Australia January 2013 Seal Rocks and Balgowlah Heights
The Hottest Day on Record
On January 16th I left Norfolk in bitter cold at-10C, for a journey half way across the world to Australia and summer. The route via Hong Kong was with Cathay Pacific airlines. The first leg of the journey took 12.5 hrs, followed by a further 10 hrs, a long way! I often try and picture the countries beneath the plane and find it frustrating that I can’t even look down on them. But the never ending films and flight meals are good!
Landing at Sydney was good and what amazing joy to see Becca, Emily, Livvie and Eve waiting for me. Words cannot say how much that means or how much I miss them.
Outside the airport the temperature had soared to 45.9C, the hottest day on record for Sydney. What a contrast, the heat and the brightness, like coming alive after hibernation!
An afternoon of swimming, fun and joy.
On Saturday we travelled to Seal Rocks, about 4 hrs along the north coast. North has a different feel ‘down under’ and means warmer not colder!
Seal Rocks is a beautiful set of bays near Forster, a journey to The Great Lakes, beyond Nelson Bay and near Boot Booti National Park. We turned off the main road at Bulahdelah to Bungwahl and then travelled along the dirt track through the scrubby gum trees, didn’t see a koala, but they are there.
The bays are amazingly beautiful and unspoilt, real gems.
We stayed at a beach type house with verandhas, where the kookaburras perched and the lizards ran across. Lots of cicadas in the evening too and possums, running and squealing.
Doesn’t feel right though to sit out on the verandha after dark!! Too many noises.
The girls settled in well and ready for lots of swimming.
The two main beaches are, Boat Beach and No 1 beach. Boat beach was the favourite and over the days that followed we had lots of fun in the surf, which changed each day. Sometimes it was really scary and calmer at other times, but allways warm.
Emily, Livvie and Eve were amazingly good at boogie boarding, catching a wave, duck diving through the waves and being dumped on the beach by the waves. For me, I spent quite a bit of time being dumped…which means being in just the wrong place as the wave dives on top of you, sinks, you and eventually lands you on shore with every ounce covered in sand and salt.
Treachery Beach, Submarine beach, Bluey’s Beach
Australia has a way of finding just the right names for places, either from Aboriginal original place names or from events that happened some time ago.
We went to Treachery Beach, which was stunning! The longest beach I have ever seen, with surf coming in, rips trying to head back out and sand for miles. There were only two other people on the beach. We left our bag of stuff and shoes too and walked and walked, well Livvie cartwheeled, Eve danced and Emily ran in and out of the sea.
After several hours we went back along the path through the scrub. It was very quiet with no birds singing, probably too hot. Emily, who had gone ahead came back and said she had seen a goanna. We caught it up as it was heading back along the path…. a four foot, lace monitor lizard, who turned around looked at us and slowly climbed up a tree. Vertical, he looked even more scary and very long from head to tail.
Sugar Loaf Lighthouse
We walked to the lighthouse in the morning, just before it became too hot.
The light and the sky were brilliant and temperature soon soared to mid 30C. The views are wonderful and along Treachery Beach there were several surfers, way out, catching waves. Close to them was a pod of about 30 dolphins lazily swimming and catching fish. But with a fin above the water most if the time, they looked very similar to sharks.
By Thursday we travelled north to Bluey’s beach, quite tropical with bougainvillea’s pandannas and very humid. The beach was great for sandcastles, the surf was too strong for much time in the sea and there looked to be a threatening storm out to sea.
We went back to No Beach at Seal Rocks and apart from the exceptionally smelly seaweed the waves were easier and good for having fun.
In the late afternoons we were back at the beach house or had drinks at the Post Office/shop. They must have one of the best views ever.
The kookaburras rested on the verandha balcony and looked menacingly across just before they would sweep across , over the table top and then laugh at the top of their voices from the electric wire.
Back at Sydney Saturday 26th January
We journeyed back to Balgowlah Heights, a four hour journey with a sop over at Koulhara, a quiet lttle town with oyster fishing sheds at the edge of the Swan River estuary.
Back home was good and time for a swim in a very warm pool before Becca and I went into Sydney to the Sydney Theatre Co, just below Harbour Bridge. A cruise boat past by the Bar at the End of the Wharf.
We saw a performance of The Secret River, from the book by Sarah Grenville. A beautiful theatre, formed by Cate Blanchett and the play was good, and really felt the harshness of the life 200 years ago and the feeling of isolation and new beginning with a sense of loss and a live so far away in England.
‘England has turned its back on you and it’s time you turned your back on it.’
A friendly and welcoming church with a catholic tradition of Anglicanism in the Diocese of Sydney. Emily received her first communion here and the children and Becca and Simon are part of the church in many ways.
