A Flight to Remember

“I hate flying; I guess it seems obvious that sitting in a metal box so far above the ocean when I spent most of my life living under it was a rather natural fear. Nobody liked being put in a situation that was the opposite to what they were used to. It was the reason I had decided to fork out the extra for a business class seat. I thought that if I had a few extra creature comforts like a TV, some leg space, a reclining seat, that I would be able to delude myself into thinking I wasn’t on a plane. It had worked to begin wi-

No, no it hadn’t. I guess I shouldn’t lie to you, should I? What helped was washing down a couple of sleeping pills with my extra strong gin and tonic. It meant I missed the initial turbulence, the power cut, the moment of panic from the rest of the passengers. The only reason I was awake now was because of the sweet flight attendant gently informing me we were only half an hour out from San Francisco.

“Could I grab a coffee?” I croaked, pushing myself up into a seat position and attempting to rake the hair off of my face with my nails.

“Of course, how do you take it?” His lips – pressed tightly enough into a straight line that they had begun to lose colour – confirmed my suspicion that my hair was beyond saving. I gave up and let my hands drop into my lap.

“Milk and two-”

As far as last words go, and I honestly thought those were my last words, they’re pretty lame. When they told my brother would they have said, she died groggy and demanding coffee? Then again, it’s how I spent most of my life so perhaps it was poetic.

The plane reeled sharply to the left causing the flight attendant to careen into my lap. Several of the overhead lockers sprung open and spilled their contents onto the legs, shoulders and in some cases heads, of the other passengers sans a flight attendant. Before we had had a chance to assess what was happening, the plane lurched to the right to straighten itself out. Luggage and people clattered back into the aisle. I was lucky to be one of the few already with a window seat, but those in the middle of the plane and several members of staff pressed themselves against me and other window passengers to see what had happened.

“Is it an engine? Have we been hit?” A panicked voice asked from further towards the back.

But those of us at the front had no words to explain what had happened. A missile strike would seem far more plausible.

“It’s lightning,” I murmured. At least, that’s what it had looked like to someone from the year 2017. I guess you find that funny, huh? Looking back on it, now that I know what it is, I find it funny too. Of course, it couldn’t have been lightning – it was too large for a start. It was more like a column of electricity and the colour was all wrong. Lightning was very rarely red.

“Hey look, it’s raining,” someone further in front of me exclaimed. Sure enough droplets began to hit the windows of the plane.

“But it shouldn’t be raining, we’re still too high up.” Everyone looked at the flight attendant, who suddenly seemed to realise he had spoken out loud to the group of people he had been put in charge of. “What I mean is-” I’d have loved to have heard him explain away the rain.

It would have made you laugh.

Can you laugh?

Sadly, we were robbed of what would have, I’m sure, been a favourite thanksgiving anecdote at the family dinner table because no sooner had the rain began that a torrent of water fell from the sky. Several people yelped as the edge of the spinning tornado of water clipped the wing of the plane, causing it to rock unsteadily to and fro. I craned my neck up as best as I could, attempting to see where the water was coming from, but it looked like it was coming from the heavens themselves. A glowing red ring surrounded the column and when I glanced down I could make out the faintest sign a twin ring was positioned on the ground.

The murmur of speculative whispers which had started when the plane had first lurched off course had risen into a crescendo of shouting, arguments and demands. I quietly plugged in my headphones and finally let out the breath I had been holding.

~

It took us another 20 minutes to finally reach the ground. Someone had pressed the coffee I had ordered into my hands at some point, but when I got off the plane it had remained cold and untouched. I was too busy watching. The San Francisco rising to greet me was not the one I had left six months ago. In fact, I wouldn’t have recognised my home at all if it hadn’t been for the Golden Gate Bridge and the smudgy outline of the Sierra Nevada in the background. Gone were the concrete monstrosities that had ruled the city for as long as I could remember. In their place, their glittering usurpers stood surrounded by acres and acres of green. It was like a painting of an abandoned futuristic city. I sat up straighter, craning to see as much as possible out of the little window, when a drone arrived at my window. Startled, I leapt back from the window, suddenly aware I had pressed my face up against the glass like a small child would. The droids lens narrowed to a pin prick then expanded again, focusing on my face. Mesmerised I reached out towards it, but it whizzed off onto the next window. The series of startled shouts kept me informed of its progress up the plane.

By the time we had landed a team of soldiers, men in fancy looking suits, and several members of the airports senior staff, were there to greet us. Well, I guess they more escorted us than greeted us. ‘Greeting’ would imply some smiles, or a certain warmth to them. In contrast, the staff were sweating and casting nervous looks at one another, the soldiers held their fingers a little too close to the trigger and the men in suits wore a the face of a disappointed school master.

The mood was sombre enough that nobody voiced the millions of questions that had to be racing through everyone’s minds. We filed like obedient school children into the airport, we collected our bags under their supervision and then we were escorted into a waiting room. One by one passengers were called into a small room. They didn’t come back. I stood at the large window that over looked the airport and city beyond. The buildings were definitely made from some reflective material. The refractions from the surface cast pretty rainbows over the tops of the trees. It looked like a paradise.

“Are we sure we’re in San Francisco?” I murmured, more to myself than anyone else. So absorbed in my gazing, I hadn’t noticed one of the passengers come to join me at the window in an attempt to get better signal.

“Of course we are,” he snapped, “It looks the same to me.” I was about to ask him how it could possibly look the same when I suddenly heard my name.

“Cassiopeia Deville?”

Tearing myself away from the possibility of an actual answer to one of my questions, I dutifully followed the woman with a clipboard into one of the rooms they were taking people.

“Please, take a sit Cassie,” one of the men in suits seemed to remember that smiling tended to put people at ease and gave me an expression of forced empathy. A soldier shuffled his feet in the corner. Slowly, I slid into the chair offered and took a sip of the water.

“There was a … problem with your flight,” he began, opening the file that had had my name on. I said nothing. He watched me for a moment before continuing. “Do you remember disturbances on the flight? Power outages, turbulence…?”

“You mean, aside from a bolt of lightning that nearly fried our plane and the whole column of water thing?” I raised my eyebrows. He jotted a note down. “No. I was asleep. I don’t like flying.” I began to fidget.

“Anyone suspicious on the plane?”

The question almost took the edge off. This was a routine question, something normal. I answered in a negative. There were a few more of those types of questions, I guess he was easing me into it. I just wanted to get out of that tiny room, my patience began to fray as the clock on the wall indicated I had been there a full hour.

“And what were you doing in Japan?”

“I’m a marine biologist,” I let out an irritated sigh. Considering the folder has my name on, I had a feeling he already knew the answer. “I’m working on the new Pacific Ocean Alliance, it’s an expansion of NOWPAP, joining together all the countries that boarder the Pacific in an effort to clean it up. I was doing a series of talks over there to convince the Japanese to join whilst completing some research on the new species some of their fishing boats have been catching.” It felt like a life time ago I had been standing on deck of the tiny little wooden boat, teaching people the importance of traditional fishing. Techniques that would stop harming the ecosystem.

“Look,” I interrupted as he opened his mouth to ask another question. “I just want to know what is going on. That,” I pointed in the direction of the door. “Is not my San Francisco. Where am I?” The man carefully closed the file as he deliberated with his choice of words.

“It is San Francisco, Miss Deville. The question is not where are you but when.”

~

The rest of the meeting was a bit of a blur. I guess I had been expecting the answer on some deep level. It was the only explanation for the familiar landmarks. He explained that they believed my plane had gone through a cut in time and space which had spat us out here. 2037. Yes, my brother was still alive, he had been informed about my arrival and was en-route to collect me. There would be a press conference, they would appreciate it if I attended. Counselling was available until I –

“What about the man?” I was drowning. A sensation I thought I would never feel. The ocean was my home but at this moment I felt all the same sensations: panic and an overwhelming inability to breathe. The man in the suit, I think he had told me his name at one point but I was hopeless with names at the best of times, paused in what was clearly a well-rehearsed speech.

“He couldn’t see the city. Well, not this city. He could still see tower blocks, traffic…” I trailed off, doubting my own words now. He hadn’t said that exactly, of course, but…

“Ah, yes, the windows. It’s a new type of glass. Most buildings have them here. They show you what you want to see, or what you believe you should see. Some people are very good at controlling it – like a desktop on your laptop. Others minds are not as well tuned and their subconscious simply projects the image it believe to be best for the host. Some of us, like you Miss Deville, are able to see through it all together.”

