August 12: Westminster Abbey by Night (NBD)

Tuesday 12 August, 9:00 a.m., St. George’s, Hanover

Mike is registering his Buxtehude now for our performance on the new American instrument in Handel’s church. I just finished practicing my Bach and in a moment we’ll move to Southwark and I’ll prepare Howells for tonight’s voluntary.

10:00 p.m., A pub near Westminster Abbey

How do you sum up a recital at Westminster Abbey – and Franck’s E Major Chorale! – and a private tour afterward? Sublime. BEYOND. EVERYTHING. And the last measures of the E Major Chorale are of the same cloth as the bells pealing at Magdalen – the same sound, the same exuberance.

Wednesday 13 August, 6:00 p.m., Cambridge

Last night we played a few bars on Westminster Abbey’s organ. Then fish and chips with the group. We sat with the Gs and Elaine S and then the five of us went back to UCL together.

Tuesday morning we experienced our first dorm breakfast. What a throwback to college! In retrospect I appreciated the two fabulous inn breakfasts we’d had on the weekend. For the rest of the week, the ultimate college cafeteria fare was our lot. Plentiful, varied, and with all the major players in an English breakfast, but not your finest cuisine, shall we say. The ambience fit the food, and though it was fun to hang out with choristers each morning as we ate, we spent a lot of our time laughing at the terrible and sometimes inappropriate American pop hits blaring from a boom box in the corner.

I set out right at 7:30 with one of our professors for a brisk 25-minute walk amongst London’s morning commuters, arriving at St. George’s Church in Hanover promptly for the beginning of our 8:00 a.m. practice time. Mike went on a goose chase of an errand to mail back the taxi driver’s Tom-Tom and get his dress clothes laundered, arriving at the church an hour later for his share of our practice time, still with the package (post offices weren’t open yet) and the laundry (contrary to its website’s claim, the launderette had no same-day service).

We set out from St. George’s for Southwark, a commute we became quite proficient at. There was no great route, either: our best option included a brisk 10-minute walk from the church to a metro stop just to the north of Buckingham Palace. (Incidentally, Buckingham was problem the only major sight in London that we never at least laid eyes on in passing.) Being at the mercy of the sort of communication people used decades ago, I sat down to the organ console expecting Mr. Neswick to arrive momentarily to help me register a complex English prelude on the fly, which I was due to play that afternoon. (Playing the organ at Southwark was kind of a drag. You could hear almost none of its real sound from where the console sat to the north of the choir. So we were completely reliant on each other’s judgment of sound balances. While this is a common dilemma for organists, I’ve never experienced quite such a bad case of it as exists at Southwark.) Anyway, Mr. Neswick never showed and later I received both email and text from him telling of a change in plans. I made the best of my time and did what I could. Later that afternoon in performance I played notes and let Mr. Neswick work his registrational magic standing beside me. Not the worst way to play Howells.

Mike spent a few moments on the piano in the choir room before making the tedious commute from Southwark to UCL to St. George’s in order to finally situate our last, largest suitcase at the dorm. We’d left it behind the night before rather than dragging it to the Globe. I set out after my practice time back toward St. George’s for our second round of practice, determined to make the most of this commuter-tourist lifestyle we couldn’t avoid. Rather foolishly spending my lunch coins on fudge and a cheese hand-pie of sorts from the glorious Borough Market (more on that later), I took a short ride on the tube, emerging at Westminster station to use my forty-five minutes of free time walking the streets back to St. George’s. I walked along the river past the London Eye, through the governmental buildings, past Trafalgar Square and St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the National Portrait Gallery, and Piccadilly Circus. I enjoyed the chance to see a bit of the city and felt a little less frustrated with the challenge we faced of crossing the city over and over again. I’d been disheartened to think we’d spend so much of our few free moments in London underground. For once, anyway, I’d made the most of the commute.

Our second practice time got cut so short by a double-booking that I had only a couple minutes on the bench before we set off again for Southwark to prepare for rehearsal. Absurd, to have spent so much time crossing and re-crossing town for fifteen minutes of practice, but it was as good as it was going to get. Back at Southwark with one of our colleagues, we wandered through adjacent Borough Market and got a bit more to eat, a decision we were glad of later when our late-night attempts at dinner were met with a lot of closed kitchens. Borough Market was fabulous! A large covered market area selling every sort of international cuisine and many more things besides, it went on and on and was always bustling with people. We were so thankful for it that week, since it afforded us an instant, cheap solution for lunch while we prepared our afternoon’s music.

The service went beautifully. I got to play Howells in an English cathedral – the incredible piece that was the center of my junior recital in college. I also got to accompany the chanting of Psalm 33, which was one of the highlights of my whole trip. That day Mike conducted a fantastic anthem: The Lord Is My Light by Peter Hallock. The service for the day was by Sumsion.

Afterwards a large group of us set off in the rain for a dash across town to Westminster Abbey, where we arrived just in time to take seats for the last of their summer organ recitals. It was played by Martin Ford, the assistant organist who, incidentally, is younger than me. (I am officially an adult.) The program was spectacular, beginning with Reger’s Intro & Passacaglia in D minor, moving on to Bach’s Allein Gott settings and Franck’s E Major Chorale, and ending with Schumann and two Elgar transcriptions. It was sublime. Afterward everyone was corralled out of the space quite quickly and tersely: no staying to tour for free instead of paying the 20L+ entry fee by day! We congregated in front of the choir screen and waited till the commotion died down, explaining to nagging ushers that we had an arrangement to meet with the interning organist. And then, finally, we were escorted up a steep, winding, stair to the top of the choir screen space, which housed the console, pipes flanking it to north and south. The intern gave us a thorough demonstration of the massive instrument, even pulling on the state trumpets (the ones that only play at the entrance of the queen), which blew us away. Then he let everyone have a chance to hop on and play a few bars of something. So we played the organ at Westminster Abbey. No Big Deal. At the end, we climbed down and peeked around to the north side of the nave – “the musician’s corner” – finding there the graves of Purcell, Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Howells, Walton (and I’m sure I’m forgetting the rest). You can’t make this stuff up.

We exited the building, giddy and feeling like a bunch of sneaking teenagers up to trouble. Floodlit, the exterior was impressive against the clear night sky. After some deliberation and a lot of waiting around for last-minute photo-ops we settled on a pub just around the corner where we could finally, finally get dinner. This turned out to be the beginning of a new theme: We never ate proper meals in London! By now it was pushing 10:00 p.m. and kitchens were shut up tight. But Pub #1 pointed us to Pub #2 and we cautiously inquired. Their kitchen would still serve us a few menu items, so we sat down and most of us dug into fish and chips. Also a theme: We ate fish and chips half a dozen times in our twelve days in London. It felt like a duty. After finishing our meal we were among the first to leave, hopping the tube towards home after pausing in awe at the sight of the full moon cradled, as it were, in the arm of Big Ben. You can’t make that stuff up, either.

As I walked from Westminster station toward St. George's church at noon, this was the first sight I saw.

As I walked from Westminster station toward St. George’s church at noon, this was the first sight I saw.

Wandered away from the river through the towering governmental buildings

Wandered away from the river through the towering governmental buildings

Snapped this photo for my babies.

Snapped this photo for my babies.

And this one. Meredith's first sentence was "Bye bye Bus!"

And this one. Meredith’s first sentence was “Bye bye Bus!”

This is Trafalgar Square.

This is Trafalgar Square.

And that is a lot of busses.

And that is a lot of busses.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

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The organ where we performed a group recital. Newly built by an American firm, it retains the original casework from Handel's day.

The organ where we performed a group recital. Newly built by an American firm, it retains the original casework from Handel’s day.

Lunch from Borough Market with a colleague in Southwark's church yard.

Lunch from Borough Market with a colleague in Southwark’s church yard.

My first view of Big Ben, was we dashed through the rain to reach Westminster Abbey in time...

My first view of Big Ben, was we dashed through the rain to reach Westminster Abbey in time…

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The Great Doors on the west (Nave) end of the church

The Great Doors on the west (Nave) end of the church

A few contraband photos inside Westminster Abbey

A few contraband photos inside Westminster Abbey

We sat in temporary chairs just to the east of the choir stalls

We sat in temporary chairs just to the east of the choir stalls

Mike, playing an excerpt from the Adagio from Vierne's third symphony.

Mike, playing an excerpt from the Adagio from Vierne’s third symphony.

Professor Neswick hopped on the bench at the end of all our tinkering and pulled out all the stops (well, not literally, in this case!) for a huge verse of a hymn. His sense of humor chose the tune Westminster Abbey, to our delight.

Professor Neswick hopped on the bench at the end of all our tinkering and pulled out all the stops (well, not literally, in this case!) for a huge verse of a hymn. His sense of humor chose the tune Westminster Abbey, to our delight.

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Top to bottom: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Stanford

Top to bottom: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Stanford

Inside Westminster Abbey

Inside Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey by night

Westminster Abbey by night

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Big Ben and "Leh Moooon."

Big Ben and “Leh Moooon.”

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Goodnight, London!

Goodnight, London!

August 11: To London, and to Work

Monday, August 11 began our week of residency at Southwark Cathedral in London. This was the occasion for our trip, and we had almost a year to look forward to it. Under the direction of Professor Bruce Neswick, Mike and I and several colleagues played round-robin for a week, taking turns in front of the choir and on the organ bench. The choir comprised about forty singers, assembled by Mr. Neswick from all over the States, each of them a former or current chorister from his impressive history in choral work. We convened in London that Monday afternoon and each day except Wednesday, our day off, we met to rehearse at 3:30 for a 5:30 Evensong. Otherwise, the time was our own on those days. Of course, being on duty for directing, rehearsing, and playing each day meant that none of us student leaders did much sight-seeing, but we certainly had a good time. On our final day we led Sunday morning service before an early Evensong and then celebrated till sundown. It was such an honor to be in that position, and we had at our disposal a patient and good-humored choir, seasoned singers putting up with barely-formed professionals. I think it’s safe to say that we all had a lot of fun, in no small part because they were a phenomenal group, both socially and musically.

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But our first day in London definitely goes on the books as the low point of our trip. We were feeling a little grumpy and a lot stressed, as we emerged from the fantasy-world of leisure travel to remember that we were now due to perform music we hadn’t practiced in over two weeks. Mike, especially, was due to be on the bench for the first prelude of the week, and he had more duties besides on that first day. We made the best of it and got our stride for the week by the end of the day. It was a learning day. We left Oxford about 8:45 to return our rental car at Heathrow and give our Oyster Cards their maiden voyage. Our moods weren’t helped any when we got led down several rabbit trails by the outdated GPS on our quest to fill the gas tank. But upon filling it we were pleasantly surprised: by renting a diesel car we ended up recovering almost all that we’d spent over-budget on the rental itself since in all our driving we expended barely more than a half tank of gas. Diesel is sweet.

From the rental car return we took a shuttle to the train station and from there, London’s famous tube, a journey that took about an hour before we emerged in London, starry-eyed, at Monument Station. It was a short walk across the London Bridge to reach Southwark, already in view from across the Thames, dwarfed in the massive shadow of The Shard, a recently built skyscraper. It was a stunning introduction to London. With our six heavy bags and business attire we made the walk, stopping at a street-side grocery for pre-packaged sandwiches, the first of a whole week of working lunches.

We were among the first of our group to arrive at Southwark, so we introduced ourselves and settled a few items of business. Mike parked himself in the choir room, which was to be our Green Room for the week. It was time for him to get down to business. Since I wasn’t on the docket for conducting or playing until the following day, I decided to continue on to check into our rooms, arrange a destination for our passports to be mailed, and figure out a game-plan for doing our laundry, since our detergent had been confiscated by TSA in France. I took as much of our luggage as I could transport on my own and set out for University College London. London showed me who was alpha-dog that afternoon, as I fought with my bags down cobbled roads and steep, long tube station staircases, coming to terms with the long, walking-heavy commute we’d have each day. By the time I got to our dorm I was sweaty and breathless and IN A MOOD. I had just enough time to drop our bags in our sixth-floor room and discover that, while it was in no uncertain terms A DORM, it was spacious and clean and had a very respectable bathroom to itself, and a view (of boring city rooftops) besides. In a rare introverted moment, I looked forward to making my way alone back to the Cathedral in time to meet the assembling choir, some of whom I’d already introduced myself to in the lobby of our dorm. I needed to wrap my mind around the worship-work we were about to begin and prepare my own heart for it. Instead, I found myself walking towards the station with members of our group. Small-talk it was, then, and I was still feeling like my head wasn’t in the game when we began our work.

