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It seems a bit ridiculous to be posting the epilogue 3 months after I got home, but that is more a reflection on my very poor blogging habits than on how entirely awesome my trip was or how much time I spend secretly wanting to go back. Last I wrote I was on my way back from Monterosso for the last few days of our trip. Pompeii was just as extraordinary as I expected (and it turns out, unsurprisingly, that Russell T Davies did his research pretty well for the Dr Who episode ‘The Fires of Pompeii’). The highlight of the last few days of Rome was undoubtedly St Peter’s Basilica. It is impossible to describe without sounding gushy and effusive, but it was breathtaking. Michelangelo’s Pieta is desperately beautiful. The vulnerability of Christ and the tenderness of Mary make it certainly the most moving work of art I’ve ever seen. I must say it demanded a fair bit of patience from my best friend, who coped quite well with my insistence and seeing as much of the Basilica as I could, which is not a quick project for anyone, least of all me. On a much more self-indulgent note, it is far too easy to live on pizza and gelato in Rome – how on earth anyone pays any attention to the rest of the food pyramid is beyond me.

The trip was absolutely the best 5 weeks of my whole life, and I really am looking forward to going back sooner rather than later. Following is the best of the best of my 1600 photos. They are inadequate of course, but enough to capture a few memories! Happy viewing!

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Can it be that I haven’t written since France? Goodness me! Our last few days in France were great – I especially loved Pezenas. For those who’ve done reformation history, we visited the ruins of two Cathar Castles… I must say they did their best to stay out of the way! Jenny and Andrew were wonderfully welcoming and brilliant at showing us the best the south of France has to offer… I would add to the highlights of our time in France ‘time to properly unpack and do laundry instead of trying to dig the remaining clean shirt out of the recesses of an already overstuffed bag’. Sadly, this luxury has not continued – obviously this holiday hasn’t been long enough! (Boss, if you’re reading, jokes….)

From France we went to Prague for 3 nights and 2 days that disappeared much too quickly, but here goes…

Stop 1: On Arrival, Take Evening Stroll Across Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge is one of the highlights of Prague, with a beautiful view of the castle, the river and the magnificent skyline. Charles Bridge is lined with beautiful statues that give away the city’s Catholic heritage and compete with the amazing Astronomical Clock (which tells the time in 4 different ways) for the attention of tourists with cameras. The walk along the river shows off Prague in all it’s cobblestoned, Bohemian awesomeness. However, unless you are a big fan of sausage meat in various odd forms, steer clear of traditional Czech cuisine!

Stop 2: Walking Tour of Prague
Fortunately for us, our airport transfer included a 4hr walking tour, which took us around the Old Square, St James’ Church (which contains a shrivelled hand that allegedly belongs to a thief who tried to steal from the church’s treasury – let that be a warning!) and the Jewish Quarter (given the strong links between what was Czechoslovakia and Germany, it has a tragic past). Like most people, we skipped the afternoon section of the tour in favour of a long lunch and shopping! Navigating around the Old Square is something of a challenge but we still had fun!

Stop 3: get lost somewhere around the Old Square.

Stop 4: find Tram station and go to Petrin Hill for stunning views of the city and a down through the spectacular rose Garden. So much to do, so little time. I would have liked to visit the Franz Kafka museum and the Gustav Klimt exhibition, but like so many things, they are relegated to the list for next time! Instead we went on a river cruise, which included not only quite a different but equally beautiful view of Prague, but also my first encounter with Czech herbal liqueur… A faint hint of cloves and about 90% alcohol!

