Sleepless in Salisbury

Through our years of traveling we have tried to come up with all sorts of tricks to outsmart jetlag. In general, they don’t work, but we discovered a town well worth exploring… CONTINUE READING >> 

Through our years of traveling we have tried to come up with all sorts of tricks to outsmart jetlag. Drink lots of water (just have to climb out of our seats to pee mid-flight), take sleeping pills (wake up super groggy and nod off in the customs line, or don’t sleep much the night before (see previous problem).

In general, they don’t work, but we have found that when flying overnight from east to west (such as from the US to Europe) it seems to help if we can force ourselves to stay awake for the first day in an effort to get our bodies on to the local time.

With this in mind we decided to hop on a bus, then a train, straight from London’s Heathrow to the highly historic hamlet of Salisbury on our last trip across the pond. Our intention, and the inspiration for our attempt to fight off the forces of exhaustion, was to use the town as a launching pad for a visit to Stonehenge.

That worked fine, but we also discovered a town well worth exploring in its own right.

The village is dominated by the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It would be impossible for it not to be, since the church tower sports the tallest spire in the UK.

Building began way back in 1220, with the final touches on the tower being added about one hundred years later. We’ve seen a lot of churches in our wanderings and have to say that this is one of the most impressive we ever laid eyes on. It certainly helped us in our effort to keep them open.

The magnificent cathedral was built to replace the church at Old Sarum, the site of the original settlement and castle that we stopped at on our way back to town from Stonehenge. This hilltop fortress has mostly disintegrated now, but served as a stronghold since 400 BC.

Each new group that came to power used it, as Romans, Saxons, and Normans all took control over the course of some fifteen centuries. Very little is left today, but we could clearly see the foundation of the old church just beyond the moat that protected the castle.

When it was decided to move the city, legend has it that the bishop fired an arrow to mark a spot for the new church. Trouble is he hit a deer.

The wounded animal ran several miles before ultimately dropping on the site of the current cathedral.

It is also possible that the bishop already owned the land and simply donated it, but that’s not nearly as good of a story.

By the time we got back to Salisbury to check out the church it was closed, so we made plans to come back for a look at the inside in the morning.

Still, we had some time to kill if we were going to live up to our jetlag reduction method, so we set out to explore the rest of town as the sun was beginning to fade.

Leaving the cathedral, we passed under the High Street Gate into the center of the old city.

The passage was built early in the fourteenth century with stones taken from Old Sarum.

It is the only remaining of the four that once allowed access within the protective wall that had been constructed around the Cathedral precinct.

Beyond the gate we came to a market cross. These elaborate markers indicate a market square that was authorized by royalty or the bishop to sell certain items.

This one was for poultry, but other crosses once stood in Salisbury that marked spots for buying cheese, livestock, and wool.

Just down the quickly darkening street the tower from St Thomas’ Church caught our sleepy eyes.

This stately church, named for St Thomas Becket, was built for the workers constructing the cathedral back in 1219 and is best known for its intriguing medieval mural depicting heaven and hell on Judgment Day.

By the time we made it to the old clock tower on Fisherton Street signs of daylight were nearly gone, and so was our ability to stay awake.

The tower had once served as a jail, and in our current condition we would have been OK with those accommodations, but luckily our inn, The King’s Head, was right across the bridge.

After some fish and chips washed down with a couple of pints, we were out like lights.

Bright and early the next morning we felt as though our jetlag eradication mission had been accomplished. Our body clocks seemed reasonably synchronized to the time zone we were occupying.

We revisited the sights from the night before with brighter eyes and then noticed something we had missed, quirky pub names. The King’s Head struck us as a little off the wall, but right across the street we saw The Slug & Lettuce, and a bit later the Wig & Quill. Got to love it!

Upon returning to the cathedral we found the inside to be just as impressive as the exterior.

We also discovered an unexpected surprise. The church was hosting a dramatic display of life-sized sculptures called Shadows of the Wanderer.

Created by Ana Maria Pacheco, each darkly engaging form is carved from a single lime tree, giving them a sturdy and solid presence that was mesmerizing for us. As a group they look haunted while striving to rescue a fellow wanderer.

We circled the platform that they were standing on several times trying to take it all in. It is a powerful piece and we were extremely glad that we were lucky enough to see it before the showing ended in July of 2017.

As we explored the rest of the church we noticed that several other works by Ms. Pacheco were also on display. The head of John the Baptist on a platter was by far the most jarring, with the realism being somewhat disturbing.

The cathedral also houses two incredible historic items. We encountered the first almost by accident since it is presented with very little fanfare. Perhaps less than it deserves as the world’s oldest working clock.

Dating back to 1386, it was originally located in a bell tower and has no face since the hours were rung out on the bells.

The tower was demolished in 1792 and the clock moved to another until 1884 when it was stored away. The ancient timepiece was rediscovered in 1929, then restored in 1956, and has taken a licking but keeps on ticking today.

The other, even more impressive historic artifact has a special room to house it just off of the main church. The former chapter house, or meeting room, now holds one of the last four remaining originals of the Magna Carta.

This is considered to be the best-preserved surviving hand written copy of the document that arguably set the standard for all civil liberties to come.

