Tiffany Glass Exhibit

Montage of Tiffany Lamps

Yesterday Randy and I drove over to Athens, Georgia with our friend (and art teacher) Pat to see a temporary exhibit of Tiffany glass at the University of Georgia’s Museum of Art.

As none of us had been to the museum’s new quarters, we enjoyed not only the spectacular Tiffany exhibit, but a tour of the museum’s impressive permanent collection as well.

The Tiffany glass on temporary display is (amazingly) from a single collector’s private collection, and it was well worth the visit. We’re already fantasizing a road trip to Winter Park, Florida (near Orlando), where the largest public collection of Tiffany glass is located.

The exhibit includes stained glass windows, lamps, and examples of other things Tiffany’s company turned their attention to: jewelry, vases, boxes, even furniture. The exhibit also includes a fascinating video of how Tiffany’s workers assembled his lampshade designs and a timeline of Tiffany’s career. (Who knew that he created designs for Mark Twain’s residence, for the White House, and for a restaurant in a Chicago department store? I also learned that it was Tiffany’s father who founded the Tiffany jewelry empire.)

Photos of my eight favorites among the many lamps on display:

Lamp 1

Lamp 2

Lamp 4

Lamp 5

Lamp 6

Lamp 7

lamp 8

Lamp 9

Next, a few of my favorite stained-glass windows:

Tiffany glass window 2Tiffany glass window 3Tiffany glass window 4Tiffany glass window 5Tiffany glass window 6Tiffany glass window 7

Finally, a photo of a single vase, of which there are dozens in the exhibit, each very different in style from each other:

vase

Of course these photos can only hint at how gloriously beautiful these objects are.

This next-to-last photo is of a sample pane of glass in the exhibit that shows the sorts of colors Tiffany was able to create with the glass-making processes he invented (and patented).

glass pane sample

A final note. We didn’t realize when we set out for Athens yesterday that we’d be spending our entire time there in a wonderfully magical – and mercifully prolonged – snowfall! By the time we left the museum, the world had turned white:

Cal and Randy in snow at Tiffany exibit February 2020

A magical day trip.  If you live in Georgia, consider making plans to see the exhibit before it closes May 10th!

Another Trip to Merrie England: Part 4: Three Museums in London

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[Note: I have intermingled in this blogpost a few photos from the Intertubes amongst the photos that Randy or I took.]

After our maddeningly brief (and somewhat exhausting if also exhilarating) two days in Oxford, we boarded a train to London and made our way to our final AirBnB, which we’d selected because it was a 20-minute walk to the Victoria & Albert Museum.

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Something I particularly wanted to see at the V&A was the visitors’ tea room designed by William Morris. It was smaller than I expected, but there were two other highly-decorated tea rooms to eat (or have hot chocolate) in, and I welcomed the chance to sit down in such atmospheric environments!

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We had planned to spend all our time in London doing (only) multiple visits to the  vast V&A, but we got quickly overwhelmed, despite the fact that we’d both visited this museum before, and despite our resolve to be highly selective in which collections we chose to browse (either together or separately). So after our first, extended foray to the V&A, we aborted our initial plan and decided to spend our remaining time in London visiting other museums.

The museum I most wanted to re-visit, and to show to Randy, was the Sir John Soane House Museum. Alas, after a very long cab ride across town to get there, we found the museum was closed on the days we happened to be in London.

Quickly reverting to Plan B, we decided to seek out Polock’s Toy Museum that Randy especially wanted to see after reading about it in one of our London guidebooks. We took a LOT of photos in this ramshackling labyrinth of antique wonders:

London Toy Musuem from Internet

London Toy Museum interior 2 from Internet

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Our other Plan B museum visit was to London’s Natural History Museum, located next door to the V&A and one of my favorite buildings in London.

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Natural History Museum from Internet

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We also made a pit stops in the British Library’s “Treasures of the Library” permanent exhibit, and gaped briefly at the lobby and stairways of the St. Pancreas Hotel next door to the Library.

St Pamcreas Hotel staircase from Internet

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The weather was nice enough for us to sit and rest awhile in Russell Square Park after we merely breezed through the atrium of the British Museum, determined not to get distracted, on this trip, by that particular museum’s acres of architectural and archeological wonders.

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The night before our flight back to the US, we treated ourselves to a showing of the movie Downton Abbey, which was playing at a cinema not too distant from our AirBnB.  The movie was as entertaining as we’d hoped, and it was nice to sit down for a couple of hours after all the walking to, from, and around all those museums!