Stop 5: Finish Walking Tour
Our second full day in Prague started with quite a sleep in (Jenny, you’ll be surprised, I’m sure!), a much-needed trip to the Post Office for me and a trip to St Agnes’ Convent for Sar… By the time we’d meandered around and got ourselves lost a few more times, it was time to rejoin the walking tour, which took us around Clementium, to the University, the Jesuit theological college, the John Lennon wall (a testament to the Velvet Revolution that made Czech a republic, so named because it took place relatively painlessly and without bloodshed), around a few of the more popular sites for blockbuster films set in Europe, and finally to St Vitus’ Cathedral and Prague Castle. Honestly, anything built in the last 500 years is starting to look positively contemporary! Dinner overlooking the Old Square, with its many busking musicians and the trumpeters in costume marking the hour with a fanfare and a good-will flag wave was quite a fitting end to our time in Prague, with of course the obligatory nightmare of repacking our bags in order to get through the strict requirements of our onward flight to Rome the following morning… Read ‘carry 10kg of hand luggage in cool and carefree manner so as not to appear to be exceeding the 5kg limit and pray they don’t weigh it’. Oi Vey. As it happened, our flight was contracted to an airline much more generous to over-burdened travellers!

We arrived in Rome with mixed emotions… Sad because it signalled the beginning of the end of this amazing trip, (not to mention, by the time we got to our hotel exceedingly frustrated, hot and bruised by the endeavour it took to get there from the airport), but with great expectations for this beautiful city! One of the brilliant things about travelling at this time of year is the length of the days in the European summer – plenty of time for a late dinner and a stroll before the sun sets anytime after 10pm. So we did just that, making our way past the Colosseum and The Forum on our way to a delightful restaurant for, of course, a Margherita pizza and a few glasses of red. We got to chatting with the ladies at the adjacent table, and after Sar (perhaps unwisely?!) volunteered my profession, we ended up in a long but thoroughly enjoyable theological discussion and fortunately, good directions to the Trevi Fountain, which is actually quite easy to miss! I wonder if Italian men, and especially those who work in restaurants, save up all their charm for tourists, or are they always so flirty? Granted, the gentleman at the restaurant was a little more restrained than the cute guy around the corner who insisted on feeding us gelato, but that is another story. Trevi Fountain! Awesome! Yes, I made a wish; no, I’m not sharing it. 🙂

The following day was epic to say the least – we had to be on a train at 2pm to the Cinque Terre, but I very much wanted to see the Vatican museums… So, having set my alarm for 6:30am, I made my way into town and joined what was fortunately a very short queue at that point (though rightly so, given they don’t open until 8:45am!) and settled in with the crowd. I fail to see how any of the organized tours can possibly claim to give a fair showing of the place in 2 hours, given I had nearly 4 and didn’t spend anywhere as much time in each place as I could have. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the sheer volume of artwork (particularly sculpture) that resides there, but I was, perhaps because so much of it has precious little to do with Christianity and is not dissimilar to the ancient collections of the British museums. It seems several Popes maintained a healthy interested in art collection, particularly from the Greek and Roman periods! I could have spent an hour or two just in the Museum of Contemporary Art (and not the 15 minutes or so I had), but one cannot miss the Sistine Chapel, which is at the end of the tour. Yes, it is just as amazing as I expected… I entirely agree with the rules that there is silence in the chapel and no photos, but the ambience was a bit undermined by the frequent loud clapping and shushing by the overzealous guards – they mean business!

The train trip to Cinque Terre is a lovely journey, through the Italian countryside and along the beautiful coastline. We stayed in a gorgeous apartment right in the centre of Monterosso, fortunately convenient to several pizzerias and gelaterias – I hope lactose intolerance never strikes an Italian – I don’t know if they would survive! On our way back from dinner, we noticed that there was obviously something happening at the church (which really is the spiritual and social hub of the town!), so we stopped to have a look and were greeted by a young friar from the local Franciscan monastery, who told us there was a fundraising concert on, so in we went. Think Sister Act (the first one) meets good contemporary Christian music, and all made a bit cooler and uplifting by the fact that Italian is such a beautiful language. It was really good! We finally left around 1130pm, though I think they partied on into the night!

So, Cinque Terre, first full day…

Stop 1: Go to Mass. I think in most of the churches I’ve been to in Australia, the bells are rung 5 or so minutes before the service… Not so in Italy, where they ring a good half hour before, thus giving those whose alarms have not gone off enough time to get to church… Very smart. Obviously somewhere in the last few weeks I have properly relaxed into being on holidays, given that I woke up to the bells and thought ‘isn’t that glorious?’ and not ‘Ohhh, no no. RUN.’ Also, Mass is much easier to understand in Italian than French!

