August 22: Milan

6:30 a.m. 22 August, Albergo Lenno

Our last day. I’ve woken early to see the sunrise. Our window blew open in the middle of the night, letting in the lullaby of the lake’s rhythm. Add to that the gentle rain and a perfectly grey morning. There is no sunrise to speak of but a soft, growing light. Out our three windows, vistas of this fairy tale place, the only other sounds to be heard – a few birds chirping, the occasional bump of two boats together, a duck now and then, and every half hour the beautiful church at the center of this village tolling the time. I’ve never felt so much a part of a fairy tale scene – never found myself enveloped by the peace of a place. I could stay here forever. Instead, I will carry it home with me and let it last in my imagination, shaping me by its peace and beauty. It reminds me of all the loveliest lines in European Romantic orchestral music – like Smetana’s Moldau or Mendelssohn’s sweetest moments. I don’t think I believed before that places this idyllic actually exist – unstained by even so much as a telephone wire cutting through the panorama. It is perfect. I think this is what people have in their mind’s eye when they imagine they are going to “see Europe.” I’ve seen Europe.

We lingered awhile in our room on Friday morning, sleepy and enjoying the ridiculous luxury of a large bathroom, complete with a “rain” shower head and an actual sink counter where we could both stand. Our ferry was due to leave from just beyond the hotel doors at … Breakfast was served in an unbelievable dining room on the second floor of the hotel, its large windows overlooking the pool below. The buffet offered completely blew us away: everything you could imagine was available, including a gorgeous array of meats and cheeses and raw vegetables. We are an enormous meal, planning to make a lunch out of nothing but the small remainder of salami & cheese from the day before.

By the time we’d returned to our room for our bags and checked out at the front desk the gentle rain had turned into a downpour, and we fumbled through it to the ferry ticket house with our umbrellas and our ridiculous number of heavy bags, drenching a couple of them thoroughly. After a few minutes we saw the ferry emerge from the dense fog and made another dash through the deluge to board. We sank into the first seats that caught our eye, but I wished through the whole ride that we’d taken the trouble to lug our bags just a few feet more to situate ourselves right near a window. With the rain sliding down the windows, and our position in the center of the wide boat, there was not much chance to glimpse the coastal hillsides we’d been awed by on our drive the day before. We hadn’t bothered with photos telling ourselves it would be a better view from the water the next day. The ferry sped down the water, covering the 15 miles of lake in about thirty minutes.

Even so, we were incredibly anxious. One final mad dash lay before us, the last tight connection of our trip. (I suppose not counting the distance from our shuttle to the ticket desk at Malpensa airport.) To make it even more interesting, this dash was going to be an improv. We didn’t have a clear sense of where we needed to end up or where we’d be starting from, only that we had to get from the boat to the train platform in under fifteen minute, on foot with all our bags. We used our mediocre map to form a rough plan and then set off running from the dock. (I was wearing a dress and sandals with a small heel.) If we missed that train we’d wait several hours for the next (slower) one and lose a large chunk of our short time in Milan. We made it with several minutes to spare, despite the several flights of steps that lay between our winded selves and the train station’s entrance.

The train ride was quick and we were in our terminal city: Milan. It took us as long to navigate Milan’s huge central station, ride a few stops on the subway, and emerge onto the city streets as it did to ride the train from Como. So we emerged from underground by an enormous flight of stone steps and sprawled before our eyes was the Duomo, Italy’s largest cathedral, and the fifth largest church structure in the world. It was a staggering welcome to a fascinating city. But we didn’t get there without a quick taste of local culture:

Saturday 23 Aug, 6:15 a.m., Malpensa Airport

Now all that remains to be told is the story of Wednesday. And the tale of the un-uniformed man helping people with tickets to board the metro under Milano train station: he smoothly, quickly guided us, then reached in the machine to retrieve our tickets for us, handing them to us and then taking the 2E coin of change and motioning as though he’d eat it, asking us to give it to him. We wouldn’t have dared say no, and so for the second time we were conned on the streets of Europe. Those streets more than made up for it five minutes later, though, as we listened to a violinist positively dancing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on the subway. The many kinds of street music we’ve heard and seen have been an amazing part of this trip, not least the saxophone plaintively rising as we climbed the Duomo yesterday, loud enough to match the immensity of the place.

Finding our hotel was a nerve-wracking experience, and another evidence of the small holes left in my obsessive preparations for our trip. We had no map of Milan and only the address of our hotel and a general sense that it was about a half mile southwest of the Duomo. So we began following our noses into a tangled web of strangely-angled streets, bouncing back and forth ideas for how to achieve our goal, eyeing various shops with the thought of going in to try out our English on a local and hope they’d know. We ended up asking an old man sitting in a public transit booth. He’d never heard of the hotel or the street, which we found alarming at first, but later when we saw the diminutive alley it was it made sense. He pulled out a tattered street atlas and helped us look it up. We thanked him and, like the quintessential tourists, snapped a photo of his map before setting off down the road he told us to follow. By this time the cobbled roads had finished their destruction of one of the wheels on our large suitcase so we were basically dragging it along the cobbled streets. It was becoming obvious that our journey was at its end.

Saturday 23 August, 6:15 a.m. Malpensa Airport

Our hotel last night was plain and old but completely satisfactory for what we needed. It was deep in the heart of Milan’s narrow streets, just a quick walk SW of the Duomo. They graciously gave us our keys at 11:30 when we arrived yesterday and then we set out, stopping on our way to the Duomo at the most glamorous grocery store imaginable, in part only to wonder at it, but also to find our last gift: coffee for Mike’s Dad. We bought some bread, too, which we ate with the remainder of yesterday’s cheese and salami on the Duomo’s piazza after a couple hours wandering its interior, “reading” its tremendous stained glass, standing in awe beside the underground remains of the baptistery where Ambrose baptized Augustine. A pilgrimage, for sure. I think this was my favorite church. It was unspoiled by plaques to educate tourists and much of it was inaccessible to us. It felt sacred. The size fascinates me, too: built large enough at its time to contain every citizen of Milan, because of course all the city should gather in its walls simultaneously. Fires the imagination. After a rest we wandered the dim, immense, but rather unrewarding museum, and then climbed the stairs to walk the roof.

Afterwards we walked through the massive covered shopping streets – glamorous and immense as consumerism gets – the USA of Europe. From there we walked past La Scala but shamefully didn’t bother to gain access, and then past Sforzesco Castle into Milan’s “Central Park,” where we rested in a quiet spot and I fell asleep, exhausted. We returned to our hotel, navigating the surprisingly empty streets as best we could with the terrible map our hotel had to offer. The streets wander so haphazardly, giving way to confusing piazzas and perpetually changing names and directions.

We relaxed awhile and found a well-reviewed pizza place 2km south on the famous canals – a street that comes alive at night with Milan’s happy people out for a good time and sprawling buffets – “tapas,” free with drink and cover charge: Italy’s definition of happy hour. It was an ugly district, though, and like so much of what we’ve seen, clearly poor by comparison with what we know in the states – not just poor, or maybe not poor at all, but old, unpolished, less pretentious and tidy: humanity at its truest and a melting pot, too, of many cultures. America and monoculture – not just in farming!! We were tired yesterday and happy to take an easy peace.

We enjoyed the day as much because it was our last as anything. We didn’t love Milan but we were glad to experience it for a day. We felt satiated, and even our appetites were poor, our stomachs weary of endless cheese and brioche. Abstractly, we had high hopes for dinner, having saved pizza to be our farewell experience.

As we waited twenty minutes for the restaurant to open, perched on a bridge over the canal, we talked of the day, the trip, the city… And then we took a table indoors at Pizzeria La Tradizionale and what a farewell it was!! The best pizza in the Neapolitan style we’ve ever dreamed, the wood fire easy to taste with every bite of perfect crust. Mike’s was slathered in ricotta. Mine, fresh mozzarella, capers, olives, mushrooms, ham, anchovies, artichokes, oregano. It was marvelous, and the chianti alongside was perfect and exactly what we’d wanted. We bought a second bottle to bring home and drink in ten years. I think our waiter thought were on our honeymoon.

Our waiter!! Garon, from Croatia, thoroughly endeared himself to us. Though tipping is not customary in European restaurants we eagerly tipped in five euros. He took such good care of us, worked tirelessly to overcome the language barrier that arose when we tried to explain our desire to age a bottle of wine 10 years. (Would it keep?) It was an ordeal sorting out that enormous miscommunication, but he wasn’t happy until he’d gotten us exactly what we wanted. We’ll raise a glass to him in ten years, and remember all the laughter together. He sold us an unplanned piece of tiramisu when we’d finished, sold it like a pro. It was to die for. Better than the serving I had Thursday night at the fine trattoria in Lenno. When we’d finally paid our check he came out with two limoncellos, frosty-cold, a gift to us.

What a night!! We left enchanted, beyond pleased with our farewell meal, thoroughly in love with that restaurant and the Italian way: when we’d arrived the staff was dining and laughing together, like a family having dinner before their night’s work. Obviously they’d honored their siesta, too. A sane way of life. We laughed at the popped collars, ubiquitous here, but some are simply up and some are carefully styled with all the pains we might take tying a tie at just the right length, with just the right know. One of the waiters sported the most amazing specimen we’d ever seen and we laughed at his personality to match.

We left the restaurant in high spirits and walked north again, stopping to indulge in gelato one last time, feeling it almost a duty since we’d been so un-Italian as to go two days without it. Mostly, I was in search of a repeat of the perfect, barely sweet milk-flavored gelato I’d had in Manarola. It was not as good here, but still, gelato in Italy!

