Snapshots of Portugal

Thurs 1st June – Eugene’s Birthday

Woke at 5am well before the alarm so headed off leisurely to Gatwick. Ended up snoozing in the long stay car park till mobile went off. My elder sister, for a chat and concerned that I was there so early.

By this time, this zone – C – had closed so there were no buses and I hauled the suitcase into zone D. Not far at all, but my supposedly comfy flat black canvas shoes dug into just one bone on one foot. Unbelievable pain for such a short walk and from canvas shoes, so the first thing I did when Monarch (lovely and helpful, btw) let me check in my case (a little on the early side) was to go and buy some more comfortable shoes. (Totally forgot I had packed my Skechers and what an ugly godsend they proved to be!)

Spent vast amounts in duty-free, but there was no sign at all of Douglas Murray’s book which I had planned as my holiday reading.  WHSmith didn’t even have it logged online either. Most odd and I’d complain if I was his publisher. Ended up buying The Secret History of the World (a doorstop which I didn’t read at all.)

Good flight, fast professional service; charming bloke kindly stopped eating peanuts as the smell was making me nauseous. So far, all pleasing.

Lisbon arrivals smelt like sewage. Not so good. Collected case and headed off to buy local SIM for my motoG at the station – all within the airport area. Another helpful, pleasant young man. Unfortunately, O2 had locked the phone so no chance of using a local SIM – so he gave me my money back.

And then it was downstairs to the Metro  to buy a Viva Viagem(?) re-usable tube ticket. I had no change and no-one I asked could change my euros, so I headed for the ticket office. Easy enough but the guy behind me was practically standing on top of me. Then he had the cheek to warn me about leaving my bag open (which I had done to take my money out and was about to close).

Got through and could barely understand which line to take. Anything connecting was up (and up and up) several flights of stairs and lengths of connecting corridors. If I had realised quite how many stairs there were, I’d have taken a taxi as lugging the heavy case almost yanked my arms off.

The lines were the colours – but in Portuguese – so if you didn’t know Azul was blue and that the image of the fish was a clue, you’d have been well stumped on first arriving. Well I was because I’d arrived along with gazillions of others going home or out or whatever.

There was a heaving wall of flesh all heading for the first (of many) stairs so I stood back and let them pass. Think I cracked a joke as is my wont and a young guy (French) (his girlfriend was with him) offered to carry my suitcase up the stairs. He probably balked at carrying up the next two lots though to give him his due he wouldn’t have known where I was going.

Staggered up myself and got on the right line (red) – with a change at S Sebastiao for the blue line to my hotel. Max about 20 mins – plus those ruddy stairs.

Space-invading bloke was on the platform and came to chat to me again – and warn me of pickpockets. Actually making me more wary of him! And he could have helped cart the blooming case!

Anyway, I got to Terreiro do Paco and the hotel was about 5 minutes away. Very easy to find although typically I went the long way thanks to absolutely dire Portuguese directions. If you learn anything at all from this, never ask a Portuguese, well anything. They try to be helpful but actually end up costing you time and/or money.

Meant I arrived at Turim in a less than jolly mood, not helped by the receptionists staring at me rather than greeting me. (The suitcase MUST have been a clue!)

One looked like she was weighing me up and I had a strong desire to shout at her to check me in so I could go and freshen up but didn’t. She did thaw out a bit later but if I am honest, they were not the world’s most efficient staff.

I had hired a car while in England to drive to meet R in Praia da Luz and had the impression it was near the Turim. It wasn’t.

The woman who had stared at me for several uncomfortable minutes actually became helpful. Told me I’d need to order a taxi to get there as it was up several steep cobblestoned hills. So a taxi was ordered and an alarm call booked as I had to pick up the car at 8am. it was a 3 hour drive to Praia da Luz.

Not much to eat at Turim, which had a tiny café/bar area and not much else,  so I headed out and after three false starts found a café with lots of French families so reckoned that’d be acceptable to eat. Expensive (tourist prices like almost everywhere) as it turned out and, like all except three meals I had in Portugal, rather bland and tasteless.

Only wanted a glass of wine but they supplied half bottles. Duas Quintas. Rather pleasant though more than I would have liked with an early morning. Charming waiters and the ambience was good, I guess. But way overpriced for a tepid meal.

Must have headed back for long shower and bed.

Friday 2nd June 10:10am

Still shaking like a leaf. Gut still churning.

Woke at 5am, pre-alarm, then took the taxi to the car rental at Rato. (Funny, just typing this is bringing back the extreme panic that suddenly descended on me back then.)

Arrived way too early for the rental company so had coffee and a bun in a local café. So far, I was extremely relaxed. I had driven on the continent many times in the past – and in a left-hand drive too. After coffee, I wandered up to the office, paid the fees and a 100 euro deposit (wasn’t too happy about that) then got in the car.

First hint of unrest: 4 doors. Big security issue for me. Left-hand drive and manual but all the words on the car screen were in Portuguese which distracted focus. But I got in and had barely gone half a mile when I went the wrong way seeing a no entry in the bit I was supposed to take.

Stopped the car. Right in front of some cops.

The cops were charming and helpful (one drove the car back to the rental company) but I had a serious anxiety attack. There wasn’t any crying or puking or anything like that and I could talk quite calmly, but told the cop I couldn’t drive it even to return it to the rental company. Obviously he had to ask for my licence and paperwork, as I expected. And also to ask if I had drunk anything. Last night, I replied.

Anyway, he turned the car round and asked one of his colleague to drive it to the rental company, which I attempted a joke about now I could drink. He laughed and said yes, you can have lots or something like that.

He and his colleague who drove the car back were very sweet and helpful, realising I was not local and had literally just driven out of the rental parking lot. We think Brit drivers are impatient and bad but that lot are hellish. Even when you are walking they honk and beep and are horribly impatient.

Anyway, I walked round and round and round. Yep in circles. Tried not to puke but it really had affected me that badly. No way would I have been able to drive around 3 hours to Praia da Luz.

Actually, even walking was hazardous despite wearing flat shoes. They kept slipping on the cobblestones and the roads really were either a very steep climb up or gingerly walking down. It was much the same pattern for the rest of the week too.

Rang and left message for R. Felt bad about cancelling at such short notice.

Got to Rossio and had a beer sitting outside. Wasn’t that concerned about not seeing Praia da Luz as the McCanns had been relegated in my mind once the media attention had moved on. Did regret not meeting up with R but now had to re-jig my plans.

PM

Massive bloated stomach probably due to stress and heat and poor food choices but I looked for most of the 8 days like the Michelin man. Not a happy me.

Bought way too much jewellery – probably wrong state of mind to be spending so much money but actually I made excellent choices by accident. Also bought three cardis despite the sudden soaring heat. Then back to the hotel for an omelette and huge glass of orange and tonic.

Watched Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on BBC World. Not the balls up so far achieved by her and Corbyn was on the backfoot a few times despite the usual partisan BBC audience.

Saturday 3rd June

Slept in till 07:30am – got about seven and a half hours kip. Not too bad. Bloated tum considerably reduced but still at sixes and sevens in my head.

Ticket office in Terreiro do Paco extremely unhelpful as I didn’t have the right money, nor could I understand the automated ticket machine. Begged (yep) for help from a young couple. He was going to pay for my ticket but I said no – gratefully – and managed to get change and the right re-charged Viagem to ‘Zoo’.

Young Portuguese are delightful. Helpful, chatty, charming – a credit to their country. The older ones are more suspicious and blinkered. It’s not just language because a lot of the younger ones do not necessarily speak English. (And my Portuguese never progressed beyond Hola! and obrigado.)

Anyway, Zoo. Short for the Jardim Zoologico. That’s where the bus station is, and where, I was told, there were regular buses to Fatima.

Had to wait for an hour, but at least it helped me get my bearings and breath back. Zoo was not an appetising station though the gardens may well have been beautiful. There was a grim air around, like a particularly manky council estate and, to be honest, I did worry about pickpockets and being mugged. Unnecessarily, as it happens, as people mostly kept to themselves.

Arrived in Fatima in just over an hour. The return bus was booked for 4pm so that gave me plenty of time to explore and pray.

The sun was bright but it was really cold. And guess who didn’t bring one of the three cardis she bought earlier! Had to buy another here as it really was that chilly.

Aside

Not sure why three different shop assistants thought I was medium when their ‘S’ is large and loose on me – then and now – and that’s with the bloated stomach too!

A cardi, a shoestring strap top and a pair of lacy knickers. All are S and all are more like loose 10s on me – then and now – so still feeling very miffed that these shop assistants thought I was at least a size or two bigger than I am.  I admit the bloat was very very bad but still the clothes were on the loose side (and looser now that I am back in Blighty). And, with all the best will in the world, most of the females there in Lisbon had hefty thighs and butts so not sure what they were comparing me to.

(You can tell I am still miffed, can’t you!?!)

Meanwhile, the ticket to Fatima had to be paid in cash and my spending money was fast disappearing. The tour to Evora tomorrow was at least paid by credit card but Portugal is not that cheap. Luckily, I don’t get that hungry these days. A double benefit of not eating is not needing the loos. Probably another reason for being so bloated.

Despite the astonishing heat, the Portuguese are not smelly people. The airport arrivals smelt horrible but my nose hasn’t been otherwise assaulted by pongs. Unfortunately, the food equally has been so far lacking in sensory pleasure too. All that fresh food and much of it boiled to buggery and tasteless. Pity.

By day three (ie today), I had given up all pretence of carting my nice handbag and wearing pretty shoes. It was the large grey Kipling bag and my black Skechers for the rest of the trip. The latter are seriously ugly walking shoes but exceptionally comfortable.

Despite the many miles I walked each day, in the blazing sun, my feet never got sore nor did they smell. Most impressed. The Kipling had bits taken out each day but still felt heavier. (Got back home to discover massive dried bruise on my left shoulder. The right side has only a small bruise and not this odd dried patch, which I am regularly oiling to heal again.

Re skin: I did put on a hat for some of the time, and started the morning off with sunblock, but never topped it up and decided I wasn’t going to get neurotic about my melasma. In fact, I think the sea breeze may even have peeled it a little. Not sure. My limbs certainly were horribly dry and flaky on the flight back despite applying body lotion every day. Definitely could not live in a hot country. I’d turn into a prune within a week!

Actually, even with the Skechers, the Lisbon/Portuguese cobbles are hellish on posture though lugging the hefty Kipling all day probably didn’t help. Caught sight of my reflection in a shop window looking hunch-backed and walking gingerly. Oh great! Talk about ego-crushing!!!

Hadn’t realised the bus tickets were numbered (20 euros return) and had plonked myself down on the nearest empty seat. Luckily I twigged before anyone blew a gasket, and sat in my correct place…. next to a young female dressed head to toe in black. Including a black hat and sunglasses. Actually she did have a slight whiff. Unwashed hair whiff.

Arrived in Fatima after about an hour and forty minutes and the first thing that I wrote in my journal was ‘whoever said Fatima would be hot because it was in a valley was lying’. The ‘lying’ bit was in capitals, it was that cold. Yet incredibly bright and sunny.

It was the tourist agency who sold me the ticket to Evora who said it – and really ought to know better. But that was the other thing about the Portuguese. The kindest way to describe it is ‘inaccurate’. So a one and half hour boat ride, for example for pushing forty minutes, if that. Another directed me up umpteen horrendous steep hills and round the sodding houses to a part of Lisbon that was about ten minutes from my hotel! And these weren’t isolated incidents. Their capacity to multitask – badly – would have tested the patience of Job.

Anyway, here I was at Fatima with its strange mix, this day, of hot sun and really cold wind. So cold that I hugged my bag to keep warm (prior to buying that fourth cardigan, having forgotten to bring one of the ones I had recently purchased!).

