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Folks, time is flying. It was about a month ago that we set out on that last trip, so perhaps I should finish up my posts on said trip – because there’s more coming.

So let’s review:

We were on a journey from June 14-30, most of which was to England but which began in New York City. Explained here.

So let’s talk about where we stayed.

First of all, who are we? Because that matters. In just a couple of weeks, my travel-type posts will shift in emphasis because I’ll mostly be going solo, and believe me, in the short bit of time that I’ve spent pinning down some stays for the fall, it has been most enjoyable because...it’s just me. And I am very low maintenance (as you will see if you continue to follow me), and can basically stay in a corner of a room or hell, probably the back of a car for days, if not weeks at a stretch, and it’s a lot different making those arrangements than it is to figure things out for a 61-year old female Me, a 21-year old male and a 17-year old male.

But for this trip, well, it was three of us and no regrets, but still, it was three of us – three adults who did not want to share a bed, no. And booked and paid for by a cheapskate, so there’s that, too.

So here you go:

New York City: The Wall Street Inn: This was a new one for us. In the recent past, we’ve most frequently stayed at the Leo House in Chelsea – a unique Catholic guest house for which I’ve usually been able to score some deals because I’ve booked and paid for the stays ahead of time. Not so this time – I suppose demand was higher, and there just wasn’t anything available. So, via booking.com, I found this one, and it turned out great.

Wall Street Inn, NYC

We are familiar with and fairly frequent visitors to NYC (my oldest lives there) so there was no need to have some definitive Midtown or Times Square experience, plus he lives not far from the Financial District, so it worked out. Three of us fit in one room for a bit under $200/night, the place was very clean and nicely run – by…I hate to say it in the current climate, but judging from accents either eastern Europeans or Russians (not sure which, sorry), and I’d definitely stay there again.

England!

Oxford: The Red Mullions Guest House Staying super close in to Oxford would have been quite expensive, but this lovely guest house was about a ten-minute bus ride from the center. We had breakfast one morning, and if we were breakfast-eaters, would have done it more. The proprietors were friendly – making a great deal about the elder son’s “‘tache” – (not ‘stache’ – no – “‘tache'”) – and helpful, the room spacious and clean, and the food excellent.

York: Airbnb. This was fairly dramatic. We were to go to York on Monday, and on Saturday afternoon, I got a message from the owner of our rental that she was cancelling on us. There was work being done, she’d thought it would not be a problem, but it turned out it was.

O -kay. What does one do?

Well, luckily, another was available – and Airbnb came through with a refund and a coupon to make up the difference – and this one had a washer and dryer, which was a bonus. It was a lovely apartment with lots of space, which is what we needed.

Photos 1,2: Interior. 3: the street where the apartment was located; 4: the city gate to the area; 5: the view at the ridiculous hour of something like 4 am from my skylight.

Hexham: The Station Inn. The point of this stage of the trip? Hadrian’s Wall. This was not the most luxurious hotel, but who needs that? It was just what the name suggests – a hotel for travelers near the train and the bus station. The room was clean, the people at reception were super helpful especially on the next morning when I was trying to get us the heck out of there on the day of a rail strike – and yes, I’d stay there again.

Seahouses: The Bamburgh Castle Inn The most, by per/night measure, expensive stay, but that’s because it was a good hotel in a popular vacation destination. The room was nothing spectacular, but it was clean, with three separate beds and a nice view.

Edinburgh: The Mackenzie Guest House– Again, if you are into fancy hotels, or even higher mid-level American hotels, you would probably not be pleased, but it was fine – we had two adjoining rooms – one with a double for me, and then another with two twins for them – with a shared external bathroom – on the top floor of the guest house. A nice breakfast with a very helpful and kind proprietor. If you want something else, you can pay $200/night more, but I’m not going to….

London: St. Athan’s Hotel: Another shared bathroom situation, this time with more folks, but again – no problem. We had one room with four beds (including a bunk), and there were, I think, maybe four floors of the hotel with four bathrooms for each two floors – that were kept very clean. I think these proprietors were either Turks or Syrians (again apologies for not being able to nail it), and it was located in an area near King’s Cross that had lots of these small hotels. I’d stay there again, no question.

Photo 1: – stairs from our floor to one of the two sets of bathroom that were in between each floor.

It’s expensive to travel, especially with a family. If we weren’t moving around so much, of course my first choice would have been an apartment. But honestly – we didn’t have a bad experience in any of these stays. Probably the Station Inn in Hexham was the “worst,” but even that was fine. You just have to adjust your expectations – the Residence Inn is not the global norm, guys…..

