Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, August 30, 2010

Last day of our big OE

Early tomorrow morning we get a taxi to Heathrow and fly our way home. Most days for the last few weeks we have set ourselves to exploring some part of our surroundings. We have taken in a lot of information. We have encountered different languages and different accents. There has been new sights, lots of interesting buildings and many miles of train travel. Most days we have walked for miles. Today we decided there would be no exploring, just a slow day packing and catching up on ourselves. We decided to go for a walk and see if we could find a shop to buy some lunch. There's vehicles buzzing on a big motorway nearby, a cemetery opposite and apart from a petrol station next door no houses within sight.

We wandered along the road to discover two horses grazing. Opposite we discovered a woodland. Someone had set up a woodland park with a lovely winding pathway through it. We have most often walked on cobblestones, pathways and concrete in the midst of buildings. This walk was delightfully different. At the other side of the walkway we found a community and a few shops. We bought our lunch and sat in the woodland to eat in the sun. Walking back we came across a group of young guys playing football on a street football pitch. Some of them were very skilled and they played with a great spirit of sportsmanship and fun. It was enjoyable watching them.

That has been the sort of thing that has happened again and again on our holiday. We have so often turned a corner, or met someone or got lost and discovered something good, enjoyable and intriguing. Every day has had its moments of serendipity! Today, when we were going to do nothing, was no exception.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Good and bad of Cardiff trip.

Carlisle to Cardiff... changing trains at Crewe.
A lovely early morning walk to the station finished our explorations of Carlisle. We had enjoyed our visit there. (We have worn the tires out on one of our suitcases with these extended walks to and from railway stations, pulling the suit case behind.) We boarded the train... problem... all the luggage racks are full! We left one case propped up in the space between carriages and settled in our reserved seats. Life was OK, but at each stop more and more people got on the train, many who had not reserved seats. The gap between wagons was full of people standing. The isle in the carriage had people standing. One mum with three children came on and tried to claim her reserved seats. One well dressed business man type simply said, "I'm not moving! I paid for a ticket the same as you." The others in her reserved seats followed his example and did not move at all. Another mum with a young daughter could not sit in her seat because that was the only place to put her large case. She was nearly in tears and making a big fuss. There were arguments, lots of growling and people squeezing past each other vainly searching for seats. I found myself getting angry at some of the behaviour and a bit worried about how we were going to gather our luggage (and what was happening to our case in among the crowd between wagons?) and get off the train when it came to Crewe, where we were to change trains. We decided that we would stand, go and check the safety of our bag and give our seats to the family. We did that and found life more peaceful standing down the other end of the carriage for half an hour, occasionally chatting with others who were standing. We got to Crewe and manage to squeeze our way out to the platform. We had to check where our next train was leaving from and get to that platform within eight minutes. I was rushing down the stairs to that platform with what I thought was a minute to spare (according to the station clock!)....but the train to Cardiff was pulling out! I went to the guard at the station and confirmed it was our train... "Yep you've missed it, another one in an hour." and he wandered off. A woman railway official was much more helpful, she pointed out where the next train we could catch was going and where to wait for it. We sat and had a leisurely lunch. The train duly arrived and we scrambled aboard. It too was packed and of course we did not have reservations on this one. We sat inbetween carriages, for a time perched on our luggage. Jean eventually managed to get a seat, I sat on a fold down seat outside the toilet, instructing patrons how to open the toilet door and chatting with another guy. I enjoyed the trip. It is a bank holiday in the UK this weekend so that has added to the numbers of people traveling.
On the first train there was a grumpy guard (Who did not show his face when things got crowded) He came through and there was an asian looking family (perhaps Filipino) who had not reserved seats, just as many others hadn't. This guard treated them like dirt, openly grumping at them... and yet the nasty white business man, who also had not reserved a seat, got the nicest treatment. It was a consistent action by this guard and was so obviously racially motivated. When we arrived in Cardiff I was seated outside the station with a couple of young men in the next seat to me. I was disgusted by their comments whenever a person of different colour came past. Thankfully they did not have the guts to say it too loud and most of the people were too intent on getting to where they wanted to go to notice their comments, but it really upset me. Later that night we were seated in a pedestrian shopping area and a guy came along with a few under his belt. An Indian couple sat not far away and he started passing comments. "Leave us alone!" "Piss off, go back home!" "We don't want you here!" and such comments. Thankfully the couple were too engrossed in conversation together to notice that they were being talked at. His tirade was punctuated with spits in their direction. I hope such racism is not common in the UK.
Missed the last bus home.
In the afternoon of our day in Cardiff we decided to catch a bus to St Fagans, the place where the national history museum is located. It is just into the country side inland from Cardiff. We were pleased we did. We checked out the inside exhibits and enjoyed wandering around the whole property which has rebuilt houses, barns, churches which have been dismantled from all around Wales and brought together in the one property. It was really a great display of history, going back to very early times. We finished wandering just as the place was shutting up for the day. We sat on the seat by the bus stop where the bus had delivered us to, confident that it would return at 5:33p.m. to take us back to Cardiff. At around 5:28 we looked again at the timetable and discovered that the bus would not be coming to where we were, but down on the "main road" five minutes walk away. Off we raced, very unsure that we would make it. We came to a fork in the road... "Which one goes to the main road?" We asked a couple of women who pointed us down a long road that went between paddocks.... five minute was going to be long gone. We could hear the roar of traffic that must have been the main road..... we thought. We trudged on, not really worried because surely there would be some bus we could catch back to Cardiff. Just before we came to the road a van came along. The driver said in his welsh accent, "Are you alright?" We explained our plight. He replied, "That's a four carriage motorway you're headed for, y'can't walk on that!" He turned his van around and cleared a space on the back seat. It turned out the two women had given us wrong advise. "I'll take you back." he said. We got to the gatehouse of the museum and he rolled down his window and talked to his colleagues there. They spoke in Welsh! It was delightful. When he had finished with them he said, "There's no more buses through the village, I'll take you to a place you can catch a bus." He took us to an outer suburb of Cardiff, dropped us off and would not take a penny for his trouble. He had gone miles out of his way, he just wished us well and turned around going back to where we had come from. His generosity was truly appreciated.

