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.)

Snapshots of Rome

2nd February to 6th February 2003

£79 for the flight 286 euros for the hotel plus spending money [euros and credit card] meant plastic bending par excellence! Plus airport parking totting up the bill… but I evidently needed to treat myself.

Booked flight a week before departure via special offer in Sunday Times then frantically surfed the internet for a reasonable hotel. Over concern with reports of muggings and pickpockets made me choose a quiet place near the Vatican. The Pope and Sts Peter and Paul could keep an eye on me I figured.

Sunday 2nd Feb
Arrived early at Gatwick Airport and went for Mass in North Terminal chapel. First time in ages. Beautiful spring sunshine for my birthday made me feel very optimistic and I felt like sharing it with God. Sunshine and lots of compliments re my age from women and men, definitely good start. One of the girls who thought I looked “wonderful” even gave me a gratis bottle of Opium as a gift. Thought counting and all that.

Even the plane being delayed didn’t faze me. Cosmopolitan Italians are very easy on the eye. The men especially seem to have a freshness and vigour which probably comes from all that curiosity towards attractive women.

On the flight over I was seated next to a lively and charming young man with very little English who wanted to chat despite the difficulties.

Arrived at Fiumicino late but the taxi driver was waiting patiently. He was immaculate, his car even more so. Didn’t get to see much of the drive though as it had got quite dark by now.

Hotel Amalia, via Germanico – ten minutes walk from the Vatican. An odd little hotel. It looked like a city apartment block with an old-fashioned three-door wire-box lift, and a “restaurant” that only opened for the two hours of breakfast. No chance of a swift verre of something pleasant in the bar. But it was clean and the staff were professional.

Pity fatties in the shower though – my size eight felt quite cramped in it!

Before I’d even taken my bags upstairs, the chap in reception had booked me on some tours with the 3rd Feb a free day to get my bearings and explore. And boy did I explore! My feet were killing me at the end of the day and I had a five o’clock alarm call to get on the tour to Naples and Pompei.

But still on day one, the 2nd, I was starving and with no restaurant, it meant I had to brave the streets in the dark for a meal. The hotel chap suggested Insalata Ricci on via Ottaviono. Translation came through a Bangladeshi waiter, but it triggered off curiosity from an old gentleman sitting on my left. He was an American professor of astronomy on a six month study tour or something like that. A pleasant enough way to round off the day and the meal was okay.

Monday 3rd Feb
Started early with peculiar breakfast and then walk down to Vatican. Sun sharp and bright although cold. Stood in St Peter’ Square saying hello to all the holy chaps etched against the blue sky. It felt so comfortable that I must have stood there for fifteen minutes before walking into the Vatican – firstly the wrong way and then having to walk all the way to the other side to be frisked before being allowed entry.

Had a few brief minutes of spiritual peace and “inner weeping with divine pleasure” before hordes of Japanese descended. It must be awful visiting the Vatican at the height of the tourist season if spiritual connection is what you seek.

Luckily I did manage to get to some places on my own – like the Museum Treasury. Highly recommended. Amazing amounts of gold, jewels, fantastically ornate candelabra with highly-decorated stems like those images on the sides of Indian temples, except not pornographic. Except of course the Bernini columns on the High Altar with Julia Farnese’s face in repose to orgasm and back and the Barbieri bees as her naughty bits. Peter whatever-his-name told us this when we went to Rome in the 70s. Then, the guards kept us away from the columns. This time, I could touch them unhindered if I wished. I didn’t.

Anyway more of the Museum Treasury – papal rings the size of my bracelets. God they must have been real porkers for those to fit. Massive crystals on equally massive crucifixes and yet more frippery. It probably all weighs a ton so no wonder it is all stored in a very darkened series of rooms. 5 euros entry by the way.

Didn’t do Sistine Chapel or other museums.

Really felt JP2’s vibes. Or God saying hello through him. I have never felt anything from Il Papa before even though I think he’s a lovely, kindly old chap and radiates goodness. Today, though, it was as if he was with me.

Eating in Rome is annoying. Even without the no-no of wheat and dairy, restuarants in that quarter at least didn’t open till 13:00 hours with only standing cafes or eating on the hoof available before. As my feet were sore even by lunchtime, I wanted to sit. Anyway the standing cafes only sold things like pizza. Finally found one after one o’clock that did “English Breakfast” which I had a vegeterian version of, but was so hungry I ate the toast and butter too. And suffered with bloat and poor bowel movements for the rest of the trip.

Explaining my fingers/hand, don’t like Italian word for broken. Sounds like rotten.

Took the Metro to Colosseo. Said never again to Roman tube travel. Filthy and cramped with graffiti everywhere.

