London’s Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

A HEROINE’S TRAVEL GUIDE TO LONDON, ENGLAND’S HAMPSTEAD / BY HEATHER BLANCHARD

Welcome heroines, to the charming village of Hampstead in North London.

Here we venture to an area of London famous for its artistic and literary heritage. Start your tour on a Sunday late morning; for I think a heroine should be allowed a lie-in, an extra rest from all of her adventures!

I hope you have on some comfortable shoes, because Hampstead is a place for walking. There are self-guided tours available, and some say that Hampstead has the highest number of blue plaques in the capital, as it has been home to so many notable people throughout history.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

We start on Hampstead High Street, a busy main road, lined with boutiques, alfresco cafes, and patisseries.

It’s tempting to take a seat here and watch the world go by, and you can see all manner of dog breeds pass, as their owners take them towards Hampstead Heath for ‘walkies’. It is also not uncommon to see the odd famous face here!

Begin at Melrose and Morgan grocery, which is a perfect if you plan on having a picnic later on the Heath. They stock fresh fruit and vegetables, and a delicious choice of artisan breads and cakes, as well as hot drinks to send you on your way if there’s a chill in the air.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

Our first port of call is Keats’ House and the Keats Community Library.

It’s here where John Keats wrote many of his romantic poems, and fell in love with his neighbour Fanny Brawne. It’s said that he wrote his most famous poem, Ode to a Nightingale, under the plum tree in the garden.

The library often hosts talks by prominent authors as well as other events. Rather than being a council-owned public library, it is charity-run by passionate volunteers.

It is also a wonderful place to write, and given the many writers who have lived in Hampstead, I like to think I’m not the only writer who has crafted stories under this roof.

Continue on to Hampstead Heath…

While strolling through this vast park of natural beauty, it’s quite easy to forget you’re in the city at all. It covers 790 acres with rolling hills, lakes, swimming ponds and woodland.

Here is where Wilkie Collins’ gothic novel The Woman in White is set, and movies such Labyrinth were filmed here during the days when Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was based in Hampstead.

A walk up to Parliament Hill is rewarded by a sprawling vista of London’s skyline, and on a clear day, it is easy to spot the capital’s famous landmarks.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

Visit the stately Kenwood House

Walk through ancient woodland, rich with wildlife to reach Kenwood House, which was featured in the film Notting Hill, and was a setting in the recent period film Belle. It also made an appearance in Zadie Smith’s novel, Swing Time.

There are lovely gardens, which in spring are bursting with colour from the various blossom trees, and the air is scented with honeysuckle. The house overlooks a lake and a folly bridge, and is the ideal spot to lay down your picnic blanket, sit back and read for a while or daydream.

In the summer months, open-air concerts and craft fairs are common features in the grounds.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

From here we will leave the Heath and walk down to The Spaniards Inn.

A spot of lunch here would satisfy any lover of history, as the pub dates back to the late 16th century and was once a haunt of the highwayman, Dick Turpin.

The pub also has a rich literary history, having featured in the famous Gothic novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker and in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. Poets such as Lord Byron and John Keats were also regulars here.

The food here is delicious and there are veggie options available. This cosy pub this the perfect place to relax after all that walking!

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

A short amble away is the Hampstead Pergola and Hill Gardens.

This enchanting place is tucked away and is a real hidden gem. It dates from 1904 and is filled with twisting vines and wisteria.

To walk here is to feel lost in time, and the faded grandeur of the place certainly makes it atmospheric.

When I wander here, and perhaps take a seat to read or write, I can easily see myself as a Gothic heroine, haunted by my own imagination and by the lonely splendour of this pergola.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a Heroine

End the day at Hampstead Everyman Cinema

Our final stop is at the Hampstead Everyman Cinema, which shows new releases as well as independent films, world cinema, and classics. Sit on a cosy sofa to enjoy the film, and press the button at your side to order a glass of wine, pizza, snacks, or a dessert.

