Both John and I think I wrote a letter to him every week when he started his new job in New York, but neither of us has a clear memory of it. For two years I had regularly written a letter a week, which he copied to send to our mothers and kept the original. There is a very slim possibility that he kept the last ones, but we haven’t found them.
The words have disappeared, but we still have a few photos from this time. One of my favorites was John $pencer taking things out of the cabinet. He got there on his own, perhaps by climbing on a toy. I wrote on the slide, “TROUBLE at work”.
In the back garden I took a shot of the children who played together the most – Kate, Philippa, and Lisa. This photo was on our Aura frame for a month, and I saw it at least ten times before I realized John $ was in it, too, standing in front of Philippa.
One day $ examined gravel, so Pippa and Kate flopped down to join him. One girl posed for the camera, and the other began to really look at the stones.
John was probably still with us when we went to Leith Hill. I don’t remember anything other than the huge rhododendrons in the garden.
This looks like an ad. What could the boy have been selling? Shoes? Children’s play clothes?
While Pastor and Louise toured Hampton Court, John $ and I saw the lock on the River Thames and walked along the tow path. We found a park; $ tried out every piece of equipment and had a wonderful time. That day John was in London and the girls relaxing at home, seeing to Mr. Clewes’ (the gardener) lunch.
John insisted he could hold the fort with all three children while the Koepchens and I went to London. I had a good time and came home to find them happier than usual; must have done them good to be away from me! In town we saw the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and Westminster Cathedral. I was so glad to see the beat-up coronation chair with the Stone of Scone underneath it and the tombs of Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, several Edwards and several Henrys.
Besides the above, we happened by the race track just in time to see a race at Epsom Downs, went through Canterbury Cathedral, saw the white cliffs of Dover, and rode the little trains in New Romney. The photos show our looking at the engine, boarding the train, and watching the midget who was the train driver. I’m not sure the man was technically a midget, but he was about as tall as the engine. In the last picture he is ready to move the train.
The Koepchens hired a car and kept first one and then the other of our girls on the way to the Lake District in the northwest corner of England. Stopping for church on the way, we landed in a founder’s day dry sermon in Magdalene College, Oxford. I didn’t feel guilty at being bored when Pastor began looking for something more interesting by leafing through the prayer book! After lunch from a pub, eaten outside by a nice stream, we drove hard to put the miles behind us. We stayed that night in a pleasant, expensive little hotel in the resort of Bowness on Windermere.
Part of the joy of being in this area is to admire God’s creation of soft mountains, muted colours, blue waters of small lakes, and rushing streams. The other is surely the pleasure of seeing this beauty with dear friends, as did Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and Coleridge. In reflection, I want to burst forth in poetry myself. If only I could transmit to you the smell of the air, damp with mist, from a waterfall!
Or paint a grey slate house settled into its hill with smoke showing signs of life within! When the light was gone, dinner eaten, and children tucked in bed, we adults could laugh and talk freely over leisurely pots of coffee as only friends can do.
Seeing the house where Beatrix Potter wrote Peter Rabbit makes it come alive. Her original drawings exhibited there are so lively and fresh.
We reached out to touch Wordsworth, seeing the lakes he saw and the homes he lived in at Ambleside and Grasmere. Keswick was lovely beside her lake, and red sandstone Carlisle Castle seemed to brood over the memory of Mary, Queen of Scots.
We walked on Hadrian’s Wall late in the day when the light was fading, the wind rising, and thoughts of busy Romans hurrying about their business came unbidden to mind.
One last dinner and cozy evening together passed quickly; breakfast brought shouts of laughter amid somber Englishmen when Lisa relayed a funny dream and Pastor said, “With John, it’s England on $3,000 a day!”
The girls waved goodbye for five miles, and we turned toward the grand topiary garden of Levens Hall designed in the 1600’s. Walking among those fantastically shaped hedges made me feel like Alice in Wonderland. Meanwhile, the Koepchens continued north to Scotland.
Sitting in the car seven hours can cramp the feet and curl the mind, but we made it home safely. The next day I said I wouldn’t plan to go further than 10 miles in any one direction for a whole month!
You know when someone gets out a ruler to measure a bloom, they’ve been bitten by the growing bug. My prize pansy measures three inches! Most things I try to grow just keel over and die, but these plants I started from seed last summer, transplanted outside last autumn (Fall doesn’t exist here) and have to pick daily. Each one has a personality of its own, but I don’t have time to get to know them before they get pitched to make room for more. I could wish there is a pansy heaven.
Surely you all know that the split-up of our family at the present time was not our first choice. It’s a bit late for John to go running back to his parents! However, I do wonder what the effect will be. John might come to prefer the paper me – the one whose disasters can re-emerge as jokes after a week – to the real me who shrieks at spiders and wants people ready to sit for a meal before they’re called. Sweet comfort; it’s “for better, for worse” instead of “for better THEN worse!”
A big hit with English adults and children was a taste of jelly beans sent by the Mehrlings via the Koepchens. Lisa talked about the treat next door, and the grown-ups knew it from Reagan Presidential fame but had never tasted one. The closest things here are jelly babies – a softer and more Jello-like.