We successfully caught two trains for our trip to London today. We had reservations in first class carriages, so we had a peaceful journey looking at the countryside. We are now in a hotel in London near the airport going through our stuff to see what we can throw out for our long flight home on Tuesday morning.

There are good and bad people everywhere. ... but most of the time people are good. There are two ways people deal with tension and difficulties within a crowd. Some dig in and look after themselves! e.g. "I'm not moving" ... or the people that will push past you to get on a train while you are trying to get off. Or there are the other people who will say, in a sense, "We're all in this mess together, how can we make it easier on one another?" These we found to be standing at the end of the carriages, laughing and chatting and helping each other to be comfortable. The man with the van just put himself in our position and went out of his way to help. Thank God for good people.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reminders of my Father.

Today as I walked around Carlisle I came across two reminders of my father.
  • There is an old 18th Century house and one of the information boards pointed out the ornate lead down pipes. My father had two "London City Guilds" plumbing text books. (I had stored them while I was in Australia in the 70's and they got damaged) In those text books there was information about how to make those type of downpipes. Plumbers, at one time, did all sorts of fancy work including the lead work in stained glass windows, and dad's old historical text books had training data about all this type of work. Dad did a lot of work with lead pipes in his time as a plumber, I remember helping him "wipe" lead joints. He would have been interested in these pipes.
  • Secondly we visited the Carlisle Castle where there is a bit of a military museum. In a shed I noticed an artillery gun. I went over and looked at it. I said out loud to my wife, "I wonder if it is a 25 pounder?" A man standing near said, "Yes" and pointed out the plate on the chassis that indicated it. My dad fired and was in charge of 25 pounder artillery units during WWII. He would have been interested.
Sometimes something makes you miss someone even when they have been gone 46 years!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I have been in Europe and have seen stacks of old churches. One of the things that puzzles me is that these churches and cathedrals are often ornamented with horrible, evil looking and grotesque gargoyles. I kept wondering "Why? - What is their significance?" I googled it and Wiki told me they had a very practical reason. When it rained the water ran through them and away from the building so that it did not damage the mortar. They were in lieu of what we plumbers call "downpipes". The water from the roof flowed through them, out their open mouths (often extended by flames or an evil looking tongue) and away from the building.

I accept that, but why such evil looking beasts? I would think that Churches were scary enough places without these nasty beasties adorning them. Why not have smiling happy people? Most look like nasty demons. I think also that often they are just ornamental and are not the down pipes. The nasty ones seem to just be on Churches.

Are there any historians out there who can tell me the reason for these nasty looking additions to ancient Church buildings?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Catching up on stuff...

We have arrived in Aberdeen on a rainy afternoon and have a nice comfortable apartment. We are blobbing out a bit catching up on ourselves. I thought a post about "catching up" appropriate.

Catching up on history...

We decided to spend two nights in York. We knew little about it, except that it was about halfway between London and Scotland. We were so pleased we did, it just oozed history. The town was officially “founded” by the Romans who had a fort there in 71AD. There is a Roman column and bits of Roman walls and baths around the place. Constantine was proclaimed emperor there in 306 AD. After the Romans left the anglo-saxons built a town wall which has had all sorts of additions and repairs over the years. You can still walk 3.6 kilometres of it, which we did. The vikings came and raided the place and lived there for sometime, adopting some anglo-saxon ways and religion. We learned all about them. Eventually they were kicked out and William the Conqueror reigned supreme. There are old houses, churches and buildings everywhere. We are who we are today because of so much of this history.

Catching up on language.

The whole experience of our trip has made me appreciate the complexity of the languages we use in communication. In Poland trying to communicate with the family there was a learning experience. Trying to ask questions and find our way in Czech, Germany, Netherlands and France made us long for our UK holiday. “At least the language will be the same” we kept saying. But even in the UK, it is interesting. When we go into a bar or store as soon as you open your mouth people look at you, and know immediately that you come from somewhere different. “Where do you folks come from?” is often asked. (Sometimes the experience is made worse by them suggesting “Australia?”) Then we travelled to York, and they speak English, but of a very different type. It sounds almost like a pigeon English. e.g. “go t’castle” (If you want to go to the castle).. “train every fifteen”.(They have a train to Edinburgh every fifteen minutes- the guard on the train said this) It is very efficient, they only use the essential words, and such a great sounding accent. We moved from there to Scotland. We are a bit used to scots' accents, but the announcements at rail stations, the helpful shop assistants, our hosts at the hostel all speak and we have to work hard to understand. We told a couple on the bus we were going to Aberdeen. The husband said, “They speak a different language up there!” and he named it. He grew up there. We have not encountered it yet, but I listened to a local talking on his phone at the railway station cafe, and there were lots of words I could not understand. I will be more patient with immigrants now. I was also thinking... we have English people with different accents coming to NZ. Often their accent does not prevent them getting a job, we know that they know English. When an Indian comes, however, who has been speaking English (with an Indian flavour) since childhood, his/her English hinders their getting a job... because (I suspect) we assume wrongly that they do not know English well. If we heard their accent and thought of it in the same way that we think of a Yorkshire accent, their chances of employment might improve.

