It Was a Dark and Stormy Night….at Whispers Estate

It may be a cliché to say it was a dark and stormy night, but as we pulled into the eerily empty downtown of Mitchell, Indiana on our way to tour Whispers Estate, it literally WAS a dark and stormy night. In fact, it rained for the better part of two and a half hours as my 19-year-old daughter and I made the drive south of Bedford but, as we were headed to an actual purported haunted house, we didn’t really mind. It only added to the experience.

Whisper Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Whispers Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Frankly, as we crawled to a halt on Warren Street, we both realized this place didn’t need any help from Mother Nature. If spooky has a poster child, it’s Whispers Estates.

Pulling up in the dark, it wasn’t difficult finding the place. Just picture a typical block near the downtown of any small Indiana burg with its large older homes in various shapes and sizes and you’re half way there. Now picture one of those large houses standing silent, dark and foreboding with only creepy purple light streaming from its street lamps and you’ve crossed over to the other side. Whispers Estate announces its presence in silence and – lucky you – you get to pray that silence is the only thing you hear. Given its past history of growls, knocks, self-closing doors, childish singing, falling objects, mysterious footsteps and vague whispers – hence the name, Whispers Estate – before the night is over, you may be begging for a little silence from beyond the grave yourself.

And did I mention the earthquake shaking toilets? Which, in this instance, have nothing to do with either my husband or too many refried beans? More on that in a moment.

We parked on the street, somewhat unsure of what to do as I had forgotten when I registered for our hour-long flashlight tour that we were to meet in the garage in the backyard. I did, however, remember that we were to wear athletic shoes. No hard sole shoes are allowed on any flashlight tours or mini investigations to reduce background noise. This became a reoccurring and somewhat unsettling theme during our visit to Whispers Estate. The home’s owner, Van Renier, and his tour guides are very serious about the goings on at Whispers Estate and, collectively, they take great pains to explain away and debunk ANY unusual occurrences. Their attitude was so upfront about what wasn’t paranormal that, I’ll admit, I was impressed. And then, I’ll admit too, I was nervous.

If they voluntarily explain every odd noise, just what, pray tell, can we attribute to the UNexplained ones? That had me pondering.

My daughter, Jackie – a lover of all things ghostly – stood back on the sidewalk as I climbed the steps to the front porch where a solitary rocker sat. At any moment I expected it to start rocking on its own, but fortunately, it cooperated which was good since I forgotten to put on a pair of Depends. Naturally, a funeral home stands cattycorner to the house and, in this dark little town which seems to have forgotten to pay the light bill, it was the only building well lit. Turning back toward the house, I tried peering through the windows, but could see nothing as they were blacked out. Terrific, I thought. Bring on the dark.

Jackie in her element at Whisper Estate

Jackie in her element at Whispers Estate

Back on the sidewalk, we were joined by three middle-aged couples who didn’t know each other, but who all happened to live in Avon. Since there is safety in numbers, we proceeded as a group through the rain to the backyard and entered the garage which serves as a makeshift launching pad to the supernatural world beyond.

There we signed in, handed over our liability release waivers – which declared us to be healthy and which gave the folks at Whispers Estates permission to seek emergency medical treatment if we needed it – we selected our flashlights from a basket on the table, and sat down to await our tour. As we sat, we chatted with the guides while also looking at posters displaying pictures of past visitors who apparently got more their money’s worth. From a police officer with a large bite mark on his arm to a teenager with three strange, red scratches on the back of his neck, evidence mounted that this wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill, high-school-fundraiser, pop-up-only-at-Halloween type of experience.

And naturally it was after I read the description of some earthquake-like experiences on the toilet that I heard my daughter ask innocently enough, “Is there a bathroom I can use?”

Great. No more soda for you, grasshopper.

Like most old garages, the one at Whispers Estate is potty free, so one of the tour guides led us through the back door of the house to the small bathroom just off the kitchen. Fortunately, there was a light, but bright as it was, we still looked around nervously while awaiting a good shaking as we took turns doing our business. Had something happened, at least we would have been in the right place.

