Color, magnificent color – pink

Soft and ethereal, or bold and bright. The color pink is said to be a calming color, promoting happiness, well-being, and relaxation.

It delights when we come across it on doors and windows,

or even on exteriors.

A garden color staple,

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pink also provides lovely touches inside the home.

Pink is associated with beauty and delicacy, and qualities that are romantic and feminine.

Pink is also linked to hope and optimism

and even healing.

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Enchanted April

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a movie I’ve always loved, Enchanted April, based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. I remembered that I had bought the book a few years ago and decided to read it — and watch the movie again. Set shortly after WWI, the story is about two women who are unhappy with their dreary, loveless lives in rainy London.

After seeing an advertisement for “Wisteria and Sunshine,”

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they become filled with the dream of renting a villa in Italy for the month of April.

The impetuous Lotty convinces her friend Rose to make the dream a reality.

They find two other women, who are also dissatisfied with their lives, to join them in order to help lessen the cost, and set off for Italy.

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A  month of strolling through the terraced hillsides, enjoying the rocky shore, dining al fresco, and resting in the tranquility of the gardens enables their spirits to heal.

The result is a reawakening to life, love, beauty, and newfound friendship .

 

To “wisteria and sunshine,”

 and to healing the spirit.

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Excerpt from “The Finnish Boy”

Excerpt from “The Finnish Boy” from the short story collection The Dreams of Youth.

And the thoughts of youth, are long, long thoughts. —Longfellow

85-year-old Maggie remembers an incident from long ago when she worked as a nurse in California, shortly after WWII. A memory she has held close to her heart for over 60 years.

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In Santa Barbara, Maggie lived alone in a pretty stucco apartment building with a small fountain in the courtyard. Flowers bloomed year-round, which never ceased to amaze her – pink roses, orange poppies, and exotic flowers that reached up from spiky succulent plants. The palm trees never lost their leaves, like Midwestern trees. Their green fronds glistened eternal-like in the ever-present sun.

Maggie walked to and from the hospital dressed in her crisp white uniform and cap. She worked the 3:00 – 11:00 p.m. shift and was responsible for twenty-nine beds on her floor. She loved her work, the sense of purpose it gave her, of being able to make a difference in the lives of others…

One night, at around 7:00, a nurse and an orderly brought a patient from the Emergency Room to Maggie’s floor. The ER nurse explained that the young man had been in a bad road accident. The doctors had done what they could, but after working on him for two hours, they shook their heads, hooked him up to a morphine drip, and sent him to Maggie’s floor. The nurse said that he had been muttering in a foreign language that no one recognized. She handed Maggie the report and left.

Maggie saw that the patient was just a boy, around twenty-four years old or so, her own age. He was tall and slim, with fair hair and a handsome face. As she gazed down on him, his blue eyes opened and fixed on her.

Maggie smiled her nurse’s smile, competent and compassionate. By then, the morphine had worked its magic and he didn’t seem to be in too much pain. He watched her as she adjusted his pillow and blanket, his eyes searching her face for an answer.

As she took his pulse, he turned his wrist and clasped her hand. Maggie spoke a few gentle words of comfort and was surprised when he answered in English. He thanked her and asked her name. He told her he was from Finland.

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That he had wanted to see the United States and had found work driving trucks for a transport company. He smiled when he said it was the best way to see such a big country. He soon became fatigued and closed his eyes…

Maggie was thankful that the night was slow. She couldn’t leave him alone. There was no hope for him, and she guessed that he knew. She took a deep breath and returned to his bedside.

The sun was beginning to set and the room was slowly growing darker. She turned on the nightlight above his bed. As soon as she sat down, he opened his hand for hers. It seemed that he wanted to talk.

Maggie asked him which parts of the States he had seen. He became slightly more animated as he described the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Northwest. But when he described the coast of California, a softer look filled his face. He told her it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. Maggie replied that she felt the same way, and that she, too, had come from far away to be near the beautiful California coast.

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She then asked him about the place he was from. In a few spare words, he told her that he was from a small town, a small family. He said he had wanted to see the world. His voice quivered slightly when he told her how his family had taken him to the train station – how his mother had cried, how his father had tried hard not to cry, and how his younger brother and sister had run alongside the train until he couldn’t see them anymore.

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He was quiet for a few moments, and his mind seemed to shift. Then he told her about the accident. He said he had been driving, enjoying the beautiful scenery along the coast, and that all of a sudden someone from the oncoming lane passed a car and was in his lane. He said he knew that if he hit the car, the driver would be killed. And he couldn’t do that. So he turned the wheel, and went over the hill. The next thing he remembered was the sound of a siren in his mind that grew louder and louder.