Early morning in Lenno. The cloud cover got thicker and thicker.

Early morning in Lenno. The cloud cover got thicker and thicker.

The boats that we heard bumping and jostling through the night just below our window.

The boats that we heard bumping and jostling through the night just below our window.

It wouldn't be inaccurate to describe this as a parking lot.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to describe this as a parking lot.

Breakfast in a 4-star Italian restaurant

Breakfast in a 4-star Italian restaurant

The ferry approaching

The ferry approaching

As we disembarked from the ferry Mike just about poked the captain's eye out with his umbrella!

As we disembarked from the ferry Mike just about poked the captain’s eye out with his umbrella!

Swans

Swans

A little glimpse of the coastline from aboard the boat

A little glimpse of the coastline from aboard the boat

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Inside Milano Centrale Station

Inside Milano Centrale Station

Chocolate!

Chocolate!

Confections at the upscale Milanese grocery store. In this store you make your selections at each counter and the staff hand you a receipt. When you've finished shopping you pay for your wares and then go pick them up from each counter as you walk out the door. No shopping carts!

Confections at the upscale Milanese grocery store. In this store you make your selections at each counter and the staff hand you a receipt. When you’ve finished shopping you pay for your wares and then go pick them up from each counter as you walk out the door. No shopping carts!

Milan's Duomo

Milan’s Duomo

We spent nearly an hour standing at the foot of eight or nine windows like this, doing our best to make out Biblical history, traced from one pane to the next. (We kinda impressed ourselves...)

We spent nearly an hour standing at the foot of eight or nine windows like this, doing our best to make out Biblical history, traced from one pane to the next. (We kinda impressed ourselves…)

My other contraband shot from within the building.

My other contraband shot from within the building.

For real.

For real.

The ruins of the baptistery where Ambrose baptized Augustine. You don't make this stuff up! A church historian friend told us we'd find this here, and that was all the encouragement we needed to put Milan on our destination list.

The ruins of the baptistery where Ambrose baptized Augustine. You don’t make this stuff up! A church historian friend told us we’d find this here, and that was all the encouragement we needed to put Milan on our destination list.

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This was the entry to the indoor shopping just north of the Duomo's piazza.

This was the entry to the indoor shopping just north of the Duomo’s piazza.

Snapped from where we sat to eat our quick lunch.

Snapped from where we sat to eat our quick lunch.

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This structure in the distance was just too weird not to photograph...

This structure in the distance was just too weird not to photograph…

Up on the roof.

Up on the roof.

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Looking west over the city.

Looking west over the city.

Sforzesco Castle

Sforzesco Castle

Our map toward pizza... :)

Our map toward pizza… 🙂

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True love.

True love.

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The pizza restaurant

The pizza restaurant

Goodnight, Italy!

Goodnight, Italy!

August 21: Where the Milanese Upper-Class Go for Vacation

Not being the sort to settle for a normal amount of activity in any given venture, we were easily drawn towards a “quick little detour” in our itinerary as we planned last year.

Deciding where to go in Italy was a tough process. It became clear early on that we couldn’t afford the time to travel far in. Our friend and professor, who was leading the London expedition, had waxed poetic about the beauty of the Cinque Terre as we told him of our unfolding plans and it soon became our first destination, since we realized that travel as far as Florence, Venice, Rome, Sicily – all the famous cities – was impractical in our short time frame. Cinque Terre was easy: A quick flight into Genoa; a quick train down the coast. Other sources told us that Milan’s Malpensa Airport might be our most economical choice within continental Europe for a flight home, and being lovers of church history and church architecture, we happily settled on Milan as our terminal city: we could spend our last day seeing the Duomo and then be ready to catch our flight home.

As we read the travel guides we became aware of an incredible district at the north edge of the country, a lake lined with villages, villas, and resorts. Lake Como, home of famous resort town Bellagio, lies at the foot of the Alps. According to the travel guides, it is where the Milanese rich and famous go for their weekend getaways: elegance, luxury, unspoiled beauty. The train ride between Milan and Lake Como is little more than half an hour. So rather than a fourth night in Cinque Terre or a second night in Milan, we figured we could make a quick jaunt north, adding these vistas to the topography we’d get to see. It’d be a nice balance to bustling, unadorned Milan, anyway. We’d come away feeling we’d seen just that much more of the Italian scene.

So we poured over the books and the maps and eventually settled on Lenno, a tiny town about one third of the way up the west side of the long, fingerlike lake. This would be the counterpart to our extravagant Paris day. We’d book a lovely hotel and eat a long, lovely dinner. Settling on Albergo Lenno was one of those surreal, exciting moments in our planning in the dead of last winter. Even the website was all loveliness. The staff treated us with kid gloves when we wrote with questions. And the price for a room at this 4-star place was not much more than our 3-star splurge had been in Paris.

Thursday morning I got up for one more sunrise over the water. My heart wasn’t really in it but it was the principle of the thing… It was even colder than Tuesday morning when I’d been out, and I shivered in my light scarf as I sat at the edge of the castle cliff overlooking the fishing pier. Later, down by the water, was even colder, but the sound and sight of the water lapping against the pier was mesmerizing, and drew my attention since the cloud cover made for a pretty uneventful sunrise. As I read, someone’s puppy wandered over to give me some Italian love (lots of kissing, no reservations) much to my amusement.

Mike and I had arranged to meet there by the pier around 7:30, in time to find breakfast and shop the market for lunch and a few last gifts. He came up behind me, a moment vivid in my memory. In three weeks together I’d finally re-learned to look for his company and I had been anticipating his arrival to the point of distraction. After four crazy years of Life In Your Twenties together (by which I mean, barely together at all) I had grown accustomed to his constant presence again and missed him in his absence. There I was, sitting by the pier, and suddenly I saw him approaching and my heart started racing like I was back in college. Instantly my day was made. I’d say our “honeymoon-five-years-later” had worked its magic.

We ate an absurd number of brioches at the cafe on the market square, shared an orange juice, and I got adventurous and ordered an espresso in honor of my sister, who was sure I’d learn to like them if I drank them in the right context. No luck, Kilby, but I did appreciate the caffeine. The Monterosso market was substantial compared to its sister in Vernazza. We procured focaccia from the nearby bakery and then selected a couple cheeses, a small hunk of salami, half a dozen apricots. We lingered long over a huge spread of brightly colored ceramic ware, trying to talk ourselves into buying a big beautiful bowl of something equally impractical to bring home with us. We made our final gift selections for family and friends at home (save Milanese coffee for Mike’s dad), settled on a small ceramic plate, deep sky blue and shaped like a fish with a little eye painted on (it sits by the stove to hold cooking spoons now), and we found two more treasures for our kids: a pair of three-inch tall wooden Pinocchios to hang on our Christmas tree, procured from an amusingly grumpy vendor.

We dashed back to our room and I showered while Mike packed. We checked out and said goodbye to the owner’s wife, Marisa, and the housekeeper, who upon seeing pictures of our two toddlers (by this point in the journey we missed them enough that it took very little encouragement to whip out their pictures to share with strangers) were completely surprised to find out we were not honeymooners but had been married almost five years. They bid us an affectionate Italian goodbye and we were off to the train platform, where we discovered, this time in our favor, that I’d remembered our schedule wrong again. So we sat by the water’s edge for an hour with our bags and enjoyed people-watching. Our train was more than a couple minutes late. We sank into our private first-class cabin with a fresh sense of adventure, keeping our fingers crossed that we’d make our connection in Milan.

Thursday 10:00 a.m. 21 August Monterosso al Mare

We’re waiting out the last hour of our time here on a bench overlooking the Ligurian Sea, flanked by mountains, listening to high surf crashing and happy Italians chatting on holiday. Behind us, though, a local bar is blaring some of the worst country music America has to offer. You can’t have everything.

We’ve enjoyed these three days too much to spend time writing about them. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here almost exactly as long as we were in Paris, our first days. We feel seasoned now, and our trip has taught us almost all it has to teach us. We miss our kids madly. We are starting to look ahead to the next five weeks and the next five years in these last hours as we’ve spent much time already looking back at the past five years. This has been a true holiday and we are ready to live a new chapter, if a little stricken with nervous energy about all the very immediate unknowns that will greet us in just another week: where we’ll live and work and worship – hard to believe it’s all likely to change now.

These three days we’ve rested intentionally, I suppose like only type-A people can rest – even this with energy.

The country singer just crooned “Sometimes I feel like Jesse James.” The world is small.

We’ve loved being situated up the hill from the beach on a street that seems populated by endless terraces of locals, wandering past fig trees, lemon trees, bougainvillea, roses, aloe. Our hotel was up 3 flights (thus the address 85/3 Via Molinelli, as we discovered) in a jumble of a building leaned into the steep mountain. We’ve also loved the cheap food – we’ve subsisted mostly on foccacia – sometimes with salami, cheese, prosciutto sandwiched in – or brioche (croissants, donuts, and all the rest) for only 1 euro and gelato – we ate it three (four for me) times in our three days – large servings at less than half the cost we saw in Paris. We’d drop 5 euro and each walk away with a large cone of 3 flavors.

2:30 p.m. the train from Milan to Como

We made a tight connection in just a couple minutes – seamless, flawless, satisfyingly successful. Now for a night of “vacation” like the wealthy of Milan spend their weekends. We made a meal just now of food bought this morning in Monterosso’s weekly market – salami fontnia, focaccia, and an amazing pair: apricots and the same goat cheese we loved on Tuesday. Delicious.

10:30 p.m.