Returning to the garage, we joined the other six for a lesson on the house’s less than pleasant history. Note – I stuck around and was able to hear this same introduction to the 10 p.m. tour group which was comprised of young girls (who I would guess to be about 10-years-old) and their parents. As I sat in the background listening to this same introduction, I realized that the guide was downplaying certain aspects of the goings on in the house – and rightly so. Once more I was impressed with the staff at Whispers Estate. Apparently, when you give tours at a house that is really haunted, the goal is to not work at scaring the guests. After all, why make the effort when you can let the house do it for you?

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Flashlights in hand, the eight of us finally proceeded through the backdoor. One poor man had made the unfortunate mistake of expressing a lack of enthusiasm for all things paranormal so our first tour guide nominated him to open the doors of each room as we entered. Another victim – I mean, visitor – was nominated to shut the doors of each room behind us. Quickly, we proceeded through the main hallway to the parlor where we sat down and the real tour began.

For the record, I’m not going to give away any of the tour highlights. Each room is unique and comes with its own story. For example, in the parlor we were first introduced to Rachel, the young adopted daughter of Dr. John Gibbons and his wife Jessie. One Christmas eve, Rachel snuck downstairs to peek at the presents, but her nightgown caught fire in the parlor and she died a few days later as the result of her injuries. Mother Jessie died in the master bedroom of tuberculosis. Four other people are also known to have died in the house, not counting any patients of Dr. Gibbons, who apparently couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

The flashlight tour covers the house from attic to basement including a red-painted room that had each of us muttering, “redrum” from Stephen King’s “The Shining.” The good doctor’s exam room did give me a frightful start when I noticed the scale on the floor, which reminded me of the horribly hateful one in my own bathroom back home. My daughter nearly fainted when she spied an actual rotary phone and may still need counseling.

As we toured the house, the three women from Avon openly called out to Rachel throughout the house, but heard nothing in reply. The house’s owner, Van Renier, joined us at the end of the tour and asked that none of the child spirits be provoked. Van is protective of his young spirits, though not so with the one referred to as “Big Black” who may be responsible for the scar over his right eye – tangible evidence from his own encounter when he was shoved down the stairs of the attic.

Our tour was the first of the night at 8 p.m. and, for the most part, we survived it unscathed. The 9 p.m. tour apparently was not so lucky, given that a large shadow followed them up those same attic stairs responsible for Renier’s scar and, while the group stood in the “redrum” red room, they could hear soft knocking on the door. The guides told us that, as the night progresses, activity picks up so if you’re dead set – excuse my pun – on having an experience, the later the better.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel's bedroom.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel’s bedroom.

As for me, I will admit, I’ve never had an encounter with anything paranormal. But I’m not saying I don’t believe. Two people whom I have known all of my life and who will remain anonymous have had experiences and they are two of the most honest and least imaginative people I know. As for me, nothing.

I shared my lack of paranormal experiences with Van who did give me the greatest chill of the night. As we discussed his own experiences in the house which have led him to believe and my own lack of paranormal experience, he warmed, “You can’t un-ring the bell. Do you really want to fall down the rabbit hole? Because once it happens, you can’t go back and pretend it didn’t.”

Now that’s a scary thought.

For me, it has yet to happen. At least, I think it hasn’t happened. In Jessie’s bedroom I experienced a feeling – I won’t give it away so as to not prejudice you should you go – just as our guide began to describe this very same feeling. Was it paranormal? I don’t know. I also don’t know if I really want to thoroughly un-ring that bell. But curiosity is a wicked mistress so I’m sure at some point, I will go back.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

If you would like to un-ring that bell for yourself, Whispers Estate offers flashlight tours hourly from 8 p.m. to midnight and mini-investigations starting at midnight through either 3 or 4 a.m. (the times change from month to month) beginning at the end of August and running every weekend through October. Halloween is primetime so make your reservations early as tours and investigations fill up fast and the number of participants is limited. While regular tour hours end after Halloween, Whispers Estate is happy to schedule visitations for groups of 10 or more at other times throughout the year. My suggestion? Even if there are only seven or eight of you, given them a call and ask. They may just accommodate you.