Fatima is vast. Huge cathedral and centre and lots of white paved space in a massive plaza in front of the basilica, presumably for the hordes of pilgrims. But the first sensation was definitely of scale ie huge. Then as I turned into the area leading to the basilica, a Disney-ish set of massive rosary beads hanging high above one of the buildings. In fact, the eye sees them well before the basilica. Off-putting, to be honest.

I didn’t expect a mystical experience given the amount of people there – though it was actually a relatively quiet day tourist and pilgrim-wise. There was lots of noise. A Mass being said. Various singing prayer groups with many sitting on the steps of the basilica catching the sun.

For me, there just wasn’t really a sense of sanctity, and even the few people heading to the cathedral on their knees (on a special marble path) didn’t give off holy vibes. More like when I used to do daily chanting and had to get 108+ mantra said. I’d end up rushing through them because it was getting a tad boring rather than saying half a dozen with consciousness.

Then, as I grumpily made my way up to the basilica, walking right in the middle of the central plaza, I felt that rare but familiar lifting and lightness in my gut, this time a little humorous. And, as before, it disappeared within seconds but enough for me to class it as a flicker of mystical connection. That I was being guided and guarded. Even odder, I felt my darling Ma’s presence.

In those instances, my eyes invariably spontaneously water, as if the energy is flowing through and out of me – not from misery or unhappiness. Quite the reverse. A lovely feeling. Not that it stopped me being grumpy about the noise or the mass of humanity. Or the odd combination of very chill wind and very hot sun.

Prayed for family, friends, those who are sick and those who need help. Plus of course all the personal needs, wants and desires. Then I headed off to buy a cardi before I totally froze.

Somehow managed to walk over four miles in the wrong direction kiboshing any chance of a lingering lunch so headed back to the bus station and had a coffee and local ‘biscuits’. Bought a large bag of them.

Went into the bus station and, on a  whim, asked if I could catch an earlier bus. Before I could finish, the really (and, believe me, extremely unusually) smiley girl said ‘3pm?’ Oh joy. Instead of freezing and getting bored for a further hour, I could catch an earlier bus back to Lisbon.

Her smile widened still further when I gave her my large bag of almond biscuits as a thank you. For smiling and being helpful. Truly, apart from the cops, officials had been rather dour and a tad intransigent. This, folks, was a MIRACLE ?

Wondering how I will survive Evora tomorrow. Up at 7-ish for 8-ish pick up.

On bus back, sitting next to me was a suited young woman, reading PowerPoint slides about derivatives.

Snoozed for most of the trip back but did notice the scenery looked a lot better than the journey out. Not sure how as it surely must have been the same motorway? Even at the metro, I got my ticket without (a) breaking sweat and (b) asking for help. Another miracle ?

Exiting Terreiro do Paco, I nearly broke my ankle trying to avoid an idiot bloke standing on a step and blocking my vision. Thankfully, the Skechers (yet another miracle!) caught the worst of it – plus shouting ‘bloody hell!’ I guess that made the prat move so others exiting wouldn’t have the same missed step.

Now sitting in a touristy restaurant in Pl do Comercio having salad, garlic bread and sangria. Did I mention the portions are huge? Think Yank-sized. Well, almost. Certainly way too much for me.

Pondered Fatima and the messages while glugging sangria. Why Russia and not Islam? Papal problems I could understand and even the inconsistencies in the Catholic Church. But not a mention at all of what I still feel may be the biggest threat to Christianity and Catholicism.

From what I have read of Lucy’s third prophecy, it seems to based on End Times. And who could doubt we are living in some phase of End Times these days?

Then, meal finished, and refreshed, I headed off for another long walk.

Stopped at a crowded outside café, bordered with stalls cooking and preparing foods and drinks. Had a Mojito and listened to the (awful) music. Wandered past the Time Out market. Loved the look and feel of it but way too many people there for personal space peace of mind.

Chill wind again. Strange weather here. Blazingly hot sunshine and chilly winds.

Festia Lisboa tonight in the Pl do Comercio. So near to my hotel that I’ll wrap up well and come out again.

Did recce for Belem and suddenly had another mystical flip – and most oddly in such a materialistic place as the Time Out market too. Or was it on the Belem recce with the Jesus statue overlooking the coast road? Ended up heading to Belem at least three times in eight days, such was the draw.

My notes are a bit confusing re times and sequence and I can’t recall them exactly now so shall type them as I scribbled them despite them probably not being in the right order.

Lasted about 15 minutes at the Festia Lisboa despite the offer of a cardboard box seat – by cops who I had stood next to. Had joked that I would be unlikely to be pickpocketed if I stood near them. The first cop didn’t understand me but the other did and translated for his companions. Made them chuckle.

Had got a cup of coffee while waiting and thought 50c seemed cheap. Got it in such a teeny tiny cup that I joked ‘spot the coffee’. The charming young man took it from me and said to his companion to fill it up, adding that those tiny shots are how they drink coffee in Portugal (I had noticed). Very sweet of him. Like I said, the young Portuguese are quite delightful.

Had planned to have a bevy in the hotel but practically every hotel with a bar and TV was jampacked with people watching football. In the Turim alone, the noise was staggering as they roared and shouted as they watched. So, prior to the Festia, I wandered off again via Maria Catita – which had been recommended as a good restaurant (more anon about this place).

Bought some Portuguese souvenirs. The young man holding the fort for his mother, gave me a freebie cock keyring ‘as a gift’. (This was all pre-festival.) Re the circa five quid freebie: we had been chatting about this and that. Maybe a friendly face (mine) after a long day as it was past 7pm – maybe even later as the Festia Lisboa was not due to start till 10pm.

Still pre-festival (see what I mean about my notes being out of sequence!) I had a long hot shower to massage my aching shoulders and back (from the Belem recce). Was horribly bloated and looked about three sizes bigger. Very depressing since I had hardly eaten or drunk normally let alone to excess!

Turned on TV to the latest Islamic attack – and let’s not kid ourselves, it is Islamic-inspired. The usual apologists counter-balanced by the false-flag conspiracy nuts didn’t waste any time in flooding social media with their theories. Actually, I do feel our government is allowing them too much freedom to create chaos – freeing jihadis and suchlike but whether that would count as a false flag, who knows? But actors? No British government would be quite so jaundiced. Would they?

Sunday 4th June Evora

Forgot the palaver trying to book tours. The ones I wanted to go on weren’t on any of my free days and there were problems with paying by credit card. It involved paying the non-refundable deposit to the agency and then paying the tour on the day. Talk about making life like their cobbled hills!

In the end, I only booked one. This one to Evora.

Slept 2 or 3 hours and was up at 6am for an 8am pickup. Daniel was prompt. Our group was small. Yvette and Ulrike, two tall, pretty, very slim blonde tour guides, who were presumably doing market research for Tui. I think one was Dutch the other from Belgium. The other two were Americans John and Suzanne.

The distance to Evora was just about right, though D’s driving (hands off the wheel, talking on mobile and driving FAST) unnerved me. A lot.

Evora was very pretty but, if I am honest, not exactly a must-see. The ruins of a Diana temple, a church full of bones, olive oil tasting (there was wine tasting but not till later and 2 of the party wanted to return to Lisbon).

We had lunch in D’s regular restaurant, and he made up for the poxy driving by getting me a coriander and garlic omelette – which actually tasted of both too. Most enjoyable company too. We then had an hour or so to kill on our own.

I seem to have wandered off taking photos of narrow streets then having coffee in a fancy restaurant. Then it was back in the bus to Lisbon – and a long snooze too for most of it. Ah well. Better than getting panicky about someone else’s driving.

Was dropped off last, around 6pm and went for a walk to get life back into my legs. A quick traipse up the cobbled hills with a plan to ‘do’ the castle tomorrow, re-Belem.

Exhausted. Only snacks at hotel so ate delicious veggie meal at café off the plaza, about 5 minutes around the corner. Way too much to eat. Did I mention they give you huge portions? Lovely, friendly ladies. Did get a strange feeling that it might have been a same-sex haunt but was way too tired to care.

Slept soundly for hours.

Monday 5th June

Seem to have taken umpteen photos but clueless on details. Not in mood to write either. At least the ‘morning’ mirror has made me, as usual, look normal as opposed to squat and fat each evening.

10:30 Ibo Café

Decided to be a bit leisurely about walking the 5 miles (apprx) to Belem, and this café caught my eye. It’s clean, spacious, had good food, free wifi, takes credit cards (not everywhere here does)  and overlooks the seafront.

But jumping the gun.

I had left the hotel planning to visit St Jorges Castle before Belem. Argh! It looked pretty innocuous setting off but the steep gradients caused serious vertigo or rather me struggling to stay upright.

Got up to almost the top with lots of French and Japanese tourists taking photos of some historical building overlooking the sea. Not the castle though. Didn’t realise, as it was not signposted, that the Castle was on the other side of the road – up yet more of a gradient – and hidden behind yet more narrow lanes and pretty little houses.

Aside

Seems odd to be typing up these notes for what was an enjoyable holiday. Today is the so-called ‘Day of Rage’ called by the now apparently Marxist Labour party to overthrow a democratically elected party – admittedly with a very low majority (hung) thanks to incredibly stupid decisions by Theresa May – who quite rightly is a dead woman walking.  Now she seems to want to make any criticism of Islam a crime. Hopefully, that is fake news. But who can tell these days when idiots on all sides seem to be in charge.

It is also far hotter than it was in Portugal and follows on from the tragedy at Grenfell and a subsequent racist incident near a Muslim Welfare Centre. Brexit talks have finally started and there is a lot of resentment around.

But, back to Portugal Snapshots.

The thought of climbing yet more vertiginous steps over unfriendly cobbles of very narrow paths put me totally off so I headed gingerly back down – actually walking more like a very ancient old bat fearful of loss of control of her limbs. Without the benefit of a cane either.

Immensely cheered by sight of an Indian woman in a sari (a shopkeeper). Made me think of my own darling Ma.

Then it was, happily, back on flat ground. Could finally breath out. And onwards to Belem.

The pitstop at Ibo was because I thought not eating or drinking might be contributing to the massive bloatedness each evening. Not sure a litre of Sangria was advisable though.

More wittering notes about smiling at total strangers with Dad’s big grin and the stuff they ask me …or tell me. Really enjoying being chilled but must get to Belem. The minute cup of coffee barely feeds my little toe with caffeine but no time for more.

Didn’t finish Sangria either.

14:40 Turim

Finally got to Belem. Must have been more like six miles.

A decent flat walk through an interesting (ie scenic touristy – took lots of photos which I will post together on my FB business page once these notes have been typed up: www.facebook.com/EuphroseneLabonArtAndBooks/ ) route but for once the sun was out in full blast. So, despite the sea breeze, it was more draining than a usual six mile walk for me.

It did feel a little like being divinely guided though as I kept stopping to check the statue of Jesus was in sight. It was.

The Tower is closed on Mondays but I hadn’t intended to go inside, content to enjoy the view and take some photos. Also planned to walk back but got talked into taking a tuk-tuk as had reserved a place at that restaurant for dinner (and yes, that didn’t come off so I could have wandered back leisurely).

My notes say “waiting …waiting… waiting for that orange and tonic. Anyone would think they are growing the blooming oranges. And the bar is empty except for me begging for attention.” Actually, they were quite nice but hopelessly inefficient due to getting constantly distracted.

Another wander around. On the plus side, my hotel was near so many tourist attractions and decent shops which stayed open late so no chance of getting bored. The credit card got a bit hammered though.

18:50

Had coffee and pastry in a café across the road then had a truly vile dinner in a restaurant near the oik one (see below). Lovely waiters. Ghastly meal. Came back to hotel and had a Cosmopolitan to clean my palate.

The next two pages (of an admittedly small notebook) are one long whine about the crapola Portuguese service.  Seems the blonde bimbo who was monopolising the barman was a marketing manager or similar for the hotel chain.

I told him to tell her that surely customers wanting to spend money come before her bending his ear. Poor guy. Getting it in the ear from her – and now me!

