Sunday, June 26, 2011

I Didn't Know That--Barry

We have now completed four days touring the Holy Land with our guides at St George's College.  Another week and a half to go.

The birthplace of Jesus at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
When our small group of 10 met with our course leaders for the first time on Tuesday night, we all introduced ourselves and gave our personal objectives for the course.   In my case I wanted the structure imposed by a two week curriculum and learning the Holy Land geography to elevate my understanding of the Bible.   I hoped that I would learn a lot because I was starting from a low base, meaning I was familiar with various stories from the Bible but I couldn't connect the dots very well.   Now was the time to do that.

The last four days of touring holy sites have prompted numerous silent recitals of "I didn't know that" that are helping me to grow my knowledge of the Bible.

Camel rides at our desert camp in the Negev near Arad-- a "once in a lifetime" experience because I learned that camel-riding is not particularly comfortable!
For instance, yesterday we went to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which sits atop a cave reputed to be the birthplace of Jesus.   (Caves figure prominently in the siting of churches and mosques here.)   I thought, according to the old childhood story, that Jesus was born in a manger.   Yesterday I learned that according to historical sources the manger was probably located in a cave used by shepherds--such caves are commonplace in the Bethlehem area.  Yesterday we--along with many other pilgrims--were in that cave.   Then we heard a remarkable reflection from our course leader tying Jesus's cave-birth to the "theology of descent" that's an important part of our Christian faith.

Part of the underground water cisterns at Herodion
Everyone knows how important water is, but you have to be here to appreciate truly its life-and-death importance for everyday life in such a hot and dry place (this time of year) and how prominently it figures in biblical history.   So far we have seen ingenious ancient systems for delivering and storing water at Tel Be'er Sheva and Masada in the desert regions to the south of Jerusalem and also at the Herodion fortress built by that famous taxer-and-spender King Herod.  (Onerous taxes imposed by Herod to build fortresses everywhere--the guy was paranoid--were forcing people to sell their land in order to pay.   So Jesus's alternative message of a different kind of Kingdom was finding a receptive audience among a tax-weary populace.  I didn't know that either.)

We stopped the other day at the Greek Orthodox church sitting on top of Jacob's Well in Nablus (formerly Shechem).   We were able to drink the cool water from this deep (40 meters) well and to pour it back into the well and wait a few seconds for it to splash far below.   I really didn't know about Jacob's Well before but now I learned that Jesus was here (as recounted by the New Testament story where he met the Samaritan woman at the well), and I experienced the remarkable feeling that comes from being in the same place as He was.

A large and expanding Israeli settlement near Bethlehem on the West Bank (seen from our tour bus)

Last night, on a more contemporary note, we listened as an invited  Palestinian professor and artist described the conflict with Israel from his perspective.   It was a bleak view of unremitting efforts by the Israeli government to build more and more settlements and through various other means to drive native Palestinians off their land, producing a "greater Israel" from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River as a fait accompli.  The professor also had a conspiratorial view of the Palestinian Authority, whom he viewed as corrupt collaborationists with the Israeli government.   Certain things I have observed here--such as lengthy daily checkpoints for Palestinians who come to work in Israel and the economically-depressed looking Palestinian cities that are losing the more educated to emigration--may be consistent  with such a bleak view, but maybe  I'm too (naively?) optimistic and inclined to the belief that good will can be found on all sides to accept it totally.   But it's still early in our time here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wow! and Aaugh!

We have had 3 full days on our course now; it's called "The Bible and Its Setting."  On Wednesday we went to Hebron in the West Bank, site of the tombs of the patriarchs (the Cave of Machpelah is under a mosque-synagogue complex in Hebron)
The cover over the opening to the cave of Machpelah under the mosque.  My classmate is wearing the brown robe that we women had to wear in the mosque.  Notice the rectangles in the rug--each is a place for one person to fit during prayer.  The call to prayer is sounded 5 times a day and we hear it clearly here in Jerusalem.

and the Oak of Mamre where Abraham entertained the Three Angels. We had lunch under the oaks and saw the remnants of the tree purported to be THE oak of Mamre.  We traveled south to Be'er Sheva (in Bible it's Be'er Sheba) which the site of a well dug by Abraham as well as a town that the Israelites under Moses passed by on their way to the Promised Land.  Although it's not the southern point in modern Israel, it's considered Biblical south.