Meanwhile, Mike had been at Southwark when Mr. Neswick arrived, and with him, some dreadful news: One of the five of us splitting most of the week’s duties had been retained in Nashville with passport troubles and would not be with us until Thursday at the earliest. All the music he’d prepared fell to the remainder of us to handle on the fly, and Mike stepped in to conduct the Stanford Service in C that afternoon, proving to himself (and the rest of us) that he is a hell of a conductor and rehearsalist. Not only that, but he was given the duty of leading our warm-ups each day. He stayed busy the whole week.

By the end of our work for the day Mike was having fun and I was having misgivings. I finally got into the spirit of things the next day and had a fantastic week, and it was good for me, giving me a chance to work through some of the leftover baggage dormant from some of the less happy aspects of my time at St. Olaf. There I’d learned unhealthy patterns of coping with a difficult worship environment, and here I had a chance to unlearn some of them.

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Both of us were sore and achy, and still schlepping the bags I hadn’t been able to carry ahead to the dorms. But this was our night to catch a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, just five minutes’ walk from Southwark. We wouldn’t have another chance at it all week, and we had our eye on 5-pound standing-room tickets to Julius Caesar. We went for it, snarfing surprisingly good and surprisingly cheap BLTs from the Starbucks across the street from the theater as we stood on the boardwalk overlooking the Thames. The play was well worth the trouble, even though we couldn’t bear to stay past the end of the first act, standing on our feet in dress shoes with heavy bags looped over our shoulders or, when we couldn’t bear that, around our ankles, for fear of theft. Nonetheless, the play! The whole experience of being in that space! It was unforgettable. The excitement of the actors carrying the action off the stage, right down onto the floor beside us. The stretch of our intellects to make out of Shakespeare’s language (to us, all but foreign) a story-line. The wonder of the set, the costumes, the period instruments playing in period idioms. The horror of the stage blood as the cohort of traitors all took their turns stabbing him to his death. The hilarity as Portia nagged at Brutus to be a good husband, putting words in my own mouth perfect for teasing Mike. We were in all kinds of pain from the drudgery of the day, but we were happy as we walked across the Thames to the tube station and made our way to our new home.

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There we finished unpacking and Mike walked out again in search of laundry detergent. It was after midnight when we finally fell into bed, having used the dorm laundry machines to re-supply ourselves with clean clothes. We earned that night of sleep.

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Tuesday 12 August, 9:00 a.m., St. George’s, Hanover

Yesterday was intense and not all in a good way. Returned our car, took the tube to Southwark, Mike practiced while I went on to University College to check in to our dorm, returning for rehearsal and our first Evensong. Mike had to jump in on a dime to cover for one of our colleagues who is stuck in the states. He lead warm-ups, conducted the Stanford Mag & Nunc in C, and did the things he’d already prepared – Vierne III Adagio as voluntary and accompanying the Psalm. He did marvelous work and led well. It was fun to see. After Evensong we picked up sandwiches across from the Globe at Starbucks and ate them by the Thames before paying 5L each for standing room tickets to Julius Caesar. It was magnificent and thrilling, but our bodies were so tired and achy from a hard day of navigating London that we left after the first act, going home across Blackfriars Bridge to do laundry, falling into bed at midnight. It was not the best day – difficult and tense – but today is new, and while we’ve just found our prep time here at St. George’s has been lost by 50%, things are going well.

Couldn't resist snapping a bunch of pictures of The Talkhouse as we left.

Couldn’t resist snapping a bunch of pictures of The Talkhouse as we left.

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Inside the pub

Inside the pub

This is where we sat for a couple hours on Saturday night, over pub fare of - for me, roast lamb shank with mint and carrots and mashed potatoes; for Mike, beef bourgignon. Good stuff.

This is where we sat for a couple hours on Saturday night, over pub fare of – for me, roast lamb shank with mint and carrots and mashed potatoes; for Mike, beef bourgignon. Good stuff.

Couldn't decide which picture was cooler. This definitely captures the dim atmosphere in the pub.

Couldn’t decide which picture was cooler. This definitely captures the dim atmosphere in the pub.

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August 10: Sunday in Oxford

Oh, Oxford! In my next life I will stay forever. Of all our journeying, this destination felt most like pilgrimage to me. I have loved – perhaps better, lived on – Lewis and his way of seeing the world since I was a young adolescent. No other author has shaped me thinking or given voice to my spirit. I identify with him. It’s not just him, either. The life of the soul (I do not think I mean “the mind”) within that place we call a university is the life I find I’m best at. It makes me inordinately happy. So to be wandering the colleges of one of the greatest cities of learning in the history of the world made me a little giddy.

My poor husband wasn’t quite in the same boat. Academic though he is, he’s more of a technician than a philosopher. But he found more than enough entertainment in the enormous music wing of famous Blackwell’s Books, the very gratifying pub, and the cute girl on his arm. Not to say he didn’t enjoy Oxford for Oxford’s sake, but just that there were a couple entertaining conversations acknowledging the discrepancy in our perspectives on this town. For Mike, this was the end of his first wind. For me, it was the beginning of my second.

Oxford was the only small town in which we stayed an entire day. Even in Cinque Terre, our days were spread across its five villages. Consequently, Oxford stands in my memory as the best relaxation of our trip, possibly excluding the leisurely hours we spent in Cambridge with my sister and her husband. (Their pace always reins mine in…) After sleeping in late we did everything at a slow pace, even walking down streets. And at the end of our visit there was no traveling to a new destination. We just returned to our nearby room and crawled into bed.

The other thing which makes Oxford stand out is the company we kept unexpectedly. Classmates from St. Olaf, living there for a couple years, ended up spending the entire day with us, taking our wandering pace and adding to it their own expertise. What might have been a frantic and baffling day with less than satisfying results (how would we know which colleges were best to visit and how would we be sure we could get to them while they were open?) became a guided stroll. For this one day of our trip, we didn’t have to keep a map in our hands constantly. Not only were they great guides, they were good friends, and we had a delightful day of conversation ranging widely from our shared memories to our very-unknown futures. It was a magical day of the best double-date you could ask for.

Three memories stand out specially for me, besides an acknowledgement of my first experience of Pimms, an almost embarrassingly girly drink, a tradition of British summer time, served (in this case anyway) with fruit garnishes like a sangria, including cucumber. We split a pitcher with our friends as our first round of drinks at dinner and I went back for another glass of my own before the night was out.

More significant, the souvenir we took away from Oxford. In fact, it was really the only souvenir we brought home from England, since our focus in London was on our work, and the pace was exhausting and unrelenting. So from England we brought home a simple little bag full of bulbs to plant, acquired for a mere 2 pounds under the famous covered market in the center of the town. I was surprised that the market was a permanent structure, having come to expect the street vendors and umbrellas we’d seen so far. We ate lunch there and window shopped awhile before emerging into the pouring rain.

The sung worship of the day held some enormous personal significance for us, adding a sweetness to the memories. First there was Great St. Mary’s, which we loved immensely. We were expecting something more akin to the lofty cathedral experiences we’d had thusfar, or at least something to reflect the absurd significance our tourist’s eyes brought to it. Instead, it was a simple parish, which delighted and refreshed us. There was evidence all around us of the kind of familiarity we’ve known in our own “home churches.” It was clear to the people sitting around us that they weren’t coming for the culture of it, or coming from far. They were there because it was Sunday morning and they had the best kind of business to do. Yes, it was a parish in the brilliant town of Oxford. (Ever stop to think about the average IQ there, where even the tourists who come come not to see some sight but to say “I was in the town of such and such famous intellectual person or accomplishment.”) But there was no glossy sheen to it. It was just church. The sermon was expertly crafted, igniting our imaginations (with the story of Peter walking on water) in the best possible way, even if his exegetical premises were far afield from our own. The singing and liturgy were down-to-earth, no different from our own. Our friends remarked that we came on a particularly good day, since often the hymns are much less the cream of the crop. As it was, though, they were among our favorites, and among the richest tunes English composers have offered. Best, All My Hope on God Is Founded, a hymn that we sang week after week for years at St. Olaf, integral as it was to several liturgies we loved there. The last line had been our life-line, hope for us through the most uncertain seasons, first, of our friendship, then, of our love: “Ye who follow shall not fall.” We haven’t sung that hymn together since those days in college. Now approaching five years of marriage, there they were, and there we were, feeling not the hope that “we” would make it but the satisfaction of looking back and seeing how we’d tried it and found it true.

Second, there was Queen’s College Chapel, where we heard the most absolutely stunning choral performance either of us had ever experienced live. High schoolers! The group was prestigious – one of the most renowned programs of choral training in England. It was the end of what amounts to a rigorous choral summer camp, which I wouldn’t be surprised to learn had only filled a week’s time. But those kids could sing! The service for the night (In the Anglican tradition of Evensong, the center is the “Service,” comprising first Magnificat and then Nunc Dimmittis.) was by Dyson, a post-Romantic English affair that is not short on color and fire and everything extravagant in its idiom. The fun of it was that it was on our own docket for the coming week, so we were already growing quite familiar with it. Being ushered into the space at Queen’s was unforgettable, too. Just like at Christ Church the night before, the college opens to anyone who wants to come hear Evensong, whereas otherwise the tradition of Oxford colleges strictly limits visiting. So without an entry fee, you walk right through the gates, across the quad, and into the astounding chapels. By the time we entered, ten minutes before the service was to begin, the choir was full of people. (The “choir” is the area behind the screen, where these services take place; in fact, many college chapels don’t have anything more than what you’d identify as the “choir,” pointing to their almost cloister-like function within an educational context.) Eventually a dozen more chairs were set up in front of the choir stalls, and so we found ourselves sitting right in the center of it all. This half hour is certainly on the short list of our trip’s most inspiring, satisfying moments. If someday we could create (or even participate in) worship like this as a matter of routine you will have a hard job finding a happier pair of people.

Sunday 10 August, 8:30 p.m. Oxford, The Eagle and the Child

We slept in this morning to the sound of heavy rain. It felt so good. We caught the 9:40 bus into town, dropped a couple pounds on large, delicious pastries, bought a map and a bus for Merry, and attended morning worship at St. Mary’s, where we sang O Praise Ye the Lord, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, and – of course!! – All My Hope on God Is Founded. At the Gospel we turned to spot MM and CM in the back row – St. Olaf friends who live here right now. We’d known they were here but not followed through with planning to meet. After the wonderful, nourishing worship service we connected with them and ended up spending the whole day together. They were like tour guides and like a double date. We had a perfect afternoon. At the covered market we ate a cheap lunch and I bought crocus and snowdrop bulbs. We walked around in the rain awhile, went into Blackwells… The sun came out and we abandoned hopes of a tour of the Bodleian (all but those concurrent with Evensong were full), going on to see 4 or 5 colleges. M’s employee card got us in for free. It was bewitching – Merton, Exeter, Christ College’s Meadow, a few others. Best of all by far, Magdalen. In those moments I was “C.S. Lewis’ kind of happy.” The most amazing part was that for some unknown occasion, its bells were pealing the whole time we were there – a half hour at least. I think I can die happy now. Finally, we climbed the tower at St. Mary’s to see the whole town at our feet. We climbed down just in time to hear Evensong at Queen’s College Chapel – Dyson, Howells, and Tallis, sung expertly, magnificently – by high schoolers culminating a week of the Eton Choral Course. It was head and shoulders above every other worship experience we’ve had on this trip. Even the Psalms – 126, 127, 128; I’ve loved that setting of Psalm 126 before I ever knew Anglican Psalmody. It was all just too perfect. Absolutely satisfying. Deep, complete joy.

We’re ending up the day at The Eagle and The Child. We sat long and lively over dinner and drinks with M and C and now they’ve left and we’re nursing another round of drinks into the night before we leave this city of joy.

Oh Jack! What a world you lived in! It’s been so moving, wandering into each college with its own chapel, and each chapel still an active place of worship – daily worship, as part of the business of education. All I need to say is (of course) we are IN. LOVE.

9:20 p.m.

Here we sit in Lewis’s pub. The glass ceiling above us has turned to a mirror in the dark and I see our reflection – hand in hand, reading into the night. I wish my phone’s battery wasn’t dead so I could have a picture of this moment.

10:30 p.m.

We took a taxi back to our car since the last bus had gone. As we walked out of the pub we saw the full, lovely moon. We walked down St. Giles’ Street toward High Street with it in view, colleges rising in the foreground. As we stood at the corner, across from the Randolph, it was perfectly framed by a building and a tall tree, casting its light on the Martyrs’ Monument just across the street from where we stood. A perfect farewell to the day. Tomorrow, to London and to work.

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The Martyr's Monument

The Martyr’s Monument

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Organ in Dining Hall. Ya know, so you can sing hymns when you gather for your meals.

