Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Day in Toulouse

We arrived in Carcassonne in Languedoc on Thursday and spent the next day learning our way around our new neighborhood at the foot of the enormous fortified city that gives the town its fame (more later). On Saturday the 24th we drove to the airport at Toulouse (about 50 miles way) to pick up our friend Jan Stone who was arriving from New Mexico as part of her 80th birthday celebrations. Extremely violent winds closed the airport all day, so her arrival was delayed by 12 hours, giving us a chance to spend a very windy day in Toulouse while Jan whiled away the hours in Amsterdam.

The first place we visited was the 13th-century cathedral church of St-Etienne, a strange asymmetrical combination of what are essentially two separate Gothic churches. A plan to replace an older structure with a newer church ran into an impasse due to financial difficulties, with the result that the church consists of two connected but totally different sections that are not even aligned on a single axis.

Later that afternoon, we were deeply moved by the breathtaking beauty of the basilica of St Sernin, one of the largest and most beautiful romanesque churches in Europe. Begun in 1080, it is a masterpiece of simplicity and quiet grandeur.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Interlude in Lauterbach

On January 16, we flew from Dalian to Frankfurt. Our destination was the little town of Lauterbach where Steve was an AFS student in 1967-68. The town itself dates from before the 8th century and received its town charter in 1266. Today, the population is around 14,000 -- it was about half that when Steve lived here 40+ years ago. It is a beautiful rural town of narrow lanes and half-timbered houses about 20 miles north of Fulda, near what was once the border with the former DDR.

In 1996 while living in the Netherlands, we took a trip through Germany and detoured through Lauterbach. That's when we reestablished contact with our good friends Wolfgang Kniepert, a former classmate, and his wife Beate. We have renewed our longstanding friendship and visited one another several times in Germany and in the USA during the intervening years. The Knieperts were kind enough to host us for five days at their home in Lauterbach, giving us lots of time to stroll through their lovely hometown, walk in the snowy woods, attend a mini-reunion of former classmates in a medieval watchtower, and drive to the nearby town of Alsfeld where dramas were performed on the marketplace in the late Middle Ages.