Architecture · Art · Chicago · Kent · Life On The Road · Road Signs · Transportation · Travel · UK · Weather

Tudeley All Saints Church : Inside a Gem

#RochesterKent

A few years ago, I watched a BBC television feature on a little church in Tudeley which housed stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall.  By the end of the program, a visit to All Saints Church Tudeley was in my Bucket List.  So when 3 weeks ago the Hubby had a couple of days’ work with a client down in Rochester (Kent), I grabbed the opportunity to tag along with the goal of striking out to neighboring Tudeley from there.  I planned to go via Tonbridge, about an hour away by train from the Strood station, which was in turn a bus ride and walk from the hotel.  A long-time admirer of Chagall’s works, I have been lucky that 2 of them are within easy viewing for me when in Chicago :  the Four Seasons outdoor mosaic murals (4-sided) at the Chase Plaza entrance to the Dearborn Blue Line station; and of course the America windows at the Art Institute.  All Saints in Tudeley is particularly special because it is the only Church where all (12!) its stained glass windows are works of the Artist.  There is a tragic, heartbreaking story behind the Windows’ commission, but it all turned to good as both Story and Artwork are now immortalized by the collaborative genius of Chagall and glassmaker Charles Marq of Reims.

My trek to All Saints Church Tudeley began with this page, and the “How To Find Us” directions here.  For all the big-time, long-road, open-sky driving that I do in the US, I cannot drive here in the UK (yet). So, from among my available options to get to the Church, I decided to do so by-foot, instead of cab or bus.  That decision came easily enough : The walking directions, which I carefully copied by hand, had described the trek as “delightful”; and I was quickly sold on the lyrical characterization of the landmarks along the way:

“the road rises to the crest of the hills and then descends”

parade of shops”

little black and white lodge” 

green footpath fingerpost”

“charming foot path lane between high sided walls (may be wet underfoot)”

charming wooded dells”

Indeed, a pied it is.  Surely, I thought, there will be a throng of visitors headed the same way from the train station.  That scenic 2.5 mile walk will be dreamy and enjoyable; and it will give me a good 5,000 steps exercise on the walking app (multiplied by 2 if I walked back!).  I also envisioned having interesting exchanges with fellow enthusiasts.  EASY.  Or so I thought.  

I hurled the first of my assumptions out the window as soon as I got off the train.  I should’ve known that a gloomy, chilly, windy Thursday is not exactly the best day for the Chagall Window Enthusiasts sub-set.  Or perhaps any one for that matter.  I found myself walking alone, often bemused if a house or footpath qualifies as “charming” as described in the Directions, and second-guessing what exactly “wooded dells” looked like.  I was a City-Mouse lost in the deep country.  At some point I found myself the only human within sight, often shadowed by that nagging feeling of being followed.  Of course, it turned out that the imagined sound of footsteps or rustling was actually my backpack rubbing against my neoprene jacket.  I walked through lush fields, mountains of molehills, nettles and brambles that whipped at the hems of my jeans.  I wondered where to shelter if the clouds suddenly gave in and poured, and hesitated when a path Y’s out to different paths.  It amuses but doesn’t surprise me, on hindsight, that “The Blair Witch Project” movie was on my mind as I sallied forth.  [Slideshow below to view some of the bits I saw along the way.]:

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By the time I finally managed to get the Destination within sight, the clouds have given way and Sun was out full-blast.  I had sweat running down the small of my back.  My ankles were soft and wobbly.  My pedometer indicated that it took Lost and Flat-footed Me a total of 7.1 miles (2 hours +) to do the 2.5 mile walk. :)  I crossed the dusty road to a little village church that looked outwardly plain and unspectacular, curious to see what lies inside.  [Hover mouse over the bottom of each pics below to see my marginal notes!].

As it turned out, the church building’s deceptively unsophisticated exterior was the perfect tension before the BIG WOW.  Pushed open, the main wooden door was the rabbit-hole to a wholly different world.  The plain white walls and exposed beams provided the perfect canvas for Chagall’s masterpieces.   That day, within that smallish space, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, I walked into a magnificent crossfire of light from 12 vibrantly colorful sets of windows, — primarily beaming the Blues of night sky and deep sea, and a couple golden Yellows the color of corn and sunlight.  The Windows framed an eclectic collection of Biblical characters, members of the  D’Avignon family, the Moon, fishes and doves, sea creatures, playful donkeys, mythical birds, the whisper of Chagall’s term of endearment for his wife (“Vava”), and a selfie of the artist himself!