As it rained all day Nippers was not happening on Manly beach but the pool was still nice and warm despite the rain.
Livvie’s Birthday Celebrations
Soon to be 7 years old Livvie had an early birthday as I wouldn’t be around on February9th. We had games like Musical chairs and Pass the Parcel, an ice cream cake and some presents.
Open Air Cinema at Sydney 31st January
In the Botanic Gardens, just behind the Opera House and with the Harbour Bridge in the distance, Becca and I went to see Paris -Manhattan. Brilliant evening, the food and wine were great, the film was beautiful and the setting just stunning. We were lucky to have a warm and dry evening and the sounds of the cicadas and the occasional fruit bat flying across the screen added to the atmosphere.
Australia Museum and Walking with Dinosaurs
A day of adventure, Eve and I went to the Australia Museum and visited the dinosaur exhibition. Huge skeletons and deep voices from behind the scenes, lots of information about dinosaurs- which means ‘Terrible Lizard’. Eve seemed un phased and spent a long time at the table top with a moving image of a crocodile.
It had a great space for children and lots to do.
We walked back to Circular Quay to catch the ferry to Manly. Ice cream definitely needed and the huge waves from the ocean tossed the boat right back to the ferry terminal. The photo is of a more relaxed Eve, Maybe she wasn’t so keen on the dinosaur model behind her!!
Sydney Observatory Monday 4th February
After a hot and sunny day it was time in the evening for Emily and I to go to the Sydney Observatory. We left plenty of time for the journey and that was fortunate as I managed to chose the wrong lane in the traffic and headed under the tunnel rather than over the Harbour Bridge!
We came out in Wollamaloo, very pretty but nowhere near where we wanted to be.
After an extra half an hour we made it to the observatory and had loads of time as the dusk settled and the stars appeared.
We went into the North and South domes, over a century old they have rotating copper ceilings and an aperture through which the telescope locates the stars. The telescopes were very different and the North dome telescope was operated from a computer location across the stars in the Galaxy. We looked at Tuc47 in the Tucan constellation, a globular cluster like a fuzzy star and 19,000 light years away.
In the South dome the telescope was the oldest in the southern hemisphere and around 1860’s and had to be operated manually with a large piece of string; we looked at Canopus, the second brightest star in the sky, 1200 light years away and used as a navigation star.
A great evening and a big adventure, too dark for photos but Emily was still talking about the stars on a walk round the bay.
The visit came to an end far too quickly but we had a really good time and feel especially privileged to be able to with them so far away.
Tuesday 24th September Hobart
Arrived with trolley of cases, car seats, & girls! The sniffer dog didn’t find any food in our luggage so we were allowed through customs into Tasmania.
We were staying in Hobart, the capital, a city on the edge of the Derwent estuary and in front of Mount Wellington. An attractive city full of steep hiills and roads. The houses are mainly colonial and modern style ,with that strange Australian mix of beautiful lands, amazing wildlife and a 1950’s Englishness.
The first evening was cold and we lit the wood burner, it’s been quite some time since the girls may have needed more than a pair of socks for warmth.
Sarah called and talked about places to visit. She is enjoying her work with the Tasmanian Devils project and I can see why this place suits her so well.
Sun shone through at dawn & birds were singing, no shrieks or squawks. A very beautiful little city on the Derwent river. The light is wonderful and the air felt even clearer than in Sydney.
Sarah had suggested a visit to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary,12 miles north of Hobart.
After Becca had cooked pancakes for breakfast we set off on highway and crossed the river at Brighton. Black swans were feeding in the shallows of the water & reminded me of the 3 I had seen at dusk the night before.
Bonorong was on the hillside with eucalyptus trees in the grasslands.
We saw Tasmanian Devils, Digger the wombat, Koalas & smaller marsupials saved from dogs and cars. We fed very tame and lazy kangaroos with joeys, including one in a pouch. Sun was shining and temps of 25C felt very pleasant.
Home for lunch, sun still shining & chance for the girls to play.
At about 3 we went to Sarah & Rodrigo’s beautiful house on the edge of the hillside with amazing views of Hobart.
Sarah took us up Mt Wellington, 1200 metres, by car. Through the eucalyptus forest, saw wattle trees with the green and gold flowers of Australia. The tree line finished and changed to rocks with shrubs and lichen.
We walked at the top, with amazing views of coastal headlands and snow covered mts to the west.
Back for tea, then for a pizza and home.
Thursday 27 September Bruny Island
Beautiful warm & sunny day. 23c midday.
We left Hobart & went south to Kettering via Snug to catch the ferry to Bruny Island.
