Of Time and Distance: A Departing

[Corfe Castle]

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I sat on unmowed grass leaning against a stone wall. I was on the grounds of Corfe Castle in south Dorset. The mason who built my backrest had fitted the stones into their places over 1,000 years ago. There was still a strong sun in the west and the sky was about as blue as any sky can get. The cool breeze, however, forced me to zip up my fleece vest.

I was thinking of our journey that is nearly over.

Tonight, I’m sitting in front of a MacBook laptop in room 412 of the Doubletree Hotel in Southampton struggling to find the words to describe our travels.

I am thinking about our journey that is nearly over.

Tomorrow, at this time, I’ll be standing on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 as it plows its way through the waters of the Atlantic ocean heading for New York City.

I’m pretty sure I will be thinking of our journey that will soon be over…July 1 to be precise…barring any major nautical distractions.

Five weeks ago, I sat at Gate 42 of the American Airlines terminal waiting to board our flight to Paris.

Where did the time go?

Paris~~We stayed in a tiny room of the Hotel Atlantis a few steps from the Church of St. Suplice. Days seemed to fly by as we walked through Pere Lachaise cemetery, saw a performance at the Paris Lido, visited the Louvre and stood in the sun at the front door of Notre Dame. We found a shady bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I felt like an artist as I opened my watercolor pencil set and made two drawings. I looked at my work…I’m no artist…just a traveler.

[Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris]

Onto…

Brussels~~Only a brief stop to catch a train to Bruges, which is to me, one of the most sublimely beautiful and melancholy cities I’ve ever visited. After a touristy canal boat ride, we sat in a small waterside bar. We conversed with the waitress. I asked her if she was married.

“No,” she said looking at the water. “No one wants to marry me.”

[Bruges, Belgium]

Back to…

Brussels~~This time we stayed for four days. We befriended a bartender named Aurora. She was from France and was completing an internship at the Marriott. We became Facebook friends. After one failed attempt to locate the Market Place, we found it down one cobblestone lane. Once in the Square, you can turn 360 degrees and see nothing but ornate buildings highlighted in gold gilt. Outside the City Hall, I watched a middle-aged man get out of a car and straighten his tie. He was on his way to be married. I caught and held his gaze as he walked to the large oak doors. I gave him a two finger salute from my right eyebrow. He smiled, nodded and went inside…proud, happy, in love and full of hope.

Onto…

London~~A few hours after boarding the Eurostar, we got off the train at St. Pancras Station. Our hotel was the best one yet in our travels. It was just steps from the frenzy of Trafalgar Square. We visited the National Gallery and had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes pub near our hotel. Next evening, we got tickets to The Play That Went Wrong. Madcap misadventures and very funny.

[The Sherlock Holmes]

Onto…

Edinburgh~~Here we climbed the hill to see part of the Castle. In the evening we saw Wicked at a theater two doors away. Trust me, it was a great show for a far less ticket cost than New York City. At night, we took in a sort of haunted Edinburgh walking tour.

It was time to begin our driving part of the trip. Got a rental at the Hertz less than 100 yards from our hotel. It was a perky KIA with a GPS. After a short drive to Durham to visit the Cathedral (massive, awesome but NO PHOTOS ALLOWED) we spent the night in a small hotel.

Onto…

Litchfield~~Again another Cathedral city. This prize was one of the best of all the cathedrals I’ve visited in the UK.

 

[Lichfield Cathedral]

Onto…

Grassington~~We’re in the “Switzerland of England”, but the time had come to test my back and right foot on a footpath. Things didn’t feel right. Lower back pain and pain in my foot despite doses of Alleve. Our main goal for us was to explore the Yorkshire Dales, but all we managed was a few miles one day, a few the next and 3.5 miles on the third day. We never unpacked our hiking boots!

[Part of the Grassington walk]

Onto…

Gillingham, in North Dorset~~I felt like I had arrived home. Most of you know that I lived and taught in Dorset in the mid-1980’s. I walked the footpaths every weekend that I wasn’t visiting a cathedral. My housemate was a young teacher named Tim. Now, Tim is semi-retired and does some consulting work with schools. He, and his wife Jo have put us up several times in their spare apartment. They have three children. George is working in London. Thomas is going to university and 11 year-old Anna, who is being looked at by the Royal Ballet. She’s very good.

[Tim, Anna & Jo.]

We spent six nights at Tim’s house, helping him one evening to celebrate England’s win over Tunisia in the World Cup. We spent our days driving around Dorset and revisiting places I knew and loved. Of all the Counties in England, I feel that Dorset is the most beautiful. The land of Thomas Hardy.

After a lovely farewell dinner, it was

Onto…

Corfe Castle~~We stayed at an old manor house. The first night we drove a few miles to Wareham and had a dinner with another friend from the 1980’s. Marion was the art teacher when I first met her. A most remarkable woman.

Onto…

Southampton~~And this is where I now sit, writing, thinking and remembering. Where did those 33 years go when I was so young and healthy that 9 mile walks were mere afternoon strolls.

At the front end of a six-week holiday, it seemed like such a very long time. But it passed like two blinks of my itchy right eye.

I wonder. I wonder about the stone mason who built the wall I sat against yesterday? If he walked out of the past and sat beside me to watch the afternoon sun descend on south Dorset, would he have the same questions I’ve been asking?