I even surprised myself today when I got the children and breakfast organized in time to get to Guildford Cathedral for the sung Eucharist. Philippa had spent the night with us and went with us to church. The three girls sat forward while I supervised John $’s playing with the hymn books and prayer books three rows from the get-away door. He seems to have learned from all the Sundays John has had him that he is not to talk aloud, so we made it through the whole service. I thought he was going to act up when Lisa took advantage of the general exodus just before communion, to move to the back of the church where I made the three of them sit. The people were just going to fetch their children from Sunday School to go forward for a blessing. Soon I joined the queue with $, and he was very patient waiting for our turn. He stood very quietly while I had communion; wonder what went through his head when the minister put his hand on him and blessed him??
At times I feel like an explorer charting unknown seas when I drive. Yesterday I made one wrong turn after leaving John at Heathrow, made a large circle through the countryside, and came back to the airport to have another go. I tried a different exit on the roundabout and discovered the sign that should have been before the circle was after it. Phew! You’d think I’d have learned my lesson and taken a map to Guildford the day before. I got to the cathedral with just one u-turn and scared Lisa by striking out in the general direction I thought we should go after church. We were able to figure that one out without making a turn. It keeps life exciting!
Salzburg was interesting for the girls because we tried to find the real scenes and the filmed scenes from The Sound of Music. $ loved the funicular ride up to the medieval fortress where we had excellent views of the city and the surrounding mountains.
That evening we found a large Gosthaus outside Salzburg; as we looked out our windows, we saw many families leaving the church in large groups. After dinner we walked in that direction and found a most interesting churchyard. We wondered if the gathering had had anything to do with many candles burning on the graves. Some candle holders were portable, but others were built into the head stones. We found as we looked closer that most head stones had pictures of the deceased permanently bonded onto the marble.
In Vienna the girls stayed in Maria’s house, while John, $, and I went to a small neighborhood hotel. [Maria was an exchange student in college with us. We were visiting her, her husband Franz and three sons.] Their house is marvelously designed with a grate to help remove snow at the entrance, double-doored foyer, spiral marble steps to the bedrooms, fireplace to divide living room and sturdy, huge breakfast table, separate utility room, etc. I took no photos!!!
In Vienna we found the cathedral, the Plague Column, a house where Mozart lived, saw the most beautiful library in the world, visited the crypt where all the Kaisers are elaborately coffined, and saw the outside of the opera. The opera house was closed to tours because they were recording. Just across the street from the opera was the Sacher Hotel, famous for Sacher Torte. Not pictured below are the crypt and the Sacher Hotel.
The imperial state apartments were as lavish as any in France and England. I loved the stoves! At first I didn’t know what these elaborate white and gold porcelain-looking things were until we saw the smoke pipe on several. They were filled and tended from behind by the army of servants. That’s class!
We spent all one morning watching the training of the horses of the Spanish Riding School. What precision! The men worked these horses individually, making them skitter carefully sideways and do fancy steps.
We enjoyed the little quiet parks, archways, and large palaces scattered everywhere. One long building had a sign that it was where Beethoven died.
Several afternoons we had coffee and delicious pastries at cafes. We voted Vienna tops in the coffee world. Beans are usually ground seconds before they make the brew; it is strong, but not bitter like in England or overpowering as in Italy. Maria served us a farmer’s dinner of roast pork, ham, wieners, kraut and big dumplings she made while we watched.
We went to a restaurant for a Viennese meal, having the famous Wiener Schnitzel. Superb! That restaurant was on top of a tiny mountain – the tail end of the Alps – with the Danube and Vienna laid at its feet.
We toured Shonnberg Palace, almost a rival for Versailles. I thought the original elaborate inlaid floors were superb, as well as much of the paneling, hand-painted wall paper, and art done by the royal families. We saw the room where Kruschev met Kennedy and the room where Mozart first performed for the Emperor when he was six years old.
Part of the grounds of this palace included the oldest zoo in Europe – a place adjacent to the palace where the royals had their private zoo – and a carriage museum that we all enjoyed.
Maria served us cold cuts for supper – some we’ve missed for two years and some we’ve never had before. One had cheese in it, another, mushrooms.
We spent all Sunday with Maria’s family traveling in two cars, swapping children at every stop. At Eisenstadt we went into the church that Haydn had worked in and were just in time for the service that included a mass by Haydn. He is buried in a side chapel. The organ is the very one played by Haydn, Schubert, and Beethoven. Marvelous!
Down the street was the palace of the Esterhazy family who had employed Haydn. The building is still owned by the family living in Switzerland, though the state administers the building.
We ate near the quarry where they get stones for repairing the cathedral in Vienna. Since this was near the Hungarian border, we ate goulash soup and paprika-spicy sausages with white grape juice to drink. At the big craft store next door, Maria bought Lisa and Kate each a necklace of serpentine gem stone mined nearby; and we bought a pottery covered bowl made from local clay.
We continued on to one of the largest lakes in Europe that is also very shallow – not more than three to four feet deep. Rushes are the big harvest crop used in matting for plaster work. Rust, the nearby town, is noted for stork nests on rooftops; we saw numerous nests and storks on two of them.
Franz said Hungarians do escape over the lake, part of which is on the border. Since Hungary is fairly prosperous now, not many are coming over.
On Sundays, the news shops are closed, so newspapers are hung in plastic bags on sign posts and light poles. The bag and little money box are held in place with a metal band and small padlock. Not many papers fit in the bags, therefore, there are many bags, making papers more accessible on Sundays than weekdays.
