From Italy to England

Back in Ashleigh’s gorgeous Clifton Village apartment after an eight day holiday with my sister in Italy, and though I woke up missing what became my usual morning stroll to a pasticceria for cappuccinos and flaky Italian pastries, I like this being back in Bristol. No trains to catch, no maps to mull over, no sunscreen needed–it feels good to be in home. And so, for the moment, I’m trying to forget that I fly back to Minnesota in only eleven days.

Maria and I had a delicious time in Italy. When we initially began planning the trip I was certainly excited about this third opportunity to return to Italia, but with so many other European countries I’ve left to see (Portgual, Spain, Austria, Czech Republic, Greece…), I was  less eager than usual. But I’m so glad we went. It was a treat to watch Maria fall in love with this passionate country, and I found myself enjoying this trip to Italy more than any other time. We started our adventure in Roma with the usual visits to the Colosseum and Vatican: inspiring, yes, but I’d seen it before. What made us both fall head over heels for the city was taking ‘the road less traveled.’ We spent a sunny Saturday afternoon exploring the authentic Roman neighborhood of Trastevere, and though, as two blondes, we didn’t exactly fit in with the locals, Rome suddenly felt a different place altogether away from the throngs of tourists.

That evening we walked the city streets to Campo de’ Fiori, a bustling piazza in the heart of Rome, to begin a ghost tour of this city more than two thousand years old. I’ve never done tours prior to this trip (isn’t that the easy way out?), but this one was worth it. Learning more about the vibrant and bloody past of Roma (beyond the cruelty of the ancient Romans) was fascinating. We learned of a mother and daughter responsible for ‘the mass murder of the husbands’ by making a living selling off arsenic-laced water; a group of monks who made furniture from human bones in the infamous Capuchin Crypt; the mistress of Pope Urban VIII who dropped dead on her escape from Rome after his death, and is now said to haunt the bridge of her death. Ah, I could go on and on–the history of Rome reads like a suspense thriller, but must run!  Off to explore Bath with Maria today.

More later,

Em

 

 

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A Windy Thursday

Just returned from a windy run past Clifton Village over the Suspension Bridge through Ashton Court across the harbor up the steps & home again, and feeling so much better for it. Maria, my sister older by just under two years, arrives for a fifteen day visit on Monday, and between planning our itinerary (though Momo has done the brunt of it), wedding planning and preparing for my dissertation, today found me feeling a little overwhelmed. But none of these count for much in light of my worries over my beautiful nine month old niece, Sophia Isabel. Yesterday, at her nine month check up, the doctor expressed concern over Sophie’s lack of hitting key milestones–she won’t eat solid foods, doesn’t really crawl, and though she is a chubby baby, hasn’t grown much since her six month appointment. The doctors are running blood tests and, depending on those results, may need to do an MRI. So if you would, please pray for my baby niece today. I love her so much.

I’m home now in less than a month and, though I hate being so far from Minnesota in such times as worrying over little Sophie, I’m doing my best to enjoy these final weeks in Bristol. I love this city so much; the novelty of it all hasn’t yet worn off, but it does feel like home. I don’t get lost anymore. I can gauge distances. I don’t need to ask for directions. I know the nice café s and the ones merely so-so.  But I still come across new corners and views every day. Today on my run I saw:

-A herd of skinny sleeping does (no need for winter coats) in Ashton Court

-A circle of handsome ‘stags’ resting away from the does beneath a shady tree

-A sweet German Shepherd peering out a window

-A bay gelding who approached me and let me pet his velvet nose

-New flowers growing along old brick walls

-A couple old for a stroll with their baby girl

And the ‘usual sights:’ the Suspension Bridge, the colorful flats along the River Avon, rolling green hills surrounding Ashton Court, pretty stone coffee shops, the little Clifton shops decked out in Union Jacks for the Diamond Jubilee…moving back to Minneapolis might be a shock.

Back to A Laodicean (last Hardy novel left to read! Love him, but so fatalistic. Somebody I like always dies).

E.