And he looked like a scolded puppy so it was me who ended up feeling bad!

Was invited to have my drink with Amit an Indian guy staying at the hotel. He brought up Brexit and Germany – and said he guessed I’d be against and that Germany was good for us.

I did politely (well kind of) ask him why he thought that when we’d won two world wars only to give in to German rule but when the talk moved to Islamic India, it was time to call it a night.

Tuesday 6th June

Sitting in café on a vertiginous hill by St Jorges Castle. Cheerful ‘Angolan’ (?) waiter. Noticed it belonged to the Maria Catita chain – which I had understood was an original Portuguese restaurant – not part of some local chain! Makes me wonder why the hotel recommended it – and which I passed on to the American couple too!

(Not sure if I mentioned how I had arrived 5 minutes early for my reserved place and some oik wouldn’t let me wait – FIVE minutes! Told him to stuff it and went elsewhere to eat. At least there was plenty of choice near my hotel. Unfortunately, I ended up choosing nice waiters and horrid meal. Sigh.)

Anyway, here I am in this café, having wandered off for a walk north of the city centre and then being talked into taking a tuk-tuk to the castle (second or third time of trying to find it). What a rip off! (Most tourist things – meals, taxis etc are all overpriced.)

I had started off by walking to St Apolonia(?) to the docks, ostensibly to take a cruise but had gone in the wrong direction – at least a mile or two out. Finally found the right place and had gone off the idea, as it was dull, windy and wet (it did get very, very hot later).

Back to the overpriced tuk-tuk to St Jorges, only to find he planned to drop me off where I had reached the other day using Shank’s Pony!

Was not at all in the mood to be pissed around with so made him walk me to the castle and not just point at some hidden spot. To give him his due, he did, though I think he was a bit surprised that I was so cross. Seems a car was blocking the path so he could not drive up the hill. Rather defeated the purpose of paying him to take me to the outside of the castle – not down the hill from the castle.

Anyway, there was a massive queue and there was absolutely no way I could take a photo without going inside and by this time I was fed up being ripped off with their prices, hence wandering aimlessly then ending up in the café. (Or this café, since I think I was still in it.)

Really want to go home. Should not have booked 7/8 days. Five would have been more than sufficient.

Aside

On last day (with camera packed away) I finally saw the castle from a plaza a little north of my hotel.

On boat waiting for 3pm trip

While in the café, I planned to take the Metro to Belem – except it didn’t quite go to plan. I had topped up my Viagem and asked a nearby café assistant if it was the right entrance. She said yes so I tapped my card and went it. Realised it was NOT and came out. Went to what I then thought was the right entrance but it wouldn’t let me in.

Queued at ticket office to get help. I had kept the receipt so it was obvious I hadn’t gone anywhere. She added a journey to my Viagem and told to take whatever the tram number was – not the tube after all – except I hadn’t a clue where and ended up queuing for her again after wandering around like a halfwit.

Upstairs. Outside. Not INSIDE. And across the road. And not the number she gave. And they stick a 7 in front of the tram numbers but only tell you the last two numbers. And it was really boiling hot.

Finally got on and got moving to Belem – but got off about a mile or so before the main touristy bit. As I was also on the wrong side of the road, I planned to walk that lovely scenic coastal path with the Jesus statue looking over me. Except I had ANOTHER panic attack trying to climb the bridge over the main road. I couldn’t even leg it across as the tram area was fenced off, so I carried on in the right direction but the wrong side of the road till I came to what I think was the Presidential Palace or something like that. An army barracks before it and a pleasant mini park before that.

Only took a couple of photos of Jeronimos Monastery then spotted a tunnel for crossing the road. That’ll do me. And it gave me a breather from the baking sun. Still horrendously wobbly on my legs climbing the stairs back out though.

The wobbly legs and height dizziness seem to have been a regular feature of the entire trip.  Legs back to normal here in the UK, but just typing these notes is bringing it all back.

Anyway, Belem Tower.

I had read that there is a statue of Our Lady of Good Success (her feast day is my birth date) in the tower – facing outward so you cannot see it from outside – so I joined a massive queue to get in. By this time, not only was the sun still baking hot, but we were all buffeted by strong-ish winds. Strong enough for me to take off my earrings and sunglasses. Removing my sun hat was a given.

Even with a chatty American girl and her mother to pass the time with, I soon got bored waiting. Even more so as being buffeted by winds while on this (to me) not particularly secure wooden jetty was not my idea of fun.

And I realised that seeing the statue of Our Lady would involve climbing multiple narrow steps. Fat chance with my wobbly legs and repetitive dizziness.

So I ended up on this boat. A promised hour and half trip which ended up being a meagre forty minutes. If that. And cost me 20 euros. More of the daylight robbery of tourists  to put it kindly.

I must admit, as the boat was mostly empty, it felt calm and relaxing – and enjoyable. Sipped a glass of wine, watching the Lisbon coastline, pondering what to do tomorrow. Probably try this route again as it’s flat and easier to walk – and find! And there are loads of very nice eateries along the coast road too. May even get round to doing some sketching.

Stopped for late lunch at Brown’s Bistro in the city centre – one of the many outside tabled areas in the side streets, flanked by shops and boutique hotels. More wandering around then headed back to Turim planning to eat in. Except, yet again, the chef was off.

I guess I can understand why, given the vast amount of restaurants and cafes all close by. That said, it is still annoying as you get a different perspective of what’s available from their website.

Went out again. Bought knickers. Annoyed that a great lump of an assistant thought I was medium. I had picked up small based on looking at the knicks and actually knowing my body shape. Sure enough, when I tried them on later – and on my bloated butt – they were on the large size.

It’s not ego about the size per se as I have often bought Chinese clothes which are notoriously tiny. Meaning I end up buying something marked XXXXL! God alone knows what someone who is XXXXL buys!

Wandered around yet more and found a shop selling crystals and sem-precious stones. Run by a Peruvian married couple. Oddly, she lives here and he lives in the States. She made me some earrings and a bracelet from the stones I picked out. Not that expensive – for a change.

Then back to the hotel and more unappetising news on the telly, via meal pitstop at a Portguese Indian café and another truly horrible meal. Nice people. Large portions, again. But horrible and unfinished.

Wednesday 7th June

09:18am

Still in room, still pondering what to do today. Okay, definitely doing Jeronimos via the Time Out market. May do Castle tomorrow pre-airport.

12:30

In heaven. Well, almost. A coast-side restaurant called Nos Oceanos, in sight of the Jesus statue. A little noisy as it’s under the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge (the one that looks a little like the Golden Gate bridge) but still feeling calm and sheltered and sunny.

Sangria, wifi and a very rich meal. (Yes, I ate fish a lot as it is Portugal, and they don’t appear to do vegetarian here. Not even decent salads. Have given up fish though on returning as it might have been making my melasma worse. Metals or some such.)

This particular restaurant has tables in the marina, above a fish pond. Could stay here all day actually. Food utterly delicious. Did take two antihistamines to be on the safe side though as started sneezing. Need blood to chill before eating more.

Shy looking waiter with specs comes over to chat. He lived in England for twenty years. Even got done for speeding in Sussex! Apparently talked his way out of a ticket and fine. More than I achieved with my various speeding offences! (Way back when! Am tediously careful and slow these days.)

He broached Brexit. Another one! There was me trying to avoid politics and yet another brings it up. I tell him my optimistic views, (Won’t repeat here as even someone deaf, dumb and blind should know them by now.)

We only disagreed re the cultural vibe. But you know if you have to go deep into the local countryside to ‘find’ a cultural vibe, then it is being eroded. That remains my view.

This meal was incredibly good value, being delicious, same price as crap meals previously not enjoyed, and a wonderful ambience.

Unfortunately, his directions to Estrela left much to be desired.

But back a few hours.

In my usual bonkers way, I had decided to take the road parallel to the beautiful scenic coast route. Awful. Ugly, Dangerous. A three foot wide pavement suddenly narrowing to nothing with heavy traffic thundering past and barely anywhere safe to cross the road. And the sun was blazing down mercilessly.

Managed to get to Jeronimos without being flattened or burnt to a crisp and well within an hour and a half. Not bad considering a lot of that time was spent struggling to cross the road – and on only one cup of coffee that morning. In fact it was almost two and a half hours before I drank some water. Not something to be proud of but I just didn’t feel thirsty. Just very, very hot.

Crowds of tourists at Jeronimos so I didn’t go in. I never like visiting these places when there are too many people around as I like to get ‘vibes’ which you never get with hordes around – especially the excitable holidaying kind.

I have to admit the walk from Jeronimos to Belem then to my lunch pitstop was not so pleasurable. The sun was horrendously fierce and I was walking with it full on. No wonder the restaurant felt like a touch of heaven after that serious roasting! I did take a few photos but didn’t feel like stopping.

After lunch it was then on to Estrela Basilica (and the crap directions).

The waiter said I would not need to take the bridge to cross the road but I couldn’t find anywhere safe to make it over, so had to brave a bridge with its gappy vertical steps. Believe me, it took enormous courage (for me) to even step on the first one.

What actually happened is I had to ask a passing young Portuguese (who had just come down) to help me up one side (which he did!) then I walked slowly, very, very slowly across the bridge and then waited for someone else (another man) who helped me down the other by standing in front of me (meaning I saw just him not the gaps in the steps).

I would have asked a woman if any had crossed at the same time.  I would have asked a child, for that matter!

Oh boy. No sooner had I got my wobbly legs back then the horrendously steep hill towards Estrela nearly did for them altogether. And, if possible, the sun was even hotter.

Did I say I was bonkers? Yep. Punishingly steep hill and punishingly hot weather but still I kept going! even with several pitstops I was drenched and severely puffed out too.

Found the basilica but didn’t fancy having to barge past the guides touting for business so then headed for ‘Chiado’. Had stopped for a cooling drink and when popped into a little shop in the same complex. The friendly Portuguese assistant said I must visit ‘Chiado’.

It might have been wiser looking at the map rather than taking this kindly but utterly horrendous directing on trust. (Turn right, then turn left up that hill.)

The directions I was given by this woman and then a succession of others took me up the steepest, narrowest paths, Then back down those vertical paths on slippy-slidey cobbles – and all under a baking sun – with no railing to grab onto.

The only thing that surprises me is how I didn’t come back many sizes lighter – from fright and sunstroke!

Anyway, after climbing umpteen of these vertical paths then descending even more of the same, and getting nowhere fast, I decided to head for the sea and not ask anyone again for directions – and came to the Chiado (via a coffee and delicious pastry pitstop).

This looks rather familiar, I thought. I even went into one jewellers and it was only when she said she recognised me that it clicked. I had come in from the northern side and in a complete circle in and around the houses – literally.

God alone knows how many blooming miles I had walked – and for something that was a pitstop from my hotel!

If I ever go back to Portugal (highly remote, it must be said), I will never take any tours or tuk-tuks or ask directions. Underestimating on the one hand and exaggerating on the other. Either way I was out of pocket and out of puff.

10pm in the hotel bar – me grumpy as no-one is around at all to serve but I did get an omelette with coriander and garlic in a café bar in the plaza. Smiley Barman back. He was on his break.

They actually are very sweet people but just distracted easily – plus bloody awful at giving directions. The only reason I minded less about those was for the exercise – and I sure as hell got a lot of that!

I offer to buy him (Smiley Barman) a drink which he accepts. I think he didn’t charge me for mine so I am less grumpy. We chat till a Frenchwoman breaks her wine glass and he goes off to clean it up.

As I check my emails, a thin, wrinkled Aussie guy comes over to introduce himself. Can he sit down, he asks. Sure. He did say his name and shook my hand, but I didn’t make a note of it.

Anyway, he says he had planned this trip with a friend but the friend’s wife put the block on him (the friend) going so he is here on his own. Despite having had a couple of drinks and a hugely tiring day, I feel suspicious. I get the distinct impression he expects me to buy him a drink. He has a kind of leech-y look.

