Thursday, October 18, 2012

In Chartres

On our way up the South tower at Chartes Cathedral, we found a delightful room, which was empty and had great acoustics. So, we stopped and sang a hymn to Our Lady. Too much fun!

The audio is unaltered except to remove the loud pop when recording began an ended.  We had just climbed dozens of stairs to get there...


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Grand Cathedral

We ended up in Chartres town after a hectic two hour commute there.  Of course, the address of the B&B did not show up in the GPS, so we had to guess, based on a local landmark with the same name as the street.  Thankfully, it worked, and we had established communication of a sort with our hostess.  She was the mother of five from Brittany, and her husband, who would show up later, was a Breton architect.   Meanwhile, my French was slow, and her English minimal, so it took a bit of effort to communicate.  We went off in search of dinner, buying some bread and pastries, finishing off our excellent English cheeses in the process.
  The next day, we drove to the parking lot by the Cathedral, and went to mass in the crypt.  Sadly, the sanctuary area was under repair, and we did not have mass there, and were not able to see it. After mass, we found some free parking, always a difficulty, and grabbed breakfast at the B&B.  Once that was done, we did laundry at a nearby Laverie or laundromat.  That was a surprisingly rewarding experience, mostly due to the fact that we had no clean clothes left...  While the laundry was going, we explored the lower town, and river areas.  After that, we spent a good four and more hours in the Cathedral, enjoying the majestic beauty of it and then climbing the tower to get a breath-taking view of the Cathedral and surrounding countryside.  Evening then found us on the road to Orleans, where we stayed the night.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Driving in Europe

Driving in Europe, as we have done, contains its own joys and challenges.  The challenges read as a "who's who" of nerve-wracking road conditions, and the joys consist primarily of safely reaching your destination.  Well, that's a mild exaggeration, but still, you get the point.
The first challenge we faced was that of driving on the wrong side of the road; The Irish follow English road customs which are almost the opposite of ours.  Thankfully, the Nissan Micra we had was small, and it was easier to make up for mistakes that way.  The gas, brake, and clutch pedals are all as in America, which was good, since shifting with the left hand was a bit distracting--not a good thing when driving on the opposite side of the road.  The other main feature of Irish roads is that, except for the main highways (M7, for example), they are all narrow, bumpy, and hedged by thick mounds of dirt or rock walls.  Couple this with local drivers hurtling along and giant buses and lorries (that's what they call trucks) looming out at you every so often, you have a scary ride.  We did get a flat tire, either due to bumps in the road, or more likely, severe under-inflation of the tires. Lastly, in Ireland, there are few direct roads to anywhere, so it takes forever to get from place to place, which is not a bad thing, however.  The Micra was so nondescript, we never thought to take a picture. I might link an image, though.
France had a set of challenges all its own. The signs were actually pretty easy to read, since I knew French.  Driving in Ireland had also prepared us for the placement of European signs, which are subtler and more misleading than American ones.  The tough part about France was that many, if not most of the addresses were vague.  They gave a name of a location, and the name of the road it was on (i.e., the Paris Road), but not a number or similar system. That left us driving around in the literal and metaphorical dark several times, as we actually drove past our destination several times. We got used to this, however. Leaving Paris was an exercise in patience, since we hit thick traffic and wet roads. It took us well over two hours to get to Chartres. The Parisian style of driving is to fit your car wherever there is an opening.  So, two lanes of traffic could easily morph into four, and back; depending on space, which driver was parking, calling a taxi, calling his grandmother, or just plain being French--Which way of being is rather vague like my sentence there.  Or here.  Anyway, at least everything was on the right side of the road, usually...  We named our car Gus-Gus the Panda, since it was a Fiat Panda, and a very Gus-Gus kind of car--cheerful and willing to play, but not a particularly stable character.

Italy was insane, I'll just say it now. There's a reason why the rental company would not rent without the insurance attached.  Our ride in Italy was named Ahab, since it was a whale of a car (compared to what we had before), a Citroen Picasso. Besides, Picasso was a whaley sort of person.  We did like the mileage the diesel engine gave, and the ease with which it accelerated.  Anyway, driving in Italy is like driving on the Autobahn in the fast lane, and a roller-derby in the slow lanes (Italian drivers are like Parisian drivers, everywhere in Italy).  No lie. Driving in Rome was like living the nightmares that New York cab drivers have about bad driving.  (That may or may not have been hyperbole. That's for me to know and you to find out.)  Anyway, if you have a modicum of bravery, and the ability to drive manual transmission, driving in Europe is not bad.  You can save some money over trains and planes, not to mention flexible schedules and independence. Just don't try parking on a hill in Siena. I'll tell you that one another time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

There are some things money can't ... and can ... buy.

