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Let’s backtrack and finish off Wednesday.

Sidebar: It’s crazy to me to think that I’ve only been gone since Sunday. Einstein was right.

We left off in Taos, but let me backtrack a bit from that.

As I mentioned in that post, there’s a “low road” and a “high road” between Santa Fe and Taos. It’s generally recommended to take the low road up for more spectacular views and then the high road back for the small town stops on the way. I’m not in Santa Fe right now, but the advice still applies, so I took it.

I reached the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor’s Center, took in the situation and decided that there was another road that looked really interesting and would probably bring me to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, at which point I could head over to Taos and then back on the high road. Oh, yes, I’m so smart.

So I did this. I turned off the main road at Pilar and meandered up along the river, past campgrounds, until I reached the historic bridge. How interesting. I read about the origins of the bridge, how a camp had been established nearby in the hopes of finding gold, and so on. Some folks were kayaking on the river. I crossed the bridge and started up the winding road, confident that I’d be meeting up with the other road that would take me up to the Gorge bridge.

ROAD CLOSED.

No wonder no one else was on the road. Huh.

All right, so I “wasted” about 30 minutes, but you know how that goes – nothing is wasted. We can learn things along the way. In this case: Don’t be stupid, and maybe once in a while, just do what everyone else is doing.

It was pretty, though. It was.

So up towards Taos, the first stop being the historic in Rancho de Taos. You know this. You recognize this – photographed by Ansel Adams, painted by Georgia O’Keefe, and for clearly good reason. The interior is beautifully preserved, and it’s not a museum. It’s a living parish, clearly.

Into Taos, which is Tourist Central, completely unappealing to me. It must be a nightmare during ski season. I walked around for about ten minutes, stopped in the gift shop run by some Benedictines – a nice shop – and then decided I’d had enough.

Time to hit the high road.

The drive takes you through the Carson National Forest, and the difference in topography and flora from just a couple dozen miles to the west is astonishing. I stopped at a few churches along the way – as I explained yesterday, all were locked, and this time, I’m not mad about it. Given the historic and precarious nature of these structures and – I’ll add – given the number of interesting characters who are commonly seen on all roadsides in this state – it’s not a hard decision to keep these places locked up when they’re not in use.

I am storing up my thoughts on all of this, be assured.

It is amazing to be in a place where you can take in thunderstorms on your left and sunshine on your right.

This cemetery was an absorbing sight to me – full of sunflowers, several freshly-dug graves and unique memorials.

Keep going…to the shrine at Chimayo. We were there on our trip 10 years ago, but why not revisit? It was strangely empty, but perhaps not so strange for a Wednesday in late August. I did not get any dirt, as I still have a little pillbox-type thing full from last time. I was moved, as I always am at such places, by the images of loved ones to pray for or to give thanks for. I was interested in not one, but two areas devoted to Our Lady of Lavang, a devotion with Vietnamese roots.

Food here – it was very good.

Upon returning, there was enough daylight for a short hike – this one, not far from my rental. A half mile takes you up to a mesa where a puebla once stood hundreds of years ago. The views, of course, are marvelous, and it’s a gift to be able to take it all in.

And yes, I did get up this morning to see the interior of one of the churches at Mass….

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…and I’ll take the low road. Or maybe I’ll take both

…except I wasn’t in Scotland, but in New Mexico of course.

Today, I got Taos out of my system. Again it’s late and I’m tired and I just got off the phone from a (good) 1-hour convo with new College Guy, so blogging all of this for you people is not my priority, especially since today I decided if I’m going to see the interior of any of these cool colonial churches I’m just going to have to – you know – go to Mass – and the closest one has Mass at 7am, and I’m 30 minutes away…well, this is going to be mostly a photo dump. Sorry, not sorry.

(Later: Not even a photo dump! Too tired. Sorry not sorry still)

I will say, though, that one of my many motivations for taking this (and other) trips is to figure out where I might want to establish a base in a couple of years – because, sorry Birmingham, Alabama, you’re not it – northern New Mexico, after two whole days, is looking pretty sweet.

