Asia, Countries, Culture, Pilgrimage

O Little Crown of Bethlehem

We can, of course, take historical re-enactment too literally but there are deffo no inns open today.

Like at the start of Covid when Palestine locked down for 30 days.

Which meant the holy sites.

Although for the Palestinians lockdown was nothing new.

Because as occupied territory Palestinians have become used to having to stay at hime and having their travel restricted.

Silent Night

The red flag was waved in February when a group of Greek tourists visited a Bethlehem.

The Church of the Nativity, on the site where Jesus was born, was shut then, and is shut again today….

To Wise Men from the East, shepherds in the fields… and us.

But it won’t always be.

There was much fanfare when EL AL rolled out its route from Dublin to Tel Aviv at the start of the year.

Holy flight

Joining the aerial map of lines into the Holy Land.

Today the Christmas Tree which was hoisted into position in Manger Square brought some much-needed cheer to these most resilient of townsfolk.

Some had attended a much more subdued Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity.

And Betlehem is across the faiths

Most though mark the day with their own kith and kin in their own domicile, which of course is what the Holy Family did.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph (as they exclaim in Ireland)! I got within 50 metres of Palestine!

G Whizz

When I visited the Baptismal Site of Jesus on my G Adventures tour of Jordan

And I witnessed a group of Russian Orthodox pilgrims duck each other in the Jordan from the other side.

Intermingled on the banks. of course, by rifle-wielding female soldiers.

Which would put anybody off trying to swim across.

Promised land

I’ll have to get there by more conventional means.

Which I would have done had I taken up the invitation to extend my Jordan tour with a trip around Israel and Palestine.

And where the Jordanians say Jesus was baptised

That I didn’t was because I didn’t want to leave my workmates with my workload for the two and a half weeks I’d been away.

A month later I had left said work.

And that’s my lesson for 2021.

Take up every opportunity, and for me that’s visiting Bethlehem and all the holy places.

America, Asia, Countries, Europe, Music, Pilgrimage

Rainy Days and Songdays – Happy Hanukah

And I’ll light a candle in unison for a Happy Hanukah though, in truth, The Scary One and Daddy’s Little Girl have the place looking like a Meatloaf video already.

Hanukah’s status has grown in modern times.

Mainly in North America as part of a better recognition of other cultures and religious observances in December.

So it’s commonplace now, and rightly so, to wish your Jewish friends Happy Hanukah.

Which, in fact, Matisyahu does more tunefully than I ever could, even if I were swollen with sweetened Israeli wine.

Matisyahu’s song touches all the right points, to be fair, King David, Maccabee, Mount Zion, and, of course, candles.

Matisyahu means ‘gift of God’ .

He has, as you might expect from one who terms himself thus, a confidence about himself.

Gift from God

Matthew Miller is actually a Pennsylvanian who is a foremost proponent of Jewish rock, Jewish hip hop and fusion reggae.

We all have our images of Judaism.

And, in truth other than my own home address the place names in The Promised Land’ from the Bible were the most familiar of my childhood.

Anne Frank Statue, Amsterdam

The Jewish story I learned in my early years has infused a lifelong interest in the Chosen People.

Alas that has mostly meant visiting Holocaust markers, Dachau concentration camp on a booze bus trip to Oktoberfest in Munich.

Charles Bridge in Prague

And the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

In every city around the world, as much as the Irish or the Scots, or more, there has been a Jewish diaspora.

Venice ghetto

I found it in the first ghetto in Venice and again in the Jewish quarter in Prague.

But it is to modern-day Israel that I am drawn most.

And saw up close and personally at the Site of St John’s Baptism of Jesus in Jordan on my G Adventures trip the other side.

When Russian Orthodox pilgrims doused themselves in the River Jordan from the Israeli side just 50n from us in Jordan.

I’ll make it over one day, and hopefully soon, but in the meantime give Happy Hanukah an oul’ lesson.

It’ll make a change from Marish Carey and The Pogues.

Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage, UK

St Andrew’s Day around the world

Happy St Andrew’s Day.

From Banff to Barbados, Turriff to Tenerife, Lewis to Limassol, Sauchie to Sochi, Keith to Kiev and Thurso to Thessaloniki.

You get the picture – it’s not just Scotland, we all celebrate Andy as our patron saint.

So let’s pick the bones out of the apostle and his links to these countries.

