TRAVEL with pat and lew

Archive for the ‘… 2010’ Category

* Mykonos & Santorini … our 25th anniversary present to ourselves

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 25, 2010

Our whole life since we retired is basically a vacation, interrupted by writing novels and enjoying times with our family and friends. So how do you do something special to celebrate 25 terrific years of marriage? You could do a whole lot worse than go to the Greek Islands.

Actually, we were a year late, and it was our 26th anniversary this year. But who’s counting?

Our plan was simple. Find the most beautiful place in the world and basically do not much once we got there. Here’s what we saw each day. So how do you think we did?

this was our view from our room in Mykonos

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and this is what it looked like from our room in Santorini

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* the Vencia hotel in Mykonos is spectacular

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 25, 2010

We never use a travel agent for any of our travels. But we did this time, mainly because the boat schedule between Mykonos and Santorini was not available when we had to book and pay for the air tickets, so we wanted somebody who knew to make sure we got where we had to go. Our travel agent was Efi Mihalopoulou at Fantasy Travel in Athens … http://www.fantasytravelofgreece.com/. Efi was terrific to deal with, always thorough and prompt, and we got an excellent result, including her recommendation for our hotel in Mykonos.

The Vencia Boutique Hotel … http://www.vencia.gr/ … is a family-owned hotel located on the hill overlooking Mykonos Town. It’s a 5-10 minute walk down and a little more coming back up but not a problem.

I think we had the best room (#124), with a picture window view of the harbor below and a balcony with the same great view. We enjoyed four nights in a row of spectacular sunsets.

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sunset from our balcony in Mykonos

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The infinity pool was just below our balcony. It looked like you could swim right over the edge, but not so. It was perfectly safe. There was a bar at the pool (of course), comfortable lounge chairs and umbrellas. Every day was filled with bright sun. Actually it was raining when we arrived, but by the time we had retrieved our luggage and passed out the other side of the airport, the sun was shining and it never stopped.

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in the pool in Mykonos

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There is a restaurant at the Vencia, set on a veranda overlooking the sea. An excellent buffet breakfast was included but the real treat was dinner. The young lady who was the cook (the one wearing the hat) prepared one outstanding dish after another. We never eat in hotel restaurants, but we tried it the first night when we were tired from our flights (Paris to Athens to Mykonos), and we came back for three more nights. We can’t make a higher recommendation than that.

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the Vencia's wonderful staff

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* Shirley Valentine made us do it

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 25, 2010

We said we weren’t going to do anything or go anywhere, but we did take a walk (one walk! … see separate post) in Mykonos Town and we did go to the site where the movie Shirley Valentine was filmed in 1989. Things are a little more developed than they were then, but just as charming. The ocean was warm, the ladies were topless (not Pat), and our snack at the taverna was perfect. The Vencia driver took us there and picked us up when we called. And by the way, if you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a good one.

at Shirley Valentine's beach and taverna

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* Mykonos Town … just to prove we left our hotel

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 25, 2010

It’s beautiful. Narrow streets, wide curving bay, cruise ships coming and going and lit up at night, lots of shops and restaurants, bars and night clubs. There was much to do there and we did almost none of it. We had one nice lunch along the port and conversed with a British couple from one of the ships. But why should I try to tell you when we have pictures …

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Mykonos Town

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more Mykonos Town

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* doing pretty much nothing in Santorini, but doing it in style at the marvelous Aria Suites

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 25, 2010

Do you think it’s easy doing nothing? Well, actually it is.  We were served breakfast on our balcony each morning, including champagne. Then we had to choose which balcony to sit on, or go down to the pool. We read a lot, Pat swam, and I actually did some writing.

We stayed at the Aria Suites hotel … http://www.ariasuites.com/santorini.php … in the Rigoletto suite, which was gorgeous: a beautiful and very comfortable bedroom, large living room, and two balconies with slightly different views of the sea. The staff was also terrific. Dimitra, with Pat in the top middle of the second photo below, was always available, cheerful and accommodating. The room was made up twice each day, and the “good night” runner at the bottom of the bed always made us smile.

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* dining in Santorini

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 25, 2010

The Aria Suites is located around the corner from the main street of Fira (Thira), the “big” town on Santorini, which must have more high quality jewelry and clothing shops per linear foot than anyplace else on earth. There’s also a funicular and donkeys to get up and down the steep hill from the cruise ship tenders below. Or you can walk the 588 steps.

There are a wide variety of restaurants. We had an exquisite meal overlooking the sea, mousaka at what seemed to be an authentic taverna, and a tuna salad on toast at the closest thing to a diner we found.

dining in Santorini

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* Oia … pronounced Ia … at the very end of the island and definitely worth the trip

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 25, 2010

We probably wouldn’t have strayed far from our hotel in Santorini, except for the arrival of a cruise ship carrying our good friends Rawy and Nijole. In the winter, we live down the lane from them in Key West. And they have an apartment in Paris, so we see them several times each summer. It also turned out we were in London at the same time in July. And now on Santorini the same day in September. In October, we’ll all be back where we started in Key West.