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And now, sheep.

Because we’d never been to Scotland, and we really didn’t have the time to explore much, it seemed as if sticking to Edinburgh would be the extent of it. But once I started hunting for reasonably priced accommodations, I was flummoxed. There was hardly anything available – reasonably priced, as I said, suitable for our needs (three beds). I figured it must be because it was a weekend – the first weekend of the summer holidays. Finally I settled on a guesthouse with two rooms next to each other on the top floor, sharing a bathroom, and when I mentioned to the owner my difficulty in finding a place, he said, “Oh, that might be because it’s the weekend of the Royal Highland Show.”

Oh, and what’s that?

Well, it’s this – a big national agricultural show. With sheep, cattle, competitions, a “Scottish Larder” featuring food and food samples..

Well….we’re definitely going to Edinburgh that weekend. No doubt about that now!

(It was also Pride, as we discovered upon arrival. So, yay and that probably had an impact, as well.)

We were staying on the east side of Edinburgh, very close to Leith, and the RHS was on the west side, near the airport. No problem – there was dedicated public transportation, both buses and trams going back and forth constantly, so we hopped on the bus on Sunday morning and off we went.

It was a delightful day. As I said about the museum and Castle experience, what I learned from that was a sense of the Scottish national identity and pride. The Royal Highland Show made that even more clear. 

We walked amid loads of sheep, cattle and goats – mostly sheep, encountered breeds we had not idea existed, not that we knew much about sheep to begin with. There were sheep that reminded us of cattle, those that had heads like pigs and others that seemed to be little stunted llamas.

The cattle were impressive, too – some huge ones, and the favorite, native Highlands.

We sampled cheese and various types of whiskey and meats and jellies and jams. We had burgers from Angus beef. We watched sheep-shearing and show jumping and pole-climbing competitions, and while we didn’t stay until the very end and therefore didn’t see the grand finale (we were ready to leave and were not interested in dealing with crowds exiting all at once and competing for a spot on the buses), we did catch a bit of the final parade of cattle breeds which wound its way around and around the arena, the announcer explaining the history and value of each breed as they came out.

A lovely day, and not what I expected to experience when I booked an Edinburgh weekend, but really, what better way to spend it?

We returned to the city early enough to wander around town a bit more, and then have dinner at a tiny little Italian place not far from our apartment that was quite good – the first antipasto/charcuturie plate I’ve had in a while that didn’t seem as if the kitchen had simply phoned in a Publix order and called it a day.

My view a week ago today…

You can see video of all of this at Instagram in the Story “Highlights.” Or this post.

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Well, we are BACK, and while I’ve not finished posting day-by-day journals, I had time on the plane to pull together this summary of the trip, and so as the first load of laundry is going and the house is cooling down, I’ll post it.

I’ll admit it. I’m still basking in my finest moment of the return journey. Standing in line at a currency exchange joint at the ATL, knowing that it would be a rip off, but with 40 pounds still in my purse and no plans to return to the UK in the near future (no offense), I noted that the fee for the exchange was TWELVE DOLLARS AND NINETY-FIVE CENTS. Well, that’s stupid. And even more of a rip-off than I had expected. I turned to the people in line behind me and murmured, “Anyone need pounds?” Someone did. We looked up the conversion rate. We made a deal. He got pounds, I got dollars, no fees involved, a good deal all round.

As always, all posts will be linked on the Travel page.

All right, let’s go:

Where:

England!

Why:

We’d been to England once before (well, twice for me, if you count a few hour-long layover at Gatwick) – to London back in 2017.

Before this, our last – that is the two remaining sort-of-living-at-home guys and my – overseas trip had been Spain in the summer of 2019. (The youngest and I had been to Honduras in the fall of 2019, the other one spent spring 2021 in Florence, Italy)  and by no means had any of us lived in a locked-down mindset over the past couple of years, either. But of course, others placed limits, so there we were.

(Speaking of Honduras, strangely enough, the plane we took from Atlanta to Birmingham tonight had come from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where we’d flown into back in 2019.)

During the late winter and early spring of 2022, restrictions stated lifting. The first to really give an all-clear was England, in early February, and I was on it.  I purchased round trip tickets to London as soon as restrictions lifted, not having a plan, just knowing that we would head over there and See Things.

It was far cheaper to fly out of NYC than Birmigham, even with a return directly to Birmingham, so I decided to combine it with a quick trip to NYC, where my oldest lives and works. We’d not been there since February 2020. What made it all the more interesting (potentially) was that there were two Broadway shows of possible interest playing during our time: Hugh Jackman in The Music Man and Daniel Craig in Macbeth. Plus, I wanted to take College Guy to Hadestown which I’d seen with the youngest back in 2020. Three shows in two days! How fun!

