Mar 30, 2015

March 30: Limassol

This morning I'd intended to be up early, visit a few small museums in Larnaca, and then catch the 10:00 bus to Limassol. The intercity bus costs €4 and it's a 90 minute trip, which would have left me a bit of time to explore the city before boarding the ferry for Haifa. 

 So much for my intentions. This morning I slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, uploaded a few more photos, and didn't check out of my furnished flat until shortly after 10:00. Incidentally, while there is no shortage of accommodation in Larnaca (at least in late March), I found a wonderful place which is worth a look for anyone planning a stay here. (Well, maybe not anyone. If you're looking for five star spa recommendations, you're reading the wrong blog.) The €10 per night hostels I stayed at in Bulgaria were fantastic and offered great value for the money, but I think the Petalmo City Apartments is the best place I've stayed in the past six months. It's not the fanciest, but for €20 I got a furnished apartment: WiFi, full kitchen facilities, separate bedroom, bathroom with a tub, and even a washing machine! It's 350 m to the beach, and about 600 m to the church of St Lazarus. My flat didn't have a balcony, but several of the others do. Bookings can be made online, or they can be contacted directly:
Lordou Vyronos Str. No 50 
+357 99 627170 or 
+357 99 923926 
petalmo@cytanet.com.cy 

 I was amused when I discovered that "Lord Byron" intersects with "Gladstone." The British legacy in Cyprus is still very much a reality. My first clue came as soon as I left the terminal at the airport and saw the traffic driving on the left, and when I ordered chips (aka french fries), the malt vinegar was brought to the table as a matter of course. More annoyingly, the power outlets also use the British three-prong system. Although my power adapter can handle it, I had left that plug at home in Canada, not thinking I'd need it. For €2.50, I bought one at a convenience store. I'm unlikely to use it again in Cyprus, but I have a three hour stopover in London on the way home. Could be useful there, I suppose.

Another aspect of the British legacy in Cyprus is the widespread use of English by the Cypriots I've met, more so than anywhere else I've been on this pilgrimage. The accent is a charming mixture of Greek and Oxford, although I've heard American accents on the street. In addition to Greek, I've also heard people speaking Arabic, French, Russian, and languages I couldn't identify, at least one of which originated from the Indian subcontinent. 

This morning I did make it to the small Byzantine Museum beside St Lazarus. Admission was only €1, which was about right for looking at liturgical artifacts dating mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries. The last two of the five rooms contained a collection of icons, and a few of the 16th century works were stunning. (I found the 18th and 19th century pieces to be much less inspiring.) 

Around noon I made my way towards the bus stop at the beachfront promenade. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to exchange currency. I still had some US dollars left from my sojourn in Lebanon, so when I spotted a convenience store that boasted "No Commisions" on their "Great Rates" I headed in to buy some Israeli shekels. As it turns out, they only exchange currencies in one direction. A sudden cloudburst drove me under shelter at a café, where I bought an overpriced coffee and used their WiFi. 

The bus ride to Limassol passed quickly. The last stop was the New Port, where I hopped off. The shipping company doesn't have an office at the port, but it didn't take long to locate. The one email I received from them while I was still in Lebanon included the assertion that "Our sailing is scheduled for every Monday (subject to alterations without notification.)" -- except that this week, the ship sails on Tuesday. I was rather shocked when I learned the price -- €235 is more than double what I paid for the ride from Turkey to Lebanon. They told me that since it's a cargo vessel, insurance for a foot passenger is very high. Perhaps the discrepancy in prices is due to EU regulations which didn't apply for the Turkey-Lebanon route. It would have been much cheaper to fly to Tel Aviv! 

Once I tucked my ticket away, I kept walking towards the city centre on the lookout for a place to spend the night. One woman saw me walking and pulled over to offer me a ride since "the city is very far." I thanked her, but declined. Eventually I found a decent hostel 5 km from the port. The sign advertising free WiFi wasn't taken down when the hostel changed hands, but there are cafés in abundance. I'm to be at the port by 10:00 tomorrow morning. This seems excessively early, as the info on the shipping company's website indicates it's a fifteen hour journey and we arrive in Haifa at 8:00 Wednesday morning. At least I've got a good book to help pass the time. 