As we stood in the oaks of Mamre near Hebron we read the Genesis story of Abraham entertaining the angels by his tent.  Midway in the story the mosques around us began their calls to prayer, broadcast through very strong loudspeakers.  How amazing:  a Christian group in Israeli-occupied territory reading the Hebrew Scriptures to the sound of the Muslim call to prayer.  And the story was about our common Father in Faith, Abraham.  Gave me the chills.

Worst part:  the checkpoint we had to pass through in order to go from the West Bank back into Israel.  Everyone had to get out of the bus and we were told to go through the security line (like worst airport check station you can imagine).  Security personnel with uzis shouting at us and being very rude, making us take off everything metal and surrender passports for a while.  Dog brought out to sniff around our van for explosives.  Now, it shook me up, the shouting and the confusion and the loaded guns.  But the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and work in Jerusalem have to pass through this every day ...  to be fair, it was the only time we've been treated like this--we've been through about 3 or 4 checkpoints.

Best part of Wednesday:  the Bedouin style camp we stayed in that night, located west of the Dead Sea and east of the city of Arad in the south.  The camp was called Hanokdim.  Big tent with flaps up and the desert breeze blowing through the whole time, all night long.
Class members sitting outside the tent we slept in.
This is in the Negev Desert.

And the CAMEL RIDE which was a hoot.
This is a close up of our lovely and talented camel.
Maybe the most fun is getting up and going back down to
the ground while seated on the camel...

Great Bedouin food and coffee with cardamom.  I love this food and will miss it!  Nearest thing is the food at that nice little place in Danbury--Sesame Seed.

Thursday we celebrated Eucharist at 7 am in the Bedouin camp and then headed to Masada--a terrific National Park -- you take a cable car up to the top of the mesa (or walk if it's early enough).  Built by Herod the Great--he loved to build stuff.  Apparently he liked the location because he could come to be treated in the Dead Sea--apparently he had some kind of skin disease associated with syphilis, probably, and the waters of the Dead Sea are therapeutic.  The top of the mountain is the ancient fort, under seige by the Romans for 3 years before they breached the wall.  Mass suicide of the residents in order to escape slow death by crucifixion at hands of the Romans.  The ingenuity of these people in providing a water supply for themselves is absolutely awesome.
Walls at Masada.  Under the black line are original
stones; over the lines are reconstructed stones.

Caves in the ridge behind Qumran.  These caves
held the Dead Sea Scrolls for almost 2000 years before their
discovery by a Bedouin shepherd boy in 1947.

On to Qumran, home of the Essenes, a sect of Judaism at time of Jesus and John the Baptist; many people see some limited influence of the Qumran community in the New Testament.  They had ruins there and an identified scriptorium, where Scriptures were copied.  This is the group that fled at 67 AD before the advance of the Romans, but before they fled they buried 700 parchments in amphorae (clay jars) in 40 caves up in the hill above.  These are the Dead Sea Scrolls.  All books of the Hebrew Bible are represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls except for Esther (written in Babylonia and the name of God is not mentioned in that book).

Best part of the day:  the float in the Dead Sea.  It was really fun, and I was the last one out ... very refreshing in the desert heat.