Well, as it turned out…we didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth (explained here). But it was a good time anyway, and it’s weird that was all just two weeks ago, and we’re going to be home in a few hours.

So let’s do the basis itinerary, and then in the next post, I’ll share a bit about accommodations and meals.

First on “plans.” As I have written many, many times before, when it comes to life I am not a planner. I am an obsessive preparer but not a planner. However, there are certain things one must plan – for example, accommodations for three adults in busy, high-priced cities during tourist season, and then train fares in places where last-minute fares are many times more expensive than those purchased ahead.

(Although, I will say in defense of my non-planning – you can plan all you want, but when a rail strike is announced two weeks before your visit, you’d better have prepared.)

So yes, I planned. And everything went pretty much according to plan except:

  • We didn’t see either Music Man or Macbeth.
  • I had planned for possibly doing both an afternoon and much of the next day doing Hadrian’s Wall things. We decided the one afternoon was enough for this trip, so left the Hexham area earlier than planned. Then, of course, we got on the wrong freakin’ train to Edinburgh, thanks to me, so who knows if we saved any time at all?
  • Since we’d been to London in 2016, when I looked at those last couple of days, I’d initially thought : “day trips!” – Canterbury was first on the list, and then Portsmouth. But once we got to London on Monday, two things happened: First, I was sick to death of trains and train schedules and delays. I suspect others were as well. Secondly, my youngest, the history and museum fiend, walked around the city that first afternoon saying, “Yeah, I don’t remember any of this.”  So….maybe he’d enjoy just revisiting the British Museum and other places? (Narrator: He did.)

Tuesday, June 14:   Birmingham-New York, quite delayed, Chris Christie sighting in DC, Daniel Craig sighting at the stage door after Macbeth.

Wednesday, June 15: A day in NYC. Hadestown matinee. Dinner with the oldest at Raoul’s.

Thursday June 16:  Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with Ann Engelhart, who then took us to JFK. Fight to LHG supposed to leave at 10. Nightmare at JFK, our flight didn’t leave until maybe 1 am.

Friday, June 17: Arrived at Heathrow (late), bus to Oxford. Strolled around Oxford.

Saturday, June 18: Morning 30-minute tour of the Bodleian Library, afternoon private tour of Oxford.

Sunday, June 19:  Mass at the Oxford Oratory, visit to Tolkien’s grave, Oxford museums, Corpus Christi procession, no punting, unfortunately.

Monday, June 20:  Train to York. Stroll around York, including Yorkshire Museum Gardens and city walls.

Tuesday, June 21:  Mass at York Oratory. Jorvik Viking Center, York Minster, Shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, Bar Convent Living Heritage Center.

Wednesday, June 22: Train from York to Newcastle, then change to Hexham. Afternoon: Hadrian’s Wall things, including the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall at Wallscrag, and the Vindolanda Fort and Musseum. Overnight in Hexham.

Thursday, June 23: Bus to Newcastle, train to….Edinburgh, unintentionally. Then train back to Berwick-on-Tweed. Lindesfarne, or Holy Island.

Friday, June 24:  Morning/early afternoon: boat tour to Staple Island. Puffins. Afternoon – train to Edinburgh, for real this time. See a bit of Edinburgh in the evening. But..rain.

Saturday, June 25: Edinburgh. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle. Mass.

Sunday, June 26:  Royal Highland Show.

*****Note***** – the posts below….have not yet been written! As soon as they are, I’ll link.

Monday, June 27: 8 am train to London. Arrival late – because of residual strike-related issues and a delay on the line caused by stolen cables. Still plenty of time to stroll around London – starting down at Westminster Cathedral, working our way back up through the Westminster area, Covent Garden, etc.

Tuesday, June 28: Morning: Guided tour of “Legal London” – mostly the Royal Court of Justice. Afternoon: British Museum. Evening: King Lear at the Globe, starring Kathryn Hunter (who played The Witches in the recent Joel Coen Macbeth) as Lear.

Wednesday: June 29:  Youngest spent much of the day back at the British Museum, and then wandering around London. College Guy and I went down to the Piccadilly area, Liberty of London, and then up to Portabello Road/Notting Hill. We all met back up late afternoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Pub dinner, pack.

Thursday, June 30:  2pm flight from Heathrow. Very grateful not to have an early flight or to have to Covid-test. Slight delays and nonsense lines at Heathrow, and then, being Uber-ed in, very startled by the sight of huge black fences near our house because of the World Games. But we’re home and glad to be here.