Scots Sandy

Relics: St Andrews

St Andrews, Scotland: We’re here at the Home of Golf and the third oldest university in the UK,

The story goes that St Regulus (me neither) brought Andrew’s kneecap, arm, three fingers and a tooth here.

And King Oengus built a holy settlement on this collection.

You’ll want to stay at the Old Course Hotel and look out at where the legendary stickmen took the plaudits.

Fly the Canary flag

A St Andrew’s Day flag lurking In Tenerife

St Andrew, Tenerife: I’m not going to spoonfeed you here though as to how St Andrew came to be associated with the Canaries island of Tenerife.

Only to say that Scotland and Tenerife where I visited with CanariaWays share the same white cross on blue background.

San Cristobal de La Laguna is more Havana (it models itself on this World Heritage site) than Hamilton.

But you will find the iconic flag flying here.

Windies’ Andy

And my old half-Scottish pal Jevan is here

Barbados: The island call Little England has an area called Scotland.

Three hundred and sixty five days of sun, a bit like the Scotland in Europe!

Barbados is split into regions named after saints…

The one where the Rooneys, Simon Cowell, Cliff Richsrd, and, er me, like is the Platinum Coast in Saint James obviously.

All Greek to Andy

Alpha for Andrew

Greece and CyprusThe old white beardie man (and there’s nothing wrong with that) is literally an icon in Greek parts.

You know those wooden framed pictures the Greeks love.

St Andrew is said to have been crucified in Patras.

It is Greece’s third biggest city, the regional capital of Western Greece in the northern Peloponnese.

And the Greek Orthodox basilica is the holy site for Andreans as we’ll call followers of Andrew.

And they’ll think nothing of the 215km trip from Athens.

Eastern Andy

Badge of honour: In Russia

Russia and Ukraine: Our adventurous Andy loved to travel. Much like us.

And our Galilea trawler got himself up to the Black Sea and beyond.

We hope too that he was more than just a fisher of men.

Now should you get on the right side of Vladimir Putin in Russia you’ll get the tap on the shoulder.

And the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle the First-Called.

It is the highest order in the Russian Federation.

Get it wrong and you’ll get something slipped in your tea and sent on a plane out of the country.

One man’s assassination is another’s martyrdom!

HAPPY ST ANDREW’S DAY

Adventure, America, Countries, Deals, Europe, Ireland, Pilgrimage, UK

Take A Hike Day

And no we’re not talking to you Donald… this is a real thing which like most speciality days of the year hails from America.

But we’ll get on it anyway because it’s the one thing we can all do.

Whether you’re locked down and have to channel your own Captain Tom Moore and do laps or the garden or you can get on an open track.

Whether you’ve been walking this year or not, make today your day to go for a hike.

And lucky you if you live near any of these walks.

Galician Wasp Whisperer

The gang of four… me next to the Wasp Whisperer

The Camino: And your go-to hike from (well, anywhere, but in my case 100km out) Sarria to Santiago de Compostella.

You can organise your own independent travel and stay in albergue, or hostels, or have your bags taken from hotel to hotel at Camino Ways.

I’ve retrodden this path with you with many an anecdote and it’s good to know that these stories have legs.

As Wendy the Whatsapp group I’ve joined up with after four years is still referred to as the Wasp Whisperer.

A walk in the Pyrenees

Jim and games: With my old mate Jim Gallagher

Hautes-Pyrenees: And sometimes, more than others, you’ve got to be on your toes.

Because the ground can shift from around you as when an avalanche happened in the Pyrenees around me.

I knew those holy trinkets I’d picked up at Lourdes would come in handy.

Feel the earth move in Austria

Ehrwald, Austria: Then there’ are the times when you bring the mountain down of your own accord.

Like in Austria where the foothills in the Tyrolean Alps consist of slippy limestone.

Which invariably will mean that when your experienced Topflight for schools walking group is confidently marching on

A walk through Tenerife

And my legs will be bowed too at the end of this

Tenerife: And sometimes we lose one or two along the way on the climb up to Afur in the burning sun.

We’ll call them Jim and Margaret because that’s their names.

And credit to those on our CanariaWays party who went down to pick them up.

While others cradled their Estrella and conceded through gritted teeth that it was OK to miss the wine tasting.