Banana Pancakes & the Olympic Torch

Sun is streaming through my window, I’ve changed back into my pajamas and have a hot cup of tea and orange slices beside me (the pancakes are already in my tummy). No complaints on this side of the Atlantic. It’s a beautiful morning–one too good to sleep away even after only getting a few hours sleep. Earlier this morning I met Caro and Jennifer in Clifton Village to watch the Olympic torch pass over the Suspension Bridge and it was just–fun. Groups of school children were there waving their ‘Union Jacks’ while BBC Bristol filmed the excitement of this ‘historic’ moment. With the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee less than two weeks away, the Village shops had changed their window displays to picnic baskets complete with tea things, streams of more British flags hung in the doorways, and pictures of the Queen (on plates, books, postcards, shirts) were readily available.  As Caro would say, “I quite like British culture.”

The Olympic torch crosses the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Yesterday was the ‘dissertation symposium’ where I, along with the other English MAs, presented my dissertation proposal to several of my professors to get an idea of the validity and strength of my topic (the consensus: I have a ‘rich’ topic, but no argument (yet)). And with that, the academic year was officially over. My routine of reading and ‘learning’ won’t really change all that much as this dissertation needs to get done somehow, but it was odd to finally arrive at the last official date on my calendar. The year is winding to a close and though I’m here for another month, I keep wondering how it suddenly passed so quickly. Some months didn’t pass by quickly at all. Strings of days were punctuated only with trips to the library and cups of coffee, but time is sneaky. I’m convinced that the more I’m enjoying myself, that faster it goes.  I visited Cambridge last Saturday (gorgeous city–photos to follow), and among the ancient, particularly by American standards, colleges and chapels the new clock Corpus Christi Clock seemed evocatively out of place. On our tour we learned the clock was installed in 2008 with the purpose of emphasizing the relativity of time. And I’m beginning to see the point. How can the same measurement of hours and minutes pass with aching slowness in the grey walls of my former cubicle, and here, melt away without even eyeing the clock? The universal question.

I, for one, need to use the hours of this next week to read four unfamiliar Hardy novels and develop my dissertation topic into an argument. But please, reader, don’t hold your breath in edge-of-your-seat suspense (as I know you all are). It will get done.

E.

 

Exploring Gloucester

Three days ago, on a rainy Monday morning, I left Bristol by train to explore the south-west city of Gloucester. Stepping off the platform, I was greeted by my cousin and dear friend, Leah, and her darling goddaughter, Lily. Leah graduated from Redcliffe College in Gloucester four years ago, and inevitably, this city holds a special place in her heart and, fortunately for me, it meant being shown around  by someone who knew the city inside and out.

After a solid twelve-days of nonstop essay-writing, getting out of Bristol and my flat for a full day of wandering seemed just the thing, and the city exceeded my expectations. Gloucester was charming–picturesque and very English. Bristol isn’t really a big city (at least by American standards), but escaping to smaller, slower-paced cities is always a treat.

The Beatrix Potter Shop

We began the day exploring the small and pretty campus of Redcliffe College, and after hearing so much about this place so pivotal in Leah’s life,  I could understand firsthand why she loves it dearly. We then wandered to the little Beatrix Potter shop–made famous as being the setting and inspiration for the Beatrix Potter story “The Tailor of Gloucester”–which, I learned, was Potter’s favorite of her stories. It’s always a delicious feeling to literally stand in the footsteps of writers I’ve so long admired.

Just beyond the shop was the stunning Gloucester Cathedral dating back to 681!  I’ve been blessed to see many awe-inspiring cathedrals, but I’d never seen cloisters and corridors as stunning as these (no wonder three of the Harry Potter movies were filmed here). Growing up in Minnesota culture where what is ‘basic and functional’ rules over extravagance and detail, the beauty of the Cathedral was overwhelming.  For the first time, I could understand the motivation behind these painstakingly-ornate Cathedrals as surrounded by inspiring-beauty, God felt closer.

The cloisters

The history and age of England still hasn’t lost its allure for me, and I’m realizing yet again that even nearly a year here is not enough time to take in all the wonder–the castles, the cathedrals, the tea shoppes, the cliffs of Cornwall, the green hills of Devon, the beauty of the Lake District, the charm of the Cotswolds–and I still haven’t been up North!

Today was my last day of class and to celebrate, our professor, Ralph, brought white wine and cloudy lemonade to class, and we leisurely discussed British poetry for an hour. My final essays were turned in six days ago and now, all that stands between getting my degree, is a little dissertation. Time has moved fast and slow here, but lately, it’s swept by much too quickly…the thought of leaving is a bittersweet one, but lo! no need to think of that yet.