He looked at Maggie and told her that he didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die so far from home. Somehow, he knew. And there was nothing Maggie could do but try to comfort him. She held his hand and tried to look strong, though she felt a sad crumbling inside her. Then she leaned closer and put her other hand on his cheek. This gesture of tenderness seemed to ease his anxiety, and his eyes glittered with gratitude. It was becoming more difficult for him to speak. He asked Maggie to tell him about her, where she was from.

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She told him about her family, about how she was from a small town in the rural Midwest. How she became a nurse so that she could see something of the world, and how the ocean had always called to her.

They smiled, realizing how similar they were in their youthful dreams. His eyes fastened on her as he drank in her words, eager to take in just a little bit more of life. His speech trickled down to a few words, uttered slowly now and then. After a little while, he closed his eyes.

Maggie continued to speak in a soft, low voice, watching his face closely. She gently began to move away, thinking that he had fallen unconscious, but he increased the pressure on her hand. So she continued to sit with him, lightly squeezing his fingers to let him know that she was there.

Then she covered his hand with both of hers and sat quietly. And even though she was expecting it, she started when his hand went limp. She looked closely at his face, his chest, and leaned in to feel for a pulse. Her fingers searched again and again, but his warm wrist no longer held life. She placed her ear to his chest, but heard only silence. She watched him for a few moments, and put her hand to his cheek once more. Then she swallowed her emotions, and left the room.

Maggie stayed late that night to finish her reports. She walked home slowly, not noticing the tears on her cheeks. She made her way to the beach and stood for a few minutes, looking out at the glittering dark ocean, the wind blowing her hair…

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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 1)

 

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I recently spent two weeks in May touring Scotland. I was surprised to find that spring was just arriving, enabling me to enjoy early spring for a second time, especially the farther north we traveled. Daffodils, tulips, and blossoming trees added splashes of color to the landscape. Bluebells, in particular, bloomed in abundance.

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In the early part of the trip, there was even a dusting of snow in the Highlands. And though rain was predicted, except for one day, we had beautiful clear weather.

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My trip began and ended in historical Edinburgh, a city that has been high on my to-see list for a long time. It did not disappoint.

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Edinburgh is the perfect walking city with a fascinating mix of medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town, all surrounded by stunning natural beauty.

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Between Old Town and New Town is the verdant stretch of Princes Street Garden, a sunken park in the heart of the city. It was “created in two phases in the 1770s and 1820s following the long draining of the Nor Loch and building of the New Town, beginning in the 1760s.” (wikipedia)

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At the head of Old Town is Edinburgh Castle, built on a craggy outcropping of volcanic rock. Though it has an “1100-year-old history…few of the present buildings pre-date… the 16th century, when the medieval defenses were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment.” (wikipedia)

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The fortress sits on Castle Rock, one of the seven hills that surround Edinburgh. From this vantage point, you can see two other hills that form part of the city’s identity — Calton Hill, with its Athenian Acropolis, and Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that can be climbed for panoramic views of the city.

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Edinburgh is full of steep stairs, medieval closes, and unexpected passages, such as the Vennel with its views of the Castle,

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picturesque Circus Lane (converted mews), which was blooming with irises and fragrant wisteria and lilac,

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and Dean Village, a lovely place for a morning stroll. It was “the centre of a successful grain milling area for more than 800 years. At one time there were no fewer than eleven working mills there, driven by the strong currents of the Water of Leith.” (wikipedia) 

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In addition to Edinburgh’s charming walks and its trove of historical sites, the city has a vibrant music and literary culture, and a wide array of restaurants to sample, from traditional fare to various ethnic cuisines. I was glad to know that I would be returning to Edinburgh at the end of my trip for there was still so much more to see.

But for now, as much as I loved Edinburgh, the Highlands in the misty distance beckoned. (to be continued…)

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The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 3 – Pamplona

In the north of Spain lies the Basque city of Pamplona, capital of Navarra. It’s a significant point on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. The streets are full of pilgrims and hikers, as well as tourists taking in the charm of the old city.

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It’s a beautiful walking town, with the Spanish Pyrenees forming a dramatic backdrop and the Arga River flowing around the hilltop location. Walking routes from the Old Town take you to the  Taconera Park, full of flowers, benches, and gravel pathways. A sunken area that used to be a moat is home for a small herd of deer and several kinds of birds, including peacocks, ducks, and geese.

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The walk around the edge of the park offers views of the mountains and valley and reminds you of just how high the city is above the valley — there’s even a tram that takes passengers from the lower part of the city up to the Old City.

A short walk further and you can visit the citadel and the surrounding park. Built in the 16th and 17th centuries, massive bulwarks and stonework reveal part of the original pentagon shape. A museum there explains that the pentagon shape was once a popular design for fortification. (You can listen to the accompanying audio in several languages, including Basque, which is fascinating in itself.)

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(Photo – http://www.itinari.com)

The heart of Pamplona, and the most beautiful part, is the Old City. At its center is the Plaza del Castillo, a large square ringed with buildings, many with flowering balconies.