We visited an old mountain castle which had never been sacked by the Turks, also still owned by the Esterhazy family. It was full of portraits, saddles, guns, sabers, spears, helmets, breastplates, a Turkish tent, flags, and books. It was really a contrast to the Rococo palaces we’d seen recently.
On the way back to Vienna, Franz had a word with several army guards and escorted us into the church of the military academy where he had gone to school and had stood guard duty himself. He explained that Emperor Maximillian I erected a super fancy tomb for himself in Innsbrook, so that most people think he is there. He isn’t. He is buried under the steps to the altar in this church, having expressed a wish to lie where a priest would stand over his heart when saying Mass.
We returned to Vienna, and Maria prepared soup with semolina dumplings, a platter of cold meats, and son Franz cooked crepes. Then they presented us with gifts – the necklaces for the girls, a record of Austrian music for John, a Viennese cookbook in English for me, a tin of chocolates for $, and from the boys one of their super trucks and a metal car from their own collection!
We stopped in Nuremberg just long enough to buy supplies for the LGB trains.
After a LONG drive to Calais and the dash home, we pulled in at 10 p.m. We had enough time to make a mess of the house by dumping laundry all over and to get it cleaned up by the time our New York pastor and his wife arrived 17 hours later. The nice thing about that timing is that we didn’t have any let-down as often happens when returning from a nice vacation.
I expected Venice to smell, but I didn’t think it would almost knock me over. The problem was this. We’d walked and walked on empty stomachs, and the tangy spiciness of pizza and the aroma of freshly ground coffee was terribly tantalizing. Venice smelled heavenly!!
$ wanted to run, so John ran with him through the crowded streets. $ stopped to get his breath, put up his arms to be picked up, nestled into his dad’s arms and said, “Run!!”
Venice has a perpetual carnival atmosphere, because everyone walks (no cars allowed), stalls and shops glitter with cheap glass souvenirs, tourists in high spirits surge through narrow passages, and restaurants lure people in for gastronomic treats.
We liked the large trolleys that porters use. Large wheels are toward the middle and small ones on the end so they can be levered and rolled over the steps spanning the canals.
We saw a demonstration of glass blowing on the island of Murano. At first the glass was a red-hot blob, then vase-shaped, reheated and put in a mold, blown again, heated, shaped, then flattened into a plate! The children loved taking the water taxi there.
Tourists were so thick once in San Marco plaza that we could hardly move. St. Mark’s was also thronged with tourists. The mosaic floors were so uneven that we thought we’d get sea sick if we walked on them long enough. The marble pillars, balustrades, and mosaics were second only to the gold mosaics in all the domes. Still, the basilica has an intimate style, and you could see how the antiphonal choirs used by Monteverdi would be purely delightful.
Though we’d not drunk any water in Italy, $ got diarrhea in San Marco. I had supplies with me, John found a secluded alley, and we changed the mess on someone’s doorstep, carefully removing our debris afterwards. Lisa spotted a sign that said, “Do not abandon any litter.” We didn’t.
The Ducal Palace beside St. Mark’s was full of precious paintings and Baroque golden ceilings. Those rooms were as sumptuous as any at Windsor Castle or Hampton Court. The tour ended with a long walk doubling back on itself through seemingly endless dungeons.
Bus service is by big boat, either regular or express. John grasped the idea of the system and could get us from one place to another easily.
I liked the road signs in Venice – international symbols posted for boats on the canals. It was odd to see “no entrance” signs on bridges, “no turn” signs at corners, and traffic lights over the water at blind junctions! I had wondered why motorboats sometimes passed on the left and other times on the right. It’s because gondolas are paddled on only one side and must be given room to maneuver. Two powered boats pass port to port; a gondola passes a motorboat starboard to starboard.
Easter Sunday at St. Mark’s in Venice!! John agreed with my statement that for him it was a pilgrimage. We saw the bishop in his golden finery, pointy hat, and huge gold shepherd’s crook. To hear Monteverdi’s music in his home church was an uplifting experience. We laughed that John took $ duty for the service, and people insisted he have a seat with the toddler. In another part of the church, the girls and I had to stand up for the entire service, and men pinched Lise’s bottom! The hotel had also spruced up its restaurant for Easter with a huge decorated egg and lots of real ones. They were featuring lamb and fish. The children were given pieces of chocolate to eat and an egg with a face, hat and stand to take away.
We spent a long time in the railroad station satisfying certain menfolk. Lisa and I sat watching people stream by and discovered a man with a neat way of supplying the loos. He was cleaning cars and carrying a broom with toilet paper rolls stacked on the handle.
Almost as soon as we left Venice, we were in mountains. We’ve seen beautiful scenery in every country, but this was something else again. At every bend there was a new vista that you’d like to photograph and hang on the wall.
$ loved our special train ride. Because of the heights, the road ends at one town where we drove on a train of flat cars covered with wire cage-like things to travel ten minutes in a tunnel under the mountain. We drove off at the other end. It was in total darkness, darkness you could almost feel as in one of the plagues of Egypt!
On the other side of the mountains we saw a ski lift carrying people higher than we could see and many people clonking around in ski boots toting skis. Then we noticed fresh snow on the evergreen trees further up.