They often host events such as preview screenings and Live Q&As with film makers and stars. This is luxurious escapism at its best.

London's Hampstead / Fit for a HeroineHeather Blanchard is a witchy author, writer, and bibliophile. Her debut novel Dark is the Sea is out now and she is currently working on her second book. She blogs at www.inkcoffeeandgolddust.com about magic, fairy tales, Gothic, and pop culture.

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Is your hometown the perfect fit for a heroine? I’m always looking for fabulous locals to contribute to this Fit for a Heroine travel guide series. If you’re interested in writing for Heroine Training, read the guidelines and get in touch.

London, Ontario, Canada / Fit for a Heroine

London, Ontario, Canada / Fit for a Heroine

a heroine’s travel guide to London, Ontario / by Kerry Hishon

Welcome to London! No, not that London…

I’m writing about the “other” London, here in lovely southwestern Ontario, Canada. I’ve lived in London for over a decade, and although I wasn’t born here, I’m happy to call London my home.

London has a small-town feel in a big city (it’s the 11th most populated city in Canada).

London, Ontario, Canada / Fit for a Heroine

On its surface, London may seem like a stereotypical Canadian city.

On Friday nights, the downtown area is a sea of green as we cheer on the London Knights hockey team, but it’s not all just toques and poutine.

Yes, we love our winter sports – London is home to Olympic ice dancing champion Tessa Virtue, and where Olympic champion speed skater Christine Nesbitt grew up – but we are more than just sports! London has a bustling arts scene and a great sense of local pride.

Budding thespians can look to Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls, The Notebook) and Amber Marshall (TV’s Heartland).

All these women are proof that with hard work and perseverance, you can achieve anything you set your mind to, and that’s definitely a mark of a heroine to me.

If you are an artsy soul, embrace all things geek-chic or are obsessed with food (or like me, and all three apply), you’ll fit in just fine here.

Shall we begin our tour? Meet me at the corner of King and Talbot Streets, and we’ll get going!

Everything on this is within walking distance, so be sure to wear comfy shoes (or good, thick boots if you’re visiting in the winter!) and bring a bag to carry any treasures you pick up along the way!

 

London, Ontario, Canada / Fit for a Heroine

Start with a hefty breakfast at The Early Bird

Every heroine needs a hearty breakfast to begin her day of adventures (and to keep her from getting hangry). I love The Early Bird, a cozy setting with its tiki bar and kitschy décor, featuring an awesome set of busts decorated like the members of KISS.

I recommend the Fat Elvis, a monstrosity of a sandwich smothered in bacon, peanut butter, honey, panko, maple syrup, and powdered sugar. Bring a bag; you’ll need it to carry your leftovers with you.

London, Ontario, Canada / Fit for a Heroine

Peruse the shelves at City Lights Bookshop

What’s a heroine without a good book? A bored heroine, that’s for sure.

Enter City Lights, which describes itself as “a living collage, crossed with a circus that was frightened by a Dadaist” and I couldn’t agree more.

Its two floors are packed with books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, vinyl, sheet music, play scripts, postcards, and more. Everything is reasonably priced, and a heroine could while away hours exploring its depths.

London, Ontario, Canada / Fit for a Heroine

Explore Covent Garden Market

I spend a lot of time at Covent Garden Market for my work with Original Kids Theatre Company (we present over twenty productions a year!), and there’s just so much to do!

In the winter, you’ll find a free skating rink outside; and in the summer, there’s an outdoor farmer’s market on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Inside the Market is a ton of local vendors – if you’re not still stuffed from breakfast, I recommend visiting Petit Paris and ogling their massive array of sweets and goodies, and The Salad Bowl for amazing and healthy wraps and soups (Andrew somehow remembers everyone’s specialty order and it’s awesome).

London, Ontario, Canada / Fit for a Heroine

Take a walk through Victoria Park

London is known as the Forest City and it’s not hard to see why. During the winter holidays, Victoria Park’s trees are lit up with thousands of beautiful lights.