What the Romans did for us

Somewhere to bathe my feet

Via Francigena, Rome: And when you spot snow on the peaks on your 100kms trek from Viterbo into the Eternal City you’ll know you’ve made a wrong turning!

Which is easy to do when the signpost stickers are peeling off the trees and you have no sense of direction anyway.

I cani (the dogs) will soon tell you to get back on track.

And another writer’s trail

Appalachian Trail: Inspired by the Daddy of all of us Travel writers Bill Bryson who wrote A Walk in the Woods which was turned into a major film.

Discover North America put on a nine-day trip from my old American learning ground Boston up to Maine and back.

And you can bet if there’s a bear I’ll find it, even if it means going off-piste into another state.

MEET YOU ON THE ROAD

Africa, Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Food, Food & Wine, Ireland, Pilgrimage, UK

Happy Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah, Happy Jewish New Year, and because we want to see off this bloody year, and pray to Yahweh for a better new year, here is when and where all our cultures see out the old and bring in the new.

Hello, Chinas

Pandamonium

The Chinese New Year: And sitting down for our annual Chinese New Year celebration with Wendy Wu Tours in Dublin in January at Chai Yo we gave sympathy and Chinese tea (and every food known to man that you can eat with chopsticks) for the plight of the poor people of Wuhan.

Little did we know, of course, that we would be suffering too within weeks. The Year of the Rat should have been a warning.

And what are you all having?

Next year when it will be celebrated in February will be the Year of the Ox and he is much more our reliable carrier of all our human burdens.

And rest assured I’ll be back in Chai Yo next year with Wendy’s friends, the Two Johns, before hopefully we follow The Son and Heir out to Wuhan’s neighbour Chongqing.

Iran the bells

Smiles from Iran. http://www.itto.org

Nowruz (Iranian New Year): And there is a diary date in my calendar which I can’t bring myself to delete – my trip to Iran which was deferred after the Americans fell out with them again and then this virus came along.

I do hope that when I do get out there it’s in a March when they celebrate Springtime when it coincides with the Northward Equinox.

They trumpet in the day, colour eggs and eat a hearty soup, Ash-e-Reshteh noodle soup.

Sri Lanka is my cup of tea

Sri Lankan New Year: And here we have two Sri Lankan cultures celebrating a date, April 14.

Aluth Avuradda, the Sinhalese New Year, marks the end of the harvest and is one of only two occasions when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka.

You’ll be eating small oil cakes called kavum and plantain dishes.

The Tamils of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka celebrate with new clothes, music, sweets and rice colour kolams (street art).

The Tamil Diaspora too celebrate April 4… so Malaysia, yes, and The Maldives too where one pasty-faced Scotsman once became an honorary member of the staff’s football and cricket teams. Yes, Mr Jim is coming back to Kuramathi.

While if you’re Irish (lucky you) you’ll know about the greatest Sri Lankan-Irishwoman, my old friend Tess De Kretser and her Olcote in Ceylon resort.

Ethiopia will take years off you

Enkutatash, Ethiopia: And this has become a fixture on my calendar in Dublin over recent years thanks to my friends at Ethiopian Airlines.

It, of course, takes years off you, not just the meaty food which you scoop up with your bread, and wine and Ethiopian coffee.

But also because it’s on the Julian Calendar which means that this will take seven years off you.

Scotland, the home of Hogmanay

Scottish Hogmanay: And in the words of the greatest dustman in television soap opera Norman ‘Curly’ Watts who decided the Scots owned New Year.

Well, they do own Hogmanay. And why Hogmanay which is what we call New Year’s Eve.

An early reference to the term is from The Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence as deriving from the Greek word agia mine or ‘holy month’.

More like a hooley though as many libations are taken to keep out the cold.

Which is probably where the tradition of bringing coal, shortbread and whisky with your when you go first-footing, being the first person to cross someone’s threshold (first-footing).

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO WHOEVER YOU ARE AND WHEREVER YOU ARE

 

 

Countries, Europe, Ireland, Pilgrimage

Sono Spartacus and Failte Ireland

What a joyless and jealous species we can be.

A hard-working man takes his family on holiday abroad and breaks no laws.

And is shamed into giving up his job, his passion, his skill and his livelihood.

I am talking here about Failte Ireland Chairman Michael Cawley.