Organ in Dining Hall. Ya know, so you can sing hymns when you gather for your meals.

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A small chapel made up of only a "choir" (i.e. no nave)

A small chapel made up of only a “choir” (i.e. no nave)

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The next twenty photos are from Magdalen College, one of the best things I saw in Europe.

The next twenty photos are from Magdalen College, one of the best things I saw in Europe.

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Another of my best photos of the whole trip...

Another of my best photos of the whole trip…

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This is Christ College Meadow

This is Christ College Meadow

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The brand new Dobson organ in Merton College Chapel

The brand new Dobson organ in Merton College Chapel

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This is the view from atop the tower of St. Mary's Church. My phone died after these, so the last couple shots of the day were captured by CM.

This is the view from atop the tower of St. Mary’s Church. My phone died after these, so the last couple shots of the day were captured by CM.

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From the Queen's College service notes

From the Queen’s College service notes

Leaving Queen's College Chapel

Leaving Queen’s College Chapel

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August 9: Salisbury to Oxford

Apparently Saturday August 9 was the day for taking pictures. I’ve narrowed down my small collection to just 81 that I will include here. So if you’ve been coming for the pictures, this is your day. I had some pretty great subjects in the quaint town of Salisbury, the stunning cathedral and its cloister, and C. S. Lewis’s house. So if you’ve ever wanted a photo tour of Lewis’s house, look no further.

We made a few interesting discoveries on this day, chief in my memory being that driving in England is a huge pain in the butt. At least driving from Salisbury to Oxford past Avebury on a summer Saturday. Not recommended. We gave ourselves four hours for a less-than-two hour drive and needed all four of them. At one point we opted for the major motorway rather than risk the winding and congestion of back roads, only to end up in a half hour of stand-still traffic, as we watched all our margin for arriving in time to tour Lewis’s house tick past on the clock. But we made it in the nick of time. Meanwhile, we read a good chunk of our novel, which I retrieved from the trunk at one point during the fifteen minutes it took us to inch into the roundabout connecting our route to the route bound for Stonehenge. Everybody in England went to Stonehenge on August 9. I know, because I watched them.

We also discovered that there are all kinds of busses from London to Oxford and that Oxford has this sweet park-and-ride system that gets you into the center of town painlessly (if you look past the couple pounds). Maybe next time we will skip the rental car and take busses and trains. Or maybe we won’t. Annoying as it was sometimes, going at our own pace (at least the pace the traffic would allow) with no fellow-passengers was a pretty good time.

Sunday 10 August, 8:30 p.m. The Eagle and the Child, Oxford

It’s been a whirlwind two days. We went to 7:30 communion yesterday morning at Salisbury Cathedral; the rain had gone and the sun was shining again. It was cold. The service was so wonderful, so intimate, in the rear chapel. Afterwards we drove around town awhile, picked up a few things for lunch at the bakery, and paid three hours of parking. Back at St. Ann’s House we ate breakfast and chatted with the owner, a very successful chef, formerly a personal chef to several very famous people. The breakfast was fabulous – had the chef touch, with peppercorns in the pineapple and anise in the orange marmalade, and an amazing breakfast quinoa. Really never had a better breakfast. The chef, Michael Riley, was fascinating, educated, articulate, friendly. After checking out we wandered town (down to the mill and the quaint river walk) and the cathedral – I am ever more taken with the cloisters.

We took the long way to Oxford, driving past Avebury Stone Circle and reading Love in the Ruins to pass the time. We arrived at the Kilns with two or three minutes to spare, joining a tour of 8-10 other pilgrims, wandering through the house and gardens. What an inspiration!! We had just enough time afterward to check into The Talkhouse and bus into the heart of Oxford for Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral, an unforgettable experience. Walking through the doors and emerging in the quad was like entering Narnia. All magic. Afterward we wandered Oxford’s empty streets on empty stomachs. The town quiets down at 7, especially after a heavy rain. By this time we were tired and a little burned out. We couldn’t get our bearings, without a map and flanked by tall buildings, walling us out of the colleges’ mysteries. Everything was closed. We returned to our lodging and settled in for pub dinner and beers and catching up on the internet work we needed to attend to. It felt luxurious, settling in for an early night at a place where we will stay a second night. The Talkhouse, like all our other accommodations, did not disappoint. It is like quaint rural England, but magnified as though it’s a page from a novel or a scene from a movie. A tudor-style building, low to the ground, with a red phone booth tucked in its side and hanging baskets exploding color against the white walls. Our room is spacious and comfortable and the whole setting is just perfect and picturesque. Bussing into the city is easy, too, a sweet relief after all the cities we’ve inched across in our rental car. This city makes me insanely happy, and Mike grins to see me so excited, so eager.

Sunrise out our bedroom window in Salisbury

Sunrise out our bedroom window in Salisbury

A bit of the quaint Salisbury

A bit of the quaint Salisbury

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Some random amazing doorway...

Some random amazing doorway…

Look at that roof!

Look at that roof!

Just something ridiculously picturesque...

Just something ridiculously picturesque…

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This was just a bit of our incredible breakfast by chef Michael Riley. Oh, and did I mention that he has this fantastic dog, almost twice the size of the biggest Newfoundland I've ever seen? It was like petting a big, happy, long-haired bear. I would love to go back to this place.

This was just a bit of our incredible breakfast by chef Michael Riley. Oh, and did I mention that he has this fantastic dog, almost twice the size of the biggest Newfoundland I’ve ever seen? It was like petting a big, happy, long-haired bear. I would love to go back to this place.

Mmmm...

Mmmm…

Our lovely room

Our lovely room

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Street market downtown in Salisbury

Street market downtown in Salisbury

Not your average shopping architecture

Not your average shopping architecture

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This is one of my favorite photos from our whole trip. Along with the next dozen of the exterior and the cloister.

This is one of my favorite photos from our whole trip. Along with the next dozen of the exterior and the cloister.

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This is a tiny cast of the Medieval town

This is a tiny cast of the Medieval town

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And this was a model of the cathedral in progress, complete with things like the hut where the iron welding would've taken place and such things like that.

And this was a model of the cathedral in progress, complete with things like the hut where the iron welding would’ve taken place and such things like that.

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And I just loved this.

And I just loved this.

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And I loved this, too. I love this quote from St. Theresa and it has grown really dear to me the last year or so.

And I loved this, too. I love this quote from St. Theresa and it has grown really dear to me the last year or so.

The cathedral had sunflower bouquets (although fake) everywhere. The only flower big enough to fill a cathedral...

The cathedral had sunflower bouquets (although fake) everywhere. The only flower big enough to fill a cathedral…

Rosemary, covering a wall as tall as me. What?

Rosemary, covering a wall as tall as me. What?

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This was one of our drive-by shots of Avebury Stone Circle

This was one of our drive-by shots of Avebury Stone Circle

Right after Avebury we passed this field with tall stacks of hay bales and Mike came up with some hilarious-but-now-forgotten name for them, along the lines of "Hay-Henge."

Right after Avebury we passed this field with tall stacks of hay bales and Mike came up with some hilarious-but-now-forgotten name for them, along the lines of “Hay-Henge.”

This next series of photos is from The Kilns, C. S. Lewis's lovely house and grounds, restored in the last couple decades and now home to visiting scholars.

This next series of photos is from The Kilns, C. S. Lewis’s lovely house and grounds, restored in the last couple decades and now home to visiting scholars.

This was Lewis's stove, the center of life in his house since it kept them warm.

This was Lewis’s stove, the center of life in his house since it kept them warm.

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The ceiling of this room is painted a mustardy yellow-brown in order to capture the color it would've been due to all the tobacco use over the years. This was the room where he and Warnie would read together, and they would toss cigarette butts or dump pipe tobacco right onto the floor. Ever thought of Lewis's house as a bachelor pad? Yikes!

The ceiling of this room is painted a mustardy yellow-brown in order to capture the color it would’ve been due to all the tobacco use over the years. This was the room where he and Warnie would read together, and they would toss cigarette butts or dump pipe tobacco right onto the floor. Ever thought of Lewis’s house as a bachelor pad? Yikes!

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If you've watched the 1993 Anthony Hopkins / Debra Wenger Shadowlands, you will recognize this spot. The attic where they filmed the poignant moment between Lewis and his step-son after Joy's death.

If you’ve watched the 1993 Anthony Hopkins / Debra Wenger Shadowlands, you will recognize this spot. The attic where they filmed the poignant moment between Lewis and his step-son after Joy’s death.

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The lady on our tour who took this photo shook the camera, but I had to include it anyway: this staircase was built by Lewis when Mrs. Moore lived with him. Her bedroom was adjacent to his and you couldn't access his without walking through hers. So his way of handling the impropriety was to build a fire escape staircase into his room, and there it still stands.

The lady on our tour who took this photo shook the camera, but I had to include it anyway: this staircase was built by Lewis when Mrs. Moore lived with him. Her bedroom was adjacent to his and you couldn’t access his without walking through hers. So his way of handling the impropriety was to build a fire escape staircase into his room, and there it still stands.

The Kilns

The Kilns

The Talkhouse, where we stayed

The Talkhouse, where we stayed

Christ College

Christ College

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On High Street

On High Street

August 8: Salisbury or Bust

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Friday 8 August, 5:45 a.m., Eastbourne

I’m sitting in a big white bathrobe waiting for water to boil. In our room are tea and biscuits. I’m sitting by the open window, looking out over the coastal road, the boardwalk, the beach, and the English Channel. Shades of white and grey with the tiniest hints of blue and green. The sky is thick with a blanket of clouds. The sun has just risen, but you wouldn’t know it but for everything’s soft light. We’re staying in a third floor room in Eastbourne’s Sea Beach House Hotel. We hope to go for our first run of our trip this morning and then we’ll experience our first English breakfast.

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8:30 a.m.

A short run west along the boardwalk with the white cliffs looming ahead of us, past the recently burned pier (arson, probably) and along endless lengths of immaculate English garden. This town is lovely. The grey, chilly day doubles the nostalgia for me.

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11:45 a.m.

As we climbed the hill out of Eastbourne toward Beachy Head, the BBC radio station served up an orchestral setting of the Parry hymn, Jerusalem, no holds barred. We felt like we were listening to the gushing soundtrack to our own movie.

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We love the sound the waves make as they crash over the large pebbles and pull them back into themselves – not like the quiet of sand, but like the noise of a maraca or shaker makes.

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We climbed down to the beach at the base of the cliffs beside Birling Gap. The white stones left chalk on our shoes.

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Friday, August 8 was one of our more relaxing days, though it was punctuated with a couple pretty crazy moments. I began to wake to the sound of the surf as soon as dawn began, so when I finally got out of bed at 5:45 I felt like I’d slept in. I sat reading and enjoying a cup of tea and the morning air through our open window while Mike slept in properly, then went down to the water’s edge awhile. When Mike was up we went for what ended up being the only run of our trip. Though all our walking left us constantly sore and itching for some good, cleansing exercise, we were too tired every day to use our feet for anything besides. We should’ve saved some space and left our running shoes behind!

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Our first English breakfast was a treat. We filled our bellies full, planning to make it last us till dinner in Salisbury. After checking out and sitting a few more minutes on the shore we drove out of town, back up the hill toward the cliffs. That was the hilarious moment the BBC blasted the most over-the-top, epic arrangement of the hymn “Jerusalem” you’ll ever here. Sheep in front of us, the channel behind us, climbing out of a sleepy English town on a densely cloudy, almost rainy, chilly morning. We laughed. Very funny, England, we see you.

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We had the best of both worlds in seeing these cliffs: Thursday afternoon as the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky we saw them bright-white with the blue water sparkling. Returning on Friday morning in the fog and clouds and mist everything was muted and grey, until the very last moments when the sun began to burn through the morning clouds just enough to cast some strong light. What an incredibly beautiful sight! (Thanks for the tip, Brian & Jordan!)

We had the best of both worlds in seeing these cliffs: Thursday afternoon as the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky we saw them bright-white with the blue water sparkling. Returning on Friday morning in the fog and clouds and mist everything was muted and grey, until the very last moments when the sun began to burn through the morning clouds just enough to cast some strong light. What an incredibly beautiful sight! (Thanks for the tip, Brian & Jordan!)

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It is impossible to capture in a photograph the angle and height of the cliffs at Beachy Head. The tallest cliffs in England, they rise over 500 feet above sea level. Astonishing, standing at their feet by the water and looking up. The white stone is chalk. It marked up our shoes and our hands, surprisingly porous and fragile. Little horizontal lines are visible in the cliff edge: thin layers of black rock punctuating the chalk. We parked at the visitor center at Birling Gap where a staircase (thank you, Rick Steves) takes you down to the shore. Once more on the road, we anticipated two or three hours of pleasant coastal and countryside driving would have us in Salisbury by mid-afternoon, and we even thought we might stop in Chichester or Winchester or both to wander their cathedrals for a few minutes. We drove right along the coast until we were west of Brighton. (Not a town I would ever want to visit! We decided it was the Orlando of England in all the worst ways.)