This evening we are enjoying luxury – drinking it in (literally!) as we think toward a season of poverty to come. Our arrival here at Lake Como was perfect. We disembarked from the train to see a large, middle aged Italian smiling in our direction, holding one of those enticing signs you always see at the airport. This one said “Powell.” We carried our heaviest bags and navigated us to his van and then serve as our tour guide with perfect English, up the scenic edge of Lake Como, past George Clooney’s villa, to Lenno. This afternoon we walked the tiny village, awed at our room and our view, wandered the grounds of Villa del Balbianello. We napped an hour and got up for our reservation at the Trattorio our driver had suggested, sitting outside for a completely exquisite meal and coming back after dark to the lobby of Albergo Lenno where we’re sitting now, reading and nursing our complimentary Kahlua and cognac. Three windows in our room, a balcony on the lake, and wide, shallow stone stairs girded with red carpet. We are celebrating this journey tonight.

In the restaurant it felt so familiar and comforting – dear – to hear the waitress speak to our neighboring diners en Francais.

We sat tonight over drinks and books: “Here’s to being the As.” … “And the Ms.” (Along this journey, we’d been awakening to a recognition that we have the same capacities and qualities that we see in a couple we immensely admire; a husband and wife we have only wished we could imitate both in our professional and personal lives. Our wishes had begun to shift to aspirations as we’d talked about these five years and all we’ve pursued and achieved, and we began to realize that, really, the world is our oyster. We can be who we want to be and we have a pretty good shot at making as much of ourselves as this particular pair we look up to has done. So much of life is a choice – even if the choices are more about how you handle what you’re given then what you choose to have. And thus our toast to “being the As.”)

Wandering Monterosso al Mare in the early hours of the morning

Wandering Monterosso al Mare in the early hours of the morning

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The colors of the buildings were inspiring!

The colors of the buildings were inspiring!

We loved the narrow alleys and sometimes it just felt like we were in a movie, for how quaint a spot was.

We loved the narrow alleys and sometimes it just felt like we were in a movie, for how quaint a spot was.

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Our view from breakfast. Under the train bridge were the various market vendors.

Our view from breakfast. Under the train bridge were the various market vendors.

This impressive building and landscaping sat right next to us as we ate at the cafe.

This impressive building and landscaping sat right next to us as we ate at the cafe.

I miss this. But it's for the best, because I put on seven pounds in these three weeks, even after all the walking.

I miss this. But it’s for the best, because I put on seven pounds in these three weeks, even after all the walking.

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The cafe

The cafe

This was my favorite building of all in Monterosso. It was even more lovely seen from a distance when we were swimming out in the water. The gold walls with bougainvillea climbing them were so dramatic and so quintessentially Italian.

This was my favorite building of all in Monterosso. It was even more lovely seen from a distance when we were swimming out in the water. The gold walls with bougainvillea climbing them were so dramatic and so quintessentially Italian.

Apricots!

Apricots!

Happy girl playing in the sea

Happy girl playing in the sea

This is where we sat to wait for our train.

This is where we sat to wait for our train.

And this was the source of the blaring country music behind us.

And this was the source of the blaring country music behind us.

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I took these photos from the train platform. Not your average train platform.

I took these photos from the train platform. Not your average train platform.

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We were pretty awed by our luxurious first class accommodations on the train to Milan and we settled in for three happy hours of incredible scenery.

We were pretty awed by our luxurious first class accommodations on the train to Milan and we settled in for three happy hours of incredible scenery.

Out the train window...

Out the train window…

Also out the train window.

Also out the train window.

Again, out the train window.

Again, out the train window.

You might recognize this villa from the Oceans movies. It is George Clooney's residence. Apparently he whines to the  local authorities about how close tourists come in ferry boats to snap photos.

You might recognize this villa from the Oceans movies. It is George Clooney’s residence. Apparently he whines to the local authorities about how close tourists come in ferry boats to snap photos.

Lake Como is completely magnificent.

Lake Como is completely magnificent.

This was our view out one of our bedroom windows at our hotel.

This was our view out one of our bedroom windows at our hotel.

And this was our other "window."

And this was our other “window.”

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This was the ferry dock.

This was the ferry dock.

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As we napped that afternoon - and slept that night - the sound of the lake lapping at the edge of the walls was peaceful and enchanting, such a contrast to the crashing waves of the Ligurian Sea.

As we napped that afternoon – and slept that night – the sound of the lake lapping at the edge of the walls was peaceful and enchanting, such a contrast to the crashing waves of the Ligurian Sea.

This one was for Mike's dad. (And for Mike...)

This one was for Mike’s dad. (And for Mike…)

We were drawn to Lenno in part because of its claim to this 11th-century octagonal baptistry, just across the square (and, incidentally, next door to where we ate dinner) from the parish church. We were disappointed with it, though. It's been repurposed to a generic community space and while we were there was home to an art vendor.

We were drawn to Lenno in part because of its claim to this 11th-century octagonal baptistry, just across the square (and, incidentally, next door to where we ate dinner) from the parish church. We were disappointed with it, though. It’s been repurposed to a generic community space and while we were there was home to an art vendor.

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What you have to understand is that these photos were not staged to capture "the best of" what we saw all that day. This is just what the whole lake looks like. The best word I found for it was "unspoiled." Nothing crass or ugly or strictly utilitarian to be seen anywhere.

What you have to understand is that these photos were not staged to capture “the best of” what we saw all that day. This is just what the whole lake looks like. The best word I found for it was “unspoiled.” Nothing crass or ugly or strictly utilitarian to be seen anywhere.

We walked to the far end of this edge of the lake and then up into the hill towards Villa del Balbianello.

We walked to the far end of this edge of the lake and then up into the hill towards Villa del Balbianello.

It was about a 20-minute walk through the outlying grounds of the Villa to get to the garden and residence.

It was about a 20-minute walk through the outlying grounds of the Villa to get to the garden and residence.

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You don't make this stuff up.

You don’t make this stuff up.

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This famous villa was the home of a 19th-century explorer and gentleman. We were too late (and too cheap) to walk through the actual residence, but the grounds were enough!

This famous villa was the home of a 19th-century explorer and gentleman. We were too late (and too cheap) to walk through the actual residence, but the grounds were enough!

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Looking back towards the village

Looking back towards the village

The villa at a distance

The villa at a distance

Can you say "celebrity wedding?"

Can you say “celebrity wedding?”

Back by the water's edge, swans were hanging out here. Some guy tried to get up close to take pictures and we witnessed a hilarious Angry Swan moment.

Back by the water’s edge, swans were hanging out here. Some guy tried to get up close to take pictures and we witnessed a hilarious Angry Swan moment.

This is water running down from the snow melting up in the Alps. It roared through this gutter in between these buildings and spilled into the lake.

This is water running down from the snow melting up in the Alps. It roared through this gutter in between these buildings and spilled into the lake.

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Back at our room for a siesta

Back at our room for a siesta

The view from our window as we set out toward dinner

The view from our window as we set out toward dinner

We split a magnificent bottle of dry white wine with dinner.

We split a magnificent bottle of dry white wine with dinner.

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This was our first course--salad with figs topped with goat cheese on toast. This food was unbelievable. We were glad we'd taken our driver's recommendation. He grew up in the town and said this was as good as it gets, and all interesting creations drawn from local, seasonal offerings. We were not disappointed!

This was our first course–salad with figs topped with goat cheese on toast. This food was unbelievable. We were glad we’d taken our driver’s recommendation. He grew up in the town and said this was as good as it gets, and all interesting creations drawn from local, seasonal offerings. We were not disappointed!

For our second course, a light fish served with potatoes and an avocado cream.

For our second course, a light fish served with potatoes and an avocado cream.

We branched out after our first two shared courses and each ordered our own pasta and our own dessert. This was our attempt at "doing pasta right" while in Italy. For Mike this potato ravioli. The sauce was oregano and sage and I swear it was almost exclusively butter. I have never tasted anything so magnificent and magical.

We branched out after our first two shared courses and each ordered our own pasta and our own dessert. This was our attempt at “doing pasta right” while in Italy. For Mike this potato ravioli. The sauce was oregano and sage and I swear it was almost exclusively butter. I have never tasted anything so magnificent and magical.

For me, mussels with linguine and red sauce and fresh tomatoes. This was actually Mike's favorite. It was also completely fantastic.

For me, mussels with linguine and red sauce and fresh tomatoes. This was actually Mike’s favorite. It was also completely fantastic.

Mike had the lemon tart

Mike had the lemon tart

and I went for the tiramisu.

and I went for the tiramisu.

We lingered almost three hours over dinner, watching as the night got dark over the lake just a few yards away. This was on our walk home.

We lingered almost three hours over dinner, watching as the night got dark over the lake just a few yards away. This was on our walk home.

Luxury :)

Luxury 🙂

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August 20: La Vita Bella

I think if there were one day of our journey that I could recreate moment for moment, it would be this one. We swam, we lay in the sun, we read, we hiked, we explored. As the afternoon sun sank low, we sat over drinks (and over the water) and talked till well after dark. The record shows that I took no less than 268 pictures on this day, so I hope you will appreciate that I have included only about a hundred here.

The only thing I didn’t manage to fit into the day was an account of it, so my journal dates from Saturday as we traveled home.

Saturday 23 August, 9:00 a.m. EST, in the air over Canada

Now all that remains to be told is the story of Wednesday, last but by no means least. A magical day if any of them were. We enjoyed it every minute, and it seemed to stretch to contain everything we could want. It was our day to rest and rest and rest, to enjoy Cinque Terre at its finest. We slept late – perhaps till almost 8:00, and then went straight to the beach, checking train schedules and trail closures on the way and picking up brioches for breakfast.

