Hi and welcome to my blog site.
Our holiday to Peru was delayed when our flight from the UK to Amsterdam was cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions, we finally left 48 hours later which created lots of problems with having to re-book our missed internal flight in Peru as well as places we had booked to stay in. There could also have been a big problem when we were checking in at the UK airport when the staff told Jun she needed a visa to get into Peru, we told them she didn't and produced the letter we had received from the Peruvian Embassy when we had wrote to them to confirm Jun didn't need a visa at which point they said OK (seems they had been consulting an outdated visa guide book). Finally got aboard plane then had to wait while it was completely de-iced, we then had a 4 hour wait in Amsterdam ( spent some of it in the meditation room) followed by a 13 hour flight into Lima by which time we had been up 22 hours. We then had to locate the local airline office LPC Peru to re-book our flight to Cusco for the next day for which they charged us an additional $70 then followed the mayhem of trying to get a taxi to go to Mira Flores in Lima ended up chasing them all away and asking two policemen where the green taxi company was and took one of there's and by the time we got to the hotel at Mira Flores we had been up 30 hours.
The flight wasn't till the afternoon so after breakfast we had a lovely long walk along the coast firstly passing three fire crews working to put out a bus fire just around the corner from the hotel, had a lovely coffee on a balcony jutting out over the Pacific Ocean and visited a lovely Catholic Church, then back to collect our bags and the taxi owned by Henry ( lovely man) back to the airport and the inevitable flight delay before arriving in Cusco after 5pm the landing was a bit spectacular coming across the mountains then a very sharp turn before dropping down in the valley. We felt the effect of the altitude immediately and started to chew the Coco leaves and drink lots of Coco tea. Again taxi drivers hassling you wanting 60 Sol ( £12) to take us to the old historic quarter where we were staying we got one down to 20 and later found out even that was to much. After unpacking we laid down to rest and slept till 11pm then decided to just get into bed and we slept till 5am.
The next day after breakfast we went for a walk and to buy the tickets for Machu Pichu and Peru Rail, I had a headache but Jun was feeling ill so we went back to hotel Jun went to bed and I went out again on my own and visited the San Francisco Convent and Monastery a very beautiful place and while I was walking around I came across this couple with a guide and as we entered an upstairs room she stood in the centre and sang Ave Marie I had goose bumps down my back later we all went up to the bell tower and roof and on the way back I asked her if she would sing it again and let me video it to show my wife who was back at the hotel poorly and she did. she also showed me in another large room that you could stand in one corner with your ear to the wall and she went across to the other side and whispered to the wall and I could hear it as if she was stood right next to me.
I went back to the Hotel but Jun still not feeling well so I went out on the evening for a walk and get something to eat and bring something back for Jun. The next morning we went out visiting museums and the Convent of St Theresa's Carmelites and bought tickets to go on a tour of the Sacred Valley as we intended to go nearly all the way of the tour but get off at Ollyamtambo to catch the train to Machu Pichu, but Jun started to feel unwell again so we went back to the hotel, then I went out again and visited the Church and Convent of De Santo Domingo which was built on a Inca site of which you can still see, I found a very hippy Vegan restaurant on the way back and we went there on the night.
We checked out the next morning and waited for the tour bus which didn't arrive so we rang the guy we had booked with and he came with a taxi and we caught up with the bus and set off on the tour of the sacred valley visiting Chinchero, Tupac, and other Inca sites with great views across the valleys and mountains also visited a local village and watched them processing and natural dying of Alpaca wool, as we walked in an Alpaca jumped up on Jun and I had my camera ready to get the shot. We then went to Moray a pre Inca site to see the famous circles, there were a group of young Koreans on the bus and they asked me if anyone had told me I looked like Walter White from the TV series Breaking Bad, I said yes quite a few and they said they had looked at me then did a internet search to look at him to compare. There was also another Korean on board who was the Head Chef at the Korean Embassy in Lima and had been taught by Gordon Ramsey ( who he said had made him cry) he was a real character I found him stood on the top of the hill overlooking the circles videoing himself singing "I did it my way". We then visited a valley with huge salt pans apparently the second best in the world and after lunch we arrived at Ollyantambo and the amazing Inca site there, but what a climb to the top but well worth it, the guide showed us the quarry site for the granite blocks which weighed upwards of 40 tons each it was down the valley and right up the top of the other side and still no one knows how they did it or even how they cut it. Recently 240 people from the town tried to pull a block weighing 40 tons using ropes on level ground and managed a couple of feet, after this we said goodbye to everyone else and went to the station to catch the early evening Peru Rail train to Aguas Calientas for Machu Pichu arriving in a very heavy downpour, but we had to still get the bus tickets to take us up to the top the next morning then made our way to a little not very nice place to stay the night, we set off next morning just after 5am and there was already a lot of people waiting for the buses and it was still raining, what a ride to the top sheer drops in places and no barriers, when we got in to Machu Pichu we climbed up to the highest part but it was covered in clouds and mist but as it started to clear it made for very dramatic shots, and what an amazing place it took your breath away and then later we bumped into our Korean friends again and on the way out I had my passport stamped with Machu Pichu. We went back down to the town once again experiencing the sheer drops had a lovely meal overlooking the raging river that ran through the town then caught the afternoon train back to Ollyantambo and looked around for someone to take us back to Cusco managed to get on a mini bus and only paid 10sol each and he eventually set off shouting out of his window every few minutes "Cusco" "Cusco" "Cusco" till his bus was full but what a crazy driver I couldn't believe some of the things he did, but we arrived safely in Cusco nearly 3 hours later and we collected our bags and went to another place to stay in the San Bas area with our own kitchen etc.they provided wonderful breakfasts with terrific views, the San Bas area is full of artisans, craft shops,markets and festivals great place.
The next day we walked around more of Cusco visiting museums and archaeological sites as well as going back to the Convent De Santo Domingo and booking our tickets to Puno on the Cruz De Sol bus. On the way back we stopped at a local café and Jun had a local delicacy part of a sheeps head and they managed to put together some veggie dish for me, we went back to where we were staying and then went out again at 5pm I had some street rice pudding which was delicious then we stood and watched a wedding and were invited in to the church, we also watched some great street dances and then went for something to eat and got caught in thunder/lightning/hailstone followed by rain so arrived at a local café drenched and Jun had the local dish of Guinea pig there.
Checked out the next morning early to get to the bus station for a 6:5 hour bus trip to Puno, very comfortable seats that reclined right back like first class airplane seats. About 1 hour before arriving at Puno we drove through a "city" called Juliaca which is now the dirtiest city I have ever been to, I have never seen so much rubbish anywhere and the roads were non existent with mud and dust everywhere, very noisy and terrible looking buildings and in all this I saw a few small areas of grass also covered in litter with signs saying "keep off the grass".
Arrived in Puno and took taxi to jetty on Lake Titicaca ( 200 miles long and 40 miles wide) where boat took us out to the reed island we had booked what a fabulous place, we were staying with a family who live on one of the islands and their families had lived on them since the Spanish invaded. They really made us feel welcome and they told us a great deal of the history and about their culture. After settling in they gave us a canoe to go exploring which was great and that night was one of the loudest thunder storms I have ever heard, the whole lake lit up with lightning followed by torrential rain ( and not a drop got in). The next day they took us to other reed islands as well as going on a reed boat to meet more locals and visiting a school where we had photos taken with the children and teacher, we cheered up one little boy who had been crying as it was his first day at school.
On our way back to Puno I managed to get to see a famous ship in the harbour there the Yavari It was built as a gunboat/cargo/passenger ship for the Peruvian Navy in England in 1862 then boxed up into 2,766 pieces and sent around Cape Horn as cargo. It took six years to transport all the sections of the boat to the lake, carried over the Andes by llama and on horseback, reassembled by English engineers and finally launched in 1870 and has now been fully restored as a B&B.
