I finally do make it to Berwick upon Tweed on our way to Newcastle

Tuesday 25 September 2018

If you have been following the blog, you will have realised that due to Storm Ali last Wednesday (19/9/18) I was not able to get to Berwick upon Tweed and onto to Lindisfarne from there. It just so happened that our choir made Berwick its lunch stop on the way to Newcastle. It was very windy, and the only safe place was a café or an antique shop! I did so want to go into the Sinners Café, but it was closed – maybe a sign that we, the members of the Australian Welsh Male Choir are all angels on this choir trip? There was also lovely stuff in the shops but no room in the bags and no time to buy and anyway – we weren’t on this trip to buy but to sing. Finally, we made it to Newcastle to the Copthorne Hotel on the Tyne river. Our rooms were superb, and all looked out over the river. This was our base for two nights as we prepared to sing with the Backworth Male Voice Choir tomorrow – Wednesday 26 September – for our third concert of the tour.

getting ready to leave Edinburgh

Getting ready to leave Edinburgh – it’s a job to ensure all bags are counted and make it on the bus!

Berwick upon Tweed

One of the café in Berwick upon Tweed

sinners cafe closed

This is where I wanted to have lunch!

lovely sign in vintage shop

Is it all getting too much for me that I find this lovely sign in one of the shops in Berwick appealing to my spirit?

hotel 3
our home for the next two nights
Newcastle hotel 1
the view looking left out the window
newcastle hotel 2
looking right – a beautiful afternoon

 

Did someone yell “Fore!”

Monday 24 September 2018

Yesterday, on Sunday, a few of the choir took the opportunity in the morning to go to church at Old St Paul’s Scottish Episcopal Church in central Edinburgh, just around the corner from our hotel. This was a High Mass with the musical setting being Messe Basse by Faure and the anthem O sacrum Convivium by Charpentier. The organ voluntary was Praeludium by Lübeck. The wonderful choir was made up of University aged students. These students were members of the church and this was their gift to the church – it was wonderful to see so many younger people in a church for a high service – bells, smells, processions – the lot! It was a delight to be part of it and a reminder to me of the power of liturgy to use all the senses – to move people in adoration of God.

The evening was turned over to our second concert of the tour – at St Andrew’s and St George’s Church of Scotland, West Edinburgh. One of our choir members had a connection to this church and thus we put on a show. The actual venue was a bit difficult to sing in and many (40%) of our members were under the weather – however the show MUST go on – and we managed to satisfy the audience.

On Monday, our Musical Director Tom decided that a rest day was needed so we had no rehearsal today. On the buses at 11.30am for the drive to St Andrew’s – the spiritual home of GOLF. It was a beautiful drive and the weather was lovely. We did see the old ‘Firth of Forth’ bridge – built in 1892 and now a World Heritage site. Once at St Andrew’s we had an opportunity to walk on the 18th fairway and our lunch in the New Club Room (1902!) overlooking the old club house and the beach, made famous by the opening scene from Chariots of Fire, was glorious. For the golfers among us – not me – this was heaven. On the drive home we passed the new V and A museum in Dundee – only recently opened. Next door to this was the ‘Discovery’ – the ship used by Scott on his tragic voyage to the Antarctic.

Some of us in the evening took the chance on our last night in Edinburgh to go to a Scottish pub for dinner – the Black Cat. We were entertained by a local band – piper, and violin player. They were later joined by another violin player and a drummer – and the place was really jumping. We were banging on the table in rhythm to the lively music. A truly wonderful way to end a wonderful day on tour!

the view of the castle from breakfast.JPG

The view of the castle from breakfast room

poster for concert

Poster for Sunday’s concert

Sunday night concert at St Andrew's and St George's.jpg

Concert on Sunday night at St Andrew’s and St George’s

1892 bridge.JPG

The old Firth on Forth bridge – on the right

St Andrew 1.JPG

Old Club house – St Andrews

ST Andrews 3.JPG

That beach from Chariots of Fire

the bridge.JPG

AWMC at St Andrews

V and D Dundee

The new V and A building at Dundee – striking design

black cat

Bob – far left – Christine, Tom and Ayse enjoying the Black Cat

piper and violin.JPG

the Piper and violin players – early on the night – great music

 