Stop 2: Head to the beach and swim in beautiful turquoise water that is 20 degrees plus and so crystal clear that you can still see the bottom when it is easily 5 metres deep. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to hire one of the paddle boats that has an attached slippery dip, much to Sar’s disappointment!

Stop 3: Walk from Monterosso to Vernazza, and from Vernazza to Corniglia.
For those who don’t know, the Cinque Terre is a group of 5 towns that grace the coastal hills a few hours north of Rome and can be walked between at leisure, or so the story goes. I should say at this point that what goes around comes around – I happened to post a slightly smug reply on Facebook to a someone’s status update about the weather at home as we enjoyed our cappuccino and croissant for breakfast that morning. Well, didn’t that bite back! To put you in the picture, the Cinque Terre walk from first to fifth town includes some 3000 steps, most of which are between the first two. There is nothing quite like accumulating several layers of greasy sunscreen, dripping sweat and thick dust to make one feel really glamorous! Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed the walk. I cannot say the same for Sar! We decided that we had done our exercise for the week and opted for the ferry the next day!

That pretty much brings up to date Jess and Sar’s Europe adventure, and almost the last chapter… As I write we are on the train back to Rome for a day tour to Pompeii and to visit a few more of Rome’s best sites with our remaining two days… For the faithful remnant who are still reading at this point, I’ll try to post an epilogue with photos when I get home… Though I have had a wonderful time, I am really looking forward to getting home to some familiar faces! Take care everyone!

Hi everyone! Hope you are all ok… We are hearing some pretty intense reports about the weather in Australia at the moment and none of it is good… We really are thinking of you and hope everyone is safe and not flooded/frozen/blown away.

It is hard to believe that this trip is barely half way over – we have done SO much! I don’t ever want it to end! Last time I wrote, I was heading to a traditional Scottish dinner… I have to admit I spent most of the night cracking up at the well-intentioned but seriously corny and over-enthusiastic entertainment…. I’m proud to say I did eat haggis though! I even went so far as to try a Scotch, choosing ‘a gentle introduction to the single malt, a subtle ladies whiskey’…. Far out, it could strip paint. I’ll stick to liqueurs!

Edinburgh was fantastic, though much too brief… We stopped at Edinburgh Castle and explored the tumultuous history of Scottish politics and tense relationships with the English crown. From there we shopped our way down the Royal Mile, and needing refreshment, (prepare for some serious jealousy, Harry Potter fans), had coffee at ‘The Elephant House’ where J.K. Rowling began writing some of the awesomest books in the world. I wonder if I sat in her seat??!

From Edinburgh we headed south, stopping at Hadrian’s Wall, allegedly to keep the Scots out of Britain… Though after the way our tour guide spoke about Scotland and the Scottish, heaven knows why any of them would have bothered trying! We went from there to York, which apart from having a pretty impressive Minster, has some seriously gorgeous shops, which clearly could not be adequately explored in 2 hours! Went to Evensong – it was lovely! We stopped for the night in Leeds, though didn’t see much of it… The list of places to return to is getting longer by the day!

The last day of the tour took us to Coventry, where I visited the new Cathedral, built after the existing cathedral was destroyed by a Luftwaffe raid. Part of the cathedral was built by German students, a beginning to reconciliation after the atrocities of WWII. In turn, English students helped with building projects in Dresden, where the Allies infamously carpet-bombed the city. It is an incredible place with an incredible story.

From Coventry to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born… You can’t half tell – there can hardly be a shop or cafe in the whole place that doesn’t draw inspiration from The Bard of Avon! It was gorgeous. By the way, how many of you knew that his wife’s name was Anne Hathaway? After driving through the Cotswolds (could totally live there too!), we returned to London and ended the tour, without too many tears! We did meet some great people, though… All in all, a whirlwind but beautiful trip through England and Scotland. (*NB: Sar, Elli, or Gunter, if you are reading this: England is English. Scotland is Scottish. Britain is British. LONDON IS LONDON!)

