look at the history of the Welsh military from its existence to present day. This separate museum is enough to go, in and of itself… but coupled with a huge castle, an ice-cream and stores owned by locals, you’ve got a day made in Caernarfon!
Located on the Isle of Anglesey, the moated castle was built during the 1200’s out of the tensions that were rising for control of Wales. As one of the most symmetrically built castles in the world, the site is a great place to see how the stone structure of a castle is built and still survives. Because there is a large flat courtyard, it's a great place for re-enactors to come and camp out for a weekend. Beaumaris Castle is a nice place to come and see medieval fighting, archery, cooking and clothing. Though this castle won’t take all of your day to explore, there is other things to see nearby such as the puffin boat tours and Beaumaris Gaol, a Welsh jail built in 1867.
Once you enter into the town of Conwy, you can walk to the castle atop the long town wall. With much of its town walls still intact, Conwy gives a unique view of the town from above the historical buildings. With a train and car bridge that runs nearby, you can feel like you’ve been going through the castle wall just by passing by. The shops within the town are well worth a visit, with quality artsy products and restaurant establishments. Across from the castle you can fill your fantasy of being a knight by visiting a weapon replica shop filled with medieval swords, bows, axes, and armor. In the summer, Cowny holds movie nights and traveling Shakespeare plays, where you can grab a lawn chair, picnic and blanket and be entertained inside the castle and under the stars.
This isn’t technically a castle. It’s a manor house built in the 1800’s to look like a castle. Unlike the other castles, the inside of Penryhn is completely furnished, with expensive artwork, furniture and interior design. The living spaces and kitchens will make you think you have stepped into a scene from Downton Abbey, as the difference between the house’s grandiose family rooms and simplistic servant's quarters are very similar. During Queen Victoria’s reign, a large slate bed was made specifically for her one-night stay there. Built during the peak of the slate mining industry by Richard Pennant, the castle serves as a bitter reminder of the inequality in wealth between the owners of the mines and the hardworking Welsh miners. Outside of the castle, there is also a railway museum that features beautifully restored engines and locomotive cars. With a large estate attached for exploring, picnics or Saturday runs, Penrhyn is a perfect location to feel like a Grantham for the day.
The royal estates aren’t the only places that are good at creating a magnificent garden. Chirk Castle is proof of that, with its rock garden, meticulously cut hedges and maze courtyard. Built for Edward I, the fortress has been converted into a grand living space for the influential Myddleton family. At the entrance, there is a lovely gift shop and tea room, as well as a large used book collection with interesting titles. The castle’s dungeon and murder holes are sure to spark the interest of the more dark-history enthusiasts, and a chance to try on heavy armor draws you back in time to see what like to fight in the middle ages.
If you’ve never been to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, you should definitely go just to go there. The largest privately owned home in the United States, it was built in 1889 and is situated over almost 7,000 acres. It has over 250 rooms, and has some of the most amazing artifacts, furniture and artwork in America. If you’ve ever seen Downton Abbey, the Biltmore House was very much like that in its time period, with the owners being the elite Vanderbilt family, and the grounds with a servants quarters, gym, underground pool and stables. Currently, the Biltmore Estate is as much a brand as it is a historical home, as it has hotels, restaurants, a winery, riding stables and all sorts of segway and land rover tours. So going to Biltmore is a day long adventure, and for locals like myself, the Estate does an amazing job at changing out displays and tours every season, bringing in new and interesting things to experience year after year.
One such exhibit is period movie costume displays all throughout the house. Starting in 2015, The Biltmore House had costumes from Downton Abbey from characters throughout the show, and being able to look at the costumes of the characters I was watching on tv for many seasons was a pretty surreal experience!
From now until July fourth, the Biltmore House has costumes from classic films and period dramas called Designed for Drama: Fashion from the Classics. The displays also had artifacts from time periods of the movies, such as this First Edition Peter Pan book by J. M. Barrie to go along with the costumes from Finding Neverland.
It is so neat to be able to see some of the elaborate dresses from period films, to look at the details, the tiny waists of the actresses or the height of the actors. The costumes perfectly match the rooms in Biltmore, like this dress from The Golden Bowl which was worn by Uma Thurman in 2000.
The artistry of costumes like these that are made personally for the actor bring the film to life, like these dresses that are featured in the Breakfast Room from the film Twelfth Night. More recent films were also featured, including the 2011 version of Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska.
My personal favorite was being able to see the costumes from the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice. Looking at the costumes that Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle wore for the film right there in front of me was so exciting, and made me feel as if I was right there in the movie with them.