We then set off by bus again at 3pm heading across the mountains in heavy rain and going over huge potholes for the city of Arequipa arriving there at 9:30 pm and staying at a little hotel close to the city square. The next day after a fantastic breakfast on the roof of the hotel with stunning views of the city and the mountains in the background including a volcano we set off walking around the centre and then visited the Convent of The Monasterio de Santa Catalina, what an extraordinarily beautiful and very large place, everywhere painted bright blues, deep reds and flowers everywhere with such a feeling of silence and tranquillity this was the home of Sister Ana de los Angeles died in 1686 and Beatified by Pope John II. it has to be one of the best Religious sites I have visited, we also visited the impressive Cathedral in the square and spent time wandering about the old area enjoying the life and architecture of a beautiful city.
The next day we booked ourselves on a open top bus excursion around Arequipa and the surrounding countryside which we both really enjoyed one of the places we visited was a park where Jun went for a horse ride and a alpaca farm which just happened to have the shop next door selling the clothes. The following day we made our way to the airport for a flight back to Lima which of course was delayed and no information given, we only knew when it had started boarding when Jun asked me to go for a walk around to check and I found the boarding line tucked away in another area all together to where it was supposed to be, so we arrived in Lima at 1pm instead of 11am and met Henry who took us back to Mira Flores, later we walked down to the coast and spent a couple of hours in a bar at the end of a great old pier drinking pisco with the large waves crashing around it. The next day we went into the city centre and visited the Cathedral and went down into the catacombs, not the place to be if you suffer from claustrophobia. we also visited the Presenditial Palace, no changing of the guard that day unless you count the police relieving the previous police on duty by a casual walk over and shake of hands, but did get some great shots of Jun with them fully kitted out with machine guns etc. We found two local cafes which we ate in and went back too one for Jun with the local speciality of fish soup and the other a veggie café for me which cost us about 12sol (£2:20 each). Later we got the tram/bus out to Barranco a seaside place very run down with old colonial buildings which apparently was the place to be in the 19th century, but now peopled with artists, drop outs, hippies, great atmosphere so we stayed there till night. we were walking down one street and I pointed out a house to Jun which had a second floor and conservatory on it with lots of statues and plants at which point this old guy who had been washing his car came over and invited us to go in as it was his house he showed us all the statues and paintings that his wife had done before she died we had a chat took some photos and left. A bit later we passed a church on a hill overlooking the ocean and the front looked really nice and well maintained but the rest of it was decayed and covered in ripped tarpaulins and housed dozens of small vultures. On the evening we found this restaurant in a old building which looked like a ex warehouse which was owned and run by a family from Argentina for generations, I said to Jun it's like we have walked onto the film set for The Sopranos or something, after that we walked all the way back to Mira Flores.
The next day we checked out and Henry took us to the bus station to get tickets down to Paracas to visit the nature reserve and go out to the Ballestas Islands, the bus wasn't leaving till the afternoon so we took the time to visit The Museum Larco which houses the biggest collection of Peruvian Culture anywhere, all in the ex Governors House and with beautiful gardens. We took a taxi back to the bus station and traffic was very heavy and we were late so this time I was glad he drove like a madman as he got us back just in time.
We drove down the Pan American highway and arrived at Paracas after nearly 5 hours, we tried to book tickets for the return the next day but they were full so that started a frantic search to find another bus company, I wanted a coffee but as Jun rightly pointed out to me by saying " we can get a coffee anytime but not bus tickets!" We asked one woman in the street who took us to a very run down room/office with a family in it obviously run by the matriarchal old lady in a wheelchair who sold us two tickets on a bus leaving the next afternoon. Jun was very unsure about this so we asked the guy in the hotel who went back with us and spoke to them but he didn't look so sure as well, and then when we booked our tickets for the boat we asked the guy there who said he had never heard of that bus and pointed us to another bus company who happened to have 8 seats left so we went back to "The Family" and asked to cancel, you thought we had just greatly insulted them all and they all started talking together in a corner eventually I said we will give you some money to compensate you after which we got our money back.
The next day we went down to the jetty for our boat and it was closed went back to the agents who told us all boats were cancelled due to bad weather around the islands so that was the end of that we just waited for the 3:30 bus back to Lima arriving back at 9pm picked up our luggage from Mira Flores and went to The Grand Hotel Bolivia for our last night in the city centre, it was a hotel built in 1920 and many famous people stayed there but is now well past its sell by date but still had the faded opulence and was huge I said to Jun the corridors reminded me of the Overlook Hotel in the film " The Shining". The next day was Jun's birthday and we spent it sightseeing including visiting the famous Monastery of St Francis of Assisi spectacular building and history and huge catacombs full of human remains. On the afternoon we managed to get on a local open top bus that was full of Peruvians and they let us do half of the 2 hour tour around the city and out to the more run down areas, at one point we passed the café we had been in a couple of times and the staff recognised us and were shouting and waving. After this we went back to the hotel and Henry picked us up for the drive back to the airport in very heavy traffic for our flights back, which left on time 13 hours to Amsterdam 2 hour wait then 1 hour to Durham Tees Valley and picked up by our friend Paul and home.
I spent Christmas at home apart from going to one of my sisters for Christmas day dinner with Jun being back in China and the evening I spent with friends at Ali's house in the village. I went to Throssel Buddhist Abbey for the New Year retreat which was really good and drove back home on New Years Day night in bad weather with a section of my exhaust hanging off, I think some of the villages I went through thought there was an invasion ha-ha. Got it fixed the next week followed by having to get two new tyres so that was a bit of an expensive start to the year.
I completed my Merchant Navy Ship Welfare Visitor training and exam and now have the ID and qualification and have been visiting ships on my own for last 3 weeks or more, as well as doing my training to drive the large mini bus, been on some lovely ships as well as one or two you wouldn't want to sail down the river in. It is great to be able to meet crews from all over the world and help them in such diverse ways, for example I was on a Polish ship last week and a young female cadet officer asked me how she could get to Middlesbrough for 11pm Tuesday night as she was leaving the ship to go back to University in Poland and had to get the bus to London at midnight followed by further buses all the way back to Poland as the shipping company wouldn't pay for her to fly back. We arranged for a taxi to collect her at the dock gates and for someone to watch out for her till the taxi arrived and Stella Maris paid for the taxi. Another time I had arranged to pick up some Vietnamese crew to take them in to Middlesbrough shopping and they asked me could I firstly take them to Middlesbrough Football ground to have a look around which I did and I was even talking to the wife of one them on his mobile back in Vietnam, then I dropped them off at the shopping centre and arranged to go back at 6pm to collect them. When I went back the same guy showed me some toiletries he had bought for his wife and I said was it expensive for you, and he said yes sir we don't get paid much and gave me a punnet of grapes he had bought for me as a thank you, I was really touched by that and on the night I was at our meditation group and Dave brought in some unwanted Xmas presents of which some were perfumes etc. So the next day I was back down the ship and gave them out to him and a couple of others as gifts for their wives, girlfriends.
I was at a meeting last Wed with Peter the Chaplain and Jerry the Harbour Master that I had arranged for them with the Interfaith group to let them know what we do and look for volunteers from other faiths as well as get names, addresses and other contact details from various religions for crew members. It was really good to be able to set all that up within a week of them talking to me about it. I have also arranged with Rev Adelin to take close to 20 people from the chaplaincy and ports up to Throssel for a day at the end of March.
Jun arrives back on the 30th of January and for her 50th birthday in March we are going to travel around Peru for 3 weeks, really looking forward to that as I have never been to South America before.
We start the Gainford meditation group in the village hall on Feb 8th so it will be interesting to see who comes and what they make of it, we did put a full page in the Parish news about it, I wonder what the local Vicar will make of it as she is starting a Christian meditation group at the same time, I am sure it will be fine as she is a lovely woman.
I went over to the Lakes with my friend Rob from next door to do a photography shoot specifically at a cave called Cathedral Quarry. Rob set a post code of a house on the sat-nav supposedly close by as we were not sure where it exactly was took us 2:5 hours to get there, we asked directions at the house and were told continue down the lane ( tractor trail more like) till we see some slate and a sty and if we reach the river we have gone to far. So we reached the river crossed it parked up ate some lunch then set off walking back the way we came and turned off at a field, we then trekked through water, bog and snow up and down hills in the rain for 2 hours with no sign of it. Eventually we made our way to a farmhouse and asked the lady if she knew it she said yes get back on the lane walk 200 yards and when you reach some slate there is a sty on your left just take that. So off we go again and found a footpath across hills with a wooden sty about 200 yards away...great this must be it we thought but after another 45 minutes we realized it wasn't and made our way back to the lane and asked a man at the next house we reached. He said yes I know it, continue down the lane "cross the river" continue on and when you come to a ford further along don't go over it but bear left and it is up there, and it was. We worked it out that the 200 yards the lady had told us was really close to a mile away and the sty was two very small steps in a slate wall. But it was certainly worth all the effort as we got some great landscape shots as well as some inside the cave.
