Layers of Leaves

Layers of Leaves

I can’t resist the photos of my grandchildren, layered in clothes, playing in layers of leaves in the woodland.  Autumn has arrived in the Cotswolds, and it is certainly a magical time of year.

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Layers of leaves lie

Overwhelming the senses

Deep in the forest

 

 

 

Enveloped by a Rainbow

Doughnut building enveloped in rainbow lights copyright GCHQ, used with permission

Doughnut building enveloped in rainbow lights
copyright GCHQ2015, used with permission

For this week’s photo challenge the prompt is the word “enveloped”.  I understand it to mean totally surrounded or covered, and as such I could only choose one photo as illustration.  I did not take the photo, the copyright belongs to the Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, but I was given permission to use it for this blog.  The photo shows the entire doughnut-shaped building, which is near my home, surrounded and lit up in the colours of the rainbow.  This occurred last weekend (17th May 2015) on Sunday evening from 9pm as the sun set.  It was to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.  It was amazing in many respects.  Firstly, that GCHQ would make such a public gesture of solidarity with these misunderstood minority communities; and secondly, that a large crowd of people, including myself, drove, walked, and waited there to see it late on a Sunday evening.  I know parents who kept young children up specially to see it and then took the opportunity to discuss the reason for the event.

Not so long ago it was illegal in this country for men and women to be practising homosexuals.  And it would have been unthinkable to get a job with the security and intelligence services while openly gay.  But of course many people did work in these fields while keeping their sexuality hidden.  One such man was the mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing.  He worked at Bletchley Park, which was the forerunner to GCHQ.  There he and a brilliant young team helped crack Germany’s Enigma Code, which certainly shortened the second world war by a couple of years thereby saving millions of lives.  But when his sexual orientation was discovered, Turing lost his security clearance and was convicted for gross indecency.  His life was ruined by this conviction and his reputation was destroyed.  He was subjected to ‘corrective’ hormonal treatment until, two years later it is believed, he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning.  In 2013 he was granted a posthumous pardon by the Queen and honoured for his work.

In 2014 the film The Imitation Game was made about Turing and his work.  The film is so good that it won an Oscar as well as 51 other awards.  Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, the acting is outstanding.   The truth may be stretched a little for dramatic effect, but the film is gripping from beginning to end.

My opposition to any form of discrimination and prejudice stems from my years in teaching when I observed the misery it caused to children.  During my 30+ years working in the field of education, I taught over a thousand primary school pupils in state schools.  It is reasonable to assume that they were a fairly representative sample of children raised during the second half of the 20th century.  The majority were from stable, loving and supportive families with parents who worked hard and were able to provide good homes, experiences and opportunities for their children.  But over the years I also worked with many children who were not so lucky.  Lots of families suffered from the negative effects of poverty through no fault of their own.  But in some cases families were dysfunctional due to addictions-to gambling, alcohol or illegal drugs.  There was also a criminal element including a small minority of parents who were actually dangerously antisocial.  Whatever the cause, the children suffered most.

In all those years I only encountered one child with what I would call a ‘wicked’ nature.  He took pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering on other children, animals and even his own family.  Every available agency tried to help him, his parents, and the school, manage and change his behaviour, to no avail.  In those years too I met many confused and unhappy children who had a poor self-image and little confidence.  There were as many reasons as children for this; inadequate parenting, poverty, social, emotional or physical issues, learning difficulties, and sometimes gender issues.

Someone once explained to me that the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us is crucial to our self-esteem.  School age children are social creatures.  They need to be accepted and respected by their peer group.  They are not born with low self-esteem.  It is an acquired condition.  If, for whatever reason, they do not ‘fit in’ to their group, their self-esteem suffers.  And they may become victims of bullying.  This is enormously important because research has shown that low self-esteem leads to unhappiness, ill health, and a less rewarding and successful life.  In extreme cases it can lead to suicide.

This brings me to the tragic case of a 15 year old boy who took his own life because he was being taunted at school for behaviour which ignorant bullies called ‘gay’.  The effect of this on his family and true friends was so traumatic that some months later his father took his own life and then one of his friends did the same.

This is why I am so proud of GCHQ for lighting up the ‘doughnut’ building in rainbow colours at the weekend.  In this country, and in many others I am sure, the past has been marred by intolerance bred of ignorance and fear.  People have been judged because of the colour of their skin; their accent, age, gender, beliefs, finances, job, clothes, or sexuality rather than their humanity.  There is no place in a civilised society for such prejudices.  Critics have denounced the gesture online as a political gimmick, but if it draws crowds of ordinary families who then discuss these issues with their children then it was a very worthwhile one in my opinion.