I slumped back in my seat. My victory felt a little sour: it was an answer that made sense but not the one I had wanted.

“I… need some air,” I stood up, pushing the chair back with a screech. The man in the suit rose too, extended a hand with a card.

“If you need anything else just give me a call. Georgina will take you to get kitted out with what you need.”

And so, that is how I came to have you. Apparently you’re my councillor. I’m not sure when we stopped paying another human to let us lay on a couch and moan about our problems, but it’s one of the few things I like about this new world. Feels like I’m just making a vlog. I suppose they don’t really happen anymore?”

Vlogging is still quite popular, but the written version… blogging, is viewed as eccentric.

“Right. Well. Like I was saying, I got you, and all these other high tech gadgets. I felt like I was some sort of old British spy gearing up for a mission. And then I was being rushed through a series of other rooms, given more information, before I was released like some rehabilitated animal into the world. Into 2037.

“Cassie!” Slowly I turned towards the sound of the familiar voice, but the only face I could see was not the one of my nerdy little brother who had only been 12 when I left. A 32 year old man greeted me by pulling me into a bear hug that reminded me of dad. He even smelt like our home, all pines and earth. I think that’s the moment it really hit me that I had lost 20 years of my life. I’d missed out on him graduating, I’d missed out on teasing him about his first girlfriend, had missed his wedding and the birth of his two children. That was a lifetime. A lifetime I had spent in a metal box in the sky zooming through space and time.

My nephews think it’s rather cool, they keep calling me the Doctor, which is something to do with that weird British show my brother used to watch. Some things haven’t died out I guess.

Benjen insisted I stay with them. His wife’s a sweet little thing named Susie who bakes cookies and leaves flour handprints on her son’s cheeks after she kisses them. I sit in their kitchen and watch like someone would watch a TV show. I eat dinner like a programmed machine, I feign jet lag and go to bed. And here I am, talking to you, like the man in the suit said I should.”

It will help you to process things, speaking out loud.

“Like a diary, I get that,” I nod to the machine like he – it – is a real human. The machine is meant to help people with PTSD like me, I guess. It’s some new form of AI that can hold a real conversation, offer advice like a trained psychiatrist, and was on call at any minute of the day.

“I’m going to try to get some sleep,” I reach for the off switch and then pause. “Night,” I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for speaking to robots just yet, but it felt polite.

~

I left before the rest of the house woke up. I wasn’t entirely sure whether they would try and keep me in the house or would do the opposite and insist on taking me for a tour around my own city. I hadn’t quite figured out the man my boy brother was. I had made a decision with my little councillor that the best thing was to get back into my normal routine, and that involved going to work.

My work place used to be a small office block along the bay. There had been a family owned sandwich shop next door. Last night I had learned that my new office was the great big tower that jutted out of the Gulf of Faraliones. An elderly lady very kindly informed me a water bus came and collected workers at 9am every morning from the dock and dropped them back at 5.30pm every day. I dug around in my pocket and produced the paper thin gadget I had been given the previous day. Apparently it was the new cell phone. You simply placed it where you wanted on your skin and it fused itself into your arm. From it you could call anywhere in the world for free, you could translate people as they spoke, arrange your calendar – anything. I just hadn’t had the confidence to attach it just yet. A part of me rebelled at the idea of giving my all to this new world who hadn’t earned my love yet.

Even though it was still in its wrapper I could still use it. 7.03 am. It would be hours yet. Shoving my hand back into my hoodie I suddenly felt the cold edge of metal. I hadn’t yet taken my keys out of their usual place inside my work hoodie jacket. It was another small step I was not ready to take. But it gave me an idea. Wandering back along the shoreline to the storage sheds along the seafront, I walked until I stopped in front of my shed. A few decaying flowers had been left to rot just outside. I crushed them angrily under foot before testing the key. It took a bit of effort but the door finally slid upwards.

“Hello baby.”

I had built the jet-ski myself in another life. A life where I had still lived with my parents and my dork brother. It had been a piece of freedom and it felt even more so now. It skimmed over the water beautifully, the spray hitting my face made me laugh with genuine joy for the first time since I got off Flight 008.

The reception desk stood quiet and so I slid past without the awkward conversation of asking for ID, helping myself to one of the guest passes behind the counter. I took my time walking through. I had done some research the night before about the new buildings and had discovered the reason they glittered like a jewel was because the material was a distant cousin of the diamond. Some genius had figured out a way to separate the carbon from C2o and turn it into building material. It was linked to the machine that had nearly fried my plane in the air, which did a very similar thing but pulled fresh water from the air. It had ended two of the world’s biggest problems: a fresh water supply and dwindling resources.

The inside was just as beautiful and had been the reason for my slow amble through the new offices. But what had made me stop was the big projection onto the windows.

‘The Cassiopeia Foundation’ hovered in big 10ft letters above me.

“Miss, can I help you?” a voice made me wrench my eyes away from the board to the woman, who dropped the glass she was holding in her hand. I probably would have too if I had just seen in the flesh, the face on the company logo. Especially when she had been dead for 20 years.

~

“The Cut could have aged you a little bit, this is just unfair,” Lucy, the woman who had trained me throughout my university career, who had been in her early 30s when I had left for Japan, sat in front of me a greying woman. She smiled and clasped my hands again to reassure herself I was actually here, but all I could do was stare at the wrinkles in the corner of her eyes. I’d lost so much time.

“When we heard your plane had gone missing, the whole team was distraught. You were our rising star – I thought you would have taken over from me one day,” a sigh. “We were toying with the idea of setting up some sort of charity in your name, your mum really wanted to, and then we got an email from the MSC. The work you had submitted to them about the creature that had been caught in one of the fishing nets had really impressed them and they gave us a heck tonne of money to do further research into the deeper parts of the ocean. With the leaps in building materials, we’ve actually been able to create a sustainable and functional city of sorts under water. Currently our deepest base sits at 5,000 metres.” Lucy’s eyes sparkled as she leaned forward conspiratorially, as if she were sharing some deep secret with me.

“We found your sea creature, Cassie. Alive. They’re called Opeia’s – after you – and you were right. It is a relation to the whale, it just doesn’t need to come up for air.” I could see she wanted to tell me so much more, but she knew it was taking me a while to process this. She hurried on when I didn’t offer any questions.

“So we moved to our new offices, and we thought hey, why not name the whole thing after you. After all, you’re the reason it all happened.”

“But… it was just a paper. A theory.”

“Yes and they took a chance on us, they tested whether POA was actually going to work and when we pooled all our resources, it worked. These bases are all over the Pacific. Our dream came true Cassie.” The memory rose suddenly to my mind. We were sat in a coffee shop, talking about how we needed to keep our resources open, so anyone could access them. We had understood that sharing and collaborating was the answer.

“When we published our further research based on your theory about why these creatures were coming further to the surface, and once we circulated a few pictures of some of the less photogenic ones, the governments started to fund us as well. The ocean floor has been cleared of rubbish and with the strides in renewable energy oil and waste aren’t being pumped into the waters anymore.” Lucy produced a slick tablet and played a video of some of the footage taken in the deepest parts of the ocean.

“Oh Cassie, we’ve answered so much. We’ve found lost cities that are sending historians into fits; creatures that archaeologists say should have died out, new types of vegetation which are proving to be useful in medicine, and it’s helped us understand climate change. Our ozone layer has stopped deteriorating so fast, the ice caps are actually rebuilding themselves. I mean, we still have a long way to go but…”

I wasn’t paying much attention as Lucy talked of her plans for the future. We had been right all along; the answers were in our oceans. All it had needed to come to being was the most human of all emotions: trust. Pure, unadulterated joy unfurled in my heart.

“I want to see it.”

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A Game of the Imagination

Dedicated to: 

Joanne Sheridan, Jacob Wilkins and Andrew Thornton

For their suggestions of Cumbria, Leonard and Footprints.

~

 

Leonard sat on the edge of his family’s estate watching the pattern the wind made in the ragged grass that was a trademark of the Cumbria landscape as it barged its way across the sloping hills. Thunder rumbled somewhere far off in the distance but the fact he could hear it at all meant the rain and lighting he could make out as a smudge on the horizon would be upon him within the hour. Usually he would love nothing more than to watch a storm announce itself to his corner of the world but today the rain was his greatest enemy. The rain would wash away the footprints he had found.

Underneath him his horse shifted impatiently from foot to foot, the snort she issued was visible in the crisp grey sky. Cold and impatient. Leonard unconsciously tugged his own scarf tighter around his neck.