Takeaways from This Latest Trip to England

  • I am so glad to have convinced some friends to share the expense of a canal boat-rental with us, so I could travel that particular way again. I am trying to accept the notion that I may have made my final canal-boating group trip.  Perhaps not, but at least I managed to undertake – and with several different groups of friends – this unusual and relaxing type of traveling more than once.
  • I probably won’t be visiting the Cotswolds again. Rather than see some of the towns I missed this past trip (and the trip before that), I think I actually want to live  (for a time) in the Cotswolds. When you’re only there for a short time, it’s difficult to fully absorb the uniqueness of each town, and to have the leisure one needs to completely soak up the wonderful atmosphere of the scenery and the architecture.  Also, and perhaps inevitably, road-tripping through multiple villages (in the Cotswolds or anywhere else) results in the villages starting to resemble each other, which is totally not the case: obviously, I just need the luxury of spending more time in each town. However, because there are so many other lovely areas of the British Isles I’d like to see (or re-visit) – not to mention all the places  in Europe outside of England I’d like to visit (or revisit)  –  yet another visit to the Cotswolds (or, for that matter, to Oxford or to Stratford or to Hay-on-Wye) is, at age 71, unlikely to happen. Mind you, London is another story altogether: I could never visit London “too many times.” It will continue to be a travel fantasy magnet for Calvin, despite the allure of other, yet-unvisited European capitals.
  • September might be the ideal month, weather-wise and minimum-tourist-crowd-wise, to visit England. We had sunshine and comfortable temperatures throughout our trip. True, there was a single, brief, and formidable deluge our very last afternoon in London, but I was comfortable all the rest of our time there.
  • The trip to England wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be – in fact, it cost less (per day) than many of my previous trans-Atlantic adventures.  (My calculations, however, did not include the cost of paying for the damage I did to our rental car during the final hour (!!!) we rented it. After an entire week of zero car-related problems, Calvin managed to severely scrape and dent the car while trying to back out of a walled driveway on the dead-end street where our Oxford AirBnB was located.  Fortunately, Randy had talked me into buying the optional extra insurance on the car: otherwise, the cost of the damage would’ve been in the thousands of dollars instead of the $126 deductible I had to fork over.)
  • Taxicabs. I am now a fan – at least when I’m in London (especially only for a few days), and maybe in certain other cities as well. London for sure, because the fares are (considering the time and energy they save you) amazing bargains, and because hailing one is so easy. In all my dozens of previous trips, I avoided taking taxis; this is a travel rule of mine that I hereby eliminate from my considerably voluminous Travel Rule Book!
  • I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s time to start planning fewer trips abroad and planning more road trips in the United States, simply because the destinations will involve less air travel, which is hardly the adventure that flying abroad used to be, when transatlantic airplane travel was less expensive and airline seating provided more leg-room.

Randy, being my ideal travel partner, will, of course, have a say about wherever in Europe – or elsewhere – we’ll be visiting.  Unlike me, Randy prefers visiting places he’s not yet seen to spending time and money re-visiting places he particularly enjoyed.

We shall see. Perhaps my longing to see (or re-visit) more of England and Europe – and more of England in particular – will eventually return in full force, like it has before? Wherever we decide to travel to next, traveling anywhere with Randy is a joy and I look forward to more travel adventures with him. We’ve already planned our next trip – a week-long road trip to Arkansas –  and we aren’t even waiting until 2020 to do it!

 

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Another Trip to Merrie England! Part 3: A Couple of Days in Oxford

After driving out of the Cotswolds and dropping off our rental car in Oxford, we checked into the  AirBnB where we’d be staying for the next two days and nights.

The fact that we could walk from our room into town in only 20 minutes more than compensated for the room’s total lack of charm. I also knew that wandering around – even for a mere two days – in this breathtakingly gorgeous town itself would completely obliterate any disappointment in our tiny, sterile AirBnB.

Even before my first visit to Oxford decades ago, I had envied any student who was lucky enough to spend four or more years in this ancient city with its glorious, mostly Gothic architecture. Randy had not visited Oxford on his previous trips to England, so I was thrilled to be able to be with him as we explored what little of it we could in the time we had there.

We threw down our suitcases and immediately walked into town to tour the courtyards and interiors of the three (alas, only three!) colleges we’d selected to take a gander at. Each of them was suitably inspiring (as you will see if you click if you click on these hyperlinks – these images from the Internet, like the photo at the top of this blogpost and the photos below of the university’s Sheldonian Theatre  –  are much better than the few photos we took ourselves):

Meandering through the courtyards, gardens, and interior spaces (especially the chapels, cloisters, and dining halls) of these magnificent Gothic spaces was an Anglophile’s dream.

I had decided before we arrived that I’d wanted to spend as much time exploring the lively and architecturally delightful town of Oxford as we spent inside the university. 

I was especially keen that Randy see the Oxford’s covered market. 

Also, despite the unfortunate time constraints of our visit, we also wanted to see at least a few of Oxford’s many famous museums.

Oxford’s amazing natural history museum was certainly worth the walk to get there (especially since the walk was through such charming streets).

The natural history museum happens to house another amazing museum inside:  a labyrinth of glass cases housing every conceivable category of curiosities from around the world – from models of Chinese temples to shrunken heads to shelves of African woven baskets.

We also toured another museum, devoted to the history of science, or, rather, to the display of various historic scientific instruments (one of the many interests Randy and I happen to share):

One of the places in Oxford where we got to sit down and rest was Oxford’s oldest pub, where we had supper our first night in town.

