Holy Land 2012 – Days 1&2

August 24, 2012

Day 1

A small, but eminently select group left a damp and cool Manchester airport on Thursday 23rd August for a visit to the Holy Land. I am co-leading the trip with Brian Jolly (Altrincham United Reformed Church).

For some it was a return visit but, for most, it was their first experience of the land in which our faith was made flesh and lived amongst us.

With no delays to the flight we arrived in Ben Gurion airport to be met by our old friend Khalil Abdinnour and our driver, Loay.

Arriving at our hotel in Bethlehem an hour later (the creatively entitled Bethlehem Hotel) our rooms were allocated and we had a late dinner before heading out for a walk up to Manger Square to meet with Jack Giacaman, an olive wood carver who has been a friend of Brian’s and mine for many years. We shared a drink in the Square Cafe before Jack shuttled us back to the hotel.

Day 2

An early start meant that we could get to Heridion before the sun got too hot for the steep climb to the top of Herod’s summer palace between Bethlehem and Hebron.

One small problem was that the lift got stuck on the way down to breakfast. I’m not at my best in enclosed spaces and, as Brian, Kath and I got on at the top floor, it wasn’t US that overloaded the lift. I reckon it was the 2 French women who got on at the 6th floor (I don’t actually know if they were French, but I’ll blame the French anyway!) Thankfully, Brian presses the alarm button and the lift started moving before I succumbed to total panic!

I hadn’t been to Herodion for 10 years and was pleasantly surprised at how much the excavations had developed including, 2 years ago, the site of Herod’s tomb…

Leaving Herodion we first visited the Greek Orthodox site which commemorates the angels appearing to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. We then moved onto the Franciscan site which commemorates the same event and includes the Chapel of the Angel – the first of many Antonio Barluzzi churches we will visit over the ensuing 11 days.

Lunch was at the Tent, a restaurant stylised like a Bedouin tent, before heading up towards the main checkpoint gate to visit the Caritas Baby Hospital. This hospital, established in 1952 by a Swiss pastor, provides the only specialist paediatric care in the whole of the West Bank. Costing $10,000,000 a year to operate, 93% of its funding comes from donations. We took the opportunity to see, up close the section of the ‘separation wall’ which encloses Rachel’s tomb.

We then passed through the gate to get views of Jerusalem Old City from the Haas Promenade, Mt Scopus and the Mount of Olives.

Heading away from Jerusalem, down the other side of the Mount of Olives we stopped off at Bethphage – from where Jesus began his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday.

Carrying on, as if we were going to Bethlehem before the barrier was built, we came to Abu Dis; a town completely bisected between Jerusalem and the West Bank. We could see the way the wall cut straight across what once was the main route from Jerusalem to Jericho The journey now is much, much longer.

Getting back to the hotel we decided, after dinner, that we had done quite enough walking for the day so a meeting in the hotel bar and a sociable drink afterwards ended the day on a very pleasant note. I am a big fan of Taybeh beer 🙂














August 18, 2012

Was it the Olympics? No, I don’t think so – I’ve been talking about getting fitter for a while, but it’s one of those chicken and egg things, isn’t it? I’d need to lose a bit of weight before I felt comfortable exercising in public – but a good way to lose some weight would be to do some exercise….

One of my sisters (Princes Park, Liverpool) and one of my friends (Strathclyde) have been telling me about parkruns for a while. The last time I checked the only one in Manchester was in Heaton Park which was too much hassle to get to (i.e. I’m too lazy – and they encourage you NOT to drive to them) and I bemoaned the fact that there wasn’t something a bit nearer.

Then Eddie Izzard tweeted about the post-Olympic #joininuk thingy and I thought I’d just have a sneaky look and see if there was a crown green bowling club locally…. There is, but I also discovered that there was a parkrun that started marginally less than a mile from my house.

Well, I thought, what harm can it do? Bearing in mind that I have a dodgy back, a tight calf muscle and a history of injuring myself any time I try to get active, quite a lot of harm actually! And given that I’m leading a group to Israel/Palestine on Thursday which will involve quite a bit of walking in reasonably severe heat I decided that, if I were to take part, I would deliberately not push myself too hard. Or at all.

You have to register for a Parkrun and print out a barcode which is uniquely yours. I thought the gods (I mean, God, obviously) was smiling down on me when the server crashed on the parkrun website and I was unable to register. Sadly, they fixed it and I had run out of excuses (excuse the pun).

So, this morning I got up bright and early, put on tracky bottoms and an old t-shirt and set off to walk the mile to the start (I thought that might count as my ‘warming up’)

I got there early (no surprise there) and was confronted by a smallish group of lithe young adults with Lycra bedecked legs and running shirts that seemed to suggest most had run marathons or 10k races fairly recently.

Intimidated? Of course I was but I had told myself that’s was going to do it and, besides, one of them spoke to me and made me feel welcome so slinking away was no longer an option.

By the time 9am came round (the scheduled start) there were quite a few more people. Still a predominantly young-ish group, some young families, but that was of no bother to me, I wasn’t going to overdo myself.

I hung around at the back of the pack, reckoning that those at the front would be the proper runners and that, if I started neat the front, I would only get demoralised as more and more people, including 3 year olds and a young lass pushing a kid in a buggy, passed me. It was a good call. Nobody passed me. Ever.

I set my iPod to shuffle and thought “run a track, walk a track, run a track, etc.” Unfortunately the first track was ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ by Arlo Guthrie… My cunning plan was scuppered from the outset!

So I jogged the first mile or so (by which time the front runner had already passed me on his way back to the finish!) and then walk/jogged the rest of the way.

I took the wrong turn once but realised after a minute or so, so turned back and met up with Mike (@worsleyparkrun) who was doing the ‘tail marker’ whilst carrying his baby in a papoose. So, I knew I was last, but I had someone to talk to (I must say that Robert is quite a slow walker, I’d’ve been loads quicker if I hadn’t taken the caring decision to assuage his loneliness – I hope the ‘humour’ is shining through there!). Turns out that Mike is one of the founders of the Worsley run and his wife is, yes, you guessed it, the one pushing the kid in the buggy… He was by encouraging and we chatted and walked for most of the ‘trail’ part of the circuit which was muddy, but not. Muddy as I’d expected it to be given the cent weather.

We were mopping up marshalls as we went and, once I was sure that Mike wouldn’t be lonely without me (more humour there, folks) I sped up a little and did a bit more jogging.

The end eventually hove into sight and I decided that it wouldn’t be even vaguely amusing if I did a Mo-bot as I crossed the line (given that Mo had run twice as far in significantly less than half the time). So I didn’t.

Unfortunately, the chap at the finish line asked me if I was one of the marshalls and didn’t seem to quite believe me when I told him that no, I’d been taking part… There was a short, uncomfortable silence before he was able to rustle up a condescending “oh, right, well done you” but do you know what? I didn’t care. I’d done what I had set out to do. I’d broken the ice.

The walk to and from the parkrun added a further couple of miles or so to my distance and he shower when I got home felt well deserved.

Today wasn’t about beating anyone else, it was about overcoming my ‘fat men shouldn’t be allowed out in public” fear. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, apparently, and I’ve taken that step.

I enjoyed my time with the Worsley Woods parkrunners. Furthermore, provided they let me, I’ll do it again 🙂

p.s. there were 118 runners this morning …. I know because I’ve just had my position confirmed as 118th 😉 Am I boverred?