Bought at a price:

Snazzy SLR camera we've been toting around and experimenting with.

Gladys, our HTC Flyer tablet that served as wedding planner, now as carrier pigeon.

Plane tickets, rental cars, tain and bus tickets, petrol/gasoline/diesel.

Room and some board.

Bread. Cheese. Fruit. Coffee/tea. Meat when available. Nutella. More bread. More coffee. Water and/or an OJ wannabe when found for cheap.

Oh yes, and the occassional burger or decent meal.

A load of clean laundry when you're living out of a backpack.

Tickets to tour tall things. Or touristy things. Like the Cliffs of Moher. The belltowers of Bath Abby or Chartres. The museum, facade, interior, crypt and baptistry of the "duomo" (basilica) in Siena.

Because, you see, as much as one insists that one will not spend $ when abroad (and a great experience may still be had, I'm sure), sometimes it's just worth it. To stay alive and healthy, both physically and mentally.

Along with this, there are many things that are high up on the priceless list:

The look in the eyes of new parents.
(oh wait, we're not quite there yet : )

Memories. All of them. Particularly,

The views from all those lofty heights.

The laughter over the sheer quantity of those foods consumed. Or hungered after.

The satisfaction of making it through a torrential downpour in Paris without succumbing to sidewalk marketing of 7 Euro umbrellas.

The subsequent desire for said pricey umbrella as you walk to 7am mass at St. Peter's in steady rain.

Finding doppelgangers of your friends and family among the visages and voices of the European nations.

Not having to pay for something you thought you would.


Wondering where in the world people work when they live in the smallest "town" you'be ever seen, in the boonies of the French countryside. And envying them just a bit for it.

The look on friends faces as you arrive, having not seen them in over a year, and enjoying simply being in their company once again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Paris en Pluie

Nous arrivons en Paris, et trouvons que il fait trop pluie....  Or something like that.  When we reached Paris, having taken the TGV from London, we locked our bags at Gare du Nord (a great way to save your back dans la Citie).  Intermittent rain followed us throughout the remainder of the day, getting steadier as night fell.  We almost broke down and got umbrellas, and in fact, should have done so.  At any rate, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant near the north side of the Basilica of Sacre Coeur.  After dinner, we splashed our way up the steps and to our room in the guesthouse.  The next day, we made the Holy Hour of adoration we had signed up for, and attended mass.  We left in search of breakfast, immediately walking into a rain that seemed to soak through everything.  As we conceded defeat and began to look for umbrellas to ward off the rain, it suddenly lifted, and the sky began to clear.  With brightened spirits, we got a quick bite to eat, and returned to the Cathedrale de Notre Dame, to take the requisite pictures, which we had skipped upon our first visit.  A half hour later, skipping the hour-long wait at Saint-Chappelle, we found ourselves on the Rue de Montparnasse, a small bit of Crepe Heaven.  Any one of the dozen places we looked into would have sufficed, but we chose, and spent a leisurely lunch hour consuming excellent crepes.  We then set out in search of the car rental location, which took about an hour of exploring to find.  Car in hand, or under-seat, rather, we returned to Gare du Nord for our bags, and left Paris.  Though our visit was brief, the city had exerted a grip on us, and refused to let us leave easily, throwing an extra hour or more of traffic at us, to keep us near.  We fought through the Paris traffic, and made our way to Chartres. 

City of the Dreaming Spires

What is there to say of Oxford? We were only able to spend a day there, hardly 24 hours, yet it was completely worth it. I will quote a passage from a favorite book, which details the story of the love of a couple, who begin as pagans and encounter Christ through the joy of other Christians. This passage is from their arrival at Oxford, where they will eventually meet and befriend C.S. Lewis:
"Imperceptibly the ages of faith, when men really believed, when the soaring spires carried their eyes and thoughts up to God, became real to us, not something in a book. What was happening was that our mind's gaze, almost without our knowing it, was being directed towards the Christian faith that, at once, animated our living contemporary friends and had brought this university with its colleges and churches and chapels into being. It was not precisely that we were being called upon to accept that faith but that we were being called upon to acknowledge its existence as an ancient and living force. There was a terrible splendour in these churches with their glorious glowing glass and in the music of the plainsong and in the words of the liturgy. The splendour of course did not mean that the faith was true; but perhaps we felt vaguely that it did somehow hint at a validity." (A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken)
While not having the academic experience of the university, as Van and his wife had, we too felt a bit of the splendor of Oxford, even amidst somewhat inclement weather in the evening. Some cider with a friend in a local pub was a warm welcome!