Some Kelpies; a wheel and a wonderful first concert

Saturday 22 September 2018

Most of the choir flew in yesterday (Friday 21/9) and we had a lovely welcome dinner at the Mercure Hotel on Princes Street – our accommodation for the next four nights. In the morning after a rehearsal to warm the throats and clear the jetlag – we were on the coach to Linlithgow – a beautiful town about half-an-hour away. On the way we stopped at what is a modern masterpiece – the ‘Kelpies.’ Here is how they are described online:

The Kelpies are 30-metre-high horse-head sculptures, standing next to a new extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal, and near River Carron, in The Helix, a new parkland project built to connect 16 communities in the Falkirk Council Area, Scotland. The sculptures were designed by sculptor Andy Scott and were completed in October 2013. The sculptures form a gateway at the eastern entrance to the Forth and Clyde canal, and the new canal extension built as part of The Helix land transformation project. The Kelpies are a monument to horse powered heritage across Scotland.

They are stunning and breath-taking – after all the history of the last three weeks – here was a modern sculpture which I rank up with a lot of what I have experienced in the trip so far! Next, we were taken to the Falkirk Wheel. Again, this is a piece of modern engineering magic. It is the only rotating boatlift in the world – connecting Forth and Clyde Canal to the Union Canal. It was opened in 2002 and is amazing to experience being lift lifted the 24m. There are two boat bays which balance each other out and both hold 250 tonnes of water. Using Archimedes principle however – it only takes the power of eight kettles boiling to move up or down – truly incredible!

We then moved onto to Linlithgow proper and had a wonderful civil reception before being led by a piper up to the 13th century church (with a modern steeple) It was a good fun concert in the church and both our choir and the local choir – The Linlithgow Rugby Club Male Voice Choir – the only rugby club in Scotland to have its own choir! – were well received by the 300+ in the church that night. A few of us accepted the invitation to head back to the Rugby Club after the concert for the after-glow celebrations. A Male choir tradition – this was a wonderful event – with impromptu singing and a few wee drams!

We made it back to the hotel by 12.30am after a wonderful day and night – a hectic way to start our tour for the next three weeks.

our hotel for our stay in Edinburgh

grand buildings of Edinburgh

Grand majestic buildings on Princes Street Edinburgh

the view from hotel

The view early in the morning across from our hotel

kelpies

The Kelpies!

me going on the wheel

Me going on the canal boat to be lifted up – notice I am wearing a fleecy – only about 11 degrees

the wheel

being lifted up

being lifted up

St Michael's Linlithgow

St Michael’s Linlithgow – notice the top of the tower!

official reception

Civic reception – our President Neil – on the far left – I feel many of our members had uniform envy – the tartans of the Linlithgow choir were stunning!

being piped up to the church for the concert

Being piped up to the church – I had the great fortune to be in the front line behind our piper – a very moving experience.

No Lindisfarne after all because of STORM ALI

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Today was a big day for me. I had managed to secure one night’s accommodation on Holy Island – Lindisfarne – for tonight – an opportunity for me to clear the decks from the Egypt trip and prepare for the choir trip starting on Friday. An opportunity to soak in the spiritually and prayer and history of this sacred space.

It started well enough – an early breakfast then check out from my hotel near Edinburgh airport where I had been since Monday night. A cab ride to Waverley Station Edinburgh by 11am. First hitch – the first available seat on a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed wasn’t until 1.30pm. Well, I can wile away a couple of hours at this interesting train station – which I proceeded to do. On the train at 1.20pm – first class ticket – nice seat – free lunch and drinks provided – all looking good. This train runs to London. I only need to go to the first stop which is only 45 minutes away – the above-mentioned Berwick-upon-Tweed where I get a 2.30pm bus to Lindisfarne. Things are a bit tight in that I have only fifteen minutes to find the bus station from the train station, but I figure – how hard could it be!