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Pat with Rawy & Nijole

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Rawy and Nijole took the donkey ride up the hill and we met them at the top. We walked around Santorini, made a stop at our hotel, and then took a taxi (about 20 minutes) to Oia. Why go to Oia when it’s so beautiful in Fira? The pictures below don’t begin to show how spectacular Oia is: white cliffs, rocks and buildings, with brilliant blue domes and highlights, a monstrously high cliff overlooking the sea. We had an excellent light lunch, walked some more, got a taxi back.

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* with friends in Paris

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 25, 2010

We love Paris, and we love to share Paris with our friends. Our return flight from Athens brought us to Paris, and we couldn’t resist adding another three nights to the more than five weeks we’ve already been in Paris this summer. And how great to meet up with our friends from Key West, Tom and Lucy, and our friends from New York, Kathy and Dan. Wonderful new memories.

Lucy & Tom, Kathy & Dan, Pat & Lew

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We now have another “friend” to visit in Paris, our lock on the Pont de l’Archeveche.  We’re pleased to report that it’s doing well. If you don’t know what this is about, see … * “PAT + LEW 9/8/84″ on the Pont de l’Archeveche

visiting our lock

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Notre Dame de Paris is the cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris, constructed between 1163 and 1345. It is an architectural and engineering marvel. We always see the outside when we’re in Paris. How can you miss it? This time, we came by at 10:00 am and there was no line. If you get a chance to go to mass there, the organ is unbelievably powerful.

Notre Dame Cathedral

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* Paris mystery sign explained

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 1, 2010

THANK YOU to Jonathan Darnborough (who was my tutor in the magnificent course on Beethoven I took recently at Oxford) who has found the signs on the French traffic sign site.

And thanks also to those of who who shared your creative explanations. See COMMENTS at the bottom of the post  * images from the streets of Paris

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Sign without red bar … Définition : Chemin obligatoire pour piétons … Mandatory Pedestrian Path

Sign with red bar … Définition : Fin de chemin obligatoire pour piétons … End of Mandatory Pedestrian Path

the sign we saw … Note that the man & child are NOT holding hands (does this mean anything?) … ALSO … this sign was on a street in the Marais, NOT placed at the end of, or anywhere near, a pedestrian area.

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So, now we know what French officialdom says the signs mean. Now if anyone can figure out how the French actually determine where to put them …

  • We did see one sign (with bar) at the end of a pedestrian area. All others seem to be at the end of streets which are NOT pedestrian areas.
  • And the fact remains that no one in Paris has any idea what the signs mean, and will make up a creative story on the spot if asked.

Next time you’re in Paris and see the sign, ask some one and write in what they say.

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Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Paris | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

* French resistance in WWII and celebration in 2010

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 29, 2010

Pat with Jean Moulin

The French Resistance to the Nazi occupation is both a source of French pride and a bitter memory of how many collaborated, and how often the collaborators hated the resistance fighters for bringing the wrath of the Nazis against “innocent” civilians. It seems, however, as the years pass, the stature of the resistance is growing and the collaborators are increasingly forgotten.

musee Jean Moulin

Evidence of this is found at the musee Jean Moulin, opened in 1994 on the roof of the Gare Montparnasse. In 1940, Moulin was serving as prefect of Chartres when he refused to sign a document prepared by the Germans accusing innocent persons of killing French civilians who were in fact killed by German bombing. To prevent himself from revealing anything under torture, Moulin tried to commit suicide by slitting his throat. He later escaped from German custody, made contact with resistance forces, and in October 1941 went to London to join General de Gaulle. He was sent back to France with the mission of unifying Free France resistance to prepare for the liberation of France. He was betrayed and arrested in 1943, tortured by the Nazis to the point that he died from his beatings. Initially buried at the cemetery of Pere Lachaise, his casket was given the supreme honor when in 1964, it was re-located to the Pantheon, the home of “the great men of France” and one woman (Marie Curie).

Read Patrick Marnhan’s Resistance and Betrayal for a poignant description of Moulin’s activities and impact.

Jean Moulin is certainly the most famous of the French Resistance fighters, and also the best looking. The scarf around his neck covers the wounds he inflicted on himself when he tried to commit suicide. The photo of Jean Moulin in “the hat” has become an icon seen all over France.

liberation of Paris

Paris was liberated in August 1944 after Allied forces had fought across France from the landing beaches at Normandy. General Eisenhower initially planned to bypass Paris in order not to slow the Allied advance towards Germany, but Generals Le Clerc and de Gaulle ordered an uprising in the city (which infuriated Eisenhower) that forced his hand. French troops lead the entry into Paris. The German commander, General von Choltitz, defied Hitler’s orders and did not set off explosives which had been placed to destroy many of the most important buildings, monuments and bridges.

Read Is Paris Burning by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins for a spectacular account of the liberation of Paris.

Pat and I attended the 65th anniversary celebration of the liberation of Paris, held in the great plaza before the Hotel de Ville. It was a moving event, even without understanding the words spoken. Several veterans, who presumably participated in 1944, spoke while pictured then and now, as did a young woman we think might have been a descendant of Charles de Gaulle. We were pleased also by the recognition given to France’s World War II allies, including particularly General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill.

celebration of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Paris in August 1944

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* images from the streets of Paris

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 29, 2010

When people ask us what is our favorite thing to do in Paris, we always say “just walking around, enjoying the city.” Of course I always have my camera ready. Here’s some of what I saw during our three weeks in Paris in August 2010.

