Walking in the World

Travel

January Chill

We have been waking up to icy weather conditions this week, and we can’t help but marvel at the icy artistry of Mother Nature. Jeff snapped this photo of the icy stream coming out of the cliffs at Barrow Brook on the Isle of Sheppey yesterday while I stayed home warming myself by the fire.

I am clearly not the only one choosing to keep my feet warm. This medieval depiction of January is found in the Castello dei Conti de Ceccano which we visited when we were in Italy last month. I feel such an affinity for the guy!

23 Jan 2017

Across the Causeway

mersea

Living out on the Thames estuary is a far cry from living in London. Sometimes I long for a more cosmopolitan community, but other times this seems just right for me, particularly when I’m out with Jeff and he encourages me to see the landscape through his eyes. There is so much here!

new_hall_vineyard

After leaving St. Michael’s and All Angels last week, we drove out through the farms and vineyards to the causeway that connects the mainland to Mersea Island, with its busy little fishing community.

mersea_causeway

We’ve been to Mersea before, but on Wednesday we carefully timed our arrival to be well before noon so that we would be able to get a table at the the famous Company Shed (any later than that and there’s invariably a queue out the door).

company_shed2

Yes, it’s really a shed. With seafood.

mersea_crabs

The best seafood I’ve ever tasted, in fact. And the nicest staff and customers. Jeff ordered the razor clams while I opted for the seared scallops. Accompanied by local beer for him and wine for me. And bread that the people next to us had brought and generously shared. Then Jeff offered the guy a taste of his clams, and a woman handed me a forkful of her tiger prawns. And they were so good that we ordered a plate of those, too. It’s that kind of place.

company_shed

Quite honestly, I would advise every friend I’ve ever had to come visit, then beg us to take you to Mersea (because you’ll never find it on your own – and even if you could, what would be the fun of that?)

mersea_boat

Full to the brim, relaxed and completely happy, we wandered along the beach, dawdled on the causeway, visited a Roman burial mound – and then rounded out the afternoon with scones and tea.

tiptree_scones

Definitely a perfect day!

03 Oct 2016

New Friends, Old Stories

We are having a wonderful journey, deeply profound for both of us,  on many levels.

We arrived in Vaplan, Sweden, yesterday afternoon. Lisa’s father was born here, and is obviously still well regarded and deeply loved, and his family is delighted that his daughter is visiting. Being a witness to this family reunion has been a moving  experience for me, which I will say more about in due course. The stories I’m hearing are like precious beads on the string of life. 

Today we spent a lovely day visiting the area in the company of his cousin, Bengt, and his wife, Marianne, who are hosting us for these few days. In addition to feeding us phenomenally good food, they have shown us beautiful lakes and waterfalls, ancient petroglyphs, a ski mountain, and taken us to lunch at an organic restaurant set inside a greenhouse…  and so much more. 

02 Sep 2016

Reminiscing

I’m still enjoying my memories of being in the Netherlands last week, and I just can’t resist showing you a few more tiles and treats. As I wandered through the Tegelmuseum, I found myself lingering in two particular rooms – the one dedicated to depictions of Bible stories and the one showing modern-ish commercial commissions. In the Biblical room, I spent quite a while searching out depictions of Mary and the Christ Child

Nativitytile1

Nativitytile2

but while looking for those, others caught my eye. I know this is Daniel, but it reminds me of the Strength card from the tarot.

Strength

In a room devoted to more modern tile commissions, I spent a long time lingering over this one which clearly celebrated the bookseller’s 50th anniversary in full colour. Something about it took me right back to childhood, with stories that I could recognize, and buildings that invited me in. I wanted to walk out of the museum and be on this street!

Books tiles

Coming home that evening, my roommate, Els’ childhood companion Bromber, seemed to join me in my nostalgia. Els’ father gave her the bear on her first birthday, and he has accompanied her throughout her life. She made his outfit when she was still a young schoolgirl – a worthy accomplishment! I enjoyed knowing he was there in my room at night as I settled in to sleep – and I enjoy knowing he is there to watch over my friend now that I’m back home!

Bromber

And now that I’m home, I have this little beauty hanging in our room to remind me of the tiles I fell in love with. Els brought this to us the first time she visited here; I believe it once belonged to her mother.MyTile

Memories run deep, and nourish the soul.

