Monday, September 05, 2016

Playing Catch Up

I have got to stop saying that I'm going to do things on this blog. Every time I do, the universe kicks me in the backside, and then stands back laughing.

We came back from India sick; David with a chest infection that turned into pneumonia, and me with a cold/ear infection. Because of all the immunosuppressants I am on I have to nip infections in the bud so I went straight to my ENT and she said I had such a classic blister on my eardrum she wished she had students there she could show it to. Thanks Doc.

Anyway, we were pretty much down for the count for the whole of March. Then I spent April and the first part of May in a funk, realizing that this is now my life. (More on that in another post.)

However, on the whole, 2016 has been a year of milestones and ticking items off the bucket-list.

India - see previous posts.

Thirtieth High School Reunion - 30 years! How did that happen?

Only five of us turned up, partly because the school had moved Alumni Weekend up a week, so it caught people by surprise. We had a great time anyway. Amusingly (in a dark way), our dinner conversation ranged through stories about our jobs, our children's escapades, and eventually turned to our parents' health and I realized we were at that age now. All of us had either already lost or parent, or had at least one with some serious health issues.

Girly Weekend

I had a Canada Air voucher I needed to use, so I contacted my college friend, Alicia, in Toronto and asked her if she was up for a weekend visit. Happily, she was, so I left the husband behind for a weekend of long conversations, macarons, yarn shopping, pink lattes, playing with Miss Mable (the cat), and (me) trying poutine for the first time. Seriously, what's not to like about fried potatoes, cheese, and gravy?

Photo courtesy of Alicia Homer

This was the first girly weekend I've had in years, and Alicia is a very gracious hostess: to the point of giving up her bed and sleeping on a mattress in the living room, so I didn't have to heave my arthritic bones up and down off the floor.

Annual Leave in England

We took our Annual Leave (previously known as furlough) at the end of May. David had to attend meetings at Newbold the first few days, so we rented a cottage on a farm near Maidenhead, and drove to Binfield nearly every day, partly for the meetings, but also to see as many friends as we could while we had the chance, which was lovely. We had so many meals out that week I hardly had to cook!

The second week we spent in Cornwall. Finally! All that time we lived in England, and Cornwall was one of the places we never managed to get to. I've wanted to visit Tintagel since the first time I read about King Arthur as a child, so that was definitely a check mark on the bucket-list. There's a lot of steps to climb to get up to the top of the island, and many stops were made to catch our breath, but it was totally worth it. I wasn't expecting an atmosphere, as there were a lot of people about (unfortunately our week in Cornwall turned out to be half term), and also because it was a blazingly hot day, but somehow, despite the people and the cheerful sunshine, I could feel the history of the place. There were several places I could just sit on the grass, or a bit of stone, and stare out over the sea, as clear and green as glass, and imagine Merlin smuggling the baby Arthur down the cliffs in the dead of night.

 Knitting was done.

We went to the Eden Project, which is an amazing accomplishment, and I'm glad we saw it, but what I really loved was the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Just the name alone is enough to tantalize. It's an estate that lost most of its gardeners in the First World War and was allowed to fall into ruin until a couple of crazy people discovered it in the early 90s and brought it back to life. (They went on to create the Eden project later.) It was another hot, sunny day, so the walks in the woods were very welcome, but my favourite thing, and the reason I knew about Heligan, was the Mud Maid. I'd seen a postcard of her at my friend Stacy's house years ago and have been fascinated every since.

So many cream teas were eaten in Cornwall. This one was the best.

Turkey and Greece

Every five years, after the church elections, each of the executive departments (Presidential, Secretariat, and Treasury) have a "bonding" trip. David's department comes under Secretariat so, as head of department, he gets to go on the trip, and spouses are encouraged to come as well. We moved to Maryland in 2011, so three weeks after we moved into our house, we were off to Italy, Germany, and Switzerland for "The Reformation Tour" - sites related to the Protestant Reformation. This time it was the Journeys of Paul, so we got to visit Turkey and Greece.

We started in Izmir (Smyrna) and saw various sites in Western Turkey, including Ephesus and Troy! We weren't originally scheduled to go to Troy (no connection with Paul) but our guide decided at the last minute to go anyway, since we were going to be so close. David and I were mentally punching the air when that was announced!

It was so hot! The first few days we were there, when our schedule was the heaviest, it got up to 105F. As we clambered over dusty ruins, every time the guide would stop speaking, everyone would scatter in the search for shade, wherever it could be found.

We travelled up and around the north eastern part of Greece and then down the center, visiting the monasteries at Meteora, and then stopped at the site of the Battle of Thermopylae, where the 300 Spartans faced down the armies of Persia. David, in particular, was very excited about this.