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Now things get complicated. And they also get stupid because of my mistake.

First off, let’s review. I had built in a potential almost full day for Hadrian’s Wall sites, with us then getting to the next stop (Seahouses) in the early evening, and doing the activities in that area on Friday. It would be tight getting them both in on one day, but I was pretty sure we could swing it.

But after our afternoon at the Roman Army Museum, a bit of the wall and Vindolanda, it was decided that this was enough. More would have been great, and perhaps will be another time, but given the complexities of travel, especially on a strike day, we thought it best to just get going Thursday morning in case we’d end up having to take a bus all the way.

But…how?

The original plan had been to ride the train from Hexham to Newcastle, and then Newcastle to Alnmouth, where we’d get a taxi to Seahouses. There are buses from Alnmouth to Seahouses, but honestly, I just didn’t want to bother with figuring out and coordinating with one more schedule. It seemed as if it all work out – but then the strike was declared.

So..plan B. We’d have to take a bus from Hexham to Newcastle, since that train would not be running. However, there was limited service along the Edinburgh-London route, with a stop at Alnmouth. That would do fine.

Early Thursday morning I got the bright idea, though, of doing a taxi to Newcastle. It was only 22 miles, for heaven’s sake, and the bus would be almost an hour and a half. (78 – yes 78 – stops). The hotel clerk called a couple of services for me, but the answer was the same: “They’re all out taking kids to school and won’t be available until 10.” Taxis take kids to school in England? Okay, well good for them, bad for us, time to get up and get going to the bus station.

Newcastle train station was almost empty (of course. There’s a strike!) The ticket-taking gates were wide open. A train arrived at the right platform, destination Edinburgh, we got on for the 20+ minute ride to Alnmouth. Our tickets were never checked. We sped along. And kept going. And going.

Past…Alnmouth.

I walked up and down the cars. There was no one working (it’s a strike!). I asked one of the four other passengers on the train if he thought the train would stop. He said maybe at this place…but also maybe not. But why? Was this an effect of the strike?

No, idiot – you got on the wrong train, that’s what. Which happened to be an express train to Edinburgh. Geez. Lesson learned. If a train pulls up and leaves early – that is probably not your train. And if you are not sure…ASK. (if you can find someone)

I had already booked tickets for a boat trip out to the Farne Islands from Seahouses that would be leaving at 1:30 that afternoon. Even getting to Edinburgh and getting on another train immediately to come back down south would not get us there in time. I did some rearranging, the boat company kindly transferred our tickets to Friday – and they didn’t mind because that freed up three more seats on an afternoon boat that was sold out. The taxi driver was kind and sympathetic, and even though I told him to charge me, he refused, and just asked for a good review instead – which he got and deserved. I was pretty upset about my stupidity, but it really did turn out fine. We just were able to flip our plans around, doing what we planned for Thursday on Friday, and Friday on Thursday….

So on we sped to Edinburgh, which would have been fantastic if that had been our train. Luckily, there was a train back leaving in about twenty minutes, so we just were able to get on that. It wasn’t stopping at Alnmouth, however, but at Berwick-on-Tweed, which was north of Seahouses, rather than south. Which was fine – we’d get there sooner, but not soon enough.

Arriving at Berwick-on-Tweed, I was really relieved to see a taxi stand. I went to a random driver, who was sitting in his car with his mate and explained the issue and the plan. Could he A) Take us from Berwick-on-Tweed to Seahouses so we could check into our hotel and drop our luggage then B) from Seahouses up to the Holy Island or Lindesfarne and C) get us a couple of hours later on the Holy Island and then take us back to Seahouses?

(There is a bus from Berwick to Seahouses, but you know – it’s a bus, with a schedule, and then I’d have to find a way up to Lindesfarne and back, which required a car on this particular day, since the tourist bus wasn’t running – so might as well use the same driver.)

They worked it out, consulted on a price, which was very fair, and off we went!

So yes, those were our two destinations on this very short leg of the trip:

Lindefarne, or Holy Island, where St. Aidan came from Iona to found a very early monastery, the Vikings invaded very early on, and the source, of course, of the famed Lindesfarne Gospels.

And

The Farne Islands – off the east coast, islands which David Attenborough said were his favorite place to see nature in the UK. Every spring through early summer, hundreds of thousands of birds nest here, including….

Well, that’s enough of this nonsense. Let’s do Holy Island in another post.

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Lots of places had Corpus Christi processions this past weekend.

So back in Alabama – my parish of the Cathedral of St. Paul. These are wonderful photos – go check them out!