In case you couldn’t tell from Facebook, I LOVE LONDON! We stayed with a good friend of Sar’s, Kate, who apart from being great fun, was very generous to host us in her apartment, which makes Clergy House look like an entire suburb! Our first night we went to ‘Love Never Dies’ – but after seeing that musical, it probably should. Phantom of the Opera fans, don’t go. You’ll regret it. Really.

Sar and I spent Sunday exploring London a bit more – we went to Kensington Palace for their ‘Enchanted Palace’ exhibition – they have decorated several of the public rooms in period style and designed a tour, so the visitor can guess (and learn a bit more about) the seven princesses who have lived there over the centuries. It was great fun! Alas, the weather was pretty average, but fortunately this gave us an excuse to take a black cab to yet another wonderful destination….

Harrods. What to say, except, um, WOW. Without sounding too provincial, even the food court and the washrooms are a tourist attraction. The chocolate department is a pretty close reproduction of the one I expect in the fulfillment of the kingdom. Yes, we shopped…. Granted, it was mostly in the souvenir section, but it was still super fun!

From there to the British Museum for a painfully short visit – I felt so guilty walking through some of the exhibitions with barely a sideways glance – I think I could spend a good fortnight there. See why I have to move to England??? I lingered on the Roman, Greek and Mesopotamian galleries – incredible. I delicately avoided the reading room… Might never have emerged.

The last stop of the day was the evening service at Westminster Abbey. Notwithstanding the absolutely extraordinary building, I missed my parish! Enough said?

Monday started slowly, so the plans were heavily axed, which was probably good, because it meant we had basically the whole day at the Tower of London. It. Was. Awesome. Our Beefeater guide and his brilliant sense of humour set the scene for a fantastic day of exploring what was probably my favourite place in London. I’ve been fascinated by Tudor history ever since I read ‘The Nine Days Queen’, the story of Lady Jane Grey, when I was in year 4. So sitting in The Chapel Royal, 3 metres or so from where her body is buried, was quite something. Also, I feel sorry for whoever has to celebrate the Eucharist on Coronation Day – that is a seriously expensive chalice and paten, and there seems to be a long history of dropping crowns/sceptres/other gold stuff at unfortunate moments….

From the Tower we went to St Paul’s for Evensong (sensing a theme here?), which was beautiful. Mama, it happened that the Chamber Choir from Auckland University was singing that evening. Nice! From there we walked along the Thames and over to the London Eye, which was also fantastic! No wonder they have kept it. We would have stayed on there for hours if we’d been allowed!

The next morning we headed to Gatwick (yes, for those who will enjoy the laugh at the obligatory spanner in the works that seems to follow me around, the tube line we were supposed to take from Kate’s to Victoria Station was closed, necessitating some hasty walking and another cab trip) for our flight to Montpellier, where we were met by Sar’s mum Jenny, who has been a wonderful tour guide and very generous host! So far we’ve had a wonderful few days exploring Montpellier, St Thibery, Cape D’Agde and Sete (via a beautiful cruise!) Agde, and St-Guilhem-Le-Desert (my favourite!). Those who’ve seen Sar’s Facebook page will know yesterday included a 12km canoe trip which was good fun (and even better exercise!), but tested the bonds of best friendship a bit! I suspect I would have been less frustrated and Sar less reluctant if we hadn’t had to spend the majority of the trip watching Kate and Georgi float past with great finesse and apparent ease, while we struggled to get our canoe off another rock! Ah well. Such is life! I did catch the homesickness bug yesterday – my amazing little sister turned 21 and I gather celebrated well! Can a birthday kiss be blown across a hemisphere?