The Italian mountains were dry; as soon as we hit Austria, clear mountain streams were gushing down.
What contrasts in weather we had! We slept with open windows in Venice and drove through snow storms in the Alps.
From a high highway we saw Monte Carlo and Monaco lapped by the blue-green Mediterranean Sea. The mountains were much steeper than I would have thought. As we passed from France to Italy in a tunnel, Kate took a look on the other side and said, “Italy isn’t all flat!!” Indeed it wasn’t! Before we’d traveled very far, we saw that the people seemed to be much poorer. Buildings were shabby and garbage strewn around. Genoa was just plain dirty.
John says there is just no excuse for waxed paper instead of toilet paper. Even the Romans used soft sponges. They’ve been going downhill ever since.
One thing we did admire about Italy – the roads. In the mountains, we were in and out of tunnels and straight onto great bridges spanning the valleys. We shudder to think how long it would have taken to travel on local roads.
Italy is short of many things – coins (you have to buy discs to activate a Coke machine), electricity (power is off several hours twice a week); we conclude they are also short on good government. Things are so backward they can’t get the color of their oranges right! We ordered orange juice, and the waiter brought red juice, insisting it was orange juice. It was! Delicious, too! They were so amused at our ignorance of blood oranges that they brought us an orange cut in half. It was orange outside and bloody looking inside.
We rode a funicular railway up a mountain to see Genoa and the harbor laid at our feet. We also walked to old city gates and the areas where Christopher Columbus lived. [I didn’t find any photos taken in Genoa.]
Most post cards don’t really show the leaning tower of Pisa as dramatically as it appears in person – you need to see the upright buildings around it to make the contrast.
We went to Rome and saw the Pope – almost as easy as that! As we walked into St. Peter’s square, we noticed many people sitting in chairs before a grey draped stage. Soon there was a white robed figure clearly visible, blessing the crowds. We were allowed to walk much closer than many people sitting down. The pope sat to read a long address in Italian, and after we left, he spoke in several different languages.
We saw the Borgia apartments, many works by Raphael, and the Sistine Chapel. The chapel was bigger and the ceiling higher than we’d imagined. At first the Basilica didn’t seem as large as some English churches until we’d wandered a bit. The enormous barrel vaulted ceilings were gorgeous and all the domes of the side chapels higher than many churches have. We sat down to look at the big dome – Michelangelo’s – and at the altar by Bernini. The walls and floors were covered in many colours and patterns of marble. The Pieta appeared bigger and much more impressive than when we saw it at the World’s Fair 18 years ago. When we came out to head back to the hotel, visitors were being turned away. What excellent timing we had all day, thanks to John!
Italy was certainly THE place to take a little blond fellow. People smiled at him, waved, stroked him, pretended to poke him with rolled up posters, talked to him and about him, and a guard offered to swap him for his 21-year-old son! They looked at us as if we were the luckiest people alive to have him. Wow! How different from England!
We poked around the Roman Forum, identifying various public buildings, the temple and home of the Vestal Virgins, and other temples. In England I was impressed by mosaics laid during the life-time of St. Paul. In Rome I saw columns and arches he must have laid his eyes on! Wow! There is still excavation going on.
We have several photos taken in the Forum, but this was the only one with our family tucked in like an afterthought. How magnificent it must have been when it was new!
Just a stone’s throw away was the magnificent Colosseum. The size of it was mind-boggling. We climbed up as high as we were allowed and down to the floor of the arena, imagining lions chasing Christians. Can you believe they had awnings to go over the spectators? The stones that held posts supporting the shades are still there.
This is the most unusual photo we took inside the Colosseum. They were filming an ad while tourists were wandering about.
Quite a distance outside Rome was Hadrian’s villa – town is more like it! There were 2,000 servants and a thousand other residents living there all the time. The area covered over four square miles including one private bath, two public ones, one Greek theater, one Roman theater, and miles of underground passages for the servants who were not seen mingling with the guests and residents.
After searching for tiny signs in the fading light, we found the Appian Way and drove on it. The girls hopped out of the car once just to be able to say they’d walked on the Queen of Roads – pride of Rome.
Italian drivers are something else again. In rush hour on a ring road we heard of a head-on collision, went the other way and saw a five-car pile-up, a two-car fender-bender, and a serious crash where a tiny car had tackled a van from the rear. John wondered if there was any driver near Rome who has never been involved in an accident in some way.
[The date is approximate. I evidently wrote a whole month at once from travel notes. Google told me the date for Easter in 1982.]
Riems or Rhiems is pronounced something like “Reh”. It boasts the cathedral where Joan of Arc stood beside the King at his coronation. Her statue and a ratty old banner are near the altars. Another Marc Chagal window is in the East widow, visible from the rear over the altar. (The last window we saw of his was in Chichester Cathedral.)
We had been driving on fairly flat land when suddenly the road turned to limp spaghetti, and we were twisting and turning through the Alps. What gorgeous views! It was still winter up that high, with snow everywhere. $ was extremely tired and began to cry, because no train appeared on the narrow gauge tracks running beside the road. He had a keen disappointment.
We stayed overnight in Nyon, Switzerland, over-looking the lake. After the children were bedded down, we walked up the steep footpath toward the town. Beside the twisting steps were several springs delighting our ears, pouring water into troughs, basins, and pools. Looking up, we could see a castle-type building lit up against the dark sky. We certainly knew we were in Europe.