Catching up on the Church scene.

I have been trying to avoid visiting old cathedrals, but you cannot come to Europe and avoid them. I have noticed that many ancient church buildings are unused or have a different life. A church in Glasgow, for instance, is an assembly hall for a local university. Another is now a furniture shop. Others we have discovered to be cafes or restaurants. I have nightmares that this might happen to my down town church at St Andrew Street Dunedin. This is one reason we have been trying to have it open and used by community groups. We have Space2B happening. We have a ministry to new settlers through Space2B. We have various "life-enhancing" groups centred on the Church building, with the church open for coffee and workshops. It has taken a while to get this off the ground and we have a long way to go. It feels a lonely road. We have, however discovered examples of similar things over here. An ancient Church in York was closed and derelict. A group made up of community and church people formed a trust and re-opened it, initially as a centre for over-sixties. It has all sorts of activities, (a choir, meals, cafe, dances, workshops) has a chapel area with a service every Wednesday and a chaplain offering support and counselling. (the Queen Mother opened it in 1974) St. Sampson’s has a management committee keeping an eye on things. In London just off Fitzroy Square there are the street front houses and apartments. We discovered one with its street front door opened and notices in the window. It was a Church. Offering a space to go in and pray. Offering support to young people after school. A place to have coffee, people to listen, a roof top garden area and facilities for community groups to use. (It was in the house Mr Morse, the inventor of morse code used to live in.) Another old church in York was dying. The Church people met with locals in their community and a new space opened in the church. There is a cafe there. Workshops are run there for the community. Counselling is available, a regular church service happens and there is a place for prayer. The place is buzzing with life everyday. ..... So... I am encouraged... some other people have similar vision as I do. The St Sampson’s blurb reads;

“When first built it was not only a building for Sunday worship -York’s medieval churches were used as schools, courtrooms, meeting halls, and even for transacting business. Now St Sampson’s is a community centre once again.” ....Amen and praise the Lord.

Catching up on me...

It has been interesting opting out of “life” for this long a time. One of the things I have registered is that I encounter a lot of sadness in my job and as a part of my life. I have had suicides to cope with. I have had funerals for people I have known since childhood. I have to deal with the tough side of life as a chaplain, in my contact with emergency services and in our drop-in work. As I have been wandering about again and again some of these sadnesses have surfaced in my mind and emotions. Time off has been a time when my heart has been catching up with “me”. For example... in York we visited a centre which talked about the Viking period of their history. As I went around the exhibits I could not help but think of my Aussie friend Ian,(who died last year) who had Viking ancestry. (The description of life in the Viking settlement said that the children drank beer... water was so polluted.. I had to chuckle, Ian would have thought that was neat) All these sadnesses impact on my view of life, my reactions and I guess my relationships. I watched a musical group playing happy music in York. They enjoyed their music and the interesting thing was that as people passed them, their countenance improved. They were sullen looking shoppers, but as they heard the music and saw the energy they could not help but smile. I found myself asking, “Do I improve people’s countenance with my presence?” Lately - maybe not. A friend once gave me a little ornament that he said suited me. Underneath it said, “Grumblebum”. Sorry.. I’ll try harder not to be a “Grumblebum” when I get back.


  • York's ancient city wall.
  • I have spent hours walking, watching people, thinking and taking in sights. Time when my heart catches up with "me".
  • An ancient church with new life. A cafe and all sorts of "people" things as part of it.
  • A prayer in a London street front church.
  • An open door on a London street invites you in to rest and offers support and friendship.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


We are spending two nights in Glasgow. Our first impressions were that Glasgow seemed a dirty run down sort of city. It is past it’s “prime” in some ways. It once boasted 50 shipyards... now it has three. It was once the second city in the UK, with well over a million people. Now it has 600,000. We went on a bus tour this morning and got to appreciate more of the city.

We had wanted to stay in Edinburgh, but it has the Tattoo running and a fringe festival. When we tried for Hostels we could not find one in the city area that could house us. We decided today to hop on a train about midday and go to Edinburgh. We spent about 6.5 hours there, had a bus tour and did our own exploration. We were home at 9 p.m. but were pleased we took the trouble to visit. Edinburgh is a much more interesting city than Glasgow.