Read about a previous creative gesture by GCHQ in my blogpost Living Poppy in a Doughnut

The Boy

Fragile and different

Defeated by the bullies

He jumped to his death

 

The girl

Remnants of ribbons

And fading flowers weep, where she

Fell to her death

 

The Father

The death of his son

Drove him to despair.  Destroyed,

His life he ended.

 

The Cemetery

Lawned garden of grief

Compassion carved into stone

Too late to show love

 

Carpe Diem ~ Corn

LOGO SEPT 14

I went to Taize one summer when it was so hot and dry that the magnificent River Loire had almost dried up in places.  Too hot to stay in the car I decided to walk for a while across the fields and I had an amazing experience.    At the foot of the hill were fields of sunflowers, corn and poppies.  I stood alone in a field full of sunflowers, looking up towards the church, as a gentle breeze blew.  The wind caused the flowers to bend and the sound they made was so strange.   I experienced what I can only describe as the spirit moving.

Today’s Haiku prompt at Carpe Diem reminded me of that moment.

Soft wind whispering

Spirit moving through the corn

Speaking to my soul

It reminded me strongly of the beautiful words of one of my favourite hymns:
 Be still for the presence of the Lord
Be still for the presence of the Lord  The holy one is here
Come bow before him now  With reverence and fear
In him no sin is found  We stand on holy ground
Be still for the presence of the Lord  The holy one is here
Be still for the power of the Lord  Is moving in this place
He comes to cleanse and heal  To minister his grace
No work too hard for him  In faith receive from him
Be still for the power of the Lord  Is moving in this place
Icon at Taize

Icon at Taize

The Joys of Cornwall

Derelict mine building at Wheal Coates3

Old tin mines stand tall

Telling stories of the past

On Cornish coastline

I recently spent another lovely week in Cornwall. I wanted to be near the sea while still being near Truro for my hubby’s regular dialysis sessions, so I opted for a cottage in St Agnes. St Agnes is a beautiful, unspoilt little town on the North Cornwall coast. It is full of fascinating relics from the days when tin and copper mining was the main industry. It seemed strange to me to see derelict tin mines visible from behind houses and forming the boundary walls of gardens. In fact tin is still produced in St Agnes at the Blue Hills Mine, the only place in the UK that still produces it. St Agnes is an area of outstanding natural beauty and it has been designated a World Heritage Site. I can certainly see why. I just loved the rugged land and seascapes. Even in our state of unfitness we were able to walk some of the coastal path. This leads to sights that can never be appreciated from the road. One of these is Wheal Coates Mine. It is truly amazing when seen from a distance with its three shafts and its spectacular position on the side of the cliffs. In fact the mine goes all the way down to the sea and at high tide you can hear the waves crashing against rocks through a grid in the ruins. It was possible to get into this mine via a large cave at a nearby beach. There is a local legend that says Wheal Coates is haunted by the spirits of the miners who died there. I expect the eerie sounds of the sea account for the legends.
I’ve always been interested in industrial buildings. I guess this is mainly due to my father’s influence as he was a steel man from the age of 13 and he developed in me a passion for ships, bridges and buildings. The other reason could be because of where I grew up. I lived in the Felling, a shipbuilding and mining area in the North of England. I skipped past the railway station and shipyard every day on my way to school and there was a derelict engine house complete with winding gear at the end of our street of 2 up and 2 down back to back miners’ cottages. These were our adventure playgrounds. Children were never allowed to play on the grass or ride bikes in the municipal parks in those days! Parks were for floral displays and grown-ups to walk in and the park warden was fierce.
Being a traditional and romantic sort of person I regret that industrialisation almost destroyed the crafts of blacksmiths, weavers, spinners, millers and grinders. But I find there is great beauty to be found in the derelict buildings, in the machinery that drove the mines and the mills, and in the engines that turned their wheels and moved their goods

Around St Agnes there are beaches, bays and coves with caves where wreckers and smugglers, no doubt, once hid their treasures. We visited a pub reminiscent of Jamaica Inn. The pub is called the Driftwood and it has a fascinating history. It is a 17th century building which in its time has been a warehouse for the tin mines, a ships’ chandlery, and a sail maker’s loft, before becoming a characterful old pub. It is built of Cornish stone and slate and ship’s timbers and spares. Behind one of the fireplaces in the pub there is a tunnel which was uncovered during restoration. It is said that this was the secret escape route for the wreckers and smugglers of the area as it leads all the way to the beach.