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Mike did the lion's share of the work on this romantic weekend. He handled the flipped orientation of a manual transmission car - not to mention the flipped orientation of the roads - like a pro. The traffic and the tiny roads and tiny towns were exhausting for him, though.

Mike did the lion’s share of the work on this romantic weekend. He handled the flipped orientation of a manual transmission car – not to mention the flipped orientation of the roads – like a pro. The traffic and the tiny roads and tiny towns were exhausting for him, though.

After Brighton it was only a few more minutes to Arundel, where we parked by the massive cathedral and walked down a steep hill towards the town center and castle gates. We were still contemplating paying entry to see the castle, but mostly we were looking for bathrooms. This was our first crazy moment of the day, and one of the most unnerving of our whole trip: Now in England for over 24 hours we still had no local currency. We discovered that all the bathrooms required coins for entry so found an ATM where our credit card (remember the expired debit card) was refused. Great. No way of getting cash? Now we were really starting to worry, only a third of the way into our travels.

Arundel Castle's gate

Arundel Castle’s gate

Arundel Cathedral

Arundel Cathedral

Ignoring our need for a bathroom and satisfying ourselves with peek at the outside of the castle (entry was quite expensive) we trudged back up the hill to move on to Salisbury where we could sort out the currency problem. It’d taken us well over two hours to get to Arundel from Birling Gap because of very heavy traffic, not only in the scenic coastal route we chose through the heart of Brighton, but on the major motorways. Clearly a Friday in August is not the quickest time to be navigating the roads of southern England. The whole population sinks to the bottom of the island to celebrate the “warmth” of summer. There were some big festivals going on that weekend, too, making everything worse. So we put together a patchwork route using our atlas, avoiding the major motorways and probably saving ourselves time. We waved at Chichester Cathedral as we passed it, then prepared to wave again at Winchester.

That was our second crazy moment. By now starting to feel nervous about arriving in Salisbury in time for 5:30 Evensong, we were in beast mode. But our tourist’s ignorance got the better of us as we realized that what looked on the map to be the most direct route through the city actually took us into the heart of its historic center (which by now we were realizing always meant narrow cobbled roads closed to traffic). We saw the cathedral all right, several times as we backed up and turned around and tried to find our way out of the jumble of a summer Friday afternoon in a destination village. Once out of pedestrian-land we were still in deep trouble, making several more crazy circles as we learned the hard way how to read England’s more confusing street signs. It took us an hour to pass through that little town, and now it was down to the wire. Salisbury by the GPS was only 15-20 more minutes away, but we had no confidence we’d get there in the hour we had left. Our hearts began to sink a little.

We arrived in Salisbury with frayed nerves just before 5:00 p.m. It was raining. I hopped out of the car at our Inn while Mike went to find parking. The innkeeper gave me a very quick introduction and pointed me in the right direction to find the cathedral, looking a little doubtful as he affirmed my hopeful statement that we could make it to Evensong after bringing in our bags and parking. Parking, apparently was only in designated lots during business hours. He gave me a map marked with the closest one and as fast as we could we were on our way. Of course when we got there we realized it was cash only. So we hoped for the best and parked illegally on a city street, hoping that in the 40 minutes before 6:00 p.m. when meters would be no longer enforced, no one would notice. We ran through the drizzling rain to Salisbury and were gratified to find we still had three or four minutes to spare. We felt pretty pleased with ourselves when we returned to our car and found no ticket.

Evensong was sublime – our first of nine in ten days. The service was sung in plainchant and our hearts just sank into its beauty, both familiar and strange at the same time, a rite we know well thanks to our training and interests but have never engaged in thanks to our denominational affiliations and geographical misfortune. Afterwards, to our amusement, we ran into (almost literally) a friend from home who we were to meet up with in London on Monday. He and his wife had taken a day trip down to Salisbury from a nearby relative’s house to hear Evensong, too.

Our first glimpse of massive Salisbury Cathedral impressed us beyond our expectations. It's spire is the tallest in the UK.

Our first glimpse of massive Salisbury Cathedral impressed us beyond our expectations. It’s spire is the tallest in the UK.

Evensong ended and, our car now legally parked, we recognized the chill and exhaustion and ravenous hunger that were left in the wake of all the adrenaline that had propelled us to that point. One of our best culinary decisions of the trip turned out to be the heeding of our hotelier’s advice. As he’d sent me off with a map he’d made a quick X at what he said were the “good” pubs in town. A few hours later as we talked with him we found out that in his former life he’d been quite a sophisticated chef. I’m glad we followed his suggestion, since the food we ate was marvelous. We settled on Ox Row Inn, on the large main square in Salisbury. After getting past the awkwardness of discovering the British custom of seating yourselves and ordering your food at the bar (at least then you don’t have to tip!) we settled in for comfort food and a few drinks to warm us up, damp and chilly as we were from the rain, which kept pounding out the open door just a few feet away from us. Nice to look at with an Irish coffee in hand.

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This was one of the most safisfying meals I've ever eaten: a thick soup of roasted tomato and red pepper, an irish coffee, and a pita filled with a fried slice of goat cheese. It warmed me up, which I'd begun to think might not be possible, damp and cold and dressed in a short skirt.

This was one of the most safisfying meals I’ve ever eaten: a thick soup of roasted tomato and red pepper, an irish coffee, and a pita filled with a fried slice of goat cheese. It warmed me up, which I’d begun to think might not be possible, damp and cold and dressed in a short skirt.

Salisbury was hard-earned for us and we felt the cozy comfort of being “home” for the night. We turned in after dinner, recognizing that there wasn’t much to see of Salisbury on a cold, rainy night. Our hotel, however, was plenty to enjoy. Relatively spacious, refined, so comfortable. We were at the top of the staircase with Salisbury’s amazing spire framed in our attic window.

Sky clearing, sun setting. The view from our attic window.

Sky clearing, sun setting. The view from our attic window.

But we were still one step away from real relaxation: First on our agenda was to figure out why the ATM rejected our credit card. Before we got very far we made an even more horrifying discovery: our passports were nowhere to be found. I raced downstairs to call the Eastbourne hotel, hoping against hope they were safe with them and we hadn’t been the victims of theft. Mike had a memory of having put them in a drawer in our room for safe-keeping, and a very vague memory of having retrieved them as we’d packed that morning. Very vague, indeed! The innkeeper went up to investigate and you can imagine my relief to hear his words: “I’m holding two American passports in my hand!” Meanwhile, upstairs, Mike had discovered that our Chase Visa came with a $500 cash advance limit, and we’d so far taken about $480, which meant our attempts to withdraw even just 20 pounds had failed. The remainder of the trip we felt thankful for the travel advice we’d read: “Take a couple credit cards with you so you have a back-up.” We were uneasy with every visit to an ATM, too, wondering if our Wells Fargo Visa, though we hadn’t seen any evidence on their website, would also have a cash advance limit.

11:10 p.m. Salisbury, St. Ann’s House

Our drive west was long but beautiful and pleasant, punctuated by a stroll around Arundel and into the outskirts of the castle we’d hoped to see yesterday. It was quite a sight from the road as we approached! We wound through country roads and impossible town centers (worst of all, Winchester) and saw three large cathedrals before arriving in Salisbury just in time to park illegally and dash into Evensong there. We were lucky and got no ticket. Rain and cold had set in and we retreated to a bar restaurant for a warm, hearty dinner and drinks and then to our hotel. We retired early for a night of reading in bed, after sorting out the discovery that we’ve left our passports behind in Eastbourne. Salisbury seems lovely and we hope to explore it more tomorrow by sunlight. We feel like we are on a honeymoon.

All over England I was stopping mid-stroll to wonder at plantings like this.

All over England I was stopping mid-stroll to wonder at plantings like this.

August 7: South Coast France, South Coast England

August 7 was a ridiculous day. Travel feels like a time warp sometimes. Looking back on this day I can hardly believe it all happened in the span of a day. In the morning we lingered at a cafe on a French market square, sipping chocolat and eating warm baguettes. In the evening we sat on the rocks of the English Channel coast, snarfing down fish and chips from a paper sack while the sun set. How is this possible? The time intervening was…je ne sais pas…an adventure.

You can just make out the French coastline through the plane window.

You can just make out the French coastline through the plane window.

And in this shot, the English coastline.

And in this shot, the English coastline.

Thursday 7 August, in flight to London

We were up early, ready to travel, and out for breakfast by 7:15. We returned to enchanting Place Richelme and found a cafe seeling petit dejeuner for 4.90 and crepes, too. We sat and watched the market come to life, sipping chocolat. We watched the restaurant owner cross the square a few steps to retrieve a pan of hot croissants direction from le boulangerie. C’est trop parfait. We sat a long time before he was ready to serve, watching the town waking up. The restaurant owner would pause now and then for a drag on his cigarette, walk to the market for a couple pieces of fruit… assembling his wares. Amazing, this economy. Finally we ate, only after he’d gone back to le boulangerie to fetch les baguettes, also warm. That bread was beyond words. We shared another crepe avec nutella and ran off – Mike to the ATM while I assembled a lunch for later of olives and dried figs – tasting plenty along the way. The kind vendor gave me my food for 7 euro, not 9, when I came up short, and I had just enough for one bannon to finish our meal. We sped back to the hotel, though first wasted a few minutes drinking in the neighboring flower market. Along the mad dash to the bus we missplaced our three postcards – ready for the mail to Jacob, Meredith, and the Moons. I hope we find them.

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And then we were gone. The airport was busy, tedious, nerve-wracking. We irritated the security agent with electronics not removed from our bags and then our large bottle of Woolite I’d forgotten to pack into checked bags, which they threw away. Oh well. Finally on our plane, we’re so pleased with British Airways – the classical music, the seats roomy enough for my knees, the free and delicious sandwich. And now we are about to land, a fresh sense of adventure for this new country and high hopes of Mike’s ability to drive on the wrong side of the road.

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Friday 8 August, 5:45 a.m., Eastbourne, Sea Beach House Hotel

Everything went smoothly when we arrived yesterday (aside from the 20-minute wait for the rental car shuttle) until the rental car. We stood in line a half hour, then signed a slip for 245L – over twice what we’d budgeted, due to hidden fees and insurance rates. And that was without GPS! We set out for a nerve-wracking orientation to British roads – in London!! Oy. We meticulously followed our printed directions and then at the edge of the city everything went wrong. Our only explanation is that either two sets of maps (Google and the atlas we bought when we stopped at a service station) were wrong or the street sign was wrong. One said A238, one said A283. At any rate, it cost us an hour, at least, of feeling our way around, stopping for a map, where we met a kind Indian tax driver who helped us until the point he gave up hope and generously offered us his old “Tom-Tom.” We exchanged addresses to mail it back on Monday, thanked him profusely, and set out. Even then there were several more sets of circles as we tried to learn the old GPS platform and navigate all the roundabouts. In the end we were still in the edges of London (after over 2 hours) when the castle we’d planned to see near the coast was closing. Another two hours brought us along narrow windy roads (and exquisite English countryside) to Beachy Head, like the White Cliffs of Dover, but better. It was an enormous sight. We hope to return this morning to find the stairway leading down to the beach. We didn’t stay nearly long enough (I was in search of a bathroom) but vowed to return. The bright, sunny sky made the cliffs that much whiter, the water so blue, so sparkly. We awed at the lighthouses, the houses nestled at the top of this hill of hills, the rolling, steep fields of cows and sheep. England at its most picturesque. We drove a couple miles down into Eastbourne and wasted another half hour vainly looking for our hotel and a parking space. About 8 p.m. we set out to acquire fish and chips, which we ate right by the water, perched on a crest in the ridgy pebble each, entertained by seagulls begging our chips. We watched as the sun’s light failed and the moon began to glimmer across the water, enjoying the quiet after a week of city sounds. At dark we wandered into a pub – a favorite of locals, as it turned out – The Marine. We sat at the bar and chatted in happy, easy English (Mike especially) with the barista (straight from England’s version of Sweet Home Alabama, if such a thing could be possible) and a crusty old man named Richard, who conversed with us all evening. We stopped on the beach again to see the moon shining and then retired for the night to our spacious, comfortable room-with-a-view that also happens to have no internet (so we couldn’t talk to the kids) and no flushing toilet.