A very isolated island with sheep & cattle in the fields . The only road took us to along an isthmus where Little Penguins live. We walked to the top of a 100 ft sand dune for an amazing view, the light was stunning & the air so clear.
Spent time on the beach, girls made up dances & had fun, we collected shells &I got our feet in the cold water of the Tasman Sea, straight from the Antarctic.
Went to Adventure’s Bay, Penguin cafe for lunch. Run by ‘ladies’ of the village, like WI team, v good, & food was excellent.
Drove back via The Chocolate Shop which was disappointing but vanilla & white chocolate fudge disappeared quickly.
Ferry back was nearly empty & girls ran on the top deck for ages, having fun & full of energy.
Drove back to 130A Warwick st, Hobart, had tea on the deck then lit the fire before girls bedtime. .
Ate smoked trout & pasta , apple crumble & custard!
Sarah came round this evening; she is off to England tomorrow, v interesting on all aspects of Tasmania, good to see her.
Friday 28th September Mountfield National Park
Cooler day, showers and sunshine16c
After breakfast we set off for Mountfield National Park to walk in the temperate rain forest & to see the stream where duck billed platypus live.
Travelled about 30 miles via Plenty , Brighton & into some amazing hills. This place seems very unlike the rest of Australia.
Sheep, lambs, cattle and horses on grass fields with eucalyptus trees on hills. Forests of temperate rain forests and eucalyptus forests with under canopies!
Stopped at Possum Cafe for elevenses, by the side of the rushing little stream, too high and fast today to see Duck Billed Platypus.
Went on to the National Park & in the rain we walked to the most beautiful waterfall,Rusell Falls and the Tall Trees Walk.
Wonderful rain forest with Sassafras, Burntwood, Arras trees with some Dogwood, Pandani & tree ferns.. A place where the trees have been growing for 250 million years & the biggest trees were 300 years old, the rocks were formed at the time if the dinosaurs. And some very different mosses & lichens.
Went back to cafe for lunch of savoury muffins & hot dog,s then home to Hobart.
Fire lit and supper around the fire!
Last day in Tasmania and weather changed to be cold and wet. In the afternoon it was 3C with winds and sideways rain. Mt Wellington was covered in snow!
Found a very nice café and spent a bit too long there and missed the only good weather of the day. The trip to Salamanca market was a bit English in style, with anoraks and umbrellas.
Went to the Australian Antarctic Museum, which was a good place to be and a fantastic display of Antarctic information. Lots about weather patterns and climate change and the most recent journeys into the Antarctic.
The winds can rotate around the Antarctic without moving across land masses, so create the famous, Roaring Forties, Famous Fifties and Screaming Sixties, relating to the degrees of latitude.
Spent the afternoon at Sarah and Rodrigo’s house, which was great as a shelter from the weather before we went to the airport .Rodrigo had some very Mexican Hot Chocolate !
Flight back was fine and we were the last plane out of Hobart on Saturday night.
Tasmania was a really good place to visit although the few days we had there were not long enough, maybe one day I will be lucky enough to return.
Sue Martin September 2012
Walkabout to Australia May 2012
Autumn in Sydney
At 6.30am on Monday May 21st I arrived in Sydney airport and went easily through customs. I had left Heathrow on Saturday 19 May at 9.30pm with a 2 hr stopover in Singapore. There is something very strange that happens to time on these long haul planes, disorientating to say the least, but how breathtaking to realise that in 23 hours you can actually travel halfway round the world. Being there in a different climate, different season and where the sun is at its highest in the north!
I was met by Becca at 7.30am and we journeyed back over the Harbour Bridge, through Mosman and across Spit Bridge to their home in Balgowlah Heights near Manly. Truly wonderful feeling, at that time in the morning, quite out of this world, literally.
And so, the start of another walkabout adventure in Sydney, Australia. Lots of things planned to do but above all else wonderful to be back with Becca, Simon, Emily. Livvie and Eve.
As I walked up the steps to their door and heard the squeals from inside, the hassle and tiredness of the journey went away. My case was brought up the steps and Eve spotted the overweight label, which read, ‘Bend Your Knees’. Seems a good start to life down under and all in time for breakfast.
Walk from Clontarf Beach to Forty Baskets
One of my favourite things to do.
A beautiful walk that starts from the home and within 5 minutes of walking down the hill arriving at Clontarf Beach, where the sailing yachts moored across the bay give just an indication of the Aussie love of water sports.
The plant life is intriguing, with ferns and lichens, pandanas and small gum trees, shrubs and bushes of semi tropical types. This time we were too early or it was not warm enough for the large lizards. Often they come out to sun themselves on the rocks including frill neck lizards.