It’s a lovely place to take a walk with a cup of hot chocolate, or go skating (again, it’s free!). In the summer, it’s host to tons of festivals (such as the Home County Folk Festival, Sunfest, and London Rib-Fest) where there are live bands to listen to, local vendors to peruse, and of course, fabulous food and drinks to be sampled.

London, Ontario, Canada / Fit for a Heroine

Take in a show

London has a thriving theatre scene, and the downtown area is the heart of it. The Grand Theatre has tons of amazing shows and even its own ghost (look up Ambrose Small for more details!), while The ARTS Project hosts local theatrical projects, as well as a free, ever-changing gallery, and various art classes.

In the summer, London is host to the London Fringe Festival, where theatre artists from all over Canada and abroad bring together an amazing selection of theatrical delights. Take a chance and see something that sounds intriguing – you never know what you’ll get at the Fringe!

Budweiser Gardens is right across the street from the Covent Garden Market, and offers tons of concerts and touring theatre shows. This year alone I’ve been able to catch Metric and Our Lady Peace, and I’ll be seeing Green Day there soon too!

London, Ontario, Canada / Fit for a HeroineKerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant. She blogs at both Kerryhishon.com and Theatrefolk.com. When she’s not immersed in theatre, Kerry enjoys reading, knitting, and travelling.

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Is your hometown the perfect fit for a heroine? I’m always looking for fabulous locals to contribute to this Fit for a Heroine travel guide series. If you’re interested in writing for Heroine Training, read the guidelines and get in touch.

Versailles, France / Fit for a Heroine

Versailles, France / Fit for a Heroine

a heroine’s travel guide to Versailles, France / by Andie Lollo

Versailles: the home of the Sun King, dream vacation of French Revolution history buffs, and quiet, wonderful city. Heroines, I have brought you a guide to the garden-filled, gilded and grand environment of your dreams.

First, a little background.

If you’re familiar with Paris, you may have heard of a little museum called the Louvre. I’m kidding, it’s massive, and that’s because it used to be the royal palace.

That’s right, up until 1682, Versailles was nothing more than a huge expanse of forest with King Louis XIII’s hunting lodge in the middle of it. When his son, now known as the Sun King, decided to move the entire royal court out to his father’s lodge in Versailles, a vision was born.

Soon came man-made lakes, intricate gardens, and a palace to rival all others the world over. That small village has now grown into a wealthy suburb and home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Allow me to open to you the gates of this marvelous storybook city. Enjoy your stay in Versailles.

Versailles, France / Fit for a Heroine

Take a Walk (from the train).

Only about a 10 minute train ride from Paris, you’ll start your walk in the morning from Gare de Versailles-Chantiers. Follow the Rue des États Généraux to Avenue de Paris and behold: a larger-than-life tree-lined avenue with a clear view of the Château at the end. Wave hello to the Hôtel de Ville on your way to the palace – it’s where the mayor lives.

This is a great time to pop in some earphones and press play on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie Antoinette’. The mix of classical and modern music is the perfect blend to represent the journey you’ll take in Versailles.

Versailles, France / Fit for a Heroine

Visit the Gift Shop.

When you arrive at the Château, watch your feet. Those cobblestones are ancient and total ankle-breakers. Now’s a great time to head to the left and check out the gift shop – they’ve got everything Marie-Antoinette themed a girl could wish for, and French history books in every language under the sun (king). Shop to your heart’s content among all the stationary and macarons. I personally recommend picking up one of the novels about the Queen. They’re written diary-style in first person, and are a fascinating read for any heroine.

Explore the Gardens.

Next, bypass those serpentine lines of tourists and head towards the gardens. They’re free! (Except for days with fountain shows, but more on that later.)