Flashlight tours run $10 per person and, in my opinion, are well worth it even if you don’t end up wetting yourself in the process. Mini investigations run $10 per hour per person, thus an investigation from midnight to 3 a.m. will cost you $30 per person, and until 4 a.m. will cost you $40 per person. I haven’t participated in a mini investigation yet so I can’t tell you what goes on, but it is definitely on the bucket list and you can get a sense for these investigations on YouTube.

For more information on Whispers Estate and to schedule a tour or mini investigation, check out the website at: http://whispersestate.com/

To follow the mansion’s haunted happenings like the Whispers Estate’s Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/whispersestate?fref=ts

Follow my newspaper column blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

481266_10203777348727600_1608806686782902373_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

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A Tale of Two Flats

It’s a cold, frosty November morning and December is hard on her heals. As usual when the air turns sharp and burns in my lungs, Charles Dicken’s fills my mind. I can’t help it. As a Dickens bookslover of literature, the big D is one of my favorite authors. I always have great expectations for the holidays and would wrap my presents in the Pickwick Papers if I could. I reach for my well-worn copy of A Christmas Carol and soon picture the hard-edged streets of Victorian London with old Ebeneezer Scrooge stalking his way through the darkened heart of the city, spitting on dirty urchins and muttering bah hum bug under his breath. Tiny Tim limps through my imagination and I can almost smell Mrs. Cratchit’s goose. H’mmmm…. goose….

Charles Dickens London

And this December – like Sydney Carton from Dicken’s classic, A Tale of Two Cities – I’m plagued with an unrequited love. But the object of my affection isn’t a fair maiden named Lucy, but a traditional style Go with Oh flat in the heart of Kensington within walking distance of Charing Cross.

http://www.gowithoh.com/vacation-london-apartments/ref_16415/

In addition to being a stunning flat, the location is perfect as it is within walking distance of many wonderful sites such as the River Thames and Westminster Abbey, but it also happens to be a hop, skip and a jump from where Charles Dickens actually slaved away at the Warren’s Blacking Warehouse at the meager age of 11 while his father rotted away in debtor’s prison.

Kensington 1

I adore the crown molding in this Go with Oh London flat!

Call me crazy, but as a huge fan of history, I am one of those weirdly tactile individuals who likes to stand where my heroes actually stood and walk where they actually walked even if the place in question isn’t one that was near and dear to any of my heroes’ hearts.

As a poor little urchin, I doubt Dickens ever waxed nostalgic about his days at the warehouse, but painful as the experience was, it did inflame his imagination to write truly moving and memorable literature. So to me, visiting London at Christmas to see the sites that actually inspired his imagination and to walk where he walked excites me more than a clean house and new underwear. If I can kiss the cobblestones and hug his house without getting arrested by a bobby, I will.Dickens house sign

Kensington 2

This kitchen would make Ebeneezer Scrooge smile

Hence my love affair from afar with the pretty little Kensington flat courtesy of Go with Oh. With its high ceilings, vintage crown molding, large windows and adorable kitchen tile, it’s the perfect ground zero for a history-laden, Charles-Dickens-inspired Christmas walking tour – courtesy of http://www.dickenslondontours.co.uk/.

But much as I love this pretty little flat with its perfect little location, I’m torn, though mine is not a tale of two cities, but a tale of two flats for another object of my affection would make Bob Cratchit drool with envy.

Camden town 1

All it needs is me, my family and a plate of plum pudding

It’s an equally lovely little flat located in Camden Town, though while it sports two bedrooms, two bathrooms and lovely décor, it’s missing an outdoor mud oven in which to steam our plum pudding. But I think we can make do.

http://www.gowithoh.com/vacation-london-apartments/ref_16400/

Camden town 3

Imagine the goose Mrs. Cratchit could fix in THAT kitchen

Plus, being such a light and airy space, I doubt it’s dripping with ghosts from anyone’s past, present and future, but one can dream and I wouldn’t mind waking up to Marley’s Ghost at either location.

As I said, November is here and December is breathing down our necks. London awaits with her crisscrossed streets, ancient churches, haphazard skyline and history waiting around every corner. My copy of A Christmas Carol beckons in the bookcase. Two apartments stand ready for the renting. It’s time to dust off the luggage. God bless us, everyone.