In the middle of a very long day in the car, $ began to cry when it was time to get in the car again. By the time we got to Sylvie’s house, he was full of energy and mischief. He adored that house where doors were always open to the warm spring breezes. Sylvie was the French exchange student one year while we were in college, and John had kept in contact with her.
The architecture was so different from northern France. In the north, roofs are dark, long slim windows “French windows” have dark shutters, and the houses have a clean, square appearance. In the south, things are more rounded – patios, walls, doorways, and porches.
In particular we loved Sylvie’s and Freddy’s home. They designed it themselves to suit the mountainous area. Three doors that wouldn’t look mean on a carriage house, had large expanses of glass and shutters opening onto the patio from the living-dining room. The guest room had a window and shutters on the second floor over the living room and a private bath. Lise and Kate had one of the boy’s rooms in the attic, complete with three beds and an alcove with sink and the most unusual bath we’ve ever seen. It was about half the normal length, three feet deep under the taps and a seat molded in the other end.
We noticed many open round reservoirs of concrete, shaped like above-ground swimming pools. Freddy explained it was for watering the grounds; most are at the top of the property so that you can water by gravity. Water from the mountains is plentiful.
Sylvie took us on walking tours of an old French town, the town she lives near, and Nice. Cars were forbidden in many places, and the streets were tiny. We each touched the water so that we could say we’d been to the Mediterranean Sea.
I liked the public fountains in all the little towns – water continually pouring out of one to four spouts and two rods under each spout for resting a container while filling it.
All you’ve heard about French cooking is true. Sylvie fed us course after course of superb dishes beautifully prepared and presented. Breakfast was the simplest meal – toast with coffee drunk from a cereal bowl. Lunches and dinners were hot meals! Sylvie said NO French woman would serve her family sandwiches for a meal. She served drinks before we sat down, sppetizer, meat, followed by vegetables separately, then cheeses, bakery cakes, and after clearing the table, coffee. Lots of fresh, crisp French bread was passed with every course, particularly the appetizers and cheeses. Sylvie served most of the things herself rather than passing the dishes. $ ate and ate!
I’m going to list the foods so that I don’t forget them.
Radishes, chicken and mushrooms, boiled potatoes, strawberry flan.
Boiled egg with mayonnaise and tuna, lettuce, tomato, ripe olives, roast beef, scalloped potatoes, ice cream
Chicken in patty shells, green beans, cake
Radishes and a different kind of celery cut like shoestring potatoes with mayonnaise, chicken in cream, potatoes and beans mixed, tart St. Tropez.
Kate showed lots of improvement in the dog department. She shrieked the first day, but by the time we left, she just stood stock still whenever the dog walked by.
I love Kate’s phrases. As John was teasing her, she said, “Mommy! Can you behave him?”
It just doesn’t DO for me to stay up too late! We had a marvelous time at the home group, but got home at midnight. The following day, dinner was a disaster. The pastry slid willy-nilly off the meat, jello unmolded from the new bunny mold into a wiggly heap, and $ poured a pint (that’s 20 ounces here!) of milk onto the floor. It was almost enough to make one swear off church meetings! Thank heavens we didn’t have guests for that meal!
Canterbury, on a lovely warm spring day, has a magical busy-ness. I got the feeling of pilgrims bustling about, even though St. Thomas a Becket’s shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538. At right is an entrance to the cathedral area through the archway on the right.
We saw the place where the tomb had been and the deeply worn stone steps leading there. The Black Prince is buried there, as well as Henry IV, the only king interred in Canterbury.
John had as much trouble as I did finding a place to park in Brighton, with one difference – he found one! I finally got to see the elaborate inside of that exotic Indian/Oriental fantasy, the Royal Pavilion, built by the Prince Regent (later George IV). We even had a delicious lunch in one of the upstairs rooms. Most of the furniture was designed specifically for each room, so they matched in style and upholstery. The columns, wall decorations and gigantic chandeliers, called gasoliers by a guide, were fantastic. I was fascinated with letters on display of the Prince and Mrs. Fitzherbert, the widow he secretly married.
The Bible is right again – the more you ask for, the more you get. We were in the middle of an argument with a child when I sent a quick one up: “Lord, please solve this one and the ones to come when John won’t be here.” Immediately, with split-second timing, the phone rang! My brother Bob was on the other end saying he and his girls are coming to visit in June. That solved June for me, and when I turned around, the present problem flitted out the window in the excitement.
We had a gorgeous early summer day to drive near Bath to Longleat – the stately home of the Marquis of Bath. The house is 400 years old, a huge place, but the sizes of the rooms were livable. Even years ago people wanted souvenirs to take home, and the Thynnes were no exception. Displayed in the house was the shirt, complete with blood stains, that Charles I wore for his execution. I was very surprised when the guide pointed to two door facings from the Taj Mahal.
There were three dining rooms – one last used in 1923 where we saw the silver wired to alarms, another where the guide showed a dining room that the family uses when there are no guests. The present Marquis has celebrated two silver wedding anniversaries – 25 years with each of two wives. He still lives in the house, as do two sons and their families.
The grounds were beautiful, originally landscaped by Capability Brown. We were fascinated by one large old tree with a plaque saying it was planted by George III when he came for a visit!