Pay special note to the street sign of the man and little girl which is explained (or not) below.

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So now, did you see this sign? Have you ever seen it in Paris? Do you know what it means?

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The first time we saw the sign, several years ago, we were sitting in a corner cafe just across the street from St. Sulpice (the church from the Da Vinci Code). We asked our waiter what it meant. He didn’t know, so he asked another patron. Before long, the entire cafe was buzzing and no one had a clue.

Since then, we’ve asked many Parisians, and we’ve received many stories. Different stories! To our ears, every explanation we heard was made up on the spot, a total guess to avoid the embarrassment of saying “I don’t know.”

But nobody, it seems, does know. The sign is all over Paris, along with another sign, identical except without the red bar across it, and nobody knows what it means.

If you have an authoritative answer, or even an entertaining made-up story, please comment below.

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Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Paris | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

* Pat and Diane at Le Grand Colbert

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 29, 2010

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Pat, Diane & Keanu at the Grand Colbert

Le Grand Colbert is located between the Louvre and the Opera on rue Vivienne, and it is one of our favorite restaurants in Paris. It was also the location in “Something’s Gotta Give” where Jack finds Diane and, alas, also Keanu.

Pat is sitting in the very seat occupied by Diane.

Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Paris | 1 Comment »

* “PAT + LEW 9/8/84″ on the Pont de l’Archeveche

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 29, 2010

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The Pont de l’Archeveche connects the Isle de Cite with the Left Bank, affording one of the best views of Notre Dame. The fence is wrought iron filled with cyclone fencing. On the cyclone fence are hundreds and hundreds of locks, many of which are inscribed to proclaim the love of the couple who placed it there.

Pat and I bought our lock at BHV (Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville). When we asked where we could have the lock engraved, we were immediately directed to a shop along the rue de Tempe side of BHV. We were not the first to make that request. So now

PAT + LEW  9/8/84

has made its appearance on the Pont de l’Archeveche, 13 panels from the Left Bank, 22 panels from the other end, a testament to our love of each other and of Paris. Visit us when the next time you’re in the world’s most beautiful city.

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* Meeting the French at Work at the Brasserie Mollard

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 26, 2010

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Brasserie Mollard

There are hundreds of brasseries in Paris and many of them are utterly stunning. None more so than the Brasserie Mollard at 115, rue Saint Lazare, in the 8th arr. (see http://www.mollard.fr/)

Pat and I, with our friend Nijole, visited Brasserie Mollard as part our our 3rd “Meeting the French at Work” experience. Stephane Malchow was our gracious guide to the interior details created by E. Niermans, also architect of the Hotel Negresco in Nice, the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and the Moulin Rouge. Each of the magnificent tiles tells a fascinating story. Most were installed when the Mollard opened in 1895. In its 115 years, the Mollard has been owned by just two families.

After seeing the restaurant, I asked if we could also see the kitchen. Stephane was surprised – apparently mosts tours do not include the kitchen – but off we went. What was amazing was the small size of the space used to provide meals for 170 seats, as many as 250 meals a night. We watched the preparation of entrees (in France this is the appetizer not the main course), the shaping of potatoes, and the steaming oven for the fish.

in the kitchen at Brasserie Mollard

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* musee Carnavalet … the history of Paris told through its art

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 23, 2010

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the garden at the entrance of Musee de Carnavalet

Hotel Carnavalet was built in the 16th c. for the president of the Parliament of Paris. The museum now housed there tells the story of Paris from prehistoric days to the present, mostly through a stunning collection of paintings from many different eras in the city’s history.

The French Revolution

From the storming of the Bastille, to the death of King Louis and Marie Antionette , to the subsequent death of those who began the revolution, and ending with a new dictator named Napoleon, all aspects of the bloody years beginning in 1789 are portrayed in marvelous paintings and artifacts. Here is a selection of our favorites …

Corday, David's painting, Marat

One day in 1893, Jean Paul Marat was taking a bath and received a visit from Charlotte Corday. The result is portrayed in a powerful painting by Jacque-Louis David.

Jean-Paul Marat was a Swiss-born physician, political theorist, and scientist who became a radical journalist and politician. Marat was one of the more extreme voices of the French Revolution For the two months leading up to the downfall of the Girondin faction, he was one of the three most important men in France, alongside Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre. Then he was dead.

We have read several books on the French Revolution and still don’t have it straight. Maybe there is no “straight,” but it seems to us that a lot of people, some innocent like Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, and many evil, died in a decade long bloodbath that accomplished very little, since it ended up substituting the dictator Napoleon for the kings, who later returned anyway. But the art in the Carnavalet is superb.