In both places we felt at home. Listen to these names..... Dundas Street, (Actually we learned that “Dundas” was a crooked rich guy) Hanover Street, George St, St Andrew St., Buccleugh St., Fredrick Street, Princes Street, High Street,.... etc. They pinched them from Dunedin.... NOT. :-)

Glasgow will be remembered by me as the place I received an insult! Rather than doing our usual walk to our hostel when we arrived in Glasgow, we took a taxi. I was thrilled because they were “London Cabs” and I wanted to ride in one of these some time in our holiday. A rather over weight, balding 40 - 45 year old driver got out. Jean was asking the questions while I loaded our luggage. In a cab the luggage goes in where you sit. He came around to me and asked, “Are you OK with that Pops?” .... I won’t tell you what I called him under my breathe! Here he was younger than me, I could certainly out run him. I could most probably out lift or out work him. And he calls me “Pops”! Grrr. (I have learned that if the stairs are wide enough I can put all of our four bags somewhere on my person and carry them up. I’d like to see him do that! “Pops” indeed! ... the cheeky @*#%8! )


  • The sign that greeted us when we got off the train in Glasgow. It was the Queen Street Station. The language underneath I think is an early scots Gaelic. It is funny, the locals speak English, but you have to listen hard and go over the sounds in your mind to work out the words. (We probably sound similar to them.) An announcement over the speakers spoke about "gates". ... It sounded like "Geets".
  • Edinburgh Castle. We came upon it by accident. We walked up High Street through crowds of people enjoying fringe festival stuff and found we were at the Castle Gates. We kept walking into the Castle area, enjoying the scenery and buildings, until we came to a person clicking admission tickets. We had enjoyed enough by then so spun around and went out. (After using their free loos) The blue seats are for the Tattoo. We went a way past there.
  • An ancient tower in the Merchant City area of Glasgow. Just across the square was where you went at a certain time if you wanted to know the latest news. Someone would yell it out from a balcony.
  • A London Taxi. This one in Edinburgh. They are made (handmade apparently) to very clear specifications in Coventry. I think they are great wee vehicles, I would love one.
  • As we looked for a way out of the Glasgow station this sign greeted us. We felt at home, Dunedin has a "Dundas Street".

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Last Day in London

We had our last day in London today. Sitting in our room in the London Indian YMCA I can hear the noise of London outside. It is like the noise of a bee hive, a combination of all the city's sounds into a constant busy buzz.
Of all the cities we have visited I have enjoyed this one the most. Perhaps because there was no language barrier? Each city has its strengths and certainly Paris has amazing stuff. London has great stuff too, and it just seems to say, "Here it is, what you see is what you get."

I like the people spaces in London. Some examples;
- The space around the Tower of London. The families, exploring history together, ... mum and son walking around the sun dial. The kids and crowd cheering on the knights fighting in front of the Tower.
- Soho square has outside table tennis tables. I watched a grandfather and granddaughter playing.
- Covent Garden has space for buskers, tight rope walkers, magicians and other entertainers. Great crowd participation.
- Kensington Gardens near Royal Albert Hall ... People relaxing there before the Proms.

I have enjoyed the people;
- The people have been friendly, helpful and relaxed.
- There is a sense of humour... the train is packed, no personal space and people laugh at one another's predicament.
- You make a fool of yourself at the tube station by asking a stupid question and its OK.
- I have enjoyed the fact that I didn't have people at the various sites trying to push miniature models of the Tower at me or trying to pressure money out of me. Again there is this more laid back approach.

I have enjoyed learning about the history.
- NZ inherited so much from UK history so in a sense their history is mine also.

We are off tomorrow to visit York, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Carlisle, Cardiff and return for one last day in London before returning home.

  • The tube can be disturbing at first because you have no idea about the direction you are moving. I was dead scared of catching the wrong train, but in the end enjoyed darting about London on it.
  • The London Eye gave this great view of the Parliament buildings. So much history! So many issues have been beaten out within those walls.
  • I think the bridge looks great! It still opens, but big ships have to give 24 hours notice these days. The spaces around it are marvelous... the Queens Walk, the river sides etc.
  • The Tower with a battle between two armoured "knights" happening and people cheering.
  • The video below of Big Ben signaling 11 a.m. I remember as a kid sitting around a scratchy radio listening to Big Ben chime!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

This tourists inner conflict

Aramoana is a settlement near the mouth of Otago Harbour. Mention it's name around NZ and people now know it as a place of tragedy. A gunman went on a shooting rampage there and thirteen people were killed. When they explored that gunman's house they found weapons, books about weapons and killing etc. People said of this and other such sad discoveries in other cases, "The guy was unbalanced - obviously! Look at the things he had in his house!" I visited a "house" recently, a much visited house. In at least three of its rooms guns lined the walls. Swords were displayed all over the place. In another there were several trophies of war. I was visiting with an Indian friend and one of the trophies taken after some battle with an Indian ruler was a golden tiger's head. The commentary raved on how this was "taken after... such and such... a battle." I turned to my friend and said, "They stole that from you guys!" Of course the house was Windsor Castle, a place revered by the british people.... but I found myself questioning the values we revere and endorse in such a place. I have been visiting such sites in European cities over the last few weeks, and am disturbed by the things we often value. There are buildings, statues and whole sites set aside remembering triumphs in very dubious wars! "This was built to celebrate Napolean's triumph over...." the voice on the hop-on bus commentary says. But in my inner being I am asking, ...Hey.... should he have been fighting them in the first place? Probably "No!"...Secondly it wasn't "Napolean's" triumph.... it was his soldiers'... probably a bunch of poor guys fed as cannon fodder into battle to please some unbalanced twisted priorities of their imperial leader! ... And should we be remembering and reinforcing such things, holding them up as fine examples of what it means to be a hero in our cultures? Are these worth heralding in our global world?

