On my count, we visited at least 32 churches around western Europe. Is that 22 too many? Am I a convert? Everybody does it when they visit the region. Every one of them has their selling points. Do you lose or gain more appreciation for them when you see more and more? You understand more, but perhaps you are interested less. It was very refreshing when we first landed in Morocco, and the architecture and feel were completely different. The Marrakesh airport was so modern compared to that of Madrid. I made a big folder of church photos, and that helped decide which were my favourites:
1. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence [I just love its iconic dome and the way it shapes the skyline]
2. The Pantheon, Rome [amazing un-reinforced concrete dome with opening, free access and so stunning]
3. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona [ah, the city of Gaudí. The romance of still being under construction, the way the window colours paint the space, the modernity and sense of awe as you look up and around. It just loses points as we had to pay a fortune to go up the tower too. Don’t be like us and book early!]
4. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris [one main area with lovely stained glass panels]
5. Bruder-Klaus-Feldkapelle, Mechernich, Germany [the things I am exposed to in architecture class! I visited so many buildings I knew of from lectures on this trip. It is commissioned in the middle of a field and very special. Peter Zumthor is masterful – I found out when we were lucky enough to visit his Therme Vals in eastern Switzerland.]
(The featured image in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, which is a close runner-up! Mmm, marble.)
Anyhow, apart from that, there are even more churches which we passed and didn’t enter. After travelling so intensely for an extended period of time, I experience a great deal of fatigue. The body always longs for balance. It will pass up any more churches and museums, but it will still take all the mountains and lakes that it can get. I suppose I am more of a nature girl.
returning to London
We drove back to Calais to take the ferry back to London this time instead of the Channel Tunnel train. As we reached Calais, the sun was setting with the wind turbines in the background. Our last night in France reminded us of our first night in France, an exactly similar image. Only everything was more dead now. It was a few bittersweet moments we shared. We had travelled for so long that the start of the trip already became nostalgic.
When we got to London, as we were selling the car, we stayed home most of the time. I had all these administrative errands stacked up from the past three months that I wanted to complete. The place we stayed at was a new listing, and we witnessed our host working night and day. He vastly improved the decor and amenities available to us during the few days we were there. He must have thought we were such homebodies, only emerging from our cave for food. The only thing we did was go to town for a show, to say goodbye on our last day together. Even now as I’m by myself in Norway, I find it to be a luxury to slow down. This country is not so densely populated and overrun with tourists, and I find peace. The few hours of daylight and cold of the outside world help my productivity.
I have not yet successfully planned how much longer I will stay away from home. Will I miss events like Christmas and Chinese New Year to get back just before classes start? One of my main deterrents at the moment is the fires in Sydney. I don’t mind the heat, but the poor air quality is a greater cause for concern.
It also begs the question of what my future of travel will be. Europe had always been my dream, and now I have been able to achieve that. To me, other places have less priority and travel has lost part of its sense of urgency. (Perhaps I will sing a different tune once I’m home and hard at work again.) We always struggle between stability and chaos. Hopefully I will grow more content as a person. (It would be nice to buy a house.) When we travel, do we lose ourselves more than we find ourselves?