Half way round the walk is a rock outcrop with aboriginal drawings of fishes, dating back thousands of years.
Just above us at Tanya Park there is a lookout point called Arabanoo,after an aboriginal man who was taken by the first English that arrived in Sydney.
From there you can see Manly and the ferries, North and South Harbour points,and the ocean beyond .
But for Becca and I the walk went to Forty Baskets beach and then to the coffee place, Forty Beans before the final walk up the hill through the houses and home.
The Quarantine Station May 23rd
On the opposite side of the bay on North Harbour is the original quarantine station. It was used from 1800’s to 1988 to house people until they were thoroughly cleaned from whatever bugs and diseases they may have had. Australia has always been keen on making sure that it controls what come into the country.
Interesting and a touch spooky! Didn’t fancy the ghost tours though.
The autoclaves held a huge number of cases and all cases had to be steamed and sterilised.
As for the people, they had to go through showers of fumigants which burnt some of their skin.
There were hospital beds too and if there were any infectious diseases then everyone had to stay until no one remained ill.
Now it is used as a conference centre and hotel and also as a wedding venue. Mmmm…
Adventure at the PowerHouse Museum Tuesday May 24th
Livvie and I set off in the car to the PowerHouse Museum in Sydney.
It was a real plus to have Tom Tom too as we found our way through the Sydney Business district but when he announced ‘You have reached your destination.” and I went straight past the car park…things became more complicated.
When we parked the car and walked back towards the PowerHouse Museum we had come further than we thought so had to take the Mono Rail.
Powerhouse was near to closing and we looked at some of the exhibits including the entrance to the Narnia tour.We decided to go back on the Mono Rail which led to a tour of the inner parts of Sydney at night time from above street level.
Adventure at Seal Rocks Friday 25th – Sunday 27th
This was just my sort of place!
Three hours north of Sydney and travelling down a virtual dirt track through gum trees and remote villages I had hoped we might see a koala in the trees, but no luck.
As we turned into Seal Rocks the view of the beach and the ocean was wonderful. That evening we had a magical time on the beach at dusk. The sky produced some beautiful colours of peach skies and dusky blue seas. We played with the resident labrador on the beach and only started for the beach holiday home just as it was getting dark. And getting dark there happens in 10 minutes.
Emily, Livvie and Eve slept in bunk beds and as the evening went on it became so cold that they needed blankets on top of the duvets. It’s then I can tell that they are getting used to Sydney weather!
We saw dolphins swimming up and down the bay and watched pelicans as they stood waiting for the fishermen. They seem much larger birds when they are standing than flying and their beaks could hold some very large fish!
On Sunday morning we walked to the lighthouse, it was really windy but the view was amazing, with the most spectacular coastline I have ever seen. The surf beach to the south was vast and their was no one else there apart from some fishermen and their jute vehicles. Hard to describe just how beautiful it was.
Adventure at Taronga Zoo Monday May 28th
Eve and I set of for our adventure at Taronga Zoo. This is a very attractive zoo, I have made several visits here and the animals look pretty happy and have loads of places to just be. The position of the zoo on the edge of the bay is beautiful and the giraffes have the best view around. So after an ice cream and a coffee we went to the Seal Show which was brilliant.
The best of the day was the day was the Bird Show. There were brolgas, barn owls and bucket owls and they swooped down low amongst the people. There were vultures, kites,peregrines and a golah who took the money.
Sydney Opera House Wednesday May 29th
A tour inside this iconic building was stunning. The information and chance to see some of the concert halls whilst rehearsals were taking place was excellent.
This iconic building, known the world over started with a project from Sydney for a new building on a partially derelict site on the peninsula near Circular Quay.
From the vast numbers of people applying Jorn Utzon was chosen because the Finnish judge saw the potential of this dreamy vision of the shell type structure.
To plan and design this revolutionary building needed a decision maker and a brave personality.
Jorn Utzon liked to work on the ‘edge of the possible’.
The cost of the building was estimated way below the eventual cost of over £120 million dollars in the 1960’s . Sydney council raised all of the money through a lottery and the building was paid for in 18 months.
The structure proved hard to produce initially. One night Utzon phoned his colleague with the answer. The solution was a spherical model, of which all the shells would be a part.
Sadly for Utzon a change of government meant that he was asked to work with a committee. He was not prepared to do this and so left the finishing of the building to another team.
The inside spaces of the building, the foyers and the concert halls were stunning, the organisation is entrepreneurial too and involves the artists and performers in their own organisation and marketing.
Performers can buy a certain length of time and number of performances, for which they operate the costs themselves or sell merchandise and promote as they wish.