The Colisseum – what a disappointment. Saw only one cat but the place had no atmosphere despite the maze of passageways below [which we couldn’t wander down into].

I like the stones to talk to me – Christian martyrs…. gladiatorial combat…. but nothing. Perhaps the spirits of all those lost souls had disappeared into the feral cats who in turn had pissed off somewhere more appetising to them. I was so disappointed, I left quite early despite paying my 8 euros to stay all day if I wished.

Walked up the via del Corso – freebie Rome – with stones that DID talk on both sides of the road. Remains of Imperial Rome with the Foro Imperiali, Foro Romano, Piazza Colonna, the Trevi [didn’t like that either].

Pitstop for aching feet at Cafe Canova [yes the 3 Graces chap]. Had a salad and a glass of wine. Moved on when young English couple came and sat next to me [in empty restaurant] and started talking v loudly and the woman ate even louder. Yes I glared but the dopey bird didn’t notice.

Those four small meals meant I skipped dinner and retired to bed with a packet of crisps and a bottle of water – and some half-cooked chestnuts.

Beggars here are more dramatic, kneeling in prayer, arms outstretched for alms. I prayed that God would give them drive and light for something a little more soul-enhancing.

Italian men have a wondrous curiosity towards females. It was pleasantly charming to see them stop mid-conversation and look, absorb the face with a smile and then simply move on. Nothing threatening. [BTW I wore the scar plaster on my nose the entire trip – so that might have had something to do with it!]

Sleepy now. Up at 5am for Naples.

8:30pm awake again. Don’t know how I slept so soundly last night as it was freezing and presumably as noisy as it is right now. Chattering voices, traffic and trams. The trams sound like Vesuvius rumbling. All loud. Very loud. And now I’m hungry-ish too. However, after affects of walking all day means I am not shifting from prone in this warm bed.

Surprised by total lack of vibes with Colosseum – especially after Gladiator. Lower corridors v impressive in detail but zero atmosphere. Said prayer for repose of souls of martyrs et al.

Amazing how many body parts can ache from several hours of walking. Think Inner God must be tired too as can’t feel any great spiritual stirrings.

Been thinking of T. and praying that the power of the Vatican’s energy will make me right…… Australia? Farmer?

Miss the Mother. Well ringing and haranguing her probably. Hope and pray she’s alright.

Difficult to work out what God’s Will is for me in a foreign place while in tourist mode.

Tuesday 4th Feb (writing en route)
7:15am on coach ready for Naples/Pompeii day trip. Horribly early start with alarm call at 5am. Irritation at no coffee facilities in room but nice man preparing the room made me one.

Perilous descent downstairs (the stairs were marble and rather steep and winding with no handrail).

Interim minibus takes us to Greenline where we change coaches and get two guides. Hordes of young Japanese girls but they are off to Capri, changing at Naples where we pick up another, local, guide.

Couple smoking heavily on coach south. Don’t fancy three hours of polluted atmosphere so ask Monika, the main guide, if they would kindly stop. They do and we speak a little later. They are Brazilians who have checked their daughter into university in Switzerland and are touring Europe before returning home. They are charming but total chain smokers so the coachtrips must be hell.

Still immensely tired in part because I haven’t eaten anything since 6pm last night. Three quarters of an hour till coffee break. Evidently breatharianism isn’t for me!

I’m also not cut out to be a travel writer! The scenery for the last gazillion hours has been mind-numbingly boring. Motorways spliced through not particularly life-enhancing scenery. Same the world over. And it’s pissing down with rain. Okay in the UK. Mark you these snapshots aren’t meant to be travel writing. Just a log of the holiday predominantly for Ma as she likes to know these things.

Monica – the coach guide – keeps telling us of all these special places as if we are about to be within spitting distance and invariably they are unviewable and hidden behind some particularly nasty looking industrial site. For example Caserta some large and famous palace. You’d need infrared specs and bionic vision to spot it on a sunny day let alone through storm clouds.

But then suddenly the rain eases and there is space. Lots of it. Piedmont to the right, snow-covered mountains. Olive trees. And SUN! And this space. Yet all these bods want to come to cramped, crowded England. South East England at that. So many of them are country workers anyway… Would I stay to try and rebuild a poverty-stricken England? I hope so. I believe so. Mark you the way this Government(?) is carrying on we may well have an imploded benefits system and then what would happen?

Nearly half way there. Middle of nowhere-ish and old fridges and tyres are littered by the roadside. I wish I had stuck to my teen ambition of being multi-lingual. Of course it’s not too late to learn but without regularity of conversation it would be difficult.

A very exotic garden centre. More bare olive trees looking like they are doing Imelda’s spider dance en masse. Capua 1km. Isn’t that some saint’s territory? Italy has so many works of art in the wild as opposed to being in a museum. I find that remarkably civilising.