The cottage we stayed in was perfect and my joy was complete when my daughter came to stay for a couple of days with my adorable grandson. He just loved the sea and sand, the horses in the paddock and the trampoline in the garden. We took him to Lappa Valley Railway, which is kiddie heaven in my book. Built on the site of yet another ruined mine, there are castles and treehouses and adventure equipment to satisfy any age. There are also 12 steam engines giving rides on trains which Stanley really loved. There is also a boating lake, café, shop and everything you could want for a fun day out. I loved it.
http://www.lappavalley.co.uk/
Sadly it will be another year before I can go away again due to the shortage of holiday dialysis spaces around the country. But until then I have my photos to remind me of the fun we had and the beauty of Cornwall. Enjoy!

The Cuckoo Returns

Cuckoo signals the arrival of Spring in UK

Cuckoo signals the arrival of Spring in UK

Children back to school
Spring holiday is over
The Cuckoo returns

This morning I heard a nearby cuckoo for the first time this year from my garden in the UK. It is amazing to think that many of these cuckoos have wintered in the Congo, having endured tempestuous weather in Europe, flights over the Sahara desert, and droughts in many places, since leaving the rainforests of Africa. They arrive in the UK between the end of March and mid-April. As everyone here knows, they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and then abandon them to the care of the resident bird. Once hatched, they take over the nest, being so much bigger than their host. They especially like the nests of meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers. This is a bit worrying for our local garden birds as we have a few Dunnocks as well as lots of Blue Tits, fat pigeons and some Robins.
The cuckoo is a dove-sized bird with blue grey upper parts, head and chest with dark barred white under parts. Because of their sleek body, long tail and pointed wings they can be confused with kestrels or sparrowhawks. The male and the female are similar and the young cuckoos are brown. Cuckoos are in decline so I suppose we have to protect them even though we don’t like their squatting habit!
They do of course herald in the spring and for that we are truly grateful
Links you might find interesting:
http://www.arkive.org/cuckoo/cuculus-canorus/
http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking

Palm Sunday 2014

I have celebrated Palm Sunday in many different countries, Kenya, Spain, France, Poland, Italy and UK and it is a church tradition that I love. When I was at work (teaching primary children) one of our jobs was to make the palm crosses for the local church each year. It was an eagerly awaited treat for the 10/11 year olds in their final year of primary school, to learn how to weave and fold the crosses from simple palm leaves.
I have written about other Palm Sundays before and the links are below if you would like to read them. I hope you do.
This year I am laid up in bed with a very nasty case of tonsillitis on antibiotics so I have not even seen a palm!
But I did look at the Vatican website to see the celebrations in St peter’s Square. My overriding impression is that this Pope, like Jesus is adored by the people because of his common touch and understanding of what it means to be poor in this world. But my fear is that like Jesus, he is rattling too many cages and there will be those who plot against him. I also see in his face that after only a few months in the job he is looking exhausted and strained.
Two Haiku I wrote last year sum up my fears.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Cheering throngs gather

In Messianic fervour

Fronds fall at His feet
~
Calling for His death

Crowds that cheered Him now decry

Innocent, He’ll die

You can see the Palm Sunday in Rome here http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-to-celebrate-palm-sunday-mass-in-saint-peters
And my previous Palm Sunday posts are here:~
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-y
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-t
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-i

NaPoWriMo 4 ~ Lune

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Today we were prompted to write a Lune
This is rather like a Haiku which I normally write but instead of 5/7/5 syllables it takes the form of 3/5/3 words.
My attempt is a bit of a cheat as it is both a Haiku and a Lune!

Walking in woodland
Blessed with glimpses of heaven
Revealed in nature

The weather is so beautiful today, the cloud of pollution has lifted and the sky is clear. Obviously the charm I wrote yesterday for NaPoWriMo worked and dispelled the toxic smog!
Spring is such an exquisite time of year in the Cotswolds that I just have to quote Thomas Traherne, the 17th century Poet and Mystic

“Heaven! Is not that an Endless Sphere
Where all thy Treasures and thy Joys appear?
If that be Heaven it is Evrywhere

Taking a walk near The Manor by the Lake today all I can hear is the song of the birds. I feel the warm sun on my face and a soft breeze blows through the trees. A confused woodpecker is pecking at a flagpole on top of the old manor house, which has just been converted into a boutique hotel. Ducks are swimming purposefully on the lake to distract me from their island nests. There is white blossom on the trees. Magnolia is in full bloom and the ground is strewn with daffodils. Just metres away in one direction, is the new ASDA superstore, and in the other, is the litter strewn A40. But here, by the lake, nature’s treasures fill me with joy and I am in heaven.