In 1215 the Magna Carta Libertatum, which is Latin for the Great Charter of the Liberties, laid out rules restricting monarchs from abusing their power and granting rights to subjects, including rules on taxation, freedom of the church, and trail by a jury of one’s peers.

The document is so fragile, and valuable, that it can only be seen inside a special protective tent and no photographs are allowed, but we promise, we actually did get to see it, even if we don’t have a selfie to prove it.

On our way out of town we happened to notice a display in a candy shop window that brought us full circle to the giant stone circle that had lured us here.

The confectioner had created a scale model of Stonehenge out of fudge and proudly presented Fudgehenge.

Now that we could take a picture of… and were glad we stayed awake to see!

David & Veronica,

A Broken Record

With the devastation wrought by the record breaking storms Harvey, Irma, and Maria, we feel that we must do whatever we can to bring attention to the massive resources that will be necessary for cleanup and rebuilding. CONTINUE READING >> 

We get it, that’s what we are beginning to sound like. But with the devastation wrought by the record breaking storms Harvey, Irma, and Maria we feel that we must do whatever we can to bring attention to the massive resources that will be necessary for cleanup and rebuilding.

All across the Gulf Coast, Florida, and especially the Caribbean, people are left not only homeless, but without the very basics needed to sustain life. Food and clean water must be brought in almost daily since there is no way to store perishables until electricity can be restored. This could take weeks, or even months in some places, so we will continue to call out and sound like a broken record.

As bad as Harvey hit Houston, and Irma Florida, our attention focuses on the islands in the Caribbean for several reasons.

First, they took the full force of the destructive winds from both Irma and Maria, and the strength of these monster hurricanes broke records while pounding the islands of Barbuda, Dominica, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico.

Second, it is much more difficult to get supplies and personnel to these remote isles than the mainland areas that were stricken since airports and seaports suffered severe damage.

Third, the media often overlooks these smaller islands after the initial news of the storms fades and new stories take our attention.

Lastly, we lived for nearly ten years on St. Croix and still love it like home. We monitored Maria’s progress, nervous and terrified, while staying in touch with our friends as much as possible through Facebook. Luckily all are OK, but returning the island to its beautiful prior condition will be a huge task.

While we lived there, local hero and NBA legend Tim Duncan was in the prime of his stellar, dare we call it record breaking, career. Everybody followed his every move as he led the San Antonio Spurs to league titles and was named MVP twice.

Now he is leading an even bigger challenge, raising the funds needed to provide for the people and reconstruction of the US Virgin Islands.

We are hopeful that with our donation, and by spreading the word of his endeavor, we can have some small impact on the recovery and gratefully ask for help from all who can.

Read about Tim Duncan’s experience after hurricane Hugo while growing up on St. Croix and how that led him to spearhead this effort:

See a video of Tim talking about his effort:

Follow his progress on Twitter:

Donate here:

Find other ideas to help here:

David & Veronica,

Care for the Caribbean

The aftermath from the deadly duo of hurricanes Harvey and Irma has left us overwhelmed. With so much destruction in Texas and Florida, it is also easy to overlook the truly catastrophic damage left behind in the Caribbean… CONTINUE READING >> 

Our beautiful island home before the storm.

The aftermath from the deadly duo of hurricanes Harvey and Irma has left us overwhelmed. With so much destruction in Texas and Florida, it is also easy to overlook the truly catastrophic damage left behind in the Caribbean.

Having lived on an island there for nearly a decade, we certainly feel for our former neighbors. We can hardly process the images of the devastation in the US Virgin Islands. 

Our home of St. Croix was fortunately mostly sparred, but St. Thomas and St. John were horribly ravaged and recovery is going to take months, if not years.

In light of this, NBA legend Tim Duncan, who is from St. Croix, has established the 21USVIHurricane Help Fund by personally donating a quarter of a million dollars and pledging to match donations up to one million.

He wrote an eloquent story about his experience of growing up in the islands and and what it was like after hurricane Hugo. That is why he feels so strongly about helping in this time of need.

Reading it really took us back to our old home. In fact, in a real blast of nostalgia, the neighborhood basketball hoop that they are playing at in the story is right across the street from our old house.

We understand that so many people are struggling right now, and we can’t possibly help everybody, but if you can please join us in extending a helping hand to America’s paradise, the US Virgin Islands.

Five Fabulous Favorites

Without a doubt the most common question we are asked about our travels is “What is your favorite place?” We always say that it is nearly impossible to pick just one, but this handful are usually among the ones that spring to mind… CONTINUE READING >> 

Without a doubt the most common question we are asked about our travels is “What is your favorite place?” We always say that it is nearly impossible to pick just one, but this handful are usually among the ones that spring to mind.

We present them in no particular order:

The Galapagos Islands:

While this volcanic archipelago is best known for the wildlife that Charles Darwin introduced the world to in his The Voyage of the Beagle, much of which is exclusive to these isolated islands, the landscape is equally awe inspiring and ever changing. Each island offered a completely new environment from lush jungle to harsh lava flows.

