England’s Smallest City

One of our favorite day trips from Bath during our November Mozartfest tour is delightful little Wells, “England’s smallest city”.Wells is named from three wells dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle, one in the market place and two within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace and cathedral.
Although the population recorded in the 2011 census was only 10,536, Wells has had city status since medieval times, because of the presence of Wells Cathedral, hence its label of England’s smallest city.
We always plan our visit for a Sunday, in order to enjoy the afternoon Evensong at 3:00.
The Crown, right in the market square beside the cathedral, is just the place for a traditional Sunday Roast. William Penn stayed in Wells shortly before leaving for America in 1682, spending a night at this very inn. He was briefly arrested for addressing a large crowd in the market place, but released on the intervention of the Bishop of Bath and Wells – I hope he got to appreciate a Sunday Roast before he left! We certainly enjoyed ours – Yorkshire Pudding and all. Walking through the vaulted passageway into the Cathedral Close, we pass the moat, swans peacefully paddling in the calm water,then enter the awesome Cathedral.
On this Sunday, rather than the usual boys choir, sweet young voices of girls sing the psalms and hymns as we sit with them in the beautifully carved choir, intricate tapestries and needlework adorning the seats.Built in Early English Gothic style between the 11 and 1400s, the Cathedral is filled with awe-inspiring craftsmanship, such as the massive and unique scissor arches stabilizing the center after an earthquake left it weakened. Although this video is too dark – by the time Evensong is over at 4 the short winter day is dimming – I think you’ll enjoy the organ resounding in this splendid space.
The Chapter House, up a well-worn stairway, is another don’t-miss part of this ancient beauty.Built in 1306, this meeting place for church affairs would have been an inspiring place to conduct business, with its delicate tracery and vaults rippling across the ceiling, supported by a central pillar that’s been likened to a giant palm tree, spreading its foliage above.Like many of the places we visit on this Bath Mozartfest Tour, Wells transports us back hundreds of years with its ancient beauty and the peaceful generation-spanning quiet of Evensong.

Rome for the Night

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We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

We often find ourselves spending a night in Rome on our way to or from other places in Italy, as we did last month, and we enjoy the opportunity to savor the sights and tastes of the city even with just an overnight.

We’ve found a favorite little four-room inn, Relais Cavour, housed in a Roman palazzo that is a ten minute walk from Rome’s Termini Train Station, from where it’s an easy trip to the airport.  With comfortable well-equipped quiet rooms – excellent beds, a sleek bathroom, space for our luggage, superior wifi, and plenty of electrical outlets – it’s a perfect fit for a one night stay. Breakfast can be delivered to your room – there are a table and chairs in each room – or if you’re leaving early, in a to-go bag.
The Monti district, a few minutes walk from the Inn, has gotten a lot of press in recent years regarding new restaurants and boutiques, and is well worth a wander. When we spent a night there last fall, I mentioned the district and Kirk found an old-Rome trattoria on Yelp that we tried out – and LOVED. One of the best Carbonaras I’ve tasted! When we were at the Relais in January, arriving from the airport just in time for a late dinner, we tried to remember the name to find it again – we’d just finished a few days in Malta following a private tour for a guest who was seeking out her roots on the Adriatic Coast of Italy so we hadn’t planned for Rome except for booking a room! Couldn’t find it on Yelp, so we just started walking in the general direction, and after wandering down one cobbled street that didn’t look quite right, we tried the next one and there it was, at via dei Capocci #4- Trattoria al Tettarello! I had that memorable Carbonara again, and Kirk enjoyed one of the best steaks he’s ever had, along with an excellent bottle of Rosso de Montalcino. With unbelievably good prices and a cozy intimate down-home dining room, it’s a place we’ll return to again and again!
In addition to the fun Monti neighborhood, Relais Cavour is also within walking distance of Rome’s number one sight, the Colisseum!  It was a pleasure to walk to that icon at sunrise last fall before heading for the airport for the long flight home. We circled the massive structure, stopped for one last good Italian coffee, and gathered our bags at the Relais to be on our way.
Another Roman beauty is even closer – Santa Maria Maggiore, which we pass on our way to dinner at al Tettarello. And if you have a little more time, the Campo dei Fiori market, always a delight, isn’t too far. Nor is the glorious Pantheon, and just around the corner, Kirk’s favorite coffee pause – Sant Eustachio. So even with less than 24 hours, it’s easy to enjoy a mini Roman Holiday!

A Marseille Celebration

14 juillet – Bastille Day, 2018
Marseille, France

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“Where can we see some great Bastille Day fireworks near Aix?” we asked our in-the-know French friends…and Marseille was the top reply – now we know why! In addition to festive fun (Kirk’s birthday happens to be the same day as France’s National Holiday, you may remember!) we were looking forward to an air conditioned respite from the oppressive heat, and a swimming pool thrown in for good measure! Right on the historic Vieux Port, the Radisson Blu was a perfect choice – with a fabulous view from our 4th floor windows! Although we were tempted to stay in the marvelously cool room (you don’t know how much you miss air conditioning until you live without it for a while!), we decided to relax poolside instead – cooled with a refreshing dip and breezes as we basked in the sun, the 17th century Fort St. Nicolas looming beyond. Since Marseille is such a big city, I always imagined it as hotter than Aix – but no, it’s seaside location tempers the heat nicely – it’s bearable to stroll around near the water, unlike on those 89 degree afternoons in Aix. Enjoying the beautiful architecture as we seek out a restaurant for an early (for France, that is – around 8) dinner, we find many well-recommended spots right near the Vieux Port, and request an outdoor table at L’Oliveraie, on restaurant-lined Place aux Huiles. Jazz from the restaurant next-door entertains us as we relish a delicious dinner under the olive trees – we do recommend this place!
Police and Emergency Medical Teams are setting up all around the Vieux Port in preparation for the fireworks at 10, and early arrivers are claiming their spots chosen for the best view. After a sunset stroll along the water, we head up to our room, waiting for the show. Just after ten, the streetlights surrounding the port turn off, music booms from the speakers, and here we go! 16 pontoons are lined up down the middle,

and flare in unison with beautiful firework displays, while to our left, above Fort St. Nicolas, more fireworks fill the sky – what a show! Happy Birthday Kirk!
The celebrations  continue on Sunday – France is in the World Cup! But the day starts quietly, with a walk around the port (check out the mermaids!)  after the delicious buffet breakfast at the Radisson Blu.
You’ve heard of Savon de Marseille, I’m sure – now available worldwide, and one of the most popular booths at any south of France market – well why not buy fragrant olive oil soap right here in Marseille, IN the Vieux Port?One more delicious Marseille meal – fresh seafood -with-a-view at Caravelle – thanks, Corey of French La Vie for the recommendation!
Then under the so-cool reflective canopy we walk, snap a photo of ourselves, metro to the station, and bus back to Aix with revelers ready to watch the big game – yes, Les Bleus are World Champions again! Last time was 1998, and we were in Paris for that unforgettable revelry. Aix celebrates more calmly, we’re glad to say 🙂
What fun this second-largest city of France, Marseille, has been – we’ll be back!