Smiley Barman is hovering, concerned. Wrinkled Aussie asks something but I stand up and say perhaps Smiley Barman can help. Then head off to bed.

Thursday 8th June

Slept for hours.

This morning tried yet again to get on a hop on hop off bus with zero success. Long queues and longer wait for next bus. Easier and quicker to walk – even on those appalling steep cobbled hills.

Am now back in the Turim drinking freshly squeezed lemon and tonic. Yum. Have tipped the girls six euros. Haven’t seen the other barman as his rota had changed. Had last meal in the plaza overlooking the sea. A lettuce and onion salad and fizzy water.

It’s ten to two and I am waiting for my taxi, checking again it is coming as the previous booking had not been booked despite me seeing one of the male receptionists write it down. So a little tense. Taxi arrives early. Twenty euros for a forty minute trip. I have a feeling he ripped me off but not in mood for a fight, but he had a rosary hanging from his mirror so I hope his conscience plagues him.

Am clearly way too early to check in even my suitcase, and there are hordes of people in massive queues but, miraculously, I am sent to a new queue. I am first in line and I checked in with minimal waiting.

In through security – and a frisk and check. My metal fountain pen is deemed a threat it seems. But I am so happy to be going home that I am quite relaxed even with the physical frisk.

Departures in Lisbon is considerably more attractive than Arrivals. Spend way too much money.

The airport wifi is hopeless so I turn off the mobile and wander round more of the shops. What a lot of tattooed humans! Have strong feeling that I will not be travelling abroad for a while.

Had seat to myself on return journey and Monarch staff were again helpful and professional. Ate some rubbish food though and spent more money.

Then it was the quickest exit from Gatwick that I can recall. Case not quite waiting but prompt-ish. Bus turning up as I exited the airport and then into my car and home – with only a slight frisson re that earlier driving experience in Lisbon.

PS Heck of a lot of pages written so haven’t proofed it pre-posting. Will correct typos or other stuff later. Photos will be in an album in my Facebook business page. Link: www.facebook.com/EuphroseneLabonArtAndBooks

Snapshots of East Midlands

Unplanned Driving Holiday (Unfinished & Not Yet Corrected)

Driving many many thousands of miles in my 27 year IT sales career, and, since the car crash in 2002, long distance driving has not been a favourite task, so God knows why I decided to take a driving holiday in the UK this year.

The general idea was to head for a  specific location and then book hotels en route, wherever it took my fancy. A bit risky in July, the beginning of the holiday period. Plus the endless rain up to then made it doubly risky – and a very short break away. But, yay! It was sunny for the entire five days – sunny enough for bare limbs and no cardi for each entire day. Now that really is something!

Monday 4th July  O/N at The George of Stamford – Stamford

The recycling bin would not have lasted another fortnight so the kick-off depended on the bin men emptying it first….12:30 and I was off. Sun up and traffic flow good though it still took me two hours to get to the A1. With a meeting planned near Nottingham, I had booked one hotel nearby for the night of the 5th.  With heavy traffic and slow driving, I planned to drive leisurely and find a hotel en route. Except traffic wasn’t heavy and the first hotel that caught my eye was indeed fully booked. That meant heading further North, avoiding Peterborough. (I used to work there in the 90s and current press is less than flattering.)

Still, even driving relatively slowly, I got into Stamford quite early – and was instantly charmed. Even more so that I could park for free on the main road while looking for a hotel. If push came to shove I’d stay in a room over a pub (plenty of those available) but I wanted to treat myself to 4 star plus.

The first place I looked in was too ‘pubby’, so I asked a cheery-cheeked lady outside her shop for recommendations – ‘something clean’. ‘Oh they are all very clean, dear’ she replied. She had such a lovely, open, welcoming face that I decided I would find somewhere here – and I did.  The George of Stamford – a coaching inn – and I got upgraded too.

Prior to supper, I had a swift look around – plenty of historic buildings, a much cared-for town, with me racking my brain to see if I remembered anything at all from my history lessons – and bought a cardi and some necessaries from Boots.  Bought just in time as shops close at 17:30. Relatively small population, but with a lot of rather resentful Eastern Europeans (both in the restaurant and hanging around the town. Presumably post-Brexit though I have found few to be overly helpful at the best of times. The charming lass who upgraded me was English.

The upgraded room had both a shower and a roll-top bath and good quality toiletries. The room looked out over one of the main road but was surprisingly quiet. Just hot. Very hot. Past 9pm and still sunny and sweaty. Thank God for the Dyson fan. Less pleased with the very faint lights, making reading or writing virtually impossible. Oh and awful mirrors (a theme with all the hotels I stayed at). I must have spent at least half an hour bending and preening to see if I really did look like a fat dwarf and if my inside leg measurement (c 32”) had suddenly shrunk.

Had a bath and changed for supper in The Garden Room (lots of greenery and mirrors). Despite it being almost empty, it was still a challenge getting a drink and my meal. And not just from the Eastern European waitresses. The callow youth tried to be friendly but didn’t really have his head screwed on properly. Eventually got a glass of (expensive) red wine in a huge glass and what appeared to be two sips in it. Still, the place was pretty enough to make up for the slackness of service and I was back in my room at just past 9pm – listening to hard rock on Vintage TV. And hot, despite the Dyson. Was a little too zonked to go exploring so decided on an early start instead.

Tuesday 5th July O/N at Allington Manor – Allington

Had breakfast (at George of Stamford), paid up and went for a wander. Mediaeval buildings on practically every corner, the almost twee River Welland, just the ambience pleased and relaxed really rather than being memorably historic, but all so beautifully cared for. Might suit a couple on a romantic getaway. Or someone who loves drawing buildings. Not me, sadly, even though I had planned to ‘drive and sketch’. In the end, I decided it would be easier to draw from photographs taken instead. Then off I drove – in the direction of Newark.

Recces

Did a recce of SAA, spotting a recycling place on the same industrial estate so offloaded a huge piece of cardboard that had been cluttering my car boot for months. You have no idea how thrilled that made me! Heh! It’s the little things!!! Also did Allington recce but couldn’t spot the Manor so headed for Grantham and decided to worry about finding it later.

(Actually, my scribbled notes make it difficult to understand where and when I went to both Grantham and Newark. Am guessing 5th as I was going in another direction thereafter.)

So, Grantham …

Very shabby though people were very friendly. I was en route to somewhere but couldn’t pass up seeing the birthplace of Maggie T. For some reason I thought there was a statue of her and, usually the best place to ask, I popped into a local estate agent. As I said, they were very friendly but, unfortunately, rather clueless. Luckily, I hadn’t walked (meter only had a few minutes on it so it was easier to drive). The statue that I was sent to was of Isaac Newton. Same at the jewellers, she had no idea at all, though I did treat myself to some gold earrings being sold at half price.

I was about to drive out of town and not bother, but decided to ask at one last place – a furniture store. The old-ish female assistant also had absolutely no idea but the young couple she was serving did. There isn’t a statue. Apparently they are still arguing about it.

As I was now parked in the opposite direction to where it was, I did a U-ey and there it was, less than a mile the other end – on the corner – bang opposite a Roman Catholic church to Our Lady. And there is a small plaque on the upper part as the Roberts lived ‘over the shop’. The sun was out, there weren’t any parking restrictions, so I left the car on the kerb and grabbed a couple of photos. .. then took the long way round (by accident) to Newark and the National Civil War Museum.

Newark & National Civil War Museum

Presumably by accident rather than design, all the parts of the East Midlands I visited were exceptionally ‘white’. As there were Chinese and Indian restaurants, I guess there must have been non-whites around. But there certainly were a lot of Eastern Europeans.

Now in Newark but cannot recall where I parked. It wasn’t near the museum, and must have been paid for to give me time to eat and view. Ah yes, I remember: Newark Castle (long stay by the railway of the same name). On the map, there appear to be two Newark Castles within a mile or so of each other. I saw the less imposing ruins. Was supposedly near the Civil War Museum but the museum had moved.

After the shabbiness of Grantham, it was good to be parked and walking through a pleasing part of the town – a historic one at that – with a fine range of eateries and shops though I didn’t actually end up eating there. Did a quick spot of shopping and then headed to the top of the town where it (the museum) was now located. Lunch then ended up being a piece of cake and half a cup of coffee in their café. Poor choice really when there were so many decent places I could have stopped at. I had some vague idea of finding a decent eatery nearer the museum but they were a bit thin on the ground and I couldn’t be pfaffed walking back and forth.

Interest in the English Civil War was not planned and it hadn’t really registered that this was civil war country until I saw a sign for the Civil War Museum during the earlier recce but, at the museum, I bought Patrick Little’s book and planned to up my knowledge. Unfortunately, the  timetable of 10 minute films didn’t include the ones I would have preferred seeing but I had the auditorium to myself which is always a plus! Kept thinking of Brexit and the potential for civil war if not for social media and Olympic whining instead. Oh and going on protest marches that achieve absolutely nothing. Still, they are better than actually killing others for thinking differently.

After an hour or so, I headed back to my car, taking a photo of the Castle ruins which I later deleted thinking it was from another excursion! (Note to self: do NOT delete anything! File it/them in extraneous or similar. Typically, it wasn’t even in the recycle bin either.)

Back to Allington

By now, I was a little hot and weary, and it was almost time for the shops to close, so I headed back to Allington, which involved going the wrong way and not being able to find it easily – till I saw it and then wondered how I could have missed it since the village is not exactly large! I did try and ring Leo, but the line was really poor so rather than shout at him down the line, I said I’d see him later.

Allington exudes an other-worldly feel, but not sure how really historical it is. It was very quiet and rural with what looked like just one shop cum post office. Quite a lot of houses though.

There was a old codgers’ tea party when I arrived so there was no room to park my car. I asked a friendly older lady who lived opposite if it would be alright to park on the roadside. You never know whether it is going to bug a nutty local so best to make sure. Thankfully, she was charming and said it was fine, mentioning the tea party, and then she went off with a group of her friends, presumably for a walk.

Very friendly welcome from Leo who took over running the Manor from his father (I think). In through a hefty wooden front door and straight onto a seating area with two fireplaces and lots of very dark wood. Cosy – but probably better in winter. Was taken to my room by a young girl working there – but she forgot to leave the key. A guy with a hat was coming out of room nearby and I was a little concerned about leaving the door unlocked but Allington Manor is more like a olde worlde private house providing board and lodging to regulars (as some were I discovered later) so I went off to get the key as if I was another.

My room is huge with massive windows overlooking a quiet road and a field. It has a rolltop bath with two floorstanding candle holders, as well as a shower unit. The mirror is free-standing – another of those that make you look squat and fat. And no, I am not squat and fat! I normally like to leave curtains open but, despite the quietness of the village (plus the adjacent field), it felt a little exposed, especially with the bath in between two (of three) of the windows. But I left abluting till later and decided I needed a post lunch (that cake and coffee at the Museum) glass of wine.

I had asked Leo for the wine when I picked up the key and it was waiting for me on the very sunny terrace when I came down. Now that is service!

The idea was to have a quick drink and then wander around the village – except I got chatting to the man in the hat. Or rather, for a change, he started the conversation. Stephen. A regular, it seems, recently divorced, and there I found myself wondering if he was some kind of Walter Mitty. Seems he has a big place he is doing up in the Fens – meaning not far. Yet he comes to stay here and often. He definitely sounded lonely but why pick a relatively isolated village? He was a trained barrister and a businessman with a few hundred staff and several PAs and knew everyone or so it seemed. And the ex works for Mumsnet. Still he was friendly and I didn’t have anything planned (apart from wandering through the village) so I chatted with him as well.

He showed polite interest in my art wanting to see examples but we had no luck logging on so chatted some more, he on his second bottle of wine and me still slowly sipping my wine followed by a black coffee.