The Francigena Way

About whom Ireland’s Tourism Minister Catherine Martin (no, me neither) said…

She was ‘disappointed to learn that the chair of Failte Ireland was holidaying in Italy.’

Before going on: ‘While Italy is on the green list, meaning that people who return from there do not have to restrict their movements…

‘The government has called on people to avoid all non-essential travel.’

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Ah Venice

And still more: ‘Many of our citizens and residents have followed the guidelines at some personal and financial cost to themselves.’

Before sticking the knife right in: ‘I rang Mr Cawley this morning and he has offered his resignation which I have accepted.

‘I wish to thank Mr Cawley for his service as chair of Failte Ireland.

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I’ll be back: The Trevi Fountain

So Michael Cawley broke no laws nor in fact did anything unethical or any harm to anybody.

Other than those naysayers who do not like the idea of somebody else having what they don’t.

While a Government purporting to represent its people leaves its own Travel industry up the creek without a paddle and facing a complete collapse.

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Sono Romano

So the message here is support your local travel agent.

Your Top Flight, your TUI, your Sunway, your Francigena Ways and go to Italy I have, and did again, and will do in the future.

And if anyone wants to shame you Michael about going on holiday to Italy, do what I’d do and tell them Vaffanculo.

 

 

 

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage, UK

Eid celebrations around the world

The best way to learn about a culture is to go where they play and pray so the disruption to the Eid celebrations around the world diminishes us all.

I have a special connection with Eid.

As it was one of the early stories I covered as part of a column ‘Church News’ which I broadened beyond Christianity.

Eid ul-Adha, to give it its first full name, means ‘the celebration of the sacrifice’.

And it brings to an end the holy month of Ramadan.

All our story

It marks the story of Allah asking The Prophet Mohammed in a dream to sacrifice his son Ismael.

Which Jews and Christians will know as the Abraham and Isaac story.

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The way it usually is

It should come as little surprise to us that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have the same roots and stories.

But it is nowhere more evident than at the crossroads of the great religions in the Jordan valley and in Israel.

Ever the diplomat

Where I would readily recommend my G Adventures host Zuhair Zuriqat.

His diplomatic prowess in managing our international party surely marks him out.

To broker the peace in this part of the world.

Now you know I love a festival as much if not more than the next man or woman…

And that those festivals normally involve drink.

Festival time

But not always.

I am transfixed by religious festivals too and will gladly travel the world to witness or take part in them.

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Joy in our hearts

Of course, the world being a smaller place, particularly now, we should also acknowledge that many of these festivals are on our doorstep.

Which is why it is alarming to hear that the lightning lockdowns in the north of England on the eve of Eid weekend may be deliberate.

Eid is all about extended families coming together at each others’ houses.

And there is more than a hint of mistrust from our politicians here who do not think that Muslims can adapt their customs accordingly to the pandemic.

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Our cup of tea… and I love reship

When in fact they are already doing so around the world with Turkey a prime example.

Of course Istanbul as we saw on our televisions with the Hagia Sofya celebrations last week is even more epic when its citizens come out to pray.

But they too are adapting their Eid to the current circumstances.

Sing out

That means communal prayers are cancelled to be replaced with broadcast prayers from the minarets of mosques.

Now just think about that… would our Government cancel Christmas, and with just a few hours’ notice?  Time will tell but you have to think not.

EID MUBARAK OR (AS THEY SAY IN TURKEY) BAYRAMINIZ KUTLU OTSUN

 

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage

The Sunday Sermon – the Hagia Sofia

Hate has no place in the house of God – Desmond Tutu

The anti-apartheid hero and man of God was talking in metaphors, and about South Africa, but his balming words fit Hagia Sofya in Istanbul just as well.

When Turkey President Recip Erdogan championed Hagia Sofia’s return.

In prayer

From a museum to a mosque it drew 250,000 of the faithful to pray on the streets of Istanbul.

And it roused an outcry from the Christian churches, the Roman Catholic, the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox.

Which rung way beyond the ancient high walls of the iconic Istanbul building.

Orthodox

Iconic, yes, to the Orthodox churches.

For whom it is one of their holiest places and who focus on icons for their worship.

Fount of all wisdom

So the sight of drapes covering the mosaic of Our Lady was bound to have raised their ire.

Of course central to Islam is that Allah and the Prophet Mohamed, and Jesus or Our Lady, cannot be represented by images.

