Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria was a delight. I stayed with a lovely, well-travelled and educated woman of my own age and we became firm friends in a short time.

Although I was only here for a day and half, Juan Luis and Paulette took me to a recommended place for accommodation in the evening and then for a dramatic day’s drive into the mountains next day to see a volcanic crater and some lovely villages. We had lunch in a cave restaurant with an incredible view. We achieved a lot and have accommodation settled and activities for the first 3 days. I now wait to see what Lanzarote has to offer. The pictures of the anthroposophical therapeutic & vacation centre on their website are gorgeous – we shall see…

This airport in Gran Canaria is huge and almost empty. It’s very new and, I suspect, built with anticipation of a big increase in tourism in the future.

I much preferred Gran Canaria to Tenerife, which is more industrial-commercial and had little charm from what I saw. Perhaps I just missed the good parts?

Lanzarote next…

Volcanic Mountains and an Ancient Forest

Today, I went out with others to more incredibly dramatic volcanic mountains and walked in an ancient forest which was rather disappointing – so dry. By the time they dropped me off at the parking lot where I had left my car it was 3:00pm and I was done. Another 2 hour drive to visit another place was beyond me. I phoned and left an apologetic message.

Tomorrow morning I fly to Gran Canaria, to be hosted and whisked around by more anthroposophical people.

I am more than ready for the impersonality of a hotel!!!

The Island of La Gomera

Today I drove to the south of the island to get the ferry boat to the island of La Gomera. BC Ferries do it much, much better!

Fred Olsen ferries are much bigger but have only a small outside deck. It had no cafeteria – only snack bars full of junk food. The gift shop had almost nothing in it, and the real clincher was watching the loading of vehicles. Cars drove on and had to turn around inside the ferry to be facing the right direction for disembarking. Trucks of all kinds, including articulated ones, had to back on!

As a walk-on passenger it cost me about $65 return and the trip was only 10 minutes longer than our own. I may not mutter about BC ferries quite so much in future.

I wandered around the town, found a tourist information office and got what I needed and then took a local bus to a village in the interior. The drive was stunning! Up steep hills, around hairpin bends with drops at the side of the road that were definitely not for sissies. It was gorgeous – pictures say so much more than words even though they were taken from inside the bus.

On to the Canary Islands

After 3 days in Bulgaria I flew to London and then on to the Canary Islands. It was a long day and I arrived in Tenerife, Canary Islands, late – and 2 hours later for me.

I’d been told to rent a car to get to my host but I hadn’t thought that through very well. Driving a strange car in the dark on highways with Spanish signage was very challenging at midnight.

That was the point when I really did wonder if I could do this – but I did. That was my biggest stretch.

This time my host lives in a very old, traditional collection of rooms accessed through gardens.

She had to meet me at the local gas station to lead me to their home, up and up and up tiny narrow streets, barely wide enough for a car to get through. A donkey would have been more appropriate.

Meeting people in Sofia

Meeting people…

So many of them! I hope I don’t muddle them up later.

I was mixing with people from the White Brotherhood, followers of Peter Deunov, a contemporary of Rudolf Steiner. They have much in common with anthroposophists and I think we have things we could learn from them – and they from us.

I spent 2 days with one Maria and then went up into the rarified air of the mountains with another Maria. Therein lies a story of confusion but it got sorted out. One evening my host took me out for dinner at a lovely outdoor restaurant in a park that was just magical.

Belgrade to Sofia

The station in Belgrade was the worst I’ve ever seen and everything was in cyrillic so I couldn’t read anything. I spotted a group of young backpackers beside a train and joined them, hoping someone spoke English and that might be the right one. It was – with a tiny sign saying Sofia on the first carriage. I struggled to climb on board past refugees with no tickets, found my compartment and couchette (berth). However, it wasn’t what I had booked – a four berth, women only – and instead was 6 berths that I was to share with 5 smelly young men.

The conductor was a classic example of what I had been warned about. He angrily told me there was no such thing as women only compartments anywhere in Europe. Since I had been on one just a few nights ago I knew it wasn’t true but there’s no point in arguing.

Then I discovered the next compartment was set up for 4 and was only occupied by a single woman from India who, wisely, was not very comfortable about being on her own. So I gathered up my bedding and joined her.

The conductor was furious – told me that was 1st class and I needed to pay him 5 euros. Of course it wasn’t and I said no. We argued a bit, he threatened me that I wouldn’t get off the train without paying him and stood behind me as I firmly looked out the window with my back to him. I knew he was there because of the strong smell of alcohol. I also knew the young people around me wouldn’t let him harm me. He eventually gave up.

The train had been closed up, it was unbelievably hot, we opened every possible window, stuffing things into them to stop them automatically closing.

The bunks were very uncomfortable and mine wasn’t level so whenever the train brakes were applied I nearly rolled off etc, etc.

Needless to say I didn’t sleep much but I survived. We were only a half hour late getting into Sofia – not bad for this part of the world.

I am now staying in a beautiful apartment of a friend of a friend. It’s still very, very hot which is wearing, but I did get a good night’s sleep which is always welcome.

It has become apparent that this research trip is about meeting people and making connections more than seeing sights and searching for accommodation. I’ve learnt to go with what is, rather than pushing for what isn’t.

I’ll be out today exploring Sofia with a lovely lady I met yesterday.


It has been very hot here in Eastern Europe which has flattened my energy. I’m therefore thinking of doing this tour in April 2017 rather than in the summer. I’m told that wouldn’t be a problem.

The big news here is migrash catastrof (sp?) migrants-refugees catastrophe (Hungarian from the taxi driver who was furious about it.) When I passed through the main station in Budapest earlier this morning it was apparent the number of refugees had doubled. There were serious demonstrations yesterday that closed train stations and delayed trains. I was lucky to have Nora to advise me so that I have had no problems.

There are police everywhere at the stations with their riot helmets hanging from their belts but they don’t seem tense. It’s hard for me to tell if it’s the Hungarians rioting or the refugees. What I saw last week was the refugees but they seemed to be cheering on their new-found leaders rather then being angry. I don’t think it was the same yesterday.

Hungarians are very angry that the refugees are stuck in their country and they have to provide for them. They are given free train tickets to Germany but the surrounding countries won’t let them pass through. I just passed through a minor station with yet another bunch of refugees surrounded in even greater numbers by police. Yet I got the impression the police were there to protect the refugees as much as to prevent them just taking off into the fields. Some Muslim women and their children were quite heavily escorted to toilets that had been set up for them.

Of course the press is here in force, interviewing – probably politicians or talking heads.

Nora believes the government is making more of it than they need to, to distract people from the economic and social problems in the country.

Funny – when my taxi driver heard I was from Canada his immediate response was “Ah, Trudeau!” And he didn’t mean Justin 🙂

His father made a huge impact: No one has heard of Stephen Harper.

Back in Miskolc, the European Union has paid for a new and beautiful tram system, restoring the opera house and rebuilding a castle. They are all impressive and while I do wonder at such expenditures it is evident that it is restoring cultural pride which is so necessary after communism. Who am I to judge? But I’m constantly seeing the refugees …

Budapest to Sofia: Well, Budapest to Belgrade was a lovely train trip – except that it was an hour and half late. Nothing unusual about that, but a bit worrisome when I had an overnight train connection, but it all worked out.

Hungary and Romania

Hungarians are different to Romanians. The last decades since the 1956 crackdown have been more benevolent than in Romania.

There is disbelief about the suffering of anthroposophists in Romania and incorrect beliefs about their own country. Nora was convinced Lake Balaton was only for wealthy tourists and full of ugly resorts. Eva had told me that was only true of some parts and much of it was very beautiful. Eva believed that Miskolc was only an industrial city and couldn’t have a lovely Waldorf school in lovely surroundings. The truth is that the industrial aspect of Miskolc has long since gone and only the ruins of factories remain.

With ‘freedom’ the oligarchs left, industry closed down and a high proportion of the population lost their jobs.

These are just two examples of mistaken beliefs about their own country and their neighbors, which brings a bit more understanding about what seems like confused beliefs of the population in Ukraine.

Romania is worried; Hungary doesn’t seem to be. I suppose much of it depends on previous experience of communism.

I’m having quite a grand time in Miskolc with Nora Kunos, a Waldorf school parent who can organize a few days of traditional Hungarian activities and sites for us to visit when we come.

A highlight for me was being asked to speak to a Grade 12 class who were about to have an English class. They were respectful, curious about Canada in general and BC in particular, and had good questions. They delighted in bear stories and wanted to know about the Inuit. I so enjoy working with Waldorf high school students. It was good meeting some teachers and it was apparent that I passed The Test – whatever that was. Nora gave me a good report next day and a message of welcome.

Budapest to Miskolc to Belgrade to Sofia

More trains – this time from Budapest to Miskolc, back to Budapest, on to Belgrade (Serbia) to Sofia (Bulgaria) – 24 hrs. You can tell I like trains!

Reality is – there are no direct flights from Budapest to Sofia – you have to fly back to London first and the cost corresponds with that silliness. I’d rather be on a train seeing the countryside.

It was apparent that Hungary is better off than Romania – stations in good condition, modern tractors, hard top roads. Many Romanian roads are still dirt.

Rail travel with a eurailpass almost always gives you a 1st class seat at the basic cost of the pass – that’s why they do it – to occupy 1st class seats. This time I have a lovely first class carriage all to myself with my ‘own toilet’ and adjacent to a dining car. What more could a traveler want?! 🙂 The only thing missing is wifi. Some trains have it but not this one.

Saturday morning in Budapest

Saturday morning …

The overnight in the train was excellent and, by chance, I had the compartment all to myself. 7 hours of sleep being rocked gently by the train.

Woken by border officials as we left Romania and then by Hungarian officials – Passports!

Spent the day with Eva Ujlaky catching up with what is happening in Budapest, with our respective news of our shared colleagues and sharing our own lives. We walked in the Pest part of the city – very elegant – and didn’t get over the river to Buda. We spent too much time having breakfast, coffee, lunch, and later dessert with more coffee – and talking.

I saw with my own eyes the plight of the refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the station.

My room faces onto the front of the train station and all evening there has been a demonstration out there by the refugees – but the police haven’t been concerned so perhaps it’s a nightly event.