We didn’t cross every threshold of every museum; we could have visited many more. We had no specific museums on our itinerary for London, but there were two for Paris: the Musée du Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay

The list of masterpiece/famous/recognizable works in the Louvre is as long as the museum’s miles of corridors. Certainly the Mona Lisa is top of the list and we shared that experience as soon as we entered the museum. We then moved on, through the Italian Renaissance and French Romanticism and ended up in the Egyptian Antiquities, not because of any particular passion for that collection, but simply from wandering. Once in the long hall of glass cases and rooms with ceilings high enough to accommodate the 3200 year old giant statue of the seated Ramesses II, we drifted from item to item, occasionally reading the descriptions, but mostly just looking and looking.

Like so many museums, the buildings which house the Musée du Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay are artworks in and of themselves. The Louvre’s Baroque richness comes from its 17th century role as the palace of kings; the d’Orsay’s grandiose yet functional space comes from its original use as a train station which opened in 1900. The Louvre was transformed into a museum a little over 300 years ago, the d’Orsay a little over 20. The 35,000+ items in the Louvre date from the dawn of civilization to the mid-nineteenth century which is where the d’Orsay’s collections begin and then end in 1914. The collections in both buildings tend to speak to the period of the buildings themselves.

We entered the d’Orsay after a 45 minute wait in a snaking Disney-esque line and went first to the sixth floor to ensure our time some favorites: Lauren with Monet, Hannah with Toulouse-Lautrec and I with Van Gogh. Unlike the Louvre, here the rooms were smaller, quieter, more dimly lit. There seemed to be more time to gaze and ponder and occasionally get lost in an image that seemed to reach out to me and not rely on me to reach into it. After the crush of the crowd at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, we were surprised at the group tours and the dazed individuals walking past Whistler’s Mother without a second glance. For us, Mother is as big a cultural icon, as much a masterpiece as Mona, so we paused and gazed uninterrupted.


paparazzo (noun, singular / plural: pa·pa·raz·zi)
a freelance photographer who pursues celebrities trying to take candid photographs of them to sell to newspapers or magazines

Sacred Spaces

Before we left, I mentioned to Lauren that I thought I would tour sacred spaces during our travels, and not only churches, but all sacred spaces upon which we came. In our visits in Bath and in the stone circles in the surrounding counties, we visited sacred spaces that were sacred 2,500 years before Christ, at the time of Christ, and in the centuries since.

As we walked and walked, we passed dozens and dozens of churches, and I never passed one that I did not pause and gaze. Some churches I entered and felt the light inside, wandered slowly up the side aisles, viewing chapels if in the larger churches, altars tucked inside alcoves in the small churches. Many, many others I did not enter, but slowed my step and looked up at the towers or steeples, the high arched windows, the solid stone upon stone standing for centuries. Even without entering, I was lifted up by these old sacred spaces.

Below are: Bath Abbey, completed in 1589 on the site of monastery a 1,000 years old; the sunlit inner courtyard of the cloisters at Lacock Abbey; stained glass windows over the altar in St. Andrews Church in Castle Combe; the Cathedral of St. Vincent in Saint-Malo; Westminster Abbey as seen from the west along Abingdon Street; Notre Dame de Paris as seen from the Left Bank of the Seine River; and the steeple over Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.


Mona is the star of the Louvre.
From under the Pyramid into Denon,the appreciators move in a steady, paced, continuous flow,
following at every possible diversion of path the placard posted with Mona’s face and an arrow.
Mona is this way!

Twisting to the right past naked marble Greeks,
then up the stairs like upstream salmon swimming hard before Winged Victory,
darting to the right, struggling to keep forward movement,
struggling against the cross currents of wireless guides and their tours,
struggling to see the next Mona wayfinder.

Do we seek you because it was Leo who painted the wood a half a millennium ago;
because kings displayed you in their palaces and Napoleon in his bedroom;
because there is that mystery in your eyes and in your smile?
Yes...for all those reasons and reasons more and no reason at all.

The doorway to your room is open and the room is big and bright
like a throne room, a hall where royalty receive guests.
You wait on the far side of the room,
elevated above the rest, removed from the rest of all there is.
You have your own wall.

Admirers admire with passive shoves and gentle elbowing
to work their way closer for a better view of you,
and hope with exhausted hearts that you will look their way,
a better angle for their cell phone cameras.

Yes, Mona, you are the star of the Louvre.

Hotel Blades

About three hours after landing at Gatwick airport we were on the steps of The Hotel Blades. The airport is about 30 miles south of London and a 30 minute train ride to Victoria Station, just a few blocks from The Blades. Our room is not yet ready, but coffee and tea and the regular breakfast is made available to us by Kevin.