Again we have been looking at opulence, ostentation and examples of how people showed others that they were "rich and powerful". More than one commentary has said that these things were built, or collections gathered to show other nations, or world leaders or visiting dignitaries just how powerful they were. In simple terms so many of these things were done or built or gathered to "show off"! My guess is that when they were done there were countless beggars at the gate struggling for daily bread. (They are still there today) I value the works of art etc. but I find myself conflicted by the values that brought them about and the values we express by revering them so much. On one hand in the school playground we tell children off for "showing off", but in other ways through our media, tourism and the lifestyle we promote we encourage it, and hold it up as almost the very purpose of life.

Then I have visited Churches. In the famous churches the two dubious values mentioned above are repeated. Ostentation ("This church was built by...") and militarism seem to be given the "big guy's" green light, - even divine recognition by being represented in a culturally moulded religion. While recognising the history and the art, in my inner-being I find myself disturbed and questioning. I find the words of Jesus challenging the things and people revered. "Those that live by the sword will die by the sword!" ... "Love your enemies"... "Give to the poor". Also the Apostle Paul's words, "Do not let the world about you mould you according to it's pattern. But let God transform you..." (Romans 12)

The good life?
Here I am swanning around on an extended holiday being a tourist. Visiting sites like the Eiffel tower, St Paul's, London Bridge, Big Ben, The Louvre, Windsor Castle etc. etc. I am eating often in restaurants. People have said to me, "You lucky thing!" I know also that many of the people I mix with will never get to do such a thing. If I tell stories of my journey they will sit there getting quite jealous. (I also know that my life savings will take a big hit!) I guess such overseas experiences are things we covet. We often save, plan and look forward to them...... Now I am learning heaps. I am enjoying myself. I am trying to make the best of this opportunity. But there is a real sense in which I could say, "I'd rather be at home." I had my friend Laurie Findlay die and I hated being over here. A man in one of my chaplaincies had his wife die in the last few days. I had been talking to him when she was terminally ill and he had told me that I would take her funeral. I hate being over here! I would rather be there able to give support. I see beggars in the street here. I cannot do anything about them! At home I can try. I went to St Pauls and sat there frustrated because to my mind here was an opportunity to present to "the world" a "real" religion and it was, in my opinion, squandered. (Perhaps a theme for another post) At home I can do something about presenting a real religion. So, for me, being on holiday, being a tourist is good, O.K.... but living a useful life at home has more "bang for your bucks", more "kicks", more significance. My big OE is good, but not a major highlight in my life.

This was driven home to me yesterday.... We were on the internet trying to plan what we will see and do in the days in the UK after we leave London on Thursday. (I know it's a bit late!) While doing this I received news via "facebook" of the death of the chaplaincy guy's wife. I was so distraught I said, "Here we are trying to work out how we are going to fill our time up, when there's stuff I could and should be doing at home! I HATE it here!" Our tourism seemed so insignificant compared to what I could be doing at home.

Now what am I going to do today... explore Soho, see if we can get on "the eye", maybe visit Westminster Cathedral, and end the day with an evening at the Royal Albert, and take a London cab ride home .... What a mixed up boy I am!

Video: The bells of St Pauls. (turn yourr sound on)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A lovely host.

Windsor Castle visited...
Isaac is the brother of a lovely Indian lady in our Church congregation. I have never met him before but she made contact with him when she knew we were going to London. He lined up the hostel we are staying in. It is the Indian YMCA hostel. It has everything we need. We are enjoying Indian meals. Isaac has been a great host to us today. He lined up tube tickets, train tickets and tickets to Windsor Castle and took us out there today. It was special. It has so much history attached to it that made me wish I had paid more attention in history classes at school. Isaac has been simply wonderful and we just hope he enjoyed his day. We look to spend more time with him tomorrow. We have found the local people friendly so far. I have an acquaintance who warned me UK people were "an arrogant bunch". That has not been my experience today. Staff at the castle for instance chatted freely as we waited in a queue, or informally made suggestions and generally were human and warm. Likewise people on the trains, in the local pub and in the street have been friendly. I'm going to enjoy England I think.

At the local church we picked up this prayer which I thought wasn't bad.

God, our Heavenly Father, make, we pray,

the door of this church

wide enough to welcome all who need human love

and fellowship and a Father’s care;

but narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and lack of love.

Here may the tempted find help,

the sorrowing receive comfort,

and the penitent be assured of your mercy;

and here may all your children renew their strength

and go on their way in hope and joy,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath & Wells 1684 - 1711)


  • The Hostel we are staying in.
  • Our new friend Isaac. He's a social worker here in London.
  • Part of the castle and local village. It rained quite hard when we came out.
  • The soldiers guarding the castle.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Police Presence

It has been interesting seeing the police presence in the various cities we have been in.

In Brunei at the airport there was quite a presence by police. We were in the departure lounge having gone through security when an incident happened that brought the police presence to light. There was no toilet in the departure lounge so if you wanted to go you had to register your desire with those at the desk, and then be allowed back out to the toilets at the airport. This lady must have had a rough lunch because she went in and out a few times. She was on her way out and a senior policeman shouted at her, “Wait! No! Not again... you have been out lots! What are you up to?” He did not do this quietly, but loudly, waving his finger at her and demanding to see her passport. He had several strong loud altercations with her. There was no drawing her aside and talking gently to her, it was quite an aggressive interaction..