The giant tortoises, red and blue footed boobies, and myriads of other birds that reside in this variable habitat are completely fearless of humans so our encounters were definitely up close and personal. Under the sea brought incredible encounters as well, when we swam with sea lions, turtles, marine iguanas, and tropical penguins.

Machu Picchu:

We visited this wonder of the world on the same trip as the Galapagos which, while providing for a fortnight of supreme sensory overload, made up the trip of a lifetime.

The inexplicable ruins more than deserve their stature as a bucket list must see, with their inexplicable architecture and sensational setting high in the Andes mountains, but there is much more to the area than the famous lost city, the entire Sacred Valley had us amazed at every turn.


We haven’t been everywhere (although it seems like it sometimes), but this might just be the friendliest place on earth! Although we were obviously “from away” we were welcomed with open arms at every stop.

We even got Screeched in, making us honorary citizens, better known as Newfies.

After our adventure we are convinced that the best way to see this amazing Atlantic outpost is by RV since, despite the fact that it is an island, we drove to Newfoundland.

Queensland, Australia:

Veronica is crazy for animals, any animals, so with the opportunity to hold a koala, pet kangaroos, see Tasmanian devils, walk by wallabies, cross paths with a cassowary, watch wombats, get to know kookaburras,  touch an echidna, and even feed crocs, Australia was an instant favorite in her book.

Add to that the chance to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and its no wonder we rate Queensland near the top of our list.

Cajun Country:

We wouldn’t want to overlook the good ol’ U S of A, and we don’t because we always include the unique culture that occupies the land of south Louisiana known as Acadiana in our tally of top choices.

This is not New Orleans, although we love the Big Easy too, Cajun Country has a history all of its own that traces back to Canada over a century ago.

So those are our most prevalent picks, but since we could hardly limit ourselves to only five destination we will add honorable mentions to Tanzania and Shanghai.

Wait, also Alaska, and Italy, and Prague, and so on, and so on, and so on…

David & Veronica,

A Gypsy Daughter Moves to Paris (and leaps out of her comfort zone)

As a young woman, I never imagined I’d move to France. I had no girlhood obsession with Paris, no special feelings for French culture, no Eiffel Tower prints in my college dorm room. I didn’t even like cheese…. CONTINUE READING >> 

(This is a guest post from our daughter, who recently restarted her life on a new continent and launched a website chronicling her experience: Am I French Yet?)

As a young woman, I never imagined I’d move to France. I had no girlhood obsession with Paris, no special feelings for French culture, no Eiffel Tower prints in my college dorm room. I didn’t even like cheese. But I fell in love with a Frenchman, and we all know how love can completely change the course of your life.

Now here I am in my 30s restarting my life in a foreign country and learning my first foreign language in earnest. I am aware that my current situation is a privilege, and a bit of a dream for many Americans. I also know that I have a leg up in many ways: I have a French husband (and his family), I have the means and time to focus on learning a language and to discover my new country daily through its world-renowned food, culture and landscapes.

However, demolishing your former life and restarting in a foreign land is not always a picnic, no matter where you move. Learning a language means embarrassing yourself daily as you pick up words and phrases bit by bit. Navigating the bureaucracy of another country (in a tongue you barely speak no less) to access banking, visas, and education can be demoralizing.

You lose a lot of the autonomy that naturally comes with being in your native country, speaking the language perfectly and never having to question whether you belong. It is an exercise in challenging your self-esteem and determination.

When deciding whether to move to France this spring, I came across a quote that really resonated with me: “There is no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.” (Side note: I searched for the attribution to this quote and found everything from anonymous to a member of Def Leppard, so let’s just say it’s unknown.)

Sitting in my New York City apartment, I thought about how this quote applied to my situation. NYC is not a city known for being particularly warm and snuggly, but I had carved out a relatively comfortable life there after 11 years. I had a decent apartment (no small feat), a job I was proud of and a social circle of people I adored. Was I ready to give that all up? Did I really know what I was in for moving to another country?

I ramped up French study sessions with my husband. I imagined myself without my family and friends close by. I imagined restarting the career I’d built over the past decade. I tried to prepare myself for the difficult aspects as much as I could without actually standing on French soil.

But I also let myself dream. About finally speaking French comfortably with my in-laws. Introducing my future children to my favorite gardens and museums in Paris. About the experiences and lessons that can only come from taking a big leap out of your comfort zone.

So we did it. We moved to Paris. Now three months in, I’m definitely still out of my comfort zone, but I’ve also expanded it greatly. There have been tears and moments (okay, entire days) of frustration and questioning my decision. But there have also been language breakthroughs, a bottle of 50-year-old wine shared with new and old friends, moments of disbelief I get to live in such a gorgeous place, and the gift of being re-introduced to my husband through his own country.

I started my blog, Am I French Yet?, for a few reasons. First, I want to share the many-sided experience of becoming an immigrant with friends, family and anyone else who was interested. Second, I couldn’t find much practical information about navigating the immigration process in France and figured if I was looking for it, many others must be as well. And finally, because I want to remember these early months and how they feel. Hopefully I’ll be able to look back in a year or five and be proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and building a new life, en français.

Charli James is a journalist, writer and GypsyNester daughter currently living in Paris, France.