I’ve read somewhere that the experience of Tudeley All Saints Church feels like being inside a jewelry box.  That is an understatement — I felt like being inside the jewel itself, — and a perfect, most sparkling one at that.    Slideshow below : — 

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Best of all, I had that wonderful space all to myself for most of the time.  It’s not always like this.  The place gets packed with visitors in the summer apparently.  And so I lingered a bit, savored the quiet and the glow of natural and enhanced lights, and remembered my dad.  How I wish he were still around to hear me blabber about this.  And finally, when it was time to head back, I took the bus.  Exhausted and jelly-legged, thoughtful and happy. :)

VISITING TIPS:

1. Don’t forget to walk into the open Vestry on the west side of the Church (directly opposite the altar).  There is a switch towards the back which lights up the Boscawen Windows (Victorian glass) on the south wall.  These panels were replaced by the last Chagall installations.

IMG_5982

2.  The walking from Tunbridge station is indeed scenic and beautiful.  However if walking through isolated paths is not your thing, make sure you plan ahead and go with a group.  It may not be easy to navigate the Directions on your own.

3.  If you are taking the walk, make sure you pack enough drinking water, your phone is charged or bring back-up power so you can keep in touch if you get lost.  It is quite a long walk, —  with lots of ups and downs and uneven grounds, — and you WILL get lost if it is your first time.  Give yourself enough time allowance, and the cardinal rule:  wear comfortable shoes.

4.  There are interesting and very good publications and postcards on the side of the church.  And a donation box to drop payments and donations.

5.  There is a labyrinth on grounds.  I didn’t see it though.

6.  1.5 miles away is the St. Thomas a Becket Chapel. No longer in active use.  Supposedly has fantastic 13th century painted murals.  It’s still on my list of to-sees.

7.  Bus service to the train station is infrequent — an hour between buses.  And they don’t run late.  The last bus is just past 4:00 p.m., so plan accordingly.  

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.”
― Marc Chagall

France · Life · Life On The Road · Lost In Translation · love · Short Notes

Lost In Translation, Yet Again

Once in a while the strangest blonde moment creeps up — no offense to the blondes, just using it as a cliche — that truly embarrasses me. We were driving along the dusty backroads of the French countryside (Normandie!) when the Hubby looks skywards sharply, points a finger, and says “Hawk!”.

Me (puzzled and looking up): PORK?  (I swear I heard him say “Pawk”, as in the British pronunciation for “Pork”)

Hubby (even more puzzled): HAWK! Big bird. Hawk!

Me (realizing the absurdity of a high-flying piece of meat, and trying to be cool about the sudden drop of IQ): Oh, HAWK, right. ok.

Hubby: Pork?  Why would I say “Pork”?  I was pointing at the sky….

Me: I don’t know.  That’s what I thought I heard.  But hey, you never know. You know what they say —  “when pigs fly….”

Nonstop shaking of head and laughing between us. You’d think by now these lost-in-translation moments would long have banished.  Oy vey.

Wall Art in Nottingham, UK
Wall Art in Nottingham, UK
Life · love · Photography · Travel

Year in Perspective

MMXI is due in 3 hours.  Hubby and I still hem and haw whether or not to hop on the bus (it’s free anyway) to Navy Pier to watch the midnight fireworks.  We’re hearing the 8:15 fireworks (the “family bash” session) from our apartment and can see little flashes towards the east of our mainly south view directly at the city.  Another bigger display is due at midnight.  Meanwhile, I cannot let the month and year past without a last post so here, a quick look back at the year that was.

1.  The year started with the passing away of my father– and this means that from here on, Life is changed in a significant way and it will just never be totally complete.  But it is true how when the rug is pulled from under your feet you realize who your true friends are:  classmates from high school and university many long lost and suddenly rediscovered, colleagues, former assistants who made themselves on call for errands, cousins who are almost our siblings.  And most importantly, it has made me treasure my mother even more, as I know I have much to catch up with her.