The price of tickets is arranged by the performer.
In effect Sydney Opera House offers the venue and leaves the rest to the enterprise of the artist.
They also charge rents to other organisations who operate the utilites and retail outlets. As yet they cover 80% of their costs,with 20% coming from state funding.
A good model of enterprise and sustainability!
An iconic building for a beautiful city, Australian enterprise for a world audience,work and leisure hand in hand.
As they say so often down under, ‘ No worries!’
Whale Watching Thursday May31st
We picked up the sight of the whale we followed at South Head. It was about 2 km from the shore and hard to spot. It was a young humpback at the head of the migration north from the Antarctic to the warmer tropical waters around North Australia and Papua New Guinea. The move away from the feeding waters to the warmer waters to breed and to rear their young. Later in the year they migrate back to the Antarctic for the summer to feed on the krill.
They are hard to follow as they seem to be erratic in their movements. But they come to the surface to breath and when they turn their tails to the sky they are heading downwards. From there they can change direction and appear anywhere, although this one was generally heading north and about 9 knots. He stayed close to the headlands but then moved out into the ocean as we leveled with Manly and the surf beach.
After 2 hours we left him to travel on his way and headed back to Sydney. In Darling Harbour we waited for an enormous P&O cruise liner to leave, on its way to the Pacific Islands. What a monster! I wondered how the whales reacted to such a large vessel?
Sydney Observatory Sunday June 3rd
Emily and I caught the Manly ferry and arrived in Sydney just as it was getting dark.
We walked to the Sydney Observatory for a night session. The final part of the walk was through some trees with the enormous fruit bats flying overhead.
It was quite like a Dr Who sort of place. Built in 1800’s the building had not changed a great deal. We started in the planetarium and listened to the talk on the Southern skies and the constellations. The Southern Cross can be seen from anywhere in Australia. Many stories about the night sky are part of the aboriginal dreaming, like the fishing dreaming with the sting ray and its tail. Some of the black spaces in the Milky Way could be made out in the shape of an Emu.
In the north dome part, the roof could be moved by a wheel and then a part of the roof opened to see the night sky and the telescope would be put in place.
This night the full moon was brilliant and we could see the craters easily.
Storms and the Transit of Venus June 6th
The night before we had a really big storm that had come from the southern seas. It swept across the bay and rained and rained with gale force winds which knocked down some trees and took all the power out for two hours.
Wednesday June 6th was my last day and Becca and I decided to go to the beaches at Manly and Dee Why. Manly beach was nearly completely under water and the waves were crashing in. On the surf beach the waves were enormous and the beach was closed. Even so, a few people were walking and some mad fellas were water skiing across the 12ft high waves. No chance of getting ashore, they turned to Shelly beach to try and get back.
The biggest waves where at Dee Why and the power and just vastness of the crashing surf against the rocks was stunning. The horizon was very bumpy with the waves also crashing before the shore.
What an experience!
The protective glasses bought at the observatory meant that as we sat by the beach we could actually see that small black dot of Venus as it traveled across the sun… Brilliant!
Always difficult to leave… never easy for me. But I am very lucky to have the chance and space in my life to make visits to Australia and be with Becca, Simon, Emily ,Livvie and Eve. Living with them in their home ‘down under’ I can watch as they grow into confidant and very healthy children, swimming, in the fresh air so much… excellent.
So to turn for home and 12,000 miles to go! Until the next trip down under.
Walkabout to Australia
October 30th – 20th November 2011
The journey started rather frantically. I discovered with 24 hours to go that Qantas had grounded all flights! Unheard of and what a disaster! My normal calm!!! self panicked for all of an hour as I struggled to make contact with Qantas and Becca in Australia. Finally found a flight with Emirates going the next day, so hoped that the finances would sort themselves out and flew out overnight via Dubai, landing in Sydney on Monday 31st, 23 hours later.
The first week was great, despite the jet lag and collapsing into bed early evening for 2 nights, I was quickly swallowed up by dance shows with Emily, aged 7, Livvie Tumble, aged 5 and Eve, aged 3. An amazing show of colour,dance and confidant young girls. Felt very proud!!
The weather is fantastic, warm sunny days at the beginning of their summer. Becca and I have had some great walks around the bay towards Manly. We managed to get past the large lizards and water dragons, sunning themselves on the path. The true tradition of Australia to have an excellent coffee shop at all points is a real bonus.
Have since been into Sydney on the Manly ferry , spent lots of time with the girls.
Success with meetings at Walker Books, Sydney and with starting a children’s book project between Australia and the UK.