So many ancestral homes are in jeopardy because of the steep inheritance taxes, and Longleat is no exception. Behind the house is an amusement park with a railroad we had to ride, a garden center, maze, and shops. Across the valley is the safari park, Europe’s first. We were amused at the cartoons displayed in the great hall, all poking fun at a peer of the realm keeping animals.
$ was impressed with the giraffes, whose knobby knees we looked up at from our car. He’s still imitating the monkey that sat on our car. Just at feeding time we saw the lions, tigers, and wolves pounce on their pieces of meat.
Before going into Salisbury, we saw Old Sarum. It had the deepest moat we’ve ever seen, 11th century ruins of a cathedral, and a fort.
We didn’t find out the extent of damage to the cathedral of Salisbury until after the evensong service. At 2 a.m. vandals had entered through a small window and set fire to the altar and a side chapel, though all we saw at first was the charred altar. In an effort to clear the vestiges of smoke, the huge doors were thrown wide open. The church had been closed all day and was reopened just before the service.
The church is renowned for three things – the tallest spire in Europe (404 ft.), one of the oldest clocks of its kind in England, and in the library one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta. We liked its setting in wide green lawns. Some cathedrals have other buildings so close that it’s hard to see the church, but not this one.
[Forty years after we were at Salisbury, I have one other note to add for those of you who have sent or received on-line cards by Jacquie Lawson. She uses the singers from the choir of this cathedral on the sound tracks, and most big church drawings are based on the cathedral.]
We spent the night at the Red Lion Hotel – a medieval coaching inn with tiny passages that turn sharp corners and go up and down many levels. The rooms were cozy with many lovely touches. Sewing kits were little stuffed pillows fixed to the vanity, holding needles, thread, pins and safety pins. Attached to the walls were built-in electric kettles with a cabinet holding cups and the makings of tea and coffee.
Unfortunately, John became ill just before dinner and chose to go to bed rather than eat. The girls and I were leery of coping with $, but everything went smoothly in the hotel restaurant. Lisa took him to her room while Kate and I finished eating; the entertainment was brushing his teeth with Lisa’s toothbrush!
Sunday morning John’s innards felt better, but I can’t answer for the way he faced the world. I’ll leave it to your conjecture as to what happened to his razor blade.
Wells is a small jewel of a town with spring water gushing out of a fountain just outside the walls of the cathedral. We read that there are seven wells, though only this one is prominent.
The west entrance of the church can’t be seen because of scaffolding for restoration work, but the inside is exquisite. An unusual feature is the inverted arch work which holds up the central tower. We sat in the front row of the quire next to the boys – 18 of them and only one wearing glasses.
Beside the church is the oldest complete street in Europe – Vicar’s Close – where all the houses were built in the 14th century. On the other side of the church was a moated enclosure for the bishop’s palace, still in use as a residence.
We feasted on a traditional Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at the Swan Hotel nearby. Then we drove to Glastonbury to see the ruins of the Abbey where King Arthur is supposed to be buried.
Legend has it that the Holy Grail is also there, brought by Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph had leaned on his staff, the staff sprouted into a thorn bush, and he knew he had to establish a church there. During the Civil War (England’s, not ours) the tree was cut down, but a new one was started from a cutting.
On the way home we drove through Cheddar, now as famous for a commercialized natural wonder (a gorge) as for cheese. With a speed limit of 70 miles per hour on motorways, we scooted home in three hours.
We’re leaving on our last continental holiday April 1 and won’t return until the 20th. Then we’re having guests almost till the date John is to return to New York to start work.
A dozen eggs and one small boy is a potent combination. I wondered why he was content to play with a shoe box all the way home, then found it was the EGG box! It could have been worse, I guess, for he only cracked two and broke one over an old quilt. The quilt needed washing, anyway.
Seeing a baby asleep on an aeroplane isn’t an uncommon sight, but I wonder how many parents see their little ones using a plane as a pillow? $ couldn’t “hatch” his big Fisher-Price aeroplane as he does all his matchbox toys, so he chose it for a pillow, and thereby slept on an aeroplane in his cot.
Much to $’s and John’s pleasure, we took a local train from Reigate to Reading sitting in the last seat on the train, watching the world go by backwards. It was fun to see towns we know by car from a different angle. There were eight tracks going through the Reading station – the center for all trains going West. To speed things up, we took the express back to Redhill, this time in the front seat where we could see the tracks.
Our friends, Barbara and John C, came to spend the day with us Saturday. Their two red-headed boys love trains and thoroughly enjoyed the new layout John had completed at 3:00 a.m. that morning. For that matter, $ was intrigued with it as soon as he saw it and the girls as soon as others began playing with it. After our noon dinner, we went for a long rambling walk past the golf club and looping back around through the town. It seems to be the thing to do after a heavy meal, except at night when it’s dark. We found out that John C grew up across the main highway from here and knows Walton quite well. He remembers a windmill that was one of the few things demolished by a flying bomb in the war. He was also aware of some of the nobility who had put the golf club on the map.
After our ramble, we had a hearty tea – more like a Sunday supper. The children certainly put away the food, probably because of the exercise and having more familiar foods to choose from.