“Come on then Nelly,” he nudged the mare into a steady trot, steering her towards the openings of the forest below. Leonard called the forest the Scar after the shape of the valley it snaked its way through. It wasn’t a real valley. At least not the narrow kind that cowboys wondered through in the movies before suffering an ambush. But the trees were surrounded on all sides by hills and Leonard had liked the idea when he was younger of being a cowboy. Nowadays he preferred the idea of being an explorer.

Which was why he had been so excited when he had found the footprints.

To begin with he had thought they had belonged to the foxes that occasionally snuck into the chicken shed for an easy meal, but they were far too big. Then he had made his own footprint next to that of the mystery animal and had been startled to see that the footprints were double the size of his own. He knew of no such beasts in these parts and, as is always the way with men of Leonards age, his imagination had begun to run wild with the exciting possibilities of bears, wolves and mountain lions.

The footprints had led out of estate and into the Scar. Leonard distractingly brushed a branch out of the way which came in at head height, earnestly looking around for another of the massive pawprints. What would he do when he caught up with the creature that had made them? He had come equipped with nothing more than his bow and arrows. Maybe that hadn’t been a good idea. But he was brave, like Indiana Jones brave.

“There!” the sudden shout spooked a bird out of the undergrowth and sent it fluttering into the treetops. Nelly nervously side stepped. Jumping out of his seat, Leonard crouched down beside the pawprint and examined it in closer detail. It had broken several branches during its getaway, confirming Leonards suspicion that it was a big animal. Carefully he pinched a bit of the soil between his fingers and sniffed it, like he’d seen all the great trackers do. Naturally he had no idea what he was meant to smell, but the excitement that bubbled in his stomach was enough to make him not care about his lack of tracking skill. Standing up quickly he gazed around looking for the next print. The path led into an overgrown thicket. Glancing at Nelly, Leonard realised he wouldn’t be able to take her any further.

“I’ll be back for you girl,” he murmured soothingly as he undid her girth so she would be more relaxed in his absence. After tying off her reigns to a sturdy looking branch he turned his attention back to the thicket.

There was no way he could go around it. Plus, the footprints disappeared into the dark centre and he worried if he spent ages walking round and tracing his way back to the opening at the other end, he would lose the trail altogether. Going over posed the same conundrum. Instead he made sure his jacket was done up and pushed his way through the overgrown bush.

After a few minutes, he lost sight of Nelly and the grey daylight. There was nothing but darkness punctured by the occasional dim stream of light that was let in through breaks in the canopy overhead. Leonard focused on the ground in front of him. The footprints were closer together in here where the creature had been forced to go a little slower due to the closeness of the foliage. Twigs tore at his hair and clothes. At one point, he miscalculated his step and to stop himself from falling had grabbed at the surrounding bracken, slicing open his palms. Suddenly the prints stopped. Leonard dropped to his knees and could just make out the signs of scuffed paw marks: the bush must have reached its end. Leonard lay on his belly and began to wriggle out of the bush in a similar way to his target.

It was a relief to finally be in the fresh air again. Thunder rolled. Yes, the rain would be upon him soon but he still had a few more precious minutes before he had to return home.

Scampering down the sloping bank where the footprints had headed he came up short when he came to a river. There were no bridges in sight so he picked up a stick and began to wade into the cold water. Carefully he pushed the long stick out in front of him, testing to see if there were any sudden deep parts. It took a frustratingly long time but soon he was free and bounding up the other side of the bank.

Leonard frantically looked around for any signs of other paw prints. He found an odd-looking shack, a lost glove and badger sect, but after 10 minutes of hopeless searching he let himself admit the truth. He’d lost the trail. As if sensing his sour mood, the rain began to fall. It was the type of rain that starts off slow and fat but become a torrential downfall within seconds. Calculating the odds, he decided to take shelter in the odd shack until the worst of it past before heading back to find Nelly.

It smelt of old boots and oil. Perhaps it was someone’s fishing hut where they stored their gear, though looking at its age and the gathering cobwebs, Leonard doubted anyone had been here in years. His curious eyes suddenly stopped their roving and returned to the floor. He swore he had seen…. A paw print!

Leonard froze, his breathing coming quicker, though whether it was due to excitement or fear he wasn’t entirely sure. A mix of both was probably healthy. Only then did he hear here it. It was a low growl. The type an animal creates when it is giving a warning to another animal. And it was coming from the shadowed back of the shed. Carefully Leonard began to creep closer, closer –

“LEONARD!”

And the dream shattered. The boy paused.

“Leonard come inside right now, it’s about to tip down!”

Leonard pouted, scrunching his face up as if he were about to cry.

“I’m playing!”

“Well play inside. What have I told you about messing around in Grandpas shed?”

The door was wrenched open and his mother bore down on him with the type of stare that made a child want to apologise for all the naughty things they’ve done but had kept a secret up until now.

“Oh there’s the cat.” Leonard glanced behind him to see the families black and white cat trot out of the shadows to brush itself against Leonard’s mother’s legs. Around its neck was a crudely made mane made from felt pipes. Leonard’s mother sighed.

“Come on. Before the rain really starts pouring.”

Leonard’s mum led him out of the shed and back the way he had come. They crossed the river, which was actually a dip in the garden that filled up with water in the bad weather season. They went past the massive over growth Leonard had fought through, which was a large rose bush that was his grandmothers pride and joy. Back to the ‘clearing’ where his noble hobby horse lay ruined in the mud. It must have fallen over from where Leonard had leaned it against the tree earlier. Finally, they walked up the path back towards Leonard’s grandparents stone cottage and the small strip of garden his mother told him he should never leave.

I am the Enemy you killed, my Friend: 1916 – 1917 Battlefield Tour

Ah France, how long it is since I have seen you. March, wasn’t it? Far too long to be parted from your fine wine and cheese. However, my jaunt across the channel this time couldn’t have been further from my romantic birthday trip to Paris. Whereas my last trip was full of pretty artwork and enchanting bookshops, this trip took me 100 years back in time to the worn torn trenches of WWI. Despite the radiant sunshine for the entirety of the trip, the mood as we walked through the silent headstones, righted fallen poppies, and stood amongst the cabbage patches underneath which a generation was unknowingly buried, was sombre. But it was also a fantastic, educational and worthwhile visit. Almost every family in Britain carries a scar of the Great War, having lost fathers, brothers, sons and friends, and for that reason 100 years on many will be making the pilgrimage across the channel to pay homage to those who died in what was one of the most horrific wars of history.

Given it is 2017 our trip primarily focused on the battles of 1917, specifically Cambrai, Bullecourt and Arras, though we did also visit many of the important sites of the Somme 1916 offensives too. For the history nerds who are reading this, it will seem a given, but for those who are less familiar I will quickly explain why we did so, and why I would recommend you do the same.

Day One

With over one million casualties the Somme is perhaps one of the most horrific battles of the war – it’s certainly the most known. Hollywood loves nothing more than to romanticise the horrors men as young as 14 faced, teachers real of the figures of human sacrifice from the first push to hammer home to children the true loss of the war, and the amount of memorials France has to the Somme alone turns the heart cold. However, the Somme also led to the largest capture of enemy territory since the start of the war two years previously, penetrating 6 miles further into France. Importantly for 1917, it set up the new front line and the battles of Arras, Cambrai and Bullecourt which were further allied victories.

20622782_10155617459689111_753641869_oThese are just a few of the reasons the first day of our tour focused on the Somme. It gave a background to what the soldiers had seen only six months previously, had survived, only to go into what we would see in the following days. No battlefield tour is complete without a visit to Thiepval Memorial. As you round the gravelled path, the looming arched structure surrounded by poppies is rather beautiful. It is only when you get closer and realise every side is covered in names, does the real loss of the Somme hit you. Around 72,000 names are etched into the marble, to commemorate the lost. These are just the men whose bodies were never found, never returned to their native lands. There are further graves at the foot of the memorial of the unknown, bodies that were found but were so beyond recognition no name could be put to them. French and British, side by side, row upon row. You could spend hours here trawling through the names. What really struck me was the amount of families who were eradicated. Brothers often signed up together, or whole towns of friends, and in battles like the Somme it left households and villages without their entire male population. Efforts to split brothers and friends up came into play in order to reduce this problem later on, and Thiepval is a perfect illustration as to why this was a necessary step. If a whole family or local regiment were destroyed in one catastrophic battle, it would have harrowing consequences for after the war.