Then down in Mobile:

And then in Oxford, England – where we continued our tradition of seeing a Corpus Christi procession in a another country (well, if by “tradition” you mean “we were in Seville for Corpus Christi in 2019”).

We didn’t process – but I knew that it began at 2, and would be passing by the Ashmoleon Museum while we were there. So we popped out and there they were:

(Remember that with a gallery in these posts – you can click on the individual photos and you’ll get a larger version)

Here’s what I particularly liked:

They were handing out cards to those on the street (and there were a lot – this was one of Oxford’s main streets on a busy Sunday afternoon) – cards which explained what this was all about, with contact information.

As Pope Benedict said on nearly every occasion of a Corpus Christi procession during his papacy – this is a moment in which we do what we are called to do all the time – take Christ out into the world that needs Him so badly. Taking that one, very small step further – of actively inviting and engaging the curiosity and interest witnessing the procession might inspire – is, yes, brilliant.

We’re hearing about the “need” for a Eucharistic Revival which, in the United States, is animating much of the energy for the Corpus Christi processions and 40 Hours devotions this year. The “need,” though, is often articulated in terms of Catholic identity and not much more. Well, there is much more – and it’s what this card expresses. The “need” for the Eucharistic revival is, at its simplest, the need of every person in the world for Christ.

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….when THE SUN DOESN’T SET UNTIL PAST 10 AND RISES AROUND 6.

I mean—for some reason, I just did not expect that here in the UK and it is sort of messing with me.

Anyway, we are still here, with tomorrow beginning what was always the most complicated part of this journey, made even more so by the rail strike. We shall see…

Anyway, let’s try to catch up.

When we last spoke, it was a weekend in Oxford. Let’s take care of Sunday.

The goal Sunday was: Mass, museums and punting. Everything happened – except the punting. By the time we got to that part of the day, it was raining off and on, so no, we weren’t going to push a boat around in the river with a pole in the rain, as fun as that sounds.

Mass:

The Oxford Oratory. I had thought we might try to 11am Latin Sung Mass, but everyone agreed that would be too late, simply because all of the museums (and everything else) closes at 5. We weren’t sure if we’d have enough time, with the later Mass.

It was a lovely Mass – in English, with Mass parts in Latin in familiar settings. We all marveled at the experience of going to Mass in a foreign country, and for the first time, being able to understand everything.

Including the homily, which was so very good, and one of those good homilies that had depth but clarity and simplicity in a way that makes you wonder, “Is this really so hard? Why can’t more homilists do this?”

You can hear it here.

Right after Mass, we hopped on the bus that would take us a just a few miles north to visit a grave. Whoe grave?

We weren’t the only visitors. On the bus with us were two young men speaking, I think, a Scandinavian language – and they got off on the the same stop. They walked more purposefully (we didn’t know they were headed to Tolkien or else we would have just followed them), and a woman with a dog asked us, “Looking for Tolkien?” and as we answered affirmatively, she led us part way there, advising us that his house was about halfway between the cemetery and town, but really wasn’t worth going to.

As we left, we saw here putting on gardening gloves, tending to a grave. She wasn’t the only one – there on Father’s Day, there were quite a few doing the same.

I had made, changed and finally cancelled reservations at a pub for a traditional Sunday roast lunch – I thought that traditional experience would be fun, but ultimately decided that time was of the essence, and that might take too much of it, especially since I figured out that a visit to Tolkien’s grave was possible. So we settled for meat pies at the Oxford Covered Market instead:

Museums:

There are several in Oxford, all free. We hit four of them

1 – Museum of the History of Science

2 – The Natural History Museum

3 – The Pitt River Museum

4 – The Ashmoleon Museum.

1 – The smallest of the four, with three floors jammed with scientific instruments. Interesting – more so if you are knowledgeable about, well, science. What struck me most of all – as it always does with exhibits of this sort – is the evidence of a time long ago, when beauty was valued:

Also, Einstein’s blackboard:

2 – I’ve been to plenty, and this was a good one! I wander through, on the lookout for things to learn. Here I learned about a few types of non-flying birds of which I’d previously been unaware, and got a good look at some interesting fossils found in England.

The museum’s most well-known holding is the only remaining organic tissue sample of a dodo bird – part of its head. It used to be on display, but is only available to be seen by appointment now.

As interesting to me as the exhibits was the building itself. You can read about it here – but it expresses, quite powerfully, the ideals of the 19th century, a time of confidence in the interrelation of the natural world, art and human experience. It’s filled with statues of famous scientists, of course, and the design is Art Noveau/Pre-Raphaelite, using nature as the inspiration. Column capitals are each a different type of plant life and the exhibit hall itself is ringed by columns made of stone – each identified – from the British Isles.

