The Romance of Travel: Biarritz

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On the southwest corner of France on the Bay of Biscay, not far from the Spanish border, lies the beautiful town of Biarritz.

Part of the Basque Country, the town has a rich and varied history. It began as a small fishing and whaling village, became a popular destination for European aristocracy in the 19th century and, more recently, has become known as a premier surfing destination in Europe.

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A leisurely stroll through the town is the best way to take in the various beaches, the lighthouse, plazas, hotels, and old harbor.

The mix of architectural styles — belle époque, art deco, and neo-medieval — add to the town’s glamour.

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Biarritz is studded with elegant villas and charming homes with black filigree balconies, sturdy shutters, gardens and gates — all built to withstand the rough Atlantic storms.

Its maritime origins remain an integral part of the town. The beautiful cathedral, Notre Dame de Rocher, is situated on the harbor where it provided shelter and solace for the fishermen, sailors, and their families.

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A mosaic depiction of a ship is situated near the altar, a large clam shell serves as one of the fonts, and a model ship hangs from the ceiling.

A walk along the old harbor leads to one of many vista points,

and down to a promontory called La Vierge de le Rochelle. A bridge built by Gustave Eiffel in 1865 leads out to the statue of the Virgin Mary.

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At the top of the hill, a cafe with outdoor seating offers the perfect vantage point to watch the sun sink over the Atlantic.

Another day’s walk takes you up a wooded area that leads to more breath-taking views.

October hydrangeas in soft autumn colors lined the path of the hill-climb.

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The steep path offers benches and various viewpoints to watch the surfers,

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and to take in the spectacular views of the ocean and the hazy coast of Spain in the distance.

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There is a quality of light in Biarritz that adds to its beauty — dramatic, dark shadowy clouds pierced with sudden sunlight over waters that can be rough and white-capped, or seemingly calm with a vast shimmer. The weather this time of year can be fair and mild one day,

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stormy and brisk the next.

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A stop at the Miremont Patisserie Salon de Thé was the ideal way to end one such brisk autumn day.

Built in 1872, the cafe exudes elegance and old-world charm, with rich ornamentation, mirrored walls, and mosaic floors. A large window overlooks the ever-changing ocean. It was the perfect place to warm up with a cup of its famous hot chocolate.

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I chose the Chantilly. The cocoa and whipped cream were served separately to mix to taste. The hot chocolate was thick, dark, sweet, and delicious. A welcome treat on a blustery October afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romance of Travel — Scotland (Part 2) The Highlands

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(The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye — image from Pinterest, Anne McKinell Photography.)

“Wherever I wander, wherever I rove / The hills of the Highlands forever I love.” –Robert Burns

Loch Ness castle

(Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness)

To the north of Edinburgh, beyond the Firth of Forth, lies the Scottish Highlands — mountains, valleys, glens, lochs, rugged coastlines, and islands: the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney, and farther north, Shetland. (In all, Scotland has close to 800 islands)

The Highlands is a land filled with castles, history, legend, and lore: Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, the northern city of Inverness, the Isle of Skye, Iona. A two-week driving tour through Scotland was an eye-opening experience to the breathtaking beauty of the Highlands.

Tobermoy Mull

(The charming village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.)

The Isle of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides, is famous for being the location of the Monastery of Iona. A short ferry ride from Mull takes you to the small windswept island of Iona.

“In 563, Columba came to Iona from Ireland with twelve companions and founded a monastery. It developed as an influential center for the spread of Christianity among the Picts and Scots.” (wikipedia)

Mull Iona

A seat of learning, the monastery is associated with the illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells.  “It is generally accepted that the book was begun in the monastery of Iona at some point after c. 740.” (www.historyireland.com)

We chose to stay in the town of Oban because it’s one of the main places to catch the ferry to Mull. We were pleasantly surprised by its charm and lively harbor. It proved to be an unexpected find.

The port town has a waterside promenade lit by tiny lights, perfect for strolling after dining at one of the town’s wonderful restaurants.

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Leaving Oban and driving north to Skye, you’ll be tempted to stop and admire the glens, castles, rivers, and lochs along the way. A few hours exploring the much-photographed Eilean Donan Castle was well worth the detour.

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides and has some of the most beautiful and dramatic sites of the Highlands: the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing,

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Neiss Lighthouse, and the Fairy Glen.

