2018/2019 by the numbers…

I’m using my retreats as bookends so the timeline covers the period between December 7-9, 2018 and December 20-22, 2019. What I didn’t know before my first retreat ended is that I would spend 6+ months in Paris for work beginning in March.

Some notes…

I’ve provided dates for specific events (matches, concerts, etc.) and if you’re keeping score at home my teams / clubs went 5-1-1. All the links in this post are to Flickr, Vimeo, and/or official sites. While I briefly mention my trips to Belgium (Orval Abbey) and Germany both are covered extensively in other posts. The second part of my post will focus on life in Paris.


  • Retreat at St. Josephs Abbey 12/7 to 12/9/2018
  • North Carolina 1st Visit 12/16/2018
  • New York Islanders (6) vs Ottawa Senators (3) 12/28/2018 (WIN)
  • Paris 1st Sprint 3/9/2019
  • La Marche de Saint Joseph 3/16/2019
  • Weekend in Metz 3/30 to 3/31/2019
    • FC Metz (2) vs FC Lorient (1) 3/31/2019 (WIN)
  • A.J. Auxerre (0) vs FC Metz (0) 4/6/2019 (DRAW)
  • Weekend in Southampton 4/12 to 4/14/2019
    • Southampton (3) vs Wolverhampton (1) 4/13/2019 (WIN)
    • Solent Sky Museum 4/13/2019
  • Weekend in Belgium (via Luxembourg) 6/22 to 6/23/2019
  • Kingdom Hearts World Orchestra (NYC) 6/29/2019
  • Bastille Day 7/14/2019
  • North Carolina 2nd Visit 8/15/2019
  • Weekend in Angers 8/24 to 8/25/2019
  • Angers SCO (3) vs FC Metz (0) 8/24/2019 (LOSS)
  • Weekend in Trier Germany & Luxembourg City 9/14 to 9/15/2019
    • Eintracht Trier (3) vs TuS Koblenz (2) 9/14/2019 (WIN)
  • TWA Hotel 9/22 & Walt Disney World 9/23 to 9/29/2019
  • New York City 10/24 to 10/26/2019
    • New York Islanders (4) vs Arizona Coyotes (2) 10/24/2019 (WIN)
    • Emanuel Ax Performs Beethoven @ Lincoln Center 10/25/2019
  • London 11/17 to 11/24/2019
    • Mail Rail at The Postal Museum & Guildhall Art Gallery 11/18/2019
  • Bristol 11/22 to 11/24/2019
  • North Carolina 3rd Visit 12/14 to 12/18/2019
  • Retreat at St. Josephs Abbey 12/20 to 12/22/2019

Paris 1st Sprint
I spent my first weekend in Paris participating in the La Marche de Saint Joseph. It was an amazing event but notable for two reasons— we attended mass at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris less than 1 month before it was devastated by a fire on April 15 and we visited Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. The former was my refuge whilst in Paris, and it wasn’t until my retreat to St. Joseph’s this Advent that I realized HOW special this cathedral is.

Here is Saint Therese of Lisieux on Our Lady of Victories:

“We reached Paris in the morning and commenced our visit without any delay. Poor little Father tired himself out trying to please us, and very soon we saw all the marvels of the Capital. I myself found only one which filled me with delight, Our Lady of Victories! Ah! what I felt kneeling at her feet cannot be expressed. The graces she granted me so moved me that my happiness found expression only in tears, just as on the day of my First Communion.”

Here’s a photo and video from the limestone archives from inside the cathedral. Coffee and books will feature prominently in this long post and I spent many weekends at Bar du Moulin (right next door to the cathedral) sipping coffee and reading in the shadow of Our Lady.

Metz & Auxerre
My first trip outside of Paris was to Metz via Gare de l’Est. The goal of my weekend excursion was a football match between FC Metz and FC Lorient. This photo of Stade Saint-Symphorien is one of my favorites. I was able to the explore the stadium the day before the match completely unmolested and the walk from Gare de Metz to Stade Saint-Symphorien follows the beautiful Moselle. Don’t miss the Basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains, Cathedral of Saint Stephen of Metz (Good Lord’s Lantern), and Temple Neuf. When you need a little caffeine and rest find La Moselle. It’s one of three really exceptional cafés discovered on these trips. The others being Foliage Café in Bristol and The Caféothèque of Paris.

My second excursion was a day trip to Auxerre for a football match. I was perched outside the stadium early enough to see the club arrive via bus.

I returned to the US via Southampton and London. A brief summary of my trip was captured in Southampton, P2. One of the highlights was my visit to the Solent Sky Museum and it’s featured in a documentary about the Spitfire on Netflix. I was also there for a football match at St. Mary’s.

>> Related: Southampton, P1

I took two really great weekend trips outside of France during my assignment in Paris. The first was to the Orval Abbey in Belgium whilst the second was to Trier in Germany. I took the train from Paris to Luxembourg for both and then rented a car. The Orval Abbey and St. Joseph’s both share a Cistercian and Trappist history. I stayed at the Hotel Le Florentin and it’s one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at (not exaggerating). The area around Florenville is also very pastoral / bucolic.

