A birthday celebration

This is our last evening at the Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame of the Ark of the Covenant.
(The Ark of the Covenant resided here in Emmaus (Abu Ghosh) for some years before King David took it back to the Temple in Jerusalem.) We have formed very warm relationships with the Philippino ladies who take care of the guests – Malou, Grace, Jenny and Vivian – who cooks with love.

Today is the birthday of our Kenyan participant. We have celebrated two other birthdays on this pilgrimage but this one was extra special since it was also our last evening. I was called in my room and asked to come to the dining room and give my approval of the decorations. The dining tables had been decorated with rose petals, votive candles stood on upturned water glasses and a big arrangement of flowers graced the serving table. It looked absolutely magical. The love and care that had gone into it moved me to tears and I had to take a firm walk around the garden. These young women had obviously thoroughly enjoyed themselves and cared about us all.

A special meal was presented; roast turkey with all the trimmings. Since hardly anyone in the group eats cake, the staff prepared a small flower arrangement for the birthday ‘boy’ (as people delighted in calling him) with a bowl of ice cream. A birthday cake candle had been brought in anticipation, and there was much hilarity as he pretended to have difficulty blowing out the one candle so that everyone who wanted could take a photo. He had no difficulty being the celebrity 🙂  Several birthday songs were sung and the Australians led their Hip Hip Hooray performance with gusto. A very special closing to our pilgrimage which we will all remember.

Different realities

Entrance to the Temple Mount

Entrance to the Temple Mount

A very early morning departure for the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to avoid long security lines.

We passed security (Israeli), we passed the ‘Modesty Police’ (Muslim), and entered this lovely, peaceful plaza with the Al Aqsa mosque at one end, the golden Dome of the Rock at the other end and the Golden Gate in the eastern wall where Jesus entered on Palm Sunday – which has been blocked, I believe by the Romans.

This sacred place is much more tense now than when I was here in 2011. We were told firmly by Nahum, our guide, to stay in the group, not to wander off on our own, not to engage the Muslim ‘police’ in conversation and most definitely not be seen praying, nor doing eurythmy or singing.

We were followed wherever we went and, when talking about the history of the place – the Jewish temple, the crusaders, the Templars – Nahum was reprimanded and told he must only speak of facts and was not allowed to tell his ‘stories’. Facts, that is, according to fundamental Muslims who deny anything that happened there that had nothing to do with Islam. Nahum knew they had no legal right to dictate what he could say and what he could not but he wisely declined to complain to the Israeli police and cause a ruckus. One of our group, who was always off doing her own thing, was standing still in one place with her hands beside her but for some reason was deemed to be praying and did cause a ruckus, especially when she tried to explain what she was doing – a German with limited English speaking to zealous Muslims with limited English. It was not successful 🙁

This was the first time we encountered any hostility from the Arab (sometimes Palestinian) population and it was obvious that, since we were not Muslims, we were not welcome. Everyone else has been warm and friendly and a delight to be with.

This is almost the end of our pilgrimage – we’re ready to go home …

Israel days

Samia, Sarina, Sophia, Sarnia – who am I?

We are staying at a kibbutz hotel and each day our dining tables are labeled with any of the above versions. Around us are hundreds of Jews celebrating Passover and it’s interesting being in their midst.

We have been 9 days in Israel – days completely full with no time to write anything.

Notre Dame Abu Ghosh

Notre Dame Abu Ghosh

The first few days we stayed in a Convent in Abu Ghosh (Emmaus) and took day trips from there to St George’s Monastery in Wadi Qelt, Jericho, Bethlehem, Qumram and Ein Gedi.

Wooden ship to Galilee

Wooden ship to Galilee

We have been visiting many sites and having different experiences. The most delightful was sailing on the Sea of Galilee in a wooden boat (see picture) which was a very peaceful experience, especially when they shut down the engine. There has been much singing in churches, which all have phenomenal acoustics, and some eurythmy and talks. The beds are comfortable, there’s a huge variety of buffet foods (decision-making becomes difficult) and the bathrooms modern with plenty of hot water – none of this do I take for granted.