Our final night in Oxford we attended an orchestral concert in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre, where the university’s formal events (graduations, etc.) are conducted.

The concert was staged to mark this year’s United Nations International Day of Peace and the performers were drawn from orchestras all over Europe. It was the most impeccably-performed live orchestral concert I’ve ever heard, and the commentary by representatives of various refugee organizations was quite moving.

Wonderful town, Oxford! Certainly worth visiting, certainly worth re-visiting. It was fun just imagining, for a few days, spending several years (as a college student, say) in such a magical place.

Next post: the final leg of our 2019 trip to England, a couple of days visiting three museums in London.

 

 

Another Trip to Merrie England! Part 2: A Week in the Cotswolds

After parting ways with Charles and Thomas at the end of our week on the Oxford Canal, Randy and I rented a car and headed for the tiny town we’d decided to base ourselves in during our week exploring one of my favorite sections of England, the Cotswolds.

In researching various towns to base ourselves in for this second week of this year’s trip to England, we chose the village of Blockley, near Chipping Camden, as the place to head out from and return to each day. Blockley turned out to be an excellent choice.

Blockley is architecturally and historically interesting,  is (compared to other potential bases, and despite the fact that the BBC television series Father Brown was filmed here) not overrun with tourists, features some handy amenities (a good pub, a local grocery), and was fairly convenient to many of the other towns we wanted to see.

We  used AirBnB to select our cottage rental in Blockley, and couln’t’ve been more pleased with what we found: a three-story townhouse in a restored mill with easy parking and cozy (but modernized) interiors. Here are some photos of the place, and what we could see from our windows:

We spent the following week doing various day trips from Blockley, trying to see as many of the Cotwolds villages as we could conveniently pass through or stop in without trying to do too much on any single day. I’d arrived hoping (unrealistically, I know) to at least drive through a total of fifty (!) particular Cotswolds towns or villages.

We managed to stop and see – or at least drive through – a mere seventeen of them.  Traveler, beware: you’re going to need a lot more than a week to see the Cotswolds! Even if you were to visit only The 50 Places in the Cotswolds Calvin Deems (Based on His Extensive Research) Most Worth Seeing, you’d probably need a month, rather than a week!

A few of these places I’d seen on a previous road trip to the Cotswolds many decades ago. But, charmed by the countryside studded with dozens of quaint, limestone-bulit “willages,”  I wanted to see these places again, and to see them with Randy. The seventeen places we did manage to visit, in a total of four days, were  (listed here in alphabetical order, with our favorite faves displayed in bold type):

Since we spent a  total of only four days roaming around, some of these places we merely drove through, rather than exploring on foot. But whether or not we had the time and energy to get out of our car and wander around and/or have a snack or a meal in any given town, I was in Architectural Heaven pretty much the entire week.

Now, scroll back up to the list of towns and click on the hyperlinks for any of these towns to see dozens of other people’s photos of these quaint “willages.” Come on: you know you want to see how better photographers than us managed to capture the stunning visual appeal of these towns, yes? 

Just as wonderful as the towns we saw were swaths of the glorious Cotswolds countryside.

A Note on the Weather

The amazing luck with the weather we’d had during our week on the canal before heading to the Cotswolds continued for the entire week afterwards.  Gorgeous, sunlit days – I never wore any of the long-sleeve shirts I’d brought along in my suitcase.

A Few  Sightseeing Highlights

Mind you, we didn’t see any un-beautiful Cotswolds villages, but we definitely enjoyed some places more than others.

After poking around Blockley the first day after we drove into the Cotswolds, one of our earliest forays was to Stow-on-the-Wold, where we did quite a bit of window-shopping and whose wonderful church we visited.

Another popular-with-tourists towns we spent considerable time in was  Bourton-on-the-Water.

One of the tourist sites in Bourton is a definitely-worth-visiting miniature version of the village that visitors walk through and marvel at:

On the day we visited Broadway, the village was having a food festival in the middle of town.

Two other places we lingered longer than many others – especially in their churches – were “the two Slaughters”:

Upper Slaughter:

Lower Slaughter:

One of the many spectacular churches we peeked into along our journeys through the Cotswolds was the church in Northleach:

A couple of the towns we visited (or re-visited) on their weekly Market Day. One of those was the market day in  Morton-in-Marsh.

One of my personal favorite Cotswolds towns is Illmington (near Stratford), where on my previous trip to the Cotswolds I’d rented a cottage for a week. Randy was agreeable to our returning there to see if I could find that cottage again. Reader, we found it!

We spent a lovely afternoon wandering around the ancient church across the street from the cottage, and in the church graveyard we struck up an extended conversation with a woman who lives in the town. The more we talked, the more convinced I became that I had met her husband (a former pilot) my first time in Illmington all those years ago.