2.  Adjusting to Life in the UK is ongoing, slowly but surely.  I’ve long been able to move around on public transport on my own.  I am doing my share to put our new home together.  I am meeting C’s friends and carrying on longer conversations with them, with sharper ears now keener to their accents.   I have favorite restaurants and favorite shops now.  And I have met my first friend on my own, a wonderful American expat who is uber-smart, funny, and fun to hang around with. I have yet to get that driver’s license (but let me get over “the big switch” from the wrong side of the road to the right and proper one ;p), and take time to sit for the England & Wales Bar Exam.  But the hope is that this year I will not use the transitoriness of my stays on either side of the pond as excuse not to get things done.

3.  I visited Paris for the first time in my life.  :)  In celebration of our first year of marriage.  E-tickets for our paper anniversary.

4.  I’ve joined a group of 4 other enthusiasts to put up a daily photoblog. I’m learning to tinker more with the camera, often taking long solitary drives to the strangest places for a photo op.  And the hubby has been supportive by supplying me, unasked, with gadgetry and accessories to go with the camera (haha).  More than that, when I suggest to him that I want to take a picture in this or that place, he almost always goes along with my crazy ideas, drives me to the destination, and helps me set up the camera.  It’s only when he starts to direct me how to do the picture (he being a former photography enthusiast) that the battle of wills between us rears its head.  Did I ever tell you of that time we tried to catch the August moon?  Good that I didn’t.  Let me just say that I was told in no uncertain terms to read the manual first next time we set out on a cold, dark night for a photo shoot.

5.  In March, on the very day I was driving back to Chicago from CowTown having concluded my work with a major client, I learn that the file room and accounting office burned down (about 40% of the office space).  What to do but to make a U-turn and head back?  My own office was water-damaged.  There was no power for the duration of the restoration.  Operations were done in the big conference room, public-library style.  My laptop did its bit with a big-time sympathy crash (blue screen of death) and I had to delay return to the UK for quite a bit until things were put together, records reconstituted as best as able, systems put back in place and the life of the company can go on as normally as possible.  As with most major trials, everyone pulled together and worked doubly hard with the most limited resources.   All this during a peak busy period.  Today, the stitches don’t even seem to show.

6.  Health is alright.  The eyesight has reached that interesting stage where I have to take my glasses off when I read.  Meanwhile, hubby and I are contemplating whether adoption is something for us (the social worker will not be very impressed with our travelling lifestyle though).  On matters like this, I often wish there was some wise sage who can just tell me what the correct answer is.  Just tell me, I’ll do it.  This is one of those tough essay questions Life has hurled at us; and it’s constantly whirling in my mind on those long drives, or when I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep.   I shampooed my hair thrice in the shower once, lost in thought over this, and that’s when I decided that maybe it would be a good idea to set reflecting aside for a while.  Result that day:  dry Medusa hair.

7.  Career is alright.  I now have contract work with an American firm in London, in addition to my busy little independent practice in the US.  Hubby is busier than ever working in power plants.  I still cannot answer for sure when people ask me what EXACTLY he does.  It’s too narrow and specialized a field to describe.  Most of the time it’s just easier to say he works in a power plant much like Homer Simpson.

8.  Relationship with hubby is wonderful and edifying.  Our families are safe and well.  If just for these, I already cannot be thankful enough.  And thus bittersweet as the year has been I will say 2010 has been good.

British "stuff" · Entertainment · Life On The Road · Photography · York

Bright Lights

We visited beautiful and historic York on Friday night to catch “Illuminating York“, an annual light and sound festival which alternates among landmarks of the city.  I believe this is the 6th year of the festival.  This year’s son et lumiere piece entitled “Rose” was designed by award winning projection artist Ross Ashton and sound artist Karen Monid.   The lights were played against the South transept of the York Minster where the awesome Rose Window is housed.  I truly enjoyed the visual and audio experience — the loudness of it, the brightness of it, just the hugeness of the experience under clear skies with just-right cool, jacket-hugging weather.  Unfortunately, in our rush to head out to the venue before the rush hour traffic, I’d forgottem to bring my (heavy-duty, literally) tripod.   Which makes taking any nighttime photos a bit of a challenge.  To keep my shots as steady as possible under the circumstances, I had either rested the camera on C’s shoulders or head, or at best, lean one corner of the camera on the ground while tilting the lens upwards.  Many shots came out blurred sadly, but hey.