Today Kate goes back to England and Sar’s dad Andrew arrives – Sar and Georgi are shopping in Pezanas and I am having a quiet morning… Swansons keep up a cracking pace on holidays! We leave on Tuesday for Prague, then to Italy (but that feels much too much like the end of the trip to think about yet!). Until then, hi to you all, hope everyone is well and not too wet… Feel free to fill me in on your news too!!!

PS – we didn’t get to see ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ with David Tennant and Catherine Tate, or go to Canterbury Cathedral, the first for lack of tickets and the second for lack of time and money, but it’s ok, really, because I have a new Christmas decoration. Yellow felt. Mitre, Crozier. Fuzzy white hair. Hums with brilliance, which is impressive for an inanimate object… Whom could it be?

Last time I checked in, we were staying in Bristol after the first day of our Trafalgar tour. Today begins day 5 and the further journey through the beautiful Scottish Highlands, so there is a bit to fill in!

From Bristol we made our way north and skipped just over the Welsh border to the ruins of Tintern Abbey, though unfortunately not for long enough to explore the interior of the ruins. Tintern was a Cistercian Abbey – again I reflected that I could totally have coped with the cloistered life if it included surrounds like that!

From there we made our way to Chester and walked the wall around the city, taking in the beautiful historic buildings inside and the rolling hills outside. Sar took an afternoon excursion to Wales while I explored Chester a bit more and went to Evensong at Chester Cathedral (where I was very warmly welcomed by a most enthusiastic assistant in their shop and introduced to Canon Jane Brooke, who was very gracious in her hospitality) – it is a small world – Jane and her husband are visiting Newcastle later this year!

From Chester we drove to Lancaster and stayed the night, noting that the further along the tour we get, the further from town our hotels are, equalling a corresponding drop in the availability of nearby pubs! This is not a pleasing development after being told over and over of the vital importance of sharing in the local brew. Alas.

We set out from Lancaster to explore the stunning Lake District, where we took a steam train to Lake Windemere and a boat trip across it – the scenery was extraordinary, though I worry that it is presently the edge of summer here – I can’t imagine what winter would feel like! From Windemere we went to the entirely gorgeous village of Grasmere, famous as the inspiration for some of William Wordsworth’s works, as well as his final resting place. I was feeling brave, so had rabbit casserole for lunch, which was delicious, but according to Sar, highly insensitive given we were just up the road from where Beatrix Potter wrote the tales of Peter Rabbit! From Grasmere we headed north, stopping briefly in Gretna Green, before heading to Glasgow. On the way in, we spotted Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant, which turned out to be an excellent choice for dinner – not only was the food fantastic, our Glaswegian waitress was lots and lots of fun and brilliantly patient with us and our prevaricating over the menu. We actually offered her a job as our tour guide, but she politely declined – more’s the pity!

Glasgow was a short-lived trip, giving way to the Highlands and a boat trip around Loch Lomond (yes, with obligatory singing on the bus of the Loch Lomond song – in case you can’t tell, most of the bus is at least twice our age!). It is wild country and a little bit eery – the mountains are incredibly steep and the water looks like ink… Little wonder Rob Roy chose a cave on the banks to hide out! After a brief stop in Oban, we went to a working sheep farm near Aviemore… For those who don’t know, I grew up on a hobby farm, so I was on familiar territory, but it was still great fun to try hand-shearing and feed a lamb or two with a bottle! The shepherd and his sheep dogs were seriously impressive, not only because they worked so well together, but because he was so passionate about farming and the sustainable production of food. Add to that some serious cute factor for the border collie puppies and a few lambs (the most lovely of whom was born on the day of the royal wedding and thus affectionately named ‘Princess Catherine’ – she is the pet of the shepherd’s 6 year old daughter!) and it was a pretty awesome end to the day.

I should add that up here it is also daylight until late in the evening, which is just right for strolling into the village and enjoying a pint of something with one of our new friends, Ellie, who hails from the US but has been studying theology at St Andrews. Ellie and her brother are the only other under-35s on the trip, and they are doing wonders for our sanity!!!

