We left Maria in Paris at the beginning of October 1876. In the next week she travels across France by train to Marseilles. From the Hotel de Paix, Marseilles, on the 8th October she describes the journey to her mother:
Well, we travelled 12 hours by rail through hundreds of miles of vineyards and olive yards, laden with fruit in some places. Men and women were gathering it. It is called the valley of the Rhone, and Mulberry trees, on the leaves of which the silk worm is fed. The trellised verandahs of the houses’ gardens, palings, railway embankments, wherever there was any mould, a vine was stuck in them.
We rested a night at Lyons, a splendid city where the great silk manufactorys are, the next day came on through the same kind of country here. Today we have had a carriage and been driving about among the Docks all day, which extend for miles and is crowded with the shipping and produce of all nations. The sea and sky is of the most lovely blue you can imagine, but Oh the heat. All the works of God on land and sea are beautiful and wonderful, only Man is vile. We had a good view yesterday for many miles of the Swiss Alps, wonderful mountains with Mont Blanc the highest of all, clad in everlasting snow.
The following day she writes from the Hotel Grand le Bretagne, Nice:
We left Marseilles yesterday morning and came the whole day through vineyards and olive yards, Pomegranates, Cactus much taller than myself but Oh the heat! It seems to take all my strength away. Last night I slept for the first time under Mosquitoes Curtains. They are made of white net and you just lift them up and get under them. They are dreadful.
All the Hotels in France are very grand, more like Palaces than any thing I have seen in England, of course very expensive. They charge 7/- (shillings) per day for me and nearly double that for each of the other 4. Now we are in a city of Palm trees. The streets are bordered with stately Palms and prickly Cactus, but it’s very fatiguing travelling in this heat, and I shall be glad when we get to Italy and get settled.
The Mediterranean sea is something wonderfully blue and I cannot help wishing the yacht was anchored out here, it would be so much cooler on sea than on land.
On the 15th October from the Grand Hotel de Genes, Genoa:
We had a dreadful journey from Nice to Genoa, owing to the heat and Mosquitoes, but the country and fruits are something wonderful. Oranges and Lemons in abundance. The trees seem weighed down with them, and the Gardens full of Salad and green vegetables. We arrived here last Wednesday and have been driving about seeing Palaces, Churches, Cathedral, Cemeteries, which are very grand indeed. This is called a city of palaces, and they are rich and rare. It is a place that has been famed for hundreds of years for the manufacture of Velvet.
The Genoese women all wear their hair dressed in a peculiar fashion and no bonnets, but black Lace Mantillas pinned on the top and hanging gracefully down the back. There is a great deal of gold and silver filigree work made here. But I shall be very glad to get to Florence and get settled, although Mrs Hamilton is very kind and never goes for a drive or to see any thing without me.
The 9th of November 1876 Maria writes to Jimmy from The Hotel di Milan, Florence:
We have had nothing but bright sunshine ever since we have been here, and cloudless blue sky till yesterday when it became grey, and today it’s raining just a very little. The sun is still very hot but the wind is cold, but there is no coal here to make big fires with, and there is no smoke, which keeps the city so clean.
Last Wednesday, the first, was full moon and Mrs Grey and Miss Laurie, two Ladies who are staying here with Mrs Hamilton, took me a drive some miles round to see Florence by moonlight. It was a sight I shall never forget whilst memory lasts. It was so light one could see to read, and the sky so blue. We went out of the gate of the city and drove up a hill. There lay the city, clear and distinct as possible, no smoke hovering over it, with its Marble Palaces, its Towers and Cathedral, and the great broad river Arno with its many beautiful bridges across it and lighted up on either side with lamps, which were reflected in its clear bosom. Then, the slopes of the hills, covered with terraces full of Vines, Olives and fig trees. Sometimes the vines climb up the fig tree and almost every branch, so that you could literally sit under your own vine and fig tree.
There are a great many wonderful things here, one of which I think is an American, a Millionaire. That is one who is worth a Million of Money. And he drives 12 in hand every day. Some days he drives 14, but he has had 12 when I have seen him. Beautiful fat bay horses, well matched, and he turns the corners beautifully. I see he has 6 different coloured reins, so I suppose he knows which pair to pull.
The Empress of the French (Empress Eugenie, widow of Napoleon III) and Prince Imperial (Prince Napoleon Eugene, her son) drive out very often, but I have never seen them, in the same carriage like our Queen’s. She is always in black.
Prince Napoleon Eugene insisted on joining British forces in fighting the Anglo-Zulu wars and was killed in 1879.
I like this Hotel very much. It’s very comfortable. There was a very nice French Maid here last week who could speak a little English and now there is a Scotch and also a German Maid here, so it’s not so dull.
Maria stays at the same hotel in Florence until the middle of January 1877. Whilst there she suffers with an eye problem during November and writes this to Jimmy on 4th December 1876:
You will be glad to hear that I am better and going about my work again, although I feel I shall have to be very careful for a long time to come. I have not begun to do any Needlework by Candle light yet, but I think my eyes will soon get quite strong again.
I went to Church yesterday for the first time for 5 Sundays, both the English and Scotch Churches are very close here, as we are in the very heart of the city. I can hardly fancy we are here in December as it’s very warm. I am sitting writing in my room with both my windows open. The rainy season has commenced and we have had a good few heavy showers, and as the streets are paved all over, they look as if they had just been scrubbed down. I pity the poor horses though, as the pavements so soon wear smooth that the horses frequently slip and fall. Instead of seeing men putting down stones to mend the streets, you see them sitting down and chipping little bits out with a hand chisel.
On the 18th December 1876, thinking about home and Christmas, she writes again to Jimmy:
I do not expect any thing here to remind me of Christmas in dear old England, but I will write after and tell you how I get on.
I am glad to tell you I am pretty well now, but not very strong, and I am afraid I never shall be again, but I am able to keep about and do my work, which is a great mercy.
I am sorry to hear the springs are so high at Chitterne. It must be dreadful for your dear Grandmother and Isaac. You must write me a long letter and tell me exactly how you have spent the Christmas and if you played in the band and where.
Chitterne Brass Band existed for decades under the leadership of Abdon Polden, who would later become Jimmy’s father-in-law.
Maria goes on to Rome and Naples in 1877, but that will have to wait for next time.