The hotel sits wall to wall, row house style, with other hotels that lines several streets in the Pimlico area of London. Built as in-town townhouses for the up and coming wealthy merchant class of 19th century, many have been turned into small hotels, like The Blades, with 15 rooms or so. The facades look just as they would have had Queen Victoria ridden by and saw them when they were new.

We stayed at the Blades for two nights at the beginning of the trip and two nights at the end. During that time we used neighborhood grocery stores, found a couple of favorite restaurants, visited an internet cafe every day and used the tube stop a two blocks away more than once a day.

Kevin was our first and last interaction with the British. He greeted us when we arrived the first day and said goodbye at the end of breakfast the day of our departure. While attending to the needs of all the eight tables in the breakfast room, he would engage one table in bits of conversation, but in such a way as to invite the entire room to participate or merely spectator.

Lynwood House

When we got in the cab outside the train station in Bath, it was raining and traffic was blocked because of construction. Lauren gave the driver the address and without humor he said, “I think I know where it is.” When he pulled up in front of The Lynwood House five minutes later, I said “You did find it!” and he laughed.

We arrived a little before lunch and were able to get into our room immediately. Jeff, part of the inn’s innkeeper-couple, explained how to fill out the breakfast card noting selections and seating time, and said that our tour to Stonehenge the following day was confirmed. We rested for just a moment, gathered our rain gear, and headed out into Bath.

We never again traveled the route the cab took that first morning, but we walked to and from Bath’s town center several times over the next two days, including the last morning when we walked to the train station. Jeff cooked our breakfast to order and served us at a long dining table in a room brightened by the skylight and the glass doors looking out onto the garden.

The Victoria Hotel

Weymouth was always meant to be the place we caught the ferry for France. It was not meant to be much more than a stopover, but we were curious about this summer beach resort, longstanding resort, a bathing resort since King George III started coming there in 1789, a fact recognized by the citizens in 1810 when they erected a statue thanking him.

We arrived in drizzle rain, but made it to the hotel easily. All along the way there were pensioners (i.e. retirees) dodging the rain moving from cafe to shop, there were lots of game arcades standing empty except for the single attendant, and there were rides and concessions all along the beach closed up, shuttered up as if the season were over.

When we arrived at The Victoria Hotel, the manager stopped cooking in the restaurant adjacent to the lobby, got someone else to watch to watch the three year old that was following him, and took Lauren upstairs to show her the room. We took our luggage up two flights of stairs, down a narrow hallway and into our room, the smallest room of the trip and the one with the thinnest walls and the thinnest sheets.

Even with the rain, the streets were busy with visitors, working class families seemingly, determined to enjoy the time in spite to the weather. It reminded me of Panama City Beach on a rainy summer day, and Lauren recalled similar days on the Boardwalk in Asbury Park. Just before sundown, the rain stopped, and a setting sun came out as did people seeking ice cream, a game of chance in the arcade or a ride on the now open carousel.

We walked out the door the next morning at 6:00am, leaving the key on a table near the entrance.

Hôtel Anne de Bretagne

Arrival in Saint-Malo felt like landing as an immigrant into a busy port city filled with strangers spending and locals selling food and lodging and remembrances. We stepped off the ferry late in the afternoon and walked through the first of three gates leading through the walls and into the walled city. We had to negotiate a mixture of cars, scooters, bicycles and lots of pedestrians, some strolling with no destination and others, destination driven, nearly running.

Hôtel Anne de Bretagne sits just three short blocks off the busy Rue Jacques Cartier but could be miles away. The only sound as we approached the hotel entrance was the rattle of luggage being wheeled over cobblestones. The room was spacious and the bathroom had both a shower and a tub. The second floor window opened out onto the street corner below from which came cafe sounds way into the night and to be replaced with seagulls and the swish of brooms at daylight. The first morning Lauren and I went out for a cup of coffee and to scout a bit. As we returned, strolling done Rue Sainte-Barbe, we looked up at our window to see Hannah awaiting our return.

One morning I went out alone for a walk along the ramparts that surround the city and were only a few steps away from the hotel. The morning light spilled across the harbor and fell against only the tallest of spires and chimneys and upper floor windows, then slowly began to fill the narrow streets as it climbed higher.

We left Saint-Malo on a Sunday morning before the first broom sweep a cafe floor, again the rattle of wheeled luggage echoing through the ancient port city’s ancient streets.