I’ll bet Vivien would be surprised to find he was a direct answer to prayer. We and Philippa were all ready to hop in the car Sunday morning, but the car wouldn’t start. Both John and I tried it repeatedly. John walked in the house in disgust while I gave it one more try. When it still balked, I said, “Lord, if you want us to go to church in Chichester Cathedral, then you’ll have to get this buggy going.” With that, Vivien tapped on the window, suggested we push the car to the front door, and use a hair dryer on the spark plugs. I took a photo of the proceedings. The car sprang to life, and off we went. A one-second prayer resulted in a five-minute miracle.
Despite our late start, we parked a few yards from the church and walked straight into an elderly man who guided us to the steps of the choir. He instructed a younger man to seat us where the GIRLS could see the BOYS singing. There were six men and eleven boys, five of the eleven wearing glasses. The choir was perfectly balanced, and their diction was so good that I understood every word. The slideshow below shows the steeple, the separate bell tower, and an area inside where repairs were being made.
We felt this cathedral, though one of the oldest in England, is the most progressive. They have preserved the ancient parts while constantly adding new things. There is a small side window by Marc Chagall, a flag that Sir Francis Chichester had flown on his boat, and a brilliantly coloured tapestry woven in 1966 hanging behind the altar.
The shopping area of Chichester is still enclosed by Roman walls, and much of it is for pedestrians only. We saw the market cross – a Gothic structure with clocks – at the cross roads in the center. In a long row of shops was an ancient church that took our fancy; it had been turned into a delightful little religious book shop. We ate a delicious dinner in a restaurant called the Vicar’s Hall, housed in a former church building.
We then drove a short distance to the ruins of Fishbourne Roman Villa – a huge place that is now partly covered by a town. It’s amazing what the experts can deduce from rubble. The introductory film put forth the educated guesses as to when the various parts of the buildings were erected, how rooms were changed, the name of the owner, the fact that children of high-born parents lived there, and that the decaying building was destroyed by fire. They had carefully uncovered the oldest mosaics in England made when St. Paul was preaching around the Roman Empire!!!!
Below are photos showing a mosaic at the Roman villa and a mug decorated with an image from the floor. We bought the mug 40 years ago and still have it in our collection.
We had a short day trip to Greenwich (don’t forget it’s “grin itch”) while the girls were in school. Climbing around the Cutty Sark was a lark – Cutty Sark, I presume you know, was not originally liquor but a clipper ship. The brass on her was gleaming – hinges, handrails, porthole rims, step guards, etc. $ enjoyed watching the hoards of little school children on their outings. The Cutty Sark is by the Thames and just a walk away from the Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum, and the Royal Conservatory.
We walked up the steep hill to the Observatory and saw the clock built in a brick wall that proclaims Greenwich Mean Time. Its dial has 24 hours in Roman numerals; I’d know the time easily only half the time! A few feet away was a brass strip laid in concrete that is the world’s prime meridian, dividing the world into Eastern and Western hemispheres. Wow! It was like standing at the dividing point of the world!
I loved seeing all the old chronometers, astrolabes, sun dials, telescopes, and clocks. I felt if I had several years to absorb all that information, I might begin to hear the ticking of the universe. Going down a set of stairs, we could hear that peculiar music of many time pieces in symphony. To me that sound is second only to the sound of falling water. I could have listened to an hour whir away! My favorite was a big clock that said, “Cathack, thumb, whack” in definite triplet rhythm. Among the clocks were two watches that had belonged to Lord Nelson, one of which he had with him on the Victory.
At home Kate came leaping into the room to announce that her dad has lived 14,785 days.
I vaguely remember hearing that it isn’t necessary to wash a teapot after each use. It wasn’t until I questioned a really cruddy one in an antique shop that we were told this finer point of serving tea. “One should NEVER wash a teapot,” both husband and wife agreed. All that is necessary is to rinse it after each use. They claimed tea doesn’t reach a perfection of taste unless brewed in an encrusted and stained pot.
We were a little concerned at increasing evidence of recent snow as we drove from France to Luxembourg, but it was only on higher ground.
Trier, Germany, is reputed to be the most medieval of German cities. The cathedral was impressive.
Just down the street was the building that caught my fancy – the Porta Nigra – about four stories of huge stones making up a double archway, built by the Romans! In England we’ve seen flattened ruins, but this is the biggest standing Roman edifice I’ve seen. I know it wouldn’t look as big as a peanut next to the Coliseum in Rome, but when all I have to compare it with are mosaics, rubble, and a wall that’s falling down, I’ll stay impressed.
I had to grit my teeth during a long ride along the Moselle River, because I was dying to take a photo but had to hold a sleeping little boy. The vineyards on those perpendicular slopes seemed to be holding on by sheer determination. Every available bit of soil had precisely measured stakes holding the vines in place. The rows were up and down the mountainsides, often to the very top and down to the water’s edge. Cross-crossing little roads with hairpin turns provided access for cars. We drove up and up among the fields. I don’t know how people could cling there and do any work without starting a landslides of shale down the steeps (can’t call them slopes!).
We wondered why the suitcase seemed roomier; we thought perhaps we were really getting the hang of packing for traveling. No, there was a bit missing. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to whether $ mischievously took it, or I maliciously removed it, or John was too busy thinking of others to take time for himself. In any case, John C. was without a change of underwear. Somehow he didn’t appreciate it when I offered to share with him.