Sleeping dragons on left as we approach Caserta. Largest palace next to Versailles and now a museum. No, I can’t see it. The Japanese guide, Yoshika, is giving me brain ache with her high-pitched and VERY fast gabbling.

Odd to have a big palace in such an ugly place. Looks like a mix of industrial estate, council housing and building works.

Pitstop. I have eaten (some unhealthy chocolate wafers), the sun is shining and the Brazilians are friendly. What is it with eating in non-UK places which creates such malodorous bowel movements? And their loos have such strange positioning you are practically sitting on your own stool. Gross.

A glimpse of the ancient Appian Way. Now that looks more like it. Rome to Capua and Brindisi. Just the words conjure up the apostles on their travels. Wonderful biblical resonance. She’s telling us now of Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli. We can see Naples now. Nice vibes but not a pretty place. Stepped green hills a small bright spot under the original cluttered spaghetti junction and a half.

Italians like their fur coats. I’m wearing my best La Redoute fake fur.

Ah the nice vibes were because of the tropicality of the location. Must remind me of baby years in Ceylon or something. But it is all STILL ugly although even ugliness can be attractive. Masses and masses of apartment blocks and blocks is the operative word. She’s harping on about Vesuvius again so I think we are almost peeking into the crater but in all the time there I saw nothing at all.

Grey sea and photo stop for bay of Naples. Everyone hikes out to capture it on film but I’ve seen better at Littlehampton – alright not quite. This is on the hill and perhaps if it weren’t so grey it would look spectacular. Unfortunate for the bods who own the houses below. Not much privacy.

10:50am VERY out of breath local guide, Gennaro, arrives. Traffic accident held him up. He valiantly ploughs into his pitch, gasping for breath so we don’t miss his little tidbits. Such as they are.

We head into the flashier part of Napoli where Caruso used to hang out. “Egg” castle built by Normans. Palace in front, red, looks like Dartmoor prison.

New style me deciding to be relaxed and see what happens with the day. If I like Pompeii a lot I can always come back. Gennaro is locked into boring detail and I am fascinated with a motorcyclist watching his leather gloves blowing away in the wind and the carabinieri copping another motorcyclist. Gennaro still struggling to tell us anything interesting about Naples (“here is the oldest coffee shop” “here is a covered meeting place or arcade”, “next castle, beautiful marble arch of Alphonse of Aragon”). Maybe it’s him, or the route he is taking because my guide book is quite interesting.

I think if you really want to see or experience a place you have to do it by yourself. So far, it has been a drive by coach and a below par lunch with even less spectacular guiding. Actually Monica’s guiding skills stimulated the imagination. We just couldn’t actually SEE anything.

Wanted a glass of wine to lift the meal but it came by bottle. The American couple who had been asking me questions about Rome ordered one but did not even offer a taste. The Japanese girls were also asking me questions but were very sweet.

16:49 Nearly two and a half hours later and I am STILL soaked. Tunisia all over again. Cold winds and hailstones terminated the visit to Pompeii although I did manage to see what I wanted. It was peaceful and enjoyable, and definitely worth a trip in sunshine, but now I’m cold and starving and taking a long time to dry out. To make matters worse a creep has joined the trip back and keeps staring at me, but as I write this he has thankfully gone to sleep.

Although there were some delightful surprises at Pompeii like the groves and large private houses I felt antiqued-out after about an hour. Anyway the “spirits” were quiet. Obviously all at peace. Gennaro told me I was a romantic and an idealist because I didn’t want to follow the tour.

Before the hailstones crashed down, I spotted a coral shop where I wanted to buy something for Sarah and Richard. Coral is a symbol for a long and happy marriage. But it was enormously expensive. Even something practically invisible was nearly £30.

Hope Ostia tomorrow is dry – and not cold!

All I seem to think about is food. Unsurprisingly since it has been vile so far. Tonight I am planning to have a chinese.

Wednesday 5th Feb
9o/c in bed scrubbed clean but still aching from all that walking around. Unfortunately also very bloated from eating wrong things. Example: utterly delicious poached salmon with brandy sauce at lunch. I now look pregnant and feel constipated waiting for it to swim to pastures new. Despite thanking it (the salmon) for the oils and proteins it was giving to my hands!

Yesterday it was “see Naples and die” – and it very nearly took me off with boredom. Pompeii started well but finished with a wet battering from golfball sized hailstones. Even this morning my hat and coat were still wet.

I was so fed up with the poor guiding and horrible coach trip that I cancelled todays two trips to Ostia and the catacombs. I slept heavily and then decided to do my own tour of the catacombs despite Antonio in reception telling me I wouldn’t be able to.