Below is a collage I’ve put together.  Not all that brilliant, given the limitations.  Caveat:  they’re lightyears away from the beauty of the real deal so it is highly recommended that you catch it next year (or later) if you can.  :)

Illuminating York. York Minster. October 2010.

I’ve shamelessly submitted my pictures to the photography competition of the event.   100 GBP in photography vouchers at stake (you amused?).  Nothing really fancy, but think of the bragging rights for an uber-amateur like me:  yup, priceless.  To my pleasant surprise, I received an email from one of the reps asking for high-res copies of my shots.  I complied with 7 shots, gladly and with all the chutzpah that I can muster.  Even better, the organizers have humored me by putting them up in their official Flickr page, along with seriously beautiful captures.  Now THAT has amused me no end.  Please check it out:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/official_illuminating_york/

Trust me.  It will be worth your while to see the photos.  Not (just) mine.  But those of the others. ;)

Illuminating York  Website : http://www.illuminatingyork.org.uk

Twitter handle:  @illuminateyork

Flickr page :  http://www.flickr.com/photos/official_illuminating_york/

British Business · Hotels & Inns · Lawyers Life · Life On The Road · Travel · UK · Work

Charge for Wifi? Why, fie!

 

From a little corner table at the hotel cafe, Nottingham

 

Travelling away from home has a funny way of making days pass by quicker.  For the past weeks, C and I have been living our usual pretty itinerant lifestyle, a different part of the UK every week.  C covers his consulting gigs, and I tag along with my own hardcase of paperwork to do while away.  Actually “away” is not quite the word.  Perhaps I should fine-tune that word to “further away”, especially when the conveniences and comforts available while working from our home in Manchester are not available.  My work as an attorney in the US requires me to pass big bulks of work across the Atlantic.  And so when we are on the road, I have to find my nook to do work, and equally importantly, I need to have internet connection to send work across.  Unlike in the US, many UK hotel groups/chains do not offer free internet connection.  Not even when a big chunk of their clientele are business travellers.  For instance, C is a frequent user of another hotel group (Let’s call it “P Hotel” The Premier Inn group) for his business travels.   The said Hotel chain is extensive, and you generally can also find one located outside of city centre and anywhere across the UK — convenient for C as power plants are usually located quite far from them.  I like that P hotels Premier Inns have spankin’ clean rooms, are pretty no-frills (altho very often, I wouldn’t mind some pretty frills), and — they have showers and not just bath tubs (happy me!)!   However, what seriously irks me is that the P hotels they charge for internet.  Their rate?  £5 per hour, or £10 for any time use within a 24 hour period (multiply that by a 4 day stay).  The guest must pay this upfront (front desk), and they give you a “scratch” card with a password.  There have been many times when, just for the principle of it, I want to refuse to pay more than the room rates (which believe me, can go quite high when booked on short notice).  But then I tell myself “what principle are you talking about?  It’s just how they choose to do business”,  knowing that sticking to my guns would go against professionalism.  No choice then but to suck it up and pay for it.  Alternatively I would/could take the bus into town, find a Starbucks, and work there until the Barristas either become my good friends or get annoyed.  Trust me, it is awful to feel that you’ve overstayed your welcome.  So it usually ends up with me spending more money for coffee and cookies.  Bottomline, what I had done in these instances really made no economical sense.  To save £10, I spent more (bus ride to and from, coffee and cookies).  So what do I do but gripe silently to myself in utter frustration?  And outwardly, act nonchalant and bear it.  That’s the British way, and when in Rome.

