The Fall of 1997 saw us in Europe for 3+ months for Mike’s sabbatical. We flew into Paris then drove north in our leased car. The first 6 weeks we were based in Antwerp, Belgium and, of course, spent much time with Kate (our 1986-7 exchange student from Antwerp), her husband, Tom and the new-born, Jules. From Antwerp we made many forays into northern France (wonderful Gothic cathedrals!), Switzerland and Germany as well as discovering Belgium. The university city of Montpelier in southern France was our base for the month of October. Both the 1997 and 1998 birthday cards reflect upon our southern France travels. The imposing fortified town of Carcassone (’97 card) stems from the Middle Ages and was beautifully restored by the famous architect Viollet le Duc in the 1880s.
After leaving Montpelier we headed for southern Spain. 1997 was an El Niño year and the unrelenting rain hastened our return to the U.S. But on our 10 day long drive on our way back to Paris for our return flight we stopped for 2 days–still raining though–in the former fishing village of Dinant in Brittany. A visit at the nearby extraordinary Mt. St. Michel was obligatory (1998 card). Built on an isolated rock in the bay the site includes an abbey, several churches and all sorts of chapels plus a village. The complex is now connected to the mainland by a causeway but for centuries was reached only by wading through the waters at low tide–monks and privacy!
The 1999 card shows the Castell del Papa Luna in the sea side town of Peñiscola, Spain. The castle was built on a peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean by the Templars in the early part of the 14th century and later became the residence of the papal pretender, Pedro de Luna, Cardinal of Aragon. During the Great Schism he briefly became Pope Benedict XIII but was then deposed. However, he proclaimed his right to the papacy until his death in 1423. We happened to Peñiscola after a very interesting 2 week trip encompassing the Pyrenees–first along the Spanish side and then along the French northern (and much greener) foothills. Then onto the Barcelona airport to pick up Kate, Tom and 2+ year old Jules and the 2 hour drive to Peñiscola.
The Catedral of Santiago de Compostela (card of 2000) we visited several times, 1997 being the last. Since the 10th century Santiago attracted pilgrims from all over Europe to honor the apostle Saint James (Santiago in Spanish) where, as legend goes James’ body rests. The legend (one of many) goes that apostle James returned to Judea after trying to convert the Spanish to Christianity but in Judea fell victim to Herod. His disciples then returned his body to northwest Spain. Good story and a beautiful cathedral.
In the Spring of 2001 Mike retired from full-time teaching choosing to teach part time and only in the Winter quarter. This option gave us the ability to travel in the less touristy “shoulder” seasons of Fall and Spring–a practice we tried to put into affect most years with 2 international trips. The 2001 card stems from our visit to Tuscany as part of an extended 3 week trip to northern and central Italy. We reached the medieval town of San Gimignano and its famous towers via a short day trip from the Chianti region where we were staying. There are a whole host of stories concerning how the towers came to be. The most plausible to me is that they were built as drying towers for the precious cloth of this important medieval textile center. Since horizontal space was limited, due to the densely built town, the textile owners built upward.
The 2002 card features the Hotel-Dieu of Beaune, France. The hospital was built in the 15th century and cared for the sick until 1971. Beaune, a small walled town, is the epicenter of the Burgundian wine industry and was our last destination of our 2002 tour of parts of Normandy, Brittany and the wine regions of the Loire Valley (where Kate, Tom and Jules joined us for a weekend) and Burgundy.
We have more episodes to come.