And now I'll pay for my coffee and go find some dinner. I probably won't be online again until Wednesday evening, and perhaps not even then. I'm still not sure if I'll take the Israel National Trail through the wilderness or stick to the roads. My GPS track on Wednesday will show anyone who cares to check which way I've gone.

From dust thou art and to dust shalt thou return



One of these sarcophagi was the second grave of St Lazaros. After Christ raised him from the dead, he travelled to Cyprus and is considered to be the first bishop of the island. He served the church for decades before falling asleep. in the ninth century, his relics were transferred to Constantinople, although the local church retained a few. When Constantinople was sacked by the Crusaders in 1204, the relics of St Lazaros were taken to Marseilles. They have since been lost. http://flic.kr/p/rzZsre

St Lazarus, the Friend of Christ



http://flic.kr/p/rPnrsq

Mar 29, 2015

Larnaca

The flight from Beirut to Larnaca was delayed longer than the flight itself lasted, and it was rather late by the time I found a hotel near the cathedral. Then I learned that the change to daylight savings time took effect this weekend, and that Orthros begins at 6:30. I didn't make it to Liturgy this morning, but three of the fifteen TV stations ‎available in my hotel room were broadcasting live from three different churches.

Now that I've had breakfast, it's time to find out about the bus schedule and then see some of the town.

Mar 28, 2015

Brief Transportation Update

My flight to Cyprus is scheduled to take off five hours from... NOW!

I've heard back‎ from Salamis Shipping. There is a weekly ferry from Limassol to Haifa which leaves Monday at 17:00, arriving on Tuesday at 08:00. It's possible to walk the 70 kms in the 40 hours or so I'd have between clearing customs in Larnaca and queueing up for customs in Limassol, but I'll be taking a bus instead.

Once I arrive in Haifa, I'll probably take the Israel National Trail and rely on the network of "trail angels" for accommodation, but I've heard from another pilgrim who just stuck to the main road. That would probably be easier, but maybe not quite as pretty. Or I can always start on the one and switch to the other.

The big news is that I've purchased my return ticket. On April 24 I'll be flying British Airways from Amman (Jordan) to London‎ and then transferring to an Air Canada flight to Toronto.‎ "Home again, home again, jiggety-jig!"‎

Fraternal Greeting



http://flic.kr/p/qTeHAq

An-Nourieh



http://flic.kr/p/rvTZSe

Mar 27, 2015

O Lord of Hosts, Be With Us



The choir at St John of Damascus Institute of Theology is consistently fantastic. Great Compline is a beautiful service, and this hymn is one of my favourites. To hear a brief portion, please click through to the video at:
http://flic.kr/p/rv9xng

Pilgrimage to Pascha

This is the article that will be published in the next issue of النور (The Light), the magazine published by the Orthodox Youth Movement in Lebanon. It repeats many of the themes I've already touched on, but treats them in a more systematic manner.

. . . . . . .


"By the grace of God I am a Christian, by my deeds a great sinner, and by my calling a homeless wanderer of humblest origin, roaming from place to place." 
 
This is the opening sentence of the spiritual classic, "The Way of the Pilgrim." This book has inspired generations of Christians, but this description the pilgrim gives of himself can be found throughout the Scriptures and the history of the Church.  A pilgrim is one who has left home and family and set out in the world, trusting in God to guide and care for him. The first "wanderer on the earth" was Cain, but rather than  accept this role assigned to him by God, he settled in the land of Nod and built a city. Perhaps the first real pilgrim we know of is Abraham, who was called by God and told, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you."  (Genesis 12:1) 
 
God's promise to establish Abraham and make of him a great nation was partially fulfilled when the ancient Israelites settled in the Holy Land, but the righteous ones of the Mosaic covenant "all died in faith, not having received the promises and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."  (Hebrews 11:13)  It is in the Church, the Body of Christ, that the promises of God find their fulfilment.  St. Peter described the Church as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."  (1 Peter 2:9) 
 