Walking in woodland
Blessed with glimpses of heaven
Revealed in nature

NaPoWriMo 2 ~ Shishi ~ The paired lion-dogs that guard the entrances of temples

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This haiku is inspired by one of the creatures from from Japanese legend. Shishi is the paired lion-dogs, one male and one female, that guard the entrances to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The Shishi have magical powers to repel evil.
Jp. = Shishi 獅子 or Kara Shishi 唐獅子, Chn. = Shíshī
Also known as Koma-inu 狛犬 (lion dog) in Japan

I chose this topic for two reasons. Firstly I have a cast iron garden chair which is very decorative and it has a lion head at the end of each arm rest. Secondly, one of my daughters used to be a dancer and she worked in Japan for a year when she left LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). She loved Japan and the people she worked for who were so kind to her. One day she went for a trip to see a newly built temple. In order to raise money to complete the temple roof tiles were being sold with a dedication on them. Knowing that my interests are spiritual she Paid for a tile to have my name and a blessing carved on it. I think it is probably one of the most unusual, the most thoughtful, and the most wonderful thing anyone has ever done for me.

Serene and smiling

Weathered guardians of childhood

Casting out evil

Buddhist temple in Willan, UK

Buddhist temple in Willan, UK

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Winter

This is my first Haiku for HaikuSpielen.This week’s theme is Winter. here in Gloucestershire the overwhelming thing about this winter, as in Somerset, is the never ending rain. Combined with high Spring Tides on the River Severn this has led to major flooding in some areas.

Flooding in Gloucestershire 4
February flood
Drains and ditches overflow
Farmers’ winter woe

flooding in Gloucestershire 2 ~ the pub

Farms and fields submerged

River Severn breaks its banks

Washes the landscape

Flooding in Gloucestershire 3 ~ Tewkesbury Abbey

photos from BBC Gloucestershire or Gloucestershire Echo our local newspaper

Pilgrimage

This post is inspired by the February theme of ‘Pilgrimage’ on  Carpe Diem

Seeking solitude
I journey into my soul
A Prayerful Pilgrim

I have written about my idea of pilgrimage before and have posted links to these posts so you can read them again if you wish. I am aware that a number of my readers have no faith or a different faith from myself. I respect that and hope you will read with an open heart and mind, and enjoy the photographs

Inner Journey http://wp.me/p2gGsd-Lv
Pilgrimage to Lourdes ~ http://wp.me/p2gGsd-i

Sharp ~ Haiku

Inspired by haiku-heights.blogspot.com prompt word ‘Sharp’

Sharp satire portrays
In deftly drawn doodles
Truths keenly observed
~
Look sharp for the train
The city is awaiting
A day out with friends
~
Sharp pain reminds me
Body’s borne on broken bones
Injured and aching
~

Grimace ~ Haiku

I was in hospital at the weekend having an operation on my foot.  The pain is indescribable but at least it helped me to write a haiku inspired by this week’s Haiku Heights’ prompt word “Grimace”.

Humour held hostage
In agony arrested
Face frozen in pain

~~~

Features contorted
Awakened in agony
Pain surges through me
 
 

Garden of Remembrance

Prompted by Haiku Heights theme of ‘grass’, I decided to write about the beautiful garden of remembrance I visited in London this week.

Wreathed in fallen leaves

A sea of wooden crosses

And scarlet poppies

~~~~~~~

Lawned garden of grief

A moving memorial

Heroes remembered

This week I have been in London, and I was fortunate to be passing Westminster Abbey at just the right time to see an amazing spectacle.  Wreaths were being laid to mark all those brave men and women who fought and died in the service of our country.  Several members of the Royal Family were there to honour their sacrifice.  Movingly the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Harry laid crosses of remembrance in front of two wooden crosses from the Graves of Unknown British Soldiers from the First and Second World Wars.  Every conceivable branch of service was represented by wreaths and crosses of all shapes and sizes.  This year there are 388 plots and 100,000 crosses. 