In Poland we did not see much of the police. We were visiting the castle at Krakow and going through an archway when two armed police turned the corner and walked directly toward us. We were walking against the wall and we would have had to change to single file to avoid them. It must be my childhood angst against authority, but I consciously decided I had a right to keep walking the line I was walking. The policemen kept coming. I nonchalantly looked at the scenery then as we got closer eyeballed the one in line with me. At the last moment he stepped behind his mate. I said to my son who was walking behind, “That policeman wasn’t going to move was he?” My wiser son said, “He’s got the gun dad! He’s got the gun.” On every train trip we took in Poland, several police personnel passed through the train - guns, batons, radios and handcuffs all hanging off them. On the train from Poland to Czech we did hear a man getting told off in a compartment down from ours. I think he had a domestic with his wife and the police intervened.

At Prague railway station there were heaps of police, all in riot type gear. We thought some incident might have happened but there did not seem much urgency. In the streets they were always present in big numbers. They walked the footpaths or sat in their vans at strategic points. They had a fancy wee three wheeled motor bike for getting around on quickly. We learned that there were national police and city police. They all carried guns.

In Berlin there did not seem to be a great police presence, except a guard outside some embassies. At the flash big railway station there were about three pairs of policemen who mostly gave people directions to parts of the station, again they were armed.

Walking miles around Amsterdam we only saw two police officers, appropriately riding push bikes, again armed.

As we alighted the train in Paris we saw a big bunch of police officers almost blocking the platform. I thought at first they were stopping people randomly, but then I realised they seemed to be after young blond women. (like a lot of young men, I guess) They were pulling these aside, checking passports and questioning them. Having grey hair we went by and continued into the Gare de Nord. As we went past a stall we encounter three french soldiers. They were in a triangular formation with machine guns at the ready marching through the station looking very intense. The front two were very young and they wear these oversized funny looking berets. I said to my wife, “Good grief! School Cadets!” She was busy telling me to “Shsh!” We saw a similar three-soldier formation of soldiers at the Louvre, at the Eiffel Tower and again today at the railway station. We were at a war memorial place overlooking the Eiffel tower in the bus and saw three van loads of police turn up. Returning there on foot the next day I was watching about a dozen hawkers with little blankets on the ground trying to sell little “Eiffel tower” trinkets. As I was looking at them and their attempts to pressure the visiting public, suddenly they all started to fold up their blankets. What had happened to cause this evacuation? I looked behind me and there was a policewoman standing looking at them with a grin. They all packed up and shuffled around the corner until she left. I suspect the police the day before had been there to deal with these hawkers, who can be very pushy.

As we left the St Pancrass, London station today we walked behind two English Bobbies. It felt like NZ, they had no guns and seemed a friendly part of the crowd. I even saw one with the old style police helmet on. It was refreshing.


* The fancy bike Police in Prague have.

* Just some of the police at Prague Station when we arrived. They heard Jean was coming.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Paris post.

Goodbye Amsterdam... hello Paris

We said our farewells to Amsterdam. It was not without a hitch. We were pleased to get out of our bad lodgings and walked to where one of our maps said there were taxis. No taxis there. Not to worry I had googled “Amsterdam Taxis” the night before so had a number. We rang and waited outside of the zoo. ... they had said one was on the way but none came... starting to panic.... rang again... just a lot of garbled dutch.. A lady in a local vets opposite rang another taxi firm for us... A taxi was there in minutes. We even found the right wagon to climb on to this time and we had a great train ride... FAST... The guard was nice... scenery interesting.. acres of glass houses near Rotterdam, a look Brussels, Antwerp and finally the Paris “Gare du Nord” station.

Sick of Concrete, Cars and Cobblestones.

We walked to our hostel. ..only trouble was the web site link gave directions to another hostel around the corner. I had twigged to that inconsistency and thought I had it all worked out in my head. We walked up and down “Rue de Rochechouart” looking for number 37. We went in there but it was offices, with a receptionist who did not understand English, just as we did not understand her French. I was tired, sweaty and frustrated by this time. (I had a heavy backpack and was towing a heavy bag) .... “Where is the bloody place? It better not be like the Amsterdam one!” Then I clicked.... The place we were looking for was 37 “BD de Rochechouart” (Boulevard) which intersected with “Rue de Rochechouart” which we had been trudging. In the middle of all this frustration I let off steam. “I am getting sick of high old buildings, narrow roads, cobblestones, cars and people! I need grass and bush or I’ll go nuts!” Anyway I found the hostel and it is luxury. We discovered we get breakfast thrown in which was a pleasant surprise.

The French are interesting!

After arriving sweating and tired at our lodgings we rested briefly and headed away to explore the city. All down the street we discovered men talking to one another, and they talk loudly, waving their hands about madly. You think they are having an argument, but no it seems to be just the way they are. Till well after midnight last night we heard loud French men’s voices discussing life. At breakfast this morning two guys met for the first time and pretty soon the whole breakfast room could hear and see their conversation. We found a quiet looking place to have our evening meal on our first night, and a group of men two tables away, with one loud woman, and another couple on the other side were having a conversation... and they were noisy! Emphatic gestures, loud protests and lots of resounding laughter. Wow! Even the waiters talked loudly among themselves!

