Excursions from London: Newport and Bristol UK

I might not have made use of Celtic Manor’s pool and spa during the mid-December SRHE conference in Wales, but I invited Aongus to join me out west for the weekend following SRHE so we could make up for missing out on those amenities. The Manor was already booked, but I found rooms in Newport (in Wales, for Friday night) and Bristol (in England, for Saturday night) so we could relax and explore new sites.


Knoll Guesthouse

We stayed at the quaint and reasonably priced Knoll Guesthouse on Stow Hill in Newport. It was a great value! This stately Victorian home was built in 1897, a year after my former home in Portsmouth, Virginia. The gorgeous stained glass surrounding the entry vestibule delighted us. Also noteworthy were the cooked-to-order breakfast and the friendly and knowledgeable host, Barry Peters.


Double rainbow viewed from Stow Hill, looking across the street from Knoll Guesthouse. We knew good fortune would follow us for the weekend!

Belle Vue Park

Barry from Knoll Guesthouse suggested a visit to Stow Hill’s Belle Vue Park and gardens. Despite the rain, we admired the park’s Victorian-era bandstand, conservatories, and tea house, all restored but dating back to 1894.


St. Woolos/Newport Cathedral

Then we found St. Woolos (aka Newport Cathedral) which has a lovely Romanesque design. Our experience was made complete with a very talented choir singing delightful Christmas carols.


Downtown Newport

We wandered through the shopping streets in the center of town, admired Calatrava’s innovative pedestrian bridge, and purchased salads-to-go before dashing to the Newport train station, en route to Bristol Temple Meade train station.



Mid-day o Saturday, we boarded a train for Bristol.


Around Temple Meads Station

Entering Bristol via Temple Meads Train Station is always a delightfully Victorian experience. The splendor of this station’s exterior is unforgettable. I’d booked a room at a luxury hotel a short walk from the station, which would give us a place to store our bags the following morning when we checked out.


Mercury Bristol Holland House and Spa

This Mercury Bristol Holland House and Spa are located directly across the street from St. Mary Redcliff Church. We booked in for massages in the hotel’s spa.


St. Mary Redcliff Church

We spent several hours exploring St. Mary Redcliff Church, which was adorned with Christmas trees donated by local organizations.


Old Town and Waterfront

We walked through Queen Square and the Old City on Saturday evening, visiting St. Nicholas Market and a restaurant in the charming (but grungy) Old Stock Exchange.

The next day we retraced our steps through Queen Square as we headed toward the Watershed craft market and then walked along the quays to Brunel’s SS Great Britain (which we had not enough time to see). Heading back, we stuck to the path along the northern side of the river, so we could catch the best sun.


Bristol Cathedral

On the way back to the hotel to pick up our bags, we made a stop at Bristol Cathedral and listened to the choir practice.



We enjoyed two lovely pies, and then headed to the train station for our trip home!


Basking Joyfully in Southern France

I’m currently on a writing retreat, working from Dublin and doubling down on my extensive to-write list. I worked straight through two weekends here because my flat here is so peaceful and sunny. Now, I’m taking a day off for good behavior and pausing to post photos.

Here’s a glimpse of two sunny weeks Aongus and I spent in the South of France this past September. Ours was an outdoor adventure full of cycling, river rafting, kayaking, hiking, and swimming. We thoroughly enjoyed the dramatic coastline, the historic coastal cities and remote hill towns, the Gorges du Verdon, and the Cliniques near Cassis.

I’m sharing these pics to give inspiration for your next travel adventure–and ours, too!


Saint-Paul de Vence


Rougon and La Palud-sur-Verdon

Moustier St. Marie


Le Pont Julien





La Cadière-d’Azur

Le Castellet




St. Tropez

La Croix-Valmer & Ramatuelle



Vieux Nice, Mèdecin, and the Port of Nice

Negresco Hotel

Promenade des Anglais and Ponchettes Beach

Farewell, for now, Nice!

The Art of Traveling (with a Cat in Every Lap)

In anticipation of retirement, our friend John Baird has decided to learn the art of traveling.  He’s starting small.