We no sooner begin the journey when the conductor announces that the train will be running half-speed from Newcastle to London due to the high winds generated by the fierce storm ALI blowing in from Northern Ireland. I figure – that’s okay – I only need the train to get to Berwick-upon-Tweed. One minute later the train draws to a halt! The conductor says we have run over a tree branch which has become tangled under the train. We are sitting for about ten minutes and I am starting to feel a bit nervous. Relax Shane – if you miss the 2.30pm bus you can always get the 5.55pm bus (only two which run) Also you could get a cab from Berwick to Lindisfarne. No worries I think.

We get going and I can see that the wind is whipping things up bad outside – the train is rocking a bit in the wind – but all I am thinking – is get me to Berwick-upon-Tweed! Then just as we pull into Dunbar station – the train stops!! The conductor comes on air and says that due to electrical lines down over the rail line ahead and all types of debris reported on the tracks – the company is calling a code BLACK – for customer safety – no trains are to leave Scotland south at all that day!!! We were to head back to Edinburgh. Now the lady and daughter sitting next to me are a bit frantic at this stage as they had flights out of London that night home to the USA. I could over hear various telephone conversations being held as people informed loved ones and others of the situation. Tempers are fraying a bit and you could sense the anger in the carriage.

I am starting to go over my options – Lindisfarne is out – that’s for sure. The next question is – where am I going to sleep this night in Edinburgh as I didn’t have a reservation. The Waverley station is in chaos when we pull in. I am directed to the ticket office to join the long queue of people endeavouring to get answers and help. I do finally manage to get my ticket refunded. I battle strong head winds and walk to Motel One – the Hotel I was booked in for Thursday evening – hoping they had a spare room for tonight. After a rather cold and miserable walk with my luggage for twenty minutes I arrive at the reservations desk with a lady who came up in the lift with me. I allow her to go first – and wouldn’t you know it – she gets the last room available for tonight. Phones are ringing madly and there is a frazzled atmosphere in the hotel as all I hear is – “No – we are fully booked; Sorry – no rooms available.” They are kind enough to provide a Wi-Fi code so I start looking up other hotels close by. After about half-an-hour I get a tap on the shoulder to say that a room has become free. As it turns out – the storm has meant that people planning on staying in Edinburgh at the hotel couldn’t get there and that meant I was in luck. So after 7 hours – I am back in the city I started out from in the morning. I say a prayer of thanks and count my blessings. Lindisfarne will have to wait for another time.

The Life of Jesus part 2

Sunday 16 September 2018

Today started with a long drive north to Nazareth and a visit to the Church of the Annunciation. A church built over the spot where legend says the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear God’s Son. This is a church to see! A modern mid-twentieth century Catholic design – it is just stunning – designed in the round with the most beautiful art installations donated from all over the world. We turned up just at the end of Mass and the singing and colour of the Sunday worship was wonderful! Next door we visit the ‘workshop’ of Joseph – ancient stone ruins of the original village. We then saw the church of St Joseph which is built over the site of the Holy family’s home. You can see down to the original street level while in the crypt.

We drove through the city of Cana (25,000 now – only 60 people in Jesus day!) and had the spot where the miracle of water being turned into wine pointed out to us – there is, surprise surprise, a church being constructed over the site. We went onto the ruins of Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, to visit the house of Peter the fisherman. I took the chance to go down to the shoreline and splash around – didn’t try walking out though! It was a beautiful afternoon – not too hot, not a cloud in the sky and the lake gleaming in the sunlight.

Next came for me, one of the highlights of the entire tour – a drove up to the Mount of Beatitudes – the area where Jesus gave his famous ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ It was so beautiful and peaceful – you wanted to lie in the gardens and never leave. Of course – there is a church on the spot, but it was a modern design in the round with open windows to let the vista of the sea and surrounding green slopes flood in! Our guide was moved as much as we all were with the magic and serenity of the location. I couldn’t care less if this truly was the place or not – if it wasn’t in fact the place where Jesus came – then it should be!

Our final stop was a visit to the Jordan river – probably not the right part of the river for Jesus’ baptism by John, but that nevertheless was not deterring the number of people we saw being baptised by full immersion by the rather loud charismatic preacher.