Now pass the plum pudding. Tis the season and I’m getting in the mood.Dickens flyer

By Robin Winzenread Fritz

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

Blimey, I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Dublin

The first thing I saw were fists, tiny little fists raised to the air shaking with anger, confusion, fear, who knows.  She doesn’t recall why she raised her fists, partly because it didn’t appear on her favorite TV show, Merlin, or on her Kindle, and partly because she was only seconds old.  But I remember it like yesterday as it was the very first time I ever laid eyes on my daughter – ultra sound not withstanding- and she came out with a bang.  Her dark red hair was askew, her lungs were in good working order (and haven’t failed since) and those tiny fists were raised to the sky, making one thing abundantly clear – tiny or not, Jackie Marie was ready to take on the world.

My baby girl at her first communion, no doubt dreaming of a boy with an Irish brogue…. or wondering how far she can spit from there.

And now, she’s just one month shy of 18 years old, a high school senior planning her future.  For her, that future includes prom, graduation, fighting with her brother, heading off to college and – if we plan right and save accordingly – her dream trip to Ireland.

The Irish coast is a calling

That’s where Go with Oh’s dream contest comes into play.  I want to make my daughter’s Irish dream trip come true.  And if I get to tag along for the ride, so be it!

Despite our last name of Fritz, Jackie and I are Irish on my mother’s side (Kelley) and have the strawberry blonde hair, green eyes and freckles to prove it.  We don’t tan so much as pink up and Jackie has more Celtic music on her iPod than pop. She’s in love with all things Anglo Saxon, but not in a creepy Nazi sort of way, and she swoons at even a hint of an Irish brogue in any member of the opposite sex.  As for me, when I get mad, I try to cuss like an Irish sailor, but it clashes with my Catholic school upbringing, though somehow I manage.  If you prick our fingers, we bleed shamrocks and when I pee, it foams like Guinness. Don’t worry – I’m having that checked out.

The Bingley Bridge

Jackie’s dream is to live in Ireland, teach history, marry an Irish man and raise their adopted Chinese children, Ling and Ping O’Riley or whatever his last name may be, in the rolling green hills of the mother country.  Yes, you read that right.  Someday I may be the only Hoosier with Chinese grandchildren living in Ireland. Jackie’s learning Gaelic, has plastered her school binders with pictures of the Irish countryside, and works at Burger King partly to save for her graduation trip and partly because she’s too young and her mother won’t let her work at the Titled Kilt. Yeah, she’s that committed.  And yeah, I know that’s Scottish, but it’s close.

Hence our mother and daughter dream trip to Ireland.  Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to Dublin we Go with Oh – we hope!

We don’t see many castles in Indiana

As a mother, I relish the thought of joining her on that trip for many reasons.  From what I’ve seen from pictures, Ireland is stunning.  Imagine how amazing it would be to stand on the ramparts of a castle ruin trying to count how many different shades of green one can see.  Whether we’re strolling the gardens of Trinity College or ambling down a cobbled stone street in some tiny Irish village or hanging upside down to kiss the Blarney stone, one can bet the surroundings will be stunning.

It’s just waiting to be explored

Plus, it’s dripping with history, a love my bookworm daughter and I both share.  I can easily imagine us enoying a gray afternoon in the National Museum of Ireland steeping in Celtic history and Irish lore.  After all, there’s Viking Irish history and medieval Irish history and let’s not forget about iron-aged Irish history – so much to discover and so little time.  And when the museums are few and far between, we most certainly will stumble into every church that strays near our path.  Bring on the incense and candles!

And, there’s that family connection too. How many Kelleys will we find?  And will any of them claim us?  After all, who doesn’t want to visit their ancestral roots, even if they include more than a wee bit of drunken debauchery?

Which brings me to my next set of reasons for joining her on her trip – parental supervision required.  Much like her mother, Jackie has tasted a glass of wine or two and liked it, plus she’ll be 18, of legal age, in a foreign country, smitten by boys with Irish accents and able to go to the bars.  Not that I don’t trust her, mind you, but a mother’s got to do what a mother’s got to do, and if that includes Irish bar hopping, sign me up.  After all, it sure beats sending her to her room.