There are two roads between Santa Fe and Taos: the low road and (surprise) the high road. The low road climbs up and the high road descends. It’s generally recommended to take the low road up for better views and then the high road coming down for the interesting stops along the way. So that’s what I did.

(If you want more photos and videos, check out Instagram, especially Stories at this point.)

Most of the photos I have to share are of churches. And that’s not just because religion is my jam. It’s because while the landscape is primo and the main attraction, the next most interesting thing to see are the churches.

Sorry, atheists.

My interest in seeing and recording these churches is not just because of a general “religion is my thing” or “history is cool” thing happening, eithre.

My deep interest is in faith, evangelization, truth, goodness, beauty – and also inculturation, colonization, and oppression. I think a lot about all of that historically and in the present. Going to these places, contemplating the history and trying to get a hold on the present – those are essential for me as I try to understand it all.

But for a blog post like this, you’re going to have to settle for the travelogue.

Oh, before I begin, let me say: I saw the exteriors of a lot of churches today, but the interiors of only two, only one of which I was allowed to photograph. Almost all of the churches I saw were locked – and that’s not something I’m going to complain about in this context. As I said on Instagram – these are fragile historical edifices in remote communities, all of which are still living parishes. If they are only open for liturgies and prayer times, that is completely understandable. You cannot leave 250-year old historic structures open to everyone and anyone with no security in this day and age. You just can’t.

Even before I left the area where my rental was located, I had the chance to consider some mission ruins.

My first night here, I’d gone out to the Family Dollar to find something to eat – my Tire Drama had left me no time for food, and while I normally don’t eat much anyway, I knew that if I didn’t get something in my system, there’d be trouble. So crackers and cream cheese from Family Dollar it was.

(I asked the guy – who looked like he’d know – if there was anywhere nearby to buy wine or some such. He told me about a nearby place [I didn’t go, by the way] and a customer, obviously a friend ,offered that he’d heard that some Family Dollars were starting to sell alcohol. “Not on my watch,” said my guy, who was also the manager. “I’ve got enough trouble with normal thievery, I don’t need people trying to steal booze….”)

Oh, yes.

Well, anyway, on my way out there, I noticed a cross by the side of the road, a cross lit up with a light on top. Nice, I thought.

Well, this morning I saw what the darkness of night had concealed. The cross stood with the ruins of the ancient St. Rose of Lima mission.

And then it was up to Taos:

Iconic, yes?

Well, I’ve got to call it a night with that. Let’s see if I can make that 7 am Mass….

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…and how it’s going:

With a bit of a mess in between.

That was a day!

Some good, some not so great, but I got where I needed to go and, as we like to say….learned an important life lesson.

Actually, I knew the life lesson and usually try to live by it, but this time ignored it, and yes, paid the price.

Although….things might have turned out the same no matter what. But I doubt it.

So we’ll begin in the morning. I know that view does not look enticing, but view was not the purpose of the stay. Sleeping was. And at almost free because of points, even though the brand was not high end, the room was immaculate and even updated, so no complaints from me.

(On the points: I do not have a massive number of hotel points with any one brand, but small amounts with several. It’s never enough to get a room for free, but I can usually swing a pretty good “Money + points” deal. Which was the case here. I mean, Econolodge is not going to be expensive anyway, but if I can pay almost nothing and it’s a good room, that’s what I’ll do.)

My goal for the day?

Santa Rosa – Pecos National Historical Park – Chimayo Shrine – New Place.

I had considered throwing Las Vegas (NM) in there, but eventually decided it would be too much. As it was, there was no point in stressing about it since most of the plan didn’t happen anyway.

I won’t keep you in suspense. I ended up spending 2.5 hours in a tire shop in Santa Fe, that’s what happened.

My tires are were mismatched and probably worn – I bought the car used two years ago, and at least two of the present (well recent past) tires came with the car. Maybe three. Anyway, it was kind of mess, and my instinct had told me, “Get them checked out before you drive across the country, idiot” – but – you got it – I didn’t listen.

That was the only piece of advice my mother ever gave me that I took seriously: Always trust your instict, she’d say: about people, about the answer on a multiple choice test, whatever. She was right, and I’ve preached the same to my own kids. And didn’t listen this time.