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It’s hard to describe some of the feelings that hit us on this day. There was the delight of the crisp early morning on Place Richelme as, to our wondering eyes, the restaurant owner walked toward us with bread straight out of the baker’s oven. There was the fascination at the attitude toward cigarettes we observed as we sat watching the town wake up; it seemed breakfast for the French needed no more than an espresso and a cigarette. There was the adrenaline of the mad dash to acquire cash and food and run through town to our shuttle with all our bags, and the sweet feeling of a vendor kindly sending me off with my selection of dried figs and fresh olives despite my insufficient funds, and the self-satisfaction when the baker treated me like a local as I dashed in with my last euro for my morning loaf of bread in perfect, hasty French.

There was the horror we felt as we recognized just how angry the TSA agent was when she found the large bottle of liquid in our bag after already having been irritated by the not-unpacked Kindle. Not to mention I’d earned myself the full pat-down for some reason. Not to mention the pocket knife/corkscrew we forgot to put in our checked bag and she somehow didn’t notice. She could’ve dragged us right out of that line for an interrogation. What a nightmare!

There was the nostalgia – pangs of disappointment, even – for me as we flew away from France and I realized it was time to speak English again. And perhaps for Mike, relief. I’d gone from stumbling, nervous attempts that mostly ended in English or silence to easy, eager conversation over five days, and it was a thrill.

There was the despair as we realized how deeply lost and hopeless we were, stuck going in circles on the south side of London as the castle to our south that we’d been trying to reach was closing. We had no map, no GPS, no cell phone, no clue. We didn’t even know how to read the street signs yet. All we had was a printed out set of directions from Google Maps, which failed us thoroughly. In the end, what should’ve taken less than ninety minutes (we’d expected to arrive at Arundel Castle at 3:30 after arriving at Heathrow at noon and picking up our rental car) took hours. Thanks to the Indian cab driver (we gaped at his generosity all weekend, and giggled at his quirky mannerisms), we finally arrived at Beachy Head around 6:00 p.m. with nothing to show for our day but travel and lost postcards (which we later learned the hotel mailed for us). But the drive was so lovely, improvised with the cab driver’s ancient GPS and the paper atlas we bought, carrying us from one immense vista to the next, along impossibly narrow back roads.

There was the humbling, soul-shaking awe as we walked up to the edge of the white cliffs at Beachy Head, and the desperate resolve growing stronger by the day to master our own lives and desires and pursuits to leave time for the good and the true and the beautiful, as much for our kids as for us.

There was the embarrassment when we found that our toilet wouldn’t flush (we discovered the next morning in an awkward conversation with the owner that the joke was on us; it was one of those cranky old toilets where you have to throw your weight into it just right) and the shock at a few of the profoundly politically incorrect opinions of the friendly, crusty, frankly ugly old man sitting beside us at the bar, and the hilarious moment after he’d left when another local, evidently familiar with him, dismissed him as “smelling like a horse.”

The long and short of it is, it wasn’t an easy day. It was our most challenging (possibly with the exception of the first day of work in London) and it wore us thin. In fact, by the time we’d checked into our room at the memorable Sea Beach House (our large windows opened up right onto the ocean) I was frayed so thin I couldn’t talk past the lump in my throat. I was disappointed to have missed the castle, frustrated that acquiring dinner stood between us and the fast-setting sun – just a ball of stress. Determined to keep our pledge not to let attitudes like that ever hijack our trip I just moved through it in silence, trying to ride it out. I wrote in my own journal the next morning of just what a mess the day made of me but how perfectly Mike met me there and made it all feel OK right in the middle of it. Marriage at its realest and best.

The emotional roller coaster only got worse when we were finally sitting on the beach and I remembered what I maybe hadn’t even known; I wrote later: “The beach – the looming ocean, more importantly, and the gulls and the smell of fish, here more nostalgic than in the states because of my childhood memories of Scotland – this is true, deep home to me and I hadn’t really experienced it in years. Never with Mike present. Nostalgia and emotion and peace washed over me and tears poured down my face.” Sitting on that beach practically carried by the sounds and smells, even the feel of the air on skin, so unique to the coast, and to the coast in that part of the world where I spent a magically happy year as a child, completely undid me, silenced all the tension of the day and washed it away, bringing instead a lifetime of memories, first of St. Andrews as a child, then of the Ft. Lauderdale coast – one of the only safe places my teenage years knew: the axis and sanctuary of my little world for several very hard years. And to have my husband beside me, for the first time experiencing my definition of “home” and with it, my truest self… Not a night I will soon forget.

Headed through the streets toward breakfast around 7:00 a.m.

Headed through the streets toward breakfast around 7:00 a.m.

Morning light coming to the fountain by our hotel

Morning light coming to the fountain by our hotel

Waking up to the city sparkling-clean - the streets are literally washed down before the day begins.

Waking up to the city sparkling-clean – the streets are literally washed down before the day begins.

The steep angle of the light beginning to fill the narrow, high-walled streets was enchanting.

The steep angle of the light beginning to fill the narrow, high-walled streets was enchanting.

Squeezing in one more french food experience. This is the cafe where we sat and watched the market come to life, and the cafe, too, as the owner walked across the square to acquire his food straight from the baker's oven.

Squeezing in one more french food experience. This is the cafe where we sat and watched the market come to life, and the cafe, too, as the owner walked across the square to acquire his food straight from the baker’s oven.

Funny story about the beer truck in the background. The sight of commercial and utility vehicles (pretty much the only ones allowed in the streets) navigating the patchwork layout of narrow alleys was always a good show. As we sat at breakfast we watched as this truck made about a 9-point turn to get behind our tables, bringing the corner of his front bumper within an inch or two of the woman seated next to us. It didn't seem to bother her very much.

Funny story about the beer truck in the background. The sight of commercial and utility vehicles (pretty much the only ones allowed in the streets) navigating the patchwork layout of narrow alleys was always a good show. As we sat at breakfast we watched as this truck made about a 9-point turn to get behind our tables, bringing the corner of his front bumper within an inch or two of the woman seated next to us. It didn’t seem to bother her very much.

Oh, Aix!

Oh, Aix!

The fields leading up to the cliffs seemed to roll on forever, all of them full of sheep.

The fields leading up to the cliffs seemed to roll on forever, all of them full of sheep.

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Loved the clouds at the horizon.

Loved the clouds at the horizon.

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Notice the tiny boat glistening white in the sun.

Notice the tiny boat glistening white in the sun.

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Of all the things I saw on this trip, this might top my list of things I'd like my kids to see someday. It puts you in your place in the best possible way.

Of all the things I saw on this trip, this might top my list of things I’d like my kids to see someday. It puts you in your place in the best possible way.

This, apparently, is a private residence.

This, apparently, is a private residence.

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The drive from the edge of the cliff down into Eastbourne was only a couple minutes, and quite the vista with the sun beginning to sink low behind us on a sparkling-clear day.

The drive from the edge of the cliff down into Eastbourne was only a couple minutes, and quite the vista with the sun beginning to sink low behind us on a sparkling-clear day.

The view from our hotel windows

The view from our hotel windows

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Random fact: this pier went up in flames just a week before we were there, completely destroying the inland structure. All that remained was a skeleton.

Random fact: this pier went up in flames just a week before we were there, completely destroying the inland structure. All that remained was a skeleton.

We really loved Eastbourne and its pace and feel. Seemed like more of a retirement/resort town. A little concerned what that says about us, that we prefer to hang out with the old people...

We really loved Eastbourne and its pace and feel. Seemed like more of a retirement/resort town. A little concerned what that says about us, that we prefer to hang out with the old people…

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My happiest happy place.

My happiest happy place.

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August 6: Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence is a university town about the same size as our own. (After that, the similarities cease!) It’s about 20 miles north of the south coast of France and has been on the map since the second century. It’s university and cathedral date from the twelfth century. It was home to Cezanne and, for a time, Van Gogh. The cobblestone streets of its historic city center wind every which way, sometimes barely more than six feet wide, opening onto large squares here and there. Needless to say, there’s not a lot of car traffic. We spent two nights there, enjoying it from sun-up to sundown on Wednesday, August 6. It wins the prize as our favorite destination of all. We would go back in a heartbeat.

Wednesday 6 August, 1:00 p.m.

We’ve just eaten – a pizza for Mike and a salad for me. We’re sitting at one of many busy tables under umbrellas in a shady square – Ancino Place de l’Archevescat. We’re sending a couple postcards. The ground beneath our feet is ancient stone. We slept in a little this morning, then wandered the streets, through the PERFECT market and into an almost as perfect (the market was THAT perfect) fabric shop where we gleefully parted with 94 Euro for a bag of treasures, including oil cloth to cover our table from now till forever. We watched a man in a food stand make us a crepe and fill it with nutella. We wandered the Cathedral de Saint Saveur, finding a sixth-century baptistry and a lovely little cloister – how these things capture the imagination!! The woman eating behind us heard our stumbling conversation with the waitress and inserted herself, the quintessential French woman, perhaps 50-55 years old. Elegant and exuberant. She told us where to go for our picnic tonight.

12:15 a.m.

We bounced around town for two hours today. The Mediterranean lifestyle scored one on us when we returned to the food market after lunch to find it all gone and washed away. So for our picnic we assembled the basics – bread, cheese, grapes, 16E worth of chocolate, a bottle of delightful dry-but-sweet red wine – from various shops. The bike rental plan was for nought, a discovery hard-won by searching out three address around town without satisfaction – one was closed, two wanted the bikes returned too early. So we saved our budgeted 32E and spent 4E instead, hopping the city bus with our books and our picnic for a feat of precise timing, getting off one to buy a Cezanne for Mike’s mom and back on another to ride it to the end of its route for a scenic tour of the countryside and back, to where we eventually recognized we were in the wrong place (and unwilling to walk the distance) for the vista picnic we’d planned. We settled for a grassy park set back from the road, itself high enough on the hills to the north of town to make for a few views and a lovely sunset. A bubbly French woman – uncommonly (but only slightly) overweight, about 65-70 years old, sat nearby and came to make conversation. We conversed for a half hour easily, she in quick, eager French, we in slow but improving French, and we understood a surprising amount, even Mike. It was a hilarious exchange and we giggled about it after she left. She’d watched us incredulously as we’d approached – tourists, obviously – but warmed to a grin when she saw us lay out our very French picnic. Clearly she approved. When she came over and discovered we were drinking straight from our bottle of wine (she professed deep affection for “le vin rouge”) she was slightly horrified, mostly amused, and even more so when she apprehended our intent to polish the whole thing off. We assured her we’d ride the bus. Eventually she went on her merry way and soon we went on ours, disembarking from our bus onto Cours Mirabeau just as darkness set in. We shopped a little more and sat at a cafe for a night cap, enjoying more hilarious conversation, the best of all – the moment Mike saw the rising moon and made note of it, sounding EXACTLY like Josh: “Leh Mooooon.” Now everything is “Leh” this and that and I think Bryonie and I share ever more in common.

The market opens each day on Place Richelme - fish (I loved the smells!) and meats, cheeses, herbs, soaps, oils, produce, flowers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, dried figs... It is perhaps the most vivid thing left in my memory of our whole trip. I can't stop imagining the lifestyle it offers.

The market opens each day on Place Richelme – fish and meats, cheeses, herbs, soaps, oils, produce, flowers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, dried figs… It is perhaps the most vivid thing left in my memory of our whole trip. I can’t stop imagining the lifestyle it offers.

Sun-dried tomatoes. The cafe in the background is where we sat for breakfast the following morning as the vendors set up the market.

Sun-dried tomatoes. The cafe in the background is where we sat for breakfast the following morning as the vendors set up the market.

Not your average American can of olives.

Not your average American can of olives.

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I was kinda giddy.

I was kinda giddy.

Just as we were leaving Le Victoire fabric shop after probably almost an hour of obsessing over and finally selecting fabric for a tablecloth and a load of napkins, this caught our eye. I think we're going to order it next spring as a gift to ourselves. It just screams Easter Feast in the Powell House to us.

Just as we were leaving Le Victoire fabric shop after probably almost an hour of obsessing over and finally selecting fabric for a tablecloth and a load of napkins, this caught our eye. I think we’re going to order it next spring as a gift to ourselves. It just screams Easter Feast in the Powell House to us.

The architecture (and the blue, blue sky) just delighted us.

The architecture (and the blue, blue sky) just delighted us.

It was fun wandering town (which was all we did for half the day) while restaurants were beginning to set up there outdoor seating in preparation for lunch and dinner. What a transformation! Soon the squares are buzzing with crowded tables and live music and very good smells.