Stopping in the tiny hamlet of Dunvegan on our way to the lighthouse, we came across the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum and caught a glimpse of “Old Scotland.”  

Crossing the Highlands and driving north takes you to Inverness, “the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands.” The River Ness runs through the middle of the town and is crossed by several bridges, one of which takes you from one side of the river to the other, crossing through a pretty wooded island on the way.

Inverness river walk

Day trips from Inverness include driving along Loch Ness and touring the battlefield of Culloden, site of the final Jacobite rebellion.

Continuing a few hours north takes you to the northernmost town on the British mainland — Thurso, located on the North Sea.

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It’s the perfect place for stopping over before taking the morning ferry to Orkney. A beach walk after dinner offers beautiful views of Thurso Bay.

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From its harbor at nearby Scrabster, you can take the ferry to the town of Stromness in Orkney. The 90-minute journey takes you past some stunning scenery.

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(The Old Man of Hoy seen from the ferry to Orkney)

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On the ferry to Stromness, I was struck by the quotes by Orkney poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), which prepare the traveler for the beauty of Orkney — a beauty both subtle and rugged.

“There was a fitful gleam of cold sunlight as we climbed aboard the Hamnavoe.”

“On the salt and tar steps, herring boats, puffing red sails, the tillers of cold horizons, leaned down the gull-gaunt tide.”

“The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvelous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.”

Though Orkney has the jagged coastlines and rocky landscape of much of the Highlands,

it has a different feel to it. In part, due to the remnants of the deep layers of history found throughout Orkney — in Neolithic archaeological sites, such as Skara Brae; in the stone rings of Brodgar and Stenness; in prehistoric mounds, and the remains of Viking settlements.

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More recent history is found in other ruins throughout the islands,

and in WWII sites — reminders of the importance of this remote location during the war: Scapa Flow (home of the British Fleet during both world wars), the Italian Chapel (built by Italian POWs),

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(the Italian Chapel)

and the Churchill barriers (rocky man-made causeways), among others. There’s a museum in Stromness that is a trove of WWII and local history.

Stromness, the main seaport, embodies the essence of Orkney. Its buildings are solid and strong, built to stand against fierce North Sea storms. Its streets are rocky and steep and overlook the expanse of the sea. “Fitful gleam[s] of cold sunlight” cast the town in “marvelous rhythms of … darkness and light.”

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An evening stroll along the harbor anchors you in its maritime presence — with bracing winds, the smell of “salt and tar,” and the sound of gulls.

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With touches of charm and homey warmth found in its narrow streets.

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As we left the Highlands and drove back south, we spotted a rainbow over a pot-of-gold mustard field — it seemed the perfect image for the close of our Highland tour.

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Summertime – Farms and the Country in the CHRISTMASTIME series

rolls of hay sunset

I was born and raised in small-town Illinois, and the countryside played an important role in shaping my idea of the world – the sense of openness and wide skies, the beauty of the changing seasons, the rhythms of the land.

Though I never lived on a farm, country life was an integral part of the area and its presence was felt in the farms and orchards surrounding the town, in my classmates who lived on farms, in the county fair with displays of livestock and ribbons won for home-baked goods, canning, and 4-H projects.

And though my family lived in town, the country and farms were still a part of our lives. We used to drive out into the country to buy eggs from one farmer, and honey from another old-timer who kept bees. Some of my brothers and sisters earned money over the summer by detasseling corn, and we all learned to drive on those long, straight country roads.

Once, my dad took us out to glean a cornfield. A picture of Millet’s The Gleaners hung in my friend’s living room, and I thought gleaning sounded like an old-fashioned, romantic thing to do –

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though I imagine the purpose of our outing was to show us the value of a dollar, part of the Midwestern work ethic that was woven into everything back then. We piled into the back of my dad’s pickup and drove out to a farm. With bags and buckets in hand, we began gleaning the cornfield of ears of corn missed by the combine. There was something fun and adventuresome about it, like being on a treasure hunt. After several hours, we emptied our bags into the bed of the truck, and then took our harvest to the grain elevator – we each made $2.

Probably because I never lived on a farm, I’ve always romanticized about it (though I know farming is backbreaking work with long hours, and farmers are at the mercy of the weather). It is that romanticized version the country and farms that made its way into my Christmastime books in the storylines that take place on Kate’s farm in Illinois.