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Most of the streets are cobblestone, and there are several medieval cathedrals and beautiful architecture at every turn — and lots of restaurants, many of them with seating outside, part of the famous pintxo tradition. Throughout the day, but especially beginning at around 4:00pm and lingering late into the night, small appetizers, pintxos, are served with the local wines or other beverages. This tradition makes for a lively street life, especially as the night grows and music pours out onto the narrow streets.

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Pamplona, or Iruña as it is known in Basque, is most famous for “the Running of the Bulls” during the Festival of Saint Fermin in July. Ernest Hemingway wrote about the festival in his novel, The Sun Also Rises. And for this reason, Pamplona offers another sort of pilgrimage — a literary one. Pamplona is one of those rare locations that is specifically associated with an author. There’s a bust of Hemingway outside the bullring, and a life-size statue of him leaning against the bar at the Hotel Iruña. Photographs of him and his likeness are found throughout the city, especially in restaurants and gift shops.

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“Pamplona certainly owes some of its fame to its adopted son, Ernest Hemingway, who spent a considerable amount of time in Navarra during the Spanish Civil War and was a big fan of the San Fermin Festival.” (www.euskoguide.com)Book cover

There was a different festival held the week I was there, with celebrations in the Plaza. The city was full of festivities, musicians and performances, and schoolchildren holding hands as they skipped to the music.

I don’t know if it was the festival or the lively pintxo culture, but Pamplona struck me as one of the happiest places I had ever visited. The streets were full of tourists and local families, couples, and friends enjoying the delightfulness of the city — sitting at crowded outdoor cafes, stopping for ice cream, enjoying the street performers and musicians, well into the night.

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Though I loved so much about Pamplona, the Iruña Hotel held a special charm for me. It was full of old-world beauty in warm shades of sepia and globes of golden lights that reflected in the carved wooden mirrors.

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Sitting in the Hemingway Bar with its nooks and small balcony, it was easy to imagine an older, slower time, with people wearing different clothing and holding different conversations — and perhaps someone sitting alone at a table quietly penning a novel.

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The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 1 — Lourdes

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The beautiful town of Lourdes, France is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Two structures dominate the town and its history — the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Lourdes, situated on the wide, flowing Gave de Pau, and the thousand-year-old fortress, the Chateau-Fort de Lourdes, built on a high rocky bluff.

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Lourdes has a rich and varied history.  Artifacts dating from the prehistoric times to the Roman  have been found in the area, and “the town and its fortress formed a strategic stronghold in medieval times.” (www.Britannica.com)

However, the town is best known as a place of pilgrimage for Catholics the world over, visited by millions every year.

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The identity of Lourdes as a market town, mountains crossroads, and fortified stronghold forever changed in 1858 when a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, experienced numerous visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near the river.

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“The visions were declared authentic by Pope Pius IX in 1862, and veneration of Mary as Our Lady of Lourdes was authorized. The underground spring in the grotto, revealed to Bernadette, was declared to have miraculous qualities, and Lourdes became a major pilgrimage site.” (www.britannica.com)

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Lourdes is an international destination, a place of hope for many who cannot walk or are battling sickness or a chronic condition. They line up to hear mass given in front of the grotto, and fill up bottles with the sacred grotto water from numerous taps. Behind the cathedral, alongside the river, are private bathing rooms where pilgrims line up to bathe in the waters, hoping for a cure or improvement.

 

Even in the offseason, the shops and crowds can make the place seems touristy, but the solemnity with which the pilgrims pray and believe, and the sheer beauty of the place, preserve the sense of the sacred.

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The Gothic-styled cathedral, with its soaring spires and long narrow windows, was built above the grotto in 1876. It is made of the same gray stone as the rock beneath it and seems to have risen directly from it.

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The chateau-fort, which was never conquered, sits high above the town and is today a museum. Like the cathedral, it is made from the gray granite of the Pyrenees and appears to be a continuation of the thrust of rock on which it was built.

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From the fortress top, you can see that the village itself is nestled in the strong arms of the valley mountains. The vantage point offers spectacular views of the town and valley below.

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“The château fort de Lourdes is strategically placed at the entrance to the seven valleys of the Lavedan. The castle’s origins go back to Roman times….The oldest remains date from the 11th and 12th centuries” and were reinforced several times in later centuries. (www.wikipedia.com)

 

“Within its walls there is a botanical garden at the foot of the 14th-century keep, and the Pyrenean Museum.” (en.lourdes-infotourisme.com)

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The museum is filled with artifacts and offers a glimpse into local life of the past centuries. Several exhibits are dedicated to marriage customs, clothing, farming and husbandry, and day-to-day living.

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As daytime draws to a close, the crowds disperse, the sounds of the day shift to the soft sounds of evening, and a tranquil beauty pervades Lourdes.