Well I settled down a (little bit) after my time spent on Caldey Island, a few visits up to our Monastery Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey and continuing with the meditation groups in Teesside and Gainford plus two visits to the Hindu Centre in Middlesbrough for lunches as well as attending the Diwali Festival which I hadn't been to for the last 5 years. It is a lovely festival and I went with Paul and his son Daniel and Simon and met John there, it was really well attended and had a lot more people there who are not Hindu than I remember from previous attendances as well as more younger Hindus. One observation I made was seeing a young man sat in front of me who all through the first part of the ceremonies played a football game on his phone, later when he got up to leave the ceremony hall I turned to John and said it must be half time.
Rev Adelin came down from Thursday to Saturday in October, on the Friday we visited Peter the Chaplain for Teesport and Hartlepool and spent the day with him and Brian another ship visitor visiting crew on ships and getting to know the job and dock locations. On the Saturday we had a day retreat in Middlesbrough and I also was given the telephone number/e mail and address of Mia ( a lay Buddhist I know) and her husband who have now located to Beijing so hoping to see them soon.
Well we finally got Jun's Spouse visa after lots of problems, delays, e mails, including me meeting with our local MP and getting her involved. It was clear practically from the start that the UK visa office are not up to the job, and after 60 working days they sent Jun an e mail to tell her they hadn't been able to process it within the guidelines of 60 days as her case was not straightforward and when we contacted them they wouldn't say why but promised to escalate the case. They then sent out another e mail at a later date which was by then 72 working days saying exactly the same thing (not-straightforward), and when I phoned and wrote to them they made the same promise as before ( we will escalate the case). So I told them our MP was now involved with the case and then all of a sudden they write to Jun to inform her they are now dealing with her case but there are some documents missing and gave her 10 days to send them, by this time it was upto 84 working days ( these documents were not missing we had been very sure about sending in everything they required). So we resubmitted them and within a few days Jun got confirmation she had been give the Visa, she then had 30 days to return to the UK to collect her Biometric card. I would not wish for anyone to go through this process it was so frustrating and upsetting and we were treated terribly.
So finally Jun arrived on the 7th of November for 3 weeks minus her luggage which had not made it onto the connecting flight and the next day we travelled to Durham to collect her card and then meet the van driver in a motorway service station to get her luggage.
Jun came with me on some ship welfare visits and Peter is very keen for her to start work especially with her translation skills, Jun really enjoyed it, and I have now completed the training and awaiting my qualification from The Merchant Navy Board after completing their ship welfare course.
We went upto Scotland for a few days stopping off at Jedburgh and watching the Remembrance Sunday parade, then to Melrose visiting the famous Abbey there, then to Edinburgh for 2 days staying with a French lady in her lovely apartment through Air BnB, she is an artist and her apartment reflected this. We spent time visiting art galleries and going down to the grassmarket, Leith and going out to the Forth bridge. On the way back we followed the coast heading for North Berwick, our first stop was as we were driving through a village called Aberlady when we observed a huge cascade of poppies in front of the church, as we walked up a lady was opening the church and told us the story that the thousands of poppies are all hand knitted by people from all over the world and it is quite famous. We spent time at North Berwick which in some respects is like going back in time, after which we stopped off at St Abbs a small fishing village but well know for its diving, then on back home.
Jun went back to Beijing at start of December and will be back here at end of January so I am spending more time doing ship visits, collecting Xmas gifts from all over, amazing to see so much generosity from people, went to the Seamen's Mission Xmas party to help out, staying for a couple of hours but had to leave as I was setting off early the next morning for a retreat at Ministeracres which was well attended.
The following week my friend Dave and I sailed from North Shields on the DFDS ferry to Ijmuiden in Holland for 3 days on a 15 hour overnight crossing which should have given us just less than a day in Amsterdam then a overnight crossing back. It was very cold the whole time with snow in Amsterdam but the ferry was very nice the cabin was comfortable.....but, there is always a but, there was a delay disembarking so by the time we got off and the coach got us to Amsterdam it was nearly 12 noon. We bought tram tickets and quickly got to the Van Gogh Museum which was amazing, we then went to the Amsterdam Houseboat Museum going onto a large converted houseboat all done in 1950's décor beautiful! Then after something quick to eat we headed back to the pick up point outside the station for 3:45 to find a large queue waiting for the coaches which were.... not there as apparently other people whose flights had been cancelled owing to the weather were going back by ferry and had taken our places, and the bus drivers had not thought to check for their boarding cards. So after nearly 2 hours stood freezing we were back on the coach back to Ijmuiden, the bus driver said to me how sorry they were but the good news was that the ferry was waiting for us, my reply was " I should bloody well think so" ha-ha. Anyway it was a good crossing back and we made up the time, the crew were really good on the ferry all very polite and helpful, and I got lots of photographs over the 3 days.
I was straight back down to Teesport visiting ships with Peter, and one day we visited 5 ships and handed out 75 presents to crew including presents for a female Filipino Chief Officer whose joy at receiving a present was heartwarming. I have agreed to work with Peter on Xmas day and am looking forward to going on the ships that are in and taking the crews ashore.
We arrived back in Gainford after a horrendous 26 hour journey from leaving home in Beijing, we were stuck on the plane waiting for weather conditions to improve for over 2.5 hours at Beijing followed by a 11 hour flight then we missed our connecting flight from Paris to Newcastle and had to sit for over 6 hours for the next one which didn't get us in to Newcastle till nearly 11pm by which time there was no trains, no car hire available so we had to get a taxi which cost £90. Air France refused to reimburse the fare as they said they don't compensate for bad weather delays, but I kicked up a bit of fuss and they finally gave me a £100 voucher to use against future travel. Also when we had booked the taxi to pick us up and take us home from Newcastle Airport through an online company they had offered a £5:00 discount for first time users of their company, but I later found out I had inadvertently entered in to a contract with them when I claimed the voucher against the fare which allowed them to take £25:00 every six months from my account. I only knew about it when I received my credit card statement and saw the deduction it was a very hard struggle to get that sorted they would not reply to my e mails or acknowledge my cancellation of the contract, after 6 e mails I had built up a sufficient case from the e mails and copies of their T&C and informed them that if they hadn't resolved it by a certain date it was all being sent to the Financial Ombudsman.....they wrote to me two days later and refunded my £25:00 and cancelled the contract.
We haven't been anywhere really this time we have continued with the Spouse/Settlement Visa app and other outstanding admin stuff, and have made the online application and paid the £2,0070.00 for the Visa and NHS, then Jun took all the hard evidence when she returned to the company back in Beijing who work on behalf of the UK Govt, they promptly scanned it all and send it to Sheffield UK for the decision ( typical eh ha-ha).Sheffield have now e mailed us to say they have opened the application and it will take approx. 3 months to process providing everything is as it should be, so hopefully Jun could be back here in Oct/Nov as she has to collect her visa and biometrics within a certain time frame. We did have days out here and there one of them to Malham Cove which was a great day we walked to it from the village and then climbed to the top from one of the sides ( not straight up as some climbers were doing), another day on retreat up Monkseaton at Whitley Bay and Sunday Festival at Throssel.
I have had a couple of full days out doing photography with my next door neighbour as well as continuing to go to my two meditation groups and another night were Rob my neighbour comes in and has a meditation with me as well as having days up at Throssel Buddhist Monastery I also have had a meeting with Colin the NHS senior chaplain at West Park Mental Health Hospital to discuss doing some chaplaincy work like I did before at the James Cook Hospital. I am also starting work with the Seaman's Mission in Teesport in October as a lot of ships come in with crews from Asia who are Buddhist.
