Zeus at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens
I studied him in art history classes in college. He is an original bronze Greek statue that was pulled from a shipwreck. Most surviving Greek statuary is marble even though they worked extensively with the cast bronze methods of sculpture. The reason so few remain is most of them were melted down for ammunition at one point in time or another. A travesty for sure, so when one is found buried it is a huge deal.
But it goes beyond that with this particular figure. The symmetry and grace of the lines of his form are truly god-like. And amazingly, he looks like he is about to chuck a thunderbolt (now long gone) and step off his plinth, a living, breathing thing. This was a huge achievement that was lost in art until Donatello and Bernini thousands of years later. When I walked into the room where he stands I got chills running down my back and I could have stood and stared at him for hours he is so magnificent.
Ready to launch a thunderbolt
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
In the city of Nottingham is a pub that claims to be the oldest in all of England. The legend goes that the public house was founded in 1189, the same year Richard the Lionheart became king and left for the Crusades. Supposedly, the king and his men had a blowout party at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem the night before they left.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
I was in Nottingham in 1995 on my study abroad tour. It wasn’t a scheduled trip. My good friends Paula and Suzanne and I went one Saturday when we didn’t have classes. We took the train up and spent the afternoon wandering the city and had lunch at the pub. It was my first introduction to the jacket potato, and it was supremely satisfying. I also remember some guy dressed as a fat friar showing people how to play old pub games. Certainly a place for the tourists, be we really enjoyed ourselves.
Just outside the spreading grounds of Blenheim Palace is the little village of Woodstock. It is one of those charming little places that seems to transcend time. Well, if there weren’t so many dang cars parked up and down the streets, that is. But the houses are old stone, the windows full of flower boxes, and the doors have adorable little fox and lion door knockers. After we exhausted ourselves at Blenheim we were revived by the charm of this little village and its loveliness.
Charming streets of Woodstock
This little hamlet is the birthplace of one of Britain’s most famous composers: Edward Elgar. Everyone knows Pomp and Circumstance, which is played at nearly every graduation in the world, but he was an amazing composer well beyond that lovely piece of music.
The cozy little cottage where Edward Elgar was born
Elgar was born in a tiny brick house in 1857. Being one of my husbands favorite composers, we made the trip to Upper Broadheath to see the house and the small museum erected nearby. It was a lovely little spot–the house small but cozy, the garden lovely with fall flowers and apples trees heavy with fruit. The museum was well put together and had interesting displays, artifacts, and of course, listening stations to hear his music.
And the gardens in their fall splendor
Everyone who has seen the movie 300 knows about the last stand of the Spartans against the massive Persian army. My husband, being Greek and constantly reading books on Ancient Greek history. By proxy, I learned quite a bit about the Persian wars fought between the united Greeks and the invading hordes.
Where the last of the 300 Spartans died.
Thermopylae is the place where the 300 died fighting, losing the Spartan king, Leonidas. It’s not much to look at today, but there is a lovely little memorial at the top of the small hill where the last of them lost their lives. But they fought like motherfuckers and held off the Persians long enough so the Athenians could regroup and defend the city of Athens. It was a turning point in history, for sure. If the Spartans hadn’t given their all I believe the world would have been a much different place today. They saved the western world and preserved their culture. Which is the foundation of our democracy, philosophy, art, mathematics, drama, and so many other things we still appreciate today.
Leonidas, King of the Spartans
Leonidas, King of the Spartans was told by the Persians to surrender his weapons. He replied, “Come and take them,” knowing it would mean certain death. Our action heroes of the silver screen have nothing on him. He was the real deal.
St. Hilaire Abbey
In Provence there is a 13th century convent tucked into the fold of the hills of the Vaucluse. St. Hilaire is my happy place. When I meditate that is where I picture myself, sitting on the grass in the courtyard in back, watching the poplar trees across the valley sway in the breeze. We sat there for a long time, Kosta and I, just drinking in the peace infused in the very stones of the place. We didn’t speak, we just sat and watched the sky, the trees, and felt the breeze wash over us, content to just be. Even if I never return (and I sorely hope that is not the case) I will never forget the way that place made me feel.