After poking around the church, we circumnavigated a nearby pond I had remembered often and vividly throughout the years since my first visit to Illmington. (The image of this pond, has, since the morning all those years ago when I first stumbled upon it, been my “go-to” mental image that I use whenever I need to call to mind A Place of Total Serenity. If I had my druthers, this pond in Illmington – now, alas, surrounded by a fence to keep in the sheep who now graze its shores – is where I imagine I’d like to have my ashes scattered after I die.)

A highlight of the Cotwolds adventure for Randy, who enjoys visiting prehistoric sites wherever he travels, was our brief stop alongside a busy to take a gander at the Rollwright Stones:

The place in the Cotswolds where we spent the most time  – or at least where we took the most photos – was Snowshill Manor, in the picture-perfect village of Snowshill.

Snowshill Manor is a National Trust property. The extensive house and grounds are spectacular, and took most of a day to tour. Randy took a LOT of photos there, especially of the fraction of the 22,000 items currently on display inside the house. (You can read about the guy who collected all this stuff here.)

Wade also collected costumes, some of which the Trust allows visitors to try on, which of course Randy proceeded to do:

The sheer amount and variety of stuff we saw during the tour of the manor – a mere fraction of everything Wade collected during his lifetime – was stupefying.  But so worth our visit – and worth all the walking involved, as the estate is enormous.

Wade filled the manor house with his treasures, and entertained his friends there, but he actually lived in a tiny outbuilding next to the manor house. The innards of Wade’s private domain were  as astonishing as the interiors of the main house:

Venturing Outside the Cotswolds

In addition to our wanderings around the Cotswolds, Randy and I spent two days on journeys slightly outside the official borders of the area. One day we drove up to Stratford-upon-Avon to meet up with our Gay Spirit Visions friend Brad Pitts, and another day we ventured out of England and into Wales to the town of Hay-on-Wye.

Brad lives with his partner Andrew in Wolverhampton, but he was willing to meet us in Stratford for a leisurely walk through the town center, where we stopped for lunch at a historic pub, strolled along the Avon to Trinity Church (where Shakespeare is buried), and then a couple of hours touring Stratford’s unusual (and unexpectedly located ) Mechanical and Art Design Museum.

Hay-on-Wye became part of our 2019 trip to England because, as a longtime book-lover (and as a retired librarian) I’d long wanted to see it. Dozens – dozens! – of the buildings in this hilly town in Wales have been converted into second-hand bookstores! The day we spent in the unexpectedly picturesque Hay was one of the highlights of our trip.

We stayed a bit longer in Hay than we’d planned to, so we could catch the final performance of a local traveling circus that one of the bookstore clerks had mentioned to us. The circus troupe was definitely an extended family affair (the performers also staffed the ticket booth, the cotton candy booth, and the snack stand). The charming circus acts featured zero animals – the acts were mostly things like magic tricks, acrobatics, knife-throwing, and rope-twirling. With, of course, the obligatory pantomiming clowns.

Back in Blockley after our long foray into and back out of Wales,  we drove to one final sight in the Cotswolds before heading to Oxford to drop off our car. We spent our final morning at Broadway Tower, a multi-storied stone folly that overlooks a beautiful swath of the Cotswolds and where our design hero William Morris (among many others) spent time as a frequent visitor. (One level of the tower is devoted to All Things Morris – including a video of a movie based on Morris’ his life that I spent many minutes watching – which turned out to be A Good Thing, as the main Morris-related site in the Cotswolds, Kelmscott Manor, is closed for renovations.)

 

The Food

After being pleased with the pubs we’d sampled along the canal the week before, we continued to have great luck with the pubs we sampled in our week in the Cotswolds.  A few examples:

Note to self for future reference: Just in case I ever get to return to the Cotswolds to see the places I’d liked to have seen this trip but didn’t, the Reputedly Fabulous but Still Unvisited-by-Cal Towns I’d still love to visit (based on the research I did before our trip) are (in alpha order):

  • Barnsley
  • Blandon
  • Broadwell
  • Burford
  • Broadwell
  • Castle Combe
  • Cheltenham
  • Chipping Norton
  • Cirencester
  • Colm St. Aldwyns
  • Cricklade
  • Eastleach
  • Fairford
  • Great Tew
  • Guiting Power
  • Hidcote Batrin
  • Lacock
  • Lechlade
  • Little Barrington
  • Long Compton
  • Malmsbury
  • Mickelton
  • Naunton
  • Painswick
  • Sapperton
  • Stanway
  • Swinbrook
  • Tetbury
  • Upper Oddington
  • Winchcombe
  • Whitney

[Note about these photos: a few of them I snatched from ye Internet, including the photo at the top of the blog. The others were taken by me, by Randy, or by Brad.]

Under construction: some photos and comments about the final leg of our trip, a couple of days in Oxford, followed by visits to three museums in London.

 

 

Another Trip to Merrie England! Part 1: One Week on a Canal

[The photos in this blogpost are a mixture of the ones taken by the four of us on the trip. The hyperlinks at various places noted in the blogpost will, if you click on them, produce Internet photos that other people took when they visited those places.]

