Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Easter in Greece

Parthenon and Acropolis
With the approach of the rainy season, we decided to try to avoid some of the weather by going away.   Greece was a place that we thought we would like to see and Qatar Airlines had a great sale, so we booked it.  At the same time, our daughter Maureen would be bringing a group of high school students there.  Our plan was to spend the first two days with them in Athens and then go our separate ways.  To quote Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes o mice and men gang aft agley”.  Maureen’s flight had
a cracked windshield on arrival in Philly, and they were delayed two days.  So instead of touring Athens with the group, we met her in the lobby of her hotel at about 4 am.  It was very disappointing, but we enjoyed even an hour with her, another teacher, and some of her students.

Palm Sunday service was at a neighborhood Orthodox Church.  Until this trip, we had never been in one.  The church was decorated ornately with many icons throughout.  Instead of palms as we have at home, they distribute small olive branches.
At Porto Mykonos Hotel 

After Athens, we visited the island of Mykonos, which was very beautiful.  Our hotel was great and we enjoyed the view of the Aegean Sea from our balcony.  Mykonos was an island of white-washed houses and shops, windmills, and expensive yachts.

Tom on rented ATV
Tom at Paradise Beach

Scenes from Mykonos 
Notice the "Eye of God" below the crucifix

Kamari, Santorini


We arrived in Santorini on Holy Thursday evening.  Our hotel was in Kamari, a beach town, with black volcanic sand.  Since it was still off-season, it was quiet and uncrowded.   Good Friday morning we awoke to the tolling of a deep church bell.  It rang every 30 seconds for the whole day.  Also, boys were setting off firecrackers most of the day.

Santorini from the sea
We took the local bus to Fira, the capital of the island.  Fira is the stereotypical Greek town, with white houses and shops hugging the mountainside.  Santorini is a volcano caldera and from Fira you can see the cone, which looks like a blasted island off shore.  This was the location where part of the movie “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” was filmed.  If you have ever seen this movie, it shows one of the girls riding a donkey up to her grandparent’s house.  We finally found the donkeys on our last day there (and felt very sorry for them).
The New Port at Santorini
Notice the volcanic rocks

We attended the Good Friday service at the Orthodox Cathedral in Fira.  This church was beautiful, with wonderful icons everywhere.  As the priests stripped the altar, many people wept.  It was very moving.

Easter service in Kamari began at 12:01 am!  The desk clerk at our hotel had said it would be at 7 in the morning, so we missed it.  The tradition is that after midnight, the priest says, “Jesus Christ is risen” and the people respond, “He is risen indeed” (in Greek, of course).  Then people take the colored egg they have brought with them, and knock it into someone else’s egg.  Whoever’s egg   Most of the Easter eggs were a very dark red.  We were disappointed to have missed this.  Also, many firecrackers and fireworks were set off at church.  (we slept through it all)
doesn’t crack will get their wish.

Inside St John the Baptist
Cathedral before Mass
In the morning, we took the bus to Fira and went to Mass at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.  Officiating were three priests, one of whom was from West Africa.  They use a book called Christians without Frontiers, which has responses in eight languages.  Before Mass, the priest asked everyone to respond in the language we were most comfortable with.  Many of the people in the congregation were obviously tourists like us, so the responses sounded a bit like the Tower of Babel. 

After Mass the priest invited the congregation to visit with the nuns at the Dominican Monastery nearby.  Almost everyone processed over to the chapel to sing and pray with the sisters, who were behind a grill at the front of the church.  Again, we thought of Maria’s wedding in “The Sound of Music”.  It was a wonderful experience for us.

Back in Kamari, the rest of the day was filled with the sound of firecrackers, music with traditional Greek dancing, and lambs cooking on spits over charcoal fires on the sidewalks.  

We were happy to have the opportunity to visit Greece, but were glad to return to Tanzania.  Unfortunately, our plan to avoid rainy season did not work.  It has rained for the last eight days with only one hour of sunshine.  Our house is filled with wet and damp laundry.  We know, though, that sooner or later it will stop.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Our trip to Germany - Christmas 2013

Last year, we had the pleasure of a visit from our son Chris and his wife Abigail over the Christmas holidays.  This year, they invited us to spend the holidays with them in their new home in Stuttgart, Germany.  After two Christmases away from home, we felt it would be great to experience a cold Christmas.  As some of you may know, Christmas with palm trees and hot weather is hard to understand when you are from the Philadelphia area.

We were sad to leave the children, staff and students at Irente Children’s Home.  Since the second year students would be on holiday at the same time, we did not need to worry about missing classes.  With half of the students away, the remaining ones would be busy caring for the children.