The front entrance of the abbey.
Set in stone.
My Happy Place
I have visited twice — the first was my study abroad tour in 1995, the second was another study abroad tour to Italy in 1996. I spent three weeks visiting Florence, Siena, Assisi, San Gimignano, Rome, Ravenna and Venice. I sorely wanted to write about Ravenna and its amazing mosaic-filled churches, but my photos did not turn out well at all. This was back in the age when you actually had film in your camera and had no idea whether your pictures turned out until you developed them.
Instead, I got some breathtaking photos of the Roman forum. Walking through the ruins is an interesting experience. Everything is skeletal and it is hard to picture what these broken teeth of columns and foundations of buildings must have been like in the glory of their construction. But here and there are bits of unexpected beauty that have lasted through the centuries.
A vestal virgin
A pile of toppled columns
In London there is an area around Charing Cross Road that is loaded with used bookstores. It’s not as packed as it was when I first visited in 1995, but there are still a fair amount still around. Quinto Books is one of them.
I don’t mind mentioning that we came home from this vacation barely making our luggage weight because of all the books we bought. Not only did we spend a serious amount of hours in Blackwell in Oxford, we also spent the better part of a day knocking around Quinto’s and others like it on Charing Cross. Kosta was looking for history (Ancient Greek or WWII) and music books, while I was intent upon handsome old volumes of fiction and life in Tudor England. We each came away happy, as you can see.
Heaven part 2!
Have you ever seen the TV show Doc Martin? If you haven’t, I demand you go find it right now and watch it. It stars Martin Clunes as a possibly Asperger’s surgeon who developed a phobia for blood and had to take a position as a town doctor in the small coastal town of Port Wenn in Cornwall. Port Isaac is the place where this show is filmed and Kosta and I made a special trip to see it during our 2012 trip to England.
My parking place at the hotel.
Let me first tell you about driving in Cornwall–if you have any tiny little hint of anxiety disorder I suggest you avoid it at all costs. The roads are about the width of a horse’s butt, lined with tall hedgerows and corkscrew around like a Matchbox car race course. Don’t forget as an American, I was driving backwards to what I was used to. And then of course the locals drive like demons escaped from hell. I felt like peering through my fingers the whole time I was behind the wheel.
Doc Martin’s house!
A view of the port from up on the hill.
But once we got there? PERFECTION. This town is so breathtakingly charming I could have stayed for months, just wandering the streets and the grassy cliffs above. We didn’t see anyone famous as they weren’t filming, but we did see Doc Martin’s house, Mrs. Tischel’s chemist’s shop, and actually stayed at the Old School Hotel which is the school where Louisa Glassin teaches. It was an extremely cool experience.
Old School Hotel
Until we had to get back in the car and drive back to Oxford.
I’ve spent a little time in this achingly beautiful town. In 1995 I did a study abroad tour called Eurospring where a group of us studied at Oxford for five weeks and then had a three-week bus tour of the Continent. It was the best thing I had ever done in my young life and the travel bug bit me hard.
Theology school from the 12th century. (Also, for you Harry Potter nerds, the hospital wing at Hogwarts.)
I’ve been back twice since: once with my mother in 1997 and once in 2012 with my husband. If you’ve been reading my posts this month you’ll already know I studied Gothic architecture in college, and this town is chock-a-block with it. It’s heaven for someone like me to just wander the streets and look up at all the beautiful buildings.
Wandering the streets.
I can’t believe though, that it took me until 2012 to take a tour of the Bodleian Library. Kosta and I both positively went weak at the knees when we were led up to the stacks on the second floor. Oh, but could we have touched those books. Just one little fingertip on a spine.
Bodleian Library…Don’t you just want to take a peek?
Yes, I know I’m a nerd. Proud of it too.