3- The Pitt River is the back part of the natural history museum, and you can read about the origins of the collection here – as with so many museums, in the gathering of curiosities. I didn’t spend a lot of time here, even though I usually enjoy that type of museum very much. It was…big, the collection was a bit overwhelming, and it was hot. Sorry.

4 – The Ashmoleon was excellent – a real mix of archaeology and art. One of its more well-known pieces is Powhatan’s mantle:

That was…a lot of museum!

Oh, we also got a visit to Blackwell’s bookstore in there – which was marvelous and inspiring. Let’s get writing and reading again!

I’m always particularly interested in new angles on presenting old information – for example this series of books from Princeton which essentially repackages new translations of classical authors with titles that frame the contents in terms of questions and issues that people are still wondering about today – How to Keep an Open Mind, How to Tell a Story, How to be Content, How to Run a Country…as these Brits like to say…Brilliant!

Oh, and here’s a copy of James Joyce’s death mask for sale for a few thousand, if you like:

Meals? Late afternoon snack at a fast food sushi/bowl place/chain called Itsu, and then a kebab from a truck later, when we’d returned to the guest house.

But let’s not forget the Corpus Christi procession!

More on that in the next post…and then we’ll head to York.

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All right, where were we?

Got a decent nights’ sleep in our marvelous little guest house on the outskirts of Oxford (super expensive to stay in the old city). Traditional breakfast for one of us:

Then off on the bus to town.

(Interesting reflection on perspective. When we arrived on Friday afternoon, we were totally befuddled as to how to get to the guesthouse. Bus? Which one? Where are they? Are there taxis? How do we get one? Where do we get it? But by Saturday afternoon – 24 hours later – we were pros, discussing the relative merits of the 8 or the 9 or the 280….)

First stop: the Bodleian Library. We did a 30-minute tours, which was all I could book at the time I booked it. No photos inside Duke Humpfrey’s Library, but they were allowed downstairs in the Divinity School.

We then wandered a bit, killing some time until our scheduled private tour at 2:30. We went to the Weston Library, which is the modern-looking building more or less across from the Old Bodleian. An excellent gift shop, two exhibit halls and – free public restrooms, which is the most important piece of information our first guide imparted to us.

The exhibits were on Howard Carter and the King Tut excavations and “Sensational Books” – the latter of which was not about scandal, but rather about books that somehow engage other senses beyond sight. (see yesterday’s post). Both were small, but well done, informative and engaging.

I particularly liked the traveling library of the future King Charles I and the way in which Sterne went meta with the design of Tristam Shandy.

Also an original of Audubon’s Birds of America.

The view from the Carfax Tower:

And no, it is not named “Carfax” because it’s sponsored by the auto information outfit:

The name “Carfax” derives from the Latin quadrifurcus via the French carrefour, both of which mean “crossroads”. The Carfax Tower, also known as St. Martin’s Tower (it is the remaining part of what was the City Church of St. Martin of Tours) is a prominent landmark and provides a look-out over the town.

Then it was time for our tour – I booked a private tour with Jane Mead, who was wonderful! I told her ahead of time of our interests in Tolkien, Lewis, Newman, Wesley and simply religion and literature in general, and she delivered! I won’t give you a blow-by-blow, but let’s just say it was very well-designed to take us logically through the town and the history, ending in a very moving way at the gates of Merton College, one of Tolkien’s academic posts, with Jane drawing the connection between the names of the fallen by which Tolkien would have walked every day, his own wartime experiences, and the vision of the Lord of the Rings.

Yes, there are free tours – we walked by one today in which the guide was saying, “There is the pub called The Eagle and Child. The group of writers who met there were called the Inklings.”

So… perhaps you see why I splurged. An why it really wasn’t a splurge.

And in case you didn’t know it, the Eagle and Child has actually been closed for a couple of years now. Plans are underway to reopen it eventually as a pub, but with a boutique hotel on top.

I didn’t take a lot of photos on the tour. I mostly looked and listened.

Below, though, are Newman-related photos. The pulpit from which he preached in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and then the chapel at Oriel College, where he was chaplain, including a small alcove chapel above and behind the main chapel where he liked to pray.

Dinner at a Lebanese place near our guesthouse:

Sunday calls for another post….

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Well, we made it.

I imagine that I will wake up about 4am tomorrow and come to you with a more coherent report, but for now, let’s do this.