I have also been doing a bit of work in the allotment recently as the slugs ate all our vegs, so I have put a pond in for frogs so next year hopefully they will keep them down as I don't want to use slug pellets and I have left a area of the allotment wild around the pond. I get some funny looks from the neighbouring allotment owners, especially one day when I had sown wildflowers among the weeds and the allotment manager passed me as I was watering what appeared to him to be just weeds.
I asked Jun to do a search online in China recently after reading an article that said they had banned Winnie the Pooh she did, and sure enough it came up saying "This webpage is not available" its because there are some big conferences coming up and lots of people call Xi Jinping the teddybear, so they have blocked all references to the bear you couldn't make it up could you ha-ha. We still have times when we get things wrong with each other with regard to language a recent example was when we were chatting with each other on FaceTime and talking about the weather and weather forecasters here in the UK and China and Jun said the weather at the moment is very hot and humid but there is a very big storm coming in 2021, I said how could they know that far ahead, then we both realized she meant on the 21st and 22nd of the month.
I was invited to visit my friend Paul from our village at his cottage on the Island of Caldey off the Pembrokeshire coast where he was staying with his son for summer, it is an Island owned by the Cistercians with a beautiful Monastery at the centre. I went down for 7 days travelling down by train a 7.5 hour journey with four train changes, one of them arriving in Birmingham giving me 4 minutes to get to the next one. When I arrived at Tenby the seaside resort in Wales it was 5:30 and to late to catch a boat to the Island so I spent the night in a dormitory at maronbier youth hostel on the coastal path and had a lovely 2 hour walk along the cliffs. It all felt a little strange being on a holiday without Jun with me, the next morning I was down at the pier at 7:30 to catch the mail boat in very heavy rain and was soaking wet by the time we had completed the 30 minute crossing in choppy seas and Paul met me at the jetty and introduced me to some of the Monks as they were going to the mainland to visit some nuns at their Monastery.
By the afternoon the weather was beautiful and Paul took me around the Island visiting the original monastery now being renovated by the Welsh Trust with a spire at a very steep angle , the lighthouse at the highest point of the island, the farmhouse which includes the Chocolate factory made famous by the Monks as well as the perfumes they once made but now is made by others, the hermitage where Brother Paul lived before his death when he no longer wanted to live in the Monastery, an eccentric character by all accounts and over the next days some of the caves and coves the watchtower ,stations of the cross, old buildings etc. The next day Paul took me in to the Monastery where I met Father Gillis we had a long talk he is the same age as me and has been a Cistercian for 38 years but before that he was a Buddhist for 3 years, we talked about things as diverse as all religions being fundamentally the same to Somerset Maugham's The Razors Edge one of his favourite books and mine, to Alice in Wonderland, he also gave us both a copy of a prayer from Ghandi and a lovely copy of the Dhammapada. We walked around all of the Monastery as all the Monks know Paul with him staying on the Island since he was a child we attended many of the services over the week while I was there which I really enjoyed. Another Monk I met Brother Titus was a ex Formula 1 racing driver who now drove the Orders small bubble like Fiat at a sedate 15 miles an hour, we had a nice talk about the value of silence in life and on retreat and he said he would like me to come back one day and spend time in the Monastery. I was down the jetty one morning with Paul collecting his groceries off the boat when I helped to unload the Monks deliveries and was thanked and called "brother" by a crew member he obviously thought I was a monk ha-ha.
Paul told many stories of some of the characters and events over the years from the Island one of my favourites was about Brother Stephen who apparently had a wonderful sense of humour and after he died Paul and some other islanders helped to dig his grave after it had been marked out. On the day of the burial Paul was stood a little way from the grave and noticed one of the Monks shoulders shaking and he thought he is really upset and must be crying, then he noticed the Abbot trying to supress a smile at which point they were called over and the coffin was stuck at an angle the grave wasn't big enough and the Monks were in fact all laughing. Paul and the others pulled the coffin out and dug some more but it stuck again so out it came again, and again for the third time at which point Paul said Brother Stephen must already be a saint when the Monks asked why Paul said he has already risen three times, everyone laughed and agreed Brother Stephen would have really appreciated the humour of it.
Another funny episode occurred one morning when we were in the cottage kitchen with the back door and yard door open and lots of tourists were wandering around ( they come over on tourist boats for the day) and this man with camera in hand just walks into the kitchen I said sorry this is a private house but he didn't seem to understand and just looked around then walked out, Paul said that happens a few times when I looked in the yard there was a sign on the wall which read St Theresa's cottage but underneath it was another sign that said welcome, I said that's why they must think it's a chapel or something so we turned the welcome sign around.
We also spent time in the woods building a camp for Daniel Pauls son, that was an opportunity to be a child again it was looking really good by the time I left, I said to Paul we will know how good it will be when you go into the woods and can't find it ha-ha. We also had one day on a private beach which you had to access from the cliff top using a rope to get down the steep incline, it was much harder getting back up. Another great vehicle they have on the island is a ex USA army landing craft which they use at low time to unload and load passengers off the boats when they can't get in, that was fun to watch in operation.
On my last morning I was awake at 6am to the sound of strong winds and torrential rain I was due to go off at 10:30 on the boat but was convinced I was going to be there for another day, but by 9am it was a beautiful sunny day and the first tourist boat came out so I took that back to Tenby along with another man who had been on retreat and a priest and caught the 11:40 train for Swansea then Bristol then onto Darlington. At Birmingham I was sat on my own and a Chinese family came on and asked me if the other seats were free they had two young girls with them who burst into fits of giggles when I spoke to them in my limited Chinese but it certainly broke the ice and I arrived back home at 9pm.
Last week Jun was at work and they were all informed to collect their tickets and after work go to the Theatre in the centre of Beijing to watch a production about The Long March to celebrate Red Army Day, none of them wanted to see it so Jun left her car at work and they took the crew bus down to the city centre photographed themselves outside the theatre and left. But the next morning on the crew bus to work their boss started asking them all about it ,what was it like etc, they were really put on the spot ha-ha.
I am now back in China and just about recovered from the jet lag so thought I would start another blog page, and run it till we leave in 2 months.
I was in plenty of time at the airport arriving at 11:30am thanks to Dave Martin picking me up at home and driving me there, and everything went very smoothly all the way to Beijing we did hit quite a bit of turbulence for 40 minutes or so when we were about 3 hours from Beijing, and as usual I could not sleep so was feeling very tired when I arrived at 8:30 the next morning. I was sat next to two young Asians who kept to themselves and later in the flight when we had to fill in our landing/entry cards they looked very puzzled so I offered to help and they showed me their passports and seaman ID cards and they were from North Korea.
After I had had a short sleep we took our bikes out later in the day and went to a street repair man as the gears had seized up on my bike, he repaired it for one pound and then we went food shopping in a local market, had tea watched a film and in bed by 10.
Jun had to work Saturday but then was off for 3 days so I went for a good bike ride along Moon River and a walk in the park the weather is quite warm about 20 or so now.
On Sunday Jun and I went with her sister and niece to visit an area of the Great Wall we haven't seen before north west of Beijing about a 2+ hour journey called Lakeside Great Wall it runs across the hills past a large dam then goes down the hill disappears into a man made lake before emerging again at the other side. It was a good climb up but very worth it for the views of the lakes and the village below and the hundreds of blossoming cherry trees and not as touristy as the other two main areas.
Yesterday we went to the Police Station to register that I was back in the country and next week I have to renew my residency visa ( we don't want them banging on the door again late at night like a scene from a John Le Carre novel ha-ha ).
We are still putting all the evidence and docs together to apply for Jun's spouse visa sometime in July it is very complicated and we have to pay 1,200 pounds when we submit it and another 1,200 in 2.5 years time when we renew it followed by 1,400 2.5 years after that for it to be permanent so it takes 5 years in all to get it plus the money we have to pay each year for Jun to be registered with the NHS, and some people still think it is easy for foreigners to move to England ha-ha. We went into the city centre on Saturday to the police station where Jun is registered to get some paperwork stamped, then we hired bikes and biked across to the Govt building to pick up my passport as i had just had my residency visa renewed. Then we biked all the way to the National Art Gallery before getting the metro back home. We must have biked miles and miles and it was really hot but it was a great day and a great way of getting about. Since last year there has been an explosion of bikes available it used to be that you went to the racks and used a prepaid card to unlock a bike then when you were finished you took it back to another rack, but now you register with your phone and when you scan the bike it unlocks it and you can pick them up and drop them off anywhere you want not just at the racks and they are literally everywhere.