We drove the long journey back to Jerusalem for a final farewell dinner at a lovely restaurant. The past two-and-a-half weeks have flown by and we have been amazed and inspired by all that we have seen, felt, tasted and done. It will take a while for it all the sink in but I hope the blogs have given readers a taste of our journey.

Tomorrow sees the hardy nine break-up and go their separate ways. I am off to Scotland to join the Australian Welsh Male Choir for our three-week tour of the UK starting on Friday. I hope to be making some blog posts about this trip – so if you are keen – stay tuned!

church of the Nativity

Church of the Annunciation

door in

The door in!

inside church nativity

Inside

the art work donated from France

Donated by Catholics from France

the lower level with 5th century church built over spot

Lower level – 5th century ruins of church built over Mary’s house?

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

J at Capernuum

the Vicar of St Peter's in front of the Saint

The Vicar of St Peter’s in front of the fisherman himself!

beautitudes

blessed are

gardens 1

Jordan

Jordan River

final dinner

Final Dinner of tour

The Life of Jesus part 1

Saturday 15 September 2018

Met early by Maher our group made its way first to Mt Zion , one of four mounts in Jerusalem – the others being: the Mt of Olives (where our hotel is); Mt Scopus; and Mt Moriah, the mount where tradition says Moses was prepared to sacrifice Isaac. It was near here that we visited the room of the Last Supper. The hall of the Last supper is a 12th century Crusader structure, built on the upper level above the traditional place of the tomb of King David. After spending some time here imagining that last meal of Jesus and his disciples, we headed off close by to the relatively new church building – that of the Dormition Church built in 1910 by Wilhelm II of Germany on a plot of land given to him by the Ottoman Empire (the then rulers of Jerusalem) The church was established where, according to tradition, Mary, mother of Jesus, fell asleep (tradition states she never died!). The church’s name derives from this event- “The Dormition”, meaning “sleep”. The interior of the church is impressive, with a mosaic floor. The mosaic presents a Latin quotation of the Book of Psalms: “May the Lord bless you from Zion”- a verse referring to Mount Zion where the church stands.

We entered the Old City via the Zion Gate and across the Jewish Quarter (very quiet due to the Shabbat) to the Western Wall. Having been able to be here yesterday afternoon, we headed quickly across into the Muslim Quarter (alive and full of colour, noise and people – lots of people!) to see the route Jesus trod on the way to his crucifixion (the Via Dolorosa) It was here we mingled with another pilgrim group who were singing loudly and carrying a cross. It was hard to make progress due to the busy market stalls and the mass of people. After making a detour down a spice alleyway we came to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the church built over the place of Jesus execution on a cross and his tomb. We were told we had an hour here and we needed every minute as the queues very long. For me, I had mixed feelings in this place. On the one hand I knew that these sites are guesses at best, but on the other hand – I was at the place where tradition dictates Jesus died on the Cross. For all those Good Friday services I had attended and celebrated – here I was at the foot of the Cross. Could I not spend a moment in adoration and prayer?  The devotion shown by the masses from all over the world was astonishing and moving.

We then made our way back to our minivan for the afternoon trip to Bethlehem. It is in the Palestinian controlled area and so we had a young local guide who was very good. He explained to us that the word Bethlehem means either in Hebrew ‘House of Bread; or in Arabic ‘House of Meat’. In any case – it is the town of great sandwiches!

We first went to centre square – named Manger Square – to be informed that the predominant religion of the city is Christian and that the tourist trade is the main source of income for the city and its residents. We then visited the Church of the Nativity – built over the place where Jesus is said to have been born. The first evidence of a cave in Bethlehem being venerated as Christ’s birthplace is in the writings of Justin Martyr around 160 AD. In 326, Constantine and his mother St. Helena commissioned a church to be built over the cave. This first church, dedicated on May 31, 339, had an octagonal floor plan and was placed directly above the cave. The Constantinian church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, who built the much larger church that remains today.

Again, crowds were large, and we waited awhile to go down and see the spot where Jesus is said to be born. There is a star on the ground and many were venerating or even kissing the spot.