I was back in NYC in June for the Kingdom Hearts World Orchestra and the highlight was meeting Yoko Shimomura!

One perk of this assignment was the opportunity to celebrate two national holidays within ten days of each other on two different continents / countries— Independence Day and Bastille Day. I have never seen better fireworks than the ones in Paris (and having the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop just adds to the pageantry). I also had access to a special viewing section (long story for another post).

One of my last weekend trips in France was to Angers to see newly promoted FC Metz get steamrolled by Angers SCO. The city follows the contours of the Maine. The area around the Château d’Angers offers excellent vistas and don’t miss the Tapestry of the Apocalypse within the castle. The Crêperie du Château is a nice break from adventuring, and I’m NOT a foodie so its inclusion in this post is significant. You could also spend a half-day taking photos in the narrow streets around the creperie.

Trier & Luxembourg City
My trip to Trier was just before the end of my assignment and included a football match between Eintracht Trier and TuS Koblenz. I also revisited Porta Nigra (was there once upon a time). I spent the night at the BECKERS Hotel and Restaurant and you can see vineyards from the property.

Some poor planning on my part resulted in almost a full day in Luxembourg City (kind of a happy accident) which included a self-guided tour of Saint Michael’s (the oldest Catholic Church in Luxembourg City) and a stroll through the Parcs de la Pétrusse.

TWA Hotel and Walt Disney World
I spent a night at the TWA Hotel at JFK in September with my brother en route to Walt Disney World. I’m not going to write about the latter because it’s getting much more difficult to see any trace of Walt Disney. The restoration of Eero Saarinen’s Bird Terminal on the other hand will result in an architectural and historical sensory overload. We spent most of the night just wandering around the hotel taking photographs. I wish Disney would restore Tomorrowland to its original Saarinen-like design.

>> Up, Up and Away with TWA (Flickr Album)

New York
I did return to Paris for one final sprint but work obligations made any weekend excursions difficult. The end of my assignment and return to the US coincided with the start of hockey season (AHL/NHL) and a concert at Lincoln Center/David Geffen Hall. I went home to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum a couple days before my birthday to see the Isles (founded in 1972) play the Arizona Coyotes. The Isles WON 4-2 and I caught a puck in the third period.

Fun Fact: I saw the North Carolina Hurricanes (Hartford Whalers) defeat the Arizona Coyotes on 12/16/2018 3-0 on my first trip to Raleigh.

London and Bristol
I finished Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History sometime in the summer (no doubt at Bar du Moulin in the shadow of Our Lady) and was enamored by a painting depicting one of the important battles. My trip to London in November included a day trip to the Guildhall Art Gallery to see the painting Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, 1782 by John Singleton Copley. I also rode the Mail Rail at the Postal Museum. IF you are not claustrophobic (and love trains) this tour / museum should be managed on your itinerary like expedited first class. I also went to the London Transport Museum for some gift shopping and left with British Rail Architecture 1948-1997 by David Lawrence for the limestone library. I haven’t finished the book yet but quotes are appearing in posts and correspondence to friends. I was so inspired by a passage about an experimental station that I’m managing something similar in my backyard (in miniature of course).

I left London for Bristol via Waterloo Station. The highlight of this trip was the Foliage Café and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The weather was really (really) lousy but I was still able to explore the city by foot. Make sure to explore Giant’s Cave. If you fancy vinyl there’s a Rough Trade on Nelson Street.

Paris Closing Notes
A quick list of my favorite places and things in Paris not mentioned in the body of the post:
RATP / Châtelet / Paris Métro
La Défense
Saint Joseph’s
Hôtel de Ville
Ashiana (Indian Restaurant)
Au Plat d’Etain
Gare de Bercy/Gare de l’Est/Gare Montparnasse
Jardin du Luxembourg/Jardin des Tuileries (Big Wheel on Place de la Concorde)
The Abbey Bookshop
Marché couvert les Enfants Rouges
Cinq Fois Plus
The Musée de l’Orangerie
Grand Palais
La Caisses de Bières
Arc de Triomphe
La Droguerie
Le BHV Marais (Caran d’Ache)
Atelier des Lumières
Marche aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux

Companion Books and Music
Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins
Absolutely on Music: Conversations Haruki Murakami with Seiji Ozawa by Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa
Orval: Histoire de la reconstruction de l’abbaye by Danièle Henky and Èric Hance
British Rail Architecture 1948-1997 by David Lawrence
The Baroque Oboe: Harold Gomberg performs Vivaldi, Telemann and Handel; Seiji Ozawa conducting the Columbia Chamber Orchestra with the Gomberg Baroque Ensemble

Orval Abbey

“Light and shadow are the speakers of this architecture of truth, calm and strength. And nothing more adds to it.” — Le Corbusier

Visited the Orval Abbey in Belgium last weekend. I’m still sorting through the photographs but will post something shortly.