Got on the nearest Metro to hotel but made mistake of getting off at Re di Roma and found neither buses nor taxis. Trambus guy said to get back on Metro and then off at Colli Albino(?) and take bus. But when I couldn’t get the ticket the Metro lady came out to help me and in best English said to get off at St Giovanni and then take the 218 bus direct to Sts Callisto and Domitilla. This was confirmed by another chap on the Metro who also spoke good English. They all seemed to think I was mad. But I found it. The 218 bus stop was opposite a rather splendid church – there are LOADS of them in Rome but they all seem rather wonderful with massive statues peering over the ramparts.

The only pressure point was that the ticket I bought worked for tube and bus WITHIN 75 minutes of purchase. So if the transport was anything like in the UK you’d be stuck.

The bus drive was more as I like it, traversing the Roman end of the via Appia Antico and once again it felt historical and biblical and transported me out of the 21st century. Actually I almost missed getting off.

Arrived at St Callisto to find it closed (on Wednesdays) and crossed my fingers as I walked half a mile up to road to St Domitilla’s. Thank God it was open. I skipped her house and went into the labyrinthe below – with a guide. Very spooky and moving. Even though it was unlikely that Christians sheltered there, there were fish mosaics and Christ symbols to be found. As one descended, there was a reasonably-sized chapel where Mass is held. Further into the catacombs were more altars where services apparently are held as well. I was lucky having the guide all to myself and we chatted about all sorts of things which gave me a fuller picture.

I would definitely recommend both the Vatican and the Catacombs as individual day trips to chill and absorb the atmosphere. I couldn’t get round to all the sights around the Appian Way like the Quo Vadis church because there just wasn’t the time.

Decided on a taxi back into the centre and fortuitously a taxi was just dropping off some chap. The route he took me back along was also wonderful and I was severely miffed with myself for the wet day in Pompeii when I could have explored so much more of Rome. Unfortunately the Catacombs is the complete opposite end from the Vatican. However should I go back I will probably stay in a hotel nearer to the via Appia Antico next time.

Taxi dropped me off at the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps). Not at all sure what the charm is, and I exited almost as quickly as I arrived. Ditto Fontana di Trevi the other day. Yet leaving the Piazza, I walked past a most beautiful fountain set into a private courtyard – except I didn’t know and wandered in to admire it. The guards came out to warn me off but then changed their minds and said to please browse. I told them I thought it was very beautiful and – oh those Italians – he said I was the beautiful one.

I came out to Rome on the spur of the moment for a cultural and spiritual lift but have had the added benefit of feeling very attractive.

Pootled round shopping, leather gloves for my battered hand, mint tea in the Grand Plaza something or other, then that wonderful salmon lunch at a charming place in della Croce.

Then headed back over Cavour, along the Castel Sant’Angelo and back to the Vatican to say hello again. As I walked into St Peter’s Square, I tried to tune into the Pope to say sorry for missing his blessing that morning but that I took it anyway… and I swear to God I got an instant reply in my gut and in the immediate tears in my eyes as I said “Hello Pope-y”. I know it doesn’t sound dignified but evidently he or God flowing through him didn’t mind at all.

Went into the private prayer chapel for a quiet word or two and Benediction was starting half an hour later, so I waited and joined in. More Catholic ritual in three days than in the last 37 years! But enjoyable.

And that Motherkins is all I wrote of Rome.

Snapshots of Budapest

June 1 – 5 2006

I certainly needed those two alarm clocks to get me out of bed at 4am but thereafter it was a pretty smooth ride.

Finding APH was easy, despite leaving behind the address, and their coach service deposited me at the North Terminal with plenty of time. Plenty of time to spend money! What is it about airports that makes me spend so much money?

The nice guy at Dixons put the camera together so I didn’t have to engage my brain in that direction. Just as well, as there was plenty else to tax it later on.

En route: It was a first, flying with Malev (Hungarian National Airline) and they seemed to be located in the Siberian outpost of Gatwick Airport. Made everyone laugh when I said ‘Bloody hell, I thought I was going to walk all the way to Hungary’. And the plane was the smallest commercial one I’ve ever been on.

Sat next to a garden designer/author called Rosemary Alexander, owner? of the Chelsea Psychic Garden. She was on her way to give a speech at a garden conference. Partly gripping her attention was a tall, bald French guy on the other side of me. He had brought his own huge tupperware container of some mixed fruit and veg concoction and polished it off in about ten minutes. [Because I brought forward my return home, Rosemary and the French guy were also on the flight. Her conference was not as she expected and the French guy was a footballer who broke his foot and narrowly avoided being in a bigger catastrophe when someone had to grab the wheel of their coach as it was about to crash.]