The life of a Christian is a journey from the darkness of sin into the light of Christ. Our obligation is to be pilgrims and strangers to the world and to abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11), but many Christians have also undertaken physical pilgrimages, travelling to monasteries or holy sites such as Rome or Jerusalem.  In my case, I left my home in Canada in October and have been travelling towards Jerusalem since then with the goal of celebrating the Resurrection of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 
 
Along the way, I have met many wonderful and generous people. A common question I've been asked is, "Why walk?" It would certainly be easier to use modern transportation to get to my destination, and when the costs of daily food and lodging are factored in, this would also be cheaper. Walking thousands of kilometres in winter looks like a foolish exercise, but the way a person travels is almost as important as the goal.  Travelling at the pace of 4 km/h has allowed me the time to slow down, to disengage from the frenetic pace of modern life with all its distractions, to think, and to pray.  My walking pilgrimage has been a time of preparation, of hardship, and of joy. 
 
Most people are not able to leave their homes, their families, and their responsibilities for six months and travel great distances, but the Church has provided a way for everyone to participate in the pilgrimage towards Pascha. In the introduction of Fr. Alexander Schmemann's book "Great Lent: Journey to Pascha" he writes, 
  
"Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, "the Feast of Feasts." It is the preparation for the "fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation." [....]  A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the "bright sadness" of Lent, we see - far, far away - the destination. It is the joy of Easter, it is the entrance into the glory of the Kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter, that makes Lent's sadness bright and our lenten effort a "spiritual spring." The night may be dark and long, but all along the way a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon."
 
If travelling by foot helps pilgrims to prepare for arriving at their destinations, there are similar preparations that can help those who remain at home as they journey towards the Resurrection.  Participation in the life of the Church through the Sacraments, the cycle of feasts and fasts, and loving service to others prepares the faithful to share in the joy of our risen Lord. For Christian pilgrims, how we make our way to the destination is important, but St John Chrysostom reminds us that it is the τέλος, the "end" or "goal," which is primary. We are all invited to participate in the Resurrection of our Lord -- the joy of Pascha in this life is a foretaste of the glory which awaits us in the next.

"Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!"

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!


Fountain



http://flic.kr/p/rv2NE4

Inner Court



This mediaeval Ottoman castle is undergoing restoration and is closed to the public. The only person on site unlocked the gate for me and left me free to explore the 20,000 square metre enclosure unsupervised. :) http://flic.kr/p/qSjtkh

The Mermaid



http://flic.kr/p/rM1HZN

Food, Friends, and Ferryboats

It's hard to believe I've been in Lebanon for a week already, harder still to think of leaving on Saturday. I've got an evening flight to Cyprus bought and paid for, though, so I'll be gone all too soon.

What have I been doing in Lebanon?  I've spent time catching up on the past nine years with an old friend, and getting acquainted with his three children. I wrote a short article on pilgrimage for a diocesan publication, which my friend then translated into Arabic.  I've been to church every day except for the day I arrived, and I'd have made it to the service that evening if I had walked instead of flagging a cab. A few days ago I went shopping and replaced my shoes. The duct tape repair job not only looked funny, it probably wouldn't have survived long on the rough trail that is waiting for me in the Holy Land. After 2000 kms, they have certainly been a good investment! I'll wait to discard them just in case my new shoes give me blisters.  And, as I've mentioned previously, I've been eating a lot and walking very little.

One of the advantages of being in a country with a long tradition of Orthodox Christianity is that there is no difficulty finding good wholesome food during fasting periods. After months of processed food, I am finally eating my veggies. And legumes, and fresh fruit, and of course, hummus and khibz.  The Feast of the Annunciation is a national holiday in Lebanon, so after Liturgy on Wednesday we feasted on fish, fish, and more fish. I had decided to keep fish in my diet for the Nativity Fast while walking in Italy, but I've been trying to keep a stricter fast for Great Lent. (That's probably one of the reasons I found the walk along the Mediterranean coast in Turkey so challenging, even with dairy.)