Today, on to Shechem in Samaria to visit the Greek Orthodox Church built over Jacob's Well.  The Well is in the crypt and you can go down there--it's very deep.  We got to drink from the well.  This is the well (our guide Najati is "120% sure of it") where Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman in John 4.  It is amazing to be where He was, yet no matter where we are, we breathe him in with every breath; we drink him in with every sip of water.  Disturbing thing about the church:  in 1979 an Orthodox priest was murdered by axe by a settler from a nearby settlement in the West Bank ... his head was chopped into 5 pieces by this guy ... there is an icon of the priest being murdered, hanging in the church behind the sarcophagus of the priest.  The settler was later determined to be mentally ill.
Unforgettable modern icon of Greek Orthodox priest
being axed in the Church above Jacob's well in Shechem
 by settler--1979

On to the Tel of Shechem where Joshua spoke to the people about blessings (Mount Gerazim to the left side--it is verdant with springs) and curses (Mount Ebal to the right--it is desolate, dry and barren).  Joshua 24 gives his speech to the people, telling them to choose blessings--choose life.  And in this context choosing life means choosing God.
This is the rock associated with Joshua's address to the
Israelites--see Joshua 24

Ended with a blazing hot walk through dust, dust, and more dust and through an olive orchard through the ruins of the settlement at Sebastia, built by Herod the Great.  This is a large town complete with amphitheater, forum, and Temple of Augustus.  

I love this picture.  The Roman forum at Sebastia, built under Herod the Great.
Note the plastic chairs within.  Modernity strikes!

We are being stretched mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Thank heavens our compound in Jerusalem is air conditioned and we are being well cared for!  Thank God for water bottles and sunscreen, too.  I don't know how people did it back in the day.  One thing I think of now and then is that in the NT it never says that Jesus was complaining about the heat.  I suppose it was such a novelty for him to be in a body and in a physical environment that he never griped.  So I am trying not to gripe, either.  On to Nazareth and Bethlehem tomorrow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Catching our Breath Now--Barry

Now in Jerusalem at St George's College enjoying a few days getting acclimated here before the course starts tonight.   There has been a lot of time in the past two days for afternoon naps, while doing some sightseeing in the Old City and elsewhere in Jerusalem and attending to overdue personal needs like haircuts.

St George's College, Jerusalem--our home for the next three weeks (we're in one of the third floor rooms with a balcony)

The last week or so following our departure from New Zealand was a whirlwind as we visited three large cities--Sydney, Melbourne, and Singapore--before taking the El Al flight to Tel Aviv from Bangkok that arrived here early Sunday morning.   We also rented a car in Sydney and drove the 1000km to Melbourne over the coastal route in two days to see something of Australia outside its two major cities.  (Interesting routing by the way for the El Al flight, which can't fly over Saudi Arabia, so we went south around the horn of Africa over Somalia and Djibouti before flying over the Red Sea, which itself took 2-3 hours, much longer than I expected.)

A few random observations of the places we've been since my last post:
--Sydney:  the highlight for me was seeing for the first time, in person, those two iconic landmarks--the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.   It made me think of those other thrilling moments when I've been fortunate to see in person sights that I had known only through photographs since childhood--the Eiffel Tower, the Matterhorn, and the Star ferries in Hong Kong come to mind.   My first sight of these two Sydney landmarks was on the approach of our Air New Zealand--what a great airline!--flight from Christchurch when we happened to be on the right side of the aircraft to take in the view before landing.   Later we were able to walk across the Harbour Bridge from our B&B in nearby Kirribili and to tour and later attend a performance at SOH.   Will always remember this.

Harbour Bridge and downtown Sydney (Opera House at far left) seen from  ferry slip near our B&B
--Melbourne:  while it doesn't have the well recognized landmarks of its larger rival city in New South Wales, Melbourne for us was a more comfortable city with its wide streets and downtown grid layout reminiscent of Chicago and Toronto.   We loved our visit to the Melbourne Zoo, taking one of the city's famous trams there and back.   The highpoint of the zoo was seeing those well-known Australian creatures (kangaroo and koala bear) that we weren't able to see--either in the wild or as roadkill--during our long drive between the two cities.   So we could check that off our list!