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(images from Pinterest)

header 2 The Cx Series (1)

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The Christmastime series is available on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iTunes, and Google and in libraries by request, on Ingram and Overdrive

Amazon —  https://amzn.to/2xFgnt0

(Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, the final book in the series,

will be available in the fall.)

 

Color, Magnificent Color – Green

Emerald. Sage. Moss. Chartreuse. Kelly, pine, hunter, mint, lime. Juniper. Fern. Shamrock. Green signifies freshness, wholesomeness, simplicity or opulence — nature’s color in a multitude of shades.

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“No white nor red was ever seen, So amorous as this lovely green.” – Andrew Marvell

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“He recognized that Life itself is an art. He was keenly sensitive to the value of beautiful surroundings. He had that curious love of green, which in individuals is always the sign of a subtle artistic temperament.” – Oscar Wilde

“Even in winter it shall be green in my heart.” – Frederic Chopin

“For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green.” –  J. R. R. Tolkien

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“Green how I want you green. Green wind. Green branches.”  – Federico Garcia Lorca

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“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.” – Pedro Calderon de la Barca

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Miranda’s Pacific Northwest: majestic, mysterious, and magical.

Vista House spring

In the novel The Garden House, the natural beauty and attractions of the Pacific Northwest play a key role in the life of the main character, Miranda.

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Ecola State Park

From the dramatic Oregon coast

to the Puget Sound and Seattle’s vibrant Pike Place Market,

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to the Columbia River Gorge and the Art Nouveau charm of the Vista House

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and nearby Multnomah Falls,

the allure of the Pacific Northwest inspires Miranda to live a life full of beauty.

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Mt. Rainier night

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http://amzn.to/2x8QhNp

Blossom time

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“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

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“April… hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” – William Shakespeare

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“There is no glory in star or blossom till looked upon by a loving eye; There is no fragrance in April breezes till breathed with joy as they wander by.” – William Cullen Bryant

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“Break open A cherry tree And there are no flowers; But the spring breeze Brings forth myriad blossoms.” – Ikkyu Sojun

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“In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger.” – Kobayashi Issa

 

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“The April winds are magical.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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“Our spring has come at last with the soft laughter of April suns and shadow of April showers.” – Byron Caldwell Smith

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April Glory

A scattering blossoms

 

April Glory

The winds were wild the day you died

Pear blossoms scattered like snow.

First green tipped the thin tree branches

And your redbud flowered in purple.

Cold wind and sunshine embraced us

As we crossed from house to house.

And the grass and hedge surrounding your yard

Shone in an emerald green.

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I knew you had a hand in it –

Delighting in the April glory.

A day of beauty and laughter

When Heaven touched Earth in joy.

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Early Spring

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“The snow has not yet left the earth, but spring is already asking to enter your heart.”
― Anton Chekhov

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.” – Ernest Hemingway

“That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.”
― L.M. Montgomery

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus

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“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” –Percy Bysshe Shelley

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St. Patrick’s Day — John O’Donohue on Beauty and the Celtic imagination

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Images of Ireland and quotes from John O’Donohue’s book, “Beauty, The Invisible Embrace.”

“When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming.”

 

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“When the imagination is alive, the life remains youthful.”

“Beauty calls us beyond ourselves and it encourages us to engage the dream that dwells in the soul.”

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“We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul.”

“The imagination creates a pathway of reverence for the visitations of beauty.”

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“With swift, sheer grace, the Beautiful is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.”

“Beauty is quietly woven through our days.”houses and green hills

“The imagination is the great friend of possibility…In a sense, that is what beauty is: possibility that enlarges and delights the heart.”

“Beauty does not linger, it only visits.”

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“To experience beauty is to have your life enlarged.”

“When the soul is alive to beauty, we begin to see life in a fresh and vital way.”

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“The earth is full of thresholds where beauty awaits the wonder of our gaze.”

“Ultimate beauty is a profound illumination of presence, a stirring of the invisible in visible form.”

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“When we awaken to the call of Beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world.”

“The eye of the imagination will often be drawn to the edges of things where the visible and invisible worlds coalesce.”

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“True beauty is from elsewhere, a pure gift.”

“Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness, there is beauty.”

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“Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue was a native Irish speaker, a former priest, and author of books that provided sustenance for many souls hungering for connection.” (www.npr.org)

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(Images from Pinterest)