It's not only the Lebanese who have been wining and dining me. On Thursday, I finally paid a visit to my old stomping grounds at the St John of Damascus Institute of Theology and the University of Balamand. The bus ride north took an hour and twenty minutes and cost the equivalent of US $2. (The ride back south later that night took fifty minutes. Traffic congestion isn't an exclusively North American problem.) I had a chance to see Fr. Bassam, who had been a fellow parishioner in Canada before he returned to Lebanon. I also spent several delightful hours as the guest of Philip and Joanna. They are British expats who had begun teaching at the university the year I was in Lebanon, and thanks to Flickr I have maintained contact with them. When Philip brought me home after Great Compline, Joanna set a place for me at the table. I was genuinely surprised when I realised how late it was At the end of the evening. They gave me a ride down to the highway and waited with me until a bus arrived.  (The name Balamand is likely a corruption of "belle mont," which is what Frankish crusaders dubbed the hill. At 330 m, it's not particularly tall, but it is a very stiff climb up from sea level. I was glad to be spared the walk down in the dark.)

I'm still not sure how I'll be getting from Cyprus to Israel. The two ferry companies that sail out of the port of Limassol haven't updated their websites in quite some time. One of them indicates that service to Haifa ended in 2006, while it looks like the other doesn't start operating passenger ferries until May. I've emailed both companies, and am awaiting a reply. (One of them forwarded my mail to another company, so there's still some hope.)  I'm hoping to get a ferry to Haifa, and then follow the Israel National Trail south to Jerusalem.  It would be nice to get away from road walking for the last week of my pilgrimage, and with that in mind I bought a 2 litre water pouch to supplement my water bottle. One disadvantage of hiking trails is that they tend not to have shops selling cold drinks along the way.

Another possibility for travelling to Israel is a ferry to Ashdod.  The city looks to be about 30 kms from Jerusalem, which means I'd be arriving a week earlier than I'd planned unless I do what a few others have done and catch a bus north to Haifa and begin walking from there. While I've cut about a thousand kilometres from my walk by bus and train, it is counterintuitive to go out of my way just to follow a particular route. Still, I've got these nice new hiking shoes, so I may do just that.

The simplest way forward would be to fly from Larnaca (Cyprus) to Tel Aviv and then walk to Jerusalem from there. That would mean I wouldn't have any walking in Cyprus (the sea port is about 70 kms from the airport), but at least I'd experience some of the Israel National Trail without making an unnecessary detour by bus. It would also mean I wouldn't miss any of Holy Week. If I haven't heard from a ferry company by Sunday, this is likely what I'll do.

Mar 23, 2015

Domestication

As the warm afternoon sun flooded my host's living room yesterday, I real‎ised that I have been indoors or in a car almost continuously since Thursday evening. I am not complaining about the hospitality - far from it - but after six months on the road, it is a radical lifestyle change. After explaining my desire to go for a short walk, I excused myself and set out.

One thing about the towns in the hills around Beirut is precisely that they are built in the hills. The roads follow the‎ contour lines, and if you make one wrong turn, you'll find yourself on the opposite side of a very steep valley, with no way to get to your destination other than winding down the hill and trying again. (That's one of the reasons my Thursday evening taxi ride was so painfully long.) Another peculiarity of these areas overlooking Beirut and the sea is that they consist almost entirely of low rise apartment buildings. Any errands require the use of a car. The only people I saw walking were attached by a leash to one or more dogs. I suppose I was rather conspicuous, especially with the bright yellow duct tape patches on my shoes. (Inexplicably, my photo of the repair job that I uploaded to Flickr has received over 3000 views in a little over 24 hours.)

From the above, it's probably quite obvious that I did not head north Sunday afternoon. I am very comfortable here, and being well fed at regular intervals. I should make an effort to do something other than sit and eat while I'm in Lebanon, or the resumption of my pilgrimage will be a real shock to the system.

When I arrive in Larnaca from Beirut on Saturday evening, I have several options. I could walk to Limassol and take the ferry to Haifa from there, or I can save a few days and fly out Sunday after attending Liturgy. The Orthodox cathedral in Larnaca was built over the tomb of Lazarus, and some of his relics have been preserved there to this day. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_Saint_Lazarus,_Larnaca (This year, the commemoration of Lazarus' resuscitation at our Lord's command will take place on April 4, a week after I arrive at the site of his second and final grave.)