So Monday evening I was speeding on I-40 W when I hit a pothole. On the interstate where the speed limit is 75. I immediately listened for wobbling and kept my eye on the digital tire pressure monitor, but..nothing. Okay. That’s good.

Then late this afternoon, I did notice a wobbling. I stopped, looked – and yikes. A big old bulge popping out of that tire. I was able to safely get to a tire store, which told me that Mazda calls for weird tires and they didn’t have any in stock which was the same message given to me by the next tire shop – and the next. I was starting to think I was going to have to get a hotel in Santa Fe for the night while waiting for tires to come in from Albuquerque, which is apparently where all the Mazda tires live now. But then the third tire shop came up with a workaround which I still don’t understand: Your Mazda calls for this weird size tire that we don’t have but here’s a list of ten other tires that would fit.

Well, okay.

Just replace all four. Go ahead. It needs to be done. Take my money.

I was, of course, not a priority, being a walk-in, which is fine. I caught up on my phone calls. The only thing I worried about was getting to my new place before dark – which I was obviously able to do.

I might try to hit Pecos and Las Vegas on the way back.

So what did I see?

On the feast of St. Rose of Lima, I went to Santa Rosa and saw the gorgeous little St. Rose of Lima Church. I mean – gorgeous. It just shows what love and faith and, I’m sure, sacrifice – can accomplish. A small church can be quite beautiful.

The main attraction of Santa Rosa is the Blue Hole – a naturally occurring pool that is quite deep and incredibly clear. People can swim in it (there’s a limit to how many at a time), but its main use is as for dive training. There were a couple of guys practicing there this morning:

All right! Time to go to Pecos! Drive along, enjoy the scenery, stop at small churches along the way. When I’m less tired I’m going to retrace my steps digitally and see if there is any interesting history associated with any of them.

Look at the beautiful doors on this tiny church. St. Anthony, of course.

This is San Miguel del Vado in the village of the same name – which was once not a village at all. A really interesting history: after Mexican independence, this was the first entry point to Mexico for traders from the East – the first point where the Mexican government collected taxes. At one point it supported 3000 inhabitants. Not any longer….

Wait.

That wobbling definitely feels…like wobbling, not the road.

Ah well.

All I can say is that I had probably driven 150 miles or so since I hit that pothole, so I am extremely grateful that it held as long as it did, especially since for a big chunk of today I was driving through fairly desolate landscapes.

But here I am for a few days, and it’s lovely, and hopefully I can get this head cleared and my mind opened up.

Oh, and the other benefit of arriving three hours later than I’d planned? I saw the impact of the setting sun on the area around Santa Fe, and it is stunning. Since it had been raining off and on, I also saw the most impressive rainbow – instead of seeing so far off, as rainbows usually do, it was huge and seemed very close – so close that I imagined I could see where it reached the ground. Is that common here? I wouldn’t be surprised. It was gorgeous.

(No photos – I was driving, folks. Obey your instincts.)

Keep up at Instagram Stories and “Highlights”

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A day of driving, with a few stops along the way, one planned, the others impromptu, as it should be. That’s life: a mix of what you know and hope for is coming and then what you happen upon.

I had considered working Clear Creek Abbey into our July journey, but a friend who’s been there advised against it, saying that given the context and length of our trip, it would be too much of a detour – and she was right. It fit into this trip, though, so let’s go.

I had hoped to make Lauds at 5:45 am at Subiaco, but that didn’t happen. No excuses, it..just didn’t. I did manage to get up and out by about 6:45, with just a stop in the Abbey church while Mass was going on (I would be going to Mass later in the morning…if my plans worked out).

Here’s a bit more about Subiaco Abbey – it’s a Benedictine Abbey and boarding school for boys. If you are in Alabama, it’s similar to St. Bernard’s in Cullman, but larger – the abbey is definitely larger and the church is gorgeous.

They also have recently started a brewery and taproom! (Only open on Saturdays, sadly for me.)