We swam, slept, read – acquiring chaises and an umbrella till 1:30 for 15E and arriving early enough to be in the front row, right near the surf. It was chilly and breezy but the sun was warm. The water was so clear and bright out past the surf that we could look down and see our toes. Mike mostly read. I swam and swam and played like a kid in the surf. From out in the water the town looked so picturesque, gold walls, green shutters, fuschia bouganvilla climbing all over it.

About 12:30 we returned to our room for hot showers, eating a quick focaccia sandwich first, and set out to get cash, food for the journey, and an epic 2-hour hike up and down steep narrow stairs and trails, along bluffs, amidst vineyards, terraced fields of lemon or fig trees, mountain streams, dill and rosemary growing like weeds. How to capture the sound of the birds and the streams and, 600 feet below, the surf crashing on the rocks? Not to mention the awe of the houses we came upon nestled up there or the thought of these stone paths as the only connection between two tiny worlds not so long ago?

We hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza and walked to the water’s edge and stopped in a shop for the beautiful olive wood kitchen utensils we’d seen the day before, spoons and a jar of pesto will make the perfect gift for some friends as we pass back through to see them next week. And a little cutting board for us – for many years of cheese dinners to come.

We caught a train after a few minutes, squeezed in like sardines for the 6 minute journey to Manarola, which has been the village I’d originally wanted to stay in. There we had only a few minutes to take in the views – it was the most ridiculously picturesque of all the five villages – and eat the best gelato of our trip, and then another quick train to Riomaggiore, the last village.

We arrived about 6:30, walked the steep main road to the top of the village and then along a high side street back to the water’s edge, where we climbed down steep stairway “streets” to sea level and then up where, to our wonder, we found a table right on a bluff in a little bar where we drank wine (and more) and ate cheap bar food and watched the sunset over the water, the whole region in our view.

We left our perch happy almost to the point of silly, well-warmed by the wine and beer and limoncello and sweet, deep conversation of what we’ll be returning to and who we want to be, how we want to live. A completely perfect day.

The only thing remaining to recount from the day that can’t be accomplished within photo captions is also one of our most anxious moments of the whole trip. After a brioche for each of us around 9:00 (OK–two or three…?) and a yogurt for me, and a small salami sandwich which we shared around 11:00, we were starving at 1:30 as we walked towards town center to pick up the hiking trail. Starving, and penniless. We had used up all our cash and had by now grown accustomed to the complicating reality that almost nobody in these small villages would take credit cards. So the sole bank in Monterosso was our first stop. It was closed for a 2-hour lunch and the ATM refused us. Not expecting to find any other ATMs in town, our hearts sank. The moment we’d feared had arrived, and we genuinely had no spending power and very little hope of any. With our hearts in our throats, we set out for the 25-minute walk back to our hotel to retrieve our passports so we could wait for the bank to re-open and withdraw money at the counter. The day was growing hotter, our stomachs were growing emptier, and our time for exploring Manarola & Riomaggiore was slipping away. It was not a good feeling. Just before entering the tunnel that led to the other side of town I spotted a line of people at what looked like an ATM. Sure enough, there was another one. Thinking it would be stupid not to try, we headed for it. The happy dance when it spat cash out at us against all our expectations probably looked a little undignified to bystanders. And then we were on our way back towards food and trail.

This is where we swam and sunned and read--Mike making progress through his Franck biography, I finally making headway on my N.T. Wright book after having finished Weber's Surprised by Oxford.

This is where we swam and sunned and read–Mike making progress through his Franck biography, I finally making headway on my N.T. Wright book after having finished Weber’s Surprised by Oxford.

This is the view from the trailhead of the small beach on the edge of historic Monterosso. The restaurant where we dined the night we arrived was just out of view in the bottom right corner.

This is the view from the trailhead of the small beach on the edge of historic Monterosso. The restaurant where we dined the night we arrived was just out of view in the bottom right corner.

Monterosso, from the trail

Monterosso, from the trail

Resort, tucked into the edge of the bluff. I wish!

Resort, tucked into the edge of the bluff. I wish!

What follows are 45 pictures from our hike... Here, grapevines.

What follows are 45 pictures from our hike… Here, grapevines.

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The trail was very narrow in places, and we met people coming towards us all along the way. Often someone's body would have to be pressed up against the rocks to let another person pass.

The trail was very narrow in places, and we met people coming towards us all along the way. Often someone’s body would have to be pressed up against the rocks to let another person pass.

A large percentage of this trail was stairway. You can see in other photos the height of these foothills as they jut into the water. The Cinque Terre are five of these mountain arms, each with its own village at the tip. So we hiked up the side of one and back down again, from sea level to sea level.

A large percentage of this trail was stairway. You can see in other photos the height of these foothills as they jut into the water. The Cinque Terre are five of these mountain arms, each with its own village at the tip. So we hiked up the side of one and back down again, from sea level to sea level.

Each vista was breathtaking and we always imagined it might be the most breathtaking of all. But each one that followed was always better yet.

Each vista was breathtaking and we always imagined it might be the most breathtaking of all. But each one that followed was always better yet.

Figs

Figs

Mountain farming is amazing!

Mountain farming is amazing!

Monterosso is the northernmost village.

Monterosso is the northernmost village.

This one is for Mike's organ professor, an avid hiker. Mike was hoping to make him jealous.

This one is for Mike’s organ professor, an avid hiker. Mike was hoping to make him jealous.

Vineyard

Vineyard

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Our first glimpse of the other side of this "mountain shoulder" looking southeast.

Our first glimpse of the other side of this “mountain shoulder” looking southeast.

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A German family was playing in the stream up the hill from this little footbridge. I was jealous! By this point we were sweating profusely and winded. Not long afterwards, Mike, carrying our backpack, ditched his shirt.

A German family was playing in the stream up the hill from this little footbridge. I was jealous! By this point we were sweating profusely and winded. Not long afterwards, Mike, carrying our backpack, ditched his shirt.

Can you imagine living in this house?

Can you imagine living in this house?

View towards Monterosso again...

View towards Monterosso again…

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Straight down from where we stood...

Straight down from where we stood…

At the center of this picture you can see Vernazza, our destination. The hike took a little under 2 hours.

At the center of this picture you can see Vernazza, our destination. The hike took a little under 2 hours.

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Beginning the descent

Beginning the descent

Aloe plants larger than us grew all over this region.

Aloe plants larger than us grew all over this region.

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In the distance, Monterosso.

In the distance, Monterosso.

Vernazza getting closer

Vernazza getting closer

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Terraced fields

Terraced fields

Bouganvilla and grapes

Bouganvilla and grapes

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Looking back up the trail

Looking back up the trail

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Oh, Vernazza!

Oh, Vernazza!

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These boats get used by fishermen the way we use our cars in a morning commute. Every day they are out on the water fishing before dawn. World's most picturesque parking lot.

These boats get used by fishermen the way we use our cars in a morning commute. Every day they are out on the water fishing before dawn. World’s most picturesque parking lot.

You can see the colorful china plaque on the wall--this was the display of choice for addresses on the sides of buildings.

You can see the colorful china plaque on the wall–this was the display of choice for addresses on the sides of buildings.

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The church we'd visited the day before, now in mid-afternoon.

The church we’d visited the day before, now in mid-afternoon.

Tired, happy feet.

Tired, happy feet.

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As we headed back up the center street of tiny Vernazza we spotted this cave-like entrance, noticing the surf crashing on the other side.

As we headed back up the center street of tiny Vernazza we spotted this cave-like entrance, noticing the surf crashing on the other side.

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What a magical little alcove, this rocky inlet hidden from view!

What a magical little alcove, this rocky inlet hidden from view!

Vernazza was bafflingly small. Really, there was just one main street, winding its way from the train station to the harbor. There were other “streets” but they seemed so intimate, almost like private property, as they wound away from the main street into the pile of towering residences. Oh, and did I mention they were mostly stairways? Even the market on Tuesday morning surprised me with how small it was. And yet it is a lynchpin of the village’s economy and daily life. A community of this size fascinates me to no end.

Manarola was a little larger, but still tiny and preposterously adorable. Of the five villages, Manarola has the most haphazard-looking pile of buildings leaned precariously up against the mountains. It was the town I’d hoped we might find a room in. Our original plan was to arrive, a la Rick Steves, and wander into the cafes in the late afternoon, inquiring of the locals for a room available. Fearing the worst, we bailed out on this idea, booking a room ahead of time a few weeks before our journey began. In retrospect it would’ve been a terrible ordeal arriving with so much luggage, jumping on the standing-room regional train, walking the long tunnel into Manarola, and then navigating its stair-streets. If we can ever go again with just one or two light bags, I would totally risk it though. What an amazing experience it would’ve been to have a room with an open window looking right onto the sea past the cascading color of neighboring buildings!

This plaque caught my eye as we walked into Manarola. Fascinated as I am by both agriculture and architecture (like music, an incredible blend of science and art) I think it will be plain how intriguing I found these words.

This plaque caught my eye as we walked into Manarola. Fascinated as I am by both agriculture and architecture (like music, an incredible blend of science and art) I think it will be plain how intriguing I found these words.

Sweet Manarola

Sweet Manarola

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You can see the train bridge here.

You can see the train bridge here.

A little trail in the rock jutted away from the village, overlooking the harbor, making a great view back toward the center. We picked up gelato (for me, a simple flavor that was like slightly sweetened milk--divine!) and walked to its point and back.

A little trail in the rock jutted away from the village, overlooking the harbor, making a great view back toward the center. We picked up gelato (for me, a simple flavor that was like slightly sweetened milk–divine!) and walked to its point and back.