In Athens we saw the Pergamon Parthenon (we did go to Pergamon, but the week before, obviously), visited the Pergamon Parthenon museum and, because we had a free day, wandered over to the Archaeological Museum, where David got to fulfill another boyhood dream and saw items from the excavations at Mycenae and the Mask of Agamemnon. We didn't even realize it was there until we turned a corner, and there it was, staring at us.

The final thrill was taking a ferry to Patmos and seeing the Cave of the Apocalypse, where John is said to have had his vision, and written Revelation. I am totally in love with the Greek Islands. I was determined to swim in the Aegean Sea, so we spent an hour in the afternoon paddling at the tiny beach in Skala, near our hotel. The water is indescribably blue. It's no wonder artists go mad trying to capture just that particular shade, which seems to shift every time you look away.

Folk Singers and Children's Books

Last month, David had a conference to attend at Harvard. Normally he'd fly up, but we discovered that the night before the conference was to start, one of our favourite folk singers, Dougie MacLean, was going to be in Schenectady, NY. I saw Dougie in Seattle a few years ago, but David hadn't seen him live, so we decided to drive up to Schenectady on the Monday, attend the concert, stay the night, and then drive to Cambridge, MA, Tuesday morning. We were hoping to get there in time to check into our hotel and unpack, but it took longer to drive up than we expected to we drove right to the theatre, and were about half an hour late. He hadn't brought his band on this tour, just himself and a guitar. I think it was the first concert of his tour as he said he'd only been in the country for 48 hours and was still jetlagged; his energy levels were lower than the last time I saw him, but it was so worth the drive.

The next day we drove to Harvard. I've never even been to Massachusetts before, let alone Harvard,  so it was a week of firsts. I had been hoping to get into Boston, but I had to work that week so I spent Tuesday afternoon and all of Wednesday on the computer. However, I was absolutely determined to get to Concord. I've loved Little Women for as long as I can remember. It was one of the first "big" books I ever read; I think when I was about seven, I pretty much had it on permanent loan from the library until my parents finally bought it for me one Christmas. After that, I think I read it about every other Christmas for the next 20 years. It's been a while since I've read it now - I should get it out again. And of course I read almost all her other children's books over the course of time.

On the Thursday I drove out to Concord and got to Orchard House just before it opened. I browsed around the exceedingly charming gift shop until the first tour started. I'd been excited (by my phlegmatic standards) about getting to finally see the house, but I wasn't expecting to get as emotional as I did - I actually teared up as we started the tour.

I take terrible selfies. So I don't take them very often - only when I'm really excited to be doing something, and there is no one else around to take a picture for me. Also, the sun was in my eyes and I couldn't see the screen, so I had to kind of guess when I had both the house and myself in the frame. But here's me - at Louisa May Alcott's house!!!!!!

I also visited the Concord Museum and Emerson's house, which I very much enjoyed, but neither gave me the sheer joy of the Alcott's house. I would have liked to see Walden Pond, but it was $10 just to park in the parking lot, and by that time I was getting tired. If I'd had time and energy I'd have liked to walk around the lake, but as it was, all I would have done was walked to the pond, looked, and left, and I'd already spent a fair amount of money for the other three sites. So, I left it for another visit. I'd seen the things I really had to see.

Wow, looking back it's been a lot of travel this year! A lot of really good travel. I'm glad I'm home for a while now. I had the chance to go to Bermuda with David next week but I'm really ready for a break. Nothing now until Thanksgiving.

Next year's travel plans include a trip in February to Australia to see David's family, and camp meeting in California next summer. But I don't think it's going to be as intense as this year. That's probably a good thing. I'm kind of exhausted!


Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Glimpse of India

Last month I got to go with David on a work trip to India. I've been wanting to visit for ages, particularly since David was born there and I've heard stories about it for as long as we've been together. 

I'm going to try to avoid making this a travelogue - others have done that much better and more comprehensively than I ever could. I just want to give an overview of what we did, and highlight some of the things that caught my fancy while we were there.

We spent the first couple of days in Mumbai (Bombay) where David spoke to a meeting of Mumbai Metro church workers. 
Some of the church workers David spoke to in Mumbai
He was very pleased to be able to speak from the same pulpit his Dad would have preached in more than forty years ago.
David speaking at the Mumbai Central English Church
 We also had our first experience of Indian hospitality, with the first in a series of flower garlands and bouquets we were presented with during our visit.
The first, and my favourite, of the flower garlands we were presented with.
We were scheduled pretty tightly while we were there, but we did get an afternoon to do a little sightseeing before we left Mumbai.