 

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From one of the bridges over the river, you can look back and see the cathedral and, in the distance, the fort. These two main structures of Lourdes — perhaps representative of two opposing human impulses — today rest comfortably together in the valley town.

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With the church bells ringing, the grotto candles lit, and the lights coming on in the town, you realize that Lourdes is unique — a sacred site of hope and prayer, rich in layers of history — a town born of the awe-inspiring beauty of the Pyrenees.

The Romance of Travel: Carcassonne

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For many years I had longed to see the beautiful medieval city of Carcassonne and recently I was able to make that dream come true. Carcassonne did not disappoint.

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Located in the Languedoc region of southern France, Carcassonne is famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, the largest walled city in Europe, with numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. Languedoc is also famous for its wines and the hilltop city sits high above the surrounding vineyards.

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I arrived Carcassonne in the evening under a near-full moon. The hotel I stayed at was located at the foot of the hill, and I had a magnificent view of the fairytale city from my balcony.

Every day, I crossed the footbridge over the river Aude, climbed the steep cobblestone streets to the top of the hill, and entered the citadel through the lowered drawbridge. I spent hours wandering around the labyrinthine village, climbed the ramparts and spiral stairs of the towers, walked the walls which provided magnificent views of the valley below, and then rested and recharged at its many outdoor cafes.

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Carcassonne was occupied by the Romans and later the Visigoths. Its strategic hilltop location was fortified over the centuries with walls, towers, drawbridge and moat, a fortress, and a cathedral — the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. Layers and layers of history pervade the stones and gargoyles, the slate roofs and worn steps.

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Today Carcassonne relies heavily on tourism and has several hotels, restaurants, and shops — even a small museum on the history of the French school system.

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The heraldic Occitan cross, which dates back to the 12th century, and the fleur-de-lis hearken back to its medieval history and can be seen throughout the city.

In the fall, Carcassonne has a particular beauty — pensive, tranquil, a bit wistful — and despite the tourists, a few quiet areas can always be found.

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It is at night when the magic of Carcassonne can most be felt — when the years of history fall away and you step into the past. The crenelated ramparts and rounded towers take on an architectural sharpness, accentuated by light and shadow.

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Crossing the drawbridge you can imagine the creak and clang of its chains, and you notice that the sounds inside the walled village are different — quieter, sometimes hushed. The interior of La Cité is softly lit by lampposts. Gold light pours onto the stone walls and archways and illuminates the curves of the cobblestone streets. It becomes a place of shadows and textures, mystery and beauty, drawing you further up into its heart.

Even in the off-season of late October, the hilltop is surprisingly alive at night and the sound of conversation and laughter fill the outdoor cafes that ring the small square at the center. Wandering through the narrow streets, you come across several restaurants and hotels that bid a warm welcome.

Carcassonne sets one to dreaming. Its deep history and beauty inspire, shift your perceptions, and bring about a silent exchange with the past. For many, it is representative of the unattainable — something actual, yet ever elusive. In 1887 Gustave Nadaud wrote a poem called “Carcassonne,” in which an old man dreams of seeing “fair Carcassonne” before he dies. To him, the city embodies the longing for an ideal, a place of profound meaning, an experience that could be his — yet it remains beyond his reach. The final line is “each man has his Carcassonne” — a beautiful distant dream.

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Carcassonne — medieval city, hilltop fortress, fairytale village, a step back in time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bookstores

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The longer nights and cooler temperatures of autumn are perfect for browsing through a good bookstore — and leaving with an armful of books.

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“There were fewer finer things in life … than spending time perusing the shelves of a good bookshop.” ― George Mann

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“The truly wide taste in reading is that which enables a man to find something for his needs on the sixpenny tray outside any secondhand bookshop.” ― C.S. Lewis

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“To my mind there is nothing so beautiful or so provocative as a secondhand bookstore.”
―Lionel Barrymore

 

“Perhaps that is the best way to say it: printed books are magical, and real bookshops keep that magic alive.” ― Jen Campbell

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“Books are an escape route. A refuge…. a tunnel to the outside world. A glimmer of something beyond.”―Chloe Coles

 

“Reality doesn’t always give us the life that we desire, but we can always find what we desire between the pages of books.”― Adelise M. Cullens

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Happy reading!

 

 

The Romance of Travel – Italy

 

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A friend of mine recently returned from two weeks in Europe. She took writing and drawing classes in Italy, spending most of her time on the Amalfi coast.

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Her pictures and stories filled my head with dreams — and plans. I’m long overdue for some traveling, and Italy has been beckoning for quite some time.

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“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” — Anna Akhmatova

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“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” — Giuseppe Verdi.

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Travel opens the mind, fills the soul, and touches the heart. It allows you step out of your daily routine and see the world afresh.

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