Now that I've processed this information, there's no question about what I want to do. I plan to be at Liturgy Sunday morning in Larnaca. I suppose I could start walking to Limassol afterwards, but once I reach Haifa it will be about eight days of walking along the Israel National Trail before I reach Jerusalem. If I catch a Sunday flight and start walking Monday, I should arrive on Tuesday, allowing me to spend the greater part of Holy Week in Jerusalem. (Hopefully the hordes of Catholic and Protestant faithful will have withdrawn by this time.) I should have booked a hostel months ago since it is a very busy time of year, but I'm not overly concerned.

I will need to book my flight home before I reach Israel. (Apparently they may demand to see proof of departure at customs and immigration control.) My months of wandering are drawing to a close. Of course I'm eager to see friends and loved ones again, but the pilgrim way of life on the road has a beautiful simplicity to it which is difficult if not impossible to replicate when at home in the world.

In October I wrote of my mixed feelings of excitement and dread regarding my pilgrimage, and compared it to jumping off a cliff. There is no longer any dread in my heart, but my joyful anticipation at reaching my goal is mingled with some sadness. In online discussions, people who have completed the Camino often report experiencing the post-pilgrimage blues.

I don't know what I'll be doing when I return to Canada, other than seeking gainful employ. One thing I plan to do is maintain the habit of daily exercise I've acquired over the past months. (I've lost 20 kgs, so a new wardrobe is also in order.) A forty hour work week would provide both the time and money for a gym membership, but if I'm unable to re-enter the workforce immediately I will at least have the luxury of taking long walks each day. This might be beneficial for another reason. I've had several people suggest that an account of my pilgrimage could make a good book. I would need time and a good editor to work these updates into something worth publishing, and walking for several hours each day would provide me with the distraction-free time I'd need to get such an undertaking organised.

In any case, I will soon be sleeping in my own bed again, surrounded by my books and computers. There are some advantages to a domestic life that are impossible to replace while on the road.



Mar 22, 2015

Hmm... what's the frequency, Kenneth?

‎The last half of my previous update was dropped, but the first half was repeated several times with some odd formatting.  My roaming plan has no data provision for Lebanon, so I didn't discover the fail until I arrived at church this morning and connected to the WiFi here.

Anyway, from Tripoli, my German friends dropped me off in Antelias, just north of Beirut. That's when I realised that while I still remembered‎ how to get to the old church, all I knew of the new location is that it's in the hills across a valley from the heavily fortified American embassy. It's not just the North which has seen massive growth. I barely recognised the area, although once I spotted the army checkpoint I knew exactly where I was.  After walking around for a bit and getting a sandweesh batates ma'a toom, I decided my best bet was to flag a taxi and let the cabbie figure it out. I guess he was only in the area to drop off a fare, since his knowledge of the neighbourhood was even worse than my own. I had been stopping every five minutes or so to ask for directions, and he was doing likewise. The difference, of course, is that travelling at 4 km/h meant I remained in the right area, but stopping for directions every five minutes in the cab meant we wound up taking a very VERY scenic route. When we finally arrived at the church 45 minutes later, I discovered it was 500 m from where I had first hopped in the cab.

I've spent the last few days as a guest with my friend's family, and it has been wonderful. I've been to services every day (except for Thursday, due to that frustrating ride), I've been feasting on fresh and tasty Lebanese food, and have made a good start at catching up on the past nine years -- including meeting the seven year old child. I am quite happy to be here, although I do plan to head north again to pay a visit to the Balamand and see some folks there.

I'm also playing with the idea of going back to Tripoli and then walking down to Beirut. While I've been trying to walk as much as I reasonably can, the trains, buses, and car rides have trimmed about a thousand kilometres from my journey. Any notion of "authenticity" or "purity of pilgrimage" was shot long ago. (Thankfully, my sense of humour is still intact.)‎ What I may do is head up to Tripoli this evening, spend the night there, and then walk south along the sea road for a few dozen kilometres before heading back to the highway and catching a bus south in time for Great Compline Monday evening.