Beaches are full of people being very busy, surfing, body boarding, swimming hard, playing games….. Do miss the calmness of the Mediterranean sea and just being, rather than doing.
But not grumbling, feel very lucky to be here at all and a bonus of November in the summer, a new experience for me to have my birthday by the pool.
Next week I am off to Darwin, with Becca, so to Kakadu, Arnhem and hot steamy swamps….
Walkabout to Avila, Spain
September 19 – 26th 2011
Pilgrimage and Retreat with Norwich Diocese
Monday 19th September
It was very early on Monday morning that the party gathered at Stansted Airport. Thirty clerics at 6.00am gathering through the security and finding their way to Gate 50 for the Ryan Air flight to Madrid.
Not a clerical shirt in sight. Too scary for the Ryan Air passengers! People had found their way to Stansted and shared journeys where they could. One colleague had shared a journey with the funera /a l director’s hearse, for me, that was taking the role too far!
At Madrid airport there was an enormous wait for the luggage and despite best efforts it took over an hour for the first bags to arrive.
We had a coach to Avila and were welcomed into the Retreat house on the far side of the old town walls. Warm, sunny and that beautiful Spanish feel.
The main purpose of the retreat was to visit the place of St Teresa of Avila. But that and more would follow the next day, admittedly the odd glass of Spanish wine overcame some of the journey fatigue. An adventure ahead and time to reflect over the next few days.
Revd Sue Martin
Tuesday 20th September
St Teresa of Avila
A whole day in this beautiful medieval town of Avila. The city walls were impressive and tower above the town, looking like the castles that all children draw or create in the sand. The lack of pollution means that the walls are the same sandy colour as when they were built.
We walked from the Diocesan Retreat House to the Church of the Incarnation, where we held the first Eucharist. This was an immensely spiritual time as we joined together in worship and fellowship. A time to bring ourselves into the space that we have been give this week, and leave far behind some of the worries and concerns.
Bishop Norman Banks, who led the pilgrimage, has an enormous wealth of knowledge for St Teresa and for St John of the Cross. St Teresa brought herself to the convent at the age of 16. Her family were wealthy but she decided that she was called to serve at the convent.
It is a beautiful building, a Carmelite convent of the Descalzed Carmelites, and set up as the first order by Teresa. The Carmelites are a contemplative order and once women or girls they have entered they stay in the convent for the rest of their lives. They dedicate themselves to prayer and this is the same today.
The late afternoon remained very warm and some of the tiredness from the journey and the day seeped in, only made better by a visit to a local cafe.
Revd Sue Martin
Wednesday 21st September
Alba de Tormes
The real essence of the pilgrimage was found in the country villages and fields of today. We experienced places that St Teresa had established and also some of the life of St John of the Cross.
Alba de Tormes was a small village high in the hills of Castile and in the small church we met the Padre and celebrated the Eucharist there.
After a coffee we journeyed on into the dusty countryside, dry and parched in the late summer sun. The black bulls in the field were a real contrast with the sandy soil, wheat stubble and dry grass.
By the side of this single track we left the coach to look at a fountain, the coach wandered on and we were the only people on that road for more than 30 minutes.
This was the place where John and his family came to find a home, they made baskets and his mother worked desperately hard to ensure that her three sons had food to eat.
As we stood by the fountain the poem of St John was read in English and Spanish as we gazed at the wilderness ahead.
But more was yet to come and we walked up the track to the Carmel convent. There we met and talked with a Carmelite nun. It was hard to see her as the grills between us were on the edges of the thick walls. She was in a dark room on the other side.
It was very moving and my fears of how anyone could be enclosed for life were helped by the life and spirit of the young nun as she talked to us about her life. It was an amazing time and I feel very privileged to have come to this place.
Spritually, it was an enormous journey, people praying for our lives, that we didn’t even know and some of that wonderful spirit was so evident in the voice of the nun hidden from us. A veil between ourselves, but a warmth that touched us all.
Thursday 22nd September
Fonteviros, Arevelo and Medina del Campo
In the centre of the small and elegant town of Arevalo, we walked to Iglesia de San Martin, across the plaza at the end of the winding street. The church has been converted into an exceptionally smart Art Gallery. The spiral metal grey staircase wound its way into the roof.
The main body of the church had a new floor set off the stones and in the chancel was a stage and lighting set- wonderfully light and quite a change from the darkness of some of the churches. The reredos was still in place and glittered in the gold icons.
The Paintings included a number by a new artist, A Varras, and he really seemed to like the use of umbrellas and a different dimension of people in the main body of the picture. The one which I was really taken with was of Spanish girl dancers and the couple set amongst the dancers. His use of blues, pinks and red in a soft vibrancy were wonderful in the warm peachy colour of the church.