When we were walking towards the metro on Saturday the side road gets full of drivers waiting in their cars for pick ups/dropping off etc which isn't allowed so the police regularly move them on and the police car drove down with his lights flashing and loudspeaker blaring and as they drove away and he moved down the road other cars just started parking behind him. Talk about a pointless exercise ha-ha.
Hard to believe I have already been here nearly 2 weeks, time certainly speeds up the older you get or maybe it's me that needs to slow down ha-ha.
I started teaching English to little Ella ( 9 years old) again and have done two 1.5 hour lessons with her, there is also a children's after school club on the ground floor of our apartment block and the owner wanted me to work with the children on a evening which i at first said yes too as she mentioned doing some acting with them. But later she was talking about putting a play on in English with stage sets and costumes for the parents in 3 weeks, most of the children are around 5 years of age so i said no to that as it would have been impossible to do anything in that time.I walked down to Nui Nuis school a couple of times to collect her when Jun was late home or a bit busy it's a great system they have, all along the pavement outside the school there are retangle areas marked 1-5 and each group of children come out marching together singing and chanting with one boy or girl in front of each group holding up a placard with their number on, and as they reach their area they finish singing and disperse to whoever is picking them up. Nui Nui got a lot of stares from her schoolfriends when i was there to collect her.
It is the time of year again for what Jun and I call "April snow" the air is full of white cotton like seeds from the thousands of Poplar trees around the city. We went down to the city centre last Saturday to the passport/visa office to renew my residency visa, which more or less went smoothly i go back 22nd to pick it back up, went for lunch at a Muslim restaurant and then further down the road we bought bread at a Russian shop followed by a visit into a Christian Church all on the same road. After that we went to the south of the city to re-visit the Fa Yuan Si Temple it was full of blooming Lilac bushes the air smelt wonderful, it is an old temple ( 16th c) and is also the Beijing Buddhist Training College. It then took us over 2.5 hours on the metro to get back to Tong Zhou district so went to our local massage/foot clinic and they had just reopened that day after being closed for refurbishment so they were really pleased to see us both and we had a back and head massage followed by a fantastic foot massage, I felt like i was floating when we walked out.
I have just been for a long bike ride along Moon river 6 miles and the temp today is 25 the other day i biked to the old Muslim quarter in Tong Zhou and had a good walk around, I get a lot of stares there as i have never yet seen another foreigner in that area but i like to visit it.
There has been a lot of talk recently about pollution and we just had 2 days where we had a severe dust storm with very strong winds descend down from Mongolia coupled with heavy smog already here and the WHO says anything over 50 microns is hazardous to health and we were experiencing up to 960 microns and the winds alone brought down parts of buildings,trees and a few fatalities, and two days later its back to blue skies and the temp at about 30.
There is a photograph of an old big passenger boat i have taken and posted a couple of times berthed in the Grand Canal, well its now converted into a restaurant that specialises in traditional hotpot meals.Jun and I went there last night and it was very good, hot pots are basically you order the food you want and they bring it to you all fresh and raw and you have these bowls on the table lit from underneath full of boiling water and you put your food in yourself and eat it as it cooks.It only takes minutes to cook and you then have sauces etc to dip it into as you take it out.
We walked back home through the Canal park and they had a huge screen set up showing a film lots of people stood and sat about watching it, we also checked out a new cinema that has just opened next to where we live so will give that a visit before we head back to the UK.
We spent a couple of hours at a "art village" which is close to us last Sunday, we have been a couple of times before and i like it there, then we are hoping to go to a Buddhist Temple about 80k north of Beijing that i want to see which is quite famous.
There has been another big international conference here in Beijing and as always when they have one of these they impose all kinds of restrictions one of them being reducing or stopping traffic. This time Juns work colleauges where on the works shuttle bus going to the office when the police stopped all the traffic they had to wait there for 2 hours so they got off the bus and stood around in groups at which point the police came and told them to disperse as they didn't want groups stood around.
Jun had to fly down to her home city of Guangdong in the south at 4am last Sunday as her mother was seriously ill with a heart condition, her and her other sister and brother got her in to hospital but they said they couldn't operate as she was to weak and only gave her a 10% chance of surviving, the average cost per day for a stay in hospital is 200/300 pounds. After a few days she was discharged but then became poorly again 2 nights later so she was taken back in to a different hospital, but Jun arranged through old University friends to have her transferred to a better hospital. The staff were not happy and charged Jun 100 pounds for a 2 hour stay, but she is in a much better hospital now, makes you really appreciate our NHS.
Juns sister in Guangong has a daughter who is aged 10 and is very streetwise and the other day she had 2 yuan ( 20p) to spend, so she went to a fruit stall and asked the woman for some fruit for the 2 yuan, the woman said sorry there is nothing you can buy here for 2 yuan, to which she replied " Ha! I think you just don't want my business" ha-ha.
I went for a long bike ride and decided to go through the Grand Canal park and follow the canal down but when i got to the small gate at the back that i use to get in a security guard stopped me. I said are you saying I cant go in or I cant ride my bike in as another man had just rode out of the gate, they pointed to a sign but i said i didn't understand at which point a second guard came up to me and started shouting in my face, I then gave him even more back and he staggered back a couple of steps really suprised, so i just rode off but later i saw that they were doing a load of flood work and the top part of the park was indeed all closed off. I continued my bike ride and about 1.5 hours later i went back to apologise and as i rode up to the gate he saw me and ran to it and started to pull it close, he must have thought i was going back for another go ha-ha. Anyway i did apologise to them both before riding back home.
We have spent this weekend packing ready for our trip back to the UK next Tuesday, I had my last bike ride this morning along moon river as far as you can bike at the moment, at the end of it i then cross a bridge on a three lane ring road to ride back on the other side,where i observed a big lorry driving across on the wrong side causing cars to swerve and horns blaring, somethings don't change ha-ha.
I also went to see a Traditional Chinese Doctor for treatment to my back and legs this morning, him and his wife live in one of the other apartments and run a clinic from there, it was the most painful massage i have ever had, left me feeling very sore and drained, but hoping i feel better later on.
Jun arrived back in the UK on the 3rd of December for a month, after we had been apart over 5 months and I nearly got the date wrong to pick her up at the railway station as she had flown in to Heathrow airport. I had been for a further Colonoscopy check up on the Friday morning and it was in my head that I had 24 hours to recover and be able to drive when it suddenly dawned on me that it was that night she was arriving which was confirmed by Jun a couple of hours later when she texted to say she was at Kings X, I was at the station nice and early and it also meant we could go up to Throssel Buddhist Abbey for the Festival Sunday which was nice as Jun was welcomed back by many Lay people and Monks.
The following week we went to Keilder Observatory up near the Scottish borders for an evening of star gazing, I had booked it a few weeks previous unfortunately it absolutely poured down the whole night so didn't get to see anything, however the staff gave some great talks and we did get to see cut slices of meteorites under a microscope, a small piece of rock from Mars and actually hold a piece of Moon rock.
The following Saturday we went up to Ministeracres retreat centre for the full day, we had a full weekend retreat but we could only make the Saturday as we were busy preparing for our trip to Morocco it was well attended by people from our local North East Meditation Groups and it's great that since Steve,Sue and I set it up quite a few years ago it is still going well.
We were up the following Tuesday at 5:30 am to drive to Manchester airport we left early in case of hold ups, which there was and I had to go a different route and we arrived there in very heavy rain but in plenty of time it was a 3.5 hour flight to Marrakech and we arrived at the Riad we had booked, early evening. After unpacking we walked the 20 minutes in to the main square "Place Jemma El Fna" which was very busy and noisy with all kinds of performers, groups playing traditional music, snake charmers, acrobats, food stalls and everyone hassling you to get money. My first encounter was when we were stood talking to a family that had been on the same flight when I felt something grab me just above my ankle I jumped and turned and saw a legless man on a wooden board with wheels looking up at me with his hand outstretched. The next one was a bit later when I spotted some local musicians and brought my camera up and took a photo and noticed there was a dwarf with them who started to shout at me and run towards me with his hands out demanding money, he was in his fifties and had a old fashioned suit on eventually we lost him in the crowd, but more about this man later.