When I booked the place, it hadn’t registered that the Manor was really an upmarket B&B. so it was fortunate that the local pub had decent food, so I was told. S decided that I would go with him, to meet his friend, who he said worked for PayPal. This friend seemed to have made some impact as he mentioned him a lot. As I was hungry, we wandered over when pubs normally open. Except it wasn’t open. So we had a little stroll around – with me not wearing the right shoes – black wedge sandals. S said he thought I wanted to go for a walk. I replied I did but wearing the right shoes. Still he seemed friendly so I didn’t mind.

We headed back to the pub – The Welby Arms –  which, by now, was not only open but had a relatively huge queue of people of various ages all waiting to be served. Unsurprising really given it was the only local eatery.

S said he’d treat me but when I ordered my food he told the barmaid not to include his (to mine) which made it sound like he didn’t want to though what he meant was he didn’t want me to pay for his. It all came out wrongly, but since I didn’t know him and didn’t expect it, I paid for myself and he didn’t argue so maybe he never meant it anyway. Anyway, the food was quite tasty and reasonably-priced and I think I ended up eating it before his arrived. When I had finished we moved back to our original places in the front and his friend arrived.

No, he didn’t work for PayPal. Something else which sounded similar but totally unrelated. A charming Geordie. He and S chatted and then, when S got up to go to the bar, I asked how they knew each other. Staying at the same hotel (B&B). Another of the regulars. I said something about S being unusual and very forthcoming with his life and stuff. Mike (? – didn’t make a note of his name and cannot recall it) said he just let him talk. We must have looked in cahoots or something as S was not best pleased and snarled at me at something I said (which I cannot now recall but I think it was just me teasing him which he took badly). Anyway, rather than spoil the moment with explanations or whathaveyou, I said I’d leave them to chat and went back to the hotel.

Had a long soak in the bath and watched something inconsequential on the box while catching up with reading till I got sleepy.

Allington Manor is clean, comfy, well-serviced but probably best for romantic getaways or for those who like relatively isolated villages with not a lot to do within walking distance. I have to admit I would have preferred to eat there rather than in the pub, but it served my needs well enough for one night. I did ask if I could stay another night but it would have been a different room, so Leo found me a room at The Manners Arms a few miles up the road. S had told me that Belvoir Castle was worth a visit and apparently this was the nearest place to stay.

The plan was to go to SAA then come back and do some more exploring around Knipton.

Wednesday 6th July  O/N at The Manners Arms – Knipton

Second night of minimal sleep.  Even worse last night as I have been wide awake since just after 3am and am now fed up of hanging around the breakfast room. Only an hour to go. (Referring to night at Allington Manor)

And I can hear someone rattling around so head towards the sounds only to be scared witless by a dog barking. Try a couple more times then decide it’s safer to wait at my table. When Leo comes out, I explain that for some reason I barely slept and was getting fidgetty in the room hence coming downstairs. He brings out coffee and, despite me being a little earlier than their stated breakfast times, makes me two poached eggs. I did ask about S and he too didn’t know whether he was on the level with his stories.

Paid the bill and left shortly afterwards, only seeing another regular (who had been outside on the terrace with us), who looked up Lincoln on his iphone. Yep, was up and off so early, and the ‘course’ wasn’t due to start for hours, so I decided to do a whistle-stop tour to Lincoln Cathedral.

Lincoln Cathedral

Actually, it was so whistle-stop, I only caught a glimpse of Lincoln Cathedral from the roadside as I was a bit concerned I’d get stuck in traffic and then be late. Except I was still too early, so went off for a coffee served by unsmiling Eastern Europeans on the trading estate. Managed to spill a little on my new T-shirt so had a hurried change in the car. Not a good sign as there is a little OCD in me re clothes.

SAA

Regrettably, I was bored rigid at SAA and felt like a youngster amongst the others (despite probably being around the same age or not much younger) – coach trip art groups – and stayed for about an hour or so after spending less than planned on art materials. Headed back to find The Manners Arms – which Leo had kindly reserved for me for Wednesday night – and got lost round various back roads. Still, I had plenty of time and it was gloriously sunny. A very nice lady directed me to what I thought was Belvoir Castle.  S said it was small ( it isn’t) but this was so small, it was smaller than bijou!

St James Church not Belvoir

As it was locked up and I had parked on a hill in a minute street, I hurriedly took a couple of photos, which now seem to have disappeared along with the ones of Newark Castle, and so I cannot be absolutely sure but think it was St James Church, Woolsthorpe by Belvoir. A Victorian church. Very pretty but clearly not Belvoir Castle.

Hungry and hot, I headed for The Manners Arms to another very friendly greeting and just in time for a late but extremely delicious lunch. Planned to have a snooze but instead thought I’d walk to Belvoir Castle – the real thing. About two miles, so easy-peasy for me.

Belvoir Castle

What I hadn’t taken into consideration was it was (a) uphill all the way and (b) I hadn’t checked the opening hours and (c) I was desperate for a pee about 15 minutes into my walk. And it was closed when I finally got there.

I arrived at a large but empty car park which was the first sign it was closed but still went up to check opening times. Couldn’t see anything. And there were trees everywhere so I saw absolutely nothing of the castle – just a wonderful panorama opposite it. Still needing a pee and feeling disappointed that I couldn’t even take a photo of the invisible castle, I headed back to The Manners Arms, looking for a bit of greenery en route where I could relieve myself without being spotted by passing traffic. I think I managed it without trespassing or being discovered. Just.

But boy was I shattered. On top of that, my BMs (No, I also have no idea what this is short for. Bloating? Blood Pressure? Histamine levels? ) had gone to pot and I thought it best to eat figs and pumpkin seeds instead of another meal. Didn’t even have a glass of wine either, sticking to hot drinks to up my ‘healthy’ fluid intake.

This was another bedroom with big windows – overlooking the gardens and car park – meaning for modesty those curtains too had to be closed. I wonder if that’s why I had trouble sleeping everywhere? Not the nicest of rooms with an odd lot of furniture (the cupboard had a shelf in the middle so only a midget could hang his or her clothes in it) but the shower worked and it seemed clean. Yet another of those horrid freestanding mirrors that fattified me. But I did sleep heavily for the hours I did manage. Surprising really, given it was a popular pub/restaurant.

Had to order breakfast the night before (I was given a form to fill in when I checked in) and went for eggs benedict.

Thursday 7th July O/N at Arundel House Hotel – Cambridge

I was first down for breakfast but soon joined by two other overnight guests. They seemed to know each other, presumably from being in the bar together the evening before. Was a little relieved I had stayed in my room as neither appealed as companions. The eggs benedict arrived promptly but I was raring to go and do more exploring. Thankfully, the figs did the trick (and have guessed what BMs meant now!!!)  and I was off. Meaning I was off in the car *afterwards*!

Slight humorous aside: when I went to check out, the woman (who served me breakfast) was on the ‘phone – so I made a gesture that I was taking the case to the car. She was off the phone and carrying my bag before I could blink – although it was genuinely not my intention to get her attention. As it happens, they were wonderfully friendly and welcoming and I was just trying to maximise my time. She looked like she thought I was going to make off without paying. Except I had given my credit card details the night before. Ah well.

Not being in the mood to head home, I took a different route out of Knipton (to the one I had taken), almost retracing my steps from the previous evening’s walk, and there it was – Belvoir Castle – in all its uninvisible splendour. Not hidden by trees at all. And not bijou either. Got out to take a couple of photos as reference for drawing later then headed towards Cambridge. Or not yet.

Kings Lynn

Having now got into an ‘away’ mentality, I didn’t want to go home and even felt like a gypsy taking to the road and pitching up wherever I fancied, as night fell. Or in my case, wherever I found a decent hotel.

As I had decided to skim the east coast, I headed in that direction, and then decided to spend the night in King’s Lynn. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the outer road into King’s Lynn was attractive enough for me to think it was a good choice. I could almost see the sun shimmering on the sea and had some crazy idea it would be all olde worlde and good for chilling out in – till I drove through the town. Not sure why, but I couldn’t get out fast enough. Yet it was not too shabby and had enough history to appeal. Odd, really. I’d been so psyched up to stay overnight there too.

Getting out though seemed also less straight-forward to driving in and the sights comprised small industrial estates and some pleasant houses. Not sure what happened to the seafront as I headed in its signposted direction but spotted nothing. Can still recall either a slight panic or sense of urgency trying to find the exit. Yep, all very odd. Perhaps it was the groups of not particularly attractive people hanging around the roads as I drove in?

Not entirely sure now why I stopped at an Asda on my way out. Loo break? Drink break? Ah yes, it was to buy a pair of black peddle pushers as my dress was a little too short and it’s not always good to get male attention. They might think mutton. Actually, the looks I got were flattering but best not to push my luck.

Sandringham

Finally out of King’s Lynn I decided to take the scenic route to Cambridge. The distances weren’t that great but I wasn’t quite sure when or where I’d suddenly get the urge to detour or have a meal. Like Sandringham – which hadn’t figured in my inner map at all.

Unfortunately, when I looked at the map later, I could have fitted in Walsingham, which I would like to have re-visited. I hadn’t realised it was off the Cromer road – which was actually the original intention ie skimming the coast. In fact, I didn’t see the sea at all except briefly on the way into King’s Lynn. Or Walsingham. Next time. The traffic had started to build up and most of the road was single carriageway or looked like it was so I made a split second decision to head towards Ely en route for Cambridge.

Meanwhile, Sandringham. All neatly mowed edges, everything clean and CBeebies’ green and blue and pristine. Aside: has Her Majesty ever seen any rough parts of Britain, I wonder?

I had every intention of stopping for a coffee if not lunch but the coach parties put me off. Plus I still hadn’t hauled on the peddle pushers. Those I ended up pulling on outside Her Majesty’s front gates! Not, I hasten to add, as a gesture of disrespect, but it was the first place I could pull up to take a photo and it was cool under the trees. That said, my rear end may well be logged on a security camera somewhere as I finished pulling them up outside the car.

Downham Market

For some reason, working at BCSL popped into my head. Vague recall of doing some training for them here and around King’s Lynn. Perhaps those travelling exhibitions they attended?

One thing jumped out while up here – lack of housebuilding. Unlike here in West Sussex where houses appear to be covering every bit of green field, and spaces either side of main roads also indicated housebuilding, up here there was almost none that was visible and I certainly did look. Someone mentioned that it was true, because there was little money in it for the developers. Poor Southerners! Hefty house prices and scant space!

The signs for Downham Market sounded attractive so I thought I’d grab some lunch there. I parked and walked up into the town, only to find it had a rather depressed vibe. No nice eateries or shops, and various people around and about exuding misery, so I bought a Ribena in a café and headed back to my car and the exit. Perhaps Ely for a pitstop?

Ely

Actually, Ely Cathedral was more spotted fleetingly from the road than venturing into the centre. Not sure why I didn’t stop and at least grab a coffee but my driving feet preferred a sunny meander in the car – perhaps with the promise of more exploring once I got into Cambridge. Perhaps it was also because the road into Cambridge, despite being an A road was more like a B road, with no overtaking and being stuck behind Katie’s Thai food van for miles and miles – and it was going considerably slower than me. Tension. First signs in four days.

But I did slow down to mentally store an image of the Cathedral.

Cambridge

Arrived in an overcast Cambridge utterly clueless where to nest for the night, hotels in quiet villages or towns nearby clearly not practical as I wanted to walk from the hotel into the city centre – and I wanted free parking. Then, in less than a minute of having that thought, I spotted the Arundel House Hotel overlooking the River Cam. It looked a little like a town house but I thought I’d check anyway.