This is not (simply) a case of pig-headedness.‎ With the land route from Turkey to Jerusalem closed for the present, most pilgrims are going through Cyprus. This presents a different set of challenges. The physical minefields are all well marked, but the Turkish military occupation of the northern section of the island has created numerous political ones. Crossing the Green Line in Λευκωσία (as Nicosia is known in Greek) has been possible for several years now. The problem is that the shipping companies operating ferries between Cyprus and Israel have been instructed by the Cypriot gov't not to sell tickets to non-EU pilgrims who have entered Cyprus "illegally," i.e. through the port of Girne/Κερυνεια. In 2006, an American pilgrim was allowed to take a ferry after being scolded, but this past autumn a different pilgrim wound up having to travel from the port of Limassol to the city of Larnaca and leave Cyprus by plane. By travelling to the Republic of Cyprus from Turkey via Lebanon, future pilgrims can avoid one set of potential problems. (Lebanon is beautiful, and worth visiting in its own right, even if it's just for a few days along the coast.) If I do a bit of walking while I'm here, I can provide information for future pilgrims who choose this route. I won't be walking the 90 kms or so continuously, but by using Beirut as a base I should be able to spend time with my friends, get to church, and do some significant amounts of walking. (Yeah, I want it all.)

Whatever I wind up doing over the next few days, my flight from Beirut to Larnaca is bought and paid for. I'll be leaving Lebanon on March 28 and arriving in Cyprus after the 45 minute flight. I'm not sure whether I'll take a plane or a ferry to Haifa, but I should be on my way to Jerusalem again shortly.

Mar 21, 2015

Feets, Don't Fail Me Now

On Thursday I arrived in Tripoli much later than I'd expected. Our departure from Turkey was delayed  several hours beyond the advertised time, and don't even mention my mistaken 5:00 AM jaunt to the port. When we eventually moored in Lebanon, there was another lengthy wait was the vessel was boarded and the passengers and crew were accounted for. Once we had permission to go ashore, the interview at Customs went relatively quickly. As a Canadian, I received a one month visa, with the possibility to renew it for another month. Unexpectedly, I wasn't charged for this -- on my last trip to Lebanon I had to purchase a tourist visa at the airport. The Lebanese gov't website I consulted before visiting this time indicated that policy is still in effect, although it didn't mention anything about arrivals by sea.

The journey was pleasant enough. There were about a dozen passengers in total, including a few truckers who were bypassing Syria, and two cars with German-Lebanese tourists who had driven 3200 kms in five days in order to spend two weeks on vacation in the home they had left in the 1970s. One of the men had worked as an automotive engineer in Germany, and he was a bit put out at the condition of the ship. It's not that it was obviously unsafe, but it just wasn't up to German standards. When he mentioned possibly writing an email to the shipping company to complain about the delays and the shape of the ship, I laughed and told him he'd been away from Lebanon too long.

Since it was midafternoon when I got out of customs and found WiFi, I decided against walking to the Balamand and instead accepted the offer of a ride from my new German friends. (Two of the three adults were travelling on German passports.) That's when I learned that one of the cars had been purchased and registered in Germany two months ago. Not normally a problem, except that Lebanese import regulations require proof of ownership for at least three months before entering the country with a vehicle. Perhaps my friends could have sprung their vehicle had they been willing to grease a few palms, but as a matter of principle, they wanted to do everything correctly and above-board. (They've been in Germany a looong time!) After waiting several hours, they were informed that only the head of customs for the port had the authority to release the vehicle, and he had gone home for the day. Undaunted, the Germans decided to rent a car for the night, drive down to Beirut, and return in the morning. (This is a much cheaper option than a taxi each way.)