There were poignant photos on some of the displays.  Particularly moving were the crosses to mark those who have died in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I was very impressed by the huge wreaths made up of hundreds of poppies representing our Army, Navy and Air force.  My father and my husband’s father were both in the Navy during WW2.  But, I spent a long time searching for the display to commemorate the Durham Light Infantry which my grandfather, Frederick Charles McCluskey, belonged to for almost 40 years.   He was born in 1899 and he joined up at the age of 14 years 8 months to fight in the first world war.  He was sent to France at the age of 17 as a bugler!  He survived that war and went on to fight in the Second World War.   He was one of the Desert Rats  and fought with the Durham Light Infantry at El Alamein. He wrote an account of that battle, a copy of which I still have.

Grandad never talked about the war but he kept wonderful photo albums of the places he visited during the second world war.  It wasn’t until after he died that we read in the newspapers of some of his exploits when they called him a hero:~

“Tyneside war hero, Major Frederick Charles McCluskey who played a leading role in a legendary desert trek to freedom, has died at the age of 88.
In June 1942, he and 200 men from The Durham Light Infantry‘s 9th Battalion evaded fierce enemy fire to escape after being surrounded by a division of Rommel’s desert army at gazzala, North Africa.
They travelled 350 gruelling miles to safety.  Major McCluskey, who lived in Milvain Avenue, Benwell fought in both world wars.”

I am very proud of him.

Ballet

Inspired by Haiku-heights September Challenge ~ Day 5 ~ Ballet

In the 1960s I was still living in Stratford on Avon studying A Levels at Shottery Manor, which was the Girl’s Grammar School.  I have written a post before about the unforgettable year that was 1964 ~ Shakespeare’s quartercentenary.  I was totally immersed in the Shakespeare memorial Theatre at that time and met many very interesting and exciting people.  One of those who stands out for me was Rudolph Nureyev.  He had only recently begun his life-changing dance partnership with Margot Fonteyn.  Who could ever forget their performance of Romeo and Juliet ?  It could be that he is responsible for my deep connection with the Russian culture, language, and people.

Devoted to dance

A picture of perfection

Two souls become one

Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in La Bayadère.

September started off very busy for me so posting my haiku has been a challenge too far!  However I think I have caught up now so if you have time you can read my earlier posts here:

http://wp.me/p2gGsd-Ou Shepherd

http://wp.me/s2gGsd-silver Silver

http://wp.me/s2gGsd-guardian Guardian

http://wp.me/p2gGsd-11m Frog

Silver

Inspired by Haiku-heights’ September Challenge Day 3 ~ Silver

Each night I take my little dachshund Dayna out to wander in the garden before she goes to bed.  I love to sit at the end of the garden under the gazebo, where it is very dark and totally quiet, to watch the sky and enjoy the last few minutes of the day.  Recently I have been enjoying the tail end of the Perseid shower of shooting stars.  Last night I saw a beauty which seemed much higher than the others I have seen.

Silver arrows pierce

The depths of distant darkness,

And faraway fall

~

Meteorites make

Momentary magic, leave

Lasting memories

~

Shooting stars shatter

The celestial stillness

With their final show

~

I can’t resist reposting a haiku I wrote when my grandson was just a few weeks old!

On a soft white cloud

As silver stars surround him

He silently sleeps

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Look at him now just 9 months old!

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Guardian

Inspired by haiku heights September Challenge day 2 ~ Guardian

When I am troubled
Take me to a quiet place
To rest with angels

Frogs in Torun

Through towering trees

Strange sounds are carried from a

Bog seething with frogs

Sunday’s prompt for Haiku Heights’ September challenge is the word ‘Frog’.  My mind works in mysterious ways and the prompt instantly took me back to 2004 when I travelled with a group of friends from Global Footsteps, to take part in a conference in Torun, which is in Poland.  I’ve written about it before but I think it is worth revisiting.

Frog in Torun

There is a wonderful fountain in the centre of Torun with several statues of frogs in it.  It is called the Flisakiem fountain.  Flisak was a raftsman in Torun who played the violin very well.  According to an old legend, the city of Torun was overrun by a plague of frogs and no-one knew how to get rid of them.  The Mayor promised the hand of his daughter in marriage  to any person who could clear the city of the frogs.  Of course, rather like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Flisak played so well that all the frogs followed him and left the city of Torun.    He claimed his reward and married his beloved and they lived happily ever after.