Parked the car beside the river and was just about to go in and ask if they had a room when brain re-engaged and I realised I had parked illegally. Eeek. Moved the car into their car park and headed for reception. Yay – a single room was available – and the hotel was much larger than it looked from the main road and had a mass of different foreign visitors, like a mini Babel. It also had a restaurant within and bar – good to know if I couldn’t face going out again. Also a lot of friendly business men attending a conference. Clearly a very popular venue – or at least it was this day.

The room was clean but minute and it was on the the fire escape ‘path’ which I found rather disconcerting. It meant another night with the curtains partially closed to stop anyone potentially peeking in. It was also boiling hot but I did not want to open the window – yep, because of  the fire escape.

Had a freshen up and then headed out, in a now very hot and sunny day, to the city centre (after being wrongly directed first). Boots and M&S – the latter a less than enjoyable experience. What is it with too many Eastern Europeans treating dark-skinned people like rubbish? Asked her to please pay attention while serving me and not start and continue a conversation with another woman as if I did not exist. But it left a bad taste.

Once out, I had this overwhelming urge for rice – and since my last meal had been two poached eggs at 8am – anything would do. And it was anything. Meaning a bit grim. £5 for something supposedly Chinese but cooked and served by Eastern Europeans. (Yes, they even run a Chinese eatery in Cambridge!) Reminded me of having a Chinese meal in Krakow. Quite disgusting. Ditto this. Left most of it. Worth a fiver to put me off rice for another few months, I thought. On the plus side, they were not rude.

Cambridge was (is?) chocabloc with young people, students, foreign in the main. Many seemed monied. A happy holiday vibe. It helped that it was still incredibly sunny and people were seated outside eating and drinking, and there was a busy market in the square almost opposite the university, adding to the general air of being ‘abroad’. After wandering round the square and  some side roads rather too many times, I then chose to have a very expensive glass of red wine at Cambridge Wine Merchants instead. Felt utterly flaked out.

Either due to sitting down properly or the glass of wine, I started to get second wind so decided to freshen up back at the hotel and then come back out for supper at Thanh Binh – a Vietnamese restaurant on Magdalene Street. Clearly I still had a need for rice! That said, I probably pushed my luck taking chances on some food, as got bad rash on neck.

Walking back afterwards, I kept thinking it would have been better here as a couple. There is something rather romantic about Cambridge. Perhaps it was the energy of promise from all those students, or just the River Cam on a hot summer’s evening?

Friday 8th July Restless And Ready For Home

An overcast departure from Cambridge at around 08:30. Yes, early! Sleeping in a single bed, in a small, hot room was not conducive to a good night’s rest, plus the room was on the fire escape path so I felt uncomfortable leaving the curtains open let alone the window. However, within minutes of heading south, the weather perked up again.

The general plan was to take B roads as far as possible, or non-busy A roads, rather than ending up on the M25 with its stop-start traffic – and I did manage it for a short while, round Royston, through Letchworth (attractive), Hitchin (not attractive), until I found myself about to drive in a circle when I got to Potters Bar. I had rather hoped to drive through Borehamwood – and see how much it had changed – but the signs petered out and, by now, feeling intensely sleepy, I gave up and got on the M25.

And yes, it was horribly stop-start – and, as well as feeling sleepy, I was hungry and needed the loo. The first exit and I’m off, I told myself. It wouldn’t be too far so the mounting traffic would be less of a problem

M&S Egham

And the first exit was Egham. I pulled up at the M&S garage and bought a lot of food to eat both for ‘lunch’ and to load the fridge. I was totally focused on trying to load it all neatly into the car, so never noticed that – presumably my rear end – had got the attention of an incredibly attractive and sexy man. As I moved away from the passenger seat (having loaded the car), I looked up and he walked past, head turned to me, almost wistfully, eyebrow raised, a smile. It could have meant anything but was definitely a Good Feeling. He held my gaze long enough to feel that the view from the front hadn’t put him off. That said, even if it was my style to pick up unknown men, which it isn’t, I felt a little concerned that I might be too old for him (had sunglasses on), so drove off.

Aside, men do find white capri pants attractive. Perhaps it’s that summer holiday vibe they give off?

Had brief pitstop to eat something in a park just outside Sunningdale, then continued home.

Slow Puncture

Somewhere on the road to Potters Bar, not sure where exactly, but the car seemed to veer a bit. At the time, I put it down to being so tired. Meant to check the tyres once I got home but, by the time I had uploaded the car, I just slumped in the bath and forgot. Mel, a neighbour, emailed the next day to tell me I had a flat tyre.

Snapshots of Israel

Re Snapshots

October 2015

I am a passionate supporter of Israel and always will be. Like my other snapshots, this is not an article – just observations from my holidays – in this case, Israel in 1999. There are a lot of references to God and holy-type vibes because that is precisely why I went – to get a sense of the Holy Land and hopefully get some mystical ‘feedback’. Not entirely successfully as you’ll read.

Why didn’t I type them up at the time as I usually did for my Ma? Probably misplaced loyalties and the hyper-critical tone of said observations. Anyway, here they are, minimally edited – showing my many flaws and all. Meaning I really was grumpy and over-critical, so forewarned and all that!

23/8/1999 Renaissance Lobby Tel Aviv Monday

07:50am

Long journey but God was listening. The twitching woman sitting next to me moves and I have an empty seat next to me for the entire trip. A Medusa  however sits in front with his (yes) snakes overhanging the video screen. I am stroppy. He is polite and moves them.

The immigration/ passport control is appallingly crowded and as disorganised as Los Angeles. Try not to let intense heat bowl me over.

Outside, Unitours are wonderfully efficient and suddenly I begin to enjoy myself despite being caught in the rush hour. The hotel is right on the beach and splendidly cool – typical  four star business variety rather than ultra-special.

Israelis are really ‘in your face’. It’s just as well that I like them and understand otherwise the rudeness would be appalling. The Arabs on the other hand show enormous charm and concern – even if it is hypocritical.

Am still very sleepy and still have a slight headache with nausea. Could be due to the changing nature of the first few days: four different hotels in four days … till Jerusalem.

Trying to ‘think God’ to avoid negative influences but the crowding of personal space is making me narky. Like being vamped.

08:30am

He’s still picking up people from various hotels…will be seven tomorrow. So far two middle-aged Danish ladies, one Israeli(?) woman with man who seems ‘simple’. Pullman Tours. Mixed bag. This is the naff end (of the bus). Heavens knows who is this pickup but she’s got enough luggage. It’s a young girl. Hopefully we can now get a move on. No. A phone call first. Small change in the number of passengers.

So much for biblical Israel. It’s just like any other city so far. Wednesday in Tiberias is probably going to be the best stop (I hope). Still, it’s good to chill (?) out.

12 noon

Very very tired during drive to Caesaria, even with brief detours. Finally starting to perk up. The ‘friendly’ interrogation from the Danes and the bus driver probably also vamped a bit. Actually, the other couple are from the States. It is possible he has had a stroke though some of the behaviour is ‘childish’ as opposed to ‘child-like’.

Am avoiding the Danes now because the chief questioner is also a heavy smoker. The lass with the luggage is an Australian Greek who’s ‘doing the tour’. She’s a graphic designer, like Margaret.

7pm – IN BED!!!

Dan/Haifa

Yes, I’ve eaten, washed, written postcards and am now in bed! Although I am tired and a little sleepy, it’s also because there is little to see round the hotel and I didn’t fancy a tramp round yet more shops. I do enough shopping in the UK and there seems little that is ‘exotic’. In fact, during yesterday and today, everything ‘Israeli’ seemed Western materialistic with no history or depth. Even the restaurants are McDonald-ish. The best architecture seen so far has been Graeco-Roman (okay Roman) and Arabic.

I’m sure Tiberias and Jerusalem will be different. At least I hope so. Having been brought up with Jesus and the biblical perspective, it’s a large disappointment to have heat, sand and sea alone. That said, I did like Caesaria. Quite classy.

Also, I am not sure how I am going to enjoy nightlife on my own.

24/8/1999

07:30hrs pre-pick up

Israel is like one of my sisters: gruff and grumpy, attracting like, but with a deep core of love and charm. Today, I can feel my protective love for Israel returning. …

AA Explorer explained why practically nil art and architecture: because of God worship – meaning only God. Yet the Ashkenazim created such wondrous art and music – and therein lies God.

Slept till midnight then again till alarm – back very stiff still. Also roasting hot already!

14:00hrs  lunch en route to Safed

Rather a nice place though the company still palls despite valiant efforts on my part. I paid for the Australian girl’s lunch because I’m sure she is eating rice to fill up rather than for gastronomic reasons. A one-off act of generosity as she was still a miserable creature.

My morning love vibes soon wore off in the bus with the fellow travellers. They are not awful, just not life-enhancing and therefore more draining on the spirit.

The newcomers are Canadians. Loud ones. The simple bloke with the migraine is still simple despite getting over his headache, but his wife, young-ish and pretty, seems very in love, concerned and touching him all the time. He is not one of life’s beauties so they make an interesting couple.

17:10hrs

Safed was rather disappointing. Some good art but no sign of ancient mysticism. With its war-torn past, Israel is a bit hick(?) at tourism. The Golan Heights projected a sense of history but this stop off to chat with a callow youth from the UN Austrian  section is boring. The Canadians are gifted at asking dumb questions. It is very hot and dusty – which, for some reason, does evoke Jesus, up to a point.

My need for Jesus seems to have diminished as entheism rooted. Anyway, I’ve had enough for today and long to return home. Emmanuel (the bus driver who constantly stared at me and rather harassed me every day) keeps stopping for fag breaks (not because there was anything particularly worth seeing).

In all honesty, I haven’t felt any spiritual pull. The tour guide has not dwelt on anything remotely religious, as if to play down the ‘Holy Land’ and build up the ‘tourist’ trap. Imelda was right. I should have taken the pilgrimage tour, if only as a gesture of respect to Jesus as 2000 approaches. (2015 aside: yes, Jesus still seems real to me even in 2015.)

Emmanuel talks too much but says little of value. At least Tamer in Egypt studied archaeology and we learned something new each day. Emmanuel told me he wants Israel to be known for its progress and achievements and sun/sea/sand-type holidays rather than the religious bit – which rather defeats the purpose of it, for me at any rate.

We didn’t get back to our hotels till past seven by which time I was ready to drop. Too many detours and much pointless conversation.  A lesson here. NO MORE PACKAGE TOURS. EVER! They do not suit you. In fact, I am going to check out a bus ride to Meggido, or a taxi. On my own!

25/8/1999 Holiday Inn

07:45am in the lobby

For a four-star hotel, this one has been a nightmare. Everywhere is so unclean. The bedroom had the sofa bed made up. The lobby and dining room were filled with noisy kids and Arabs and the whole place resembled a souk. The view over the Sea of Galilee though was splendid. Stood on the tiny balcony watching dawn break over the Sea of Galilee hoping to get some good shots. Am surprised I am awake, alarm notwithstanding. There must have been a party or festival of some kind. ALL NIGHT LONG.

I took a taxi bus into the centre and found an Israeli restaurant where I had a delicious meal and got a marriage proposal. He thought I was 30. Not bad after a stressful day. Can you imagine being stressed on holiday? Actually, we all were on the Nile cruise too. We really need half-day tours with the rest of the time for exploring alone. Who wants to be with over-excited jolly holidaymakers day after day after day? (2015 aside: Yes, I can still feel my uber grump even in 2015!!)

I get stared at a lot by older men here. I mean they look, walk away, then come back and look again.

I’m very glad I never actually visited when I was Middle East Sales Manager. In business mode, I can be even more peremptory than I am now!

Postcards have gone – including one to myself.

Really rough bunch staying at or passing through this hotel. I do hope the next ones are more refined!

09:20

Peace of the boat trip with engines switched off ruined by competing ‘teams for God’. Absolutely diabolical racket with the Brazilians winning by a large margin with their diatribe and loud chanting. The Africans at least sound sweeter and mellower.