England is one of the places overseas that I never seem to tire of returning to. (The other countries in  Europe that I’ve been to more than once are Italy and France. And at some point, I’d love to add Greece to that list, having been there only once, way back in 1983.)

This most recent trip to England was originally planned for 2018, but by that time I’d met Randy and he preferred that we head to Spain for our first trip after the 2017 trip to Italy where I’d reconnected with him. So with us going to Spain last year, we rescheduled our trip to England for 2019.

The main reason I wanted to return to England was to more thoroughly explore my favorite region there, the Cotswolds. But I also had been hoping to convince a few other people to join with us to spend at least a week renting a narrowboat on one of England’s canals.

I had a wonderful time doing that with Kris, Nancy, and Roger in 2012. Two years later,  in 2014,  Kris, Nancy, Royce, Martha, Robert, and Randall rented another boat for a trip through a canal in southern France. And two years after that, in 2016,  the same group of friends did another group boat rental together, this time spending a week cruising down Ireland’s Shannon River. Clearly, I must love “messing around in boats.”

When my friend Charles and his boyfriend Thomas agreed to do the narrowboat part of our 2019 trip with  Randy and me, we added a week on the Oxford Canal onto our plans to for a week or so exploring the Cotswolds, and we also tacked on a few days at the end of our trip to see a few carefully selected sites in Oxford and London.

We chose the Oxford Canal because it featured combined lots of rural scenery (vs. lots of towns) and involves fewer locks than are part of the Llangollen Canal that I’d done with Kris, Nancy, and Roger.

Although our original plan was to cruise from Napton all the way to Oxford, we ended up going only about half that distance. We curtailed our original plans to cover the entire southern part of the canal so that we didn’t spend too much time each day driving the boat (which was one of my regrets about the otherwise fabulous Llangollen trip).  We rented a car to get us from Heathrow Airport to Napton, where the narrowboat marina is located, and traveled as far south as Banbury before returning to Napton.

The six-person-holding Charlotte was the boat the four of us rented from Napton Narrowboats

Here’s the bedroom inside the narrowboat that Randy and I slept in; each of the two bedrooms had a kingsize bed folded down each night, and another two people could’ve slept in the galley kitchen). The boat also featured two bathrooms, each with its own shower.

The canal was certainly as scenic as it is advertised to be, and the weather could not have been better – no rain the entire week (September 7-14), except once in the middle of the night when we were moored along the shore and snug in our beds.

The scenery along the canal was  appealingly serene, and spectacular in places

The canal’s edges featured an often-surprising variety of flora and fauna:

Some of the scenery along the canal was edible! There were delicious blackberries to enjoy at dozens of places along the towpath, and here’s a photo of Randy munching on one of the apples he plucked along the way:

Our gliding through the countryside (at the leisurely rate of 4 miles per hour) was punctuated by numerous (but not TOO numerous) locks. Although we all took turns steering the boat, Randy did most of the navigating in and out of the locks, with Charles, Thomas, and me hopping off to open and close them.

There were also plenty of bridges (of various sorts) to steer our way through:

We stopped for the night at several villages and towns along the way (and in some cases, again on the way back). Cropredy was probably our favorite of the smaller villages:

You can find other people’s photos of Cropedy here.

We also liked Lower Shuckburgh:

You can find other people’s photos of Lower Shuckburgh here.

The largest town along our route was Banbury, located almost at the geographic center of England (and thus the site of much history, especially during the English civil war). We found exploring the town so interesting that we moored in Banbury for two nights.

You can find other people’s photos of Banbury here.

Although we ate some of our meals (usually breakfast) on the boat . . .

We also stopped to eat at various pubs alongside the canal. The food was invariably interesting, as were the pubs themselves.

After turning around the boat just south of Banbury, we headed back to Napton and returned our boat to the marina, at which point we rented a cab to take us to the train station in Leamington Spa, where Charles and Thomas caught a train to London for a couple days there; Randy and I rented a car for phase two of our trip to England,  a week exploring the villages and countryside of the Cotswolds . (My blogpost about the second week of our trip is under construction.)

 

Another Week on St. George

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For a sixth consecutive year, I recently joined eleven other men who rent a beach house each May on Florida’s St. George Island. We met each other at conferences sponsored by Gay Spirit Visions, some of us having met at GSV’s first conference in 1990. 

Last year my partner Randy joined us for the first time, and he and I went together again this year. There were three people there this year who hadn’t been before, so it was nice to have a week to get to know them a bit, as well as to reconnect with the folks who’d spent previous weeks together in past years.

The week we picked this year was one of almost perfect weather. That perfection included a single brief but dramatic-looking thunderstorm – which Calvin apparently napped through, as I only know about it from the others’ photos of it.

We spent our week doing a multitude of relaxing things: hanging out on the beach (for me, this was done only twice, and completely in the shade of a beach umbrella), cooking for each other each evening, making several excursions into the artsy fishing town across the bay, cooking, playing the card game Wizards, watching DVD movies, meditating together each morning, reading, piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, napping, etc.