It was on a chilly June morning in London that we caught the ‘Orbis’ coach for the 36 hour journey to Torun.  The bus was not full so there was plenty of room and it was very comfortable.  The friendly hostess, Isabella, served tea and coffee and we had a pleasant journey to Dover where we caught the Ferry to Calais.  The weather was very pleasant and we had an enjoyable crossing.  The channel was unusually busy because it was the 60th Anniversary of the D Day Landings.  Old soldiers were gathering for a memorial service.

We got back onto the coach and set off northwards through France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany, crossing the River Oder at the Polish border town of Slubice.  We were expecting long delays at the border but were astonished to be met by smiling customs officers who briefly checked our passports and waved us through with no problems.  This is a very encouraging development since Poland joined the European Union this year.  Already the scenery was fascinating to me and the weather was beautiful.   I noticed the narrow cobbled roads in the towns, the many shrines by the roadside in the country and lots of churches.  There was an abundance of pine tree forests and masses of poppies on the verges.  I was thrilled to spot a stag and a hare and then amazed to see storks in the fields and a flock of herons.  We were travelling on Route 22 towards the city of Gdansk.  We saw flats along the way that reminded me of Russia, and a huge river with men fishing.  Petrol stations were Statoil and fuel was 4.0 zl, about 60p, I guessed for a litre.  We saw agriculture everywhere – endless fields of crops with no fences; allotments with dachas like grand sheds; orchards; lakes and picnic spots; and miles of greenhouses and garden centres.  We saw timber-framed houses and lots of new buildings, but we saw very little livestock.  In Belgium and Germany we had seen herds of very healthy looking cattle but none at all yet in Poland.  We saw big churches with round towers, Rapunzel-style, and the remains of old city walls were evident in many towns.

At Bydgostcz we stopped for coffee and met a Polish-Canadian-Scot who reminisced about D-Day, when he was 15 years old.  He told us how he had been taken away from his village in Poland by the German occupying forces.  They had forced him to fight for them.  He was saved by the US troops who eventually offered to take him to the USA to start a new life. He had opted for Canada and eventually married a Scottish lady and went back with her to Scotland.  He has now retired to Vancouver Island in Canada but visits Poland as often as he can.

On entering Torun we saw storks on huge nests on top of telegraph poles.  When the coach stopped a friend was there to meet us.  He took us to the TTCA building to rest and unpack before we met our group leader who treated us to a meal at Damroki restaurant.  The food was delicious and we were entertained by an impromptu folk concert performed by groups from all over Eastern Europe, who had attended the Folk Festival in Torun earlier in the day.

stork

On Monday, Ula (or Ursula), who is a professional guide, met us at the TTCA.  Thankfully she speaks English very well, self-taught we later found out.  She is going to give us a 5-hour tour of Torun.  She was a mine of information and she showed us everything of interest in the old and new town.  We walked miles until we were ready to mutiny so she took us to her favourite coffee shop.  This was wonderful so all was forgiven.  We drank a special coffee like Cappuccino with Pierniki sprinkled on top.  Pierniki is gingerbread, which is the local speciality.  Later Ula took us to a restaurant, which served pancakes and dumplings with exquisite fillings and lashings of strawberries and cream on top.  We were a little puzzled, as they seemed to put savoury and sweet fillings all together and the portions were way too big, however it was very enjoyable.  After our marathon walking tour we went back for a well-earned rest and shower before dinner.

We were amazed at the low prices of meals in Torun.  It varies of course but it was possible to get a very good meal and a drink for less than £2.  Coffee and delicious pastries with fruit and cream cost less than £1.40.  Kodak films for my camera (pre-digital cameras!), which cost £4 in the UK cost £1 here and a loaf of freshly baked bread from the bakers cost about 23p.  We just cannot imagine how the shopkeepers manage to sell their goods at these prices and still make a profit.  We are worried that the cost of living may rise dramatically now that Poland has joined the EU.

Public transport is very reasonable here and accommodation is good.  Rents seem very cheap at £75 a month for a 1 bed roomed, central flat.  Big US hotel chains are moving in with high priced rooms but there are still bargains to be had for the traveller or tourist.  We stayed at the Twin Town Association building, which is in the restored Burgher House and Tower of the ruined Teutonic Castle.  The large rooms have been refurbished to a very high standard and we shared bathrooms and a kitchen as in a Youth Hostel in UK.  It was comfortable and cheap and, with fabulous views of the River Vistula from our windows it suited us very well.