Marie Antoinette

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Paris … after the Revolution and Napoleon were gone

the glamor of 19th century Paris

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* our emotional visit with Vincent van Gogh at Auvers-sur-Oise

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 18, 2010

to learn more about Lew Weinstein and his novels,

go to … http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/

Pat and I have followed Van Gogh’s path this summer, from Arles where the “Yellow House” was destroyed in WWII to the asylum at St. Remy en Provence to the final destination at Auvers-sur-Oise.

(see https://patandlewtravel.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/arles-roman-amphitheatre-van-goghs-cafe-and-french-bullfighting/)

(see https://patandlewtravel.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/st-remy-de-provence-in-vincents-footsteps/)

It has been an emotional journey, tracing the path of the last several years of Van Gogh’s life. But nowhere has the sadness been so poignant as in the tiny room at the top of a dark narrow staircase in the inn L’Auberge Ravoux, where Van Gogh died at the age of 37 after shooting himself in the chest two days before. In a slightly larger room, also on the 2nd floor, we viewed a wonderful documentary showing many of his Auvers paintings and excerpts from letters to his brother Theo from that same period.

Perhaps it was the aura created by the background music by Schubert, or maybe the footsteps coming up the stairs, but we surely felt Vincent’s presence, and we will forever appreciate his art in a more profound way than ever before. We watched the video twice and would love to purchase a copy. Does anyone know where this may be possible?

Van Gogh’s room at the L’Auberge Ravoux in the village of Auver-sur-Oise

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A short distance up a hill from L’Auberge Ravoux is the village church. When we looked at Van Gogh’s heartbreakingly disturbed and hauntingly beautiful painting of this church, we had no idea of the monumental size of the actual church. How can we enter any other person’s mind, let alone that of a man who would commit suicide within a few months of creating this painting. What terrors did Vincent see in this place designed to foster solemn reflection?

Van Gogh’s church at Auvers

church at Auvers – interior

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When you walk past the church, following the signs to the cemetery, along the road Van Gogh must have taken many times, palette and brushes in hand, you pass the wheat fields he painted and soon reach the grave sites where Vincent and Theo Van Gogh are buried.

It’s a peaceful walk, and then you think of what Van Gogh painted along there …

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Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Paris | 4 Comments »

* the basilica of Saint Denis – Pillars of the Earth come to spectacular life (and death)

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 18, 2010

St. Denis Basilica

On the site of a Roman cemetery in what is now the just beyond the northern limits of the city of Paris a church was constructed in the 12th century that seems in every respect the embodiment of what Ken Follett described so well in his magnificent historical novel Pillars of the Earth.

St. Denis - exterior views

It contains soaring stone pillars and arches, magnificent stained glass windows, and the tombs of virtually every king and queen in the long history of France, including the alleged recovered and relocated ashes of the beheaded Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI (under the polished wood) …

tombs of the kings & queens of France

… and what purports to be a portion of the shriveled heart of King Louis XVII, the son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI who never ruled. It wasn’t always a total or lasting pleasure to be royalty in France.

the heart of King Louis XVII

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* Oxford … more than you could ever imagine

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2010

to learn more about Lew Weinstein and his novels,

go to … http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/

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THE HALL at Christ Church College where we took our meals, and where Harry Potter once flew

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Oxford University in England offers an extensive set of summer programs. We are part of Week 4 (of 5) of THE OXFORD EXPERIENCE offered at Christ Church College, one of the 39 separate colleges which make up the University.

see http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/courses/details.php?id=134

for all the details about the 2010 Oxford Experience program

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Christ Church College was founded in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey and re-founded (after Wolsey’s fall from grace) by King Henry VIII in 1546. Henry, his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, and other great figures from English and Oxford history stare down at us as we eat. There is of course a pervading sense of tradition, and the food was great as well. By the middle of the week, sometimes we just came in and sat down, paying no mind to the surroundings. But one glance up and it came back in a flash. We felt privileged to be there, eating at the same table where Queen Elizabeth (both Queen Elizbeths) had eaten before.

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We arrived on Sunday, and every part of the arrival experience was superb. The course packets were ready, a young man carried our luggage to the dorm, and our en-suite room for two was actually larger and more comfortable than we anticipated.

The primary purpose, of course, was the fantastic academic experience we had, Pat’s course on ETHICS and mine on BEETHOVEN. We’ll describe our class experiences in a separate post. For this post, however, I’ll try to present a sampling of our week’s experience outside of class.

ALICE WAS HERE TOO

Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Dodgson, a mathematics tutor (professor) at Christ College from 1855 to 1898. Alice was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, and Dodgson took to making up stories to entertain Alice and her sisters, often basing his characters and settings on local people and places.

Our walking tour of Christ Church College was given by a delightful and engaging person whose name I am embarrassed to say I did not write down and don’t remember (HELP-if you know the name, please let me know). The tour included many Alice places, including the great tree and the Alice gate through which the real Alice apparently peered through into what really was a forbidden garden. And then, right on cue, the current dean’s cat appeared in exactly the place where Alice’s cat had been close to 150 years ago.

Alice’s actual wonderland

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HIGH TABLE

Oxford, founded in the 16th century, is full of traditions, one of which is to honor important guests by seating them at a raised table at the front of the Hall, directly beneath the portraits of Henry and Elizabeth.