Marilyn and friend at Melbourne Zoo
--Singapore: just amazing.   The dynamism of the place is so palpable, and I've never been to such an orderly and clean urban area.   It was just thrilling to observe and, as Americans, somewhat sobering as well.   The National Museum of Singapore had a fantastic walk through exhibit on the city state's history. How far Singapore has come in terms of overall standard of living for its residents just in the period Marilyn and I have been alive is just breathtaking and testimony to the extremely good governance and industrious people resident there.

Naumi Hotel with its great rooftop pool view of Singapore was a splurge at the half way point of our journey--and well worth it
My last observation leads to a related, depressing thought.   On our journey we've been to four countries---Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore--where the governance--not just in my estimation but to other observers and by other measures as well--is superior to what we have in the US, and this "good governance" gap over decades between these four countries and ours is manifest right before our eyes in our travels in the quality of public facilities like airports, urban amenities like well maintained parks and restrooms, etc.   And increasingly these countries are eating our lunch economically--just check out how exchange rates have moved between USD and CAD, NZD, AUD, and SGD.   In Australia unemployment is less that 5% and it's less than 2% in Singapore and you wonder how long before we return in the US to days of economic prosperity and optimism.   Enough of my editorializing....

I'll close with an initial reflection on Israel.   Just walking through the Old City the other day--very much an in your face experience in comparison to the polite, Anglicized places we've been to so far--you realize how hard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is and will be to resolve.    Like the layout of the Old City itself, it seems very complicated.   This morning, up early to do my email, I spoke with Azzam, one of the Palestinian workers at the College.   Today it took him an hour and twenty minutes to get through the Israeli checkpoint to get to work from his home in the West Bank.   He has rheumatoid arthritis and it hurts for him to stand in line for so long.   Just imagine going through the worst airport security line of your life every workday, twice, and that's probably what it's like.   The next few weeks are going to be filled, I think, with troubling observations and I hope some positive insights as well.   Farewell for now.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Turning Point

At this point we are more than halfway through our PDL.  We've left Singapore today and just landed in Bangkok minutes ago.  In order to get the boarding passes for our El Al flight to Israel we had to go through extra security at a screening counter.  We passed.  As I was standing there I was gazing at the blue and white El Al logo and realizing that this really is happening--when the next plane lands we will be in Tel Aviv.  Someone from St George's College will meet us there and drive us to Jerusalem.  Gazing at the logo I realized that "El" is one of the most ancient names for God in the OT.  Maybe El Al is God's Airline.

We spent a frenzied 2 days in Singapore, trying to keep up with the pace of the city and its inhabitants.  Quite the impressive place.  We ate chili crab and black pepper crab at East Coast Seafood (Jumbo Restaurant) which was a cultural experience in itself.

Barry cleaning up after chili crab, left, and black pepper crab, right

We had Asian fusion at a restaurant on the Singapore River and took a river taxi most of the way home.  We went to the Singapore Museum and saw a terrific historical exhibit as well as an exhibit of the photography of Abbas, a modern photo journalist.  Sue K, we just didn't get to Little India to have fish head curry but to tell the truth I never could get past that name ...  Singapore is an amazing place, bustling and economically a powerhouse.  The tropics continue to amaze me with the ferns and plants--the Botanical Garden in Singapore was so impressive, especially the orchid gardens.  Orchids are everywhere here--even huge displays in airports in Singapore and in Bangkok.

Palm variety--SBO

Lovely orchids--SBO

A member of the ginger family--SBO

And now it's time to turn toward academics.  We are beginning our course this coming Tuesday evening and expect to join 20 or 30 people from around the Anglican Communion as we continue to make connections between God's Word and the Promised Land.  But before that it's time for the mid-sabbatical haircuts we each need and maybe a pedicure too in order to attend to some raggedy polish applied in May in Toronto.