It was fun wandering town (which was all we did for half the day) while restaurants were beginning to set up there outdoor seating in preparation for lunch and dinner. What a transformation! Soon the squares are buzzing with crowded tables and live music and very good smells.

Biting into our nutella crepe (we watched it being made) and discussing the humility of the work of daily sustenance in a culture different from our own; it gives the lie to our modern American obsession with every individual reaching his full potential only by "being someone famous" or "making the world a better place," as if to do less is just to not try. Give us this day our daily bread is so simple and yet so rich. We've been craving that humility for our own lives and aspirations.

Biting into our nutella crepe (we watched it being made) and discussing the humility of the work of daily sustenance in a culture different from our own; it gives the lie to our modern American obsession with every individual reaching his full potential only by “being someone famous” or “making the world a better place,” as if to do less is just to not try. Give us this day our daily bread is so simple and yet so rich. We’ve been craving that humility for our own lives and aspirations.

And we loved the scarcity of "fast food" as we know it. In France, this is what the cheap  grab-and-go fare looked like. Fresh as the morning dew.

And we loved the scarcity of “fast food” as we know it. In France, this is what the cheap grab-and-go fare looked like. Fresh as the morning dew.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

Fourth-century baptistry. Puts modern American evangelical and/or Reformed "family squabbles" in perspective. Baptism: Not just an intellectual debate about immersion, infants, or regeneration. It's something that's been happening for two thousand years and it's bigger than you. Just sayin'.

Fourth-century baptistry. Puts modern American evangelical and/or Reformed “family squabbles” in perspective. Baptism: Not just an intellectual debate about immersion, infants, or regeneration. It’s something that’s been happening for two thousand years and it’s bigger than you. Just sayin’.

This bit of fresco dates from the 1300s.

This bit of fresco dates from the 1300s.

And this mosaic is from the sixth century.

And this mosaic is from the sixth century.

14th century baptismal font

14th century baptismal font

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The sight of this confessional launched a conversation about the historic work of the pastor and how it figured in to parish life. It's what we do for fun.

The sight of this confessional launched a conversation about the historic work of the pastor and how it figured in to parish life. It’s what we do for fun.

The cloister

The cloister

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This school was right near the cathedral.

This school was right near the cathedral.

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Sorry about all the random architecture photos. They are partly for a friend and former Aix resident.

Sorry about all the random architecture photos. They are partly for a friend and former Aix resident.

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This was the only time on our trip that we sat down for lunch in a restaurant.

This was the only time on our trip that we sat down for lunch in a restaurant.

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Pizza. No surprise there.

Pizza. No surprise there.

Salad. On the bread is an olive tapenade and behind it is a big strip of prosciutto.

Salad. On the bread is an olive tapenade and behind it is a big strip of prosciutto.

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These next photos were taken from the city bus we rode at the end of the day after a tightly-timed scavenger hunt to assemble our picnic, including a lot of chocolate from Puyricard, a famous chocolatier in the region.

These next photos were taken from the city bus we rode at the end of the day after a tightly-timed scavenger hunt to assemble our picnic, including a lot of chocolate from Puyricard, a famous chocolatier in the region.

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Provence is just cool.

Provence is just cool.

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Picnic. Again.

Picnic. Again.

Keepin' it classy.

Keepin’ it classy.

The fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau at nightfall

The fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau at nightfall

"Leh Moooon"

“Leh Moooon”

Bonne nuit!

Bonne nuit!

August 5: Goodbye Paris, Hello Provence

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Some days are better than others. August 5 was one of the best I’ve ever had and I’d never finish coming up with reasons. It felt like several days, divided as it was into amazing chunks of good living: sunrise yoga; quiet, intimate reflection on our hotel balcony in the early morning, shopping one of Paris’s famous market streets for food to last us four meals, wandering Paris’s grandest sites, wondering at our first-ever train ride, discovering glorious, perfect Aix, doing the work of travel (reviewing a budget and washing clothes by hand). It’s one of those days of our trip that I look back to now and it boggles my mind: We really got to live that!? I don’t know when I’ve felt more in love or felt happier, maybe like C. S. Lewis’s “happy”: not wanting to be anywhere else at that moment. By this fourth day we were getting our travel legs, so to speak. We were learning it like you learn a dance step – finally actually dancing, and it was starting to do its work on us, on our marriage, on our tired souls. It was just a good, good day.

A few missing details worth remembering: This summer I accidentally bought the wrong rail pass in preparation for our trip. The discovery was horrifying, since it’d been a non-refundable $850. But it was exchangeable and a wonderful customer service representative spent an hour or more on the phone with me one afternoon going over our travel plans with a fine-tooth comb until I knew for sure exactly what trains we’d need on exactly what days, and applied that $850 to all those tickets, to our Paris 3-day metro passes, and to our London Oyster Cards. In the end I think we only lost about $12. We used up some “spare money” by upgrading almost all our rail tickets to first class. So we were riding in luxury, and it was a ball. And oh, the scenery from Paris to Aix!!

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The walk we took on this morning ended up being one of our best times in Paris, taken at a leisurely pace. From our hotel at 23 Avenue Duquesne we walked to Rue Cler around 8:30 a.m., shopped and ate, then (with three baguettes tucked into my bag) found our way to the river, crossing at Pont de l’Alma and then walking east alongside the river past Grand Palais, Port des Champs Elysees, the stunning Pont de la Concorde and Place de la Concorde, and then through the Tuilleries & Louvre, across the river again and deep into the web of streets again where we did a pretty good job navigating home, considering I accidentally lost our map.

Finally, Aix deserves some introduction, and a few of the good moments there need recording: We picked Aix because a handful of our dear friends have lived there for various seasons. We wanted a small town and we wanted the “feel” of south France. Ideally we wanted to see endless lavender fields, which didn’t quite happen. In our imaginations we saw ourselves wandering outside of the town to lie on a picnic blanket for half the day. That also didn’t happen because we fell in love with the town in an instant and couldn’t get our fill. That night we browsed through the artisan stalls, buying a handmade drum for the kids, some beautiful clay-and-glass plates for our dresser, aprons or little bowls for assorted family and friends. We lingered long over several tablecloths or other textiles but couldn’t reconcile ourselves to their prices, a little disappointed, but sure we could find something cheaper on a bolt in a shop.

Upon returning to our room (in a plain, cheap, but charming hotel in the historic city center – words wouldn’t do for capturing it) for late dinner with Jason Bourne and a lot of dirty laundry, we finally reviewed our budget for the first time since setting out, discovering that in our perpetual frugality we’d significantly under-spent in Paris (besides, we’d been too busy to shop for souvenirs), and that my memory of a $200 “gifts/mementos” budget was actually wrong. We’d saved $500 towards it. Our anxious budget-trained hearts at all the cash we’d parted with in four days of profligate living were stilled and the rest of the trip we just had fun. The next day we bought ourselves a tablecloth to make your heart sing, dang-it. We’d set a good pace for our spending and came home soundly within our budget. (Never mind the story of the $3000+ transmission rebuild that stood between us and the road on the morning we left Florida. Oh well. It was good while it lasted.)

Tuesday 5 August, 6:10 a.m.

This morning we plan to shop and eat in Rue Cler before a walk through the Tuileries Gardens, along the Seine, past the Louvre, and back to get our bags via 12:15 mass at Ste. Clotilde. If we’re lucky there will be time to peek into the sculpture gardens at Rodin Museum. We’ll bus across town past its major sights, ending at the Bastille, where we’ll catch the metro to the TGV bound for Aix-en-Provence. This city has charmed me, intrigued me, challenged me, as if to say “I dare you to figure me out.”

Un autre fois.

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3:40 p.m. T.G.V. Gare du Lyon —> Aix-en-Provence

Which came first? The ^1-^5-^6 of the train announcement or the Bourne theme?

And so Paris is done. A perfect end to the morning, sitting on our balcony, finishing 1 Corinthians and praying, aware of the grander of Christ and His kingdom by comparison with Paris’s own splendor and grandeur. We didn’t want to leave that moment, that place.

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We set out to Rue Cler at 8:30, leaving our luggage at the hotel desk. We ate Pave du Chocolat (custard filled pastry) and a raspberry cookie for breakfast after procuring three cheeses, four figs, a jar of fig-raisin confit, two almond pastries, and 3 baguettes from shops along the road. From there we walked (strolled, finally, after days of quick clips) up to the Seine and east through the Tuileries Gardens (where I fell in love!) and realized as we left the Louvre grounds that our map was lost. We navigated as best we could within a few blocks of Ste. Clotilde. We stoped at a cafe to ask and were answered by a lively, hilarious argument between a tall, sharp, suave waiter and a crusty-but-sophisticated old American ex-pat. A third man counseled us to listen to the ex-pat and we all laughed a lot. Ste. Clotilde was surreal – Franck’s church. We were there for noon mass, a beautiful thirty minutes with a dozen other worshipers. Daily worship – so simple, so perfect. An oasis in the bustling city, like the consulate for the kingdom of heaven.

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Along the way we enjoyed an eclaire from Eric Kayser. Returned to our hotel about 1:15 and boarded a bus across town (a group of nuns sat beside us after a few stops – they are such inspiring characters). We disembarked at the Bastille and walked to Gare du Lyon.

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Along the Seine a dark-skinned old woman (Spanish?) stopped us with a found ring; she offered it to us (“good luck”) and then, when we refused money for a cafe she took it back in a huff. Not till I saw her again by the Louvre did I realize we’d been conned. She must’ve had the ring all along, not found it.

In an age of photography (not to mention narcissism – so many Asian kids with long sticks to attach to their phones to aid in taking “selfies”) we memorialize every sight we see. But how do you remember the sound of the accordion playing golden age French love songs – Le Vie en Rose – on the metro? How do you remember the smell as you walk past a cafe or a poissonierre? How do you remember the taste of a perfect cheese – sweet, almost, like it was faintly perfumed with blueberries, or (today) with orange? You can only live in those moments, fully present, thankful, wondering. Photography overdevelops one sense, dulling the others, and gives us confidence in our archives, making us lazy and lethargic toward the present moment. (And yet, for full disclosure, I took around 700 pictures in these 4 days!)

I love how the hay bales are smaller, the fields look like patchwork compared to ours, and the farmhouses and barns are regal almost by their stone walls. America the Beautiful isn’t the only thing going…

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12:30 a.m. Hotel des Quatres Dauphins, Rue de 4 Septembre, Aix-en-Provence

We loved Aix-en-Provence immediately – walking down Cours Mirabeau amid the evening street vendors. We settled our things and went out to shop for gifts and mementos, coming back at dark for a picnic of Paris food and Bourne Identity while reviewing our budget and doing laundry. C’est bon!

Given all that this day contained, 72 pictures doesn’t actually seem like a lot…

Les Invalides, the gilded dome in the far right of the photo, felt arm's reach from our hotel.

Sunrise over Les Invalides, the gilded dome in the far right of the photo, which felt arm’s reach from our hotel.

L'Ecole Militaire

L’Ecole Militaire

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The market street of Rue Cler was a fun walk. We picked up some lovely cheese, fresh figs, and a bit more besides before dropping over 10E at a boulangerie for baguettes and treats. This was probably a large share of the 5 pounds each of us put on over this trip... this and the gelato every day in Italy!

The market street of Rue Cler was a fun walk. We picked up some lovely cheese, fresh figs, and a bit more besides before dropping over 10E at a boulangerie for baguettes and treats. This was probably a large share of the 5 pounds each of us put on over this trip… this and the gelato every day in Italy!

Breakfast

Breakfast

Look at that blue sky. It was a completely perfect day.

Look at that blue sky. It was a completely perfect day.

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Lunch and dinner!

Lunch and dinner!

Crossing the Seine

Crossing the Seine

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I had fun snagging random shots of the Eiffel Tower framed in various ways...

I had fun snagging random shots of the Eiffel Tower framed in various ways…

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I'm gonna live on this houseboat someday...

I’m gonna live on this houseboat someday…

Place de la Concorde, just east of the Tulleries & the Louvre

Place de la Concorde, just east of the Tulleries & the Louvre

In the Tulleries: Lavender bed

In the Tulleries: Lavender bed

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That a garden of this situation and stature would include a vegetable plot intrigued and fascinated me.

That a garden of this situation and stature would include a vegetable plot intrigued and fascinated me.

We can't agree on whether this is a genuine tree or a fabricated sculpture. Either way, it is obviously a purposeful element of the landscape.

We can’t decide whether this was a genuine tree or a fabricated sculpture. Either way, it is obviously a purposeful element of the landscape.

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The concept of a garden of this scope in the midst of a city of this much concrete completely stole my heart and captured my imagination. An essay will ensue eventually.