We were so honored (as were all of our classmates over the course of the week). This is a dress-up event. First we had sherry and then stood by our assigned seats at the High Table while the other diners were allowed to enter the Hall. Everyone else is then allowed to enter the Hall and stand behind their chairs. When all are assembled, Grace is said from the podium, in Latin! Then everyone sits and the meal can begin.

Our meal was the same as at the tables below, except that we had several wines offered during the meal. The conversation, as at every table, was fresh and interesting, with intelligent people from many parts of the world, including the course director and the tutors.

dressed for High Table

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THE MORRIS MEN

Oxford leavens its serious academic purpose with more than a little silliness and fun. After dinner one night, we were offered sparkling wine and the unique cavorting of the Morris Men, with their sticks and bells. Yes, that’s a Green Bay Packer’s cheesehead. The story is that the Oxford professor wearing it, although born in England, was raised in Madison, WI. After the performance, about 10 of us went down to the river to an outdoor pub … and the Morris men followed us and performed again at the pub.

Morris Men & cheese head leading them

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SIR ROGER AND LADY PATRICIA AT IFFLEY TRACK

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister was the first man to break the 4 minute mile, one of the truly outstanding athletic achievements of the 20th century. He’s Sir Roger now, 80 years old, still living in Oxford where he went to school and also had a distinguished medical career. We walked to the outskirts of Oxford, through a new sports complex, and got our first view of the small stands as they were 56 years ago. It’s hard to express the thrill Pat (and me too) felt walking onto that track.

Sir Roger’s track at Iffley

It had been Pat’s intent to run one lap around the track, but she is still recovering from an injury and hasn’t run in almost 5 months, so that couldn’t be. She did, however, run her first 30 yards in months and came acoss the finish line with an enormous smile.

You can see a clip of the race at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz3ZLpCmKCM. I get chills each time I watch it.

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THE GRANDEUR OF CHRIST CHURCH COLLEGE, OXFORD

There is no way to capture the grandeur of Christ Church College no matter how many photos I put here. Everywhere you walk offers a magnificent view and an abiding sense of the history of the place. Kings and Prime Ministers lived here, and our humanist tradition owes much to what has been learned and taught at this place. Here’s a collage of photos which give some idea of what it was like …

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8 GLASSES OF WHISKEY

One night after dinner, we went to the Senior Common Room (Faculty Lounge) where tables were set with 8 glasses at each place.  This event is held each week in the summer and hosted by John Harris, one of the top administrator of Christ Church College (did you guess he’s the one in the kilt). We each tasted 8 different whiskeys, each without diluting with water and again with a “splash” of still water, all the while listening to a talk about the production and marketing of whiskey that was informative and also quite amusing.

whiskey for all

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WINSTON SLEPT HERE … but not for long

We were so busy, what with the classes and the champagne and the whiskey, that we only went out of town once, on a bus (30 minutes) to Blenheim Palace. Blenheim is promoted as Winston Churchill’s birthplace, and it is, but he never lived here. His mother was visiting the Duke of Marlborough when she fell, prompting an earlier delivery than expected. I guess they stayed for a few days and then went home.

Winston Churchill was born in this bed

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CHAMPAGNE IN THE CATHEDRAL GARDEN

On Friday night at the end of the week, we were served champagne in the Cathedral Garden (Alice’s forbidden garden). That night at dinner, each class sat with their tutor. We received our Certificates, of which we are very proud, and then … it never wanted to end … drinks at my instructor’s room. I can’t imagine how our week could have been any better.

champagne in the Cathedral Garden

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So that was our week, in addition to each of us taking a great course and meeting many terrific people. Oh, I forgot all about the Christ Church College Picture Gallery, on the campus and home to over 300 paintings including a stunning collection of Italian Renaissance masterpieces. Then there’s the Christ Church Cathedral, the only Cathedral in England which is actually part of a college, with the only stained glass window of Thomas Beckett that Henry VIII was not able to destroy, where we attended Evensong sung by the Oxford choir. And the marvelous concert performance, piano and mezzo soprano, given at another of the Oxford colleges by my Beethoven instructor and his wife. Oh, and then there’s Blackwell’s, the most spectacular bookstore either of us have ever seen, and on this topic we’re experts.

We’ll describe the courses in a separate post. Pat’s Ethics course was the talk of the week, what with their humorous discussions of euthanasia. And I had years of musical pleasure opened for me by an incredible instructor whose way with words and friendly manner was as impressive as his knowledge of the music and concert-level piano playing.

But we finally had to leave, vowing as so may others do to return again. But not before one last breakfast with new friends in the old Hall. Then it’s off to London for a weekend and back to Collioure.

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Posted in ... 2010, ... UK - Oxford | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

* Ethics and Beethoven … two courses in the OXFORD EXPERIENCE

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2010

Pat and I decided we would take separate courses,

so we could double and then share our learning, and also meet more interesting people.

Our plan worked out just fine!

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see http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/courses/details.php?id=134

for all the details about the 2010 Oxford Experience program.