An through it all I've been working on The Artist's Way and am finding it a very stimulating and worthwhile guide to going deeper into the Inner Life.  I'm on Week 9 now, getting a little ahead so that it can be put aside for a few weeks while we take the course in Jerusalem.  I'd recommend this "course in creativity" to anyone who may or may not be an artist.  It's basic premise is that by understanding our past and by knowing our foibles and our wounds, we are better able to give ourselves over to God's direction as we continue with our lives.  (It's really pretty sound psychotherapeutic stuff.)  Here's a terrific quote from Miles Davis that is highlighted in the book:  "Do not fear mistakes.  There are none."

And finally, I downloaded the album that the Traveling Wilburys made together in 1988-- that was the group composed of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne.  It was so sweet to hear their music again--and especially since two members of the band have since died:  Roy Orbison and George Harrison.

Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way with us ...  so be quick to love, and make haste to be kind.

Over and out.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sydney Opera House ~ Intuition Preceded Engineering!

We focused on the Opera House when we were in Sydney--we had only about a day and a half and that city is huge.
The Sydney Opera House, taken from our walk over the Harbour Bridge.
Our tour guide insisted that this was the most famous building in the world,
and maybe so.  But I'd suggest the Empire State Building, too!

The first day we took the standard 1-hour tour of the SOH and saw the large concert hall, the hall that houses the operas/musical theaters, and several smaller performance spaces.  The second day we returned for an evening concert, which was splendid.  We heard The Sydney Philharmonic Choir (over 700 voices!!) plus orchestra and organ performing Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.  It was amazing and an event of worship as well as performance.  It reminded me of the Fairfield County Chorale performances I've attended--just bigger.

Distinct memories of mine from the evening include the effect of people over the ages singing to God for mercy in the Kyrie, reminiscent of all the voices in Bach's Magnificat praising God.  It was also delightful to hear how Beethoven used a flute playing "birdsong" lightly over the choral piece of the Creed, "and was made incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary" ~ the Spirit was at play and it was delightful.  And this piece was written at the culmination of Beethoven's career, when he was totally deaf.

Inside the Concert Hall.  Take a look at that huge organ
installation!  10,000 pipes!  

The organ in the Concert Hall is huge.  It takes up the entire back wall.  It has over 10,000 pipes!!  It took 10 years to build (by a Sydney organ builder) and took 2 years to tune.  Yikes!  We were sitting in Peanut Heaven, way up high, and we were level with the organist, who is perched way up there with his back to the conductor.  They must have some kind of video arrangement or something for him ...  It would be way scary to be sitting up there on that organ bench and I surely wouldn't want to lean back ... talk about being exposed when you are playing.  Martha, I thought of you and wish you could have been there to see this!  A photo will have to do.

But the most impressive thing was what we learned on the tour.  The architect, a previously unknown Dane named Jorn Utzon, conceived the design without working out any of the mechanics or the science of it all.  His design was selected as the best out of thousands submitted as entries to the contest proposed by the City of Sydney in 1955.  The judges loved the entry even though it was a rudimentary sketch.  So the foundation was dug and things prepared for the building to go on top of it.  Meanwhile, the architect hired a Mechanical Engineer who worked for years and still couldn't figure out how to make it all work--how to turn the sketch into reality.  The engineer gave up.  Then in a flash of intuition the architect saw that the various parts of the building that look like sails to us are actually sections of spheres.  That insight cracked the science way open and they could proceed with building.  They had finally been given the knowledge they needed.

I was thinking about how often we work like this in so many areas.  We conceive an idea and we know it's good...but still we don't see our way through to its completion for a good while.  Interesting, this thing called creativity.  The Spirit works oddly enough it seems, and often it's up to us to trust the rudimentary flashes we receive, even if we don't yet have the working knowledge of how to get from A to B.  That's how we made our way through our renovations and our new organ purchase, I think:  idea, followed by plan.  But it's so hard to trust those intuitions, isn't it!!