19 Aug 2016

Tegelmuseum

Yesterday was a grey and drizzly day, just the right sort of day for a museum outing, and a perfect chance for us to explore the Tegelmuseum (Tile Museum) in Otterlo, a half hour drive from Baarn. I didn’t think to take a photo of the museum itself because I got so caught up in its contents. The museum was once a private home and still has the sense of having been lived in, with a few of the features still in evidence. The last inhabitant, a gentleman by the name of G. Feenstra, devoted his life to collecting tiles, and then provided for his home to be converted to a museum after his death so that his collection could be both preserved and enjoyed  in perpetuity.

It is a friendly little museum, calm and welcoming, without any sense of trying too hard. The tiles themselves  are the main features,  without any complicated gimmicks or interactive displays. I found spending time with the tiles to be quite an  emotional experience. They are such simple little things, but so evocative, and often quite exquisite. The tiles range from simple and pale to ornate and colourful, but it was the older,  paler ones that moved me most deeply. Many told stories,  some of them the biblical stories which which I am familiar, and I enjoyed picking out the familiar themes as portrayed by various artists, often as part of broader tableaus.

There was something for everyone among the thousands of handpainted tiles. Els and I discussed how you could find whatever it was that interested you, and that one person’s eye might be drawn to things that someone else might miss entirely. She was drawn to the Dutch ships:


I was fascinated by the simple depictions of daily items, things that I could recognize from my own life as a homemaker and needleworker. As always, I am fascinated by the daily lives people lead, not just their epic moments.

The birds, the flowers, the household implements show up as miniature depictions on the tiles that would have so artfully adorned a house or public space. Their familiarity invited me in, made me feel welcome and at home, while the artistry both enthralled and delighted me.

Tiles have been a part of Dutch life for centuries, installed to protect and decorate homes and farms, particularly in and around fireplaces. The earliest tiles were polychrome, with the decoration becoming more colourful as the artform developed. Dutch tiles are often still handpainted, though many modern tiles are mass produced by means of mechanical colour printing techniques.

12 Aug 2016

Small World

There is a small airport only 15 minutes from our house, and 40 minutes after take-off, you can be landing in Amsterdam – a different country, different language, different culture, different geography. How amazing is that? It is one of the privileges of my expat status, this opportunity of travelling to beautiful places to visit dear friends who live in intriguing land. Visits like this make the world seems small and precious. Away from the whirlwind of tourist hotspots, I meet people whose lives brush up against mine in pleasant and gentle ways, sometimes with surprising feelings and outcomes.

 I am spending a few days with my friend, Els, whom you have already met in these posts. We are chilling together, two good friends spending quality time together, with no agenda other than to enjoy each other’s company.  Leaving home at the crack of dawn allowed me to be in Baarn in time for mid morning coffee! 

We spent yesterday chatting, walking, and browsing the local farm shop for local produce and meat. Simple pleasures! I love feeling at home here in her village, enjoy feeling familiar with the roads and houses and gardens. There are always new and interesting things to see, but sometimes what is most important is not the differences between us, but the samenesses. I am using that non-word very purposely. Our houses are different, our hearts thrill and swell, break and throb for similar reasons. Our lives and customs are different, our dreams are not.

11 Aug 2016

2016 Swedish Labyrinth Pilgrimage

VisbyLaby400

Regular readers will remember my posts about our 2015 Swedish Labyrinth Tour, and we are now working hard on plans for returning in 2016. Once again, we’ll be working with Lars Howlett from Discover Labyrinths, and this year we’ll also be working with Veriditas to weave in an increased emphasis on the spiritual aspects of pilgrimage. Yesterday we recorded a WEBINAR to talk about this year’s journey and show photos of places we’ll be visiting. (Thanks to Anne Bull and Veriditas for making this webinar happen!)

If you long to explore Swedish labyrinths and culture with a small group of like-minded labyrinth enthusiasts, please consider joining us. For more information, please click here to go to the appropriate page on the Veriditas website.

VisbySunset

 

22 Jan 2016

Giant’s Causeway

JeffCauseway

After leaving Belfast on Saturday morning, we drove north through the frigid countryside towards the Giant’s Causeway, a natural wonder that – despite its whimsical name –  feeds the spirit as deeply as any cathedral. Each year when we go Iona, we take the boat trip out to Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave and visit the puffin colony, we marvel at the amazing geology that rises out of the sea. Tall, primarily hexagonal, prismatic columns fit together to form cliffs and formations at the water’s edge. Staffa in Scotland and the Causeway in Northern Ireland are two ends of the same geological formation, both beloved, both awe-inspiring.