The Hôtel de L'Esperance

Lauren and Max stayed at the Hôtel de L'Esperance back in April of last year, and Lauren was were pleased with it and pleased to be returning. We arrived a little after noon, having walked a little over two miles through the hardest rain we encountered on the entire trip. It stopped when we reached the hotel. The sun came out, and we saw a glorious finish to the 2007 Tour de France after walking through the Sunday markets on Rue Mouffetard, around Notre Dame, ate quiche while sitting on steps by the Seine and wandered through the courtyards of the Louvre.

The hotel was situated in its own distinct quarter in which we found an internet cafe and a couple of fine restaurants, one an Italian, the other traditional French which clearly catered to a roster of regulars from the neighborhood. It was easy to walk to the center of the city, down along the Left Bank, or to catch the metro from any one of several stations.

It was the first place I ever stayed where you really do leave your key at the desk when you go out. The view out the fourth floor window was of other rooftops over which rose the sun in the morning and over which, in the wee hours of our last day in Paris, I lay awake, watch Mars rise in the east, and spotted a meteor streaking across the window’s frame of the Paris sky.

Pere LaChaise

“J-em morris-N?”

The man was younger than I, maybe, not dirty, but he had the appearance of being close to the street as he clutched his plastic shopping bag. He asked the question again.

“J-em morris-N?”

The stroll through Pere LaChaise had been in near solitude. It was early, about 9:30am on a Tuesday morning. The two guards at the gate on Blouevard Menilmontant did not seem to notice us as we studied the map at the entrance of the 118 acre cemetery and made notes of sites we wanted to visit, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde's burial sites among others.

We hadn't walked very far up the first wandering cobblestone drive before we determined how helpful a second look at that map would be, and since I had made a photo of it, Hannah studied it closely. Still, even though we knew Morrison was in section 30, section 30 was thick with tombstones and crypts and vaults.

My experience with cemeteries are neat rows of markers or tombs all facing the same direction - east - awaiting the Second Coming. If those cemeteries are like long rows of neatly planted corn stalks, then Pere LaChaise is a thicket of scrub under a great oak hammock, with winding cobblestone walks bordering irregularly shaped, but well numbered sections. We wandered on in more than a little awe looking for section 30.

We came to a fork in the path and a guide appeared.

“J-em morris-N?”

“Oui,” we replied.

We were close, but would not have found it without the guide. The marker is low compared to the others around it and seems tucked behind larger and older crypts. Lauren thanked the guide by answering a couple of his questions about us before he departed, off, between the vaults, and Hannah conversed with a cat perched on a nearby vault.

We agreed that the cat was the reincarnated Jim, watching over the site, and I speculated that the guide was the ghost of a Doors roadie.

At another fork in the road we paused, not determined to go in any particuar direction when a women, pulling weeds raised up and asked "Delacroix?" to which Lauren replied "Oui, Merci." The woman pointed up one of the paths, took her rake and walked away.

Just the day before Lauren had paused in he Louvre to look into the big, big scale paintings the French Romantic created. The pause at his tomb was a fine way to thank rge artist for hs art, especially when guided there by a gardner woman.

By the time we arrived at Oscar Wilde’s tombstone, the solitude of Pere LaChaise was being eroded. We slowed our pace, circled at a distance allowing a couple from somewhere in America and a large lady in pink chiffonesque drapery to drift away. We then eased in for our own time.

Hannah studied the inscriptions, notes, flowers, trinkets and thousands of kisses left on the massive art deco block, and then planted one of her own.

We left by way of the gate on Rue Des Rondeaux, passing several florist shops, thinking what a great location.


She prepares to beg.
Scarf tight, hands folded,
hem tucked under bent knees,
she sits in silence
as if readying for prayer.

She makes no eye contact,
she only sees shoes
and shopping bags and
what leg shows below the knee.
She casts no shadow
in the noon sun,
listening for the
clunk of a euro
in her Starbucks chalice
on the Champs-Élysées

The First Steps

It's always the steps closest to the door that are unsure, in either leaving or arriving. Our departure from home was fine and the drive to Orlando International Airport (MCO) was quick and uneventful. It was the last mile or so that caused the first whichway only because we were not sure of the entrance into the parking lot, the one with long term at a lower rate with a shuttle.

After a quick circle through the short term high rate garage, we exited and got directions from the toll taker to the red lot. Within moments we were parked, on the shuttle on on our way to the terminal, odd use for a word that for us is the beginning.

The whimsical-with-a-nod-to-the-future architecture of Orlando is present at the airport as well as bright signs and glass shuttles and assistants to manage at a moment's notice any too large queue or misdirected foot traffic. I believe the place to be conceived with the arrivals in mind with methods to way welcome and embrace and verify and transport and entertain for as long as possible before having to manage the same people again as departures...tired, tired, tired.

I bought a pack of M&M's for the flight and a copy of The Daily Telegraph, the only London newspaper in the newsstand.