20629877_10155617459669111_201614130_oSome other recommendations for your day on the Somme would be the Devonshire Commonwealth Cemetery, which is a beautiful small burial site for some of the men killed during the Somme by Mametz. It’s quite a popular site with school trips and literature fans as this is the final resting place for quite a few WWI poets, such as Lt. William Noel Hodgson who wrote ‘Before Action’. From the sunken position of the cemetery you also get a beautiful view out over the rest of what was the Somme. Siegfried Sasson was positioned just over the top of the hill you’ll be able to see from here.

20641330_10155617459754111_1616320478_oNewfoundland Memorial was one of my favourite stops along the Somme trip. Favourite sounds a bit morbid given what I was visiting on this trip, but if you visit you will see why. It’s beautiful. There are no harsh concrete constructions here to remember the dead. Wild flowers attract a mass of butterflies, the still visible trenches are slowly being reclaimed by mother nature, and alone in the flat lands that used to be no man’s land, stands a lonely tree who weathered the storm of the Somme. It feels wrong to call a spot where thousands died beautiful, but I personally prefer the more subtle memorials like this. It reminds me of many poems from the soldiers who would talk about how birds still flew, flowers still grew, how the sun shone, despite the horrors. With the knowledge of what happened in your mind, you appreciate the beauty of a place like Newfoundlands far more than you would back home. And, personally, I believe it does more to honour the fallen’s memory than to shed a tear or two.

Lochnagar Crater Memorial is another must see stop. It’s a lot nicer here since my last visit – which was in the pouring rain when I was 13 – when it was literally just a muddy whole in the ground. They’ve now built a proper walk way around here making it more accessible for those with disabilities, there’s toilets and even a small road side cafe. The crater measures 90 meters in diameter, 20 in depth, and was created when mines that were dug under the German lines was detonated before the first push of the Somme. It is a rather shocking physical reminder of how big an impact the war had on the land.

Day Two

Now you’ve had a bit of background, the problems of 1917 will all become a bit clearer. There was several changes in staff, especially in the higher tiers of the French army, which had a big impact on the battles of 1917. I would also say 1917 was the year it became most obvious how important the Commonwealth effort was. With the Somme and the deaths of such a high number, the victims and survivors alike became faceless in a way. British became the universal label for the men of the British Isles and the Empire. In 1917 however, regiments from Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India and many more committed truly heroic deeds in the effort for victory.

19897758_10155538821139111_265469939_oI would start with Vimy Ridge. If, like me, you decide to do a quick trip around France and you stop off at Vimy this year you will have the honour of visiting this site not only on it’s 100th anniversary but the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation. The battle of Vimy is regarded by historians as the birth of Canadian nationalism which started their journey to becoming an independent country. You can take a tour of the tunnels the soldiers dug, and the walk to the striking memorial is pleasant in the summer – though you can drive. The tour guides are absolutely fantastic here and they are all volunteers from Canada. The passion and love and pure admiration they have for the history is intoxicating. As it is entirely free you have no excuse not to take advantage of their knowledge.

Vimy will take up a good portion of your day as there is so much to see and take in, so I would perhaps take it easy for the rest of the day or perhaps do this on one of your travelling days – either on your way to the hotel or home. Alternatively combine it with one of the other locations I’ve suggested for the other days.

Day Three

20630116_10155617459799111_798647885_oI’m suggesting these sites are done together because a lot of the battles work well with one another and they are also very close to one another, so it limits your time in a car or on the coach. Start in Monchy-le-Preux, where is a tiny village you could almost blink and miss as you travel through. What happened here was probably one of the most upsetting things for me to hear given my love of horses. The town, which was held by Germans was won in an amazing performance of cavalry skill. It is one of the examples historians point to when saying the cavalry was still a valid and important part of the make up of the Allied forces. However, after the capture of the town it suffered heavy bombing from the Germans, who decided the town should be obliterated rather than held on. The attack saw the obliteration or abandonment of most of the cavalry forces. The Germans then attempted to take what remained of the town with their infantry but the line was held by just 12 Brits. It’s a fascinating story which is better told as you are standing where they stood so I shan’t go further than this.

Head then onto Bullecourt which is only a little further on. This is a good place to discuss the Hindenburg Line fighting and the struggles the allied forces faced here due to uncut wire, skewered reports, and lack of men. Again, it is an injustice for me to reel off the stories told here of the men but of particular note here is the work of the Australian regiments, who were the one group to break through the line on the designated day and take the German line. Command thought they were lost due to communication loss, but their sudden appearance at a later storming guaranteed a victory for the allies when it looked as though the Germans were about to win.

20629038_10155617456964111_1832823446_oAt the time of writing this Tank Deborah is probably on her way to her new home, but we were very fortunate to know Philippe, who is practically her lover, and so we were able to visit her before she was moved and have lunch in her shadow. Deborah is a Mark IV tank who was used in the battle of Cambrai – only three of her eight crew survived the fight. If you ever get a chance to visit, try and ensure you can talk to Philippe too, who found, excavated and then researched her history. You can actually visit the graves of the other five missing tank members right next to the new museum, and pay homage to them. It is a fantastic opportunity to see Deborah as so many of the tanks from WWI were scrapped or stolen to be reused in WWII. She is in near perfect condition apart from the gaping hole that caused her demise. She stormed the town she lives in during the battle of Cambrai and was destroyed by heavy German fire, then abandoned by her crew. Miraculously none of them actually died in the vehicle, but rather trying to make their way back to the British front line. You can even read the letters sent by the commander to the families of those who did not survive, and their harrowing story.

Explore the rest of Cambrai in the afternoon – there are lots of lovely peaceful cemeterys dedicated to different regiments and countrymen, and each one has a different story. We focused heavily on the commonwealth ones due to the group we were made up of, so I would advice doing a bit of research before you go.

Cambrai is in my opinion a very important battle which often gets overlooked by tourists. Historians, too, are guilty of dismissing the use of tanks in WWI but when you think of their importance in WWII it’s very interesting to see how their ancestors did in the first Great War. Whilst they were perhaps not the war winning pieces of technology politicians marketed them as, as you will learn from your time in the museums around here, the generals understood their value and the importance of them in future warfare. The use of tanks also developed industrial warfare, which is a very interesting area for military historians and hobbyists.

Day Four

This is another one of those half days so again perhaps you can coordinate this to fall on your leaving or arriving day. We did it as we left France.

20622676_10155617456929111_1810838848_oFirstly, Arras is a beautiful city and I would actually recommend staying here for the duration of the trip. It’s hard to imagine that the whole city had been completely razed to the ground during the war. Today, there are lovely hotels very well priced, the restaurants are fabulous, and drinking in the plaza feels like you’ve landed in one of those retro movies where artists perform on cobbled corners as people sip on martinis wearing big hats. But underneath the city is a network of tunnels dug throughout the war for the soldiers to get as close to the Germans as possible. In parts of the tunnel, the allies were so close to the Germans they could actually hear them singing. The Wellington Quarry allows you access to a section of these tunnels. In there you will see the drawings, the last minute etchings and prayers of the men who waited for the order to go over the top. You do get to wear a very cool WWI tin hat when you go under, but the merriment ends as soon as you descend into the tunnels. This is a very hard hitting and gruelling place to visit. The tourist center has done itself proud with the audio guide and visual clips of the men during the period. It gives you a flavour for what it would have been like for the men stuck down here at lengths of time.20623637_10155617457009111_481147000_o

After the emotional stories your guides will tell you of some of the men who lived and died down here, as you exit the tunnels Owen’s words from his poem hover above the exit:

“I am the Enemy you killed, my Friend.”

Tunnels often switched hands as one side gained the upper hand or the other re-took their sectors. Enemies would have found and see the intimate insights into their lives as they moved in. Pictures, prayers, notes to loved ones, names. Many men might have even left behind precious items in the hopes to return for it at a safer time. Owen’s words really hit home that on either side, these men were the same. They all had lives, loved ones, and truthfully they had no personal quarrel with each other. They might have been friends in another life, and they had to enter tunnels and see these snippets of the lives their bullets may well have ended.

On your way out of Arras, the Citadel is also worth a stop, which is another beautiful monument to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died defending Arras.