Would he ask what happened to that 1,000 years? Where did it all go?

[All photos belong to me and are copyrighted]

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I Caught The Eye Of The Groom In The Brussels City Hall.

[Only a part of the Grand Place.]

Unaware Americans. Yes, that’s who we were when we arrived in Brussels. Yes, that’s how I felt when we arrived here.

Mapless.

I need to know the urban geography of any place I am in.  But, I had no idea about this city.  Changing the B&B we left to come to the Marriott was a great shift in plans. I could sleep cool and not suffer night sweats.

Besides we were closer to the city center and the city action. At first we thought we were on the main Central Place…but this afternoon, in a very light rain, we walked toward a steeple that had caught my eye.

When we got there we found it not a great cathedral or church but the Town Hall.

I watched as the middle-aged bride and groom passed and went into the room to be married. The Groom and I had eye contact.  It lasted several seconds…a long time in this kind of situation. I smiled and gave him a slight salute, he nodded and smiled into my eyes.  He noticed me…a nobody…on his way to middle-aged wedding. Mariam and I were married in our middle years. There was something about this man who, probably my age or more, saw in me and my wife the contentment that he was wishing for in his middle-age nuptials.

In my heart, I wished him the best of luck. I didn’t think I should take a picture. I wish I did.

But instead, I took some photos of the Grand Place.

We leave for London tomorrow morning.

Good-bye, Brussels…..and whomever the groom was, the one who caught my eye…I wish him and his bride the very best of luck…and the very best of a marriage at this time in their lives.

Bon voyage, my friends.

[All photos are mine.]

An American In Brussels

Trust me. I can say a few words about how this grey-haired man is exhausted from what is only the early days of his European Tour. I was there, every minute…waiting for the train in Bruges and sitting in the hot humid air of Brussels Midi station wondering whether he should jump into a taxi or sit at a spaghetti restaurant across from the train station.

The guy decided to go to the restaurant and share a beer with his wife. He was unnerved. He knew nothing about the geography of Brussels. They took a taxi to the B & B they had found on an online booking service. When they got there, it was three flights up to a room that was very artistic, but lacked a desk, chairs and a fan. It was humid in Brussels that afternoon.

They spent a night there. He sweated through most of the dark hours. They took a walk and found the Grand Place.

It was the night before his birthday.

They made an unusual choice to depart the B & B and take a room at the Marriott. Not something he had planned to do…he wanted small hotels, European-style. But, he didn’t want to sweat another night.

They booked a room at the Marriott. Once they were allowed into their room, this tired old man took a nap.

Now, a little history:

This man, after he passed his mid 60’s, began to feel that each birthday had to include something somewhat unusual.

On his 67th birthday, they were in Paris. They climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. On the 67th step, they stopped and embraced.

On his 68th birthday, they were in Dorset, England. They went to Salisbury Cathedral. They walked 68 steps down the central aisle of the nave, stopped and embraced.

Some years passed. They didn’t find themselves in a foreign country on his birthday, so it was all low-key. Should we take 69 steps toward the local post office and stop and embrace?

That wasn’t going to do it for him. So, how did it all play out today in Brussels…a city he knew very little about. The answer was beneath their feet.

The cobblestones!

He chose a side street with a beautiful cobblestone pavement. They tiptoed 71 tiles (cobblestones?) and stopped and embraced.

Then it began to rain very hard. They ran to the restaurant that was enthusiastically recommend.

As he ate his cod dish, he was already thinking about number 72.

[All photos are mine]

A Rare Journey

WinGreenWalk

[Windermere, England. Photo credit is mine]

On May 22, my wife and I will board an American Airlines flight to Paris.  This is not something new.  Every few years, we travel to Europe (mostly Paris) and end up with friends in Dorset, England.

Nothing so very earthshaking about this.  But, there is something different about this trip abroad.  On May 1, Mariam and I celebrated our 25th anniversary.  How she stayed with me for a quarter of a century is a mystery to me, but apparently not to her.  So, when we began planning our 2018 trip, we decided to do something different.  First of all, I’m taking her to Bruges, Belgium.  I spent a weekend there in the mid-1980’s and as I walked beside the canals, I was nearly in tears.  Why, I asked myself, couldn’t everyplace in the world be this beautiful?

The other new stop on our trip is Edinburgh.  I was there in the 1970’s, but I have few memories of the place.  I recall it being dark, somewhat dreary and quite chilly.

The rest of the trip will take us through Yorkshire (and hopefully some hiking, although my right foot and back are problematic).  We will end up in my favorite county, Dorset.  Visit friends, perhaps climb the Tor in Glastonbury, see a few English cathedrals, and find a few new paths to walk.

HikingBooks

[Helpful guidebooks.  Photo is mine.]

But, being our 25th, we decided to cough up a few extra quid and take the long way home.  On July 1, hopefully with my son waiting at the Hudson Pier, we will have completed a Trans-Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2.

Don’t get me wrong here.  It’s a lot less expensive that you can quite imagine.  And, besides, how many times will we do this again?  We have never been on a cruise of any kind.  We deserve it, I think.  I’ll let you know when the bills start coming in.

Meanwhile, follow our trip on FB, my website, email or WordPress.

QueenMary2

[Photo credit: Google search and probably Cunard.]