We decided to walk down the street to get away from the noise. The traffic is mad! They love to use their horns! (Which I am sure are louder than NZ cars!) A pedestrian crossing means nothing! Even when a pedestrian crossing has a little green man/light telling you that you are free to walk, ...don’t believe it! The cars, bikes and motor bikes keep coming if you let them! We stopped for dessert opposite the “Gare Du Nord” (the main railway station) As Jean went to order our ice cream I watched the passing parade of people and cars. (I actually love people-watching) There was a beggar trying to sell stuff and beg sitting on the footpath keeping an eye on all. There was a taxi blocking an exit, cars parked where they shouldn’t be and groups of african-french young people relating, showing off and sounding off. A driver was yelling at a couple of policemen. A taxi driver was yelling at him. The two policemen were trying to calm things, but also hand out tickets, which only agitated more people. Cars were getting blocked, a bus came to a standstill, an ambulance tried to pass and it was all accompanied by people seemingly yelling at each other. The beggar was laughing and enjoyed pointing out the tickets on the car windows to the returning drivers. It was just delightful chaos! (Provided you were not the patient waiting for an ambulance!) Nice to visit, but I would hate to cope with it everyday.

Majestic Buildings

On our first full day we hopped on an open topped hop-on /hop-off bus. (Yes it drizzled... we got our cheap ponchos out and some cheeky pommes suggested we’d get blown away) We traveled around Paris visiting the main tourist attractions and listening to the commentary. We hopped off the bus at Notre Dam Cathedral and had some lunch in a quaint cafe. Then we walked... around Notre Dam, past some magestic buildings, over the oldest bridge (16th Century) through the grounds of “Musee du Louvre” (the queue was a mile long... too long to wait.) along “Rue de Rivoli” through a bit of a park to “La Place De La Concorde”. From the bus in the morning I had spotted a toilet underground, under an impressive looking statue, so this brought welcome relief. (There was a queue for some pay toilets nearby so I felt suitably superior - though the french noticeboards could have been telling me ours was not for our use - but I was happily ignorant!) Then we marched up “Des Champs Elysees” to the “Arc De Triomphe”. Every step in this city is a photo opportunity. Even the scummy old buildings seem to have a charm and exude history and mystery. It certainly is a majestic city! We caught the bus to the “Opera”, and walked home from there, stopping for tea along the way.

On our second day we headed out on the bus, getting off on the stop before the Eiffel tower. We walked past war memorials (as my wife pointed out... they are ALL war memorials!) down through some gardens, across the river to the tower. We had planned going up it. Being mid summer holiday here there were lines of buses queued up all over the place. Each corner of the tower boasted a twisted, back and forth queue of people waiting to pay their fee to climb the tower. We estimated we would have to wait a minimum of an hour, probably more whatever queue we joined! Mixed in with this were pushy people trying to sell us mini Towers, beggars asking for money and a whole host of young indian looking women asking “Do you speak English” who would then show you a card with the same heart breaking story.... “I am from Bosnia... I have a baby... “ They look at you with pleading eyes... “Feed my baby???” and always warnings about pick pockets and shady looking characters mooching around. We decided we had seen enough of the tower and caught the bus again into town. We window shopped our way toward our place, explored a bit further and bought some cold tea. Looking for a place to sit to drink it, we found a park. A wasp came and annoyed my wife, attracted by the can of drink. She raced uphill to get away from it. We discovered (though my wife had read about it) la Basilique du Sacre Coeur. It was like a gift to us. There were crowds of people watching various clever busking type shows. There was a reverent queue going into the Basilica which we joined. On the outside of the church we were invited to come and “Adore our Lord with us” and informed that for 125 years somebody had been praying in this church at all times of the day. We came out of the Church after a quiet sit for a while, and were confronted with a majestic panorama of Paris, looking down on the Eiffel tower in one corner. It was a great finale to our visit to Paris! The best site we had visited in our two and a bit days here. There were the beggars and gypsies trying to pressure money out of us on the way down. We keep spotting homeless people with all their belongings around the city. One came to our sidewalk restaurant as we finished our meal tonight. But we felt we had enjoyed this crazy, majestic and busy city.

We have been to Krakow, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris. Each city has sounds, sights, strengths, smells and a culture that is different from the others. Tomorrow London awaits.


  • The toilet with a statue on top of it that I spotted. Pretty fancy!
  • Three "Paris" photos. The Basilica we discovered by our hostel is the middle one.
  • I was wrong... there are public toilets in Amsterdam. This is one ("too bad if you're a woman" says Jean) I spotted as we looked for a taxi.