The concept of a garden of this scope in the midst of a city of this much concrete completely stole my heart and captured my imagination. An essay will ensue eventually.

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We "saw" the Louvre...

We “saw” the Louvre…

Eric Kayser. Kind of a big deal among French patisseries.

Eric Kayser. Kind of a big deal among French patisseries. Kind of yummy.

Ste. Clotilde. Cesar Franck's church. So not really a big deal for me, as you will understand from the next few photos.

Ste. Clotilde. Cesar Franck’s church. So not really a big deal for me, as you will understand from the next few photos.

Funny story: this was actually our second glimpse of the church, the first being completely overshadowed by my desperate need to find a bathroom, a quest I'd been on for over three hours, to no avail. We finally found one and practically sprinted back to the church in time for the 12:15 mass. There was no time or concentration for photos the first time we glimpsed the building. At that point the sight of a bathroom was all I was interested in.

Funny story: this was actually our second glimpse of the church, the first being completely overshadowed by my desperate need to find a bathroom, a quest I’d been on for over three hours, to no avail. We finally found one and practically sprinted back to the church in time for the 12:15 mass. There was no time or concentration for photos the first time we glimpsed the building. At that point the sight of a bathroom was all I was interested in.

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Yup.

Yup.

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There are only a couple people in the world who will fully appreciate how ridiculously exciting this moment was for me. They are nerds, like me.

There are only a couple people in the world who will fully appreciate how ridiculously exciting this moment was for me. They are nerds, like me.

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This lovely fenced garden interrupts the bustle and endless sprawl of city. Adjacent to the church, together they are a poignant oasis. I didn't understand the value of city gardens until I experienced the endless barrage of a city's hustle and bustle. Of course, in a place like Paris, you would escape to a tiny plot like this one to eat your lunch in the middle of a workday.

This lovely fenced garden interrupts the bustle and endless sprawl of city. Adjacent to the church, together they are a poignant oasis. I didn’t understand the value of city gardens until I experienced the endless barrage of a city’s hustle and bustle. Of course, in a place like Paris, you would escape to a tiny plot like this one to eat your lunch in the middle of a workday.

Les Invalides was such an integral part of the landscape for us, located so close to our hotel, that we complete took it for granted and never even thought to visit it...

Les Invalides was such an integral part of the landscape for us, located so close to our hotel, that we complete took it for granted and never even thought to visit it…

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Au revoir, Paris!

Au revoir, Paris!

The Provence region

The Provence region

The TGV station a few km outside Aix-en-Provence

The TGV station a few km outside Aix-en-Provence

I wouldn't mind having one of these things poking out of my bag every day...

I wouldn’t mind having one of these things poking out of my bag every day…

Cours Mirabeau, Aix-en-Provence, 7:00 p.m. on a perfect summer night.

Cours Mirabeau, Aix-en-Provence, 7:00 p.m. on a perfect summer night.

The view from our hotel room. Loved the old buildings and our close proximity to residential life.

The view from our hotel room. Loved the old buildings and our close proximity to residential life.

Hotel les Quatres Dauphins

Hotel les Quatres Dauphins

La Fontaine des Quatres Dauphins. This one was for Cher Bryonie.

La Fontaine des Quatres Dauphins. This one was for Cher Bryonie.

My beach cover-up doubled as a picnic blanket throughout our trip.

My beach cover-up doubled as a picnic blanket throughout our trip.

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Jason Bourne made a guest appearance on our "honeymoon." Appropriate, if you know that Mike joked that his wedding vows should've read "forsaking all others, except Matt Damon."

Jason Bourne made a guest appearance on our “honeymoon.” Appropriate, if you know that Mike joked that his wedding vows should’ve read “forsaking all others, except Matt Damon.”

August 4: The Eiffel Tower and Other Glamorous Things

Our general rule of thumb on this trip was to find the cheapest possible accommodations in any given location that came with private bathrooms. That ruled out hostels and some of the most basic hotel options in European countries where hall bathrooms aren’t unusual, but it kept things pretty budget-friendly. In our three weeks of travel, though, we went in for two splurges: once the third of three nights in Paris, once the fourth of five nights in Italy. Little bookends of glamour for our trip. I am so happy with the effect this had on our travel. Starting and ending our adventure with those little touches of luxury left us with a general impression of luxury all across the board, even though some of the places where we stayed were rather plain (epecially the dorms in London!!).

Our third night in Paris we stayed on the fifth floor of Hotel Duquesne Eiffel, a choice we settled on after reading review after review of the shocking view out the windows on this street corner. Not only was the hotel just as sleek, shiny, and elegant as we could’ve imagined, the view was past our expectations, and we weren’t even in THE famous room. Right next door to it proved just as good, as you will see from our photos.

The goal for this day was relaxation and glamour, but we front-loaded the relaxation by accident, so tired from Sunday’s miles that we decided to sleep in rather than arriving at the Eiffel Tower at 8:00 to beat the crowds. This decision cost us our whole day, rather than “just a couple hours,” as we’d told ourselves, but we didn’t mind. We were standing right under the Eiffel Tower, after all, and we were even in the shade, and we were together, reading a book about Paris. No picnic happened, though, and no boat on the Seine, and no stroll across the river to wander around Trocadero. These were all possibilities on our itinerary, along with A Real French Restaurant Experience and a peek at what all the fuss was over Champs Elysees. In the end, the day included the Eiffel Tower, and by a burst of well-prepared Monday-in-August-in-Paris improvisation, a fabulous dinner followed by a night-lit stroll down Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Good enough, I’d say.

This was the third day in a row of our travels in which we ended up unintentionally fasting (or practically fasting) for half a day. It was the introduction to a theme that has stayed with us most vividly from our travels and the conversations it inspired: a deeper understanding of “Give us this day our daily bread.” This, too, must wait for another time. For now this anecdote, just to prove that our trip wasn’t QUITE perfect: Waking about 9:00 a.m. and checking out of our hotel around 10:00, we thought we’d just see what there was to see near our new hotel by way of food, maybe grab a pastry on our way to the tower, maybe have a picnic before standing in line. By the time we were checked in, settled, and beginning to execute our day’s plan it was after noon. We looked for a nearby boulangerie or market but there wasn’t much. It seems we were in more of a business/governmental district, tucked in right beside L’Ecole Militaire and a block from UNESCO. By now desperately hungry and desperate to get to the tower before the crowds worsened, we ducked into a corner market, what seemed the French equivalent of a convenience store. We picked up a little wheel of Camembert, two peaches, and two apricots, and went on our way. We ate the mushy, grainy fruit but the cheese! Before Mike had finished peeling the wrapping away we could smell it. Not being the kind to shy away from stinky cheese, we thought nothing and bit in. We literally almost spat it out. Hoping and starving, I even took a second bite, a memory I won’t soon forget. We wrapped it up as tightly as we could and even then the smell stayed with us until we found a place to discard it several hours later. So we saw the tower and got back to our hotel at 6:30 to settle our dinner plans, change quickly, and get across town. Sitting down to dinner at 8:00 p.m., we ordered two bowls of French Onion Soup. Besides the fruit and that bite of cheese, the only thing we’d eaten in almost 24 hours. It was good.

Monday 4 August, 5:00 p.m. Atop the Eiffel Tower

We slept in till 9:00 this morning, which was perhaps a mistake, since it meant we wouldn’t beat crowds to the Eiffel Tower, so here we are, and it’s all we’ve done today besides relocate to our astonishingly lovely hotel here in 7th Arr. I’m sitting on the south edge waiting for Mike to descend from the top, after which we hope to find the hotel has successfully made us reservations for dinner. All we’ve eaten today are two peaches, two apricots, and an awful bite of a cheese we had to throw away – we bought it in what appeared the equivalent of a c-store. So we are fasting, and hoping to be gratified tonight after yesterday’s disappointment and today’s starvation.

Tuesday 5 August, 6:10 a.m.

I’m sitting on our balcony – practically a shrine to the Eiffel Tower for how large it looms in the foreground. To my right on the horizon, Sacre Coeur; almost in arm’s reach, Les Invalides; at my feet, L’Ecole Militaire. We marveled at how perfect a hotel we found! Last night we sat here together almost till 1:00 a.m. taking in the city and the tower’s lights, a bright half-moon on our left. We descended by stairs from the tower and walked home still with nothing to eat, discovering on our arrival at 6:30 p.m. that the concierge had been unsuccessful in securing our dinner reservation. Thank God I brought the indexes of Food Lover’s Guide to Paris! I cross-referenced, looking up online half a dozen options open both August & Monday (a rare find) and we had an 8:00 p.m. reservation by 7. We raced to iron and change, setting out for Chez Andre just off Champs Elysees. We emerged from the metro by Grand Palais. Our dinner was sublime, a mountaintop worthy of Paris. We ate for 89E, too, a feat! We were served by a warm and good-humored manager and a completely darling waitress. Famished, we made quick work of the bread basket and began a bottle of white wine, slightly sweet, so crisp and cold. We lingered over bowls of French onion soup, split a main dish of duck breast with caramelized peaches, slowly shared a cheese plate and a glass of port, and then finished with dessert, for Mike a rum-soaked baba, for me an exquisite and generous creme brulee, hard as a paper-thin sheet of glass on top. we walked up Champs-Elysees after two hours at the table, glimpsing the Arc de Triomphe before catching the metro back to our hotel. It was a perfect night.

There are a lot of pictures. Obviously.

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Our hotel room was larger than average and lacked for no comfort.

Not your average French hotel bathroom. Our room was large and lacked for no comfort.

This is for real.

This is for real.

And this was our view.

And this was our view.

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Everything about this hotel was perfect.

Everything about this hotel was perfect.

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We stood in line under the tower for two or three hours just to get our elevator tickets, and then another hour at least waiting for our turn in the elevator, itself large enough to carry 25-30 people. If we had it to do over we would've climbed the stairs. We took them on the way down and they really weren't that bad. We would've saved hours even if we'd stopped to rest after every few flights.

We stood in line under the tower for two or three hours just to get our elevator tickets, and then another hour at least waiting for our turn in the elevator, itself large enough to carry 25-30 people. If we had it to do over we would’ve climbed the stairs. We took them on the way down and they really weren’t that bad. We would’ve saved hours even if we’d stopped to rest after every few flights.

The elevator car (for this particular leg of the tower).

The elevator car (for this particular leg of the tower).

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Obligatory selfie.

Obligatory selfie.

My view facing south, where I sat on the second level (about 1/3 of the way up the tower) waiting for Mike to ascend and descend the rest of the way. I was too chicken and didn't want my nerves to spoil his fun. I had a great time studying the town with my map out and enjoying a relatively quiet corner away from crowds.

My view facing south, where I sat on the second level (about 1/3 of the way up the tower) waiting for Mike to ascend and descend the rest of the way. I was too chicken and didn’t want my nerves to spoil his fun. I had a great time studying the town with my map out and enjoying a relatively quiet corner away from crowds.

Mike's photo from the top

Mike’s photo from the top

Notice the little flesh-tone in the upper left corner: Mike was holding my iPhone outside the safety grating of the tower, gripping it anxiously lest it plunge to its (and someone else's) death. Pictured: Trocadero

Notice the little flesh-tone in the upper left corner: Mike was holding my iPhone outside the safety grating of the tower, gripping it anxiously lest it plunge to its (and someone else’s) death. Pictured: Trocadero

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Awwww....

Awwww….

This is a picture of our computer screen, and a sample of our navigational system at its most sophisticated. Mostly we just used paper maps and addresses. Sometimes when we had a tight schedule or a complicated route and the good fortune of reliable WIFI in our hotel we'd do something like this. We felt like ninjas by the end. I highly recommend world travel without WIFI/cell data in your pocket. It's a thrill... ;)

This is a picture of our computer screen, and a sample of our navigational system at its most sophisticated. Mostly we just used paper maps and addresses. Sometimes when we had a tight schedule or a complicated route and the good fortune of reliable WIFI in our hotel we’d do something like this. We felt like ninjas by the end. I highly recommend world travel without WIFI/cell data in your pocket. It’s a thrill… 😉

I was too hungry to think of photographing our sumptuous fare until halfway through. This entree was so generous that when they brought it out, split onto two plates, we thought they'd accidentally brought us two. It was marvelous - duck breast with caramelized peaches.

I was too hungry to think of photographing our sumptuous fare until halfway through. This entree was so generous that when they brought it out, split onto two plates, we thought they’d accidentally brought us two. It was marvelous – duck breast with caramelized peaches.

Pretend you don't want to read this menu.

Pretend you don’t want to read this menu.

Chez Andre was a quarter mile off Champs Elysees. We were so thankful to be sitting in a lovely French restaurant against all the odds of the day and the season. Our spirits were so high.