On Tuesday our guide met us at 8 am and rushed us off to catch the bus to the railway station where we caught a train for the 90-minute journey to Gniezno.  The city is known as the cradle of the Polish state as it was in the Cathedral here that the first King of Poland, Boleslaw Chrobry, was crowned in 1025.  We rushed to the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Adalbert, founded 1000 years ago by King Boleslaw the Brave.  Here we saw the famous bronze doors from 1175, which show 18 scenes from the life of St Adalbert.  We also saw the statue of Our Lady of Gniezno and the sarcophagus of St Adalbert.  St Adalbert was a Bohemian Bishop from Prague who passed through Gniezno in 997 on a missionary trip to convert the Prussians, a heathen Baltic tribe who lived in N E Poland.  Sadly they didn’t want to be converted so they chopped his head off.  King Boleslaw paid a ransom of his weight in gold for the body then brought it back to Gniezno and buried it in the Cathedral in 999.  Pope Sylvester then canonised the martyr.

After this very short visit we rushed off to catch a narrow gauge train to Biskupin.  This trip was organised as a treat and was a major highlight of the trip for me.  Gorgeous weather and fabulous countryside edged with poppies, and white and purple wildflowers.  Biskupin was besieged by children on school trips but was very interesting.  It was a sort of Baltic Blists Hill, with characters in costume minting coins, chopping wood, firing crossbows and riding horses etc.  The ‘iron age’ fortified town was built entirely of wood some 2730 years ago on the shore of a beautiful lake.  It was subsequently disappeared under a peat bog where it was perfectly preserved until 1933 when it was discovered by accident.  It is now a fascinating archaeological reserve and one time film set.

Wednesday was another gorgeous day arranged for us by a local friend, Anya.  We started with a bus ride to the bike shop where we hired bikes.  It took an age to organise this because the shop appeared to only have huge mountain bikes, which were fine for the men but not for we 3 delicate and very fussy ladies!  We ended up a very motley selection with one on an ancient ‘sit up and beg’ shopper complete with basket, dodgy gears and a mudguard, another on a man’s bike with sticky red handles, and me on a junior BMX!  After lots of giggles and false starts we set off for a 23 km round trip to Anya’s home for a barbecue.  We cycled through the forest and past vast poppy fields and a bog seething with very vocal frogs.  When we reached Anya’s home village of Lysomice we saw stork families on top of telegraph poles.  Then we were treated to a super barbecue and lots of homemade blackcurrant drinks, some alcoholic and some not!  We also met Killer the guard dog, who eats cucumbers, and had a guided tour of garden and greenhouses where Anya’s family grow tomatoes, cucumbers, fir trees and flowers to sell at the local Farmers’ Markets.  The whole day was absolutely wonderful and we really enjoyed the cycle ride home to Torun.  I was very proud of myself since I hadn’t been on a bicycle for 25 years!

Thursday saw the Feast of Corpus Christe and being a Catholic country, the celebrations were massive so we had a free day in Torun.  After the 9am Mass in the churches and 2 Cathedrals, the entire congregation left to process through the streets to the square where decorated altars had been set up.  There were columns of nuns, altar servers, guides, scouts, priests, and rows of young girls in long white dresses and veils.  They carried baskets of flower petals, which they scattered on the ground in front of the canopy covering the Priest and the Monstrance containing the sacred host.  There was a military band leading the procession and a vehicle at the rear with loudspeakers amplifying traditional hymns.  The processions came from all quarters to meet near Copernicus’ statue.  There was a huge poster showing Pope John Paul 11 who visited Torun in 1999.  A service was held here before the whole procession moved on to another square for another service.  The crowd was huge and everyone was dressed in their ‘Sunday Best’.  The windows and balconies of many houses and businesses were hung with posters, tapestries, candles, statues and mini shrines to celebrate the Feast Day.  The Priests and altar servers wore white cassocks with embroidered or lacework chalice and host decorations.  It was a grand occasion and a privilege to watch.  It reminded me of May processions in the North of England when I was a child.

In the evening we visited the Fort and saw a huge fire on the horizon.  We never did find out what building was on fire.