Some of us (although not me) went bike-riding, drove to a state park about an hour away, hired a fishing boat, flew kites, paddled around in rented kayaks, took a spell in the hot-tub, crocheted. I managed to stay out of automobiles for most of the week,  and thoroughly enjoyed my attempts (all of them futile) at solving the multiple Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles I’d brought along. I also started – and finished – reading one of the many books I brought along, Gardening Through Your Golden Years.

Other than helping Randy prepare dinner for 12 when it was our turn to do that, and serving everyone an informal tea one afternoon, there were few chores to complete, so it was an almost totally care-free week spent in the company of a dozen lovely, intelligent, caring, interesting men. The group conversations, as well as the one-on-one conversations, were often stimulating and there was a lot of laughing throughout the week.

Sharing the week with Randy – and yammering about it on our journey home (via pit stops at a plant nursery and some antique malls that we also visited last year) was, of course, a special treat this year.

The photo at the top of this blogpost was one of the few I took myself. Most of the photos below were taken by my various beach companions, and I appreciate their sending them to me so I could include them here.

The setting:

Abijem exterior

The beach house we rented for the week

View of the beach from Abijem

Our view of the beach from the balcony of the rental house

The men:

Chase

Chase (from the Asheville area, and our trip organizer)

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Hugh (from Asheville, and one of the three newcomers)

Jay Pee in boat

Jay Pee (another first-time beach-goer, recently arrived from the Philipines)

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Jim (from Atlanta)

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John (from Asheville)

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Mike (from Asheville)

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Ralph (left) and Ted (from Atlanta)

Randall's photo of Randall

Randall (from Atlanta)

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Randy (from Atlanta)

Tom photo by Chase

Tom (from Atlanta)

Miscellaneous moments from the week:

guys at the beach photo by Chase

Early afternoon at ye beach

Two guys in kayaks rented by Chase

Paddling back to the shore

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At the dinner table one night, about to plow into our appetizers
John's photo of the fish they caught on the fishing trip

The harvest from John’s, Ralph’s, Randall’s, and Jay Pee’s fishing excursion

Randall holding a fish

Randall and one of the fishes he brought us back for dinner

John's photo of Randy walking on the state park beach.jpg

Randy strolling in a state park he and John drove to one day

Randy's and John's oysters
Randy and John stopped for oysters on their way back from the state park they visited.
Four of the group eating lunch in Appalalach photo by Randall

(L-R) Chase, Randall, Jay Pee, and Jim having lunch in Apalachicola

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One of the tourist shops in the nearby fishing town of Apalachicola

Storm clouds at SGI photo by Chase(L-R) John, Ralph, Tom, and Jim marveling at the passing storm

Randall's photo of him and Jay Pee

(L-R) Randall and Jay Pee, who got married the day before they drove down to the beach

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I’ll never understand how flowers can bloom in the middle of a sand dune!

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One of the tables set out for an afternoon tea (that’s a put-together jigsaw puzzle in the middle of the table under the sandwiches)

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Tea for twelve…

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Early morning from the rental house balcony. Could anything be more relaxation-inducing?
Randall's photo of sunrise

Sunrise at the beach

John's sunset photo

Sunset at the beach

Randy's moonlight ritual

On our final night together, and this year under an almost full moon, the twelve of us gathered on the beach for our gratitude ritual

Blessed with such luxurious accommodations and in such loving, interesting company, most of the week felt like I was floating through a mini-paradise. Plus our leisurely, harmonious week was punctuated with incredible home-made meals every single night! A Good Time Was Definitely Had By All. I’m glad to know these guys, and grateful they choose to spend time together every year in such a glorious setting.

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The photo-laden accounts of my five previous adventures on St. George are here, here, here, here, and here.

 

2018 Excursion to Spain

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Randy and I had several goals in mind for this trip. Having made such a great connection while traveling together (with three other friends) on a 2017 trip to Italy, we wanted to celebrate that experience with a sort of “anniversary trip” for just the two of us.

I was ready to re-visit England, but Randy, for his next overseas vacation, was  interested in seeing some of the Moorish cities in Spain, as well as a Neolithic site he’d read about that’s located in the south-central part of the country  Neither of us had been to Barcelona and we both particularly wanted to see it. Plus I had long wanted to visit Peg and Gary, who’ve wintered in Valencia for the past six years, not only because it had been a few years since we’d last visited, but also to discover why they had picked Valencia over all the other places they might have chosen to live when they’re not traveling elsewhere in Europe (where they’ve lived for several decades). Since Valencia isn’t too terribly far from either Barcelona or from Seville, Cordoba, Granada, etc., we decided on a three-week trip to Spain in October.

We divided our trip into three main components: a full week in Barcelona, a total of about a week in Valencia, and a road-trip in a rental car to some Moorish cities southwest of Valencia. Granada (where they keep the Alhambra) was on our original itinerary, but we changed our plans to see it when we learned (while in Valencia) that we’d not be able to book advance admission to the Alhambra until after Christmas.