Manarola's harbor

Manarola’s harbor

I would love to have brought back an entire kitchen full of dishes. I settled for a wine stopper, salad spoons and a cheese board of olive wood, and a small blue plate in the shape of a fish which now sits by my stove to hold spoons.

I would love to have brought back an entire kitchen full of dishes. I settled for a wine stopper, salad spoons and a cheese board of olive wood, and a small blue plate in the shape of a fish which now sits by my stove to hold spoons.

Manarola, as we walked back toward the next train, bound for Riomaggiore.

Manarola, as we walked back toward the next train, bound for Riomaggiore.

As in Manarola, a long tunnel led from the train platform into the town center of Riomaggiore. This one was lined with an incredible mosaic.

As in Manarola, a long tunnel led from the train platform into the town center of Riomaggiore. This one was lined with an incredible mosaic.

The wide, steep main street of Riomaggiore climbed high up the edge of the mountain. Riomaggiore seemed large by comparison with the three middle villages, perhaps just a little smaller than Monterosso.

The wide, steep main street of Riomaggiore climbed high up the edge of the mountain. Riomaggiore seemed large by comparison with the three middle villages, perhaps just a little smaller than Monterosso.

From the top of the hill we doubled back on a side street set high into the edge, past houses cascading down toward the main road.

From the top of the hill we doubled back on a side street set high into the edge, past houses cascading down toward the main road.

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zucchini? this was a terrace below the street where we were standing. gardens in the city.

zucchini? this was a terrace below the street where we were standing. gardens in the city.

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We saw three churches on our short exploration of Riomaggiore.

We saw three churches on our short exploration of Riomaggiore.

Looking back towards the hill where the main street dead ends.

Looking back towards the hill where the main street dead ends.

This little church was right near the cliff.

This little church was right near the cliff.

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The streets were so very, very narrow in these old European towns.

The streets were so very, very narrow in these old European towns.

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This was looking straight up the hill from our table at the little cafe we found. Having walked off our gelato we were ready to look for a place to eat a nice dinner. The only essential was that it be right on the water so we could watch the sun set. Unfortunately we didn't get a nice restaurant, but we got the location and we weren't about to give that up.

This was looking straight up the hill from our table at the little cafe we found. Having walked off our gelato we were ready to look for a place to eat a nice dinner. The only essential was that it be right on the water so we could watch the sun set. Unfortunately we didn’t get a nice restaurant, but we got the location and we weren’t about to give that up.

This was our view from our table, and after a half hour we snagged the table right on the edge there when it was vacated. Perfection.

This was our view from our table, and after a half hour we snagged the table right on the edge there when it was vacated. Perfection.

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In the distance, cutting a horizontal line into the far hill, you can see what I am pretty sure is the Via del Amore, the most famous stretch of the trails that connect the 5 villages. Many hikers hike the whole set of them, which takes a full grueling day at least. We had hoped to hike at least this southernmost trail, but most of the southern trails were temporarily closed because of landslides. I'd see we did pretty well for ourselves anyway.

In the distance, cutting a horizontal line into the far hill, you can see what I am pretty sure is the Via del Amore, the most famous stretch of the trails that connect the 5 villages. Many hikers hike the whole set of them, which takes a full grueling day at least. We had hoped to hike at least this southernmost trail, but most of the southern trails were temporarily closed because of landslides. I’d see we did pretty well for ourselves anyway.

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The food was pretty mediocre, but we did avail ourselves of the opportunity to eat another local specialty: anchovies. A first for both of us, and we liked them pretty well. Although the food was rather poor, it was very cheap (as were the drinks) and they brought us a complimentary veggie tray too.

The food was pretty mediocre, but we did avail ourselves of the opportunity to eat another local specialty: anchovies. A first for both of us, and we liked them pretty well. Although the food was rather poor, it was very cheap (as were the drinks) and they brought us a complimentary veggie tray too.

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Having nearly reached the end of our journey and having spent days and days talking about the world and our hearts and our past five years, we began looking ahead, envisioning our next five and hoping for what they would look like, made wiser for the things we'd learned in these weeks. This night is not one I'll soon forget.

Having nearly reached the end of our journey and having spent days and days talking about the world and our hearts and our past five years, we began looking ahead, envisioning our next five and hoping for what they would look like, made wiser for the things we’d learned in these weeks. This night is not one I’ll soon forget.

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Boats spilling down the ramp toward the water, ready for the next morning.

Boats spilling down the ramp toward the water, ready for the next morning.

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August 19: Exploring in Cinque Terre

Thursday 21 August 10:00 a.m. Monterosso al Mare

Tuesday morning I greeted the day on Monterosso’s pier with a book – finishing at full day with G. M. Hopkin’s famous poem Pied Beauty, marveling at this place, at the local fisherman standing patiently just a few feet from me, going through his daily motions. We set out together for the train to Vernazza, a darling old town, perhaps the most picturesque of them all. We ate delicious pastries for breakfast sitting on the edge of the water. We caught the next train to Corniglia and wished for much more time to experience it. It was secluded, quiet, unbelievably beautiful, with panoramic views and a long staircase down to the train (we took a bus up). We sat on the platform almost an hour, waiting for a late train back and reading Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. We went out to the beach after returning and braved the chilly breeze to swim the tall waves. They definitely got the best of us, but we were satisfied, fearing the week’s forecast of rain. Rain it did, and we fled in it, back to our hotel for hot showers and our planned quiet evening. (But first, when the sun broke through again, a run back to the city center for wine and focaccia – we’ve eaten SO MUCH focaccia.) We sat in bed eating grapes, plums, tomatoes, cheese, focaccia (all but the last bought this morning at Vernazza, where we’d gone in pursuit of its weekly market.) We read for several hours. Skyped the kids. I dozed. Afterward we did some yoga and wandered back out to sit over the waves in a cafe with books and gelato in the sun set. One of the more magical moments of our week: talking of N.T. Wright’s “priests and kings” explanation of humanity’s telos and worshiping at the thought of all that implies for our relationship to creation on a small scale and a large. We wandered home.

I think you’ll agree that this is a description of a nearly perfect day. And while there is no denying that it was perfect – really, there was no denying it in the moment, either – for me there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and frustration, which will make sense if you read between the lines: the short visit in Corniglia. The hour on a train platform. The cold, windy beach. The run home in the rain.

It started with the weather forecast, which we checked upon our arrival on Monday. To our disappointment there was an enormous amount of rain forecast all week, with highs barely up to 80 F. We’d trudged chilly London with a vision of baking in the sun on the beach, not moving for hours. Now it looked like a real possibility that our whole week would be rained out. While it’s true that Genoa was practically flooded that week, and that the whole region was met with strangely cool temperatures for a mediterranean August, we began to suspect by the week’s end that “50% chance of rain” (or more) was something the people of this region expected every day, as they waited to see what would roll in off the water. In actuality, it barely rained our whole visit, but we were always waiting for that shoe to drop, scrambling to prioritize the things we wanted to do just in case we got rained out. I found this stressful and I even brainstormed about canceling our reservations in Lenno for Thursday night to gain an extra day in this region. (I’m glad we didn’t do that.)

Not only was the actual cold and the potential rain a force to be reckoned with, I began to be sorely aware of how insufficient two full days and two half days would be even to scratch the surface of these five unique villages. So on this first full day in Italy I felt myself simultaneously clamoring to move on to the next thing and fighting to really sink my toes in. It was pretty disappointing to pay 10 euros for beach chairs & an umbrella only to run home in a deluge after an hour, and even more disappointing to find, upon stepping out of the shower 20 minutes later, that the rain had gone and the locals were all back on the beach. To indulge in a luxurious afternoon in? To go back out and reclaim our pricey chairs?

By the next morning I saw this is as a straightforward failure to choose contentment and thankfulness, and Wednesday was as delightful and peaceful as Tuesday was stressful. Even in the moment on Tuesday I knew better than to voice my restlessness so Mike really didn’t have a clue until I told him about it the next day. I learned something valuable about myself in the process; as I chose to fully enjoy Bonhoeffer while sitting, stranded, on a concrete slab by a train track, feeling the only heat the sun would offer for the whole day, wishing we were in the water already; as I closed my eyes to sleep instead of fighting with the swimming text as I lay in bed with a full belly and an empty wine glass. These choices don’t come naturally to me, and I knew that already. When I was a sophomore in college my mom’s oldest brother sent me a birthday card that hung on my desk for three years. The front of it read “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” I wondered that he could’ve so completely captured me in a greeting card. I’ve never forgotten those words. They sum me up to a T. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I find sleep a tedious waste of time – a distraction from what there’s never enough time to enjoy. But on this anxious Tuesday in Cinque Terre I started to see that my “zest for life” isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes it’s a liability and a weakness – a distraction from the joy available in the moment. I’m finding that this new wisdom is sinking in this year, slowing me down, rendering me happier and maybe even less sleep-deprived.

It was a 20 minute walk along the coast to reach the town center, on the other side of this little castle. I got up at the crack of dawn and walked with my book down to the pier.

It was a 20 minute walk along the coast to reach the town center, on the other side of this little castle. I got up at the crack of dawn and walked with my book down to the pier.

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Looking back toward the new part of Monterosso from the bluff by the castle

Looking back toward the new part of Monterosso from the bluff by the castle

...and southeast toward the old town center

…and southeast toward the old town center; I sat here on this red brick wall for awhile before wandering down onto the pier.

In the distance you see the beginning of the trail towards Vernazza carved into the edge of the hill.

In the distance you see the beginning of the trail towards Vernazza carved into the edge of the hill.