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Pat’s course

ETHICS:  QUESTIONS OF LIFE AND DEATH

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We had nine women and one man in our class, with an age range from 20 years old to 79.  There were 5 Americans among the group.  There was a mother & daughter, and a brother and sister.  Also two friends who met at Oxford Experience several years ago and return each year. Now that we’ve taken a course at Oxford, it is easy to understand why so many people come back on a regular basis.

tutor Alexandra Couto

Our tutor was Alexandra Couto, the youngest of the tutors and also the only woman. She is currently working on her PhD in philosophy at Oxford, having taught Oxford undergraduates for the last six years. She was delightful as well as intelligent and had a wonderful ability to allow free expression while still keeping the group on track.

Here is our group, except for Gemma, who was otherwise engaged …

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Our group was diverse, very friendly and quite outgoing. Each person participated and all views were given respect. Alexandra always kept us on track, but discussion was always lively, intelligent and informative. We discussed the different models of Ethics, comparison of ethical theories, morality, medical ethics, ethics of war, the environment. All difficult issues.

Alexandra would give a short lecture and we would discuss the issues.  Then we would be given a specific set of facts and divided into groups of 2 to discuss. Each group reported to the class their resolve of the issue.  Sometimes Alexandra had each of us take a different viewpoint and we had to defend it. Sometimes we had to take the opposite view point of what we believed.

Our class room was set up with chairs in a circle and each day we changed seats so that our discussion groups were with different people.   By the end of the week each person had the opportunity to be partnered with everyone in the class.

The best part of the entire experience was that you got to stretch your mind, discuss, listen, learn. All points of view were put out for discussion. The amazing part was the fun we had. With such heavy topics to discuss we surprisingly spent the major part of each class laughing.  Sometimes when you discuss such serious topics you tend to take them to the absurd levels, hence the outrageous comes into play.

Random photos of our group and other friends I made …

one of the photos is blurred, but our thinking was always crystal clear ... just don't ask about the cat!

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Lew’s course

BEETHOVEN AND THE DAWN OF ROMANTICISM

in the music room at Christ Church College, Oxford

Reflections on my first day of class in 45 years …

There are 14 people in the class. I think all the others are far advanced over me, but that just gives me more opportunity to learn. The tutor (professor), Jonathan Darnborough, is equally facile with the piano and a computer. He is an accomplished concert pianist and is able to illustrate any point with just the right selection. Likewise, he uses the Sibelius program to project a large image of the score being discussed, and takes us through the notes with a guiding hand also projected on the screen.

We will meet two times each morning for at total of 3 hours, broken by a coffee break in the Junior Common Room. The first day’s sessions are titled “Characteristics of Beethoven’s music” and “Beethoven’s piano music.”

I found both sessions fascinating. Jonathan talked about (and played examples of) big dramatic gestures, the assembly of small musical ideas into large themes, the apparent simplicity of some of these themes, the relation of every moment in a piece of music to every other moment,  the architecture of a movement, the journey away from the home key and the eventual return, the establishment of the home key before the journey, and Beethoven’s later purposeful and challenging blurring of the boundaries when changing keys. All with examples from the piano and/or Sibelius. Brilliant!

I kept thinking about the parallels between composing a piece of music and my challenges writing a novel. For example, at a given point, is the theme in the novel sufficiently developed before moving on to different action, or can more be done to make sure it is “nailed” for the reader?

tutor Jonathan Darnborough

Our tutor, who lectures for Oxford University, has written orchestral, choral, chamber and solo instrumental works, and is currently working on an opera based on Euripides’ Hecuba. Jonathan’s works have been performed in Britain, Europe and the U.S.; he is also a prize-winning pianist who has performed widely.

All of this experience came into our course. For example … many times over the course of the week, Jonathan would show us a piece of music and play on the piano how, in his words, “the composer might have written it. But he didn’t!” And then he would explain and have us listen to the unexpected effect the composer achieved.

Further information about Jonathan and his wife Claire can be found at …  http://www.jdarnborough.f2s.com/.

Over the rest of the week, Jonathan taught us about Beethoven’s piano music, symphonies, concertos and opera, and the impact of his brilliance on those who followed him, particularly Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. Jonathan’s perceptive analysis of the struggles of those who followed Beethoven, and the decisions they each made whether to try to build on the master’s innovations or react against them, brought a very human dimension to the problems faced by serious artists in many different disciplines. It was fascinating to see how these decisions played out in specific musical passages and works.

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NEW FRIENDS

A big part of THE OXFORD EXPERIENCE is the opportunity to become friends with people who are knowledgeable and passionate about their interests. That was certainly true in the Beethoven group, and in Pat’s group, they seem to have set a whole new standard.

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Posted in ... 2010, ... UK - Oxford | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

* pat and lew are guest bloggers at onetravel.com

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 3, 2010

We have been invited to be guest bloggers at the on-line site of travel agent oneTravel.com …

You can see the selected post, reporting on one of our recent trips in  Provence, at … http://onetravel.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/a-cemetery-in-gordes-…-lavender-fields-…-a-synagogue-in-carpentras/

You can check out OneTravel’s main site,

and there arrange your travel reservations, at

http://www.onetravel.com

This is Gordes ... "WOW!"