Last but not least here are a few photos of the SOH at night.  The City of Sydney sponsors a festival of lights when they use ultra-powerful projectors to throw designs and color onto the sides of buildings downtown.

As you can see the SOH makes a wonderful canvas.  Talk about creativity!
The Sydney Opera House at night during the Vivid Festival.

Pray for Christchurch

We heard on the radio that Christchurch suffered 2 aftershocks today.  On the Richter scale they were 5.5 and 6.0, respectively, according to the report we heard.  The intensity of the second shock was almost at the level of the quake in February and even more buildings now will be deemed irreparable and torn down.  Pray for the people of Christchurch.  They are suffering so intensely.  Pray for New Zealand and her resilient people who have even more work ahead.

We stayed in Christchurch last Friday and I was uncomfortably aware that we were on the first floor of a two-storey building.  Crushable.  All night I was dreaming that there was a quake ... and there was none that night.  Imagine living there full time and the anxiety that must bring.

God bless them all.

Friday, June 10, 2011

NZ This Time and Next Time--Barry

Writing this from the airport lounge in Christchurch where I am feeling some melancholy about leaving New Zealand.   It is, after all, a place that Marilyn and I have talked about visiting "some day" for 30+ years and now--a little sadly--we will shortly need to speak of this visit in the past tense.   But we are already talking about a return visit "some day" in the future.

Scotland?  No.   Taken on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin.    Another beautiful day.

This visit did turn out to be the "Grand Tour" of the North and South Islands as we had expected.   Over the 22 days we traveled over 3800km (mainly on the South Island), stayed at 10 B&Bs and several motels (all fine or excellent), and took that great ferry ride from Wellington to Picton on a gorgeous day with calm waters in the Cook Strait, thankfully.

Along Main St. in Owaka in the Catlins across from our B&B.     Coldest morning of the trip at -2C.

Three weeks allowed us to venture out beyond the standard first-visit itinerary of Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, Queenstown, Milford Sound, etc. to visit places like the Coromandel peninsula on the North Island and the Catlins at the far south of the South Island.   In the Coromandel we stretched out and napped on a fantastic deserted beach on a sunny day at Opito Bay.   In the Catlins we crept up on a formidable sea lion also on an empty beach at Cannibal Bay.  I think these less-visited places were the highlights of a journey here that had few low points.

From the coach ride to Milford Sound

Whether at a well-known spot or not, we met very friendly people who made us feel right at home.

Two happy NZ tourists.

We can begin dreaming about Next Time in New Zealand when we will probably pick two or three spots and then settle in each for a longer period.   This Time was well worth the 30 year wait.   Farewell.

The Southern Alps seen from Fox Glacier.   That's Mt Cook on the right.

Leaving with Sadness But Not Regrets

 Today is our last full day in New Zealand and we fly out tomorrow from Christchurch on our way to Sydney, Australia.  Looking forward to flying Air New Zealand again as their safety video features Richard Simmons in an outrageous send up of the usual safety spiel.  He looks older and like he's been around the block a little, which I suppose he has.  But nonetheless the video gets your attention...

Mirror Lake, on the way to Milford Sound.
Over the past few days we've traveled to the place where most first-time New Zealand visitors end up--Milford Sound.  It's in the fjord country on the SW coast of New Zealand and is indeed gorgeous.  That area is also covered with rain forest, and so--duh--it gets a lot of rain.  That's why the weather looks a little lousy.  Oh well.  Highlight was the dolphin pod that played alongside the boat and twice we saw one breach and jump--it looked like Joy incarnate.  What a treat.  We also saw some seals lounging about.

Lovely scene from Milford Sound
The day involved a bus ride of 4 hours' duration from Queenstown to Milford Sound, then a cruise for 2 hours, and then the ride home.  Quite a day out, and well worth not driving ourselves.