Stop to check out the view of the last Queen’s intricate gardens over the balcony before exploring her beloved land on your own. You might take this time to ponder some of the more interesting statues, get lost in the labyrinthine hedges, or do some sketches.

When you’ve had enough of the Royal Gardens, head towards the canal. Now might be your time to find a spot to picnic or read. Or, if you want, you can rent a rowboat and take it out – how romantic! What you absolutely must do, I suggest, is walk all the way around the cross-shaped canal. This means taking the paths or the grass around the perimeter of the water.

Tip: Go right, and work your way around that way, eventually leading you back to the Apollo Fountain. While you’re on your walk, our next destination crops up.

Versailles, France / Fit for a Heroine

Les Trianons & Orangerie

 

Marie Antoinette’s estate is found at the right wing of the canal, including the Trianon Palaces and the Queen’s Hameau (little village). Take some time here to locate one of the fresh juice vendors, who will squeeze you an incredibly flavourful cup of orange juice from the Orangerie before your very eyes. Armed with a refreshing beverage, carry on through your stroll. When you’ve had enough of the estate continue on your walk around the canal. Feel free to dip your feet in the water if it’s a hot summer day.

You’ll find that the farther you head towards the cross’s far end, the less people you’ll see. If you do, they’re most likely locals going for a jog or bike ride.

Congratulations, you’ve made it halfway around the canal! Complete your walk by following its shape the rest of the way back to the Royal Gardens.

You won’t find any tips about actually touring the Château here because, honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it. It was so packed full of literal busloads of tourists the one time I did go, that the grandeur of the palace didn’t really seem all that grand. Your decision. But, as a fellow heroine, I implore you to take the path less crowded.

Versailles, France / Fit for a Heroine

Relax on the Plan Suisse.

 

When you head out the gates, take a sharp right and keep going straight. This will take you over to another man-made lake, the Plan Suisse.

It’s an idyllic spot to read, write, do homework, have a picnic, or even a nap! You may again want to take a walk around, even touch the statue at the far end, or simply relax. You’re having a good old fashioned Versailles day.

Versailles, France / a travel guide Fit for a Heroine

Lunch Outside the Versailles Cathedral.

 

From the Plan Suisse make your way to the Rue du Maréchal-Joffre where the Versailles Cathedral rests in a large square. Pop into one of the patisseries for a snack, if you haven’t packed one (I’d go with some pain au chocolat and a macaron). Take your loot around the right side of the church where a pretty little bench awaits you in a quiet park and observe. If you’re lucky, you may be in time to witness the coming and going of a mass, where the French are dressed in their best.

Before heading back to the train, listen to your heart for a moment. Are you ready to leave? Did you take what you wanted from Versailles, or are you already pining for your next leisurely day in the Queen’s Gardens?

Versailles, France / Fit for a Heroine

Nighttime Musical Fountain Show

 

If so, you’re in luck. Remember how I mentioned on certain days the jardins are not free? That’s because at night, the Chateau puts on a musical fountain show. Yes, you read that right. If you want to experience something truly ethereal, stay til after dark and bask in the magnificence of the illuminated gardens. Baroque music soothes you from all sides as the water spectacular delights your eyes. Oh, and at the end, the Grand Canal is lit up with fireworks. Now that’s my way of spending a Saturday night!

Heads up, heroines. After your magical night, be careful walking back to the train station. I know you’re all smart women, but it’s easy to get confident and let your guard down. Don’t. Tourists are never safe. You’re not quite a heroine without a little danger.

Andie Lollo is a writer, artist, and blogger behind AndieLollo.com, an animation appreciation blog. She’s also the author of Spongebob & Happiness, a series dedicated to analyzing the Nickelodeon show through the lens of mental health, and a debut novel on Swoon Reads, ‘New Paris U’.

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Is your hometown the perfect fit for a heroine? I’m always looking for fabulous locals to contribute to this Fit for a Heroine travel guide series. If you’re interested in writing for Heroine Training, read the guidelines and get in touch.