One of the distinctive and surprising features of this trip for me was the way each destination turned out to be more interesting than the also-interesting place we’d just been.  Barcelona was suitably impressive – especially the Gaudi sites that we focused our time and money touring – but when we arrived in Valencia, I was immediately relieved to be in a smaller city. Ditto Seville and Cordoba.

That said, I am so glad I finally made it to Barcelona. Being there with Randy was a special treat, as it was fun not only to be traveling again with him but because Randy appreciates architecture and design as enthusiastically as I do myself.

Despite my long-time admiration of All Things Art Nouveau, I had somehow managed to spend 70 years with almost zero knowledge of the works of Antoni Gaudi. What a genius! I’d not encountered before anything remotely similar to his work, and am puzzled at why Gaudi has had so few imitators/successors. Each of the half-dozen or so Gaudi-designed buildings we visited was a revelation – and well worth the sometimes steep admission prices.

If you’ve not been to Barcelona, check out the Internet’s excellent exterior and interior photos of the Gaudi structures we toured. (Note: You may need to scroll down a bit to see the images at each of these links, and at the links to photos inserted elsewhere in this blogpost, but it’s worth the trouble!)

A few of the photos Randy took of some of these amazing buildings designed by Gaudi:

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I now understand why so many architecture fans rave about Barcelona. Not only is it where most of Gaudi’s buildings are located, but other Art Nouveau marvels are there as well. That includes the Music Palace that we toured:

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But my favorite non-Gaudi Art Nouveau extravaganza was the recently-restored St. Paul Hospital, a huge complex of amazing structures that took the better part of a day to tour.

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Of course, Barcelona is full of wonderful architecture in other styles and from other eras as well:

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While staying in Barcelona, we booked a day trip to Figueres, the birthplace of Salvadore Dali and where he renovated an old theater to house a museum for his work (and where he is buried). Both the inside and the outside of this building is appropriately bizarre, and it was gratifying to see more of Dali’s art after earlier this year having seen what’s on offer at the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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Our guided bus trip to Dali-Land also featured a stop in the only other small town in Spain we got to walk around in, the charming and ancient town of Girona.

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After enjoying a walk through the medieval part of the town…

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…our favorite discovery there was the excellent museum of cinema located there (better, I thought, than a similar museum I’ve seen in Paris).

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After our stimulating and somewhat exhausting week of sightseeing in Barcelona, we took a train along the coast to Valencia where Peg and Gary have been spending each winter for the past six years.

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I quickly came to understand why Peg and Gary prefer to live in Valencia – at least in the winter – rather than, say, in Barcelona or Madrid. Spain’s third-largest city, Valencia’s got all the charm of Barcelona without Barcelona’s (or Madrid’s) bustle, traffic, and sprawl; it has fewer tourists, and, like Barcelona, is located on the country’s Mediterranean coast, so the winter weather is mild and dry most of the time. Like Barcelona, the food markets, the parks, the pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, and the cultural activities on offer are exceptional. 

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And although Valencia features zero Gaudi buildings, it’s got plenty of Calatrava architecture to marvel at:

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After re-energizing at Peg’s and Gary’s spacious, comfortable, and conveniently-located rented apartment in Valencia and after Peg and Gary showed us their town, we rented a car and headed further south along the coast in search of presumably quaint fishing villages. Discovering to our chagrin that the coastal towns we’d read about or seen videos of are actually decidedly non-scenic, highrise-infested resort towns, we promptly then headed west.

We devoted approximately half of our week-long road trip to sightseeing in Seville and Cordoba (two days and two nights in each of these towns). Just as Valencia seemed like a scaled-down version of Barcelona, Seville seemed like a smaller version of Valencia, with Cordoba feeling slightly smaller than either of those three metropolises.

As interesting as Seville and Cordoba turned out to be, we found the most congenial and easy to navigate destination was the smallest town we visited, a place I’d never heard of before called Antiquera.

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Antiquera was also the site of the Neolithic structures (temples, probably) that Randy wanted to check out:

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Spain is approximately the size as Texas, and the distances we traveled between the towns we visited were considerable. Although we certainly managed to see a lot in three weeks time – and did a lot of walking in each town we spent time in, I don’t think we tried to cover too much ground during our three-week vacation.

True, we’d hoped to find more visit-worthy hilltop villages than we managed to find along our route through south-central Spain. In retrospect, it would’ve made more sense – or at least have been cheaper – if we’d used trains instead of renting a car to get to the cities we spent the majority of our time in. On the other hand, if we’d done that, we’d’ve missed two unscheduled scenic drives that ended up being some of the most spectacular hours of our trip.