Crossroads

Istanbul is unique among the great cities of the world, one foot in Europe, one in Asia.

Royal splendour

Which is why the great Christiian churches of old which called Constantinople, Istanbul’s old name, home are prefixed with their country of origin.

Powerplay

There is, as there always has been in this part of the world, a powerplay going on.

And we, those of us who have been to Istanbul, and those who have yet to, must not fall for it.

Circle of trust

Because this should not, or ever be, about Islam v Christian.

And yes President Erdogan is tapping into Islamic popularism but that does not have to equate to anti-Christianity.

Icons

And we will still be able to visit it as a mosque which we will do.

Our house

Because as I discovered in Sarajevo with Marian Pilgrimages and Jordan with G Adventures and The water of life, Petra, and the sands of time God is the same whichever house you’re in.

Countries, Europe, Ireland, Pilgrimage

St James on Bray Head in Ireland

If you see Her throwing me over Bray Head don’t call the Gardaí… she has my permission.

No, I’m not getting maudlin during lockdown, it’s just that that’s where I want my ashes scattered.

There on my favourite walk between my old home in Greystones, Co. Wicklow and also by Bishop Elphinstone’s grave in King’s College, Aberdeen.

My beloved Greystones and my beloved

I wish I could be with you (alive you understand) tomorrow as you take your first steps on your Camino.

I took mine too on one of Camino Ways’ training walks on St James’s Day in Ireland’s Garden County.

Where I met founder and ‘force of nature’ Roland Monsegu who I would share many a glass of wine with over future years.

Got there

Including at one of my billets on the French Way to Santiago de Compostella where he was doing a recce.

Today is both St James’s birthday and the national day of Galicia where his bones lie in Santiago.

The first of their training Sunday walks will begin at the seafront in Bray at 9.30am and last a leisurely two to two-and-a-half hours.

It is a 7km healthy cliffside walk skirting the sea.

Working my ass off

While you can look down on the train to Greystones making its way to the tunnel built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Before emerging through the other side in Greystones.

You’ll see it yourself halfway around the bend, its newly-refurbished harbour dotted with yachts.

And its blue and yellow cottages standing out in the distance as it did in times of old so the fishermen could recognise their homes in the dark.

On the road

Which is the same in Galicia where the name of the province is a giveaway… they’re Gaels really.

If you’re in Ireland then you’re already blessed and it’s likely you’ll need to be to walk the Bray Head.

And to be part of the fun here’s where to get tickets.

You’re James too

And if you feel like going that extra mile then why not veer off from the group and go up to the top of the Head and the Southern Cross.

Where there is (yes, you guessed it) a Christian cross.

America, Caribbean, Culture, Europe, Ireland, Pilgrimage, UK

The Sunday Sermon –

“I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (Psalm 104:33).

Psalm 104:3

But when will we be able to sing again in church?

I have long sung lustily and croakily and in the wrong place and always find that the service is less uplifting when the organist or the choir are off.

But that is what we’ll have to put up with when our churches reopen, initially for private prayer and funerals.

A hotel with its own church… on the road to Rome

The sound of a stirring choir has lifted me in cathedrals and smaller churches on all the pilgrimages I have been on… A pilgrim’s prayer, Small roads lead to Rome, The Lourdes prayer and What’s the story, Medjugorje? Wouldn’t you like to know.

There is a gravitas to the singing as the botafumeiro swings from side to side in St James’s Cathedral during the Pilgrims’ Mass at the end of your Camino Ways walk http://www.caminoways.com.

But the real stirring stuff comes from the black gospel singers on the other side of the Atlantic.

And yes, I know we have them over here but they’re not in the same number.

I’d been chasing the choirs unsuccessfully on my travels and was disappointed to have to miss the Southern choir in Jackson, Mississippi https://www.deep-south-usa.com and The Promised Land because our flights back through Texas clashed with the choir.

Mas took precedent over Mass during Crop Over on Barbados http://www.visitbarbados.org. And Mas is a party.

But I did get to take in said choir in Anaheim https://disneyland.disney.go.com/destinations/disneyland/ at our street breakfast party http://www.visitcalifornia.com.

Before finally getting to a church in Tobago https://www.visittobago.gov.tt Ready, steady GOAT… racing in Tobago.

MEET YOU IN THE PEWS