Lovely, lovely Dublin

 So a good part of our mother-daughter dream trip will be an indoctrination into responsible adulthood before I send her off to college.  Yes, we will be on vacation and yes, we will be exploring the wonders of Ireland in all their radiant green glory, and yes, we WILL go to the Dublin bars, but it will also be our time to talk, to share, to plan and to practice for that next stage of her life.  August will be here before we know it and with it will be college and moving her into the dorm.  She’ll be tasting that first sweet taste of real independence.  Sure, she’ll still be my baby girl, but she’ll be off on her own. It’s enough to make a mother cry with both joy AND dread.

How do I love thee? Let me count the greens.

But to have a dream week with my daughter in Ireland will make that transition so much more bearable from a maternal point of view.  It will still be delightfully painful to part with her this fall, but that looming pain of sending my little Peaches off into the real world will be tempered by those sweet green Irish memories of our time together.  It will still sting and I will still cry, but that’s life and we’ll always have Ireland.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win fantastic prizes from their Facebook competition, check out their link at:  http://www.gowithoh.com/

And enter the competition at: http://www.gowithoh.com/competitions/blogger-competition/

Life is short, travel is fun and the world is blessed.  Get out in it, see it, live it and share it with a loved one.

Hanging with my baby girl in New York

By Robin Fritz

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to London

The story goes that my great, great grandfather had to leave England in a hurry due to a penchant for drinking, some shady business practices and too many bad gambling debts, and he took with him his oldest daughter – my great grandmother Marge – to tend house until he could bring the rest of the family to the Pennsylvania coal mines where he finally landed.  Eventually he did manage to haul the rest of them over, but to my knowledge, he never went back to the Mother Country and none from our family have visited since.  As great, great grand pappy’s debtors are probably, hopefully, long since dead, I think it’s time one of us took the chance.

Being half English and half Irish on my mother’s side, the British Isles have long been on my radar.  Thatched cottages and fluffy sheep seem to steep in our family blood, bad food seems natural on our plates, and visions of Wadsworth’s daffodils still float in my addled brain despite a 34-year gap since taking freshman lit.  It’s as if it’s in our DNA, so much so that my 17-year-old daughter already dreams of living her life in Dublin married to an Irish native and raising her future adopted Chinese children, Ling and Ping O’Reilly upon her rolling green hills.  My mother and her sister talk endlessly of finally visitingEngland, and my uncle longs to lose golf ball after golf ball inScotland.  As for me, I can’t stop dreaming of London’s tiny, twisting streets.  In short, we’re Anglo-Saxon through and through and we have the pasty pale skin, translucent hair and freckles to back it up.

So a visit to the UK, and London in particular, is definitely on my to-do list, because who doesn’t want to parade around her cobblestoned streets, imagining a long-dead great, great grand pappy getting tossed on his ass out of this bar and that before jumping ship to the States?  These are my people, even if it’s been over a hundred years since any of my ancestors sowed any wild oats in her back alleys.  Family traditions die hard, and it’s high time one of us resurrect a few.  So, in no particular order, here are some of my plans when I finally do make it back to the mother ship.

1)   Buy some bed knobs and broomsticks at a London flea market.

Flea markets appeal to me like beer on a Friday night and, I truly enjoy tromping around the occasional one in my neighboring Hoosier hills on a slow Saturday afternoon.  But I can’t imagine how much more exciting a flea market must be in a community as old, as vibrant, as urban as London.  Poking through piles of musty books and bobbles and antiques is only part of the fun, for in London, one can also imagine the castle or cottage or row house those antiques may have come from or the history they may have survived.  In Indiana, our flea market finds most likely come from a ranch brick house built in the 1970s and which barely remembers Watergate.  In London, however, it’s possible to find unique goodies that may be older than my hometown.

2)   Green up my thumb at Kew Garden

As an avid gardener since a very young age, I knew who Gertrude Jekyll was before I knew Mick Jagger.  Pulling weeds makes me happy, and my fingernails are usually home to more dirt than most entertainment “news” shows.  Thus a visit to Kew Gardens is a requirement.  I have to stroll all 300 of her manicured acres and when I break a sweat in the steamy Palm House, it will be due to the proximity of so many lovely plants rather than the heat.  I LIVE for plant life, so much so, that I feel almost guilty eating vegetables.  Whereas so many Europeans are passionate about their soccer, I drool over delphiniums.    