For those Johnny Depp fans, the films Sleepy Hollow, Gangs of New York, and Finding Neverland are included in the displays. Other period films such as Sherlock Holmes 1&2 are also on display as well as other historical films!
In conjunction with this, then Inn at Biltmore puts on tea afternoon, called “Designed for Drama Tea Series” that have period music, food and decor. These types of displays normally run for several months, but if you happen to not be in North Carolina during this time, the next display is the costumes from the Titanic from February 9 to May 13, 2018. For more information on the tours and displays at the Biltmore Estate, visit www.biltmore.com.
Sometimes, simply sitting down to write is not enough. You have to get IN the zone. And for a genre writer, sometimes that means acting a bit like a method actor, and getting as much into the time period or setting that you can get. As a historical writer, I need some regency-inspired songs to make me feel like I’m perusing the streets of Regency Bath.
So, I've created Spotify playlists to go with my writing sessions, with links to them below! Of course, a lot of these are soundtracks you will have no doubt heard a hundred times over if you are a period drama watcher like myself. But they're all categorized into different 'moods' so you can get the most out of your writing.
Here is a list of Regency music for all kinds of different moods or scenes. Happy Writing!
Regency Era music
While sports can be a fulfilling part of university life, the millions of dollars and facilities built for it can take away from the real reason that a university is there in the first place: to further a student’s education. While sports in universities in the UK are still competitive, there is not the same sort of focus put into it as in the States, and most universities offer all students the chance to try out a new sport from the ground up, to compete, or just show up for practice and meet friends. This makes sports an added experience for all students to try out during their university experience, and funding can go into research and student housing rather than stadiums and athlete’s allowances.
Though this isn’t for everyone, if you know exactly what you want to study, then having a degree that is focused only on your field is ideal. There is no need to take a load of language, science and physical education classes to graduate if all you want to do is study history. That means most undergraduate degrees are 3 years and only on your major, so if you are not sure what you want to do yet, you are more stuck on that subject than in the states. This makes you more proficient in your subject, but offers less flexibility if you’re still figuring out what you want to do.
Safe Access to Alcohol
Some parents will disagree on this, but the simple fact is that the legal age to drink in the UK is 18. Whoever thought letting students get their first taste of freedom and giving them alcohol in the same year was a good idea, I have no idea, but most students have had alcohol way before this age anyway. Many universities will have a campus bar in the center of dormitories, or somewhere nearby for students to hang out, play some pool or catch the game. People in the States might look at this and think it is a recipe for disaster, but having the alcohol right in the center of campus, where there are security officers, a short walk back to the dorms, and CCTV cameras everywhere makes it a safer environment. Most students are going to drink when they first come to university, so it makes sense to have it in a convenient and controlled place, where students aren’t walking home late at night by themselves, without a safety net.
The Grading System
American students are used to busy work from the time they start kindergarten. A multitude of tests, pop quizzes, exams, reports, extra credit, papers and projects can make up for the grade for one class, and then times that by 6 to 8 classes per semester, and the workload starts to add up. In the UK, most classes ride on the grade of one or two exams, with a paper or two in the middle. Though it can seem daunting to have everything ride on one exam, it allows the student the time to study in the way they learn best. That way, they don’t have to focus on so many different assignments that they feel they don’t get the time to study for the final.
Flexibility in housing
This isn’t an option for every British university, but for the most part, most Uni’s don’t require you sign a contract to live on campus, or force you to buy an overpriced meal plan in order to study there. Of course there will be dorms, but if you would rather have more of a home-like life during your degree, then there are plenty of private housing nearby that aren’t as expensive as on campus. For many universities, you will have to adjust to cooking on your own as there are no on-campus catering, but learning to feed yourself isn’t the end of the world, it just means you become an adult a little bit quicker. And isn’t that what university is all about?
Cheaper text books
There is some text book buying involved in the UK, but thankfully it doesn’t necessarily involve you spending an extra thousand dollars a semester to pass a class. It seems like colleges in the US are wrapped up in promoting books that have 15 editions that are updated every year with essentially the same information in them. Once you’ve used it for a semester, you get half of your money back from selling it because there is now a new edition that students are required to buy instead. Professors in the UK aren’t obligated to force their students to buy these books, and there is a lot more flexibility in getting reading materials that don’t end up breaking the bank for students.
I'm not really that into telling you cute little anecdotes about drinking far too much coffee and loving fall. So I'm Kayla, and I wrote this blog.