Posted in ... 2010 | Leave a Comment »

* London … with friends from New York and Key West, and dinner at Westminster Abbey

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 20, 2010

After reluctantly completing our week at Oxford, we took the Oxford Tube coach (bus) to London. It’s a ride of about an hour and quite comfortable. The bus was filled with young ladies on their way to what they called a “hen do,” a party for a soon-to-be bride.

We stayed at the Millennium, where we had stayed before, a quite comfortable and reasonably priced hotel in Knightsbridge, close to an underground stop and within a few blocks of the fabulous Harrod’s, probably the world’s greatest department store.

FRIENDS FROM KEY WEST AND NEW YORK

Rawy and Nijole, our friends from Key West, were in London after spending a week in the English countryside. We had a sinful snack in Harrod’s chocolate bar, and were told about the unexplained “crop circles” they had seen. Are these the creation of pranksters or extra-terrestrials?

On Sunday morning, we had brunch with one of Pat’s dear running friends from New York, also named Pat, and her friend Tom at a delightful restaurant in Sloane Square, a 15 minute walk from our hotel. After breakfast, we went to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square to see an exhibit about real and imitation masterpieces. After reading the erudite descriptions of how copies were made and detected, my conclusion is that the curators are still not sure if the museum has the original or not, and that in 50 years, they will draw other conclusions as more sophisticated techniques are developed.

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DINNER AT WESTMINSTER ABBEY

But clearly the most spectacular event of the weekend was dinner at Westminster Abbey. Last spring, Sandy, one of Pat’s friends in Key West had introduced us to her new neighbors, Jeff and Stuart, who lived in England and had just purchased a home in Key West. They invited us to visit them in Oxford, where Jeff works. That didn’t work out, but we did get this invitation from Jeff, with directions that included the words Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and the big Cathedral on the left.

We taxied to Westminster Abbey and were given directions by the guard at the gate, “Just go left, then right, then left again, and keep going. You can’t miss it.” So off we set through a series of medieval passages and gardens. The deeper we got into the complex, the more I was convinced someone would soon come to arrest us. But eventually we found Jeff and Stuart’s unique and beautiful apartment.

on the way to Little Cloisters

We did indeed begin with drinks in the garden. What an understatement! The garden is a large common space with small tables, and the view is Parliament!

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Then came dinner. In the marvelous setting. With great conversation. And it was delicious, including Jeff’s main course and Stuart’s signature dessert.

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HAIR

On Monday, we went to one of the many half-price ticket offices in London’s Theatre District and got really good seats to a production of HAIR, the “mother of all rock musicals,” at the John Gielgud Theatre. One of us really like it, and the other … not so much.

Sasha Allen stars as Dionne in 'Hair'

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The next morning, after another breakfast with Rawy and Nijole, who had seen the apartments at Buckingham Palace, open for two weeks each year while the Queen is elsewhere. Then a taxi to Liverpool Station, a train to Stansted Airport, Ryanair (on time!) to Perpignan, a bus to the train station, a train to Collioure, and we were home. For four days, when we go to Paris for three weeks on two different home exchanges.

******

Posted in ... 2010, ... UK - London | 2 Comments »

* Avignon … festival performers and magnificent art at the Calvet

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 13, 2010

Palais des Papes

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We had seen the Palace of the Popes on a previous visit, so this time we parked and immediately headed for the street life. And we were lucky – it was festival time in Avignon! The streets were crowded with tourists (like us) and performers trying to get us to attend their shows later in the day. It reminded us of the Edinburgh Festival. It was just grand.

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There is a stunning museum in Avignon called the Calvet, founded in keeping with the wishes of Esprit Calvet (1728 -1810), a physician in Avignon who left his collections to the city of Avignon at the time of his death in 1810. The current collection is quite diverse. Here are just a few of the works I found quite moving …

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la mort de Joseph Bara by Jacques-Louis David

Per Wikipedia … Joseph Bara is said to have been a young French republican soldier at the time of the Revolution. He was hailed as a hero by the leaders of the movement. Having been trapped by the enemy and being ordered to cry “Vive le Roi” (“Long live the King”) to save his own life, it is said he preferred instead to die crying“Vive la République” (“Long live the Republic”). This version of the history of Joseph Bara is disputed and considered as a “republican myth” by some historians.

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Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Avignon, ... France - PROVENCE | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

* Arles … Roman amphitheatre, Van Gogh’s cafe, and French bullfighting

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 13, 2010

We had been to Arles twice before, both for short visits. This time we had a little longer to wander.

Our first stop was a museum called the Foundation Van Gogh, containing works by many artists in tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. It is always astonishing to remember that Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime and that his works now sell for as much as $39 million.

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Roman amphitheatre in Arles

The main attraction for me in Arles was the Roman arena, built around 90 AD, large enough to hold 20,000. It was formerly the site of battles to the death between gladiators, for the amusement of the wealthy Romans. Today, we learned to our surprise, it would be the site of the French version of bullfighting, in which the bull is not killed.

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We found a new hat for Pat and had an excellent lunch in the Place du Forum, looking at the restaurant which Van Gogh painted in his famous “Cafe at Night.” As is frequently the case, with Van Gogh and others, the painting looks a lot better than the real cafe ever did. And the lady looks great too.