On Wednesday he called to say he’d be making the trip to our home in Portsmouth.  It’s a 5.5-hour drive from Blacksburg (my hometown and the place he lives) to our home in the Tidewater region of Virginia.  Dave, the cats, and I were all thrilled we’d get to see him!

John is Dave’s former boss and a groomsman in our 2001 wedding.  We were very happy to hear he was on the way, because we haven’t yet found time to make a trip to Blacksburg.

In anticipation of his arrival, I pulled out our wedding album.  While John was here we took a stroll down memory lane.

Our 2001 wedding ceremony at Hampton University Memorial Church with (left to right) Annie Nichols, Esther Sterchi, Katie Sullivan Booth, Heather Massie, Shannon Chance, Fr. Slovik, my mom Rev. Dr. Cynthia Massie,  Mara, Dave Chance, Jay Gallagher, Michael, Chance, John Baird, and Rob Nichols.

Our 2001 wedding ceremony at Hampton University Memorial Church with (left to right) Annie Nichols, Esther Sterchi, Katie Sullivan Booth, Heather Massie, Shannon Massie Chance, Fr. Slovik, my mom Dr. Rev. Cynthia Massie Mara, Dave Chance, Jay Gallagher, Michael, Chance, John Baird, and Rob Nichols.

Memorial Church at Hampton University (Photo copyright Shannon Chance, 2001).

Memorial Church at Hampton University (Photo copyright Shannon Chance, 2001).

Dave and I haven’t viewed it for a decade.  When I received the proof prints the week after the weeding, I was disappointed with the quality of composition.

My mom, dad, and husband have all been professional photographers at some point in life.  I myself served as photography editor for my high school yearbook.  And so I resented the missing feet in our photos — and the fact that the photographer had chosen distracting backgrounds.

But what can you do at that point?  So I doled out photos from one set of proofs (to Mom, Annie, etc.) and placed the second set on a shelf.

From this experience, I garnered some helpful advice for people who are booking wedding photographers:  avoid bait-and-switch disappointment.  Be sure to specify in your contract which person you expect to show up at with a camera on the wedding day.  (Lucy/Matt and Dave/I each had the experience where we met with the owner of the photo business prior to our big day and liked her and her work.  BUT on the day of our weddings, an untrained photographer’s-husband showed up on each scene with not much clue about how to use a camera.  In both cases, the owner of our selected companies had booked multiple gigs. In reviewing our photos last night, Dave and I agreed we’d made out far better than Matt and Lucy.  Our husband-photographer wasn’t great, but also wasn’t anywhere near as bad as theirs.  Perhaps a little editing can alleviate my wedding-album angst.)

In any case, perusing the wedding photos was fun.  I enjoyed seeing much we/things have changed and how much we/they have stayed the same.  I’ve included a photo I took myself of the church where we married, on the campus of Hampton University.

As for our bridal party:  since November, I’ve gotten to see all but one of them!

It’s always a joy to see John.  We wish his wife Wendy would have made the trip, too, but she’s tied up right now, doing the agriculture research she so dearly loves.

John was Dave’s supervisor when they both worked as photographers for Virginia Tech.  For a few months before Dave moved here to Hampton Roads to be with me, Dave lived with John, Wendy, and their kids in Blacksburg.  The group of 5 Bairds took him in and treated him as a member of the family.

I’ve always admired the kids — Caitlin, Gillian, and Logan — for treating Dave like a brother.

Whenever we’ve visited Blacksburg since, we’ve stayed with John and Wendy in the beautiful home John designed and built on the side of a mountain near Ellet Valley.  Today the kids are spread out across the USA.  They live in NYC, Seattle, and DC.  Nevertheless, we’re sometimes lucky enough to be on the mountain when they are there, too.

And that, my friends, is a unique pleasure.  It has a certain feeling that I’ve found no where else and can’t really describe. Except perhaps to say:  it’s like getting to see inside a family that just loves being together.  Being there is something like watching the Waltons. Except in this case, we’re not watching on a TV screen.  We’re members of the clan, accepted almost as if we were Mary Ellen and Jim Bob.

During John’s overnight to the flatlands of Virginia, we went out for sushi and visited Dave’s studio and a company where Dave used to work (Superior Marble and Stone).  Then John hopped into his Honda for the trek home.