Sunrise over Stuttgart at 8:05 AM!

We flew to Frankfurt, Germany by way of Doha on Qatar Airlines.  Both of our flights were great.  Chris met us at the airport early on the morning of the 18th of December and drove us to Stuttgart. We were so glad to be with him and Abigail.  They moved to Germany last summer when Chris had an opportunity to work there.  They live in a residential area of South Stuttgart in a beautiful apartment.  Other than the six flights of steps (120 to be exact), it is perfect.  They have the top two floors in an old apartment building, along with a rooftop terrace.  The apartment is completely renovated and looks like it is brand new.

Stuttgart is a city meant for walking or public transportation.  There are buses, trains and an underground to get you all around the area.  Tom walked every day and went in a new direction each time.  He must have walked 50 miles while there.  When we arrived the Christmas market was in full swing, with small shops selling everything imaginable.  The big thing to drink was Gluhwein, a hot spiced wine, with many kinds of wurst to eat. 

Medieval Ferris wheel, Esslingen

We also visited a Christmas market in the town of Esslingen, which has a medieval theme complete with a hand turned, wooden Ferris wheel.  We spent a morning and lunch at Hohenzollern Castle.  It was reconstructed in the mid-1800’s on the site of the original, which was home to King Frederick the Great.  Some parts of the castle are from the previous castle.  It is situated on top of a high hill and the view is spectacular. 

Christmas dinner
On Christmas Eve, we went to an English speaking Anglican church.  The children were dressed in beautiful costumes for the Nativity pageant, but their joy was no greater than the children at Irente Church in their simple ones.  Tom and I cooked roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding (to Grandmom Mac’s recipe).  Using an
oven was different enough, but they have a convection oven, which took some figuring out.

On Christmas Day, Abigail and Chris did the cooking.  They had several families from the base join them and one couple brought two deep-fried turkeys!  There was so much food it was hard to know what to choose.

Chris, Abigail & Tom on Alpspitz
overlooking Garmisch
The weekend after Christmas, we stayed at Edelweiss Resort in Garmisch, in the Bavarian Alps.  This is a resort for military families on a base named for General George C Marshall (of the Marshall Plan, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize).  From the window of our room, we could see the majestic mountains covered in snow.  On Saturday, we traveled by gondola up the Alpspitz to 2050 meters, where we watched skiers and drank hot chocolate in a small restaurant.  It was incredible and incredibly cold!  I spent that afternoon shoulder deep in an outdoor hot tub at the resort and read.  Chris, Abigail and Tom all went to do their own things.  We also walked through the town, which is mostly known for the Winter Olympics back in the 30’s with Hitler presiding.  Looking out our window and watching a train pass across the fields and hearing the high whistle, Tom said it was like spending a weekend on a train platform.  So true!
Ulm Minster Lutheran Church

On our way back to Stuttgart we visited the town of Ulm and saw Ulm Minster Lutheran Church.  It is the tallest church in the world.  

 On New Year’s Eve day, our assignment was to go to a store nearby the apartment to buy fireworks.  They are sold everywhere.  We picked up some bottle rockets, sparklers and some other types we did not know.  One package had 30 tubes, and the other 86.   Before we left for some friends’ apartments, Chris set off some of the bottle rockets from their rooftop.  We were well prepared with buckets of water in case of an accident. set off some more of the fireworks from a sand box on her complex’s roof. 

After visiting some of Chris and Abigail’s friends, we walked down the pedestrian area in the center of Stuttgart.  In the square near the palace, there was the most tremendous display of fireworks we have ever scene.  The remarkable thing about it was that ordinary people set them off.  This was no roped-off, safety-hazard concerned display.  No, it was just thousands of fireworks, which shot into the air and occasionally bounced off buildings.  We have never seen anything like it.  They were still going off after we were in bed at 1:30 am.

Prague from the Moldau River
Our visit to Prague, Czech Republic was wonderful.  It is a place that we would highly recommend to anyone with a desire for travel.  Most of the buildings in the Old Town are original and very ornate.  There are churches everywhere and palaces.  We even saw a hall in one palace where indoor jousting took place.  They had a special stairway to accommodate the horses.  The Czech people were very friendly and the food was good.  Chris, Abigail, and I went to the National Theater and saw the opera Carmen one night.  Tom decided to pass on that. 

Christmas tree in Old Town Square, Prague

Our time came to an end too quickly.  We were sorry to leave, but also looking forward to our return to Tanzania and the home.  We landed at Kilimanjaro Airport to warm weather and bright sunshine.  We were thankful for our safe return.  We thank God for the ability to travel and see new places and people.  We are truly blessed.