Part 1: The Journey
The journey is part of the adventure and this tale will require several parts. I was introduced to the Orval Trappist Ale at the Ginger Man in South Norwalk but my attachment to the Trappists (Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance) started on a retreat to St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA. Both monasteries are featured in Trappist Beer Travels by Caroline Wallace, Sarah Wood, and Jessica Deahl. It’s probably worth mentioning that I don’t actually like the beer from Orval or Spencer.

The trip to the Orval Abbey makes it feel like a true pilgrimage. My journey started at Gare de l’Est on a train to Luxembourg and required a car rental for the 67 km drive to Florenville, Belgium. This wasn’t an official retreat so I stayed at this quirky little boutique hotel called Le Florentin. This is one of coolest hotels I’ve ever stayed at. It has a great patio for dining (especially breakfast) and grand piano in the lounge/bar.

I arrived early and decided to drive the 9 km to Orval straight away. I know this will sound awful (at first) but Orval is a BIG commercial enterprise. It’s definitely a tourist destination (as the A l’Ange Gardien will attest). I was a little overwhelmed (certainly exacerbated by sleep deprivation). This isn’t St. Joseph’s Abbey and I was expecting the quiet of the Orval Abbey (in the Ardennes) to be a true respite from the rattle of Paris.

Part 2: The Abbey
The abbey has a visitor center which leads to the bookstore and giftshop. As you exit the visitor center you can pay €6 for access to the medieval ruins, abbey/pharmaceutical museums, and the medicinal herb-garden (currently under renovation). I explored (and photographed) each exhaustively. The abbey ruins are spectacular and one of the highlights. The other highlight is the fountain from the legend!

>> See and hear the fountain

The Basilica and Cloister are off-limits so I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find high ground to sneak a peek (and photograph). The closest you can get to the Basilica is the choir loft which is accessible from the abbey museum (but entry to the stairs is NOT well marked and required a bit of exploration).

I left Orval a little disappointed that I couldn’t get closer to the Basilica and Cloister BUT had found a few treasures in the bookstore with historical photos, etc. I also found a medallion of the trout (from the legend) but the significance of that is a story still being written.

Part 3 will focus on an extraordinary Sunday (a moment of redemption).

Part 3: Sunday Mass
I was a little discouraged (and hungry) when I left the abbey on Saturday afternoon. I drove back to the hotel though and regrouped. I went shopping in Florenville for some essentials at Carrefour (interestingly enough they sold beer from St. Joseph’s). I also ate some bad food and had some ice cream. I was really exhausted after dinner but decided to take a walk. I eventually found L’église Notre-Dame de l’Assomption and behind this church is a gorgeous view of a valley. I also made the decision to attend Mass at this church the next day.

I was up really early the next morning to take a picture of the valley at sunrise. I also made a decision to drive back to the abbey for some more pictures. The lot was empty and I walked around the perimeter searching for a good vantage of the Basilica and Cloisters. My efforts went unrewarded so I loitered around the visitor center (not sure for what reason) when suddenly the gate before the visitor center unlocked (it was probably on a timer). I sat in the quiet and stillness of this little inner sanctum and watched the doves. The flowers in this area are gorgeous but there wasn’t much else to do since the visitor center remained closed. Before leaving I read the sign next to the gate and visitor center and it said Mass was celebrated at 10:00 (not 11:00 like I originally thought). There weren’t any instructions about HOW to celebrate Mass so I made the decision to return to the hotel for breakfast and then to come back.

I was back in the visitor center around 9:30 something. The man behind the counter didn’t speak English so my questions about HOW to attend Mass were left unanswered. He eventually pushed me to the bookstore and there was someone in there who spoke enough English to send me back to the visitor center.

There was a row of chairs next to the desk in the visitor center and I figured if I just sat there the man (who was a little gruff) would figure out my intent was to celebrate Mass. As the clock neared 10:00 a steady stream of regulars started going through a secret door behind the desk. I think the man saw my look of desperation and hastily pointed toward the door (without speaking a word). I stood up and ran for the door before he changed his mind. Once beyond the door I was behind the wall (the inner sanctum) that funneled guests into the visitor center. I was now joining a procession of parishioners and pilgrims to the abbey church and walking through the arch (bathed in light) I was photographing this morning! The procession was amazing and I snapped photographs as we walked. Once inside the abbey church I took this photo (maybe one of my all time favorites).

The Mass was beautiful and the eucharistic procession and adoration were equally amazing. Is there anything more beautiful than Mass?

“We go to heaven when we go to Mass. This is not merely a symbol, not a metaphor, not a parable, not a figure of speech. It is real. We do go to heaven when we go Mass, and this is true of every Mass we attend, regardless of the music or the fervor of the preaching. The Mass — and I mean every single Mass — is heaven on earth.”

On my way back to the visitor center I took a picture of this lovely elderly couple in front of the abbey church (a nice highlight). I also snapped a couple of other photographs and then thanked the man in the visitor center profusely for allowing me to enter the secret door (a little nod to George MacDonald).

The quote is from The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn.

Orval Abbey