 

~

 

I hope this has given you the startings of a good trip, especially if you are interested in 1917. The brilliance of battlefield tours is that you can mix and match, so if you do find yourself having to pick the key parts to see if you want to reduce 1917 to a day, pick the ones I have hopefully given you a flavour too. It obviously also depends if you have a guide, as some of these places you cannot truly appreciate unless you have someone to tell you the stories. Based on that, if you do not have a guide, I would make sure to visit Vimy Ridge, Tank Deborah Museum and Arras’ Wellington Quarry. If you do have a guide, discuss with them the ones which fit in best with your routes in relation to your hotel location.

As always, I hope you enjoy your trip based on my recommendations. Perhaps, not as you would enjoy the trip to Paris, or my Road Trip around Ireland, but if you are a passionate historian you will enjoy the stories this land carries in its very soil now.

From 1917 with Love xoxo

 

The Perfect Budget Road Trip

Broke and suffering from wonderlust? Most of us yearn for that perfect getaway that won’t break the bank or result in the age old argument at the family dinner rearing it’s ugly head again of, if you stopped jetting off here there and everywhere you might just not have to ask for help to pay the rent.

What if I told you you could disappear through the back of the wardrobe into the forests of Narnia, walk through Westeros on the Kings Road, and give you views such as this:

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All for under £250?

Let me introduce you to the beautiful, and still relatively undiscovered by tourists, jewel that is Northern Ireland.

Ireland doesn’t conjure up the best images of sandy beaches and hot weather, but if you pick the right time of year (May-October), and you have a group of good friends, Northern Ireland is guaranteed to be one of your best holidays this year.

The Planning Phase

Northern Ireland has fully embraced Air BnB, and there are a lot of fantastic houses you can rent throughout the country, coming to no more than £130 for seven nights. That works out to just £26 per night per person based on a five person house share (and this house could sleep up to seven).

Flights from London – which was the most expensive airports to fly from – was £60 return.

I would advice then hiring a car. Northern Ireland is a tiny country – if you stay in the middle the longest journey you will have to suffer is two hours, which for most of us is a breeze. Again these rates were amazing and cost us £30 per person for a rather luxurious five person car (with air con!). Petrol for all of our journeys – which I’ll get onto in a minute – was around £20 each. With food as well, that brings you to around £250! As long as you have wheels, you can pretty much do everything else for free.

Sound good so far?

Things To Do

Of course it is not all about finding cheap tickets and accommodation to stay in. Part of the appeal of any country is of course the things you can see there. So here are some of the highlights from my trip a few weeks ago.

Giants Causeway

Suggested time here: Whole Day

19718453_10155512194619111_1260682470_o

Giants Causeway is a stunning piece of the northern cost of Northern Ireland. There is an estimated 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic explosion, that make up this natural phenomenon. If you’re a geographer this has probably already sold you on Northern Ireland, I don’t know apparently it is a rather big deal, but despite it being explained to me several times what exactly this meant I was way more interested in the folklore explanation of this beautiful piece of coast.

Back in the old days, when the lands were ruled by Giants, one of the Giants of Northern Ireland was taunted by a Giant from Scotland – which he could vaguely see in the distance. Angered at the taunting, the Irish giant threw a series of rocks to great a bridge between the two countries – creating the causeway – but upon getting closer to the giant, he realised the Scot was a lot bigger than him. The Irish giant ran home in fear to his wife, but the Scot had spotted him and started chasing him. The wife, naturally annoyed with her husband being a damn idiot, made him pretend to be their newborn son.

Meanwhile the Scottish Giant has shown up at their door, demanding to be let in. The wife opens the door, feigns innocence in having seen her husband and invites him in to wait. The Scot graciously accepts, downs a pint, and waits it out. However, as time ticks on, the Scottish Giant hears a noise from behind a curtain. Jumping up in triumph, thinking he would find the husband, he pulls back the curtain to see what he thinks is a baby. Now this ‘baby’ is of course the Irish giant, but the Scot doesn’t know that and freaks out at the size of the baby, thinking my God if this is his son how big is he, and pegs it back to Scotland, destroying the bridge as he goes.

I don’t know about you but Giants sound way more fun than volcanoes.

Dunluce Castle

Suggested time here: 1 – 3 hours

19225902_10155462924174111_7346197406711387375_nDunluce is considered the most romantic castle in the whole of Ireland, though we never did find out why whilst we were there. It is however a delight for anyone who is a fan of history. It’s an old medieval castle that was owned by the clans of Northern Ireland and eventually fell into ruin during Cromwells take over of Ireland. It then sadly fell into ruin. However, you can still make out the amazing tactical advantages it provided against attacks from the Vikings by sea.

I would also 100% recommend the little cafe there. Everything is homemade, cheap, and tastes amazing. Plus the guy who owns it gave us one of his adorable spoons which he hand made.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Suggested time here: 3 – 4 hours

19275323_10155462933274111_5128236461214177238_nThis is a beautiful piece of the Irish coast and is worth the visit just for that. For a little bit of extra money however, you can cross the rather perilous medieval rope bridge. The bridge connects the mainland with a little island fishermen used to store their boats and catch the best fish from. For anyone afraid of heights this will take a bit of convincing to do. As someone who feels like crying when they go up a ladder, this was a bit of challenge for me. The whole time across I felt like Donkey in Shrek when they’re crossing that boiling pit of lava.

But once you get across it is like a little oasis of calm. Totally worth the minute of heart attack inducing fear there and back.

Dark Hedges

Suggested time here: 20 – 30 minutes.

19850877_10155512194239111_1822257110_oA lot of people will drive down the road and wonder why on earth people are climbing into the follow trees or pretending to throw a sword around. For the nerds amongst you however, you may recognise this as being the Kings Road from Game of Thrones. The set locators actually compiled a list of sexy trees to feature in the series, and of course the Dark Hedges here were top of the list. It takes about 10 minutes to walk the full length and back, but it’s a really nice stop on your way back from any of your coastal day trips.

Marble Arch Caves

Suggested time here: One Day

19718705_10155512194294111_1067239828_oMarble Arch Caves are one of the finest show caves in Europe and features an under water cave straight out of Lord of the Rings, and a series of limestone formations that made all the geographers in our group make a similar noise to the one I make when I see an adorable puppy. If you are touring around the island on a weekday you should be fine with just turning up to book onto a tour, but if you are going in peak time, then I would phone in advance.

It’s situated in a wonderful forest with plenty of woodland trails. About five minutes down the road, situated in the same forest, is also Florence Court, which is a Georgian mansion house. So there is something for everyone in this rugged part of Northern Ireland.

Dublin

Suggested time here: One Day

19748029_10155512194514111_1866951657_oThat’s right – why not turn your trip into two holidays?! There’s a soft boarder between Northern Ireland and Ireland which means you won’t get stopped for your passport details as you cross over (though I would recommend taking it just encase). Dublin is a fantastic city rich in history and buzzing nightlife. Some of my main recommendations, and bare in mind I am a historian, are the General Post Office – where you can see the Irish Bill of Independence – and Dublin Castle, which was once called the worst castle in all of Christendom. This is especially funny when you take into account it was considered one of King John’s greatest achievements. Awkward.

In terms of nightlife there are a lot of live music performances to catch at the multiple bars and clubs. Dublin also love their comedy performances, so be sure to check out their version of Time Out for what’s on in the local area.

Game of Thrones Tour

Suggest time here: One Day

19830104_10155512194419111_1470026603_oIf you are a fan of the HBO series Game of Thrones, then it seems natural to book onto one of the many Game of Thrones tours they have to offer. You’ll meet your guide in Belfast, and he’ll then take you across the Narrow Sea to the land of Westeros. On the way you’ll see Winterfell, The Twins, Robb’s Camp, Beyond the Wall, the bridge under which the Starks found their Direwolves, and actually get to meet the puppies! Well, two of them, and they are a lot bigger now.

As well as being somewhere to get your nerd on, it’s also a great way to see a large part of Eastern Northern Ireland in a day, without making your driver do it. Tours cost you around £50 with lunch included, and there is a chance to dress up and run around with a sword for a bit.

It’s like they know what we really want to be in life.

Belfast

Suggested time here: One Day

19424502_10155479860994111_2027996162064857567_nNo trip to the green isles is complete without a visit to the capital. Much like Dublin, it has its own rich and wonderful history and nightlife. I would highly recommend taking one of the hop on hop off bus tours which is a great way to get an over view of the cities history and main attractions in the space of two hours. You can then hop off and explore them in greater detail if you so wish. Of particular interest, which you might want to check out, are Belfast Castle and the Titanic Centre. Oh and there’s a giant colourful fish that if you kiss, grants to knowledge of everything.