That brings us to today, which includes more time on the long and winding road through beautiful Scottish scenery, but with a stop at Blair Castle. Unlike the quite ceremonial royal castles we’ve come across, this castle offers a glimpse of some of the more, er, robust aspects of Scottish history. Belonging to the Dukes of Atholl, the front entrance contains very interesting artwork that gives a clue to the favourite pastime of the residents… Arranged in quite intricate patterns around the walls is a fair-sized armoury! That many rifles makes one pay attention to the ‘no photographs’ rule!

So, we are heading now to St Andrews to later to Falkirk, in time for a traditional Scottish dinner this evening and then intensive shopping/sightseeing/exploring in Edinburgh tomorrow. Here endeth the chapter! I hope all is well back home and can’t wait to catch up when I get back!

After returning to London from Paris on Thursday evening, our first stop was an English pub for dinner and a few drinks… So my first conclusion is that English pubs beat Aussie pubs hands down… Fortunately there is no shortage of them… I am keeping an eye out for quirkily-named establishments; today for instance, drove past ‘The Slug and Lettuce’. Top points for creativity, if not as noble a patronage as some of the loftier titles!

After a lesiurely start on Friday morning to avoid peak hour on the tube, we began our open top red bus tour around London. While the traffic might be painfully slow, I loved every minute of the sights themselves – we made it through an impressive list, including The Tower of London (must return to look inside), The Globe Theatre, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Westminster (also must return at some point), Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, before a boat trip down the Thames back to the Tower. Braved the extraordinarily crowded tube to Covent Garden and picked up discounted tickets to Billy Elliot for that evening. While not quite assuaging my sadness at not being able to get tickets to see David Tennant and Catherine Tate in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, it was still an absolutely fantastic show, and all the better for being seen in England, I’s guess. Possibly the best bit of the day was sharing a drink afterwards with my brother, who I don’t often get to see in Australia… A great end to a great day! I am, by the way, feeling as happy as ever to be one of Her Majesty’s loyal subjects and feel a definte pull towards England’s fair pastures.

Today (Saturday) began our Trafalgar tour… We headed straight out of London and to our first destination:

Stop 1: Stonehenge
What a fascinating place. I felt a bit like an idiot walking around with a talking radio at my ear, but well worth it for the extensive history lesson as I walked around. Unsurprisingly, it feels a very mystical place. I had no idea of much of the significance of the architecture and pattern of the stones, or the genius behind it. Very cool.

Stop 2:Salisbury
Obviously our first stop was the Cathedral, which is extremely beatiful. I especially love reading the old plaques dedicated to long-gone saints, which say things like ‘Who bore a most trying affliction with Christian forebearance and whose faithful virtues deserved a longer life.’ Noice, eh?! From the Cathedral, we ambled around Salisbury, paid a visit to Marks and Spencers and headed back to the bus for:

Stop 3: Bath
I want to live here. I mean REALLY want to live here. Like stopped-and-looked-at-property-prices want to live here. The natural springs that provide for the Roman Baths (originally the Aquae Sulis) lie in the centre, and are fascinating to explore after a major renovation, which makes them effectively a museum of Roman life, as well as an exhibition of the Baths themselves. The other major visit of this stop was to Bath Abbey. It is so very stunning. There was a particularly beautiful exhibition of illuminated manuscripts and accompanying textiles that I could have looked at for hours. I know I am less than a week into this trip, but anyone who suggested I’d get sick of looking at churches, I can’t see it happening. Fortunately we had a couple of hours here, so there was time to stroll the streets and take in the positively gorgeous architecture and scenery and enjoy Bath culture.

Afetr dragging us all away from Bath, we made our way to the last stop of the day:

Stop 3: Bristol
So far, we’ve taken a quick drive around and are shortly heading out for dinner, so I guess I’ll tell you about it next time!