It’s so much easier to put Mary Oliver’s words into practice, for some reason, away from home:

“I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”

Cheers,

Em

The Engagement

I have truly terrible about updates this past month, but for have good reason! First of all, my final MA essays were due  this past Friday, and miraculously, I got them done: all 12,000 words of ’em. Needless to say, I never want to read anything to do with Ann Radcliffe again. Thomas Hardy, however, is quite another story, and from studying Hardy and Impressionism, I believe I’ve found my dissertation topic. O, the relief!

But for my favorite news of all: there is a yellow-gold solitaire on my ring finger and on October 27th of this year, I will be marrying my best friend. In between the rush of essay-writing and lectures, Brady flew into London and after meeting him at Heathrow, we took the train back into Bristol. That night after a relaxed dinner at The Lido, Brady took my hand and we began strolling through Clifton Village. After sheets of rain all day, the sky had suddenly stopped crying  and the moon had just come up and in the dusky twilight, we reached the Clifton Suspension Bridge. There wasn’t a place in the world I’d rather have been at that moment, and when Brady got down on one knee and said, “Will you marry me?” I could only nod and say, “Yeah.”

A couple days later, Brady was on a plane back to Minnesota and I was left with two essays to finish,  but it’s hard to complain about essay-writing when it gave me an excuse to admire the ring as my fingers tapped the keyboard.

Brady et moi

This being engaged feels wonderfully surreal, but now back to dissertation research: more soon.

Em

Three Days in Firenze

Finally (finally!) posting some photos of the romantic capitol of Tuscany: Florence.  As the birthplace of the Renaissance,  a World Heritage Site, and ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world by Forbes, Florence doesn’t need introduction.

Over a month ago now, I stepped off the train having no idea what to expect (Ryanair’s strict cabin luggage forced me to leave even my guide book behind!), but even this was part of the allure. Of course, the Duomo, the domed cathedral of the city, was visible from nearly any point in the city, but even ‘unimportant attractions’–little side streets peppered with cafes and gelaterias, brimmed with charm. Mmmmm….present nostalgia:

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

 

The Neptune Fountain (1575) at Piazza della Signoria

The Neptune Fountain (1575) at Piazza della Signoria

 

Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge built in 1345 (and the only Florentine bridge to survive WWII).

At Ponte Vecchio

 

The view from Piazza Michelangelo

 

A panoramic view of Firenze

Yes, wouldn’t mind a visit back!

E.

 

Venice Desired

It’s my third day back in Bristol after a three weeks absence, and I’ve returned to find Clifton Village alive with cherry blossoms, roses, and foxglove and the hills and vines even greener than when I left. English springs really are something to write about, and I can’t help feeling a bit like Mary Lennox(with the exception of no sick relation to nurse back to health, but perhaps my ailing essays count?).

These past few weeks have been filled to the brim with so many gifts, so many experiences I never dreamed of having and so, before I leave them to memory to become hazy like dreams, I want to record a few such moments here. I don’t believe I’ve ever done so much walking than over my time in France and Italy and despite my good intentions, I was simply too tired to write at the end of the day. But I believe we understand experiences better in hindsight, and I, for one, need time to let it sink under my skin and into my bloodstream to know it was real.

Italy, though it’s nearly impossible for me to choose favorites, was my favorite leg of the ‘trip.’ I spent three days in Venice before taking the train into Tuscany and Florence. Prior to stepping on the plane to Paris, our last Romantics lecture had discussed the allure of Venice, and it was hard to believe I’d soon be seeing it for myself.

The beauty of Venice struck me immediately. Venice is supposed to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities, but from my past travel experiences, I’ve learned to be skeptical of such claims. Often times, what is ‘postcard perfect’ is misleading because, generally, only a small portion of the city actually resembles the postcard. Not so with Venice. After crossing Canale di Fuscina, the magic of Venice was immediate. I soon realized it was not just St. Mark’s Basilica or the Grand Canal that made Venice beautiful; it was all of it. And getting lost  in the web of canals, calle and campi that make up the sestieri (neighborhoods) of Venice was the best way to explore. Every corner and campi leading to a dead-end, which in the case of Venice, means a canal, was stunning. Lines of colorful clothing hung like streamers between the Venetian appartamentos. Flowers bloomed from window boxes between brightly painted shutters. Caffè windows became pieces of art with displays of marzipan, cannolis filled with zabaione, and giant Italian Easter cakes called Colomba carefully wrapped in parchment and ribbon.