Monday, August 9, 2010


First Impressions and grumps.
Our first impression of Amsterdam was not very good. An overcrowded and dirty railway station, a taxi driver driving worse than I drive and lodgings in a dive of a place that smell. ... We have had fun but it does seem like a dirty city with a lot of rubbish lying about. It also lacks public toilets! ...... but that's enough grumps!
A Gay place to be.
When we arrived at the railway station we did notice some people wearing costumes and pink hats. I thought nothing of it, this is Amsterdam after all. Our speedy taxi driver, however, informed us that we had just missed the Gay Parade! There was a gay festival in town and many shops and cafes were decorated with things pink! (Balloons and streamers) It has been an interesting experience walking around amongst same sex couples holding hands. A couple of guys walked past and one had a tee shirt on with an arrow pointing sideways and the words, "I think he's gay!" I also heard a couple of couples (men) having a domestic like a husband and wife. ...."Where are we going now?" .. "I don't know it's your day." "My day.. is it! How come it's my day?" ... and so they went on. People are people, who ever they are. Anyway, the whole thing has added to our experience of Amsterdam.
An interesting mix
Another interesting thing... we walked around an old protestant church. Within spitting distance of it's walls were windows where near naked prostitutes were showing off their bodies in the hope of selling themselves and earning some money from men leering at them as they walked by. I could not help asking myself, "If I were minister of this Church, what sort of ministry could I offer in this setting?" If Jesus were there, how would he react? What would he offer?
Bikes Rule!
We have walked for miles around Amsterdam, but as a pedestrian you soon learn that bikes rule here. There is a part of the footpath bikes use, and woe to you if you walk on it when a bike is coming... which is just about always. They mostly are old looking (though they are new) 28 inch bikes with their riders looking regal sitting bolt upright on sprung seats. Even cars give way to them. They are everywhere! There are all sorts of adaptions for carrying kids, your shopping and you can double your girlfriend with her sitting side-saddle on the carrier. Parked bikes invade the foot path and we saw a parking building today which houses 25,000 bikes! Many buildings have eyelets attached to their footpath wall so that you can lock your bike to them. All sorts of people ride them. Children ride small ones sometimes attached to their parents'. Fat old men ride them. Matronly women, men in business suits and gorgeous looking fashionably dressed younger women. Sometimes the bikes are decorated with artificial flowers or have the pet dog sitting in the basket. Bikes are simply EVERYWHERE!
English speakers.
We have been impressed when we go into a shop, cafe or interact with people in general, they will easily slide into very clear English. They will come up to you speaking their mother tongue, but as soon as they realise you speak English they have this ability to speak it fluently also. I visited a brewery today. I walked in looking for a toilet. This lovely lady came up to me as I started to go down a hallway toward where I thought there was a toilet. She asked in dutch what I wanted. I said, "I speak English". She immediately said, "How can I help you?" I said I was interested in going on a tour .... she began to spell out how I could and what it involved in perfect English...I interrupted, "I WILL do the tour, but I first want a toilet." She grinned, and explained where to find one, then as I thanked her and headed away, she flashed a smile and said, "You will come back and buy a ticket?" "Yes" I said... "Promise?" "I promise!" I replied. ... As I dashed away I could not help but be impressed with her ability to give cheek in this way in English. I am sure I would be so much slower! But we have discovered all sorts of people able to do this. We are impressed.
United nations gather...
In each place we have been we have been asked directions. We were heading home from our adventures yesterday and stopped at a corner consulting a map. Two women came up to us. "Do you speak English? Do you know where Rembrandt Square is?" They were from England. We admitted that we did not know, we had been in town for a whole 24 hours, but we did have a map. As we sat there another guy came up, and talked saying he had just found a supermarket. He was from New York. We laughed.... Two from the UK, two from NZ and one from New York all struggling to find their way. We shared a few moments chatting, consulting the map then said goodbye like old friends.
How dare she!
We have had a couple of evening meals at a cafe around the corner. They can speak in English and they even have a menu they can give you in English... they also have good food and the nicest beer I have ever tasted... brewed by "Amsterdam Brewers" I am told. There is a waitress there straight out of a James Bond movie. Nice figure, olive skin and blue eyes. The way she wears her black jeans and tee shirt (unbuttoned of course) with her electronic waitresses gismo slung on her hip like a gunfighters side arm, sets even my old pulse racing. She is friendly and has chatted to us about our adventures. Tonight, however, she broke my heart. We had been talking about where we had been and where we were intending to go yet. "How marvellous, " she said, and she gushed about "Paris" (said like the french do) "It is sooo good," she gushed, "that you, at your age are brave enough to do such things, to go so far." I had stopped listening. "AT YOUR AGE!" How dare she! ... anyway there have been some perks of looking old. We get into everything at pensioners rates!... so there!

Last Pics from Berlin

Pictures that say so much!
Top Photo: In this new building there are displays we didn't get to read in detail which show the rise and fall of the Nazi regime. It is a new venture built in an area of town from which the Nazis exercised their power.... I think they call it something like the "Territory of terror". It is interesting how they went about seizing power. Elected in they began to slowly limit the freedoms of the people in the name of national health and well being. Trade Unions had freedoms clipped. Creative thinking people had freedoms limited. Newspapers were censored. There were those who bucked the system, but they were "dealt to" and discouraged.
Middle Photo: In the foreground there is being prepared a display about the infamous Gestapo, so that their feats will never be forgotten and never repeated. Then we have a remaining length of the Berlin Wall. ... A consequence really of the aftermath of the second world war peace process. Behind that there is a Government building built during the Nazi regime and this was the headquarters for Goering in that time, now, of course used for peaceful, constructive purposes.
Bottom Photo: Is of a church which was bombed during the war. Within the damaged remains they have a "Hall of Remembrance" and the story of the church. They have beside it an amazing new church building built to replace it. During the Nazi rise to power and reign the Pastor of this Church, Gerhard Jocobi, was part of a movement of protestant ministers who questioned and opposed the regime. He was arrested several times and faced opposition. The new church is dedicated to peace and reconciliation. I have been doing a little bit of reading about the Church in Germany at the time. During the debate in the Churches in Germany there was a story going around that went something like this;

At the beginning of a church service the announcement was made; "Would all non-arayan people please leave the building." (There was a big section of the church who fell into line with Nazis thinking) Nobody moved. So the request was repeated. Once again nobody moved. For the third time the announcement was made and there was movement at the very front of the church. The words "Oh OK then!" were heard, and Jesus climbed down off the crucifix at the front of the church and left the building.

Of course a fictitious story that made (and still makes) a good point.