After a pretty decent 24 Hours of Cramped but Ok Crossing the World (aka Emirates flight Sydney-Dubai-London), the bestie and I landed at Heathrow feeling pretty seedy (a combination of intermittent sleeping on the plane and a fair few wines) but happy to be on European soil. By the way, the A380 is pretty cool, even though all we got to see of first class was their fancy stairwell to the heavens. Alas, the travel was not quite over; we still had to get from St Pancras to Paris, so after some creative problem solving to our communication plans (when Telstra tell you they’ve unlocked your iphone, don’t believe them!), we zoomed across the channel on the Eurostar, negotiated Gare du Nord and the Metro, and found our way to the apartment that we have been generously given to stay in by friends of Sar’s. Only trouble was, finding the caretakers proved something of a challenge, even with Sar’s pretty good french. Just as we were both about to disintegrate into full-blown delirium induced tantrums, enter Jemma, a saint, a God-send, a rescuer-of-weary-travelers-Canonize-the-girl-right-now Australian who lives in the building and found the cranky caretakers and our apartment…. (Pause in the story on account of I was so freakin’ tired I have no recollection of anything after this point until my humanity was restored the following morning by my first ‘pain au chocolat’. Yep, for those who don’t know, it is basically a chocolate filled croissant.) Thus began a whirlwind day of utter amazement and heart and mind overload.

Stop 1: The Notre Dame
Ok, so most of what I know about Notre Dame comes from a particular Disney movie. I had been warned that I might find it all a bit ostentatious and overdone, but too be honest, I thought it was absolutely beautiful. Surrounding the nave are carvings of Gospel images; the nativity on one side and the Resurrection appearances on the other. I found the walk around the choir perimeter very moving and was struck (not for the only time during this amazing day) at the sheer beauty, creativity and devotion that have been poured into sacred art over the centuries. If only we were still so compelled to display our gratitude to God! I also lingered a good while at the statue of Saint Joan of Arc – what a remarkable lady (and one of my most favourite saints!)

Stop 2: The Sainte-Chappelle
It hardly seems fair that Paris should have two such beautiful churches within one street of each other, but she does. The Sainte-Chapelle is positively breathtaking. Apparently at the time it was built, medieval Europe was looking to France as the ‘New Jerusalem’. You can sort of tell. It is designed to look like heaven. There is light and glass and colour absolutely everywhere. I could have stayed there forever.

Stop 3: The Conciergerie
The architectural wonders of this city never cease… To my Mama, I missed you when I was walking around this palace-turned-prison; we will have to watch ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ when I get home! I even took a photo of Robespierre’s portrait for you. Marie Antoinette’s cell might have been small, but not for lack of space – how on earth did they make such high ceilings???

Stop 4: The Pantheon
Over to the Latin Quarter for a stroll past Sorbonne University… I would totally go back to uni if I could go here! Then to the Pantheon.
Background note 1 – the patron saint of Paris is St Genevieve. Background note 2 – there were LOTS of King Louis’ and they all seemed to like building churches! So when Louis XV attributed his recovery from a serious illness to prayers made to St Genevieve, he went ahead and built a church for her. Isn’t that nice? The architect’s job was to build a basilica that would rival the church of St Peter in Rome. Apparently it has turned out similar to St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Not that I’ve been there yet, but a pretty impressive couple of comparisons, yeah? It’s name? Well, originally it was the Abbey of St Genevieve, but it was only just finished in time for the French Revolution. Enter the National Constituent Assembly… Being such humble chaps as they were, and so amenable to matters of faith, they decided to turn it into a mausoleum for the great men of Paris, hence ‘Pantheon’. Thus the somewhat imposing statue of the National Convention where presumably the sanctuary would have been, and the quite mesmerizing Foucault’s Pendulum in the centre. At least the recounting of Genevieve’s life in images still grace the wall. In BIG. Wow. We also meandered through the Luxembourg Gardens before heading back to the Metro and on to…

Stop 5: La Tour Eiffel
So, obviously I’ve seen plenty of picture of the Eiffel Tower before, but they don’t really convey just how TALL it is, or how beautiful. Talk about a photographer’s dream (and I took plenty). The queue was well worth it, though how anyone anyone is insane enough to take schoolchildren up to the top is beyond me. Also, I thought I was afraid of heights. Apparently not! Yes we walked back down from the second level – that is a LOT of stairs!