Founded in 1877 – the history is here, and quite interesting. I stayed in the guest house, which of course regularly hosts retreats, but was I think essentially empty while I was there.  Reserving a room was very easy, everyone was quite hospitable, the place was quite nice and of course spotless. I didn’t eat any meals, but you can sign up and pay for that if you like.

I headed out about 6:45, drove in a semi-awake state over to Oklahoma and eventually – over a final stretch of gravel road – got to Clear Creek Monastery in time for their 10:00 Coventual Mass for the Queenship of Mary.

There is a lot of construction going on which impacts the upper church, although it took me a few minutes of sitting in there to figure out that no, Mass was not going to happen in this space, so perhaps I should find it – I saw some folks heading through a door in the back, followed them, went down some winding stairs, and there I was in the crypt.

I think there were about 30 monks there, plus 33 laity – 13 of whom were children. I assume a community of sorts is growing up around the monastery, which is on a beautiful piece of land which, you can see as you bump up the road, being cultivated and tended in various ways.

It was a Traditional Latin High Mass, of course.

Afterwards, I checked out the gift shop, saw Friendship with Jesus on the shelf, bought some bread (not great – the crumb was too crumbly and it had a hint of sweetness that I wasn’t expecting and don’t care for) and cheese – very good Gouda!!

(I have More Thoughts on the places I am visiting, but will store them up for later.)

Let’s hit the road again.

I had various scenarios in my head, but eventually decided that the best thing was to get as far as possible so I’d have to drive as little as possible on Tuesday. So I only made a couple of brief stops, both impromptu. I am, I reminded myself, driving back (although probably not the same way), so I can see Other Things then.

If you’ve driven that route, you know that one of the attractions is all the Route 66 stuff – I-40 runs alongside or replaced Route 66, so people like to see some of the remaining structures – gas stations and such – from the heyday, as well as some related museums. I…did none of that. But here’s what I did see:

I stopped for gas in Okemah, Oklahoma, saw a sign about Woody Guthrie, figured that what was there was about 2 minutes away from where I was standing, so of course:

There’s a little plaza set back from the sad downtown area dedicated to Guthrie, who was born and lived there through much of his childhood.

The childhood home is gone, but a tree standing there has been carved in memorial. I like it. It seems fitting.

(Remember, you can click on the photos and a bigger version pops up)

Moving on, of course I had to stop at the big cross in Groom – it might surprise you that in this land of evangelicals and mainliners, this was erected by an (independent) organization with a Catholic angle. But it was, as becomes very clear when you actually approach the cross and see it’s surrounded by the Stations of the Cross and there’s a Divine Mercy fountain. There’s a bit about the founder on the website, but not much that’s very specific. Stations of the Cross, Divine Mercy? Not Baptist, for sure.

There’s a bookstore/gift shop, but it was closed by the time I arrived.

One of my minor hobbyhorses is the wish that Catholics – local churches, religious orders, what have you –  would set up roadside shrines/rest stops along major highways and interstates. Well, here you go! Mega-sized!

Oh, I don’t have photos, but I also stopped at a rest stop outside Amarillo, which screamed, “THIS IS TEXAS WE ARE TEXAS AND WE ARE THE BIGGEST AND THE BEST.”  I mean – it was actually quite tasteful and beautiful, but it was certainly the most majestic state rest stop I’ve ever seen. Even the grills were shaped like Texas, though.

Sorry Texas, not staying this time. Instead, I moved on to a Better Call Saul episode, I guess.

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Well, I am pretty tired tonight, and I hardly ever get tired. Which perhaps means that hard work is not a part of my life, but we’ll put that aside for the moment.

No, I’m tired because I had my usual pre-travel insomnia last night, then I got up, packed, went to 7:15 Mass, and started driving. It’s been a good day, but I’m still tired. Nonetheless, I will forge on with this blog post since it’s not going to write itself, these photos won’t post themselves, and there are only going to be more, not fewer, tomorrow if I put it off.

