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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Real Place/Fictional Person

There are so many real existing places named for, dedicated to or all about fictional people. (How I wish Trump Plaza was in this category!). So, let’s visit one.

First of all, I don’t write travel blogs such as those where the blogger is paid by the hotel or resort to write-up all the great stuff. Nobody pays me to write what I write about. It’s only what I find curious and interesting that drives me to this keyboard on a chilly evening in Edinburgh, Scotland.

But, I’m playing catch-up here. Travel is tough and taking a zillion photos and posting them, some to friends and family, some for Facebook and some for a blog or two…we’ll it’s hard. I just make it look easy.

In my mind, at this moment, I’m back in London. It’s last night. We saw a wacky comedy called The Play That Went Wrong in Covent Garden. If you can catch it in New York City, go. It’s a real hoot.

After the play we walked back to our hotel, thankfully located just steps from Trafalgar Square. And, just across the street from our front door is the famous pub, The Sherlock Holmes. We went in and had a quick nightcap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right now my reading is mostly nordic noir mysteries. But, I appreciate Conan Doyle, even though he believed in charlatans and mediums, I totally appreciate his talent as a mystery writer (full disclosure: I’ve only read one or two of Doyle’s mysteries). But, I don’t want to talk about books right now. I want to share a tiny bit of the pub.

Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, it’s a theme pub. But, I thought it captured some of the essence of what most people think about when they think about 221B Baker Street.

There is a variety of ales, ciders lagers and stouts on draft.

The second floor is a restaurant. It’s set up to look like Sherlock’s study on Baker Street.

And, the stairway down to the WC’s (why are they all downstairs?) are decorated with movies poster and book covers.

Remember, I’m not paid by anyone to say that I rather enjoyed the place for a little while. Truth is, I paid them about £9 for the experience.

 

Passports 15: Good-bye England [I Want You]

We sat in an Irish Pub, O’Neills, in the west end of London.  It is my last night in England.  I can see Bushmills Irish Whiskey etched into the glass of the large window.  The letters are backwards.

Two singers–one on an acoustic and the other on an electric guitar.  They are playing a Beatles tune when we enter.  Then they switch to a Dylan song as we sit.  The singer says the next one was penned by Robert Zimmerman.  They play I Want You.

Through the window and across the street is the massive and glorious St. Pancras Station.

It is my last night in England–until the next time.  But, then there will be another last night…and another.

I recall the hills I walked, the rocks where I rested and the hedges where I conquered my fear.  I think of my British friends, people I’ve known for thirty years.  People who have aged and matured and moved homes and raised children.  I am thankful for the friendship these people have shown me.  I think of Tim, Jo and their family in North Dorset.  I think of Marion and Bill in Purbeck.  Bill, the old quarryman who cut Purbeck marble since his youth.  I think of Alex and Janice in Hampshire.

They are the best of mates…all of them.

Tomorrow, I will climb the steps of the Basillique du Sacre-Coeur in the Montmartre section of Paris.  I will climb to the last step and turn around to look at the magnificent City of Light.

There, I will celebrate my 67th birthday.

I will ache when I climb those steps.  The ache that comes with age, old bones and unused muscles.

But, I’ll be happy…happy just to be alive.

Then I will descend the steps, one by one.

I will reach the bottom step a year older, but a thousand years wiser.

 

Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.  

–Edith Piaf