The next morning after breakfast we set off walking and firstly visited the Jardin Majorella a park and museum which had been the home of the famous fashion guru Yves St Laurent, it was very beautiful with such lovely bold colours. we then began to explore the famous Souks Jun's use of a sat-nav on her phone came in very handy, later we visited the Palais Bahia and Palace Badi both filled with interesting history and lots of nesting storks that must have been there for many generations, we kept bumping in to a lovely Chinese Malayan couple in each place and later I surprised a group of young Chinese when I greeted them in Mandarin.
We found a local street food seller outside of a Mosque who served wonderful food and very cheap he did a great vegetarian tajine for me and on an evening excellent soup, I also watched him giving food free to beggars he was a lovely man,while we were having lunch we were sat next to a local woman with two little girls and a baby and Jun went up to a local fruit seller and asked about a particular fruit so he cut it open and gave some to both of us. It turned out to be from a particular cacti and it turned both our mouths and lips bright red the girls found it highly amusing especially when I started to stick my tongue out at them.
We set off the following day and walked for miles at first through the many souks then we started to look for the Mosque Maderson Ben Youseff but were very cleverly side lined by seasoned touts who tried to get us to the tanneries, the first one on a scooter started chatting and told us the mosque was closed but that the tanneries were close by and gave us directions before driving off. We set off in that direction "and just happened to bump in to another young man who said he was going to the tanneries" as his family was there having come down from the mountains for the special festival day, we walked with him for quite awhile and he took us to an entrance and shook hands with a man there before saying goodbye and leaving, the third man then tried to get us to take some sprigs of mint and go in to his tannery, we said no and walked off and he followed us obviously quite upset that we were not falling for it. We made our way back to the mosque which was of course open. Later we took a bus to see the art deco railway station, beautiful building but I caused a little upset by going through a no entrance door on to the platform to get a couple of photos.
We also walked to the Palais Royal but it was closed after which we visited the Tombeaux Saadiens and then on to the impressive Bab Agragi Gate which was very impressive, after this we stopped off at a local street stall selling large bread buns filled with meat sliced off in front of you from a sheep's head, Jun said it was delicious.
We were up very early the next morning to meet the mini bus that was taking 13 of us on a 3 day 2 night trip over the Atlas Mountains and in to the Sahara Desert the group comprised of one group of three Chinese a young man and two young women all living in the UK at Universities, another of a Chinese young man and a Korean young woman, two young women from the USA one of them was living in Morocco and working for the Peace Corp and finally two couples from Poland.
We drove the whole day across the mountains stopping off for photographs, tea, lunch and to visit some wonderful places the first being the Ait-Ben-Haddou located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas in the Province of Ouarzazate. The Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou is a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. The ksar is a mainly collective grouping of dwellings. Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together - some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick. It is now a UNESCO heritage site but has previously been used for many famous films... Gladiators, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, Prince of Persia, Jewel of the Nile,Sahara to name a few. After spending time there we continued driving arriving at a very cold Hotel in a valley in heavy rain in the dark, we stayed up talking with some of the others especially the three Chinese around a log fire trying to keep warm till after 11pm.
Up very early the next day and after breakfast we set off again next stopping at the Todra Gorge which we walked through then following the river past community gardens and Berber women doing there washing in the water and watched the villagers dying and making their famous carpets. We then continued on heading for Merzouga where we were met by the guides and our camels for a 2 hour trek to our tents to sleep overnight in the desert, we rode on the camels in the dark across the sand dunes in a very strong wind and the temp was -4 degrees but the sky was spectacular, Jun and I were prepared for the cold and well wrapped up unfortunately some of the others were not. The tents were a whole lot better than we expected decked out in carpets and with a good bed but we had to keep all our clothes on it was so cold, we all had dinner together after which the guides sang and played instruments around a campfire. We set off back at 6:30 am in a cloudy but warmer day stopping off to see the sunrise then back to Merzouga for breakfast leaving at 9:30 for the long drive back to Marrakech coming over the Atlas Mountains we drove in to a snowstorm/blizzard which was a bit scary considering all the steep drops and passed a lorry which had hit a car which caused a delay. We arrived back in Marrakech at 8:30pm and made our way to another Riad we had booked near the square.
On our last full day we went through the souks and after lunch Jun went off shopping and I set off to do some street photography and as I walked down this wide street full of people I was behind a group of tourists who suddenly moved to the left and right and in the gap in front of me stood the dwarf from the first night holding his hand out, what a surreal moment that was.
The next day was our last and it was a lovely sunny day we left for the airport late afternoon arriving back in Manchester that night in heavy rain, we stayed at a local airport hotel and the next day drove to Salford to see the L.S Lowry gallery which was very good, then drove up to Lancaster to visit the Castle and ex prison that was very interesting and we learnt a lot about the history of the courts and its infamous past. We then set off for home arriving back in Gainford late that night and very tired.
Well we finally got back from our " Grand tour of Spain" and after a couple of days to recover we set off in our little campervan "Connie" to try out for the first time sleeping overnight in her. We booked a campsite on a farm just outside the seaside town of Seahouses in Northumberland, we spent the full day to get there as we kept stopping off at local tourist places e.g. Whitley Bay, St Marys Lighthouse, Blyth, Amble, Alnmouth, Alnwick where we visited the largest second hand bookshop in the UK inside the old railway station. Finally having a walk along the beach facing Dunstanburgh Castle before heading to the campsite, which was very nicely situated and had electric hook up, very clean toilets and showers and a large barn with sinks for washing dishes complete with washing machines. After tea which Jun and I cooked together in Connie we drove in to Seahouses to check the times of boat trips out to the Farne Islands.
The following morning we were up early and after breakfast went in to Seahouses and parked Connie for the day on the pier and took a boat trip out to the Farne Islands. it was amazing, a really great day we first sailed around all of the Islands getting up close to the seals lots of photo opportunities then sailed up to Longstone Lighthouse which is where Grace Darling when she was just 22 years of age and her father in a rowing boat set off from in a gale to rescue nine people from the ship Forfarshire which had ran aground on Harcar rock in September 1838. We then landed on Staple Island and everyone on board ensured they had hats or other kinds of protective cover as you are bombarded by Terns as you walk through their nesting areas with lots of chicks and some nests still with eggs in them. we got some good photos of each other being attacked and I also got one of a very serious photographer stood with a huge camera on a tripod looking through the lens with a Tern stood on his head. There were huge colonies of Puffins as well which was great as they are one of Junes favourite birds, eventually we had to head back to the boat for the trip back to Seahouses. We then set off for the drive back home by a different route basically just exploring and even get lost once or twice.
Then it was time for June to return to China with me staying on in the UK for various health appointments and also with Dad not being very well.
I continued to do some work for the Teesdale Landscape Partnership with my friend Dave which was looking at Tithe fields from the 17th/18th century around the Barningham area from old maps and photographing them as they are now especially looking for any that still had cowsheds etc still in them. Dave,June and I have also took on an allotment in Gainford which needs an enormous amount of work but are very excited to be making a start this year. We have also during this time ( Dave and I) been to see an amazing interactive play in the Gala theatre Durham titled "1916 The Somme" this really was a very moving story based on a group of friends who joined up together from local mining villages and what happened to them. We also spent a day at the Yorkshire Air Museum before Jun went back and that was a very interesting and rewarding visit as well as getting some great photographs, our final visit to date was to the Tees cottage Victorian water pumping station in Darlington a fully restored working station the size of it and the machinery as well as the Victorian architecture was incredible.
Sadly during this time my Father passed away aged 95 my two sisters and I arranged the funeral and had at my dads request the Glen Miller song "In the mood" played as well as "I did it my way" from his favourite singer Frank Sinatra. It was a very moving service as the local Royal Artillery Association also attended with their Standard Bearers and lowered the flags as the Last Post was played over Dads coffin with his beret,medals and bugle on top. We all went back to the Nursing Home after the service and they had decorated a lounge out with photographs of dad as well as Army and Railway memorabilia.