I am on a trip by myself, and if you ask my why I am going where I’m going, my response would be vague because I am vague about the matter myself. Perhaps I will sort it out later, but let’s just say that I’m not driven by any particular motive for this trip, other than to just go. I didn’t want to fly, because flying is a mess right now and rental cars are insanely expensive. I wanted to go in a direction where I really didn’t know anyone – no need to stop by or check in. So – shrug – here I go.

Heading west, here’s what I saw today.

First, I saw Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford was one of those places I’ve been intending to go for years, intended to do as a day trip in the Homeschooling Era, but never managed to do. (Tuskegee is another one, in the other direction.)

So I stopped by today. It’s a lovely little town – definitely the prettiest of all the SEC-related towns that I’ve been in – and I’m sure the residents know it, if you know what I mean. And I’ll be you do. They named it Oxford, for heavens’ sake.

I wasn’t there long. I stopped by Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s grave, the famed Square Bookstore and the James Meredith statue on campus.

No whiskey bottles on Faulkner’s grave today.

Here’s my thought as I stood and beheld Rowan Oak (it didn’t open until 1 and I had to keep moving, but you could get on the grounds) – I thought: Well, if I lived in a place like this and had people to take care of my needs, I could probably write some great books, too.

Here’s a story about Shelby Foote convincing Walker Percy that they should go to Rowan Oak and drop in on Faulkner who was not on Percy’s Uncle Will’s Good List because of the time he’d showed up at a party drunk and barefoot.

The Meredith statue was very powerful and just right, I thought. Have you watched Eyes on the Prize? You should.

Clarksdale was the next destination. I could have headed to where I was going in a more direct fashion, but I wanted to see Clarksdale, another meant to do this earlier situation. Specifically, I’d meant to take my musician son there for a weekend of blues, but then he got the weekend organist job, so that was that.

So an early Sunday afternoon isn’t going to get you any blues, but it will get you some interesting nuggets nonetheless.

It will get you lunch, first of all. You might not be aware of it but one of the food items that folks in the Delta are proud of are their tamales. They are supposed to be different from Mexican tamales, but I’m not sure how. The main Clarksdale spot for tamales was closed on Sunday, so I settled for Abe’s Bar-b-q, which was of course busy, but the tamales were quick and cheap ($5 for the plate, including good, vinegar-based cole slaw and crackers, which I guess are a side in the Delta.). They were doused in a spicy sauce and they were good, but didn’t rock my world.

But I ate them at the Crossroads – the site of Robert Johnson’s mythic sale of his soul. My favorite, though, was the way that the history of Abe’s Bar-b-q builds on the myth. We don’t know if and where Johnson sold his soul, but we do know that It is a fact that Abe Davis surrendered his soul to God, and his family business still prospers even today.

Tennessee Williams had deep connections to Clarksdale, so I took some of that in, as well. His grandfather was the rector of the Episcopal church in town, and as a child, Williams lived in Clarksdale for a couple of stints, and spent vacations there. The area and it people pervade his writing. There’s a festival (one of several Williams festivals around the country, it seems.)

There’s a little museum in the church rectory (open by appointment)

This mansion, the Cutrer House, as well as one of its inhabitants, inspired elements of A Streetcar Named Desire. You can read about the connection here.

But here you go – you can’t escape the Catholic connection. In 1946, the mansion was purchased by St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and used as a school for several decades. By the 1990’s it required too many repairs to continue to be useful, and after some controversy, it was sold – this is an article from the time about the issues, including an interview with the very practical Irish pastor. It’s now being used by local government as an educational center. But the grounds are open – you can walk around – and the Lourdes grotto is still standing.

Moon Lake is also important in Williams’ work, so I took a quick detour – no one else was around on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, which made me wonder.

Then across the river to Helena, Arkansas, which has a very weird forest situation jutting up around it, and, in a neighborhood on the way out of town, a statue of Marquette.

And then, tonight, a safe landing, with Vespers.

(For video see Instagram).

I thought I had no idea that Subiaco existed here in the middle of Arkansas, but my son reminded me that one of his friends had gone there, and while I vaguely recalled that, I also thought he’d been talking about somewhere in Louisiana when he told me that. But now I know. I will have more photos tomorrow, with better light. I am heading out early, but will try to get some pictures nonetheless.

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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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