One of the places we regularly stay in when in Edinburgh is the King’s Manor.   This hotel is managed by the Best Western UK group (Twitter handle:  “BestWesternGB”).  They provide free broadband to guests.  What a relief.  Hotel people who understand that providing internet connection today is the functional equivalent of having bedside and lobby telephones in yesteryears.  A simple, basic feature like this,– and I am less antsy about not being able to take care of my clients overseas.  In the end I enjoy travel and stay that much more.    I hope hotels in the UK realize that the value of providing broadband to guests, and the competitive advantage it provides to their business mark worldwide, are much more than the sum of its actual costs.  No hotel guest wants to feel isolated from contact, or to feel that they have to pay additional for a few hours of de-isolation.  Too much nickel-and-diming your clients. And really, how silly.

So this week, we booked ourselves in another Best Western hotel.  This time, the Westminster in Nottingham.  We will continue to stay in BW hotels and look into them wherever we travel.

Anyway, by way of  FYI, since this is a blog about expat life, here are some of the hotel groups in the UK where guests PAY FOR WIFI:

  • Hilton
  • Travelodge
  • Holiday Inn
  • Marriott
  • Malmaison
  • Premier Inn and
  • Thistle

And those that PROVIDE FREE WIFI TO GUESTS include:

  • DE VERE
  • RADISSON
  • SAS
  • CITY INN and of course,
  • BEST WESTERN

(Source :  “Do Not Disturb” magazine, Issue No. 1)

p.s.:  Best Western GB has come up with the first magazine issue called “Do Not Disturb”.  The magazine is unconventional, fun and interestingly quirky — definitely in line with the company’s byline “Hotels with Personality”.

Cover of "Do Not Disturb"
Life · Road Signs · Travel · Uncategorized · USA · Work

Meanderings

In a few days I will be headed home to the UK, and I can’t wait.  The best thing is always that moment when I finally exit UK Immigration and look through the sea of faces for That One. :)   Yeah, home is really where the heart is.  I have been musing today about how little I blog while I am in Chicago, or while travelling around the States.  I seem to dive in getting my nose dirty in books and papers, catching up with friends, finding ways to bask in the new and get back in the groove of the familiar, running around doing 3,000 things.  In short, I blog less wearing my “Miss Chicago hat” than when I am on the other end of the Atlantic “missing Chicago”.  Which really makes me think whether this whole blog needs a change of direction.  I have ideas swimming in my head.  And re-packaging, and a new related blog which may involve providing my loyal readership of four (one of whom is my husband) with US Immigration and Nationality laws tidbits and updates, may be forthcoming.  Oooh, lucky you.  (really….).

On a side note, I have a professional collaboration possibility in the UK the off-ing.  It’s not employment, and at this point in my life, anyway, “employment” is not something I am interested in.  (Did I tell you my Indian name was “Bindher Dandhat”?)  I like the freedom of being on my own.  I got an (unexpected) invite from them, but the proposal on paper seems ideal.  The talks are scheduled for the day after I arrive in the UK.  I take the train to London the next day, and am keeping my fingers crossed on that one.  My Jewish and Chinese sides tell me to keep all other details under wraps.  Wish me luck. :)

This is a picture of where I was over the weekend. I drove quite a ways to Eureka Springs. The trek was not what I expected. It was on the mountains and I was on 36 miles of steep and curvey roads. I drove through 15 mph hairpins, if that gives any indication of why I was mostly thinking.... what would this drive be like in the WINTER when covered with snow? Boooo. Scroll your pointer over the picture to find out the name of this place.
CowTown · Life · Lost In Translation · love

Wii Don’t Need That

From my desk in Chicago.

A chunk of my time when I am in the US is spent outside of Chicago. In “CowTown” as I call it, — a busy little city at a corner of a state that shares a border with Illinois. The reason for the prolonged stop here is one of my major clients. I drive down from Chicago to do practically what an in-house counsel does: make sure everything is in order from ongoing litigation, to their labor, tax, immigration, contract, and business matters. Often I collaborate with local practitioners (by “local” I mean those licensed to appear in court in that state), which often makes me wonder whether or not I should just make life simpler and apply for reciprocity in this little state to add to my New York one. But that would mean less fraternizing with other practitioners (the banter can be fun), and more work for me (bad). Better not. And anyway, the travel to CowTown is but fair. The client pays for my plane fare to and from. Who am I to complain? Until I slow down and prepare to sit for the QLTT, and qualify myself as a solicitor in jolly olde England and Wales, Life will continue to be bi-coastal. Or maybe I should reinvent myself and do something other than lawyering. Maybe tight-rope walking or aeronautic engineering. Did I go on a tangent? Back to the topic. Small towns/cities. Ah yes, small towns and cities, such as good ol’ CowTown, DO have their charm. Life is slower. Streets have no sidewalks. Food is greasy. Walmart is busy (at night it also becomes Meth Central). People take time to smile and chat. People behind the counters are sunshiney and chirpy, and… can we just cut the crap and get the lines moving quicker please!?