The novelty of canals replacing roads and gondolas instead of cars was invigorating. And the cappuccinos were just as good as I remember from my first time in Italy (Roma) a few years ago. And yes, the gelato was still heavenly. What I liked most about Venice, though, was the pace. In some ways, there wasn’t a whole lot to do–at least in terms of museums and other sights the traveler usually feels obligated to visit. The whole city was about having an extra scoop of gelato, lingering over a glass of red, and having a generous plate of beautiful Venetian cuisine at the end of the day. 

In many ways, Venice seemed like a make-believe city. I did not see a single car. There wasn’t an office building in sight. And, as I learned in Sweden, Venice is largely a fantasy. My cousin’s friend, Jo, grew up in Veneto, the region of Italy containing Venice, and she explained that few Venetians actually live in Venice.  It’s a city for tourists and maybe the rare traveler. Of course, Venice is slowly sinking, which might also contribute to its lack of population.

Canale Grande

Canale Grande

And I want to go back! Hmmm…back to Jane Austen & Mansfield. Next post: Florence.

-E.

A Saturday Morning

Currently sipping coffee with cinnamon and honey (my new favorite–thank you, Leah!) sitting in the colorful, sun-bathed studios of Vintage Invites, the beautiful invitation company my cousin creates for. There is something about sitting here in the sun amid peacock feathers, leafs of paper, and lovely in-progress wedding invites that makes me want to create. As much as I love the excitement of  following a map, there is something equally satisfying about feeling established again, and finding fresh delight in the familiar. After two weeks of traveling in France and Italy–two weeks of sorting out trams and trains, of asking for directions, of getting little sleep and doing much walking, of bad sunburns and stinging blisters–waking up in a peaceful flat in Sweden feels about as good as it gets.

Being back in Scandinavia feels a bit like being home. Almost exactly three years ago I arrived in Goteborg  to visit Leah for the first time who was only a train ride away as I was studying in Norway. Yesterday I was looking at pictures from this trip–of Leah and I riding the ferry to the islands sprinkled around Goteborg, of having my first fika, and holding a long-eared puppy a generous Swede let me hold–and I’ve decided that being back in the land of kroners and kanelbulle is wonderful. I like England for entirely different reasons, but Scandinavia will always be my first European love.

Before stepping on the plane to Paris I was absolutely aching to leave Bristol. I was ready to close my books, lock the door and not turn back for anything. Funny how being away just two weeks has me craving my usual routine, but being in Sweden with Leah is a breath of fresh air. Having a proper shower and clean laundry has me feeling like a new woman. Nonetheless, the blisters gained from endless walking and sightseeing was worth it.

The Med

From Paris, I, along with Brian, Ashley and Gen, took the train to Nice, and it didn’t take long to realize the French Riviera really was magical. It was hot, tropical and felt more like Spain or Italy than France. I loved it. The Mediterranean was every shade of blue, refreshingly cold, and picturesque. The apartments and shops were painted in warm colors and the beach was lined with cafés, pizzerias, and gelaterias. It was definitely a holiday town. My favorite evening in Nice was on our first night. On a skinny street in Old Town we found a hole-in-the-wall pizza place and while in line, met an American man who assured us this was, indeed, the best pizza in Nice. From here, we returned to the Med and stayed till after sunset, sipping chardonnay and watching the water.

Most of the villages along the Riviera are quite close by, and on our second day we rode a crammed bus over the cliffs along the Med to Monaco.  I imagine Monaco was infinitely more glamorous fifty or more years ago with Princess Grace strolling the streets, but the place was still striking. I can’t distinguish a Subaru from a Bentley, but apparently nothing else lined the streets. The city was clean and perfectly well-manicured, and despite the famous Monte Carlo Casino being the most prominent feature of city centre, the streets were quiet and respectable. I spent most of the day on the beach, though, visiting with two Texans who bought all four of us a round (or more) of drinks. I tried my first (and last) obligatory beer and, even in Monaco, decided I did not like it one bit. The last couple of days were spent primarily on the beach, and I felt deliciously removed from normal life. From Nice, Gen and I flew to Venice, but I simply must do some essay-work now, so more on Italy to follow…

Cheers,

Em

 

 

Currently (finally!) settled in Saint Exupéry Gardens in Nice sipping tea and relishing the cool breeze on my sunburn. We left Paris before dawn this morning to catch our train to Nice after four full days of taking in the sights of La Ville-Lumière. I’m quite sure that between Brian, Ashley, Madeleine, Genevieve and myself we must have walked a hundred miles, and we have the sunburns and blisters to prove it!

