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I’m going to Italy with Virginia Woolf. I’m sure we will have a wonderful time.

She accompanied me to Ireland a few years ago, and we had such fun that we are traveling together again.

Woolf was a great European traveler. Of course she traveled around England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but she also visited six other European countries. She spent time in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Greece, as well as Italy. She toured some of these countries more than once.

While in her twenties, she also made two trips to Turkey. 

I got most of those facts from a wonderful book titled Travels with Virginia Woolf written by Jan Morris and first published in 1993. And it’s because of that book that I know whenever I am traveling in Woolf’s steps.

Morris scoured Woolf’s diaries and letters in preparation for writing her Woolf travelogue. Then she went one big step further. She visited some of Virginia’s favorite spots herself. 

I expect to find Morris’s own observations most useful on my own Italian trip, for she has noted how the sights and scenes of present-day Italy do or don’t match up to what Woolf experienced during her seven trips to the country where she said she would “come to die.”

Right now, I have a photocopy of the 15-page “Italy” chapter in my carry-on bag. I plan to spend my eight-hour Alitalia flight highlighting the spots Woolf saw that I, too, will have a chance to see.  I will let you know how they compare.

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House on waterTwo years ago, just as my husband and I were packing for an upcoming trip to Ireland, a question popped into my head. Did Virginia Woolf ever visit the island?

Determined to find out, I searched Woolf’s diaries. I felt like an archaelogist uncovering a rare find when I discovered several entries that mentioned the holiday in Ireland she and Leonard took in late April and early May of 1934.

Just before we headed out the door to catch our flight to Dublin, I jotted down a few scrappy notes and stuffed the paper into my carryon bag.

Woman on a mission
On the afternoon of our first day on the isle, I pulled the crumpled paper out of my pocket. I was a woman on a mission.

“Shelbourne Hotel,” I announced, as we wandered unknown streets just blocks away from our small but charming hotel, where we had dropped our bags and napped briefly before heading out to explore. “We have to find the Shelbourne Hotel. Woolf had lunch there in 1934.”Shelbourne Hotel

A block later we looked up, and there it was. My excitement was so great that while I was snapping tipsy-looking photos of the Shelbourne, I gestured too exuberantly. My digital camera flew out of my hand, landed hard, and skidded across the pavement.

Lord Mayor’s LoungeUndaunted, we dashed across the street and into the still posh 1824 Shelbourne. So posh in fact that it’s known as Dublin’s largest five-star luxury hotel. Inside the Lord Mayor’s Lounge, we ordered afternoon tea.

A moment later, when I failed in my attempt to take a surreptitious photo of the well-appointed lounge, I began my lamentations. My camera was dead. Interior photos of the grand Shelbourne Hotel, where Woolf had lunched on 6 May 1934, were not to be.Heritage Lounge

The photo of the Lord Mayor’s Lounge posted above is from the hotel’s Web site, as is the photo at right, which pictures the Heritage Lounge across the hall. My guess is that Woolf lunched in one of the two rooms on the day of her visit.

A mission of his own
After tea, my husband had a mission of his own. Determined to soothe the troubled soul of his distraught and stymied shutterbug, he escorted me into the first camera store we saw on Grafton Street, where we bought a functioning replacement.

And as we traveled through Dublin and Galway, two cities on our itinerary as well as Woolf’s, we used our purchase to capture the 2004 versions of some of the places mentioned in her 1934 diary entries.

Follow Woolf to Ireland
I’m sharing our Woolf-related photos from that trip on a new page titled, Follow Woolf to Ireland. The link appears on the In her steps page.

The photos aren’t the best — I hadn’t yet learned the features of my new emergency camera — but they are a visual representation of some of what Woolf mentions in her diary about her only trip to Ireland. Accompanying the photos are appropriate snippets from her diary.

Another traveling resource
After our trip, I found an invaluable resource for anyone interested in following in Woolf’s traveling footsteps. Travels with Virginia Woolf, edited by Jan Morris, follows Woolf as she journeys through England, Ireland, Wales, Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Turkey.

Morris combines pertinent entries from Woolf’s diaries with her own commentary about the places mentioned. Reviewers have found Morris’s book worth a look, too.

Now sit back and follow Woolf to Ireland.

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