Chez Andre was a quarter mile off Champs Elysees. We were so thankful to be sitting in a lovely French restaurant against all the odds of the day and the season. Our spirits were so high.

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Mike ordered the rum-soaked baba for dessert and a few minutes before they brought out dessert they dropped off this bottle of rum on our table, where it sat for the remainder of the meal. The pictures tells the rest.

Mike ordered the rum-soaked baba for dessert and a few minutes before they brought out dessert they dropped off this bottle of rum on our table, where it sat for the remainder of the meal. The pictures tells the rest.

Funny story: some brash, loud guy was pestering a sophisticated middle-aged waitress as I was coming out of the ladies' room on my way out to the street to meet Mike after we'd finished dinner. Having finished his conversation with the well-mannered waitress, he stormed away, pushing through a narrow space between himself and me fully aware by the look on his face that he realized he'd just made a lady wait instead of doing the gentlemanly thing (not to mention waiting his turn). I didn't mind and met the waitress's eye with a smile as I walked toward her. The look she gave me, in an instant, almost set me laughing out loud: all her French propriety and dignity was offended on my behalf and she spoke it all with a grin. Hilarious!

Funny story: some brash, loud guy was pestering a sophisticated middle-aged waitress as I was coming out of the ladies’ room on my way out to the street to meet Mike after we’d finished dinner. Having finished his conversation with the well-mannered waitress, he stormed away, pushing through a narrow space between himself and me fully aware by the look on his face that he realized he’d just made a lady wait instead of doing the gentlemanly thing (not to mention waiting his turn). I didn’t mind and met the waitress’s eye with a smile as I walked toward her. The look she gave me, in an instant, almost set me laughing out loud: all her French propriety and dignity was offended on my behalf and she spoke it all with a grin. Hilarious!

Champs Elysees is hard to describe, especially at night with all its sparkle. The Arc de Triomphe is at its end. It spans well over a mile, lined on both sides with the most extravagant shopping you can imagine, from indoor luxury car dealerships to the world's largest Louis Vuitton store. Crazy.

Champs Elysees is hard to describe, especially at night with all its sparkle. The Arc de Triomphe is at its end. It spans well over a mile, lined on both sides with the most extravagant shopping you can imagine, from indoor luxury car dealerships to the world’s largest Louis Vuitton store. Crazy.

Walking "home" through Paris at midnight was fun.

Walking “home” through Paris at midnight was fun.

We Skyped the kids right at midnight to show them the Tower's light show, which happens for 5 minutes at the top of every hour. The tower goes from being floodlit to sparkling with millions of little lights. Jacob's explanation: "The Eiffel Tower is Sprinkling!"

We Skyped the kids right at midnight to show them the Tower’s light show, which happens for 5 minutes at the top of every hour. The tower goes from being floodlit to sparkling with millions of little lights. Jacob’s explanation: “The Eiffel Tower is Sprinkling!”

I don't always read in bed, but when I do I can see the Eiffel Tower with my head on my pillow.

I don’t always read in bed, but when I do I can see the Eiffel Tower with my head on my pillow.

August 3: The Heart of Paris

Our first Sunday in Europe was mostly magic, but it got rained on (both literally and proverbially) by the end. Our first attempt at navigating the sharply angled streets of Paris dissuaded us from the notion that we could just “go up one more block because it’ll all come out in the same place, and that street looks interesting.” Fortunately, we built a lot of time into our morning journey from our hotel in the 9th Arrondissement to our destination south of the Seine. Not only did we have to right the wrong caused by my curiosity about an “interesting looking street,” but we had to figure out what we were actually looking for in a metro stop. Never having navigated a major world city before, we were looking for something a little more commanding then the steps into the ground on the street corner that soon became a familiar signal that we’d reached our goal. Sewer rats, all of us, crawling in and out of the ground!

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We emerged from the metro at the north end of the famous Pont Neuf on the edge of Ile de la CitĂ©. It was our first sight of true Paris, and completely enchanting. It was only 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday, and the city was fast asleep. That, too, was enchanting – a special gift to have Paris to ourselves as we walked to church, across Pont Neuf and through the streets of the St. Germain district.

And what a day of church it was! Intimate, quiet, early mass in the east chapel of St. Sulpice, then back after breakfast to catch the organ in the main mass, an afternoon visit to Ste. Chapelle (past Durufle’s St. Etienne du Mont), and Vespers and Mass at the end of the day at Notre Dame. The times we spent in worship in France were profound. To enter a space in a country you’ve never been in before where you barely speak the language, and to know exactly where you are and what is happening speaks so much (which I will have to write later) about the transcendent power of the practice of Christian worship. Foreigners though we were, we felt like we belonged in that early morning spoken French mass, surrounded by 20-30 people, doing their customary Sunday morning thing. So began a trip filled with immense moments of worship inspiring long reflection.

Sunday 3 August, 11:00 a.m. St. Sulpice Church

A perfect morning. Got off the metro at Pont Neuf for our first look at Paris. Walked to St. Sulpice early while streets were mostly empty. Mass in the chapel was perfect, texts on God feeding us – Ps 144, Isa 55, Rom 8:31-39, loaves and fishes; communion – “Le corps de Christ.” Joy in finding familiarity with the Christian liturgy even in a foreign language. This is how the church should be. I felt like an initiate. We wandered into St. Germain des Pres church and its neighborhood, sharing breakfast and people-watching at a cafĂ© across the street from the church, listened to its bells calling to worship and heard St. Sulpice’s answer. After splitting a french breakfast with an omelette and greens, hot chocolate and the rest, we’ve come back to St. Sulpice to the 11:00 mass where the main organ is playing Brahms chorale preludes. During communion Roth improvised on Schmucke Dich and for postlude, Durufle Fugue sur le thĂšme du carillon de la cathĂ©drale de Soissons – Mike’s piece from this spring’s AAGO exam.

Monday 4 August, 5:00 p.m. Atop the Eiffel Tower

Sunday ended with a stroll and a pause in Luxembourg garden, a brief walk past the Pantheon to Rue Mouffetard, to find the Sunday market just finishing its close. Gelato on a square and a walk past Durufle’s church, then up to the islands to see St. Chapelle and attend Vespers & Mass at Notre Dame. We left there for Ile St. Louis and walked the circumference, getting caught in a downpour and desperately needing a bathroom. At 9:30 we ate a massively disappointing dinner in Cafe Odette & AmiĂ© by our hotel and fell into bed.

The rest can be told in pictures…

St. Sulpice, just north of the Luxembourg Gardens, is home to the largest of the great 19th-century French organs. Widor and Vierne worked there. This was our first glimpse of European church architecture, a wonder I will never finish digesting.

St. Sulpice, just north of the Luxembourg Gardens, is home to the largest of the great 19th-century French organs. Widor worked there and Franck wrote for that instrument. This was our first glimpse of European church architecture, a wonder I will never finish digesting.

The doors on these churches are monstrosities, immovable unless open in invitation, but almost always open. Inside the space belongs to you (and the occasional pigeon) for wandering and prayer. Such a different feeling from our American meeting-halls kept tightly locked.

The doors on these churches are monstrosities, immovable unless open in invitation, but almost always open. Inside the space belongs to you (and the occasional pigeon) for wandering and prayer. Such a different feeling from our American meeting-halls kept tightly locked.

No big deal.

No big deal. Not only did we hear service music at the 11:00 mass, but the liturgy was followed by a 30-minute recital.

One of the culinary highlights of our trip. The yogurt, served in a glass jar, tasted like fine cheese. The chocolate was served as a pitcher of steamed milk beside a cup of thick ganache. The orange juice, of course, was completely fresh.

One of the culinary highlights of our trip. The yogurt, served in a glass jar, tasted like fine cheese. The chocolate was served as a pitcher of steamed milk beside a cup of thick ganache. The orange juice, of course, was completely fresh.

This café, the Napoleon Bonaparte, was just across from the neighborhood parish, St. Germain des Pres.

This café, the Napoleon Bonaparte, was just across from the neighborhood parish, St. Germain des Pres.

We ate the Parisian way, sitting at one of the outdoor tables that faced the street, finding in it our entertainment, lingering long.

We ate the Parisian way, sitting at one of the outdoor tables that faced the street, finding in it our entertainment, lingering long.

The fountains in the square at the entrance to St. Sulpice. We arrived so early for the first mass that they weren't running yet and it was fun to see them when we returned.

The fountains in the square at the entrance to St. Sulpice. We arrived so early for the first mass that they weren’t running yet and it was fun to see them when we returned.

This gilded immensity is the lectern in the center of the nave, from which the gospel would be read, signifying its imminence and its majesty. God with us.

This gilded immensity is the lectern in the center of the nave, from which the gospel would be read, signifying its imminence and its majesty. God with us.

In a city as tightly built as Paris, it's remarkable the amount of real estate inhabited by churches, not only because of their large number but because they boast extensive church yards, gathering places of a time gone by. Again, deep meaning lies here.

In a city as tightly built as Paris, it’s remarkable the amount of real estate inhabited by churches, not only because of their large number but because they boast extensive church yards, gathering places of a time gone by. Again, deep meaning lies here.

Summary: St. Sulpice was seriously cool.

Summary: St. Sulpice was seriously cool.

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Les Jardins de Luxembourg

Les Jardins de Luxembourg

I couldn't take enough pictures of the plantings in Luxembourg Gardens. Some of them wouldn't be hard to duplicate. (You knew I was thinking it.)

I couldn’t take enough pictures of the plantings in Luxembourg Gardens. Some of them wouldn’t be hard to duplicate. (You knew I was thinking it.)

In the background is the famous pond at the center of the garden where children (and grown ups) sail their little toy boats. We didn't get any closer than this photo, since we were hurrying (in vain) to catch the market at Rue Mouffetard.

In the background is the famous pond at the center of the garden where children (and grown ups) sail their little toy boats. We didn’t get any closer than this photo, since we were hurrying (in vain) to catch the market at Rue Mouffetard. Next time.

We ate over-priced but delicious gelato from Amorino,  the famous gelato chain. While we sat in this hopping little square deep in the ancient Latin Quarter there was a guy playing a banged-up old upright piano in the middle of the street, serenading the diners pouring out of the cafés on a busy Sunday afternoon. Oh, Paris.

We ate over-priced but delicious gelato from Amorino, the famous gelato chain. While we sat in this hopping little square deep in the ancient Latin Quarter there was a guy playing a banged-up old upright piano in the middle of the street, serenading the diners pouring out of the cafés on a busy Sunday afternoon. Oh, Paris.

Eglise Saint Etienne du Mont. Mike was a little giddy to glimpse this church deep in the Latin Quarter, the workplace of "Le" Maurice Duruflé. (Also no big deal.)

Eglise Saint Etienne du Mont. Mike was a little giddy to glimpse this church deep in the Latin Quarter, the workplace of “Le” Maurice DuruflĂ©. (Also no big deal.)

Sainte Chapelle was a sight, for sure, but by this time we were in our slump for the day, having been on our feet already for eight hours and now feeling the hot sun and fighting the enormous Sunday-in-August crowds. Still, it was magnificent and worth it.

Sainte Chapelle was a sight, for sure, but by this time we were in our slump for the day, having been on our feet already for eight hours and now feeling the hot sun and fighting the enormous Sunday-in-August crowds. Still, it was magnificent and worth it.

You could spend weeks deciphering all the narrative embedded in windows like these.

You could spend weeks deciphering all the narrative embedded in windows like these.

Notre Dame was daunting, the line to gain entry winding the full length of its western square. We braved it and only ended up spending 20 minutes waiting. We sat inside for several hours, enjoying the strange combination of hush and roar that we grew accustomed to in dim tourist-filled churches during our trip. Getting to participate in services here, in a crowd of that size, was awesome.

Notre Dame was daunting, the line to gain entry winding the full length of its western square. We braved it and only ended up spending 20 minutes waiting. We sat inside for several hours, enjoying the strange combination of hush and roar that we grew accustomed to in dim tourist-filled churches during our trip. Getting to participate in services here, in a crowd of that size, was awesome.

I subjected Mike to far too many selfies along the way, always with very disappointing results. But we needed proof! ;) This photo was right before the rain storm that completely drenched us as we dashed around town searching in vain for a bathroom (this became an almost daily occurrence) and wishing for food and an adequate understanding of the bus routes. As I said before, our day got rained on.

I subjected Mike to far too many selfies along the way, always with very disappointing results. But we needed proof! 😉 This photo was right before the rain storm that completely drenched us as we dashed around town searching in vain for a bathroom (this became an almost daily occurrence) and wishing for food and an adequate understanding of the bus routes. As I said before, our day got rained on.

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