After our short sojourn in Fiordlands we headed south to the area known as the Catlins--this is gently rolling farmland and spectacular coastland in the SE corner of New Zealand.
Sobering to think we were closer to the South Pole than to the Equator ...  still the Flat Whites were terrific!
This was taken near the southernmost point on the South Island.

It isn't well developed at all, and we had trouble finding lodging and restaurants--but it was really worth the trip.  Very isolated but with gentle scenery that was absolutely lovely.
Coastal scenery in the Catlins near a place called
Jack's Blowhole, named for a Maori chief.
A blowhole is a place where the sea enters through
a long cave and reverberates a good deal inland in
spectacular fashion.  This blowhole was 200 m
from the coastline,  

This area is off the beaten track for first-time visitors and we were so happy to have found it.
Taken on our way back to Owaka in the Catlins after an
unsuccessful attempt to see yellow-eyed penguins
coming in for the night.  We were much more successful
in finding a wonderful sunset.

One spectacular thing we sighted was a huge sea lion lounging at the beach at Cannibal Bay.  This was named "Cannibal" because a 19th Century geologist found human bones on the beach there.    Anyway the sea lion was very cool, especially how he flopped back into the water.  Clumsy on land, incredibly graceful in the water.

One bit of wildlife we didn't see here were penguins.  There are 2 varieties who nest in NZ on this coast but we just didn't hit it right.  That's a good reason to return one day, God willing.

Big old sea lion standing guard on the beach at Cannibal Bay.
The indentation in the beach where he spent the night
was pretty icky looking when we found him in the morning...

Today we finished in Christchurch, where the most recent large earthquake happened this past February.  We walked downtown and there is still a very large area cordoned off because it is still unsafe and also because clearing and rebuilding are still happening there.  It was sad and melancholy and deserted, and these perceptions were only enforced by the rain we had today.  Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island, and it's a shame to see it crippled.  May it rise again like a phoenix!

Barry and I are wondering if we may feel a tremor here before we leave in the morning.  Just a few days ago they experienced a major aftershock that sent fear into a lot of guts.  Apparently people have frayed nerves and short tempers due to living with the stress of the potentiality of another big one.  Kids are regressing in their development ... and the forecast for more shaking in the future is strong.  Do keep them all in your prayers.  Our motel tonight is just outside downtown, and it did not sustain damage in the last big quake.

Last but not least, a shout out for Waitiri Creek Pinot Gris 2009 ...  an absolutely smooth and delicious white ... hope we can find it in the States.

Over and out from M.
Looking through the fencing that separates the reconstruction area from the rest of downtown
in Christchurch.  We are looking at the Cathedral in the distance, whose tower toppled during the quake.  Luckily no one was killed by the cathedral tower collapse.  All 20 people got out safely.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Two Churches, Vastly Different

We attended worship this morning at St Peter's in Queenstown, NZ, nestled in the heart of the mountainous area of the South Island.  It was well attended, with lots of locals from NZ as well as people from France, England, and of course the US.
St Peter's Church in Queenstown

This afternoon we drove out in the country to the Otago Wine District, known for their good reds, as well as other wines.  We lunched in the restaurant and tasting room of Waitiri Creek Winery, which was in a little Presbyterian Church that closed down in the 1950's and was moved to the spot.
Winery Restaurant at Waitiri Creek Winery

We had a good wood-fired pizza (cooked outside on an old fashioned barbeque installation) and pumpkin soup (in NZ everything "squash" is called "pumpkin).  Followed it all with a nice walk and a nice nap.

Inside the Restaurant, looking out

Saturday, June 4, 2011

What One Can Do When Stuck in Car a Lot

Courtesy of  "Instant Poetry" app while en route to Queenstown:

frond wrapped tight
green coils hiding the future
opening too slowly
do I want the secret?