Oh good. The engines are back on. What a punishment! But at least the bus passengers are more pleasing company now. I am back in my corner seat and we are all conversing as opposed to ‘measuring-up-interrogation’ mode which I’ve never liked. I do hope we are nowhere near those ghastly Brazilians.

26/8/1999 Thursday Royal Wing Renaissance Jerusalem

06:00hrs

Snapshots of yesterday, post-boat

Very busy and more enjoyable especially Beit She’an and Jericho. The fellow travellers were definitely easier to be with although Emmanuel’s coarse comments were a bit much for me. There’s rude humour and plain vulgarity and this was the latter.

Beit She’an was splendidly impressive and atmospheric especially after Capernaum. Still no sense of Jesus anywhere though – which was the spiritual reason for the trip. So I bought a book about ‘his’ Galilee … and discovered he had visited Beit She’an en route to Jericho.

(2015 aside: Yes, yes, I know Jesus can be found within. It was more for the historical sense of Jesus… and it did happen, btw, much later.)

The Israelis (or perhaps just this tour company) haven’t quite got the hang of archaeological tourism, so Emmanuel has a tendency to witter while providing no specifics or historical details at all. Deprived myself of sensory enjoyment by hanging on politely to his every word.

It is now past 6am and I have been up for more than an hour. Possibly because the meal here made me feel very ill, very quickly. However, my alarm call still has not come! No wonder my inner mechanism woke me!

One alarm, one partial crap. (2015 aside: Sorry about the scatological asides. They feature a lot in my snapshots mostly because I think bowel movements seem spiritually so unevolved and also because they really do differentiate cultures and places. Well, to me at any rate.) Great timing.

Tudor Rose parking arrangements have thrown me fast forward. Late night arrival and palaver with car delivery. I shall not be using them again. I’ll have to dig out the details for the ones I used during the Nile cruise.

The Royal Wing of the Renaissance is very quiet away from the noise and bustle of the, by now, typical Israeli hotel. Children are remarkably badly behaved. And the surliness of the male staff specifically is breath-taking!

(2015 aside: I really must visit Israel again, in case things have changed or I just got a bum deal.)

Oh I forgot Nazareth. As ever, we were given double time of Emmanuel wittering and hardly any to explore alone. However, the visit to St Gabriel’s Church (ex of Annunciation) was uplifting – at last. The first moment of the trip, which then got better. I realise this tour is meant to be compressed but it is ridiculous how little time we are given to pootle around. Probably because of the amount of things we are doing in one day.

Beit She’an was probably enjoyable because we were let off the leash.

Today is Jerusalem. Not too sure where we are going but it’s a lot of walking.

My shirts yesterday were stained with yellow dust caught in perspiration. Gross. Had whole bath-tub of clothes soaking (not sure why I didn’t use concierge services). All need a good bleaching on return, but I don’t fancy travelling with really dirty things. (Aside: Emmanuel kept asking me why I wore white every day and a hat all the time.)

Happily, we have not seen too much poverty. In fact, only from a distance, the Bedouin encampment.

Not sure how I’m going to ‘do’ Meggido. It’s not near and the taxi won’t be cheap. Have to check out driver for a day.

10:30 Dome of the Rock

Skipped going into the mosque. Too many peasants. Tourists can be an ignorance and a nightmare. It’s not just a question of leaving shoes and belongings with the guide. The whole kaboodle makes me feel uncomfortable. Seconds into trying to re-align, some fat foreigners sat either side of me with barely a gap. I looked up to a swarm of them so, much to my disgust, I had to move!

27/8/1999 Friday

05:30am Yes, again!

Firstly, snapshot of yesterday – apart from Dome of the Rock. The morning was spent walking round Old Jerusalem: the Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Moslem quarters. Vicky, the Australian, is also Greek Orthodox, and was getting mightily peeved at spending too much time in any of little interest to her (faith). Emmanuel, with his usual telepathy, picked up and allowed us to spend more time at both the Holy Sepulchre and, later, in Bethlehem.

At the church, built representationally over Golgotha, I finally felt Jesus’ vibes again. For the rest of the day, as the day before in Nazareth, the tune in my head was Jesus Christ Superstar. But such crowds!

We lunched at one of the better kibbutzim and I had a healthy large salad.

Mary is the bus source of knowledge. She’s the Canadian married to Stan with a taste for Burger Kings. She said Elena and Manuel had had a bad car crash last year with serious head injuries resulting in the child-like behaviour and simple gait. He is talking a little more. She too is more New Jersey talkative and less shy Portuguese.

(2015 aside: Jesus clearly made me less horrid in my thoughts about them with each day!)

The nicest person on the trip is one of the Danish ladies. Her smoking companion is a bit feisty but she seems to be the appeaser.

We stopped off at a shop in Bethlehem and bought souvenirs for all family. I treated myself to two cheapish pairs of pretty earrings, then en route home found a black sapphire missing from my ‘job’ ring. Wasn’t overly bothered – I can always buy another. However, I did remove them all, just in case. After the Dead Sea Scrolls – in the Israel Museum – I got dropped off near the Yehuda Mall, which we noticed previously at Vicky’s drop off. The others, bar Elena and Manuel, went to the Old City. With shops shut at lunch time and all day Saturday, it was a good time to do a recce.

Unsurprisingly, I found myself gravitating towards jewellery shops – for a replacement ring pre-getting mine fixed. Then found myself not only getting it fixed – with a more blue-ish sapphire – the ruby broke(?) – but also buying another one and a pair of so-called golden topaz earrings. The price indicates more vitrine than golden topaz …

Had enjoyable meal, bought a book, then took a taxi back to the hotel. He has given me a price for Meggido on Sunday.

After a bit of a faff, post-shower et al, I went to sleep around 9:30pm. Not bad. Except I got another call mid-sleep. Didn’t understand a word and he rang off. I was furious.

28/8/1999 Saturday – though notes do not show day or date

This morning, consciousness regained, but lights still out, I noticed the orange light flashing on the ‘phone. Another (or same?) Middle Eastern voice asking me to meet him at the pool. He said I’d know who it was! I didn’t and don’t. But anyway, it was too late. Not that I would have gone.

So what’s on the cards today? We missed the Mount of Olives so have to fit that in then it’s the Chagall Windows, planting a tree, Yad Vashem… I just hope he keeps the wittering down to a bare minimum. Not so much walking, so I’m taking my guide book which makes good reading.

6pm

Been in bed for about two hours. Didn’t go with the troops after all. Got Emmanuel to drop me off at Yad Vashem and spent almost three hours walking around the entire site – and I mean entire.

One oldish chap said it was ‘some schlep’ either way (inner or outer perimeter) – and by gum it was.

(2015 aside: while there Emmanuel and troops arrived with Emmanuel glaring at me for doing my own thing.)

Then got taxi to Mount of Olives with intention of touring all the churches and spots of Gethsemane. But the top and just about every spot up and down it was covered with beige buildings and leery men, so I took the main road and walked – and walked – and walked.

Got to Gethsemane eventually, but it was rather disappointing. Again. Israel seems to have killed off all vestiges of spirituality in its sites, probably in order to make it more secular.

After Gethsemane, I found myself in a deserted part of Jerusalem, but strangely enough more attractive. Caves etched into the stone as well as Graeco-style pillars. Climbed yet more bleached & dusty steps onto ‘The Last Path’ and up into an upper perimeter road into the main city via the Kidron Valley (aka Valley of Jehoshaphat).

Flagged taxi, short of breath – well hot, really. (2015 aside: not very good at drinking fluids so mostly likely heat exhaustion.) Asked price and got him to stop and let me out when he said 50 shekels. Stormed off back down the road with the taxi now trailing me offering 35 shekels – so I got in.

Barely a couple of yards, he stopped for a relatively attractive guy who turned out to be English – a teacher of tourism. Who he also overcharged. But my sense of humour came back and I got a small laugh out of the situation.

Back at the hotel, washed and primped, I had lunch, bought plastic flip-flops and then watched the prehistoric television. The last time I saw something similar was about forty years ago. And this is supposed to be a four-star hotel!

Then I fell asleep.

I really don’t feel up to dressing and meeting the masses again. Still, it is meant to be a break, free from stress and right now I do feel calmed if rather alone. But that’s all to the good. Prep for company tomorrow.

6:50

(2015 aside: actually my notes have this still on the Saturday page  but not sure why I wrote 06:50. Anyway…)

How very appropriate. A film called Switch about God and the Devil, and letting a soul redeem itself from philandering male – but the joke is that ‘he’ wakes up a woman. The task being to find  woman who likes ‘him’ since he was a complete toerag, who ended up being murdered by three previous females.

(2015 aside: am about to detour to Google ‘Switch’ for more info – and even to see if I got this much correct!)

29/8/1999 Sunday moved to Mount Zion Hotel at some point

07:20am Lobby – Royal Wing

Am waiting for the taxi driver re Meggido trip. Is this blind optimism?

Woke up 5am – very truculent. Clawing at face of jeweller who had removed my ‘topaz’ stones (from a non-owned bracelet) and was sort of swindling me. I suppose that is how I feel about the citrines – the ‘poor man’s topaz’.

Anyway, for the next half hour, my mind was all over the place, and I am only now realigning. Now, no pent-up aggression.

Yesterday was a full and pleasurable one even though my discomfort with Emmanuel continued.

And yet, on Masada – an absolutely splendid site and sight – I felt very unlovable, as if everyone else’s view on me made me. Apart from the height fright, these personal – selfish – emotions seemed to dominate and take away from ‘sensing the stones’.

Perhaps it is only when there is a Roman influence that I feel a leap of recognition inside?

(2015 aside: have had past life regressions many years ago and am pondering trying again.)

13:35 Mount Tabor – waiting for the church to open

Before I could finish the above train of thought, the original taxi driver – Maier – turned up. At 07:30! He had been looking for me at the Mount Zion and had even got his wife to call the hotel. So I didn’t wait for Moshe. Couldn’t really since this chap had put so much effort into getting his £87! Yes, that is what I am paying even though Moshe would have been £20 cheaper.

Anyway, less trivialism and more of the morning. After dropping his American lift off at the airport, we drove on to Meggido. Emmanuel needs to study his guide books because it is substantially more than a ‘tel’.

Although I was only there for about forty minutes, it felt much longer. No adverse vibes on the top. In fact rather nice, light ones. Then, following the set path, I descended the 183 steps into the water silo and that was spooky. No-one else was there and it was very badly lit. If it hadn’t been so steep, I’d have raced out through there. As it was I OMM’ed out loud to re-harmonise and stop my imagination working overtime. That said, there was a truly awful energy, like dark shadows trying to cling on to me.

The only time the Holy Father has been to the Holy Land – apparently – was 1964 with Paul Vl, who met the Israeli President at Meggido. Anyway, despite the brevity – and spookiness – I  really enjoyed it. My legs, however, were shaking for some time after.

The church here at Mount Tabor doesn’t open till 14:00hrs but it’s certainly a magnificent view, and Maier doesn’t seem to mind waiting as he’s catching up on his missed sleep so I don’t feel too inconsiderate – and anyway he’s got a full day’s pay PLUS!

(2015 aside: I still remember him smelling though as he hadn’t showered pre picking me up.)

There’s a particularly gabby family sitting at the one and only table here and it’s a little run-down – or, rather, uncared for. The Christians in Israel don’t seem to have put much effort into the more religiously significant spots. I wonder why?

10 minutes to go … and since they are still gabbing onto my wavelength, I evidently haven’t been as transfigured (metaphorically-speaking) as I’d hoped!

I have a feeling I left Meggido sooner rather than later because I didn’t want to pick up any vibes that might haunt me later. That said, I am hoping to get some insights into this war and judgement stuff in the Bible.

Wandering alone, a couple pass and the man shouts at me ‘Gog and Magog, English Lady’. Yes, just that. Not sure what tipped him off that I was [a]English and [b]interested in Armageddon stuff. Well, apart from being at Megiddo, that is.