CausewayCliffs

The Giant’s Causeway is well managed by the National Trust; although it is located in a rather remote corner of the country, large parking lots and a modern visitor’s centre have been built to control crowds and protect the fragile ecology of the area. There is, therefore, a long walk from the main entrance down to the shoreline, but for me that enhanced the transition from modernity to timelessness.

Causeway2

Even on a bleak November day, with sleet showers passing overhead, there were a good few people. I would love to see the area and hike the cliffs on a sunny summer day, but I suspect I’d find the crowds quite off-putting. I loved the sense of really surrendering to Mother Nature in order to explore her sacred sites. Although there is a shuttle bus provided for those who need or choose to use it, we opted to hike both directions, and I felt grateful for my walking strength.

Causeway

I also felt grateful for a cup of hot coffee at the end of the trail!

27 Nov 2015

St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

BelfastCathedral

Saturday’s visit to Northern Ireland was a day of two parts. After flying in from Stansted, we rented a car and drove along snowy roads, making our way into central Belfast to visit St. Anne’s Cathedral. Jeff had heard that the labyrinth in the cathedral might be worth seeing, so we made the trip with that being our prime objective — and we weren’t disappointed. St. Anne’s is a beautiful young cathedral which has some stunning features and thoughtfully curated treasures, artefacts, and exhibits as well as a lovely labyrinth.

Cross

The cathedral cross stands at the rear of the building, perfectly situated to reflect the stain glass windows behind it, weaving a relationship between the ever-changing light and the symbol of Christianity.

Mosaic

Near the front of the cathedral is a lovely chapel that is open to the public for prayer. Above the entrance to the Chapel of the Holy Spirit is a wonderful mosaic of St. Patrick, and the domed ceiling of the chapel features a gold mosaic showing the four seraphim, each holding its personal symbol.

Cushions1

Kings

As a needleworker, I was moved deeply by the attention to textile arts, from the stunning rows of tapestry kneeling cushions to a prominent display of historic handworked Irish linen. It was proudly pointed out to me that some of what was on display was far older than the cathedral itself, which dates only to the beginning of the last century.

And the labyrinth? Yes! The main labyrinth (there are actually three in alignment to underscore the symbolic placement at each of the entrances to the cathedral) is simple, unique, and perfectly situated to lead the worshiper from the outside world (with its analogy to sin) through the meandering path and directly onto the aisle leading toward the sanctuary and high altar. A bit of research into early texts about the cathedral show that this was very intentional, pre-dating much of the twentieth century labyrinth references with which most of us are already familiar.

Interestingly, there are two smaller labyrinths flanking the central one, each positioned in front of the side aisle doors, each leading the walker into the aisle, providing the same imagery as the larger one. This is something we’ve not seen before. What really excited us was the value which the Dean and his staff clearly place on the labyrinth; it is accurately described in the official guide as well as the audio tour, and the archivist was very helpful in forwarding his notes and materials to us when we inquired about it. Too often, modern staff members are not briefed about labyrinth history or the reasons for labyrinths being included in sacred buildings.

On the floor in front of the West Door, the main door into the Cathedral, is a labyrinth of black and white marble tiles Follow the white tiles, the path of virtue, and the they will lead to the Altar, But follow the black tiles, the route of sin, and go nowhere.
(Cathedral Guide, page 15)

It was healing for me to visit this oasis of calm — it would be welcome in any city, but I have old stories of chaos and violence in Belfast still circling in my mind, so even though all the old conflicts might not be fully resolved, it feels important to have new imagery and personal memories to take forward.

Saying goodbye to Belfast, we drove north to the Giant’s Causeway…. and that is a story for another day. Stay tuned!

25 Nov 2015

To Belfast and Back

Plane2

We had a great day out today — to Belfast! Snow and Belfast sort of go together in our experience, and sure enough, we saw the first snowfall of the winter today. This was the view out the window as we flew across southern England.

We’ve just gotten home, and I’m cold and tired, so I’ll just leave you with this one photo and a promise of more stories and photos to come (hopefully tomorrow). I usually like to confine my posts to stories of my day, but I know it’s way too late for me to do justice to all I have to share with you, from cathedral labyrinths to mighty geology and wild seascapes. Stay tuned!

21 Nov 2015

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