Monthly Archives: July 2016

Jerusalem for holy travel guide

Our drive into Jerusalem passed through undulating waves of land created by the Judean mountains, with crammed-together, stone buildings that seem to protrude from every hillside nook and cranny. The golden hues of the late afternoon sunshine had spread itself over the scene sometimes with amazing dappled effect.

It was a biblical look right there that prepared me for the only destination on Earth where the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – combine to create a spiritual atmosphere like no other.

Jerusalem is neatly divided into four quarters and we started our path in the Jewish quarter. Our first destination was the iconic Western (Wailing) Wall in the Old City. There are many gates into the Old City and we entered via the Maimonides Gate, passing through airport-style security towards the wall.

King Solomon built a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant, so revered by Jews, in 516 BC. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and this wall is all that is left today. Jews (and others) come to pray in front of it, often squeezing hand-written notes asking for fertility, money or health, into any chink they can find, hoping for a direct line to their god. The woman next to me told me she was praying for her hair to grow back after chemotherapy and my heart broke. If ever there was a monument to humanity’s deepest despair and most heartfelt desires, this 2000 year-old stone wall is it.

Looking down at the ground at the foot of the wall I saw hundreds of messages that had fallen out as new hopefuls add their memo. None are destroyed as these are later buried by the wall-keepers. It’s all very beautiful yet I found the atmosphere to be heavily sombre.

This is also the site of the world’s oldest mosque, The Dome of the Rock (built in 691 AD), sacred to Muslims. Muslims believe that it was from this spot that Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. I could see its golden dome shimmering for recognition in the afternoon sun while I said a few words to whichever god may be listening.

When I walked away from the al fresco prayer plaza beyond the railings, I saw a priest animatedly arranging his congregants (Polish pilgrims) for a photo opportunity, excited to have the wall as the backdrop. I went to take a picture of the scene, and when he spotted me he spontaneously struck a delightfully jocular pose.

I saw this earthly shepherd and his flock again later at the Via Dolorosa (the 14 stations of the Cross), leading them along the winding route that Jesus took from his trial to the site of his crucifixion.

This passes through the Muslim quarter and ends in the Christian quarter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchure or Church of the Resurrection.

Entry to this most sacred church is a humble brown door, but just steps into the interior is a stone slab set above ground level known as the Stone of Anointing. This is said to be the place where Christ was prepared for burial and I watched as faithfuls lovingly kissed and caressed the stone in reverence.

All denominations conduct their own services in various parts of the church. I witnessed the Catholic service which is held at the central dome. Congregants were dispersed to the sides to make way for a parade which, to my amazement, was headed by my jocular priest who winked at me as he walked by.

Winter Sun Island Paradise

The Caribbean has always been a popular choice among holiday-makers that love sun and sea jaunts away. Constant sunshine, cocktails, gentle waves of a stunningly clear blue sea lapping against the sand, and an occasional cooling breeze is an appealing holiday option.

So when friends of my wife, whose work in yachting had led them to regularly visit the Caribbean, suggested we consider it for our November break we investigated further.  As this fell at the latter end of the Hurricane season, they recommended somewhere in the South Caribbean which would be less likely to be troubled by storms.

Why choose Barbados?

One of our reasons for choosing Barbados was that it is a direct flight from the UK (Thomas Cook Airlines offer return flights from £399.99) – and surprisingly only seven and three quarters hours away. British visitors will also appreciate that they drive on the same side of the road as us (left side) – which makes hiring a car a fairly comfortable experience.

You get a sense of Barbados’ laid back attitude the moment you arrive and it is sometimes easy to mistake this for diffidence, but don’t be fooled, the chances are that your request has been noted and will be dealt with.

Bajans are generally a warm and friendly bunch but they tend to do things at a relaxed pace, which is fine as soon as you get into their way of thinking – relaxation seems to be the name of the game in Barbados. One early morning call came at 11.20am instead of 10am. When I asked why it came so late I got a shrug of the shoulder and ‘that’s a Bajan early morning call’.

The island certainly has everything you would expect of a tropical paradise – coconut trees, humming birds, a rain forest, blue coral-reefed seas and miles of sandy beaches.

If, however, you expect to find a deserted stretch of sand you are likely to be disappointed, as all of Barbados’ beaches are public. Beach-side hotels, however, will have their own sun loungers which are for hotel patrons only and are guarded by hotel security – which means that you can sunbathe pretty-much undisturbed even by the beach vendors (who tend to be very mild mannered in comparison to those in some places).

The climate is pretty even with average temperatures varying between the high sixties and low eighties – however, make no mistake, when the sun comes out it is HOT and humidty can reach 75% especially between July-December period which means you need to be well protected against mosquitos.