Stop 6: Montmartre and The Sacre Couer
Across town again for a lovely dinner in Place du Tertre and a wander around the artist’s quarter, Montmartre. The final stop of the day was the Sacre Couer, a truly beautiful church that overlooks the city. With no photos allowed inside and an impressive observance of quietness by visitors, this place made for a beautiful and reflective end to an extraordinary day. Prayers are maintained in this church 24 hours a day. Pretty impressive, huh?!

AND THAT WAS JUST DAY 1!!!!!

Day 2 was a little less hectic, probably because 14 hours solid of walking can really compound the jetlag! Back to the great patisserie and the fresh fruit shop for breakfast and on to….

Stop 1: L’Arc de Triomphe
For those who live in Newcastle… You know how Jesmond roundabout is just itching to have something cool on that expanse of grass? How about a miniature of this??? In short, the architecture is tres impressive, the stairs are MANY and the view is fantastic. Must be the biggest roundabout in the world!

We wandered from L’Arc de Triomphe down the Champs de Elysee, the shopping avenue of the world… Sar brought clothes, I wistfully looked at windows to Cartier and Swarovksi and kept walking! It is a long walk, but a lovely one, punctuated with a lovely lunch and culminating in:

Stop 2:
The Louvre
Nothing in Australia goes anywhere near preparing one for the sheer size of this place. The MAJOR downside to visiting on Wednesday is that on Tuesday, The Louvre is shut, so the crowd doubles the following day. Notwithstanding my serious dislike of large and discourteous crowds, I could have spent days, probably weeks, looking at the many wonders contained there. For those who think the Mona Lisa is disappointing, I disagree. Like a typical tourist, I had to work my way through the crowds just for a glimpse. She is a gracious lady in person. Respect.

Two asides:
(1) I loathe and detest people standing in the way of beautiful artworks to pose for photos. It is a different matter when you are outside and there is plenty of architecture to go around. But do not disrespect a work so awe-inspiring as, say, Veronese’s The Wedding of Cana, by sticking your face in the way. You are not an apostle. You do not belong in this scene!!!!
(2) I thought the French Revolution was about giving it back to the people??! Clearly the decorators at Napoleon’s Apartments never got that memo. Oi Vey.

Though entirely amazing, the Louvre is pretty overwhelming. Home to our apartment for a nap to rest the fraying nerves.

Day 3
Stop 1: The Museum of the Middle Ages
This stop meant a trip back to the Latin Quarter, on account of the museum had been closed when we had been on Tuesday. I swear, the French have more holidays than we do! It was well worth going back to this converted Abbey-Mansion (can I say, I could totally have coped with being a religious in France back in the day – the faithful masses build you beautiful homes and only expect you to pray for them and make pretty stuff all day – check!). Those who know me well know the middle ages through to the Renaissance is pretty much my favourite time in history, and I’ve oft wished I’d been born a few centuries ago. Two words: The Tapestries. Oh my, the tapestries. Again, could have stayed all day, but had to make our way back to the Eiffel Tower for….

Stop 2: Bateau Parisian Boat Trip along The Seine
So by this time, I was pretty tired (have I mentioned it is daylight until about 11pm and the sun is back up by 6am? It is not doing wonders for my sleep patterns!!! Plus I still wake up with that horrible feeling that I’m late for morning prayer!). As such, the combination of sun and sitting down didn’t help me keep my eyes open, but it is still a beautiful trip down the Seine to see Paris from her riverbank. Lots of romantic bridges and towering edifices of churches, gorgeous apartments and the many magnificent buildings that make up the city (in particular the Hotel Invalides, the burial place of Napoleon. Compensating much???). With not much time, we raced back to the apartment, only stopping for baguettes and pain au chocolat for lunch… It’s a hard life in Paris!

As I finish this, we are back in London… Stay tuned for the next update!

PS – sorry no photos – they don’t download well! Those who want to see them when I get home will find facebook flooded with them!

Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

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