17:40 Mount Zion Bar – but when did I leave the Royal Wing?

I’d love to say the day was fantastic and it almost was until Maier dropped me off. In my generosity, I decided to round up the agreed £87 (ie 576 shekels!!!).Fool!

He said that was just for Meggido! Since we only stopped off at his choices, apart from the wait at Mount Tabor, that was too rich. I was choked and said that if he wanted to charge me more he should have said so. I also said that his daily rate was 420 shekels to Haifa and I was paying him way in excess of that. I stopped short of calling him a charlatan and stomped out of the car. No wonder he had been chasing around looking for me. Probably thought I was a sucker to tap.

He tried to say Gabriella’s rate was in dollars. Oh, yes?! Who the eff would pay that!!?

Anyway, enough of the bile. Leave to God. And my Guardian Being.

(2015 aside: I cannot for the life of me recall moving from the Royal Wing to the Mount Zion – actually I can’t really recall the Royal Wing even with my notes but still have strong memories of the Mount Zion. It is also 1.7km between them so I presume I must have had my reasons for moving though I do vaguely recall pre-booking ie from England.)

This place is FABULOUS. It’s in the Hinnom Valley aka Gehenna ie Hell – but it is anything but. It has great views and smiling personnel. And it’s walking distance from lots of great spots.

So what did I see?

Maier kept suggesting places which, frankly, bored me. Like Yardenit – where there are mass baptisms in the River Jordan. And seeing camels and so forth. However, for some reason, I though Wadi el Kelt (sp) was visible from the road and I was prepared to be bored by that too, but was totally  astounded (a) by the vertiginous drive and subsequent walk and (b) by its beauty. Fabulous.

(2015 aside: have to Google this as I cannot recall it at all… And Googled. Yes, it really does look fantastic – but sadly, I still cannot recall it. Looking at yet more Google images – since I apparently took no photos of it – I cannot think why this particular experience has been filed extra deeply. )

Undated so unsure what day this is poss 30/08/1999 Monday

10 to 1 – YES, that EARLY

My watch seemed to pack up at 5:40 last night and I lost all track of time. When I asked someone, it was 7:35 and I had a salad prior to the restaurant opening. It didn’t, so I had to go back to the bar and had a warming onion soup then retired to bed.

I thought it might have been around 10 that I feel asleep but it could have been earlier. Anyway, with great surprise I am sort of fully awake. No great revelations in my dreams. No strong emotions except a desire to be home.

If I’m not careful – which I haven’t been – I’m going to lose ‘spirit’. Apart from obligatory shopping, I must tune in and sense God again. I certainly don’t feel as fierce despite the ghastly Maier. But somehow I need to remember my divine truths and relate to them wherever. I was grateful he kept mentioning it – which is why I asked to stop there. BTW – we took a GHASTLY route to Meggido. All rotten,, un-scenic motorway. All I asked was for a more pleasant drive back. He got enough bucks out of it.

Undated but probably still 30/08/1999 Monday

Nearly 6pm

From the lush to the olfactory nightmare.

Awake with a 7am alarm, I breakfasted and then walked down to Jaffa Road to find the BA office. It’s closed but thanks to proximity to Zavalin, I swapped the citrines for God’s Eye earrings. Not worth the £66 it eventually cost me so I tried to think what the watch seller told me. That it is what you feel about things that you pay for. Well, I did like them – certainly more than the God’s Eyes but the experience has taught me that the jarring feeling tends to grow.

(2015 aside: I do not have said earrings anymore and don’t even recall them. On the other hand, I rarely part with my citrines so they must have been bad for me to swap them. I have given an *awful* lot of things away to charity so guess I must have with these too.)

Anyway, the important bits done, I decided to walk to the Jerusalem Mall via the King David Hotel. There, in pleasant comfort, I chilled out for a while. The waitresses (sic) talked me out of walking to the Mall. They told me it was good for shopping, so I still went but took a bus – a crowded, horribly smelly one. And then I was there a grand ten minutes.

Yes, a large collection of shops but absolutely nothing special. So I took a bus back but then got off too early. The top end of Jaffa Street is obviously the local end, beggars, crowds – more Moslem.

(2015 aside: I really *must* re-visit Israel as I clearly need to get better memories. Plus I Googled Jaffa Street – or is it Jaffa Road? – and it looks much swisher now.)

Finally made my way to a road off Ben Yehuda and had a Mexican for lunch – reading one of the two books bought this trip.

(2015 aside: I seem to have given both of the books away or boxed them in least favoured, so won’t name them.)

Actually, I’m a tad bored, having seen all I want to and really want to be back working. I’ll probably trail  round the Christian bit tomorrow and am doing a final check to make sure there are no special bits I’ve missed.

(2015 aside: brief mention in my notes of ‘the ignorant Israeli’ – meaning I got pushed off the pavement a lot and was even thumped in the back – all by young, attractive women. The aggression was palpable and not just to me – as per conversation with Japanese couple at the airport. It was also contagious as I had a massive desire to wipe her off the face of the earth. But then I had had similar for virtually every day of the holiday which tested my fervent supporter of Israel a lot. I understand the aggression, up to a point, but I will not make apologies for it and will not be trampled on either.)

31/8/1999 Tuesday

16:35 Mount Zion lobby – for rather dried out looking cake and coffee – but well-deserved!

BTW the hotel has gone down somewhat in my favour. No hairdryers. No restaurant for pm meals twice in a row. After hours of walking all I wanted to do was eat ‘chez moi’ and stick it on the bill. Fat chance.

Anyway…

Off to another relatively early start this morning into Zion Gate slowly around the Christian, Jewish and Armenian Quarters, through the Moslem Quarter, stopping for a pomegranate juice and out through the Damascus Gate. Round the perimeter to Gethsemane (tiny – not much to see) and, brain loosened, found myself in a very shabby Arab ‘township’. People came out to stare and I started to feel uncomfortable. They were, however, friendly, especially the young girls who laughed and waved with one coming right up to ‘salaam’. Thankfully there was no begging or invasive behaviour.

And all in the very, very, very, hot sun.

So much for short cuts!

I had to head back to the Church of the Nations and walk all the way back up the hill on the outer perimeter road and found the Churches of St Anne – a Crusader church – and St Peter in Gallicantu – where the cock crowed – and one DID! Three times!!!

The best view of the Jewish cemeteries is definitely from the Arab township but I didn’t dare stop and take my camera out – meaning they may have been friendly but there was still a feeling of trespassing. The photo I managed once on ‘safer’ ground.

Anyway, as my sense of the ridiculous returned, I started mentally writing my guide to Israel and Jerusalem:

1.If you want to lose 10lbs a day, go when it’s 90c every day.
2.Jesus wasn’t really a marathon walker; taxi drivers’ interests and early squatters increased the distances between locations considerably…
3…except the holiest Christian sites within the Old City which scrunch into each other with great unholiness.
4.Nothing is adequately signposted and finding things requires at least two tours…
5…more so if you have an inadequate guide with vested interests
6.Why is everything here uphill?
7.What makes Israelis so damn rude?
8.Okay, well not all, but FAR TOO MANY.
9.Am I the only person in the history of the Dead Sea who sank?
10.Beware friendly Israelis. They overcharge you. And still want more.
11.But not all. (2015 aside I was very cross. Clearly.)
12.Why do Arabs like living cheek by jowl?
13.The problem of Jerusalem could be resolved by making the Old City a sacred spot for all.
14.Meaning co-owned by all interested parties

(2015 aside: doubt now this is feasible – nor any of the other ‘brilliant ideas’ I had back then to solve the various problems over there so not including them here though they were part of this list!)

15.Go at a time when you can eat home-grown avocado or mango!
16.Avoid tours.
17.Up at the crack of dawn, spending nano-seconds at each site & hours on the tour bus.
18.Learn Hebrew. All the signs are in it.
19.Very little concession to the foreign visitor, especially in the Christian world.
20.You need a real leap of imagination to picture Jesus last seven days.

Some woman keeps walking up to the window to gawp out. Admittedly a great view, but first slurping a pear, next with mouth slack and open, ugh!

21.Except for a couple of places, the stones don’t really ‘talk’ any more.
22.In their keenness to be Israelis I think some of the historical magic has been lost.
23.Surprisingly obscure places seem to have retained the most spirituality.

Last night, having stomped out of the hotel as the restaurant was closed yet again, and for my hair still being wet, I went to a Moroccan restaurant three ‘doors’ down.

There, at peace, I thought of Kushner on connectedness. Any re-discovery of connection to others gives life meaning and purpose. A child’s chuckle drawing one in. I suppose the reason I have been feeling lost is because there has been no connection, or very little. The superficial ‘friendliness’ of fellow travellers or taxi drivers or vendors is not what I feel is true connectedness.

Connectedness to me is chakra-opening whether of the mind, heart or muladhara!

He (Kushner) also talks of God without the right or wrong being outside of God. That I also believe but it is a very dangerous subject. The paedophile, murderer, thief, rapist – all could justify their behaviour as God-flowing exactly as intended. Because there is a connection somewhere…

I am an awkward bugger. No two ways about it. Passion and powerful energy make me care but unfocused it can become wasted nit-picking on a grand scale.

Perhaps my destiny is to just be aware …  No, I am meant to express it somehow, though these last few days I seem to have been in a vacuum. A filled vacuum of sensory experiences, leaving no room for God to add that taste of honey. No wonder I feel lost. …

2015 PostScript

I either lost the rest of my notes or didn’t finish them. Yet the memories that remain the strongest are those not written down. Why?

Like the afternoon I was resting in my bedroom from the fierce heat and had a hugely vivid vision of crucifixions. What day? Can’t recall now.

It was at the hotel in the Hinnom Valley. My bedroom overlooked the swimming pool but in the vision, I was looking out the window at Hinnom Valley circa the time of Jesus during the Roman occupation.

It was not the crucifixion of Jesus but of several criminals and dissidents, nailed to crosses in the Hinnom Valley – and yes, I was one of them. A dissident in general rather than a follower of Jesus in this vision. All these years later, I can still see the man – looked more like a Viking than a typical Jew, but I was Jewish (in the vision).

Someone other-dimensional appeared to be talking to me. It was a slow and painful death but ‘I’ seemed to be very brave. Dying painfully for my principles.

Re the Dead Sea: that finally seemed like a holiday despite the brevity – meaning time for a quick float – or, in my case, a quick sink with painful salt in my eyes. Try as I might, I just could not float.

Anyway another thing not mentioned, if I have to remain painfully honest, was the quite horrendous Israeli aggression and my subsequent airport meltdown at the checkout.

I was in a queue with the Japanese, mentioned earlier, as well as other non-Israelis. But the female assistant allowed several Israelis to queue jump – which I was *not* going to put up with, unlike the other polite nationalities!!!

Unfortunately, I let rip about how much I had supported Jews since the year dot ie my schooldays and was a passionate supporter of Israel yadda yadda yadda and this is the crap behaviour I get in return? Oh and I shouted it so the entire ruddy airport could probably hear too!

Anyway, the next Israeli that the stupid assistant summoned to the front was a rabbi – but he refused, ushering me forward instead. Yes I can see him now after all these many years. A gracious man, not helped by stupid people. Not sure what happened to the other nationalities thereafter as I was still steaming.

I’d like to say all ended well, but it really was a sore point, so much so that I came back to England trying to make amends for my – actually wholly justified – meltdown, by contacting a synagogue in Hove re the Jewish equivalent of penance. He suggested sending a financial donation to the synagogue, which I did, but, truth be told, the financial element also did not sit well then – or now.

Be that as it may, I remain a passionate supporter of Israel and, though it may not sound like it, am strongly against anti-Semitism of any kind. Doesn’t mean I am a pushover for bad behaviour though.

So… when am I re-visiting Israel?

PS No mention of Masada (which I loved or Qumran – ditto – despite the guide. Ah well.)