I had been considering taking a few days to walk down to Beirut from Tripoli, but instead I squeezed into the rental car‎ with the others and headed south along the main highway. I'd been amazed at how much Tripoli had grown in the nine years since I'd last seen the city, and the highway has seen corresponding growth. The long stretches of highway with nothing but cliff face to one side and the sea on the other have been replaced with new construction, gas stations, and shops. I was pleasantly surprised that nobody was driving against traffic on the divided highway -- clearly Lebanon has become more orderly in my absence. That's not to imply that the cheerful chaos is absent, just that driving is no longer as life-threatening as it used to be.

Mar 18, 2015

Random Thoughts From The Road

Since leaving the long stretch of resorts near Alanya, the past several days have been spent walking for hours on end without seeing so much as a village or petrol station. That has meant packing along a little extra food and water for the day, but it has also meant lots of solitude. Since I have over five hours to kill in Taşucu while waiting for the ferry, here are some of the thoughts with which I have amused myself along the way. Perhaps they'll amuse some of my readers as well -- either that, or confirm that I'm a bit, shall we say, odd.

As a language, Turkish is unlike anything I've attempted to learn before, but like several other languages, its written form is very straightforward. By this I mean, once the alphabet has been mastered, there is no ambiguity in reading what's written. This is very different from English, which is highly irregular. A few examples are in order.

"Does" can rhyme with either foes (The hunter shot three deer: one buck and two does.) or fuzz. (Does that make sense?)

The letter S usually indicates a sibilant (mast), but consider the words Asia, his, and insurance. Try coming up with a simple way of explaining what S sounds like to a person trying to learn the language!

New topic. When I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2010, I set out on my own. It's a very popular pilgrimage route, so even in January and February, I met many pilgrims along the way. Since everyone is following the same path and walking at about the same speed, it's very easy to meet companions either on the road or in the hostels at night. The shared experiences forge a sense of camaraderie, so even if the day is spent walking alone, there are familiar faces at the end of the day, and possibly also at cafés and restaurants along the road. Some of the pilgrims I met were walking with a friend, and they were rarely more than five metres from each other at all times. Other pilgrims walked at their own speed, sometimes with their pilgrimage partners‎ but sometimes on their own, meeting only for meals and at the end of the day. The last five days of my Camino, I wound up walking with a woman from the Czech Republic. She was good company, but there were times when I really just wanted to be alone. My updates from the road were much shorter while I was walking with her, mainly because I did not have the hours of silence to order my thoughts. (Why yes, I am an introvert! How could you tell?)

My decision to walk the Camino crystallised after reading an article in The Walrus magazine. The author and his friend spent many hours in conversation as they walked, but they also had many solitary hours. (And if you're at all interested in pilgrimage, here's the link to the article: http://thewalrus.ca/walking-the-way/ ) When I started planning my current folly, I assumed I would be walking by myself. Not many folks I know are able to take five or six months to go traipsing through two continents, but two people indicated a willingness to do so. I think both of these men would have made excellent travelling companions, but it didn't work out for either of them. Carsten, Peter -- maybe a less demanding trip in the future?

New topic. Although it's been a while since anyone has asked, a common question posed to me has been, "Why walk?" It's certainly easier to ‎use a plane, train, or automobile to get to my destination, and when the cost of daily food and lodging are factored in, motorised transport would also be cheaper. I answered this question in an earlier post (http://phool4XC.blogspot.com/2015/01/why-walk.html), but since then I've realised there's another reason to prefer a walking pilgrimage.

Every great feast in the Orthodox Church is preceded by a period of preparation, marked by fasting and additional church services.  (One regret I have about my current pilgrimage is that I've missed so many of these beautiful services. It was to get to church again that I decided to go directly to Lebanon from Turkey, instead of spending several days walking across Cyprus.)  While the notion of fasting and going to church during the week may be seen as "penance" by some, these are tools for opening our hearts to God. Perhaps penance properly understood has the same function, but to many it smacks more of punishment than preparation.

After Pascha, my favourite feast is that of the Transfiguration of our Lord. Not only does this feast reveal Christ's glory which is His by nature, it shows us what we are all called to become by participation in His grace.  The troparion for this feast begins with "Thou wast transfigured upon the mountain, O Christ our God, showing Thy glory to Thy disciples as far as they were able to sustain."  