Today, some intrepid souls climbed down ladders holding onto cables to see Mary Magdalene’s cave (maybe) and we visited Magdala, which has recently been discovered, and explored the archeological diggings (scientifically confirmed). While intrepid souls were climbing, we waited at the bottom being befriended by a horse that had shredded its tether rope and thought we must have goodies in our pockets.

We also visited Mount Tabor which has a beautiful church at the top to commemorate Christ’s Transfiguration (see pictures). We usually have a reading from Scripture, then a reading from Anne Catherine Emmerich’ visions, followed by a short talk from Robert Powell and singing and possibly eurythmy. With all this activity we usually visit only 2 sites each day.

There was much hilarity about beds. Two men share a room and one of them is very tall. He needed a longer bed which was promised, but when they came back to their room at the end of the day there was a long double bed instead of twins. The two of them were considering how they felt about sharing a bed when I found out about it. We had some slightly hysterical laughter, reported the mistake to reception, and it got corrected while we ate dinner. It’s hard to explain what was so funny about it, but we take our funnies where we find them.

Holland – The Netherlands

Both names are used for this country although Holland is only one ‘province’ of The Netherlands, even if better known.

The contrast with Paris is very noticeable. It’s clean, calm, quiet, orderly and sane. The drivers are polite and the roads in excellent condition. I could be my friendly, polite Canadian self (!) here, whereas in Paris I was mown down.

My friends have a beautiful home and beds that are blissful.

We went out and about, one day out in the country visiting a museum of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures, work I’ve known since I was young but never really appreciated until now.


There was also a range of pictures by Van Gogh, representing all the stages of his artistry, as well as other artistic works. Some of the sculptures were outdoors and looked their best in nature.


We also visited a Cathedral which was impressive, being less pompous and more a building one can relate to.


Cathedral Holland

And then there was a stop for The Boll – a pastry similar to our chocolate éclair but a round ball, with the same choux pastry covered in chocolate and a mass of whipped cream that filled the centre. The Dutch take their whipped cream very seriously and in large amounts!

The next day was a visit to a castle that had recently opened up – a castle rebuilt with Rothschild money in a sumptuous medieval style.


Another boll; this time meringue and cream – I did mention the importance of cream didn’t I?! And coffee sitting beside a river – or was it a canal? There are so many canals and, to my surprise, land is still being reclaimed from the sea. I thought that was over long ago, but the population is growing and more land is needed so – claim it from the sea!

It was a joy to have anthroposophical conversations, sharing experiences and attempts at understanding. I was a bit sad to leave but Israel calls …

I left Eindhoven for Madrid for an overnight where, counter to expectations, it was cold and raining but offered the most vivid rainbow I have ever seen.

I’m mid-flight from Madrid and needing distraction from all the nausea-creating snoring going on around me. Yuck! This plane is almost half empty and I’m very lucky with two bulkhead seats, window and aisle, all to myself. We’ve just flown over Italy …

We left 45 minutes late and they’ve promised lunch but it’s 13:45 and there’s no sign of it yet. I suppose we are on Spanish meal times. Soon please … My small packet of nuts is almost empty.

Ah – lunch is coming. With so many empty seats many people are having their siesta before lunch instead of afterwards …

Une Démonstration

Paris: Magnificent and dirty. Maybe it gets cleaned up for the tourists before the summer but now, at the end of winter, the streets are full of litter, cigarette butts and ‘unmentionables’ – not everyone picks up after their dog.

Magnificent buildings, especially the ones that have been cleaned. Many are still filthy. London has done much better cleaning up buildings after the industrial revolution. They are so beautiful when the colour of the stone is like new instead of black from smoke and soot.

I was reminded in multiple instances that I’m not a city gal. Parisians walk very fast, staring straight ahead, ears plugged with wires and no connection with anyone around them – although I learned to ‘play the old lady’ and was then given a seat on the Metro. Being on my feet all day I welcomed every opportunity to sit down.

The weather has been variable, wind and rain some days, one day of warm sunshine, one day exceptionally cold – it was hard to know what to wear that would see me through each day. Going out in wind and rain for a while and then going home is very different from being out in it all day.