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In any case, wandering around the steep, narrow, winding streets of Antiquera reminded me of how – is it an age-related thing??? – I am coming to prefer smaller European towns (especially their medieval town centers) over the admittedly more jam-packed-with-touristy-sites national or regional capitals. The bigger places are more difficult to easily navigate (especially on foot!) and there’s always more to see than one could possibly get to unless one lives there.

After our two nights in Antiquera, we headed for Seville, where we also stayed two days and nights. When we finally located our difficult-to-find hotel, we were astounded to discover yet another Calatrava mega-sculpture looming over the hotel’s parking lot: 

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Seville reminded us both of a calmer version of Valencia, and it features a river flowing through the middle of its oldest sections instead of a 15-mile-long linear park that cuts through the middle of Valencia (which replaced a river the Valencians re-routed to prevent the river’s next catastrophic flooding).

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On one of the rare nights in Spain when we were out and about instead of collapsing in a hotel room after a long day of sightseeing and/or driving, we had dinner at a restaurant on the river just as the full moon was rising over the city:

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After puttering around Seville, we headed to Cordoba for two days and nights there. Seeing the restored remains of its Moorish-era mosque was our principal reason for going there, and we were not disappointed. The interior of this huge building is one of the most serene spaces we found ourselves in during the trip. 

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In addition to the Gothic cathedral that the city’s Christians built right in the middle of the mosque after defeating the Moors who had occupied this part of Spain for centuries,

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…the mosque complex also sports a minaret that Randy decided to climb while Cal took a nap along the edge of a fountain in the main courtyard of the mosque. 

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Another highlight of our Cordoba visit were the dozens of courtyards we toured:

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We were also impressed by the bridge across the river in Cordoba (the same river that flows through Seville). The bridge (now used only by pedestrians) was built during the time of Julius Caesar:

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After Cordoba, we returned our rental car to Valencia and spent a couple more days visiting with Peg: Gary had left the city for Amsterdam, to put the boat he and Peg recently bought into storage for the winter; they’ll move into it next spring.

On our next-to-final evening in Valencia, Randy and I traveled to the edge of the city, near the beach area that Peg and Gary had taken us to when we’d been in Valencia the week before. Our destination: a circus Randy had seen an advertisement for.

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The circus was billed as “Apocolypsis: The Circus of Horrors,” and turned out to be a sort of Goth version of Cirque du Soleil. 

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The circus performers (including many of them doing their stunts on roaring motorcycles) all had tattoos, wore elaborate (often elaborately tattered) costumes. Most of the males – and not a few of the females – wielded ropes, whips, and/or chains as part of their performances. There was a delightfully prolonged punk-style Flamenco standoff. Everything was accompanied by loud and relentless electronic music, with frequent intervals of Mohawk-sporting “clowns” yelling at and kibbitzing with the audience (all the ranting, alas, in Spanish). The spectacle was enhanced with impressive lighting effects and stupefying visual projections. It was a circus all right!

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Here’s a selfe of us waiting for the show to start, with Cal definitely uneasy about what’s likely to unfold:

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A very, um, different kind of cultural event (at least for Calvin – Randy’s a longtime fan of all sorts of circus things). It turned out to be definitely worth its 30-Euro ticket price.

What else to mention about our recent adventures in Spain?

Well, besides all the sightseeing we did – and we did do a lot of walking: on some of our excursions, Randy’s pedometer reported that we’d walked seven miles; on another day, nine! –  we also enjoyed a lot of terrific meals.

Having failed on my previous trip to Spain (back in 1983) to figure out how the tapas tradition worked, I was determined to master that this time around, and we had some wonderful tapas lunches and dinners. Eating two tapas meals a day for most of three weeks is a lotta tapas! Randy’s snapshots of a sampling of those delicious meals:

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In addition to the gustatory delights, we happened upon many visual ones that were not on our list of destinations. All of the cities we visited featured multiple murals and street art and graffiti was ubiquitous, some of it very arresting:

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Of course, we toured or peeked inside many an ancient church as we tramped through the cities we visited. Very few of these sanctuaries, however – despite their extravagant (and often Baroque) use of gold leaf and the astounding paintings on their walls and ceiling vaults – were as interesting as the Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Cordoba’s mosque turned out to be.

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As with most European cities, the storefronts and inventive window displays in the Spanish cities we visited offered plenty of free eye candy. Among its other delights, Barcelona is home to what I now consider to be the best paper goods stores I’ve ever drooled over! (One of them was five stories tall.)

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Finally, another memorable thing about this trip was the amazing tile work we saw everywhere we went. I eventually just stopped taking photos, there were so many photo-worthy tile displays. But when it came to my deciding what sorts of souvenirs I wanted to bring home, the things I bought usually ended up being tiles or images of tiles on magnets, coasters, etc. If you’re a fan of tile work, Spain should definitely be part of your travel bucket list!

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If it seems like we crammed a lot into our three-week vacation, it’s because we did! And even though I did a lot better than I have in the past with pacing myself and not burdening my traveling companion by overdoing it, there were definitely times when this 70-year-old tourist was very much in need of a nap! And, dear reader, I took one whenever I could!

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