A place to come back to , when I have a little more time to explore.
Friday 23 September
Deep in the heart of Castile lies the beautiful city of Segovia, a medieval city with one of the largest aqueducts in Europe.
We wandered into along the winding streets into the plaza and across to the cathedral.Enormously grand and imposing inside there were many chapels and full of gold icons and reredos splendours.
In a chapel right at the back, not often spotted was a donkey on wheels with Jesus sitting astride, full size it was quite a friendly image and in contract with many others. Obviously used for the Palm Sunday parade with many other floats.
After a lunch in the square there was the chance to browse through the streets and visit the Segovia Carmelite convent. I wandered through the streets on my own and found a very pleasant café near a church where I could sit for an hour and reflect on the days so far. Much had been seen and even more had been felt, a pilgrimage and a chance for space was touching me deeply.
Saturday 24th September
Another hot and sunny day and a visit to Escorial and the palace of King Philip the Second of Spain. A time in the mid 1500’s when religion was very powerful. In the middle of the palace we saw the room in which King Philip ruled his empire. A small room with very little light and a chapel to the side.
He didn’t like to go out.
It was a beautiful city and we managed to have time for a three course lunch! Time to spend with friends and think about all that we had seen.
Once back at Avila we had vespers and a Eucharist, with Bishop Norman presiding. The chapel was filled with light from the stained glass as the sun was setting outside.
Sunday 25th September Avila
A really special day and time for Avila again. Much to see and we started with a RC Mass at the Convent of the Incarnation. My rather weak Spanish was sadly lacking during the service, yet it was a very special time, made even more so by the singing of the sisters behind the grills to the left of the chapel and then above. Clarity and harmony resounded through the chapel, which was full of people. As the service finished I looked up at the grill above and just saw a sister drawing back the veil curtain. What would it be like to live in that isolation?
At Vespers we had a short talk and meditaion on the pilgrimage so far and how people had felt, had they been touched or was this just a good experience? For all the comments that followed it was clear that it had been a time for us all when we had time to bring ourselves to God. It was very affirming to know that we were attempting to follow the path He has set out for us, with all our little deviations on the way.
In the heat of the evening we walked around the city walls, it was about 30C, and some of the steps were quite hard. The walls are a World Heritage Site and well looked after.
Photo of half of the group across some large turrets!
After the walk on the walls, we made our different ways back to the square and to find a local bar for the occasional drink before supper.
Monday 26th September
Final day and for me more time in Avila. Coach travel was not agreeing with me so as I waved them goodbye on their journey to Salamanca I spent some time in the grounds of the retreat centre before Rhonwen and I walked into town for some final shopping and a little light lunch!
A brilliant time and we enjoyed time together and a wander through the narrow streets. We found a few extra things to take home before finding a very good lunch for gazpacho, followed by goats cheese salad and, of course a glass of white wine. Excellent!
The afternoon was quiet before the team returned and after the group photo we had our final supper and a short visit to the bar down the road.
The next morning would see our return to Stansted, our flight on RyanAir and journey back to Norfolk.
Let’s hope and pray that all the wonderful times we have had and all the spirituality we have encountered will stay with us as we meet and talk with friends at home and in church.
Revd Sue Martin
Nothing better than a walk or a journey, to somewhere new or to well trodden ground. Feelings of freedom and time to enjoy all that is around you.
“ There’s real life for you, embodied in that little cart. The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns and cities. The whole world before you and a horizon that’s always changing! Cried Toad.”
Extract from Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
There’s plenty of opportunity for travel today and for far off places as well as close to home. And wherever you go there will be parts of life that you collect on the way.
The three verses of the poem below are from a church in Arta, Mallorca.
A view of the sea and the sun from the island…
Set out! You were born for the road
Set out! You have a meeting to keep.
Where, with whom?
You don’t yet know
Perhaps with yourself?
Set out! Your steps will be your words
The road your song
The weariness your prayer
And at the end
Your silence will speak to you.
Set out! Your head does not know
Where your feet are leading your heart.
Travelling Down Under
Sunday 5th September 2010 14th
Sunday after Trinity
Luke 14: 25 – 33
Jeremiah 18: 1 – 11
Philemon 1- 21
I guess it’s inevitable that I would talk about my travels. I haven’t brought all the photos today so no need to worry, that will be next week!
And just to let you know, it really is a long way to Australia…… and even longer back. We were in the air for 21.5 hrs out and 22.5 hrs back, something about it being head wind!
There is all the worry beforehand, which is always a concern. Tickets, money, passport. Don’t forget to take out any water or fluids, which I invariably carry in my bag, the number of times I have had nail scissors confiscated by the very nice security people, plus taken my shoes off with the high heels and so on.