3)   Channel my inner thespian at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Image

The Globe Theatre

All the world’s a stage, but in England, what a stage!  Yeah, I know, it’s a reconstruction, but the site remains THE site for English theater and as someone who trod the boards – albeit in high school – I want to stand in the shadow of the great playwright if for no other reason than just to BE there, standing there, in silent awe, taking it all in.  It’s as simple as that.

4)   Discover the ghosts of the Christmas Carol at the Charles Dickens’s Museum

My two favorite authors – Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway – are light years apart in terms of writing style, yet my love of their works runs so deep, they remain for me united to this day as the only two writers who’s footsteps I feel compelled to follow.  So a day of visiting Dickens’s old haunts must start with a thorough and informative visit to the museum dedicated to his life and works.  And, should I run into the Ghost of Christmas Past in the process, I’ll pinch myself and post it on Facebook.

5)   Discover something good to eat that’s actually British

Image

Blood pudding - yum!

During a recent shopping trip to Jungle Jim’s – billed as the world’s largest grocery store, conveniently located an hour away in Cincinnati – I pushed my treasure laden grocery cart to “Sherwood Forest,” home to edibles of UK origin.  Given that I had to work my way through the pleasures of the Orient section first, it was a bit of a let down.  It seemed the Sherwood Forest gimmick was the only way to enliven that section of the store, for the food of the British Isles proved to be less of a big draw and featured such lovely items as haggis in a can and potted meat.  Surely, real food on real British soil is better than this, right?  It can’t merely be about bad meat cooked in horrible ways, can it?  Right?  Yes?  Hello?  Is that an echo I hear out there? 

Ok, so it may be a long shot and tantamount to finding Nessie in her cold, deep lock up north, but I do plan to look for that elusive myth of the good English meal.  And, God willing, I’ll find her.  After all, there’s always fish and chips.

While a short stay of a week or too is hopefully on the not-too-distant horizon, I do want to someday spend some serious quality time in London, perhaps upon retirement by renting an Oh-London apartment for a few months.  I want to commit to the old girl and get to know her like the boy next door.  I don’t want her to be like some great aunt propped up in the nursing home who only gets visited on the holidays.  I want to know her, really know her, and hear the stories and feel the history and understand what makes her tick.  I want to know that in someway, it’s all connected to me and my family and our lives.  It’s our history, and it’s time to go.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win four fantastic prizes, check out their link at:

http://www.gowithoh.com/Image

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Paris

It was the lime green pleather jumpsuit with a hot-pink plastic zipper down the front that told the tale.  This was no ordinary Parisan woman strolling past my table at 6 a.m. as I dipped my croissant in coffee near the Gare de l ’Est rail station.  Rather, this vibrantly clad neon woman was a “poole,” a street walker, a hooker, a whore, a what have you – she was a prostitute, don’t you know – and as a 16-year-old virginal Midwestern Catholic school girl freshly flown in as a foreign exchange student in 1980, I was thrilled! 

Surrounded by Indiana cornfields, we don’t get a lot of polyester-clad prostitutes strolling past the breakfast table fresh from stimulating the economy.  It’s a somewhat tamer atmosphere.  Given the lack of adventure, I often find myself wanting more.  And that, my friends, is why I travel.

It’s been 32 years since I last set foot in Paris and my bucket list for adventure has grown.  In that time, I’ve managed to wet my way down the ice toboggan at the winter festival in Quebec City, catch a tiny crab with my inner ear while diving off Key Largo, and chase big city rats for a photo op in Central Park, but now it’s time to go back to the grande dame that is Paris, pen in hand, and cross off a few items.  The lime green jumpsuit I imagine is long since gone, though I doubt it’s deteriorated much in the landfill, and as for the hooker – well, who knows?  But the city is still there as are the croissants and the coffee and the people, and when I do get back, here’s what I hope to accomplish:

1)   Eat my way through a moveable feast.