Again I would recommend checking Time Out for the nightlife scene and big events happening in the city.

 

So that’s Northern Ireland for you. Hopefully I’ve given you the beginnings of your own amazing road trip across this beautiful country, and something to throw in the next persons face who criticises you for your addiction to travel.

Happy adventures, travellers.

From Northern Ireland, with love xox

 

The City of Love for the Romantically Hopeless

Paris. The city of soft candle light, smooth accents and ideal kissing spots. As you walk down the street, it is impossible not to meet couples draped over one another, clearly wishing they were back in the hotel room with the windows thrown open to the Paris skyline. It is a feeling that surrounds this city, especially when you are visiting with your significant other. Yet if you are anything like me, romantically hopeless, this feeling is easily brushed aside and replaced with the pure awe of being in Paris – the city of the revolution, medieval tyrants and – most importantly – cheese.

I will confess I was a little worried about going to Paris. I don’t think I have a romantic bone in my body – ask my partner, he will testify my idea of romance is leaving him the last spoonful of our shared dessert (how is that not romantic by the way?) And there is a lot of hype about visiting the city of love with your partner. “Oh you’re not even going to leave your hotel room”, “It is SUCH a romantic city”, “Oh the sunset over the river -sigh-”

Pass me the bucket. Is it bad that inside all I was thinking about was how cool it was going to be to stand in the square all those nobles had their heads unceremoniously separated from their body? No? Well here are my tips on how to navigate Paris for the romantically hopeless.

Day One

17799104_10155197230724111_6876423913333218213_nStart the first day off feeling incredibly cultured in the Louvre, which is the largest museum in the world. Last year I did five museums in one day in Berlin, but even that did not prepare me for the amount of history I would need to absorb in this museum. True, it is mostly full of art rather than teaming with information on this battle and that battle, but each corner you turn round holds another rare artefact from a long forgotten age. This museum not only showcases France’s turbulant history, but protects the delicate threads of histories across the world and throughout time. From ancient Egypt, right through to China during WW2. My favourite bit was discovering the Louvre was actually built on top of the old medieval foundations of a fortress, which the museum is positioned around in order to allow visitors to see what remains of this fascinating structure.

Once you’ve pulled yourself away from Mona Lisa’s lifeless eyes, stroll through the palace gardens with their delightful statues and perfectly sculpted bushes. As you promenade, it is easy to see why this was the place to hang out if you were a French aristocrat – until the nasty business with the guillotine. There are even deck chairs positioned neatly around the two large fountains in the garden. It was nice to see the gardens are still a popular Parisian hang out, with people playing football games amongst the statues of faeries, and dogs chasing bulls through hedges shaped like curious animals.

17795828_10155197236574111_4359745583135208230_nAt the end of the gardens you’ll hit the Paris Eye, which is worth a trip up in order to get some good skyline selfies, but if you don’t want to pay the 10 euroes, hold off until you get to the Arc de Triumph. As you stand with your back to the eye, you will think to yourself the Arc looks incredibly close. It is not close. It is not a ten minute walk, even at a good pace. That is a good half an hour hike, yes hike, because once you do first leg you start to go at a steady but definite incline. You will sweat. It will be nasty. You won’t look at your significant other who warned you that it was not a ten minute walk and is giving you that “I told you so” look. Once you stagger your way across the roundabout to the Arc, you will then find yourself faced with the chance to go up to the top, which will provide you with those lovely skyline selfies I mentioned earlier. The staircase is perhaps the worst thing I have ever been up, it is formed in the tightest spiral I have ever had the misfortune of climbing, and leaves you feeling disorientated when you get to the top. But it is worth it.  There’s even a perfect spot for pretending you can hold the Eiffel Tower in your hand.

17760068_10155197240574111_8127083220871157490_nAfter you’ve suffered the stairs on the way down, it’s time to head on over to the Eiffel Tower. This is probably the whole reason you’ve come to Paris (not really, I mean there’s still Shakespeare & Co to go yet), but it is definitely on that list of things you most probably should do whilst in Paris. There are two levels you can visit, the normal viewing platform and what they call the ‘Summit’. If you are scared of heights you will cry no matter which level you’re on so you might as well go to the top and appreciate the ground that little bit more when your feet meet again with it. If you’ve stuck to the plan I’ve outlined you’ll hit the top just as the sun is setting, which is absolutely breathtaking. I think it was the only time throughout the trip I felt even a little bit romantic. And if you don’t, there are some helpful kissing reminders around the place.

17795942_10155197243544111_2487283421091364311_nI recommend eating around here – there are some lovely little restaurants
just behind the tower – because after you finish your meal you can then see the whole thing lit up, which give the tower a whole new beauty (lets face it, it’s pretty ugly in the light).

 

Day Two

17757165_10155197219764111_3479506730868443621_nSpend your second day in the Ile de la City area with a visit to Palais de la Cité, residence of the French Kings. White built along the picturesque riverside, the palace doesn’t look like much from the outside – in fact I would have walked past it if I hadn’t seen a sign saying free entry for Europeans. It is definitely nothing like the magnificent castles of France that are scattered throughout the rest of the country. However, once you step inside you do feel as though you have fallen into one of those ludicrous fantasy history novels where helpless young women fall in love with the strapping young prince. The arches and spiral staircases are enough to make any architect or history lover squee with joy – which is exactly what I did when I found myself inside the main hall. There is a fantastic digital presentation on the history of the palace, including a series of images of how the palace transformed from a home of the royal bloodline into a prison, and eventually the centre of the revolutions trials.

That’s right, this medieval palace just got much cooler. Taken over by the bloodthirsty, barricade builders, the palace was at the centre of the famed Terror. Within these walls not only were France’s aristocracy dragged to be sentenced to death, but they also turned an entire wing into a series of prisons for their most important victims. One such prisoner was Marie Antoinette, who was actually held prisoner in her in-laws family chapel and sentenced to death in what used to be their dining room – creepy!

17425038_10155197223349111_3393796616478410635_nOnce you’ve had your fill of the bloody history of the revolution, pop next door to one of my favourite churches in the whole of Europe: Sainte-Chapelle. This is the church which made Henry III create Westminster Abbey, legend goes, because the stained glass was rumoured to be the most spectacular in Europe. It’s been on my bucket list for some time, and as it’s free for the under 25s, it is a must whilst you are in the area. We stayed here for quite some time just gazing at the way the sun changed the colours in the glass.

Stroll through the daily flower market on your way to Notre Dame, which you simply cannot ignore whilst you are in the area. It is perhaps Paris’s third most iconic landmark after the Eiffel Tower and the Arc De Triumph (second I guess depending on how highly you value the arc). This Gothic masterpiece steals your breath as you cross the river, or round the corner from the flower market, and if you look really closely you might even see Quasimodo swinging from the bells. The inside is just as breath taking as the exterior with its own collection of wonderful stained glass. However, what I fo17522982_10155197224649111_4185514928481975795_nund more interesting were the amount of famous people buried under the roof. Including a tribute to Louis Pasteur, who was originally buried here but was later moved. I would suggest spending at least an hour uncovering Paris’s dead heroes. I mean, what’s more romantic than poking around the crypts of a cathedral built in the late 14th century?

If you’re feeling peckish by this point, there is an amazing little cafe just across the road from Notre Dame, and if you’re super lucky you can get the window seat and enjoy your coffee with a view. It is pricey but the sights are so worth it – plus the food is amazing.

17523142_10155197224654111_7581171525981157556_nThis suggestion is more for the book worms amongst you, but if you walk through the park opposite the cathedral, you can visit the precious Shakespeare & Co book shop. Famous for homing many an author as they researched or completed their books, the shelves are crammed with novels across genres, from specific French literature right through to valuable rare books. You could spend hours lost amongst the shelves, or curled up upstairs in one of the many inviting chairs. Nothing upstairs is for sale by the way, but reading is encouraged.

Day 3 – 4

If you’re lucky enough to have bagged yourself more time in the city of love then I have a few more recommendations of places you should definitely check out.

17759955_10155197228279111_6363132051882596089_nFirst is the catacombs, which for anyone unfamiliar with the term is basically a large collection of skulls and bones packed on top of one another because they ran out of space in the graveyards (especially during the revolution). It is damn creepy but so much fun to creep along the narrow tunnels and see the way the builders tried to bring some amount of cheer to such a dreary place, with skulls creating patterns of hearts or large barrels. If you do it late at night then you come out when it’s dark, which just adds to the creepy feeling.