After our fantastic visit and a visit to a gift shop we headed back to Jerusalem to visit the Garden of Gethsemane – the grove where Jesus is said to have prayed on the night of his arrest. A beautiful grove purchased by the Crusaders and given to the Franciscans who have managed the site ever since. The church next door is a striking modern one built in 1952.

Back to the hotel for a lovely dinner and early to bed – ready for a drive north to Nazareth and the sea of Galilee tomorrow – sadly the last full day of the trip!

last supper church

Church of Last Supper

j in the last supper room

J in the Last Supper room

mary asleep in dormition church

Mary looking peaceful?

at the wailing wall

At the Western Wall once more

route of Jesus

The route Jesus took to Calvary

pilgrim march

Pilgrims group 1

more crosses

Pilgrim group 2

pretty busy

getting a bit busy!

church of the Holy Sep.

the tomb of Jesus

Tomb of Jesus?

calvary

Calvary

church of the nativity

Church of Nativity – Bethlehem

waiting to descend to the spot

It was hot and crowded as we waited to descend to see where Jesus was born

the spot where Jesus was born

Jesus born here?

church

Church at the Garden of Gethsemane

garden

The garden

 

Well the Pilgrimage has made it to the Promised land at last

Friday 14 September 2018

We left the Dead Sea early this morning, fearing a long-complicated process for crossing the border at the Allenby bridge into Israel. While it took about an hour-and-a-half it did go smoothly – thanks to our new driver for the crossing who managed to wangle our tiny mini-bus in front of two large coaches and be first in line. Robert’s artificial knee held us up at the Israeli end along with Conrad’s C-Pap sleep machine. The tiny and polite but stern lady doing the inspection had us all in giggles as she carefully patted Conrad’s bag down, then slowly un-zipped it and exposed for all the world to see, Conrad’s unique packing style! She was thorough with her testing of every element of Conrad’s machine along with going through every bit of paper and all the books in his case. Finally satisfied that all was well – we went on to meet our new guide Maher (pronounced My – hair) He was also the driver and was full of information as we sped along the beautiful roads, passing Jericho and on into Jerusalem. He did do a bit of explaining about the different political situation with the Palestinians as well as Israel’s four border neighbours – Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It was a surreal moment seeing Jerusalem for the first time. All the hype and expectations faded as we realised we were here at last.

Our hotel for the next three nights is the 7 Arches Hotel on the top of the Mount of Olives. The view overlooks the entire city and I imagine one could never tire of it. After checking in, Maher left us to our own devices for the afternoon. Not wanting to waste a moment I hired us a driver and van to take us to the highly recommended market – Mahane Yehuda. The Mahane Yehuda Market (aka The Shuk) is the largest market in Jerusalem and one of the most famous in the Middle East. Once a shopping and dining centre for the working class, the shuk has transformed into one of Jerusalem’s main cultural centres. It was packed with shoppers wanting to get goods before the Shabbat began around 5pm when everything in the Jewish Quarter closed. The sounds, smells, and colours were almost overwhelming. It was a delight to interact with people for a change and not look at temples, ruins, castles, or tombs!

Our driver, who introduced himself to me as “Just call me Kojak” (mainly because of his bald head), then drove us to just outside the old city. We walked up and through the Dung Gate and made our way to the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) – the only remaining section of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Women on one side and men on the other – we men all donned our Kipa’s/Yarmulke’s and said a prayer at the wall. It was a moment not to forget.

Tomorrow we begin our exploration of the city in earnest in the morning before heading to Bethlehem in the afternoon.

hotel 7 Arches

Our hotel for the next three nights

jerusalem in all its glory

The view from the front of the Hotel!

Mehane Yehuda Markets 1

Mehane Yehuda MarketMehane Yehuda Markets 2

Mehane Yehuda Markets 3modern tram system

A modern cheap tram system well used by the locals!

entering via the dung gate

Entering the Old City via the Dung Gate

 

Ian, Robert and Lewis praying at the Wailing Wall

Robert, Ian and Lewis at the wallit's been a long tiring day

Yours truly and Mrs J at the end of a long day!