While fast food is available, one doesn’t have to search far for good food and wine and I have very much enjoyed my food explorations. All the exercise of up and down stairs and walking for miles has prevented any negative consequences.

I managed to make the hotel booking we were hoping for even though I found they don’t usually take groups. It’s a charming place with a large courtyard with a garden off the street and so peaceful, which is what will be very welcome after each day exploring the city.

I have been using Rick Steves’ guidebook, Paris 2016, which is extraordinarily good, with tours of the museums and walking tours of the different parts of Paris. I see no reason to struggle on my own when he has already done the work and is very thorough.

On the last day I visited places I needed to go to but had missed, either from being just too tired or cold and wet. Coming out of the Metro at Le Petit Palais, which I needed to check for a lunch spot, I saw a large demonstration outside which I know should be avoided. The ‘smoke’ I saw made me think of tear gas. But I wanted lunch so I asked a group of policemen what was going on. They smiled and said it was a demonstration by the police for more money! So there was no tear gas, only smoke from a torch-like feature and I worked my way around them all and into the museum for a peaceful lunch. All I kept hearing was how tired they were from working long hours. No doubt there was lots more, but that was what I could translate.

I have gradually become more confident with the French language after many years of non-use, but just in time to leave Paris and come to Holland to visit friends in their beautiful home. I hope it comes back more quickly when I return in September.

I’m enjoying this respite in Holland before leaving for Madrid on Tuesday and then Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

The Dutch in general are so sane and sensible and clean and…and…

Paris Metro culture

The Metro has a life all its own. Sometimes there’s hardly anyone there on the platform and the train is nearly empty. More of the time it’s packed and people are jammed in so tight the doors sometimes can’t close. No one could fall over when the train jolts; there’s nowhere to fall.

Unlike in London, there’s almost no escalators, so it’s all stairs and long corridors. I’m getting quite the workout.

In the corridors where several cross there are buskers playing accordions or the fiddle or singing karaoke style. Many of them very, very good. They deserve to be discovered in my opinion. There were a couple of men playing on the train this morning and a white cat traveling crouched on its owner’s shoulders. It reminded me of Mr Bijoux who came hiking with us in the forest of Romania last summer.

The upright poles to cling onto have three branches to them like a tree so there’s more available for people to hang on to. This morning there was a naked 2 – 3 ft plastic doll resting on the forks of the branches. I think I’ve seen it all, but I probably haven’t.

People are rushing from place to place with blank faces and things plugged in their ears. We are so very lucky that we don’t have to live this lifestyle.

I am an oddity – an older woman traveling alone. I’ve only seen one other so far. I’m also short! My umbrella is several inches lower than everyone else’s.

The weather changes from bitterly cold to less cold but raining. My umbrella is threatening to give up. April in Paris? This feels more like December in Paris.

I’m getting done what I need to do but am really pushing myself. I’m getting older and it’s inconvenient!

Flowers and bubbles in France

I had forgotten how demanding this research is!

The best laid plans of mice and men… do not take into consideration French rail strikes.

The train I intended to get to Vernon-Giverny was cancelled and the first one was 12:20 – two hours later.

So I switched my day’s plan around and walked to the huge fancy stores – Galerie Lafayette and Printemps – first, instead of later in the day. The Art Nouveau stained glass dome at GF was stunning – so were the prices! Printemps has a lovely restaurant for us for lunch one day.

I got the train to Vernon and then bus to Giverny – a gorgeous place even in the pouring rain. Had lunch at my chosen hotel for September – which was delicious, with no theft attempts by a cat. Introduced myself and saw some rooms – all good. Then to Monet’s garden which was magical, even with rain flattened flowers from bulbs and pansies and wallflowers, which smelled delicious. No water lilies yet of course, but it will all be stunning when we get there in September.

The birdsong was amazing – I haven’t heard that since I was last in England – and the reflection of the trees in the large pond in his water garden, while not an unusual phenomenon, seemed especially beautiful in their forms.