Coming to you from the back yard – ‘scuse me – garden – of a guest house in Oxford, drinking a bit of calming lager from my new Hadestown cup – after a rather strenuous cycle of travel. But at least we got here, which is probably more than what most of the hundreds of folks I saw stranded in JFK last night (Thursday) have experienced.

Quick, super quick recap:

(And don’t forget Instagram!)

Also wandered by the Ghostbuster’s station – and found out it’s still a working fire station!

  • Thursday morning: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We had never actually been to the Statue of Liberty, since most of our NYC traveling has taken place a) in the wake of 9/11 or b) in the winter and also at times when tickets to get to the statue were such that you had to book them a long time in advance. I realized that this time, took a shot at it, got tickets a week before. We’d done Ellis Island, but a long time ago.
  • Quick lunch for the guys at Underground Pizza, near our hotel. Cheaper than Raoul’s, for sure!

I found this very interesting – at Ellis Island, a display of samples of literacy tests given to immigrants. Not in English, but in their own language – and the passages are all Bible verses.

  • Then grab our luggage from storage at the hotel (the very nice Wall Street Inn), subway over to Brooklyn, where we met Ann Engelhart at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. She and I wandered and talked, the guys wandered, and then she kindly took us to JFK, where…..
  • Oh. What a mess that was. Our flight was delayed for reasons not too-related to the general mess, and I felt for all the people caught in the general mess. There had been some weather earlier that had messed up flights, a lot were cancelled, and the rebook line in Terminal 3 was hundreds of people long. It was insane.
  • Our flight was due to take off at 10, and everything looked fine…but then there was no plane at the gate. We were assured that the plane was around, cleaned and catered, but it was just…not here. The crew came and went down the jetbridge. No plane. After an hour, the captain came up and talked on the phone for a while. All I could catch was “They said it was coming…it’s not here…” He got off and then spoke to us, saying that yes, the plane was ready to go, but it was on the other side of the airport and because of traffic congestion, it was taking a while to get it to us. Obviously. Etc, etc. Well at least, for once, someone who actually had some involvement with what was going on and had some authority was speaking to passengers, rather than leaving us in the dark of repeated delays and promises that we’d soon be on our way, blah, blah.
  • So as I said, our schedule had as leaving at 10pm. We finally got off the ground around 1am.

Maybe thanks to these guys’ prayers!

  • I was very tired and thought for sure I’d sleep…but I didn’t. Not much anyway. I didn’t eat – couldn’t believe they were still insisting on serving “dinner” rather than just cutting the lights and letting us be. I peaked at my son’s from under my eyeshade and it looked pretty sad – austerity shows – a bit of ravioli, a little salad and a cookie.
  • We landed, found the bus, rode the bus and here we are in Oxford!

Overheard conversation of the trip so far, by my son as he was wandering in NYC:

One laborer, talking to others, pointing to a sign for a particular construction company, saying in an accent:

“That company? 90% Albanian!”

Then to another sign:

“That one? 95% Albanian!”

One more:

“That one – 99% Albanian!”

Update: As I said, I started this Friday night, then got tired. I did, indeed, wake up at 3:30 am, and felt good, but told myself I really needed to try to get more sleep – which I did, amazingly. So here I am, waiting for the guys, so we can go have our first Full English, then see Oxford!

From yesterday, our initial wandering. First meal – our favorite from our London trip: Nando’s – very good, healthy and dependable:

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As I said before, saints’ days, most holy days and special topics (movies, books, gender, TC, synod) are and will be collected elsewhere. These posts are taking it month-by-month. More links at the end of the post

Change of Season (8/2)

I can’t tell you how many times over the past almost 40-years of parenting, I’ve been in the midst of what seemed to be responsibilities and moments and circumstances that seemed they would never end: sleeplessness, driving kids to school along the same routes, day after day, week after week, loads of diapers, fixing lunches, writing checks, checking folders, then back into the car and driving again.

Did you ever do that? Did you even consider how many hours of your life you spent in the car or on the sidelines, how many lunches you bagged up?

Wow. That was a lot.

And just like that – interminable has turned into a memory. It will happen. What seemed like it would never, ever end doesn’t just fade – it all but disappears and becomes the faintest memory of a bit of minor suffering that made up a part of life back then, moments that I hope and pray I performed with grace and an eye, not towards what I was getting out of it, but what I was being called to give – in love.

And just like that, it’s almost done, and just like that, off they go.

St. Bernard, the papacy and criticism (8/20)

Third, it gives us a look at some papal criticism. Yes, Bernard was a saint, spiritual master and Eugenius’ spiritual father, in a way, so he had standing. But even if none of us stand in that position to this or any other pope or even bishop, it’s helpful to read and study what Bernard says to Eugenius – what he deems fair game for challenge and examination, how he goes about it, and what he thinks it’s important to warn Eugenius about.