Though we carefully parked the car under the hotel in Trier, she refused to start the next morning. You can imagine our dismay early on a Sunday morning. A young man from the restaurant helped push the car, took John to a service station to borrow jumper cables, and used his own car to boost ours. Further disappointment – no go. As the man was about to drive off, John tried our car one more time, and she started. Relief! We had no trouble the following night, even though the car was parked in an exposed place.
Again, on higher ground, we found snow lying on the ground, though it didn’t hinder our trip to Cologne. The cathedral there is the most massive one I’ve seen and the tallest. I’d vote it the most beautiful in Europe. Despite the fact that the city all around was leveled during the war, the church had surprisingly little damage.
John came in to read the first page of this letter, then leaned over to read as I typed. I asked him if he minded if I wrote it before he read it.
We drove along the Rhine to Bonn, peeking at the river between some houses and scads of industrial parks. Then we had a front seat view on a Rhine River trip. In all honesty, I’ll have to admit it lasted only five minutes. We were south of Bonn and looking for a way across to return to Cologne on the other side. Being among the last in the queue, we were directed to the front of the last row and had a marvelous point for looking around without budging from our seats.
We saw the towers left of the bridge at Ramagen that was bombed during the war. The towers are not standing to the left of the bridge; only the towers remain of the bridge. It would help to write things out beforehand!
Overall, some trips are better than others. This will not be remembered as an easy one for John. The last night $ marched into the room, headed straight for John’s glasses, picked them up and did a Superman job on them – snapped them right in half without even a grimace. Then at 3 a.m. John rushed to the bathroom with his innards as scrambled as this word: haarrdie.
We were early for our ferry, so ducked down a street in Calais set in a huge apartment complex to go in the international Supermarche. We’d seen people interviewed on TV because they took a ferry and a bus from England to shop there for bargains. The store was the largest I’ve ever seen – ginormous, as we’d say in British slang. One end had food, and the other clothes, appliances, and even lumber. I think there were about 50 check-out counters. Opposite the check-out were several restaurants, snack bars, patisseries, and even a place for clothes cleaning. We bought cheese at about half the price we’d pay in England. I’m sure if we’d put our minds to it, we could have spent lots of money.
We looked at antiques in Dorking and found that the fronts of those small shops hide amazing spaces crammed full of furniture. There were small rooms upstairs, downstairs, and in lofts. The area I’m talking about is the small street where we pointed out to some of you a plaque about the Pilgrims who sailed to America. These shops specialize in larger pieces of furniture rather than knick-knacks. I was drawn to chairs, while John kept looking at sideboards. The piece we both fell in love with was a small cabinet that camouflaged a coal bucket. The inlaid wood was exquisite, but we couldn’t think of a way to use it in the Stony Brook house.
We noticed two For Sale signs – one at the house we would have loved to buy from our first visit to London and the other at Timberly (the first house we rented). Guess I’m a little wistful.
Bjorg S came out for tea and dinner; John had known her in New York and worked with her in London. She was very kind to the children, and we had a chance for a long chat after they went to bed. Enjoyable! It was nice to have the house presentable, too! All but $ pitched in to straighten, neaten, and clean. Surely that’s a reason to resolve to have company at least once a month!
We took a last swing into Westminster Abbey. As usual, the music was glorious and the preaching atrocious. After the service John showed Kate and me where he’d walked in the cloisters during the sermon. Some of the walls are from the 1100’s. Buried behind walkways and low passages was a delightful little cloister where a merry little fountain sparked in the middle of lush green grass and flower beds. Also tucked away was a treasure room where we saw the replicas of the crown jewels that are used for rehearsals of coronations, funeral effigies surprisingly life-like, the oldest saddle (for a horse) in Europe, seals and signatures of historical greats, and the coronation chair used only once to augment the ancient one when William and Mary were crowned simultaneously.
Responsibility for a service at St. Mary’s in Reigate rested partly on our shoulders when our home group led the service at 6:30 last night. Two ladies were in charge of the coffee, all women brought biscuits, the men helped with the offering, one of our group is a clergyman and could legally hold the communion service, Penny gave a testimony, several did readings and prayers, I accompanied the singers of our group for songs during communion, and John preached. It all went very smoothly for a surprisingly large congregation.
John could say, “Something funny happened on the way to the pulpit.” Just before the service he was checking the pulpit light when Tim, the minister of our group, was chatting with the regular vicar nearby. The vicar said to Tim in a chill, somber voice, “Just who is this John Mehrling?”
Tim, slightly taken aback, explained that John had been coming for two years. John walked over to re-introduce himself and got a very stiff reception. That would have really upset me, but John didn’t mention it until we were on our way home. He said the man had every right to be concerned about what would be preached by a stranger. It was a bit late to be concerned, I thought. We laughingly decided that every home group service will be minutely examined hereafter.
Today we bought an Edwardian umbrella stand that appealed to the whimsical and the practical in us. [It is in the entrance hall in North Carolina. We do not have a proper umbrella, only collapsible ones in tired heaps. A harness for Sadie and my fancy cane gravitated here.]
[For lack of any other appropriate photo, I will include our Welsh lovespoon. It should have been included in the letter for March 1.]
My name is Suki, my human is a writer, and this is about my world. The world according to Suki The Cat. My humans smell funny, look weird, and I can't understand a thing they say, but they feed me, so hey, what are you gonna do?