Unfortunately, tedious journeys repeated themselves a few times on this trip; the taxi to Gyor took well over two and a half hours and my bottom was completely numb. To make matters worse, the early start caught up with me and I fell asleep with my mouth open, leaning onto the driver! He, like most Hungarians I met could not understand any English at all and I could barely remember ‘thank you’. Kersmer-something… The other snooze-inducing element was the landscape. Green, spacious and dotted with plenty of trees, but somehow truly boring.

‘Pensions’ or guest houses are quite popular in Hungary now, and the Teatrum in Gyor was clean, friendly, well-maintained, with a good breakfast, and all for £20 per night. And they let me send an email to the family at no charge. My room had two single beds but laid out head to toe, making the room long and thin. Number 3, overlooked the theatre (hence Teatrum) but was surprisingly quiet.

Lying in bed the first night, I thought I heard the distant rumble of a train.. till I realised it was the oddly solid mattress. Every time I moved, it made this strange noise. B thought it might have been made from horsehair.

Loos, poos & other unmentionables: Gillian McKeith would have a field day with faecal matter in foreign places. What is it about non-native travel, even to countries with similar diets, when human waste smells and looks so alien? Did that really come out of me? It does not help that so many mainland European pans are flat and placed high, so what went in comes out rather close to self, sitting there like some gigantic malignant toad. Yeurk. Such grossesses always make me peeved with the Big E. It just does not seem very divine.

It barely stopped raining the entire time I was there. Apart from gloomifying everything, I was wearing black boots and ended up with black toenails. Very pretty. However, I could hardly stay inside the whole time. Thankfully, the first afternoon was sunny and I felt perky enough to wander around the town. Actually, it has a cathedral (with a Weeping Madonna) which technically makes it a city. Didn’t get that impression at all though. Despite being famous for its 16/17th century streets, my first impression was of clothes shops and cobbled stones. There were racks of clothes standing sentry outside many shops, and virtually all circa 50s style. No temptation to buy although I did end up getting a red striped (non-fashion) jumper for £12.

Unlike Krakow, there were no swivelling heads and unsmiling looks, thank God. The Magyars are rather friendly and accepting. Consumerism is edging in but in Gyor at least there was a refreshing trust and almost innocence. Equally, the food won’t challenge the average British palate. Everything appears to be deep-fried, except for the delicious soups and stews. I also discovered a splendid vegan café with pictures of Ganesh on the walls.

Still on the first day, I met up with Edina, the tour guide for Oswald-Andra Dent, at 5pm. She initially struck a sour note. Firstly, she could barely understand English – not a good sign for an intermediary. Then she either interrupted herself or me with endless phone calls so I didn’t know what the hell she was on about as we had to keep starting from the beginning again.

I finally managed to understand that a taxi would pick me up at ten to nine for a 9am appointment with the dentist. We were given taxi cards so that any money we paid would be refunded from the fees to the Oswald part of Oswald-Andra Dent. I still did not realise I was part of a group, partly because I had arranged my own flight, and partly because I arrived on Thursday. The rest had arrived on the Sunday evening for Monday to Friday treatment.

Pain? I never really thought about pain until Marianne mentioned taking plenty of painkillers with me. Now not only was Edina mentioning them, several times, but some group members were popping them like smarties. I barely slept a wink.

The only blot in service the entire time was breakfast on the first day. The waitress was late, sniffing and blowing her nose unsmilingly. I also did not realise a good cooked breakfast was on offer and made do with two cold boiled eggs and lots of coffee. Luckily, she wasn’t around for the rest of the trip.

I must have been more fearful of the process than I realised. Overnight just my left eyebrow had sprouted three long white hairs (the other was smooth and jet black) and my shoulder pains returned with a vengeance.

The taxi arrived on time, as was I for my first appointment. The surgery itself was larger than first impressions but the street was ‘rundown suburbia’ – like most parts of Gyor and Budapest that I saw. There is a staggering amount of graffiti on virtually every spare wall, even in the nicer parts of town.

I’m not quite sure what went wrong next, and I am saving the dental details for my article on ‘dental tourism’, but I ended up bursting into tears, so he suggested going for a walk and then coming back in 30 or 40 minutes to agree on what happened next.

I wandered up and down these truly drab streets, in the rain, couldn’t find a coffee bar and then crept back in to their waiting room. And I was still weepy.

Andra didn’t look too pleased to see me sitting there but I was buggered if I was going to traipse the streets again. By this time the small waiting room was filling up with more of the tooth tourists. All German or Swiss. Then a tallish, blond guy came in. An English voice! Effeminate, before you all get too excited!

We all started to chat and I discovered they were all regulars. That gave me more of a feelgood factor but to cut a long story short (ie the story I’ll be writing in my article), the dentist only fixed the broken filling (for free) but suggested I came back and that they would pay for the flight or give me a discount. There was no time for a bridge before my flight back this time, which was the alternative to the implant which would require five months of osseointegration. And, presumably painkillers. (More details in the article). And then returning to have a crown fitted. So now I was here in Gyor with no dental treatment planned and lots of spare time.