The magic of Paris is particularly felt at night.

I didn’t fall in love with Paris right away as I expected to–I soon learned a committed relationship with this city takes time (more than four days), but by last night I was quite smitten. The sheer scale and sights of Paris were overwhelming, and the scent of exhaust and cigarette smoke was ever present. But just when my feet were tired or I began to wonder why Paris has become such a travel must, I’d catch a glimpse of the la Tour Eiffel or Arc de Triomphe and need to pinch myself to be convinced they were, in fact, real.

Oh, macaroons!

We likely were too ambitious in all we fit in (ice cream cones at the Eiffel Tower, walking through the Louvre ( I still don’t understand the hype surrounding the Mona Lisa), exploring the Latin Quarter and Montmarte, window-shopping along the Champs-Elysees, marveling at the stained glass windows of Notre Dame, the love-locks at Ponte Bridge, a box of my first ever macaroons from Ladurée, people watching at the Tuileries, taking in the pomp of Versailles (it simply puts Windsor Castle to shame), and finally, savoring one or two Nutella crepes (!) and a glass or two of rosé et sauvignon), but since I just don’t know when or if I’ll be back, the blisters are worth it.

Nonetheless, I often felt out of place by my lonesome in a city with so many couples (attractive ones at that, too). Paris is certainly a place for lovers and the romance of it all felt a bit out of reach strolling through the sights without Brady.

Ah, and now to get ready to explore Old Town, Nice…running late as usual!

E.

P.S. Joyeux Anniversaire to Brian & Ashley!:) You two would share a birthday.;)

 

The Orchard on Fire

Just finished Shena Mackay’s “The Orchard on Fire,” a bittersweet and beautifully-writ account of two little girls growing up in 1950s England. Had I not been living in England myself, I wouldn’t have understood half of the English references, but I did, and it’s somehow a funny sensation. Almost as though I know too much now, and there’s no going back. After finishing my MA, I’ll return to the States and Minnesota culture and will no longer be surrounded by West Country accents, Georgian architecture, tea shoppes and pubs. Thankfully, I’ll have pictures and memories and maybe a couple future visits to look forward to, but this experience will have largely stopped. For all my trying I can’t recreate it and that will be that. Hmmm…Mackay has me feeling all melancholy! I guess the only remedy is to make the most of the remaining months. Press it all into memory like a bouquet of pressed flowers.

Yesterday I attended the day-long “Penguin Poetry & The 1960s” conference at the stunning Wills Memorial. Can’t say I knew much of modern poetry before going, or that I suddenly understand poetry after shaking the hand of A. Alvarez (such a lovely man!), but it has me interested and honestly excited to try and “get it.” Listening to Alvarez, a poetry giant for those of you unfamiliar, talk of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath by their first names and relating stories of his friendship with the couple was, for lack of a better word, surreal.  Even someone who has never read a poem by Plath knows who she is. Plath has become a part of our cultural psyche, and it’s easy to forget she was a breathing, living person.

Alvarez said the difference between prose and poetry is that “a poem has to be perfect.” If it’s not, you know it. You can’t stop rearranging, crossing out and crumbling words till it’s right. Whole. Exact. And I think he is absolutely right. Finding the exact words in a world of speed and convenience and finite time takes a discipline most of us don’t have. Or don’t try to have.  Hmmm…just something I’ve been thinking about.

I’ve also been feeling a bit guilty about leaving Bristol for three weeks on Thursday for a bit of traveling (Paris-Nice-Monaco-Venice-Florence-Pisa-Goteborg). Surely this should be someone else’s life! I don’t know why God has been so good to me.

Alright! Back to studying up on T. Hardy.

E.

 

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