I wandered the village in the rain finding beautiful things I’d like to buy for my home so must bring a shopping bag when I come back in September.

After exercising that discipline, along the street came some bubbles to meet me! They were floating down the street and then landing on the wet road and staying there, reflecting so many colours from all around them; coloured bubbles all over the road – it was exquisite. I wanted to take a picture to show you but found my camera battery needed recharging so that picture is only in my memory.

I took a nap on the train on my way back to Paris and then faced the Metro again. I thought the crowds in the morning were from rush hour but this was 8:00pm so that wasn’t the reason. We were crammed in like sardines in a can; there was no way anyone could fall over when the train jolted – we were packed in too tight to fall anywhere. Also, I’ve discovered there are almost no escalators so it’s stairs everywhere. I can manage this but a group with luggage on their way to Chartres wouldn’t have a hope. I must revise my plan and either use taxis to get to that train station or book a bus to take us to Chartres. This is why it’s important to do this research.

Chartres tomorrow, hopefully with no train problems…

Restaurant entertainment in Paris

My travels from Vancouver to Paris have been trouble-free and there’s been almost no evidence of added security at airports which I had expected. I was persuaded to take a shuttle van to my hotel rather than the train and, almost 2 hours later, I was regretting that. Then I remembered Rick Steves’ saying, ‘If things are not to your liking; change your liking.’ So I decided to enjoy the free tour of Paris that I was getting as everyone else got dropped off first.

People watching in airports is always fascinating; I’ve been doing a lot of that. My overnight in Madrid was very welcome – being able to get horizontal after 22 hours of travel. Although it was a short trip from the airport, the taxi cost 20 euros which I thought excessive, so next morning I found the bus and spent 1.5 euros instead to get back to the airport. I’ll be staying there 3 times in the course of this trip so it was worth knowing.

Once I settled into my hotel in Paris I set off in the rain to walk Montmartre, the haven of artists of all kinds past and present. Picasso lived here at one time as well as Lautrec, Rodin, Monet, Matisse, Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein and many, many others. It was once a village outside the walls of Paris and still has a small vineyard as well as two wooden windmills. Artists were sitting under canopies in the rain still drawing and painting in the Place du Tertres.

I took one of Rick Steves’ recommendations for a restaurant for dinner tonight. It was a small restaurant with decorated mirrors and painted glass on the ceiling – very evocative. The restaurant cat joined me on my bench; I assumed it was because I was sitting on his/her favourite place but that was naive of me. The chicken I had ordered was absolutely delicious and cat clearly believed chicken was for sharing. I disagreed. After tapping him/her on the nose or paw several times saying “No” others started to notice and laugh. The delightful waiter took cat away a few times but it kept coming back. Finally he took it upstairs and shut the door by which time we were all laughing at its antics. The house Sauvignon was the best white wine I have ever tasted and I savored it. Cat didn’t try for any of that. Then there was a left over half bottle of a red going spare so I asked and was granted a taste of that one too.

I’m going to Giverny tomorrow to check the hotel we have booked for the September tour and visit Monet’s garden, even though the water lilies won’t be in flower yet. I want to explore the village and know my way around before the tour group arrives. I hope the rain stops.

Enough for tonight…

Loch Ness and Thoughts of Home

Today, both of us getting very tired, we have travelled the whole length of Loch Ness – no monsters in sight – and this evening have unloaded everything from the car so we can sort out who is taking what tomorrow morning.

The odyssey is almost over. My brother and I are still friendly and have been very compatible this whole trip. I’m ready to come home – there is much waiting for me…

Today is my last day in Scotland. I’ll be taking the train from Glasgow to London tomorrow, staying there for the night, and leaving early for my flight back to Vancouver.

This has been a very eclectic research adventure – hopefully a fruitful one.

Dunrobin Castle in Inverness

Leaving the Orkneys, we drove south to Inverness, finding a lovely café for morning coffee, Dunrobin Castle as a quintessential Scottish Castle, and a small museum of Pictish stone carvings and the modern research and work of George Bain which will be well known to Waldorf teachers for Form Drawing.