B, too was at a loose end. He mentioned something about companionship needed for dental tourism – which the Swiss and Germans had but he was the only English bod till I arrived. So we wandered around the medieval streets and had lunch at the vegan cafe. Paid 400 HUF (Hungarian Florints) to visit the Miklos Borsos museum. An entire museum to just one artist/sculptor who, if truth be told, did not light my fire overmuch. But he was a local lad and there was a message of sorts in his works.

I wanted to visit the gothic cathedral and see the Weeping Madonna so we had another wander around till it was open. I said prayers for all the family (and put in a request for a columnist’s job!) and then wandered around some more. I wanted a red jumper and found one that served quite well. He too bought one, although seeing vast expanses of untoned white flesh was distinctly offputting.

As is often the way with foreign trips, swift friendships can develop through shared intimacies and what started as a discussion about spiritual beliefs moved on with discovering more about each other. I think being homosexual may possibly have made all this social chitchat more personally intrusive than normal.

He was born M D, in Germany, to a woman who worked in a nightclub. The social services of the time thought this wasn’t a good place to bring up a child and he was put in an orphanage till he was four. Then he was adopted by a Squadron Leader, who also adopted another little boy. B says he has always been effeminate and that annoyed his father. The hatred seems to have been mutual. He said his father was a homophobe in action as well as thought. It sounded like he said his father went out on queer-bashing expeditions and used to hit him too. Eventually the father left the forces, opened a bar in Sussex I think. However he left, so B felt his life had turned full circle as he was back again with a single mother in a similar ambience.

By this time, I was starting to feel vamped and he said he was tired so we returned to our (different) pensions before the (group) evening meal.

A coach took us to what looked like council offices in some equally rundown side street. Well, it was raining – again – which always dampens views. Pleasurable surprise. The inside of the Goldenball Restaurant seemed to be richly decorated in red velvet and low lights, with book cases lining the walls, a piano player and a superb menu. and not very expensive either. But then nothing is in Hungary, at the moment. And the waiter spoke excellent English. He used to work on a cruise ship and had lived in North Wales for three years if I recall correctly.

B and I shared a table with Peter and Beatrice, a Swiss-born couple who lived in Texas but travelled extensively and were regular dental tourists. However, they saw a different dentist to us.

The coach seems to have been a one-way trip and we all walked back to our pensions. Well they sauntered under their umbrellas. I loped back as my feet had already started to turn black from the boot dye.

Saturday morning I had to myself as the dental tourists went for final check ups pre-lunch.

I had yet another wander around, buying a little angel in a feng shui shop and trying to find a massage parlour for my shoulders. Stuck my head into a hairdresser and made hand gestures as if giving someone a good pummel. A lady got up from under her drier and wrote down the name of a salon and the address….

The Gyorans have a friendly imprecision with addresses. All to whom I showed the paper, said ‘es’ – presumably because it was roughly in the same neighbourhood.

Several tours of the streets later, and just about to give up, I found it. A manicurist’s salon. So much for my skills at charades!

Went into a health food shop and the thin and tired looking lady decided to close up her shop for twenty minutes while she took me round three different massage parlours to choose from. Ida was her name (pronounced Eeda). A fan of Krishna. Unfortunately, all shops close at lunchtime and the salon with potential was fully booked – so it was back to the Teatrum to meet everyone for lunch and pay Edina for management services and any dental work.

I asked Edina to change my flight but as it was a cheap flight and Pentecost, had no luck. B said to go to the airport and try face to face, so I booked my return taxi for 9am Sunday to give me plenty of time and maybe even a Sunday flight…

As B had gone on about being adventurous, I thought our last day ‘together’, on Saturday, could be spent discovering places other than Gyor…. except there was a free goodbye lunch provided by Oswald. A three-course meal, with lunch and a gypsy violinist. I suppose my attitude wasn’t that good as you know how fond I am of crowds.

With the very best will in the world, and B had already described them in similar terms, the group were mostly working-class pensioners. The British version has its own particular charms, but Swiss-Germans are almost on another planet, for me. For a start, they understood no English and our German was non-existent.

Luckily for me, I sat next to the lady from the dentist who spoke French. She (Therese) and Yuri, her racy looking Serbian husband (he wore a grey pony tail) looked wonderfully in love, as if they had been together for years. In fact, they met in a singles club and had been married for ten years. She had been a milliner, while he was a theatrical costumier. He just got a bit miffed at not being able to understand what we were saying. Therese said it was good for him not to know everything.