17796849_10155197228774111_3487787481079477393_nIf you’re looking to take a break from your busy schedule the Luxembourg Gardens are perfect for a place to relax in the sunshine. There’s a little model boating lake in the middle where you can get a boat with the flag of your country (or a pirate one) and let it float around the lake. When it reaches the banks you just push it off again with the handy little stick you get given. We lost quite a few hours here egging on the pirate ship which kept smashing into Britain.

17522576_10155197244484111_293691665446317967_nThe other place I would recommend visiting is the Montmarte area. This is a great stop on the day you are heading home as it is right by the station, and you can leave your bags at the station so you’re not laden down. Basilica du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, and is also one of the oldest churches in the city. Someone is always praying in the church, even during both World Wars, one of the many locals or priests was at prayer to keep the record going. Aside from it being an absolutely beautiful area to just lounge around before spending a couple of hours on a train, it is also home to the Artist Square. This is where all of Paris’ aspiring artists come to sell their wares. You can get anything from traditional oil paintings to caricatures to take home. To top it all off there is even a little train that will take you for a tour of all the important spots in the area – including the famous Moulin Rouge.

~

So yes, Paris is the city of love, but it is also the city of art, revolution and cheese. Rest assured fellow romantically hopeless friends, you will fall in love here, it’ll just more likely be with that tiny little antique shop next to Shakespeare & Co than your hotel bed.

From Paris, with love xox

Chapter Three

“She’s so…. Puny,” Phitha scrunched up her nose in an air of disgust as she looked down at her cousin. Being a mighty six years of age she was of course superior in every way to the small and rather pale bundle that her mother insisted would one day be her Queen. Why, she looked far to sickly to even make it to childhood let alone adulthood. Phitha wouldn’t even start on her opinions about the strange taint of hair colour the poor child seemed to have been cursed with by the very gods who had brought her to life. Phitha pitied her aunt. Hippolyta must be dreadfully ashamed of the child the gods had delivered her.

“She’s a baby, silly,” Hippolyta’s laughter was pure, beautiful music. Music that had been lacking from their small queendom, and sorely missed, for a long time. Some of the older warriors who had known the Queen before the War had said that she had lulled men into death with her voice alone. Her songs simply willed them into a sleep that they simply did not wish to rise from. That her aunt had laughed at her observation, one because it was entirely true and two because it was such a rare sound, startled Phitha into looking up from her deep scrutiny of the future Queen of the Amazon’s.

Hippolyta certainly did not look as though she was disappointed with her gift. In fact Phitha had noticed a distinct change in her since Diana had come to them six months ago. Firstly it had had an obviously impact on her physical appearance. It was impossible to deny the rumours that she was descended from the fabled beauty Helen of Troy. Her skin simply glowed. It was as if the pure love she felt for her child pulsed through her blood, lighting her from within. Phitha would label it a weakness if it was not for the fact Hippolyta’s sharp mind had returned with her legendary beauty. The drilling and training of the warriors had been stepped up, the women pushed beyond their limits. New ideas flowed like a raging river from her mouth in regards to new battle strategies, new building techniques, new ventures and projects that would benefit the entire queendom. It was as if her mind had simply been away all these years. This truly was the woman who had challenged the gods themselves and won. A woman who had returned to them due to a tiny, vulnerable child.

Phitha still was not impressed.

“Well when will she be able to do things?” Phitha prided herself on the fact she had been walking and swinging a wooden battle sword by the age of one and a half.

“When she is good and ready,” Hippolyta bent down and plucked the gurgling child out of her crib to cradle her against her breasts. Frowning, Phitha was about to question such a cryptic response when her own mother placed a quelling hand on her shoulder. Antiope shook her head so slightly that the action would have been overlooked by anyone but her daughter.

“You will have someone to play with soon enough,” her mother’s soothing voice did nothing to ease her concerns. For she knew her mother, knew that she shared Phitha’s fear. Yes the queen was better off for the arrival of Diana and the city was flourishing and spreading at a rate that hadn’t occurred since the Amazon’s were first gifted their island, but she was also now the weakest she had ever been. For now the Queen had one mortal, easily exploitable weakness.

“Yes, mother,” for Phitha did not play, as did none of the other children here. Her mother’s words carried a request: that Phitha guard the queen’s weakness with her own life. And Phitha would do as her mother asked her to her last breath.

“Your majesties.”

There was no quicker way to put an end to a quiet family moment than those two words. All three women, for Phitha considered herself a woman at the wholesome age of six, looked up at the intruder on their private moment. Within the doorway stood Myrto, one of Hippolyta’s four personal guards. She wore the traditional armour of Grecian warriors made from the unique metal that the Amazonians had discovered on the island. The armour had been treated though, so it bore the colours of the royal guard: blue and gold. When the three women of the royal bloodline turned their attention to her she snapped her booted heels together and gave the formal salute, by closing a fist over her heart. Hippolyta’s gift was a smile so pure that Myrto thought her heart might burst with the love she felt for her Queen.

“What is it Myrto?” Diana had drifted peacefully into sleep so Hippolyta gently placed her back amongst the plush cushions and blankets.

“There has been a problem at the mines, Your Highness. It looks like one of the tunnels has collapsed.” Now this was a woman Phitha could admire and respect. She did her duty.

“Were there any casualties?” Antiope was already moving towards the doorway, eager to be doing something that her practical talents were more suited for. Emotions and family were always Hippolyta’s strength. Hipployta was also moving, though there was a slight hesitation before she left her babies side.

“A few minor injuries have been reported so far, but we have not assessed the full damage, nor accounted for everyone just yet.”

“Phitha stay with Diana,” Hippolyta and Phitha looked at Antiope with surprise. Hippolyta had clearly wished for her sister to have given an altogether different command, perhaps insist she stay with her daughter. Phitha on the other hand had very much wanted to go and survey the damage herself. Both women gave Antiope a look that remind her they were indeed all related. She allowed herself a small smile of amusement.

“Phitha is more than capable of looking after her cousin, Sister-Mine, until we return. We need to ensure our people are well and the job is done how it needs to be done.” Hippolyta’s shoulders slumped at the chastising, because she was right, her sister with her practical mind. For a moment she had nearly put her own selfish desires above the needs of her people. Phitha on the other hand straightened her back and planted her feet shoulder width apart. The stance of a warrior: of course she, the best fighter at the age of six, could look after a mere baby. With another small smile, Antiope left the room with her sister and Myrto.

The realisation her mother had tricked her into wanting to stay dawned on Phitha a few minutes later. In a way it was a lesson – Antiope always said that Phitha’s pride would be her undoing. Muttering a few words she had heard the older warriors say after a particularly hard hit during training, she stomped over to the crib and peered into it once again. Her second analysis was along the same lines as her first: what was all the fuss about?

“Princess Phitha.” Surprise made her voice higher, but Phitha would know her anywhere. Phitha had made it a point to know all of Hippolyta’s personal guards.

“Alkyone,” Phitha turned around, her hands clasped nearly behind her back. “You just missed my aunt, Myrto just told them about the cave in at the mine.” Alkyone’s eyes flickered between the six year old and the crib. The movement was very small, but Phitha was reaching for the blade she wore as a clip in her hair. Children weren’t technically allowed to wear armour and carry a weapon until they were 16 years of age, but Antiope had brought her daughter the hidden blade for her birthday just gone for her own protection should she need it.

“I came to guard the Princess Diana.”

“That’s ok, my mother had left me in charge of my cousin. You may go.”

A beat of silence.

“I would, and I am sure the queen would, feel more at ease if one of her guard were to be with the princess.”

“Then you may wait outside.”

Another beat. Another flicker of Alkyone’s eyes between Phitha and the crib. About to speak again, Phitha was interrupted as the guard sighed. It was one of those sighs adults often gave a child when they did not quite understand something. As if apologising but patronising the child at the same time.

“I am sorry for this. You were not meant to be here, an oversight on my part, I apologise. But alas you are here, and alas,” the figures of the two remaining members of Hippolyta’s guard – Charis and Philomela – appeared to flank their leader. “You are in the way.”

To give her credit, Phitha was in fact one of the best six year olds the Amazonians had ever had the blessing to have within their ranks. She would have given the more maternal warriors a run for their money most certainly, but it was not the maternal Amazonians she was facing. It was three of the most elite fighters within the population.