As clichéd as Hemingway’s Paris may sound to the well heeled and better traveled than I, it’s still my go-to dream when the laundry’s piled high and my teenagers’ socks smell like runny French cheese.  Having devoured that book more than once, it’s time to walk in Ernie and Hadley’s footsteps no matter how many decades separate us.  Much like them, I desire a decent meal at a good café on the Place St.-Michel when a bitter wind blows the rain sodden leaves from the trees in Place de la Contrescarpe.  And I too will wile away a windy day wrapped in the musty warmth of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore where I’m sure I can find a less tattered version of this Hemingway classic.

2)   Strike the mountain pose at sunrise in the Square Jean XXIII

They say yoga is a great stress reliever, but when I strike a pose my husband sticks a frying pan in my outstretched arms and balances a package of bacon on my head.  Not so in the Square Jean XXIII – it’s refreshingly oven free.  Butting up against the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame (perfect inspiration for a day of downward-facing-dog) this peaceful oasis alongside the river offers up gardens, trees, immense manicured walkways and a gurgling fountain, all within the shadow of this classic cathedral.  Accessed by St.Stephen’s door within Notre Dame, it is a sea of sunrise calm and a great way to kick off a day filled with plans of completing item No. 3.

 3)   Partake in a mini communion marathon at church after church after church…

As Catholics go, I’m far from devote, but exploring unknown churches – the more cathedral like the better – leaves me drooling like an old priest over a new alter boy.  Everything about ancient cathedrals leaves me breathless – from the smell of burning beeswax and incense, to the smooth feel of the well worn stone floors underfoot, to the broken multi-colored light streaming through brittle stained glass – it’s sigh inducing on so many levels.  And in Paris, one can trip over an ancient church like a Starbucks in Seattle– they’re everywhere – which necessitates a plan.

For me, it’s not enough to just visit these timeless treasures.  No, my desire is to become a part of their active history and ancient ritual by taking in a quick half-hour mass with communion to follow in as many churches as I can stumble into before the communion wine sinks me like the Titanic.  Thus distant is a factor, leading me to start off with the queen of all churches – Notre Dame (hence the a.m. yoga session) – followed by her adorable kid sister, Sainte-Chapelle of the glowing Rose window fame.  After a hearty chug of communion wine, it’s time to sprint four blocks northeast to the hulking queen that is St.-Eustache where I can recover in her quiet Gothic beauty before hailing a cab to the Latin Quarter where St.-Severin will treat me to one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the city.

And if four masses and communion don’t get me off the hook for that priest joke, perhaps I can cage absolution with a quickie confession at St.-Paul-St.-Louis, built in 1641 for Cardinal Richeleu.  On second thought, maybe not.

4)   Burn a hole in my Batobus pass

Given my family’s Navy roots and sailing background, I can’t visit any water-wealthy locale and not set foot on a boat.  Fortunately, Paris accommodates in that regard with its hop on, hop off Batobus, the floating equivalent of a city bus which navigates the Seine hitting all of its high points, both Left Bank and Right.  Boats run on a generous schedule with departures happening every 17 to 35 minutes – the difference, I imagine, being a function of traveling upstream or down and whether any bodies are floating by – one of the seedy habitual uses of the river by pissed off Parisians since ancient times.

5)   Channel my inner gypsy at Bistrot d’ Eustache

Much as I love exploring churches and riding on boats, they pale in comparison to my first real love – eating good food – and in Paris, one can eat some seriously good food.  But who doesn’t appreciate dinner and a show, especially when that show includes local musicians playing some seriously hot gypsy jazz?  Get there early on a Thursday night when this tiny little handkerchief of a restaurant features live musicians, chain yourself to a table, order up the house specialty and prepare to be entertained.

And next – wait, what?  We’re limited to five?  But how can one limit a city like Paris to a bucket list of five?  Who doesn’t also want to discover some unknown starving artist?  Or snag an invite to an autumn house party on Ile St. Louis?  Or swing by No. 51 Rue de Montmorency and see if Nicholas Flamel left behind any useful anti-aging tips?

Well, five it is, and it’s a start and from there more items for the list will most definitely come.  Because a bucket list is never EVER really finished, is it?  Much like a grocery list, there’s always one more item to add.

So, what’s on yours?

Go with OhFor more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win four fantastic prizes through their Facebook contest, check out their link at:

http://www.gowithoh.com/

by Robin Fritz