I often travel alone, either for business or just to chase after one tame little adventure or another, and to me—an extreme introvert—there are few experiences that are more freeing, more energizing, than a solo sight-seeing tour. Over the years, many a well-meaning extrovert has asked me if I ever get lonely on these trips, and some have even offered sympathy as a balm to the melancholy they assume I must feel when venturing out by myself. I can already picture my introverted readers nodding their heads knowingly and smiling; they can attest, as can I, to the fact that most introverts are almost immune to loneliness. When I’m walking through a jetway, little carry-on bag in hand and surrounded by the white noise of strangers’ conversations all around me, my mind isn’t quiet. I may look small and still while waiting to board that plane, but ideas are snapping in my head like rapid fire. I’m dreaming of adventure, of what’s next, of what could be. I’m inventing a different kind of life for myself that will only last for the duration of the trip, but will sustain me later, through my memories of it, when the winter sets in and real life takes a hard, sharp turn.
I do enjoy traveling with people, too (I’m headed to Florida in three weeks with a party of eight!), but when you travel with others, the experience is almost entirely lived externally, through both conversation and compromise. When you’re alone, you have the luxury of time and silence, which permits you to immerse yourself in your surroundings. You step into a new scene and are automatically intellectually and emotionally engaged. The details are fully present, and before long they begin to arrange themselves into stories that only you will read.
Such was the case this last week when I visited Swan House in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, Georgia. I was in Atlanta on business, but I arrived early enough on Sunday to pack in a full day of touring. I almost literally jumped off the plane, ran to the Hertz counter to pick up a rental car, grabbed a chicken pesto sandwich from La Madeleine for a solitary and fantastic picnic lunch, headed directly to Swan House, and melted into the dream of another era.
Swan House is reached on foot from a large visitor center and museum not far away. I walked through gardens first, past beautiful walls with a series of urns on them. I like these types of destination walks; you can literally feel yourself detaching from reality with every step.
The house became visible very gradually until—ta-da!—I rounded a corner and met with a large and eye-popping reveal. I’ve always had a fascination with the 1920s (remember, that’s when Downton Abbey left off!). I love the ethereal (if shapeless) fashions, the bobbed hairstyles, the diamonds and marcasite, the long, long, long strands of pearls, the flouncy fringe and the blunt high heels. In a stately mansion like Swan House, I imagined a lifestyle so refined that it couldn’t even be approximated today.
And now it’s time to go inside. The first thing you see when you go in is a beautiful entry with a huge, spiral staircase. From that entry you can enter rooms on both sides. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more elegant space. Every time I turned my head I saw a perfect little composition of furniture, fabric, and decorative objects. I hardly knew where to aim my camera. I’m not the best photographer in the world, so my pictures don’t really do these rooms justice. Just imagine everything more colorful, bright, and vivid. Sigh.
And now let’s head back into that beautiful entry and amazing staircase. (Mind, though, that you don’t sit for a spell on the chairs. Look, but don’t touch!)
Let’s head back outside…
You can see how an introverted storyteller like me could be captivated by Swan House as a dramatic backdrop. One thing I learned is that this setting has attracted Hollywood as well. Swan House was one of the locations used for filming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2. (No, I haven’t seen these films. Now, for the first time, I want to!).
Check me out on Instagram for more pics of Swan House. I’ll have more on Atlanta in Wednesday’s post: A visit to Margaret Mitchell’s apartment.