One more thing: sometimes when people allude to historical problems with the Church and papacy, it becomes a silencing weapon: Calm down! See! The Spirit always brings us through!  Well, here’s the thing: The life of the Church is not a performance with the Holy Spirit pulling strings and waving wands, and the rest of us watching from the audience.  The Holy Spirit works to preserve the Church through reformers, annoying critics, weird historical events and who knows what else.

Learning a bit of history does not offer any prescriptions for the present, nor does it define the present moment in either positive or negative ways. What I hope learning a bit of history does is disrupt, challenge and point us toward reform.

Fruits of our redemption (8/22)

Does the behavior of Catholic clergy, in general over the past decades, now frantically hectoring us to come back! We miss you!  – indicate that they actually believe it’s Jesus they’re holding in their hands and sharing with us? Beyond how worship is conducted…way beyond that – when you consider the weight of scandal and – more importantly, really, for this discussion, the excuses made for it all –  the person in the pew can’t be blamed for concluding that since so many clerics don’t seem to believe that this is the One, Really Present with them right now, to whom they are answerable for eternity – shrug. 

A trip up to Tennessee

Here, here, here, here, and here

On the Prayer of St. Michael (8/28)

Sure, I don’t doubt that the whole scene can get a little confusing and probably not quite liturgically correct if there’s a seamless flow between Thanks be to God and Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle…especially if the priest starts it off and folks feel pressured to stay and pray it. And that’s a discussion important to have, for, as we’ve talked about endlessly, the Catholic Way is a dynamic one between what bubbles up from below and sifting from above.

But again…why?

Let’s talk about that.

Why are people calling on St. Michael? What are they asking from him, and why?

Longing to get in there (8/29)

But, as I have said so many times – unoriginally, but stubbornly – we, that Church, witness to the world through what we create. Our buildings stand in communities as witnesses to the presence of Christ in that community – strong, faithful and yes, beautiful and open to all. Our imagery and ritual evokes mystery and beauty which is not an obstacle to God, but a door, a gateway – a window.

No, not all who pass by will stay very long. We hope and pray they will remain, but for many, a moment in a lifetime, a glimpse – is all they will have of this concrete witness we’ve made with our hands, boldly and sometimes even wildly, out of love.

Yes, just a glimpse. And for some – like a little boy from across the way, straining to see inside, drawn by the colors and the scent and the sounds – that glimpse is an invitation. A graced invitation into mystery, creativity, and to explore hard, beautiful truth.

Why in the world would we think we’re blessing the world and all the seekers in it by taking all of that away?



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

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Continuing on the journey:

Among the Tombs (2/1)

But one of the points of the Catholic Church as a universal thing, a Body with one Head, is a framework. No matter who we are or what we’re doing or what state in life we’ve embraced, been called to or stumbled into, we’re all taking those steps within the same framework: Life in Christ.

Problem? Challenge? That all-embracing framework doesn’t just happen or sprout up in our lives. It’s there, in the shape and details of God’s Word as revealed in Scripture and developed in the Church’s Tradition. Which means it’s most accessible to us, in our daily lives, in the daily prayer of the Church, from the specific feasts and seasons to the Scripture readings at Mass and the content of the daily cycle of prayer, to saints’ memorials.

Make of the readings the Church shares today and every day what you will, engage with the saints in whatever way fits, bring these rhythms into your daily life in whatever way possible, but the fact is:

We live differently when we frame our days with what the Body of Christ offers us.

When we begin and end by listening to that Word of God and considering a saint or two and letting the liturgical year shape our year in even small ways, we see ourselves differently in this world. We see the world as more than simply material, we see human activities and history as meaningful, not just busy, we see that life is, yes, hard and strange and mysterious, but taken in this framework, we also see that our difficulties and suffering are not unique to our lives, to our time and place, but are shared and are, in some way, meaningful and even overcome.

And then, our trip to Arizona:

Overview

Day 1 at the South Rim.

Hiking in the Grand Canyon and a drive to Winslow

Petrified Forest

Sedona



Books of 2021

Movies of 2021

Traditiones Custodes

2021 Highlights: January

2021 Highlights: February

2021 Highlights: March

2021 Highlights: April

2021 Highlights: May

2021 Highlights: June

2021 Highlights: July

2021 Highlights: August

2021 Highlights: September

2021 Highlights: October

2021 Highlights: November

2021 Highlights: December

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