The subterranean restaurant amplified the acoustics so the already loud violinist and the electric piano player played havoc with my ears.

I rather ungraciously blocked them with my hands especially when the blasted violinist stood behind me giving me a personal serenade. As he didn’t get the hint, I got up and waited in the loo till he moved on to someone else. Fortissimo is not conducive to digestive flow. Interestingly, all those who enjoyed it left no tips while I, whose ears were assailed, did.

Post-lunch, we all went for a coach trip to a local shopping mall. As before the location was ultra-grim, but inside were some rather pleasant shops. I treated myself to two citrine rings and just hope I come into some money before the credit card bills come in!

Back at base, I started to feel soul weary. Desperately wanted to be back at home and missed my sisters too! Got out the digital camera and mucked around taking some self-portraits. Unfortunately, I looked really ugly and horrid in virtually all of them which made me feel even more down.

Because B was so open with his life story, I felt able to push the boundaries of normal conversation. For example, using the word ‘homosexual’. He didn’t like it, saying it was too clinical, whereas I dislike using the word ‘gay’. He suggested ‘queer’ but I think that’s rude, rather like ‘nigger’. So when we met up later on Saturday prior to finding somewhere for supper, I wanted to discuss some anthropological aspects of homosexuality, for example the effeminate voice. It really did sound like that guy in Are You Being Served? so I felt it was a bit of an act. Not that I said it in so many words but that was the beginning of the end.

As we sat having a drink, he told me about an Egyptian experience of his. Thinking he’d reached a natural stop, I replied with mine at Abu Simbel. Big mistake. He really flipped. Said he hadn’t finished and that I did that to him before (Guilty, m’lud. It’s a Labon failing. Ask the brothers-in-law.)

I apologised and let him drone on… something about meeting someone in Egypt and which lead to an Australian experience, having three mothers, one in Australia who foretold lots of things about him. But he was still cross with me so I apologised again. I said he seemed rather ‘vulnerable’ meaning it in a kindly way but he went absolutely apeshit. Said that was critical. Gave me a lecture about my failings (he thankfully missed out quite a few). I actually listened then mistake three or was it five, I muttered ‘if you are going to be painful…’… and off he flounced. And that was that. Never heard from or saw him again. Although quite pleased to be alone, I did send him love and light so whatever was bothering him would be resolved.

Over the time we spent together, he wanted to know about his numbers, the turquoise ring on his Saturn finger and various other things so it seemed like he was seeking direction. Well that remark was ‘critical’ according to him. Yet to seek it is nothing to be ashamed of. Mark you, if he had read my original notes then he may well have thought I was critical. I wrote that he was tall, blond, pleasant-looking, untoned and walked like he had a rocket up his arse. And that was before he confirmed that he was HX (homosexual).

God knows why I felt guilty. All that mincing effeminacy was beginning to grate. Could be why I wanted to know about the voice. Maybe deep down I wanted him to go. He said he knew more about me than I did about him. Quite possibly. I see my life as a spiritual experiment to be shared in order for others to learn, if they want to that is.

Anyway, if I had seen him again, I would have invited him to join me. As it was, I found a lovely restaurant called Komedia and had a light supper pre-bed. There was a long table with mostly men having the tail-end of a celebratory meal. I was made to feel like a welcome gatecrasher.

Sat with Peter and Beatrice in the restaurant in Teatrum on return, for quick chat. He was an engineer in the paper industry, she does temporary work in finance. They lived in South America (among many countries) and bought precious stones as an investment.

Beatrice said that Peter was very opinionated which probably triggered some equally opinionated remarks from me. Like genetic modification and the rise in homosexuality. I know, dicing with death! But then I have always been an acerbic observer. In B’s rant he said I was judgmental but how can a writer not observe with clarity without appearing to be judgmental?

Peter meanwhile seemed very interested in British politics and life. Mentioned that even co-habitees might have to share assets. He, tongue in cheek, said he’d be too scared to live with me, and then spoiled it by asking it that offended me. No, of course not… although he’d be lucky to be invited in the door let alone live with me. I know I have a strong personality but I am not going to keep apologising for it. God gave it to me for a purpose and so I will treat it as a gift.

That said, about to step into the shower, I was feeling a little gloomy, when the radio played my lumiels tune – Love Is All Around. I really needed that and it felt like my guardian angels (lumiels) wanted to tell me that God loved me and is looking after me.

By the way, Sky Radio in Hungary has a novel way of murdering songs by playing adverts mid-melody. Most odd. Luckily, they left my lumiels’ tune alone.

Last morning in Gyor – got rude awakening at 4am. By mistake. Then another at 6am – and that’s despite saying wrong room. Passed time waiting for the taxi by watching Teletubbies on BBC World. Can’t believe children enjoy that programme. They look and sound like fluffy Daleks.