And quite unlike it is in Chi-Town, people here in CowTown have their gym in a box. Yup. The handful that I know have a common denominator : a Wii console with all the bells and whistles, which they use for exercise. What a beauty. Recently, I even got to run a virtual bike race at “Wii Resort” against a 4-year old with pigtails. I need not tell you who between us got to the finish line first, and who pointed her little finger upwards and laughed a hearty “hahahha you lose!”. Suffice it to say that, well… it wasn’t me, and mostly it was because I didn’t quite know the rules of the game which included, inter alia, that I had to go slow on the pedalling once in a while, to manage my energy level lest I get disabled and dizzy and faint. At least onscreen. Which is precisely what happened. Ceteris paribus therefore not knowing the rules caused me to lose to someone 1/10th my age. I do not care if you’re thinking the lady protests too much. It’s always good defense: I-didn’t-know-the-rules-and-that-I-could-slash-could-not-do-that. Good faith always accounts for something. Even in Wii matches. And believe it or not, all the humiliation of losing actually made me more interested to get my hands on one of those gadgets. I checked out Best Buy. A “bundled” set for 2 players would cost $260 at Best Buy (with sales taxes a third lower than Chicago), and the basic set for a single player is a $199 special at Target. I asked the guy at Best Buy if the baby will work in the UK, and he assured me that I only need an “adaptor” to plug into the electric socket. But otherwise, the toy is, for all intents and purposes, multi-jurisdictional.

And so that afternoon over the phone, as the 6-hours-ahead hubby called to say good night, I deliver the important news: “Sweetheart (*you need a term of endearment in these times), we really, really need to get a Wii.” NEED. Not just want. We need it for exercise. As flab-buster. To maintain good health and wellbeing. The other end of the line is quiet. The hubby is appalled. He is a non-believer of virtual life. Methuselah thinks exercise should entail gym equipment, a racket, a ball, wheels, or at least REAL sunshine. He tells me he can’t believe I am going the way of the young and misguided who type before they can write, and who live full lives in the Non-Real realm. And then he throws me this punch: “And what will they think of next? Wii sex?” Then it was my turn to be quiet. — NOW WHERE ON EARTH IS MY BADMINTON RACKET?

Some shots from the weekend (scroll pointer over photos for description):

(c) smallbatteryball photography
Art · Fashion · Scotland

Fringe Benefits

From my desk in Chicago, IL.

Today, I was complimented twice on this tshirt I got from last year’s Fringe (The Edinburgh Festival). See below. First in Wow Bao on State and Lake. And later on the 148 bus. Pleasant surprise. I didn’t realize it was THAT special. :) But anyway, the said event was held last year precisely around this time.  My t-shirt says “Aug. 7-31”.  I bet this year’s is going on right now. I will find the link and update this post later.

p.s., Update:  And indeed it is ongoing:  06 to 30 August.  Click here for the home page. Here for twitter, and here for their Facebook “like” page.

"Britishisms" · British "stuff" · Canterbury · Life On The Road · Lost In Translation · Road Signs · Travel · UK

Sign Language

A couple of days ago, while walking down the streets of Canterbury (Kent) towards the center, I found this little sign by the under-serious-renovation St. Mildred’s Church:

Yeah, I too always thought signs best served their purpose when they are very simple notices.  If possible even understandable by older kids.  In the US, this same sign would probably read “Watch Out (or Keep Out).  Falling Debris.”  But this one looked, amusingly, more like a legal document.  “Falling Masonry”?  and “Inclement Weather Conditions”??  As I often tell the hubby, …. “seriously, who talks like that in daily conversation?”  :)