On Friday we had a very early start again for the 7.45am bus to the railway station to catch the train to Malbork.  The journey took just 2 hours so we arrived in time for a lovely cup of coffee in the shopping centre.  Sadly when we came out the heavens had opened so we had to buy umbrellas.  The rain was torrential but nevertheless we set off for Mary’s castle.  This is reputed to be Europe’s largest Gothic castle and Poland’s oldest castle.  It is so important that in 1997 it was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.  It is situated on the Nogat River, an eastern arm of the Vistula River, which flows through Torun.  It is a truly impressive and huge reconstruction.  The castle was built in three parts (higher, middle and lower castle) by the Teutonic Knights, who called it Marienburg (Mary’s Fortress).  The Teutonic Knights, a German order, were also called Knights of the Cross.  Their commander in chief was called a Grand Master.  They were crusaders who wore white robes with a black cross.  The castle was started in 1276 and finished within 30 years.  The Knights ruled from here for 150 years.  It was the largest fortress in the middle ages, but the castle, like Poland, had a very stormy history being in the hands of various conquering armies then largely destroyed in World War Two.  It is now in danger from subsidence.  Inside the castle there are several notable exhibitions.  There is a room full of tapestries and a room full of exquisite jewellery boxes, altars, crucifixes, artwork and jewellery all made purely from amber.  There is also a bombed out church which has not been renovated due to lack of funds.  This is breathtakingly poignant with its battered walls and statues, and the miraculously undamaged boss of the Mother and Child.  The memory of the broken crucifix will stay with me always.  This empty shell of a church was the most moving thing I saw in Poland and for me it illustrates the total pointlessness of war.

Saturday was a very special day and we had to get up very early for a bus and train journey to Gdansk.  The area was referred to a Gyddanyzc (Gdaniesk) or wetness in 999 in “The Life of St Adalbert”.  There was a settlement here as early as 2500BC and by the 13th century when the Teutonic Knights seized the city it was a major port and municipal centre.  In 1454 the city broke free from the Knights and became a part of Poland.  Over the next century there was incredible economic development in the city, which had a monopoly of trade in Polish grain.  The city also became the largest town in Poland and a great centre for shipbuilding.  1580 to 1650 was a ‘Golden Age’ when artists and craftsmen settled here and the city became a centre of artistic and cultural style.  In 1793 during the second partition of Poland the city was annexed to the Prussian state and underwent a long period of Germanisation, briefly interrupted by a period of French rule in 1807 to 1814.  After 1850 there was another economic boom due mainly to the railways, the port and shipbuilding.  In 1920 after WW1 due to the influence of the Britain the free city of Gdansk was created under the patronage of the League of Nations.  However it then fell to the Germans in WW2 during which the Polish citizens of Gdansk were exterminated in concentration camps.  Allied forces carried out air raids then the Soviet Russian troops almost destroyed the city and ruined its industrial base.  After WW2 the Germans were expelled and thousands of new inhabitants set about rebuilding the city.  I think they did a wonderful job as the city is incredibly beautiful.  Peace did not last long though, because between 1970 and 1980 workers’ protests turned violent and prompted great social and political changes in Poland.  In 1997 the city ceremoniously celebrated the millennium of the visit of St Adalbert Slawnikowic, the Bishop of Prague who left Gdansk in 997 on a Christian mission to then still pagan Prussia.  In 1992 and 1999 Pope John Paul 2 visited Gdansk.

We explored as much as it was possible to see in a day.  We saw the shops, the churches and cathedrals, the memorial to the fallen shipyard workers and then caught a tram to the beach and paddled in the Baltic.  It was a wonderful day and Gdansk is a place that everyone should visit.  It is a city with everything in my opinion.  It has history, culture, spirituality, beautiful buildings, wonderful people and a golden sandy beach.  What more could anyone want.

 

Tin Mines ~ Haiku

I am loving the totally different landscape in Cornwall.  It is hilly with occasional surprise glimpses of tin mines, relics of an industrial past.  There are bays and coves with caves where smugglers hid their bounty.  Unfortunately our car broke down as soon as we arrived, probably due to the long journey in searing temperatures.  Still it gave me a chance to explore Truro city itself and the beautiful cathedral.  I was very surprised to see abandoned churches, almost derelict up for sale.  Even our hotel is a former convent with a magnificent deconsecrated chapel which is now used as a great hall for weddings and conferences.  Ah well, it is a sign of the times I suppose.  Christianity, like old industries are being squeezed.

Old tin mines stand tall

Telling stories of the past

On Cornish coastline

Image

Relics of the past

Old convents and churches stand

Boarded up ruins