The view below me as I sat on the bluff, just southeast of the castle

The view below me as I sat on the bluff, just southeast of the castle

The pier

The pier

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Our hotel is the darker building, on the left. Our window looked onto the terrace in between the two buildings.

Our hotel is the darker building, on the left. Our window looked onto the terrace in between the two buildings.

This is the harbor at darling Vernazza. We arrived about 9:00 and picked up focaccia and donuts for breakfast, which we ate right here on the edge of the earth.

This is the harbor at darling Vernazza. We arrived about 9:00 and picked up focaccia and donuts for breakfast, which we ate right here on the edge of the earth.

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This church looked out over the harbor. We wandered in. It was unlocked but dark. The only light came through the windows, empty places in the stone wall without so much as a screen - just open to the sea.

This church looked out over the harbor. We wandered in. It was unlocked but dark. The only light came through the windows, empty places in the stone wall without so much as a screen – just open to the sea.

You can see how stormy the day was looking...

You can see how stormy the day was looking…

It was hard to capture the incredible colors of the water, especially in the moments that the sun broke through the clouds.

It was hard to capture the incredible colors of the water, especially in the moments that the sun broke through the clouds.

We watched as a man brought a bag of day-old bread to the edge of the dock and dumped it into the water. Next to him, a fisherman was working to the delight of quite an audience of onlookers, fish dancing their last dance in the open air on their way to the fisherman's bucket.

We watched as a man brought a bag of day-old bread to the edge of the dock and dumped it into the water. Next to him, a fisherman was working to the delight of quite an audience of onlookers, fish dancing their last dance in the open air on their way to the fisherman’s bucket.

The waves crashing against this bluff and the dock where we stood sometimes reached several feet to crash right up over the side of the dock.

The waves crashing against this bluff and the dock where we stood sometimes reached several feet to crash right up over the side of the dock.

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We loved Vernazza.

We loved Vernazza.

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This was the view through the church window.

This was the view through the church window.

As we wandered toward the edge of Corniglia we came upon this scene. You can spot a speck of a sailboat in the distance.

As we wandered toward the edge of Corniglia we came upon this scene. You can spot a speck of a sailboat in the distance.

Looking down from the panoramic view at the edge of Corniglia...

Looking down from the panoramic view at the edge of Corniglia…

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Corniglia is the only village of the five that isn't directly on the water. It took us about 15 minutes to climb down the switchback staircase through the terraced fields and gardens to the train station below.

Corniglia is the only village of the five that isn’t directly on the water. It took us about 15 minutes to climb down the switchback staircase through the terraced fields and gardens to the train station below.

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Rosemary and the aforementioned terraced hillsides.

Rosemary and the aforementioned terraced hillsides.

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Post-swim picnic, set out on one of the scenic photograph placemats we bought in Corniglia.

Post-swim picnic, set out on one of the scenic photograph placemats we bought in Corniglia.

Skyping our babies

Skyping our babies

We wandered out again at the end of the day for gelato, reading by the water's edge until dark.

We wandered out again at the end of the day for gelato, reading by the water’s edge until dark.

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August 18: When We Almost Didn’t Go to Italy

To adequately capture the dramatic flavor of this day would be difficult. Reading back over my journal from the afternoon, I find it doesn’t even come close. Imagine yourself preparing for an 8:45 a.m. flight out of a regional airport on a small regional airline. Still, you will need to ride a shuttle for 45 minutes to the airport. But you already have your boarding passes and have only to drop off your checked bag and head for the gate. To get to the shuttle should take approximately 20 minutes from dorm to train and you need about 30 minutes to dress and gather your things in the morning. So getting up at 5:30 should do the trick if you don’t waste any time. Not the presumptuous types, and not wanting to jeopardize our shot at a chance to decompress from our London work week on the shores of Italy, we set our alarm for 4:20 a.m. We were out the door of College Hall on Malet Street about 4:45 and walking towards the train station, confident now after a week of navigating this city. In fact, we’d packed away our London map. Equal distance from us were two stations and my memory took us to the wrong one for a direct connection Liverpool Street – that confounded destination that played a role in both of our two travel disasters. (Not that it was Liverpool Street’s fault, but those are not happy memories.)

Arriving at Euston Station, one of the busiest we’d experienced, was surreal. No one was around. The escalators weren’t even running. We dragged ourselves to the elevator with our six bags, weighing easily 150 pounds (we bought a lot of stuff and packed for two climates and two lifestyles, and don’t forget the reams of paper involved in choral and organ music). Once underground we realized our error: Euston Square was the station that went straight to Liverpool Street. Not to worry, we thought, we’ll just make a connection from here. So after scanning our Oyster Cards and blundering through the turnstiles, we descended quite a few flights of spiral stairs to the train platform, discovering that the next train wouldn’t depart for 20 minutes. Clearly we were up before the rest of London. Now breathing heavily and starting to sweat, we lugged those six bags back up those several hundred stairs, returned to the ground floor by the elevator, and headed for Euston Square. There, too, we had stairs to reckon with. But the wait was short and soon we were en route to Liverpool Street, still in good humor. After all, we’d built in over an hour of time into our morning.

We boarded the Stansted Express we’d intended to be on just a moment after the prior one left the station. Without our Euston Square error we would’ve been on that earlier train and probably all our woes would’ve been over. Instead we waited 15 minutes, glad to put the “hard part” of the morning behind us. We dozed on the train and emerged at Stansted Airport.

We moved quickly, climbing yet more stairs and riding a million escalators. We found our ticket desk and got in the back of a very, very long line to drop off our bag. That’s when things went really wrong. We were starting to be pressed for time when we finally got to the counter and the lady who helped us looked at us with shock on her face when our bag weighed in at 28kg. We hadn’t wanted to shoulder all the heavy stuff on the plane, so we’d stuffed it all into our biggest suitcase. Quickly we moved out of line and re-organized our luggage. Now we were only 3kg over the limit and owed 30 pounds. Whatever. It was time to be on our way so we settled for it. She directed Mike to an automated kiosk where he could purchase the extra weight allowance. No dice. It wouldn’t take our credit card.

Mike stood with the bags in the customer service line while I sprinted down the corridor in search of an ATM, hoping against hope it would accept our card. It did and I sprinted back, handing Mike the cash. Recognizing that we were pressed for time, the agent pointed Mike to a shorter customer service line around the corner. I stood where we’d been standing with the rest of our luggage and watched the minutes fly by. 10 minutes later he came back around the corner, still with the bag. The counter had closed and he was sent to stand in the long (now longer yet) line we’d originally been in. The agent now realized that we were in a predicament (not to mention getting pretty pissed) and came over to cut line for us. All we needed was to pay the stupid cash and be on our way. Even then, the agent she spoke with totally ignored her for a few minutes, obviously being passive-aggressive. UN.BE.LIEVABLE. I was hopping mad, sure we were not going to make our flight.

When we’d finally left our bag, just moments before the gate closed for checked luggage, we sprinted for security, discovering at the entry that we had only one of our boarding passes. Seriously!? We dropped a boarding pass!?!? Not seeing it, we dashed for a kiosk to reprint, discovering there that a 15 pound fee was required. Of course, we didn’t have cash, so we were out of luck. No time to fix it. In a last ditch effort Mike ran back to the baggage counter, discovering that our boarding pass was there with the agent who’d “helped” us. She had been holding it, waiting for our extra weight ticket to stick to it before she could give it to us. I’d left the bag so quickly and dashed off that she hadn’t had a chance to give it back to me. So we were set. We got through security quickly enough and for once didn’t get the pat-down treatment.

“Surely the gate is just a moment away,” we thought. But the glitzy, glamorous, winding aisles of duty free shopping went on eternally and to our horror, at their end was a platform where we were to wait for a shuttle. Our gate was due to close in less than 10 minutes, and the shuttle was due to arrive for the 5-minute journey in about 5-minutes. No chance we were making that plane. Even an airport employee who we asked in despair looked at our boarding passes, looked at the clock, and said “Just run. And good luck.” So we did. We jumped through the train doors as they opened and literally ran up two or three stories of escalator. Remember, we were still carrying all but 13kg of our luggage. And all the bags were now bulgy, besides. Finally, we saw our gate, and it, a long line of waiting travelers. We were getting on that plane.

Can I just say one thing? Don’t fly RyanAir. Don’t fly any of those cute little cheap regional deals in Europe. I mean, yeah, great if you are making a quick weekend getaway with your cute little roller bag and your purse. But these companies make their money on baggage, and we had plenty. (Seriously? 10 pounds per kg!?) And we got treated like crap. They just didn’t have the systems or technology to handle customers in an efficient way. We almost didn’t make it to Italy that day. After all, it’s not like they fly that many planes from Stansted to Genoa each day. And even still, only so many trains arrive in tiny Monterosso on any given day.

But there we were, standing on the tarmac north of London on a freezing cold morning, sweating profusely. Surrounded by bundled travelers with sleep still in their eyes, I was wearing a tank top and shorts and feeling ready for a nap. And then we were on the plane (the tiny plane with tiny seats where they bring you a catalog of things you can buy (like the usually-complimentary in-flight beverage) for ridiculous prices). Again we dozed awhile and woke to see epic mountains beneath us. As we descended into Genoa after the short two-hour flight, the scenes were incredible, and it was surreal to watch as we came in for landing at an airport built right on the edge of the water. It looked for all the world like we were about to crash land in the Ligurian Sea. And then there we were, standing on the tarmac in Italy, the sea on one side and the steep hills dotted with villages on the other. And so, we were in Italy after all.