I have a reputation of looking suspicious apparently, I didn’t think so!!
Well, of course that must have changed now that I am ordained……
When I arrived at the airport I realised that I was amongst many people who were very worried, families travelling across the world with so much luggage, clutching their papers etc.
I’m not certain at which point we start to relax, for me it was either when I left the luggage at the check in, including the doll’s pram, new tablecloth, and 200 tea bags and so on, all essentials for my daughter and family newly arrived in Australia. Or it was when I took my seat on the plane, turned off my mobile phone and settled down.
In good hands…
‘Welcome to Qantas, flight Q31 to Sydney’ the voice of the captain, . ………sit back, enjoy the flight, we have 10hrs to Bangkok.
3 films later, i/2 a book, 2 meals and a few hours’ sleep.
The hands I was in were those of qantas. That sitting back and letting someone take over for you, to be in charge of the driving wheel, made me think.
This is just a little of what it’s like to put yourself in God’s hands.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey. We are in good hands if we allow ourselves to put total faith in God.
To relax into His paths for us.
It isn’t easy, it’s even harder than putting the entire luggage onto the plane, turning off the phone, saying goodbye to family. But if and when we do there does appear a sense of relaxation, of freedom to follow that path ahead, knowing that we are secure and looked after on our journey.
The messages in todays readings are quite hard, especially the passage in Luke where Jesus. travelling with a large crowd behind him turns and says,
‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate his mother or father, wife and children, yes even life itself…..cannot be my disciple’
I am still perplexed by this amazing turn of words. I wonder if Jesus was getting annoyed with the crows behind and the constant questioning and chitter chatter.
He was actually telling them that this was not an easy answer to follow Him. It would mean turning away from all that you have and putting everything at risk for the sake of following Jesus entirely.
Disciples and followers beware, this journey and travel is going to be full of risks and danger. But give up yourself and stay with it!
Tom Wright in his commentaries compares Jesus with, not a politician, thank goodness! But with an explorer or adventurer. Standing at the edge of a large mountain telling his followers to leave all their bags behind. The way ahead would be too difficult with cumbersome burdens.
And leaving luggage and personal belongings is something that we all find hard at the airport. People will do anything to have their handbags stay with them rather than put them overhead!!
But back on Qantas 31, we arrived in Bangkok for 3 hrs and then back on the plane for a further 11.5 hrs.
Just as I thought we must be getting somewhere near,
‘ HI there folks, guess some of you must have spotted that we have diverted, we’re now heading to Brisbane, Gale force winds mean that we can’t land at Sydney. We’ll be down in about an hour or so and then work out a plan.
In the meantime have a good breakfast…’
Finally we arrived at Sydney, and once I had waited for the dolls pram to come through large luggage section and gone through goods to declare with my 200 tea bags I was there in the foyer of the airport.
And it was worth it!! I was met by Becca and Eve, aged 2 running towards me with hugs and smiles. Absolutely worth it!! And an amazing 2 weeks both for being with them at the start of their new life, down under, but also to see such a beautiful and very different city and life style.
And putting our faith in God’s hands is worth it,
Not just for the reward but also because it can take away that fear of the unknown and give confidence to allow us freedom to carry on with God’s plans for us.
We don’t all have to give up everything to follow, where would our families and countries be without us. But it’s putting God at the centre.
Back to the plane…. being on a plane for such a long time is a huge amount of inactivity, there is a real sense of passiveness, and you can do very little. For some people that is a real challenge.
I read a book sometime ago, called Stature of Waiting by E Vanstone, who talks about the times in our lives when we have to wait, when we have to be passive and let others help us. When we are ill, as a child, when we are in distress, when our lives have become so difficult that it is best to let others take charge. He relates it to the time when Jesus was taken by the guards in Gethsemane. From that point Jesus never tried to influence any decisions, although he was asked several times.
It is much a part of our lives on earth as when we are active and in control of our own decisions, and it is a time when we have to let others help and at times take over for us.
Lots of waiting on the plane……Lots of waiting for those in hospital or living alone, or for grieving and coming to terms with loss. A very passive time, but a time that helps to heal, to soothe and for us to sit back and remember….
Ah well, sit back, relax, enjoy the journey. Take some time. God is with you….
A view of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia
(Photographs on this page by Sue Martin)
Back to the plane…. being on a plane for such a long time is a huge amount of inactivity, there is a real sense of passiveness, and you can do very little. For some people that is a real challenge.
Alba de Tormes was a small village high in the hills of Castile and in the small church we met the Padre and celebrated the Eucharist there. p