They moved with the fluidity of a group who knew one another’s every flaw and every strength. They worked as a unit in such perfect formation Phitha had to admire them for it. However, she had the element of surprise on her side: they only saw her as a six year old. She flicked open the blade she had concealed in her hand and swung low at the soldier to her left, using her lack of height to her own advantage. The woman – Charis – let out a yelp of surprise as Phitha drew the blade across the back of the woman’s right knee. It was the surprise more than the pain that hindered her for a minute, but it was only a minute that Phitha needed in order to take advantage of her. As her injured knee gave way, and Charis went into a kneeling position on the ground, Phitha drove her blade into the back of woman’s neck with all the strength of a six year old. The blade was not long enough to be lethal, but it was long enough to cause annoyance to a trained warrior.

However, now she had no weapon.

Diana began to cry as Phitha backed up against the crib. Charis was incapable of spouting anything but blood from her mouth, but she was recovering from the shock of the attack enough to shakily stand on one leg. It would take more than a comb blade to keep one of the royal guard done, but Phitha felt a rush of pride at seeing so much blood. Blood she had spilt. Blood that coated her hands and should have probably revolted her, but that she simply glorified in. Her surge of hubris was short lived as the two, armed and well trained warriors, rushed her. With no weapon she would have to resort to hand to hand combat, but the well-aimed kick towards Alkyone’s ankle was quickly avoided and she soon found herself simply hurled off her feet and held in the air like a child.

God she hated being reminded she was a child.

“You fought well, Princess. You will go to Hades and be welcomed into the Heroes Hall,” Alkyone’s words were meant to sooth the fear of death in what must have been a terrified child. But Phitha merely spat on her face in a gesture that reminded her of exactly who her mother was. She almost felt a little less guilty for killing her: no child of Antiope would fear death, she would embrace it like an old friend.

Diana’s crying had become a wail as Philomela carefully lifted her from her crib: the tenderness of the action completely at odds with the intentions they had had with coming here. Phitha felt something cold and hard in her heart as she watched the guard raise a blade to her defenceless cousin and realised she was feeling failure for the first time in her life. The absurdity of such a realisation was actually amusing. She had made her peace with death, but failure was so new she was not entirely sure how to deal with it other than laugh and shut her eyes as the blade of Alkyone kissed her neck.

Silence fell.

But it wasn’t the silence of death. It was the silence caused by the absence of a sound one expected to hear. Like the crying of an infant child in the throes of death. Phitha slowly opened her eyes, her curiosity of such a silence having won out – even if it meant seeing her failure in the very physical form of her cousins mutilated body. Her eyes widened in shock.

Sound thundered into the room at the same time as the powerful bolts of lightning. Alkyone behind her screamed as the volt of electricity hit her arm so close to Phitha’s head she could actually smell her own hair burning. Philomela dropped the child as her mouth opened in a wordless cry that would forever echo in Phitha’s ears for eons to come. Being so close to the origination of such a powerful force, her body held together for what must have been painful seconds, before her body gave out and turned to ash. But Diana didn’t fall. She seemed to be suspended at the centre of the light show. Her chubby little hands were balled into tight fights from which roared forth the power of a god. Her eyes were no longer blue but the type of white one would associate with the centre of a sun, and they rested on Phitha.

For a moment they simply regarded one another.

“Perhaps,” Phitha said cautiously as she surveyed the guards, or what remained of them, before returning her attention to the six month old with the powers of Zeus. “I underestimated you.”

Chapter Two

“What have you done?!” Hippolyta glanced over her shoulder to give her sister a look that would have made even the most senior of her soldiers cower. Antiope, on the other hand, simply squared her shoulders and put her hands on her hips. There was never any budging her sister, the woman who had stood through hell with her. Had been there when Hippolyta had stood in that room covered in blood, with the dagger still clutched in her hand. With a sigh she finished tucking Diana into the beautiful wooden crib, gave her one last loving look, before turning her full attention to the woman who was her only equal.

“When did it become illegal to bear a child?” Folding her arms over her chest, Hippolyta leaned protectively against her baby’s resting place. Antiope may have been her sister but, when she flew into a rage, she was unpredictable. “You yourself have taken men. You have Phitha.” Antiope ground her teeth.

“Yes and I bore that child from an Atlantian – not a God. Not the KING of the Gods!”

“Keep your voice dow-”

“No, Lyta. You’ve overstepped the mark. The flirting, the secret visits, I could just about tolerate. You have always played with fire when it comes to those who you invite to your bed, but I never believed for one MINUTE you could be so stupid!” Throwing her hands in the air with exasperation, it was now Hippolyta’s turn to roll her eyes at her sister’s dramatics.

“Tio, it’s not like that.”

“So you call her a mistake?” Antiope pointed an accusing finger at the slumbering child. Hippolyta’s spine went rigid. Never. She would never call her daughter a mistake. Her voice was dangerously calm when she responded.

“Diana was an answer to a prayer that I would not be alone, cursed to never bear a child again. She is a miracle, not a mistake, never a mistake. Don’t you ever use such words about her again Tio, or I’ll-”

“You’ll what, Lyta? She will bring this island’s destruction. How long do you think before Hera will discover her? How long do you think you can protect her from her own powers? Without the guidance of a God she will be consumed by the raw intensity of her gifts, just like the others. Do you remember Heracles? Do you remember how his power drove him to such insanity he murdered his own wife? His own children? That is the fate you have passed on to your own daughter.”

The room filled with a silent tension as the two women stared at one another. Antiope was the complete opposite too Hippolyta in nearly every sense: dark hair and darker eyes, a lack of mercy and tenderness in her heart even the birth of her daughter hadn’t fixed, ruthless to the point of psychopathic, and she always only saw the negative in every situation.

“Nobody else needs to know – she never needs to know. Will never know,” Hippolyta swore it to herself. It was safer if the secret ended with the sisters. As much as Antiope disagreed with her actions she would never betray her own flesh and blood. Would never allow Diana to come to true harm. “As far as history shall be concerned, I made Diana from clay and Zeus answered my prayers to bring her to life with a bolt of lightning. It will explain any interest he and the other Gods may seem to have in her, nobody here would question my reasons for not bedding a man again.” Screams. Blood. Death. The memories had stopped her from bedding many men – it had taken an immortal to sear those fears from her mind enough to allow her to once again feel the flesh of another. “It will explain her appearance too. Nobody need be any the wiser.”

Antiope’s shoulders slumped with a sigh: there would be no moving her. Once Hippolyta dug her heels in to a situation, when she had carefully planned out her path, then there was no turning her from her course. The only choice was to ensure that course ran true.

“Very well,” walking towards her sister she joined her in gazing down at the little princess. This girl would mean that Antiope herself never gained the mantle of Queen of the Amazon’s, but that was a fate Antiope had feared since her sister had been crowned. She was not a leader. Her mind had been broken during The War beyond repaid: her thoughts needed guidance and counselling, warped by the brutality of fighting to comprehend peace. So she would protect this girl with her soul, so that she would never have to take that title from her sister. And once she saw her safely on the throne, she would follow her sister into death.

For her sister was her monsters keeper.

***

A shadow slipped away from the slightly ajar royal bedroom door. On winged feet the shadow travelled through the intricate hallways and stairwells of the palace. Slipping through a wooden door that was growing weary with age, but was not yet of much concern to the people who lived within the palace, the shadow joined with three others who had gathered around a table.

“Well?” A voice from one of the seated shadows.

“It is as we feared. Her highness has lost her mind, she has borne the child of Zeus.” A hushed murmur of anger, concern and fear erupted around the circle.

“What do we do?”

“She’s our Queen. She has bled more for us than anyone.”

“But the child brings danger. Hera would not care who she killed in her path to the child.”

“The whole island is in danger.”

“Our Queen is in danger.”

“She probably didn’t even think -”

“- didn’t have a chance to think -”

“Has Zeus ever asked a woman?”

A chorus of crazed and bitter laughter.

“It wasn’t her fault, we must protect her. Like we have always protected her,” there was a sense of relief amongst the shadows that they were able to pin the blame on someone other than their Queen.

“But what can we do?” The sound of metal against metal as a blade was drawn in the darkness, before it thudded into the middle of the table with a force that was a testimony to the strength of the wielder.

“We must kill the child.”

The silence that followed was a silent agreement amongst the four: the child would die. Whilst it was one of the most heinous acts of their country, to harm an innocent, this child would bring nothing but destruction to their island and their Queen. As they dispersed into the night it was with the strongest of convictions that what they planned to do would be regarded as heroism by their people. Including the Queen.