Monday 18 August, 2:00 p.m., Genova Brignole Station

Our train approached a station and we recognized “proximo fermata” – an estimate of the time we’d be stopped. We laughed at our ridiculous slice of Italian vocabulary and Mike said “If anybody needs to know how fast to go we should be good.”

We were up at 4:20 and congratulating ourselves on being out of the dorm a half hour early. Unfortunately my memory of which train station to go to was wrong so we arrived at Euston – and down all its steps – to discover we were in the wrong place. We thought we’d make a connection until we discovered the next train wouldn’t depart for 20 more minutes. So we climbed with all our bags back out of the belly of the earth and relocated to Euston Square, an easy train ride to Liverpool Street. We laughed at our last-minute joy-riding with the spare funds on our Oyster Cards. We boarded our train to Stansted with 15 minutes to spare.

Unfortunately, once at Stansted, we discovered that our checked bag, weighing 28kg, was 13kg over the limit and we’d owe 130 pounds (10 pounds/kg) if we didn’t reconfigure. We got it down to 18kg and settled for paying 30 pounds, a likelihood we’d anticipated and chosen rather than the work and cost of mailing ourselves a box in London. We stood in several lines – the fault and incompetence of the airline, and on several counts almost missed our flight, running full speed to catch it. We won’t be sorry never to see Stansted or RyanAir again.

Our flight arrived in Genoa about noon and we made a tight connection – but no running this time – to our train, via a shuttle. While waiting for the shuttle we successfully acquired both cash (a significant question was in my mind about this) and lunch at an airport food court. I may’ve only been in Genoa an hour, but I ate salami there and it was marvelous.

I was a little skeptical when we stepped off our train in Monterosso after a beautiful journey south along the coast. We’d seen so many peaceful, sleepy towns along the way, and this one had me a little worried at first. At 3:00 p.m. on an August day the train platform was packed like sardines with people. The train station itself looked right out onto the sea, but the surrounding businesses were all tourism: busy, over-priced, and full of kitsch. As we pushed and shoved our way through the crowds I started to worry we hadn’t picked the right destination for a serene Italian experience. But in the end, we couldn’t have done much better. Even our accommodations, though not quite what I imagined (I was initially hoping for a rented room deep in the heart of one of the historic villages – the kind with a sea view, no air conditioning, and three flights of stairs to the entrance. As we got to know the town we realized what a mercy it was that we were staying the nights there on the north side of Monterosso al Mare, the tourist side, half a mile outside the historic town. After the day we’d had it was nice that we had only to drag our bags a quarter mile up a hill and we were “home.” I shudder to imagine the mess we’d have been in to situate ourselves in one of the smaller villages further south, with all our luggage in tow.

We stayed in a darling villa called Marvit Affiticamere, owned by a kind, quintessentially Italian husband and wife who barely spoke English. The husband met us as we gazed bewildered at the building we hoped we’d found and showed us up several flights of stairs to a fourth-floor apartment with four rooms. We had the only one without a balcony, and its window looked onto the stairs below. The other residences in the building were inhabited by locals and we got to enjoy a slice of local life. It would’ve been nice to be directly on the coast, but being set back a quarter mile up the hill meant we walked several times a day through a local neighborhood, getting a taste of what it was like. Not something you get to enjoy every day. It was inspiring – yards planted with lemon trees and fig trees, all the evidence of daily life set about: laundry hung out the windows, bikes and children’s toys at the doorways, lounge chairs well-used.

We made our peace with the tourists, finding our marvelous room to be all the consolation prize we needed. Three nights in one place, and no more dorm mattress. This felt completely luxurious. We put our stuff down and promptly took a nap. About 5:00 we donned our swimsuits and headed for the shore. We ate our first gelato – mountains of it – and got acclimated to the offerings of the beach and its vendors. We decided it was too cold and breezy to swim, and after awhile we were even too cold to comfortably lounge around in our suits. We returned to our room to dress for dinner and then wandered down the coast to the historic city center, finding it less crowded and more sophisticated. We sat for several hours right by the sea and enjoyed the perfect light supper, watching as the guests around us were served the restaurant’s specialty: a deep earthenware pot dumped right before your eyes into a large serving bowl. The contents: every crustacean and shellfish you can imagine, cooked whole into a stew.

Thursday 21 August 10:00 a.m. Monterosso al Mare

Monday night after settling into our completely lovely, sleek, modern room, full of every comfort – even wine glasses – we ventured out for gelato and then sat about 7:00 for a lovely dinner at our hotelier’s recommendation – Ristorante Belvidere. We sat on the sea side under a canopy, shared a bottle of local white wine, pesto bruschetta and “insalate al mare,” then a bowl of pasta with pesto – a local specialty, in fact pesto originates from this exact region. We lingered over each dish long and walked home as darkness set, going to sleep early.

Riding the empty tube before the crack of dawn...

Riding the empty tube before the crack of dawn…

Genoa, Italy

Genoa, Italy

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The runways were practically bit right on top of the water.

The runways were practically built right on top of the water.

I just loved this piece of loveliness in the plain setting of the train station platform.

I just loved this piece of loveliness in the plain setting of the train station platform.

We played cards while we rode 90 minutes from Genoa to Monterosso al Mare.

We played cards while we rode 90 minutes from Genoa to Monterosso al Mare.

Beautiful Italy!

Beautiful Italy!

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And this was our crazy-awesome room in Cinque Terre. I want hanging baskets like this to put make up and toothbrushes in.... Also, a shower like that would be pretty nice. ;)

And this was our crazy-awesome room in Cinque Terre. I want hanging baskets like this to put make up and toothbrushes in…. Also, a shower like that would be pretty nice. 😉

Obligatory toilet shot...? :-/

Obligatory toilet shot…? :-/

Our beautiful room, with a large closet and a mini fridge.

Our beautiful room, with a large closet and a mini fridge.

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View out our window

View out our window

Looking down toward the road from our room

Looking down toward the road from our room

Dinner!

Dinner!

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The view of the sunset over Monterosso's pier and castle from our dinner table

The view of the sunset over Monterosso’s pier and castle from our dinner table

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August 17: Finishing Our Work at Southwark

Sunday morning we were up early, ready to enjoy every moment of our day. It’s not that often you get to lead worship in an English cathedral, so we were feeling sorely aware of how quickly this opportunity had come and gone. Still, this day promised two services instead of one, and it all lay before us.

We thought we’d make it a calm, peaceful morning by leaving early for church and working for a half hour before our rehearsal began. As if. We managed to hop on the District line just in time for some mysterious big delay due to a technical malfunction at a station down the line. At each station we sat in the stopped train for over 5 minutes (usually the stop is well under 30 seconds) and finally, after being parked at Bank station for almost 20 minutes we ditched the Tube and decided to sprint for it, now with only about 10 minutes left until our rehearsals were to start. Sprint we did, even though I was wearing backless sandals with heels. We walked into Southwark about five minutes late to our own rehearsal to find that not only were the vergers not there to unlock our space yet, but most of our choristers had been waylaid by the same transit mess. We all sat around the hallway uneasily for awhile, our numbers growing bit by bit, all exchanging the same stories and questions about the malfunctioning Tube.

Eventually we stampeded into our unlocked room and got to business. Business for me was as stressful as it got that whole week: I figured I’d skip rehearsing some of the Sunday morning music in favor of sitting alone with my score a few minutes rather than playing a 10+ minute Bach work completely cold. The rehearsal plans, under the direction of Mr. Neswick, were not well known to us, so it was a surprise to me when I realized that, from the adjoining choir room, I was hearing the beginning of the afternoon’s anthem: the one I was slotted to conduct. I bounced in and started the arm-waving, never successfully locating my own score for the piece through the whole rehearsal. It’s a good thing I had done my homework and had it mostly memorized, because that’s all I had to give it. Another moment where I reflected on the business of professional performance: still on your game when you’re caught off guard or under-prepared. I seem to do OK at it…

Sunday morning was sublime – a full, lovely Eucharist service including the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei from Howell’s Collegium Regale mass setting. We sang several good hymns, Mr. Neswick improvised as the choir communed, we repeated an anthem from earlier in the week as the communion motet – the exquisite Prayer of the Venerable Bede – and then I was on the bench for the close of the service: How Great Thou Art and my second shot at Bach’s Toccata in E. Following the service we poked around for gifts and souvenirs in the gift shop a bit, then obtained paella from a restaurant food-stand on the otherwise-closed Borough Market. At 1:30 we reconvened to prayer the afternoon Evensong, which was also wonderful. Spirits were high. It was clear to me from my place behind the music stand, conducting our last notes of the week, that everyone was fully engaged, deriving all the joy and beauty they could from their last moments in this space we’d gotten to call home for a week. I led us through the beautiful Smith Responses again and then we closed the week with David Hurd’s exuberant, luscious It Is a Good Thing to Give Thanks to Your Name, O Most High. It’s surreal to think that I was there, standing in that place, leading that music.

We lingered long after the service concluded, taking pictures and putting the choir room right and assembling all our things. We’d reserved a nearby pub’s lower level for some festivities afterwards, so slowly we all made our way there, partying for hours, eventually abandoning the basement space for tables on the riverside corridor outdoors. We finally returned to our dorm around 9:00, walking past the floodlit cathedral, its tower rising into the night sky. We were tired and satisfied, and ready to pack our bags for Italy, a vacation-after-a-vacation that we were eager for. Next stop: sand, sun, solitude. And a lot of gelato.

Sunday 17 August, 10:55 p.m.