The next day I drove back to Hartlepool to collect Dads ashes from the Funeral home as the three of us were going to scatter them at the cemetery near to where we scattered Mams ashes then up to Greatham village signal box where Dad had spent many years working there to scatter the rest. When I arrived at the Funeral home I had to wait as Dads ashes had not arrived and while sitting there another man came in to collect his Dads ashes and he was very apologetic for not coming sooner ( as in a couple of days ago) and was telling the lady in there the reasons i.e. his car had broken down, other things to take care of etc. etc. and the lady said as she was handing him his Dads ashes in the Urn " Don't worry it's fine, he has been no bother" at which we all burst out laughing. Eventually I got Dads Urn and my sisters and I after scattering some of his ashes at the cemetery went up to the signal box I was a bit concerned as to how we would do it as they are very strict about being on Railway property, so I decided the best thing was to just go up to the signalman and ask him I explained to him that our Father had worked in this signal box and many others but this was his favourite. he asked me his name and when I told him he said I knew your father very well I was his book boy when I started on the railway so he was very happy to let me do it as we were to scatter his ashes at a place he loved.
Hi to everyone.
We left China at the end of May and flew back to the UK where we stayed for just 6 days before flying out to Murcia in Spain for my nephews wedding followed by a 2 week drive around Spain. We flew from Leeds/Bradford airport so drove down there and our first problem was when Jun realized she had left her camera, IPad and make up bag at home. The second was when we arrived at Murcia and after standing in a queue for 55minutes to pick up our paid for hire car they wouldn't let us have it as we didn't have the right credit card to leave a deposit even though it was the one I had booked the car with ( never book a car through Rentalcars.com). There were no buses and taxis wanted over 60 euros to take us to our first place at the marina in La Manga where we were staying on a yacht. Eventually managed to hire a car from another rental company but had to pay a lot more and we arrived at the marina at 10pm to meet the owner who had been waiting nearly 3 hours to show us around.
The next morning we had to find my sisters and families who were staying at a villa outside of La Manga to find out all the details of the wedding as it was being held on the beach, we all had to dress in white or beige and the reception was at the sunset club on the beach but the evening one was in the gardens of the La Manga club next to the golf club. we decided the best thing was to drive over to their villa the next morning leave the car there and go on the coaches provided. We then left them and spent the day driving around La Manga which is a very long strip of land jutting out in to the mediterean looking at old windmills and lighthouses and calling in to a shop to buy an additional adapter to find it was owned and run by a Chinese couple so had a good conversation with them and they invited us to visit them.
We both liked our time on the yacht it was comfortable and had everything we needed and it was nice to sit on the deck on an evening and watch the sun go down, the next day we were up early and set off for the wedding and it was a fabulous day the beach wedding was lovely and there was free drinks and buffet at the sunset beach club both Andrew my nephew and his best man Taffy gave brilliant speeches. After 3 hours we all got on the buses to go to the evening reception and again it was fantastic there was all kinds of games for everyone to play, there was a singer and some of the guests also got up and sang including Dave my brother in law playing a guitar. Andrew and Lauren also did an amazing gymnastic dance together, we left after 9pm as we had to drive back and be up early the next morning to go back to the La Manga club for brunch and then set off for our second destination of Granada about 320km away as we were due to meet our next host at 6pm in the centre by the Cathedral, but as we were advised not to use our car in the old quarter we left it close to the main bus station and took the bus in arriving at 2 minutes to 6 and met Mel who took us to the apartment which was on the ground floor of a very old Moorish house beautifully furnished and colours with a great roof top garden right in the old quarters and a 30 minute walk to the Alhambra. Mel asked us if we already had tickets as they sell out 2 months in advance which of course we hadn't he advised getting up there at 7am as they always kept 200 tickets back we arrived there at 7am and there was already 20 in front of us, we had to wait till 8:30 till they opened but what a fabulous place once we got in there was so much to see from Forts,Palaces,Bathhouses,Gardens and amazing water features. The Nasrid Palace was magnificent it is so popular you get the time printed on your ticket for admission, the only thing that spoiled the day was seeing an unfortunate man taking a selfie of himself and he stepped back to far and fell in to one of the ornamental pools I felt so sorry for him.
The next day we spent walking around Granada a man approached me and asked if I spoke English I said yes then he asked if I could give him some money as he was unemployed, I said " and I'm a pensioner" he looked at me and laughed and said "Oh OK". Later we took a bus up to St Nicholas as it's one of the best viewpoints of the Alhambra at sunset in the square there were people playing instruments and singing and some local girls started dancing it was a great atmosphere, we then walked all the way back. The next day we visited a Jewish house that is now a museum that tells the life of the Serephin Jews of Spain, then we walked up to the old Arabic area and visited the house where St John of God lived and died, an amazing place really deceiving from the outside it looked fairly small but it was huge inside it was all Moorish architecture. In the evening we walked up to the Albayzin Quarter with old whitewashed houses and tiny cobbled streets and visited a church and a mosque.
The next day we set off in the morning to drive to Cordoba a very lovely drive over the mountains which took 3 hours stopping off at a village to eat and Jun buying a huge amount of fruit from a roadside market for less than £5. We arrived in Cordoba and used the sat-nav to find the place and it took us through streets that got narrower and narrower eventually the wing mirrors were nearly touching the walls then we couldn't go any further and I had to reverse out ( that was fun). after finding the place we went out and visited the famous Mezquita Mosque which is now a Catholic Cathedral an amazing place, after we visited the old Jewish Quarter then just wandered around letting ourselves get lost in the old alleyways for the rest of the day and again the following morning before setting off to drive to Seville.
It was a difficult job finding the place we were staying at in Seville lots of one way streets eventually found it using the sat-nav, we got settled in then went walking for 3 hours in temperatures of 37, but what an amazing city there was so much to see beautiful architecture and the Plaza of Espana was really something. On the night we visited a club Jun had been to before where there was Flamenco dancing on. The next morning we walked to the Cathedral and then visited the Alcazal Royal Palace a very beautiful place, after which we visited the bullring but didn't go in and then the Naval museum then we bought tickets to see professional Flamenco dancers do a show in a 15th century house, we were both very impressed with the show I have never seen anyone move their feet so fast. On the last day in Seville I spent the morning wandering around taking photographs while Jun did some shopping, then we set off to drive in to the countryside to stay at a Moorish town called Olvera a stunning town clinging to the sides of hills with whitewashed houses and a church and fort at the very top, the street were very narrow and they had introduced a complicated one way system that had us baffled for the first day. We took a walk around to find shops after we had settled in to a lovely little house and unbelievably we found another shop run by Chinese who were very surprised when we started to greet them in Chinese. later we walked up the very steep streets to the church to watch a stunning sunset. The next day we drove to the start of the Via Verdo nature trail 11km of gravel paths that used to be a railway line to see the largest group of Griffon vultures in Spain that was a sight then we walked back and it was very hot.
The next day we drove to the famous town of Ronda very old and lots of historical things to see especially the bridges over the ravines with the highest the Puerte Nuevo being infamous during the civil war for prisoners being thrown off, we then drove out and went to the bottom of the ravine and had a lovely picnic. On our last full day at Olvera we drove to the very beautiful town of Zahara what a spectacular place perched high up a hillside with fantastic views overlooking a lake then we drove further in to the mountains to find a famous gorge waterfall, we set off walking but it was just too hot over 38 so we went back and we found a dead goat which I moved to an open area hoping the vultures would come down but no luck.
We left Olvera the next morning for a 2 hour drive to Guadix were we were staying in a cave house we had arranged to meet the owner a German lady at the train station at 6pm so we spent the afternoon visiting an area of cave dwellings and they were superb to see with one lady inviting us in to look around her home. We met Tesjar and followed her to her home and she showed us around the cave house then we went for a long hike over the top of the houses taking her dog with us as she had to go back to work. It was very different staying in a cave house and we both did not sleep to well but it certainly was an experience. The next day we set off for the coast but firstly visited a 5000 year old site on the cliff tops overlooking a huge ravine and on the opposite side you could see cave houses in the sides of the cliff. It was a long drive to the coast over 3 hours to the town of Carthanage a very old seaport we walked along the seafront and then after eating we took a boat ride around the harbour lots of cargo ships in, but also it's a Spanish Navy port so lots of warships and even a submarine in the dry dock. After this we set off to drive back to Murcia airport for our flight back to the UK arriving home at midnight.