After a couple of false starts, lovely Csilla at Malev found me a seat on the Monday flight even though it was overbooked. I had to pay an upgrade and booking fee which was less than if I’d stayed in a Budapest hotel till the original flight, which I thought worth paying.

I also decided to treat myself to an overnight stay at the 4-star Gellert and got a single room for a reasonable price. A spa hotel, built in the early 1900s, it still has that vaguely forgotten air, but the location was excellent as was the food. Booked a Thai massage for later and decided to have a wander around.

First stop was the cave church carved into the Citadel rock face. Said a prayer for all the family and thank you for everything despite still having the tooth gap.

Tourism can certainly corrupt quickly. Although people are generally friendly, some of the hotel staff had that cynical and supercilious air you often find in more expensive hotels. Probably from years of dealing with obnoxious customers. There was also a deeply unpleasant girl in a perfume shop who made offensive hand gestures when I tried out the testers. Isn’t that what they are there for? I was so put out that I lobbed back that she was a great lump (she was quite a bit overweight) and very rude. Not sure if she understood, but she would have seen from my face that I was NOT pleased. Even if people do come in and steal testers, not everyone should be tarred with the same brush.

When I asked her the price of something, she added that payment by credit card had to be with a passport as well. That’s a first, and needless to say I did not buy anything. However, I subsequently discovered that PIN numbers are only accepted with additional signatures (although no-one else asked for my passport). Thankfully, I used my M&S credit card which I rarely use so it will be easy to monitor any abuse… and is easy to cancel without disrupting my finances.

The perfume girl was the second sour note after B, and I felt in need of spiritual light, so sent her some L&L to clear the flow, although really I was still unhappily outraged.

Despite the four and five star area, there was an amazing amount of graffiti everywhere. It is such a potentially beautiful city and could really do with a massive clean up.

The first brown faces I saw were tourists staying in and around the Gellert. I wondered how the Thai girl managed but her English was not brilliant. Her Hungarian was apparently non-existent despite living there for three years. As she lived alone, and did a good job (I skipped cracking my spine as I was still in some pain), I left her a whopping tip. In fact, I seemed to tip everyone as if I was the Sultan of Brunei, since I got 70,000 HUF (Hungarian Florints) for my £200, and it goes quite a long way. I really felt that spending it or giving it away was a form of tithing and was helping their economy. Hope God feels the same way for my bank balance!

And thank you God for a certain type of Frenchwoman. They are unafraid to openly appreciate what they believe is physical attractiveness. I’ve even been stroked before now. Mark you I hardly expect any admiring glances these days with increasing CF (age) so that really made my morning…; so much, that I left a large tip for the young taxi driver who took me to the airport. He almost burst with pleasure.

The airport sounds like something out of Star Trek (Ferihegyi). Unfortunately, it is definitely not space age, and as I arrived three hours too early, I had to make do with crisps and a glass of wine while writing up copious notes. At least staff were friendly off-airport.

Once into passport control, there was more officiousness and unpleasantness generally though I only got the officious passport control woman, who spoke no English but kept gesturing that my passport photo was not me. I think she mentioned distinguishing characteristics, but since they are not listed in the passport how the f… would she know? In the end, she turned to her colleague who must have told her to let me through.

That’s the second East European country that let me IN with barely a glance at my passport, but kicked up a fuss when I tried to get OUT.

The general tetchiness and suspicion of the duty free staff could have spoiled things but meeting the French footballer and Rosemary again gave the trip a ‘school reunion’ feel. They both had less than perfect trips. The poor guy broke his foot and they narrowly averted disaster with their coach when someone grabbed the wheel just in time.

Saw another blubbery white belly, which then sat next to me on the flight back. A truly miserable sod. In front of me there was an HX couple (did I mention it’s my new term for ‘homosexual’. I don’t like using the word ‘gay’, and ‘queer’ – which they like – sounds too rude. And, according to B, they think homosexual sounds too clinical.)

I have a feeling that the miserable sod was also HX and, since I had seen LOTS of cosy male couples, wondered if Budapest was now some sort of HX holiday hot spot. I am also trying to lose the image of the miserable sod’s chocolate eating habits. He literally crammed a 3×7 bar into his mouth with BOTH hands. Whatever happened to breaking off a square at a time?

Meanwhile, the guy in front, reclined his seat so far his head was practically in my lap. I do leg exercises on even short journeys as I once got a blood clot on a flight so I rather rudely prodded the back of his seat. However, both of us must have been innately courteous and harmony returned after a short apologetic conversation. Nonetheless, I was disconcerted to see them waiting for the same courtesy coach as me but decided to make a joke of it. Thankfully, he got it and we chatted about various things…

And then it was back into my car and en route for home.