What a good day! We had a good night’s sleep for a change. The morning was quite stressful thanks to a slow underground train. It rendered most of the choir quite late to rehearsal and Mike and I dashed from a less accessible station after abandoning the stopped train we’d been on for almost 45 minutes – a ride that usually takes 20. Then the vergers were nowhere to be found to open the choir room. It was all a mad dash until the moment we began to process for worship, and then everything fell into place and the whole thing was superb – charged. It was such a special service, and an awesome experience singing the Howells Collegium Regale service in a London Cathedral.

After a quick pause for lunch we reconvened for 3:00 p.m. Evensong. The preparations felt almost leisurely without the pressure of subsequent services’ repertoire looming. Again, everything fell into place and there were a few magical moments. I got to conduct our concluding responses and anthem and I felt the choir milking those last moments for all their worth. Then we went out with Bruce at the organ leading – happy coincidence – his favorite hymn of all time. A night to remember.

After lots of photo ops we all retired to the pub a moment’s walk away, sitting on the river’s edge and enjoying old and new friendships (quite loudly) for hours. We were among the first to say our goodbyes around 8:30, coming back to pack for our flight to Italy.

The opportunity this week to be professionals together has been an unforgettable experience. Such a joy and satisfaction. We could be happy doing this side by side forever. I’m sorry it’s over.

This cat is a resident of Southwark, complete with a name (which I've forgotten). We were quite entertained by his visits several times during rehearsals.

This cat is a resident of Southwark, complete with a name (which I’ve forgotten). We were quite entertained by his visits several times during rehearsals.

The student leaders at Southwark, with Professor Neswick on the left from IU and Jim Rightmyer from St. Francis in the Fields, Louisville, on the right.

The student leaders at Southwark, with Professor Neswick on the left from IU and Jim Rightmyer from St. Francis in the Fields, Louisville, on the right.

You'll appreciate the perspective of this photo's angle if you remember how tiny Southwark was in the Shard's shadow in the photo taken on the Millenium bridge the day prior in our visit to St. Paul's.

You’ll appreciate the perspective of this photo’s angle if you remember how tiny Southwark was in the Shard’s shadow in the photo taken on the Millenium bridge the day prior in our visit to St. Paul’s.

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Being professionals side by side with my husband, my best friend, and my greatest colleague, was one of the greatest things I've ever done in my life.

Being professionals side by side with my husband, my best friend, and my greatest colleague, was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my life.

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After-party!

After-party!

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A perfect summer afternoon and evening, on the banks of the Thames

A perfect summer afternoon and evening, on the banks of the Thames

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Professor Neswick has become one of our favorite people in all the world since we both moved to town at the same time three years ago.

Professor Neswick has become one of our favorite people in all the world since we both moved to town at the same time three years ago.

And Bobby Stubbs was a fantastic colleague and a great friend on this trip...

And Bobby Stubbs was a fantastic colleague and a great friend on this trip…

Southwark by night

Southwark by night

Descending into the underworld of the Tube...again.

Descending into the underworld of the Tube…again.

August 16: Pushing Our Luck in London

Saturday, August 16 was my second day off of involvement in leadership at Southwark. We were up early to make the most of the day and Mike headed straight for Southwark to prepare to play the Walmisley Service and conduct the Smith Preces & his own setting of Psalm 46. I stayed behind at the dorms to do score studies and laundry, thereby freeing up our evening in hopes of spending it in the promenading audience at Royal Albert Hall, a world-class life experience that we were eager to call our own.

The night before we’d divided up the tiny amount of practice time available to us on the organ, since seven of us would be taking turns on the bench for our last three services. I was due on the bench near the end of the cycle, and arrived just in tiem. It was a stressful morning at Southwark, each of us checking in at our precise time for just a few minutes to do triage. For me, this meant registration for the Bach Toccata and a look at Sunday morning’s closing hymn: How Great Thou Art. Poor me, the hospitable people at Southwark thought they’d “make us feel at home” and chose a good ol’ American hymn for our last hurrah. I tapped into my roots and made the best of it.

With another visiting ensemble in Southwark for a few hours around lunch time, we had a little time on our hands before our 1:30 rehearsal. Together with one of our colleagues, we attempted a frantic expedition to St. Paul’s and back, on the hunch that they’d have noon mass. Even if they didn’t, we didn’t feel right leaving London without at least seeing it from the outside. We walked fast, but didn’t get there till 12:07, so it was a nice surprise to find that they did indeed have midday mass, but that it was held at 12:30. It gave us time to wander the church yard, a dramatic presence of peace and beauty in the heart of London. We entered with all the tourists around 12:20, assuming we’d be directed to an unobtrusive side chapel. By now we’d learned the art of avoiding entry fees to monumental chapels by arriving for a worship service. St. Paul’s, a top London attraction, had an entry fee of nearly 20 pounds if my memory serves me – not something we were about to pay for a twenty-minute peek inside. While we realized we probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to see its best feature (the dome), what we were particularly looking forward to was the chance to sit in worship as simple parishioners again, something we were missing with our hearts and hands so full as leaders at Southwark. So you can imagine how tickled we were to be ushered into circular rows of chairs situated directly under the dome at the center of the cruciform space. It was completely awesome, in the best sense of the word. That noon mass was a true feast for us: its simplicity, its awe-inspiring place.

Sadly, we had to leave before the conclusion, immediately after communing, or risk being late to our own rehearsal. We rushed back to Southwark and I moved even faster, leaving Mike & Bobby in the dust as I ran for a quick stop at a bank with Saturday hours. I was hopeful that we could withdraw some cash on our pin-less credit card, thereby saving our one working pin card in case it had limits, too. In my mind’s eye we were arrived in Italy with no currency and no knowledge of the language sufficient to make a transaction in person at a bank, worse yet by virtue of the fact that our destination was a tiny village. I was unsuccessful, having left my passport behind in the dorm, which was my only accepted form of ID. But I tried, and I was armed with new ideas from the banker for how to handle such a hypothetical should it become reality, and I even arrived to rehearsal (huffing and puffing) with 90 seconds to spare. (How much excitement that expired debit card brought to our trip!)

For the post-Evensong events of our day, I’ll let my journal tell the story. Unfortunately, the second time we dashed across town on this day we weren’t quite as lucky as the first, so we will always remember this day as the time we DID take group pictures in Southwark Cathedral and thus DIDN’T attend the Proms.

Saturday 16 August, 8:10 p.m.

We are at a loud sports pub just up the street from our dorm. It feels good to be sitting down to a meal after many meals caught on the fly. And a pitcher of Pimms! We’re alone with our books and then back for a saner bedtime than usual. My feet are so bruised! We’ve walked so much in 24 hours. This morning Mike went to the cathedral early to work and I stayed behind for a load of laundry and score study. Our chances to practice on the organ are so minimal that we are approaching most things almost completely cold. It’s stressful but we are getting by pretty well. After we had our opportunity on the organ this morning, we took our free lunch time to walk briskly over the Millenium Bridge to St. Paul’s, where we wandered the grounds a few minutes and then to our wonder were ushered not into a side chapel but directly under the great dome for 12:30 Eucharist, an unforgettable experience – made funny by the woman priest (Vicar of Dibley to the max) coming to share the peace and getting completely sidetracked by Mike’s apparently fabulous pink shirt. That happened, haha! It was refreshing to be sitting for a simple said service in the midst of all we’ve been leading this week. This afternoon’s Evensong over, we raced across town to Royal Albert Hall. We ate yesterday’s picnic leftovers while “queueing” for Prom 40 – Schubert and Mahler by London Symphony Orchestra. We were among the first 15-20 people turned away at the door when all the space had been filled. If we had left church 5 minutes earlier and not wandered around the circumference of the hall in search of the queue we would’ve gotten in. We were disappointed, but we’d known it was a long shot, and it was a thrill to get as close as we did. We consoled ourselves with silly photos by posters of Verdi’s Requiem (Cambridge Choirs) and the legendary Alison Balsom and then walked north through the west side of Kensington Gardens.

We love to laugh at all the signs saying “To let” since it looks like “Toilet” to us. “Offices Toilet.”

Watching soccer in this pub makes me very homesick for JM.

Before walking home from the pub we stepped outside of its noisy atmosphere to avail ourselves of its WIFI so we could Skype our sweet birthday girl back home. Unfortunately, our call walk her from a nap, and she was nothing but sad and weepy when we saw her. This made us pretty miserable and homesick, the most homesick we were of our whole trip, desperate to snuggle our girlie and make her birthday a little less weepy. Of course, she was just fine – just having her typical post-nap grump session, but we went to bed that night with our spirits down. What can I say? We missed our daughter’s birthday. We deserved it!

Shots of stunning St. Paul's...

Shots of stunning St. Paul’s…

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Contraband photo of the inside of St. Paul's! (Shhh...)

Contraband photo of the inside of St. Paul’s! (Shhh…)

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Dwarfed by The Shard, you can see Southwark in the background of this photo.

Dwarfed by The Shard, you can see Southwark in the background of this photo.

This was the line we were standing in for the Proms. It stretched a couple blocks.

This was the line we were standing in for the Proms. It stretched a couple blocks.

I loved this Garden in the City.

I loved this Garden in the City.

At least we saw the outside!

At least we saw the outside!

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So, so, so very close...

So, so, so very close…

As we nursed our disappointment at being turned away from Royal Albert Hall we realized we were standing right next to the Royal College of Organists. Funny!

As we nursed our disappointment at being turned away from Royal Albert Hall we realized we were standing right next to the Royal College of Organists. Funny!

Consolation Selfie

Consolation Selfie

Mike loves him some Verdi Requiem!

Mike loves him some Verdi Requiem!

And Alison Balsom is kind of my idol.

And Alison Balsom is kind of my idol.

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Statue of Prince Albert across from the Hall.

Statue of Prince Albert across from the Hall.