Pat's hat, Van Gogh's "Cafe at Night" and the cafe now

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Real bullfights, Spanish style, come to our town of Collioure once a year. Two years ago we went. We will never go again. It is a disgusting exhibition in which the bulls are taunted and weakened to reduce the danger to the matador, then finally killed and dragged out of the arena.

French bullfighting is different. In this form of bullfighting, introduced in 1402 in this very Amphitheatre in Arles in honor of the visit of Count Louis II of Provence, the bull is not killed. There is real danger, but the ones in danger are the young men who run in front of the bull and try to snatch strings tied to the bull’s horns.

The bull enters the ring, walks around, snorts, paws the ground. He is experienced. He knows what will happen. After a few minutes the bull is joined by a dozen young men, all extremely athletic. They take turns running in front of the bull, taunting the bull to chase them. When chased, the young man will try to grab a string from the bull’s horn and then save his life by leaping up and out of the arena, frequently smashing into the higher fence beyond. If he slips even slightly on the gravel, or doesn’t jump cleanly, he is in mortal danger. And sometimes, just to make it even more interesting, the bull jumps over the fence after him.

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Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Arles, ... France - PROVENCE | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

* caution to Avis car renters in Europe … Avis purposely and systematically over-charges the conversion of your bill from euros to dollars

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 13, 2010

.


There’s a clause in Avis’ European Car Rental Agreements which says …

“I confirm that I was offered a choice of payment in euros but chose to be billed in US dollars. (US$538.13 at exchange rate 0.72 euros to US$1.”

If your experience is like mine, no one will ever point out that phrase or offer you a choice of payment in euros. The bill you see will be presented in euros and you will have no idea that it will be converted to dollars before it is sent on to MasterCard.

What makes this a scam is that the exchange rate used by Avis will be substantially higher than the published rate used by MasterCard for all merchants who submit their bills in euros. In my case, the Avis invented rate was 1.38 dollars per euro versus the published rate for that day of 1.28 dollars per euro, a difference which cost me $28.00.

Avis does not tell you that they will use their own invented rate instead of the published rate used by everyone else.

Even after the fact it is very difficult to get Avis to tell you how they calculated your bill. It took me a month of phone calls and numerous misrepresentations by Avis billing department personnel, but Avis today (7/13/10) finally admitted to me that they are purposely and systematically over-charging customers by using the inflated euro conversion rate and by use of the confusing and untruthful “you have confirmed” message on the Rental Agreement when it is issued.

Then they blamed me.

The nice Avis lady told me I gave permission to be over-charged by signing the Rental Agreement. As if anyone in their right mind would knowingly give permission to be over-charged!

Avis counts on you not reading the “you have confirmed” clause when you’re in a hurry to get your car at the rental counter, with a line of customers behind you, and then not checking your credit card bill when it arrives many weeks later. Note to Avis: You got me at the rental counter, but I do check my credit card bill.

As a courtesy, Avis says they will refund the $28.00, but many days have passed and no refund has yet been posted to my MasterCard.

It’s a nasty scam!

Avis, why can’t you try harder

to treat your customers fairly?

******

Posted in ... 2010, planes, trains & automobiles, problems | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

* St. Remy de Provence … in Vincent’s footsteps

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 12, 2010

St. Remy de Provence is a beautiful charming place, full of great shops and restaurants and churches and the Roman city of Glanum, plus the very real presence of the ghost of Vincent Van Gogh. But before you get to St. Remy, there is a driving experience unlike any other … an overarching growth of plane trees into which you drive transfixed, on and on and on. (note: all of these photos were taken by Pat through the front window as we were driving.)

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From the center of town near the Boulevard Victor Hugo past the Tourist Office and onto dusty roadways where there used to be nothing but fields, the city has placed a series of 21 small reproductions of Van Gogh’s St. Remy paintings, done while he was a patient in the insane asylum which is at the end of the trail. We walked the path on a very hot day. There is considerable space, maybe 100 yards or so, between most of the paintings, and the walk was long enough to get a real feeling for the disturbed man who carried his paints and easel into the fields to paint the peasants and their surroundings. Here are two of the paintings set where they might have been painted in 1890 …

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The hospital St. Paul de Mausole is a peaceful place where Van Gogh was apparently quite happy and enormously productive in the last few months of his life, producing some of his finest if somewhat deranged work. Here is his room, the cloisters and the view of the garden through his barred window …

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We didn’t do justice to the Roman city of Glanum, constructed around 25 BC, abandoned in 260 AD, and first excavated in 1921. It was hot and we were tired, so we took a cab back into town, where there was a wonderful Van Gogh documentary at the air conditioned Musee Estrine. This photo is apparently of the partially reconstructed Roman temple dedicated to the cult of the Emperor’s family.

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Back in town, our energy restored by the cool air in the museum, we explored the fine shops of St. Remy and I fortified myself with coffee for the return drive at an outdoor restaurant that actually understood what “cafe American” is supposed to be.

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Posted in ... 2010, ... France - PROVENCE, ... France - St. Remy | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »