EASTERN EUROPE and THE HOLY LAND day 8

Bethlehem being over in the ‘West Bank’ I found had changed tremendously over the past 38yrs since my last visit.  Now, it’s a little different having to go through ‘security checkpoints’.   Its not an issue for us Pilgrims.  We have another wonderful driver whom I called ‘George’.   That was his idea,  his name being a little difficult to pronounce,  he suggested I call him  George  ( as in George Clooney,  he thought that he resembled my idol )    (I smile )

At times the day was a little warm to hot and George always made sure he had ample supply of cold water in the coach refrigerator.  Not only cold water,  George would bring fresh grapes from his house garden  for my group each day.

With the name of our hotel being ‘Saint Gabriel’  one felt protected and safe and it was that indeed. . We are inside the West Bank,  a wonderful hotel,  personable staff, excellent meals .

For most Christians who go to Bethlehem their visit is not complete without  entering the Church of The Nativity. Built over the stable where history shows us Jesus was born.  To enter into this Church one must bend low to enter through the Door of Humility and then descend into the Grotto of The Holy Manger where a silver star on the floor marks the spot where Christ was born.

My visit to Bethlehem this time brought back memories of me celebrating my 20(something) birthday with my Jewish friends back in the mid ‘70’s.  Young in those days,  sitting cross legged on the floor covered in multi coloured cushions in a wine bar.

Our Pilgrimage continues the following day to Ein Karem the birthplace of St John the Baptist.

We continue on by coach to visit the IsraelMuseum and view the Second Temple  ( 2000 sq mtr scale model of Jerusalem  as it was in the time of Jesus)

Interesting story about this model of ancient Jerusalem.   It was commissioned in 1966 by Hans Kroch, who was the owner of a hotel in Israel.  He had this scale model commissioned in memory of his son Yaakov,  an Israeli Defence soldier  who was killed in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.  In 2006 the model was sawn into 1,000 pieces and later reassembled to where it is today.

 

 

EASTERN EUROPE & THE HOLY LAND early hours of morning Day 8

 

With a touchdown into TelAviv,  BenGurionAirport,  a long coach transfer from one part of the airport (airside) to the main Terminal where our luggage awaited us… just like magic, it appeared.

Counting heads  again,  1.2.3.4.5.6.7.8.9.  etc  yes still got my 23 travellers.   We call ourselves Pilgrims now.

A few  need a ‘technical stop..  bathroom stop’ …done ! . set to go

About to leave,  then I’ve lost 7 of them. Another head count,  oh they decided they would go on a ‘technical stop’ and did not tell me.

We eventually move out from the airport  & meet up with our wonderful guide Usama and escorted to our coach.  Another of my Kibbutz friends from 38yrs ago,  Solash,  was also at  Ben Gurion Airport to meet up with me. Life is good.

Hey a new coach to travel in.  It’s a big improvement from the Kibbutz buses 38 years ago, but I wouldn’t have changed that experience, after all that’s what you do when you are young & the teeth rattling was not an issue.

Our coach today has wifi…  what a joy,  we were able to take photos and immediately send back to family and friends in Australia.

Another 1 hrs drive across to Bethlehem  where we were to stay for the next few nights.

 

 

EASTERN EUROPE & THE HOLY LAND the evening of Day 7

 

The Holy Lands, it is not a visit or even an experience,  but,  a feeling so strong it was magnetic to the soul.

My thoughts & memories captivate me, … taking me back to my first flight into Tel Aviv many years ago.  We all remember different things which are close to our hearts…  this is mine.

I had spent time as a volunteer in  a Kibbutz in Israel 38years ago and,  still to this day,  I would say that was  the best year of my life.

Each time I travel to Israel I get ‘chicken skin / goose bumps’. I am thinking  perhaps I have lived here in a previous life ?

My cherished Jewish friend of 38 years who I met on the kibbutz as a 20 something  year old was expecting my visit.  My thoughts took me back to that time, what if I could just have one day of experiencing that again…..

 

 

EASTERN EUROPE & THE HOLY LAND Day 7

 

Travelling through the beautiful countryside of Poland we reach a quaint village in central Poland named  Kazimierz Dolny …  its,  like back in time. Many painters and artist retreat to this small town to paint and sell their fine art.. I found myself saying,   “yes I will have that,  and that,” .. oh dear there you go again Marg,   BIG EYES…  you don’t have the luggage space as you have got to also make room for your personal pillow which you dragged all the way from Queensland … that’s correct,  I travel everywhere with my own pillow. .. well Linus had his blanket, (he was not at all embarrassed )   why can’t I have my pillow  ?

We were  spoilt for the night  in this little village.  My European operators managed to book all 24 pilgrims into one of the most delightful Villas in the village,  Complete with our own private dining room which was home to a piano. Following dinner that evening, one of our fellow pilgrims soon found a piano stool  and with not much persuasion performed a concert with many an old tune we could join in singing. .

EASTERN EUROPE & THE HOLY LAND Day 6

 

Krackow…  I’m off to the salt mines !    not so scary.

These mines are famous as being the oldest operational mine in Europe and dating back to the 13th century.   The mines are as deep below the surface as Eiffel Tower is high….ha ,  I pictured us walking down all these stairs… much to my grateful relief we had an old fashioned elevator,    we enter by lift which accommodates only 5 people at a time and chug, chug, chug down we go.

Almost completing our visit after walking 4 klms underground, our guide suggests dragging a finger along  the walls of the mine.  I am able to taste the salt, I bet many a visitor has done the same ( oh what a thought now  ) ….  we reach a magnificent underground Cathedral with chandeliers made of salt,  statues carved into the walls and an amazing piece of artwork completed by one of the miners.  There is art work carved depicting the ‘Last Supper’… this is something which needs to be seen to appreciate it.

Eastern Europe & The Holy Land – Day 5

We are in Krackow. Market Square we experience one of the most beautiful  medieval city centres in Europe.  Searching for a relaxing area within the square,  I wanted to just sit with a glass of red and watch the international world pass by.  Included here are many horse and carriage  rides.  These horses must be the most well cared for I have ever seen.  I spent my lunch break in awe of these magnificent animals,  so well groomed, very well fed. I guess for that matter so was I…  a delectable Polish pizza washed down with a few glasses of the local red wine.

In Krackow I am able to attend Mass inside St Florians Church where the young Fr Karol (St John Paul II) developed a flourishing underground youth ministry,  nowadays there is no risk in showing your faith in Poland.

Eastern Europe & Holy Land – Day 4

One of the many highlights on this Pilgrimage is visiting the birthplace of the  Karol Wojtyla, late  Pope John Paul II a town named Wadowice in Poland..  as we know Pope John Paul II is now known as  St John Paul II.   Visiting his family home and the grounds where he played football I tried to imagine what his life was like in this ‘communist’ country,  a world we here in Australia have never had to experience, and,  I thank God for our fortunate life … still could not imagine the hardship.

 

Eastern Europe & Holy Land – Day 3

 

photo (65)With an early start we left our Gothic friends of Prague to journey into Poland with a lunch stop in a quaint picturesque village called Klodazko, our morning tea break….  Still Gothic architecture adorns this village, we continue on to Czestochowa with a history of attracting more than 5 million pilgrims each year to pay homage to Our Lady of Czestochowa or / The Black Madonna.  We so happened to be there for the Feast Day of The Black Madonna… our little group of 23 amongst 70,000 visitors.

I had been fearful of losing one or two from the group… this is where it happened. Groups are moving through the Basilica, TreasuryMuseum and Knights Hall…. We arrive at the shop, yes lots of shopping, hummm time for a head count! … count again!   I’ve lost one .

A member of the group needed a ‘technical stop’ (bathroom), which was a ‘blessing’  ha ha lol (pun on words) upon his return, bumps right into my lost traveller, all good, so on we go heading back to our hotel for a well earned rest.

Eastern Europe and the Holy Land

As you will notice I BLOG about travelling. This TRAVELLING thing, It gets to be a sort of disease for some people.  I am sure I was injected by this ‘bug’ when I was younger or perhaps just born with itchy feet ……. Travelling through life I have reached that location in my working life that I love. Well, I have been hearing lately that its not work if you love what you do … that’s me, I love doing what I’m doing. This is my first ‘blog’ so go easy on me please.

 

DEPARTURE  from Brisbane International Airport 22 Aug 2014

timetable9.00pm with my excited travellers, all contrasting people, lots of variety in style, personalities etc, just the way I like it!  I then carried out the roll call trick, you know, like back in primary school, anyone not here just yell! Some had concerns about one of our destinations, that being Israel, but some were just happy to be boarding the big silver bird in the sky… but more about their concerns later!

The Big Silver Lady from Brisbane touched down smoothly in Dubai for a few hours resting her huge wings before continuing on to Prague, yes Prague, The Czech Republic. I was told about the unreal shopping that was available, but alas that wasn’t my trip purpose!!!! Stop day dreaming Marg you are in Dubai enjoy your well earned & clever decision to pay for an Airport lounge where one could emulate a lizard & actually sit in a different position! The never before Dubai travellers chose to check out the shopping!

market square, PragueTouchdown into the golden city of Prague was smoother than I have ever experienced, the pilot must have known about the lovely Australians on board! Met by our local guide and coach driver. Both our guide and our coach driver were from Warsaw. Our guide spoke with a very strong accent, I must say her English is much better than my Polish. Our driver also is a credit to his country He handled this monster of a coach like he was driving his family car, all with care and precision. Prague is famous for its Gothic and Baroque architecture, it would be one of the most romantic cities in Europe. Our 2nd day, well, talk about hitting the ground running….

PragueWe were fed and watered at breakfast and out on the road by 8:30am to begin our walking tour taking in sights like St Vitus Cathedral (it houses the crown jewels) We continue on to the Hradcany area and majestic Prague Castle. There are clock towers and the Treasury. One can not go to Prague without strolling over the Charles Bridge. Whether walking over the Charles Bridge alone of with that special person in your life, romance takes hold. Daytime or evening I found buskers and artists, including a local blind lady singing with the most angelic voice I actually thought she was an angel, I found myself wanting to just stand and listen, alas, there was more to this fascinating parade. You may consider purchasing a ticket to a classical concert which would be performed in one of the beautiful Churches or in one of the grand concert halls.Prague - artwork

Head on down to the Old Town Square which was a marketplace until about 100yrs ago. Here you will find busking bands (lots of jazz) outdoor concerts. One of the wonderful times to visit Prague is the time leading up to Christmas when you will be able to take in this glorious atmosphere of the impressive Christmas markets. You will find sellers of wooden toys, metalware, jewellery, not to mention traditional handicrafts. Prague is not just about shopping! Naturally there is the traditional food like the barbequed sausages oh, and what about that hot mulled wine. I’ll drink to that.

Prague- Holy InfantMy visit to Prague would not have been complete without stopping by for Mass at the Church of Our Lady Victorious where stands the statue of the Holy Infant of Prague. This tiny statue figure has an impressive record of miracle cures and is one of the most revered images in the Catholic world.

So as to have a little bit of fun and a more of a ‘get to know your neighbour’ on our organized coach tour, on our 2nd night I had introduced a ‘fancy dress night’. Being that Prague is associated with culture, history, medieval architecture as well as many types of music, I asked the group to bring along a sort of ‘fancy dress’ outfit. Its amazing what one can find in your suitcase. We had a few pirates, well dressed ladies, Cat woman, even a Hawaiian dancer. Now, I am not what you would call ‘slim built’ I packed in a long white singlet, leggings and a pink tutu and long pink glittery stick-on eyelashes. I tried my style as a ‘ballerina’. The dress up night broke the ice for a number of travelers .