First stop was the Breach Candy hospital, where David was born. It looks a little dilapidated from the outside but inside was very clean and modern - unfortunately they wouldn't let me take pictures inside.
Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai
We then drove by the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station (formerly Victoria Terminus), an amazing Victorian neo-Gothic extravaganza, but unfortunately we didn't stop so I couldn't get a picture.

We did get to get out and walk around the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. Someday I want to spend a night at that hotel - it's gorgeous.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel - Mumbai
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel - close up
While we were admiring the architecture, a group of Muslim girls, and one young man, decided they needed a picture with me. There were a few other Westerners about so I'm not sure why I was the lucky one - maybe it was the sunglasses. David managed to catch the moment on his phone.
It was a bit of a whirlwind afternoon but I managed to capture a few images that caught my fancy.
Construction workers clambering around bamboo scaffolding - about four floors up.
A man selling some of the most gorgeous strawberries I've ever seen.
Ferries in the harbour by the Gate of India
A Hindu shrine, near where we had lunch
An example of India's somewhat idiosyncratic English
We left Bombay the next day and drove to Pune (previously Poona), about ninety miles south-east of Mumbai, where the church has offices and a college (Spicer).

Maharashtra, the state Mumbai and Pune are in, reminded me of Central California, with dry hills and scrubby trees, punctuated with the verdant green of irrigated agricultural land.
One of the things David wanted to do while we were in India was to visit some of the small churches, not just the bigger, institutional ones. We visited several church plants in the outskirts of Mumbai, Pune and Aurangabad, where little groups of 20-30 members came out of an evening to hear David speak. They spoke little English, but smiled and greeted us with "namaste" or "salaam," and gifts of flowers presented by little girls in their best dresses. One group fed us dinner of homemade curries and iddly. The sightseeing was fabulous, but my favourite moments were these.

We also got to briefly visit the school in Pune, which has more than a thousand students. They were very well behaved when we were there, and despite the size of the school, the class sizes seemed to remain small. We popped our heads into a classroom of nine- or ten-year-olds, and there were about twenty children, with a teacher and one or two assistants.
Getting small boys to line up in order is apparently hard whereever you are.
We left Pune and drove to Aurangabad, 150 miles north-east. Our van got a flat about two hours into the trip, so we got out and waited on the side of a very busy, dry, dusty road for about half an hour. It was a warm day, in the 80s, and there was very little shade. There were trees along the side, but since it was still technically winter, there were few leaves. David caught a picture of me while we were waiting - the scarf was not intended to make me blend in, it was just to offer a little shade.
Me, not blending in at all.
We did visit a church in Aurangabad, but the real reason for going was to visit the the Daulatabad Fortress and the Ellora caves.

Ellora was amazing. It's a series of 34 "caves" carved right into the rock of a ridge north of Aurangabad, over several hundred years. The older caves are Buddhist, and are more cave-like; caverns carved back into the rock with columns and a few statues. They were dark and a bit of a relief from the heat and glare of the outside. 
The Buddhist caves at Ellora
Although Buddhism was all but extinguished in India long ago, this site is clearly still a draw for Buddhists from other parts of the world.

My favourite part of Ellora was the Hindu temple closer to the entrance. The craftsmanship was incredible.

We stopped by the fortress at Daulatabad, but it was getting late, we were tired, and we had a plane to catch, so we didn't climb all the way to the top, but we did wander around the bottom of the hill.
Daulatabad Fortress
 The tower used to be open, but too many lovers were jumping off.

There were monkeys.
Before we left Aurangabad, we also briefly visited Bibi Ka Maqbara, known as the Mini Taj Mahal. It was built by Azam Shah, son of Aurangazeb (after whom Aurangabad is named) on the same model as the Taj Mahal, his grandmother's mausoleum. It is a charming building, of white marble, with exquisite carvings of flowers and latticework.

Finally, I'd like to share a few random pictures of things I just found interesting or charming.

Indian babies are the most adorable things in the world. I asked this mother if I could take a picture and she graciously agreed. 
 When I had done the little girl indicated that I needed to take another one, so I did.
Indian lorries (trucks) are movable works of art.

 And they want you to honk your horn at them - almost every truck had "Horn OK Please" emblazoned on the back. Many of them seem to lack wing mirrors so I think it's to let them know that something is coming up behind them.
Cows. So many cows. David managed to get a picture for me on our last day. 
Saris - so many beautiful saris. It was interesting - most of the men I saw wore Western dress, but most of the women were in traditional dress - either saris or some form of a salwar kameez.
A woman with an angle grinder on the side of the road on the way out of Mumbai - sharpening knives
Women, in saris, on scooters - everywhere

We packed so much into our week in India, and yet saw so little of the country. It turns out it was just an appetizer, to whet our appetite for more. David has been invited back next year, so hopefully we can extend our visit and see some of the south and north as well.



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