Golden Hours in the White City

I have no idea how people generally refer to Bath, UK, but it will forever have a type of white and golden glow about it in my mind. Perhaps this is because we arrived there mid afternoon, and walked about during the waning hours of the day. The city has much of the charm of the more historic parts of London or Paris, but without the business of either or the language barrier of the latter. After about and hour's walk, I determined we should move there.

After a rather delayed train ride from hectic and bustling London, we deposited our bags at our lodging, then ventured out again to catch a glimpse of the interior of Bath Abbey and the Roman baths. We were lucky enough to join one of the last "tower tours" of the day, viewing the interior of the belltower and appreciating the city even more with an evening, rooftop-view of its charm. One of my favorite aspects of the tour, however, was that we were the youngest in the group by about 30 years, and the other "tourists" were British, some even from Bath! Providing the excursion with wit seemed to be the order of the day for several of them, which helped keep the trek up the 240-some odd stairs a less arduous task.

We rushed off post-tour to sneak in the gates of the baths just before closing. The museum artifacts were more fascinating than I'd have expected, containing many coins, pieces of jewelry, and curses found in the ruins. Patrons of the baths would occassiom
ally have things stolen from the "locker room" if they had no slave to guard their belongings, and so they would write curses on small parchments and throw them into the sacred pool, begging the goddess to punish the thief.

Afterward we wandered up the road to catch the Royal Crescent before the sun set entirely, then shopped for some groceries for dinner. The next morning saw us catching a train bound for Oxford.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What England had to teach us.

England is a land of magic and....  Wait, I used that last time.  England is, well English, and you'll really need to come to England to find out. Some observations about England can still be made, however, as long as you use the passive voice.

All English doors squeak. Random, but true.

Everything will cost more than you thought it would (except milk).

Sometimes, leaning out the window of a train is the only way to get off at your stop (thanks be for observant conductors).

Why drive when you can walk, bike, bus or train there? Many 20-somethings don't even have a driver's license.

Trains are frequently delayed.

They have good cheese (that Beth's allowed to eat! : )

London is huge and overrated. Go to Bath and Oxford.

Bath is a comfortable city.


Things We Learned in Ireland...

Ireland is a land of magic and mystery, so the tourist guides say, but we now know many of the keys to Ireland and Irish living.  So, here are a few of our discoveries, in no particular order.

Burning peat smells like burning brakes.

It rains here. If you think it's going to rain, it will. If you think it won't rain, it will.
(But it may also become sunny and warm, rather suddenly.)

On the 8th day, God created pubs. He did not create them all equal. Ergo, some pubs are better than others.

Grocery stores are more for socializing and gossip than actual shopping (a welcome change from American consumerism and haughty indifference to other human beings.)

"Are you ok?" translates to "How may I help you?," as opposed to genuine concern about your mental or physical health.

We're pretty sure everyone in Ireland has kissed the Blarney Stone at some point.

Have you ever heard anyone brag about that great cup of coffee they had in Ireland? Yeah.
Long story short, thanks be for tea and Guinness.

Why play traditional Irish music in a pub when you can play American pop or classics?
Point proven: one night we had live music, played well, but consisting of these songs:

Waggon Wheel
Free Falling
With or Without You
Stand by Me
Sweet Child of Mine
I Need a Dollar
Folsom Prison Blues
Dirty Old Town (fine, that one's legitimately Irish)
It Just Takes Some Time
Rollin' on the River
(there were maybe 2 random Irish songs mixed in to that list ...)

Curbs are used for parking ON, not next to.

Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Johnny Cash are pretty big icons there.

Pubs and B&Bs abound, even in tiny Dingle town. There are at least 18 pubs and nearly as many "other" eating establishments.

So, cead mile failte and slainte to you, and a top o' the morning too!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Somewhere, Beyond the Sea

So, the last couple of days have been rather hectic, and rather tedious at the same time (at least in parts).  Saturday involved a drive from Dingle to Limerick by way of the cliffs of Moher.  We got misdirected to a ferry, finally made it to Moher, to find our camera was out of battery.  The view was amazing and we got other pictures.  Sunday, except for mass in Limerick with the Institute of Christ the King and a good scholaist and bad schola, was a lot of searching and waiting.  We had a hard time finding the church, since it appeared as named on no map.  Not to be discouraged, we found it in time.  We rushed to the airport to catch a flight that was an hour and a half late. Then, in London, we finally made it to Brompton Oratory, for not much.  Another hour of the Tube and walking got us to our hostel, and another half hour of wallking got us schwarma for dinner.  That much was great! Did I mention my feet were sore?  Next day (after being charmed all night by a horde of loud German teens in our hallway), we left for Bath.  To be continued....


St. Patrick's in Limerick
The Cliffs of Moher