The app actually looks like the white-on-black rectangular magnetic words you get in poetry games that are marketed to be played on the fronts of refrigerators.  Alas, the quality of the emailed final version will not allow publication as is.  Please use imagination!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Two Terrific Days and a Stinky Night

Two terrific days here--yesterday Barry and I took a "water taxi" for tourists up to Abel Tasman National Park on the Northwest Coast of New Zealand.  After seeing seals nursing their pups from our post on the boat, the pilot let us off on a beach and we took this great trail over to the pick-up point.

New Zealand Harbour Seal taking life easy

We walked through rain forest and along beaches for about 5 or 6 miles.  The best part was having to cross over a tidal flat (at low tide!) and nonetheless walking through a good quarter mile of mud, shells, and the occasional stream.  It was really fun, and it tuckered us out really well.
Barry getting spa mud treatment

Today we drove west and south to the West Coast of the Southern Island to Punakaiki National Park.  On the way we stopped outside Murchison at a deep chasm with a rushing stream below.  That's where we walked the scariest Swing Bridge ever constructed (IMHO) and we rode back across the stream on a zip line.  It was a blast.  But the Swing Bridge was not a blast as it played off my fears of unprotected heights and rushing deep water ... wow I was glad to get across that one.  One step at a time.  Good sermon illustration.

At Punakaiki Park there are these very cool towers of limestone right on the beach, cutely named "Pancake Rocks."  We had a couple really nice shorter walks here.

Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki National Park
And the place we are staying has its own grotto (actually a damp recess in a bank on a hill).  This grotto is very cool because when you go there at night it's lit up by glowworms--looks like stars on the side of the bank.  I had never seen this kind of thing before and it was amazing.  Must have been 50 or so little points of light from these things--apparently they manufacture a phosphorescent chemical to attract insects to eat.

After we saw the stars in the earth we took another look at the Milky Way; it's so gorgeous here, far away from the lights of a town.  Oh we also saw a kiwi (bird, not NZ citizen, fuzzy fruit, or dollar) scurry across the road in front of the car.  Nice!

And the stinky night?  An intestinal bug made a nocturnal visit...but all well now, thank God.
Love to all and prayers for the tornado victims in Massachusetts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Getting Around--Barry

Traveling in New Zealand in the off season we've kept an open itinerary and made reservations a day or so ahead as we've gone along.   I pitched the guide book long ago and have been using Trip Advisor to select B&Bs and have had no problem at all with bookings, with the exception of Wellington last weekend when we had to settle for a hotel.  (Trip Advisor has become really important in the B&B business.)  All the places we've stayed have wifi internet access, allowing me to use Skype for local calls at 2-3 cents per minute.   (Pay Verizon $1.99 a minute for roaming in NZ--no way!)

Resting after a day's journey at City Lights B&B overlooking Rotorua--now where will we stay tomorrow night in Taupo?

The seven B&Bs we've stayed in thus far here have been very good, in several instances outstanding.   The owners have been wonderful to talk to.   They also provide great advice for touring and local restaurants, so again we've been able to dispense with the travel books.

Goat Island Marine Reserve an hour north of Auckland--a really good recommendation from Beth at 23 Hepburn B&B, Auckland

Opito Beach on Coromandel peninsula east of Auckland--there was no one else there when we visited--great recommendation from Robin at Jacaranda Lodge, outside Coromandel town (where we saw the Southern Cross the night before)

Continuing on the theme that New Zealand is an exceptionally easy place to travel in, I've found that even the left-hand driving is easier here than the UK or Ireland, mainly because the roads are wider, with little traffic.  In the hills and mountains the roads are quite winding, so I think 300km is the most you want to tackle in a day, while allowing some time to get out of the car to sightsee or walk.

No, I was not driving when I took this picture--heading to Rotorua

It's very off-season here, akin to late November back home.  Traveling off-season often means settling for less than favorable weather, but that has been far from the case here (so far).   With sunny days and high temperatures in the mid 60s, it's been just about perfect here.

Sheep in the vineyards in Marlborough wine region of South Island near Blenheim

Sunset a day later looking east from Split Apple Lodge, Kaiteriteri, west of Nelson