March, 2010 browsing by month


Brittany’s Seascapes, Extraordinary Tides Exemplify the Monastery’s Milieu

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Facing the sea, the monastery is secluded in its own parkland. Founded in the 16th century, it preserves a small museum of sacred art. It is situated in one of the great old Breton ports built on the slopes of a steep valley. An 11th century castle and a circuit of walls originally protected the town although little is left of either. In the old part of town, however, the cobbled streets and ancient houses evoke the town’s medieval past.

Brittany’s ancient Celtic name was Armorica – land beside the sea. A seascape comprised of 750 miles of glorious Atlantic coastline it is highlighted by hundreds of bays and inlets rimmed by stunning high cliffs and fine sandy beaches. Small fishing ports where brightly panted boats nestle beneath half-timbered or stone houses dot the entire region. Like many a seafaring place, Brittany is a land of legends, from mysterious megaliths to Merlin the Magician, legends imparted in a tableau of forests and castles and elaborately carved stone churches.

Brittany is known for its Enclos Paroissiaux, literally “parish close.” They represent some of the most spectacular yet common monuments in western France. A parish close consists of a small monumental park around which are grouped a church, calvary and ossuary.

Not far from the monastery is the town of Roscoff, departure point for ferries sailing to England and Ireland

. Ranked as a “Small Town of Character,” Roscoff’s stone heritage is exceptional with winding stairs, sculpted dormers, finely carved cellar doorways and a church bell tower topped with lantern turrets. Primarily a fishing village, part of the medieval town wall survives beside the seafront. It was in  Roscoff that Mary, Queen of Scots, landed in 1548 on her way to Paris to become engaged to Francois, son and heir of Henry II of France.

The waters of the English Channel around Roscoff experience a tidal phenomenon. Twice a day coastal landscapes change as the tide goes relentlessly in and out, the result of the combined action of the moon and sun. The gravitational pull that these two heavenly bodies exert on the sea causes the tide to withdraw from the coast. The tide goes back approximately six hours later, covering scenery that just a short time before had been left exposed. When the earth, moon and sun are in syzygy (lined up in a row), a maximum pull results in the extraordinary spring tides. The rise and fall during this time is a rare and magical sight.

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Natural Surroundings and Edinburgh Highlight a Stay at this Abbey

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Surrounded by 1,300 acres of grounds formed by gardens, woodlands, moorland and lakes, at one time the abbey was a Scottish mansion. It occupies a tranquil site only thirty miles from Edinburgh. It was the first Cistercian monastery to be founded in Scotland after the Reformation. Nearby Edinburgh is one of Europe’s most alluring capitals. Perched on extinct volcanoes rising from the sheltered shore of the Firth of Forth, its natural setting is spread over a range of hills. At the heart of the city lies a mighty castle with over one thousand years of history and memorable sweeping views, akin to those of Paris as seen from the heights of the Eiffel Tower.

The city’s main street is famous for its “Royal Mile” a colorful venue that is home to a variety of boutiques, restaurants and inns. St. Giles Cathedral

was built in Gothic style and its most notable external feature is the Crown Spire. It contains almost 200 memorials to distinguished Scots. The “booming” sound heard over the city each day comes from the “One O’clock Gun,” at Edinburgh Castle. The impressive structure, historic seat of Scottish Kings, has dominated Edinburgh for more than a thousand years and is the best-preserved and most historic castle in Scotland. The castle recalls the turbulence of Scottish history from the earliest times to the last Jacobite rebellion in 1745. It remains a strong reminder of Scottish national pride. Fine views can be enjoyed from almost every part of the castle, particularly from the ramparts where Edinburgh’s dramatic skyline, wedged between sea and hills, can be seen to best advantage.  An interesting day trip can be made to nearby Berwick-upon-Tweed. During the harsh border struggles, possession of the town alternated between Scottish and English. The town changed hands thirteen times before being declared English territory in 1482.

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Do you know where Pope John Paul II vacationed in France? He stayed in Room #4. For $50, so can you.

Saturday, March 13th, 2010
The Basilique-sacre-coeur

The Basilique-Sacre-Coeur

Located in Burgundy, France the Sacre-Coeur is an honored place – among its famous guests, Pope John Paul II vacationed there in 1986. He stayed in room number 4. The room is still available and for about $50 you can stay there too… with full board.

In Burgundy, locale of the house, visitors are never far from a historic abbey or monastery, testimony to the importance of the monastic orders in the region’s history. Among the most illustrious is the Benedictine Ancienne Abbaye de Cluny whose influence reverberated throughout Christendom. The Benedictine Order was a keystone to the stability that European society achieved in the 11th century. The abbey became the grandest, most prestigious and handsomely endowed monastic institution in Europe.

Nearby Paray, in the southern part of Burgundy, means “of the monks” and is among the most popular places of pilgrimage in France. A charming old town, it is enriched with half-timbered houses and other Renaissance structures. The Basilique de Sacre-Coeur, built in 1109 from blocks of pale stone, is a smaller version of the now lost abbey church at Cluny. Pure Romanesque, the architecture highlights two square towers and an octagonal central spire. The slender columns of the interior mirror a classic influence.

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