I arrived back in China OK on the 28th of March it took 23 hours from door to door which even after all these times i find amazing, but I still cannot sleep on an aeroplane so had some catching up to do.
Jun hadn't been well before I arrived she had been down with a touch of food poisoning but is now fine and we spent the first weekend together cycling along the Grand canal on a beautiful sunny day. And the Monday she was also off work as it was Memory Day when the Chinese remember their ancestors and tend to the graves.
We had a bad thing happen to us at the end of the first week when our PC was invaded by a really nasty virus we have no idea how it got in, but once in it encrypts all your files etc and you cant see them,open them, delete them, nothing. You then receive a message telling you what they have done and how the only way to decrypt it and get all your files back is by paying them $500 within 24 hours which then goes up to $1,000 and this is done by buying bitcoin and if you don't pay within 96 hours that's the end of it . The virus is called Cryptowall and the FBI think it originated in Russia,they are offering a huge reward to track them down and estimate in the last 2 years they have made $325,000,000. To make matters worse both Jun and I had our portable hard drives connected and they too were wiped out I lost 90% of all my photographs, a very black day for us both. We took our PC to a local shop on Saturday ran by a really nice young couple and they removed all the programmes from it and then installed new programmes so we are literally starting from scratch again.
I did manage to re-download all my images back from my Zenfolio web site on to a new portable hard drive and i still have quite a few image files on my PC back in the UK, but have still lost quite a lot, never mind though it's not such a big thing. Spring is here and its lovely to see all the cherry blossom the gardeners in our complex are doing a wonderful job and they have refilled the water feature that runs all around the gardens. I have been going out most days on my bike when Jun is at work cycling along the moon river or grand canal as the weather has been quite nice, although some days are still a little is cold. I saw a couple sitting outside a shop the other recently and they had a pet monkey so i stopped to look and it jumped on to my bike and when she tried to get it off it jumped on me and clung to my chest like it didn't want to go, it was quite moving ha-ha.
The other Saturday Jun and I went in to the city to visit an art gallery it was all Chinese artists apart from one exhibition of the work of the American photographer Paul Caponigro.
We have also been busy sorting out the places to visit and stay at when we go to Spain as well as getting the visa for Jun. At the moment we are going to La Manga for the wedding then on to Granada,Cordoba,Seville,Ronda with a couple of days in a village in the Sierra Nevada so a lot of driving but really looking forward to it Jun took a day off work and we went to the Spanish Consul ( 1.45 hours to get there by metro and bus) to apply for her visa which all went ok and she got it back in just over a a week. After that we had lunch in a lovely little cafe that is famous for its dumplings and because we were so close to the 798 art area we got a taxi there. The taxi driver was a Buddhist and all of the inside of his cab had Buddhist scriptures and pictures as well as playing Buddhist chants so we had a good talk and he told us that as part of his practice he advertises that any person 70 years or over who is on their own can have a free ride from him in Beijing, isn't that lovely.
We went on a trip to Datong recently. We left home at 7:30 on Friday evening to go to Beijing Western railway station and after one bus ride plus two metro trains arrived there at 9:30 ready to catch our overnight sleeper train to Datong at 11:00, Datong is in the North West in Shanxi Province. We had booked beds in second class which consisted of carriages with bunks stacked three high with about 60 bunks to a carriage and a walkway down one side,we didn't sleep very well as the train was going through mountains and was always braking and swaying. We arrived at Datong at 5:20am and it was quite cold so we had to dig out our other clothes and put them on as well, we then found a noodle shop just opening so had breakfast there then went to the bus station for the first bus at 7:30 to the Yungang caves. We met a gentleman at the bus stop who was 70 and all he did was travel around China, and had also traveled abroad living in Australia for 6 months as well as Cuba and Italy. He was a mine of information and even other people were asking him how do you get here,how far to there,what time is the bus etc I told him him he missed his vocation as a travel guide.
We were the first to arrive at Yungang so were at the front of the queue which also meant we kept ahead of others so i managed to get quite a few photos of the carvings without other people being in them, and the entrance was free for me because of my age ( age can have its benefits). The caves and Buddhist carvings took your breath away they were amazing, they were better than i had even imagined they were, dating from the 5th-6th century and consisting of 252 grottoes and 51,000 carvings and became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2011. We left there on the afternoon to go back to Datong to check in to the lovely hotel Jun had booked,then after a rest we set off to explore the city and its temples both Buddhist,Taoist and a Mosque,I received lots of stares and the people were extremely friendly everywhere we went. We also wanted to see if we could share the cost of the trips the next day so were looking for other groups or people we thought might be going to the other famous sites in the area. We eventually spoke with this man who said he was taking another couple in his car and we could share the costs, so we arranged for them to meet us the next morning at 8am. So after an evening meal at an extremely popular restaurant ( when we got our ticket there was 23 tickets in front of us) we went back to the hotel.
We met the driver and the other two who were a retired Chinese couple from Shanghai who were great as was the driver and we had a fabulous day out. The couple retired in 2008 and since then have spent their time traveling all over China and the world they were really enthusiastic about travel and showed us photos of safaris in Kenya, mystical sunrises in Tibet etc and in June they are off to Iceland. We discussed with the driver where we wanted to go and arranged the price as originally we were just going to go to the Hanging Temple and The Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple which were still a fair distance away but the couple wanted to visit the Buddhist Temples in the Wu Tai mountains so we said great we would love to go there as well. We told him our train was at 11pm that night and he said he could get us back by 9pm and all this was for one hundred pounds between the four of us, so off we went.
Our first visit after traveling up mountain roads (with unbelievable amounts of lorries going up and down making it a quite hairy ride at times) was to the Hanging Temple and that describes it very well as it seems to just hang from the cliff face 200 foot above the ground, again it was free entry for me and the Chinese couple but unfortunately we couldn't go up to it and go in as they were just taking the scaffold down after doing repairs, but it was still spectacular from the grounds below and the river and dam at one end.
We then set off for the Wu Tai mountains and i was asking the driver about the lorries as i had never seen so many in my life and its because Shanxi is the largest coal producing area in China, although production is slowing down with China's commitment to reduce its use of fossil fuels. I then saw the longest train i have ever seen an unbelievable amount of wagons and it was on a special track specifically laid to carry coal to the Eastern seaport.
We stopped off for lunch on the way as it was a long ride and gave the locals a chance to stare and smile at me before completing the ride in to Wu Tai through amazing mountain scenery and long drops. You have to pay to enter as its all a conservation area, but locals arrange to meet people on the road and for a fee take them through in their cars as they can come and go freely i even saw people get out of a car and walk down the hillside to rejoin their car after it had gone through the entrance gates, which i have to say made checkpoint charlie pale in to insignificance, but once again it was free for me and the Chinese couple.
I have never seen so many Buddhist Temples in one place they are everywhere on the mountain sides and in the valley in fact there is a town there which has grew up around it and probably does very well with all its shops and restaurants. There are Tibetan,Zen and Pure Land Temples and its lovely to see the different orders of Monks and Nuns everywhere although around the town area it did feel a bit touristy.
We left there and set off back to Datong with our last visit to The Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple this complete wooden tower was built with no nails in 1056 and stands 221 feet high and is the oldest full wooden pagoda in China, and has survived numerous earthquakes, unfortunately we arrived to late to be able to go in but it was still marvelous to see it.
We then continued back to Datong arriving at 8:30 and saying goodbye to our driver and other couple we walked around looking for a foot massage place but couldn't find one open although one woman we asked after telling her we were getting the train in a hour or so said did we want a room for an hour so i don't know what she thought was going on but Jun was quick to tell her we were a married couple ha-ha.
We took the returning overnight sleeper back to Beijing at 11pm the train was the Inner Mongolia to Guangzhou ( not quite express) train which was traveling 3,112 km and would take 41 hours but for us it was again only 6 hours arriving back in Beijing at 5am and having to wait for the Metro line to open to get home after which Jun had to change and go to work, so that was the end of a fantastic long tiring weekend.