This is not to denigrate those who don't have the luxury of spending weeks or months on pilgrimage, but travelling at the human pace of 4 km/h allows the heart to slow down from the frenetic pace of modern life with all its distractions. Arriving by bus, train, or airplane removes the opportunity to prepare for the τέλος of the journey, the "end" both in the sense of completion and goal. Walking a pilgrimage is a means to an end. The traditional Christian understanding of the pilgrimage is always teleological. (Don't know that word? Look it up!) Spending the time walking is a means of preparation for me to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ at the empty tomb. I have not kept the Lenten fast as strictly as I normally do (walking up to 40 kms per day is demanding)‎, but it's my prayer that I will be ready for the Feast of Feasts by the time I arrive in Jerusalem.

And now for something completely different. In anticipation of my upcoming transit to Lebanon, here is a wonderfully cheesy video by one of my favourite ska bands. Wrong continent, but this is "Night Boat to Cairo."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLLL1KxpYMA

Mar 17, 2015

All Packed Up With No Place To Go

When I bought my ticket for the ferry to Lebanon, I was told that I needed to be at passport control by five o'clock. When I tried to clarify whether that was AM or PM, the English-speaking clerk told me, "Five. Tomorrow." I should have asked my question in writing - "05:00 or 17:00?"

So now I'm going back to sleep for a few hours!

Farewell to Turkey

It's late and I'm tired, so this will be short.

My GPS app didn't know about the new road between Yaşilovacık and Taşucu, which meant I was on the road an hour less than I had expected. ‎ Walking along the harbour this afternoon, someone greeted me from immediately behind me on the sidewalk. I turned around, and discovered that a clerk at a shipping company had seen me walk past his office and figured I was headed for Cyprus. (Perhaps the backpack gave it away.) I followed him back to the office, bought a ticket on the morning ferry to Tripoli, and then checked into a cheap hotel. I washed some clothes, washed myself, went out and bought some groceries, went out again and had dinner, and now I'm ready to say my prayers and collapse for the night. I'm supposed to be at the port by 5:00 AM for passport control. That's less than eight hours from now, but at least the most strenuous part of tomorrow will be standing in line.

And now, just as a reminder, here is the prayer that Danilo (the Italian boatman ‎on the Via Francigena) hands out to all the pilgrims he ferries across the Po.    

* * * * * * *

Lord God, Thou who hast accompanied and given strength to my feet along the paths and roads around the world, now that I am in front of the ford of the river, help me to cross it, that I may land on the other shore and resume my walk. Help, support and give comfort to the heart of the boatman, protect and defend his boat from the evil waves, so that we can reach the mainland and together raise a hymn to Thy glory. Amen.

Mar 16, 2015

30 kms to Taşucu!

Yesterday I stopped walking before sunset and got an early night. It was either that, or continue on for another 25 kms, and I just didn't have it in me.‎ (Well okay, I probably *could* have if necessity had forced me, but thankfully I found a good, inexpensive room and didn't have to explore the limits of my endurance.)  

After several days of logging short distances due to the hills and my general fatigue,‎ I made sure to have a good hearty dinner. In the morning, I ate in my room before heading down for breakfast. This was not gluttony. It was preparation for the 42 kms I was planning to walk today, in order to have a shorter 30 km jaunt to Taşucu on Tuesday. There was still a fair bit of climbing today, but not the constant up and down of the past few days. By midmorning, the road had climbed from sea level‎ to 350 m above, and it was from atop this hill that I caught my first glimpse of Cyprus on the horizon. 

I should probably have checked the ferry schedules before setting out, but at this point I guess it really doesn't matter. I'll arrive at the port when I arrive, and leave on the next boat, whenever that happens to be. I'm really hoping they offer daily service, though, as I'm eager to see Abouna Semaan and his family in Lebanon. I think I'll be able to make it across Cyprus in three days. The airport in Larnaca looks to be a little closer to Nicosia than the nautical port in Limassol. I might even make it to Liturgy in Naccache on Sunday!

The road tomorrow looks like it does a lot of climbing, judging by all the twists. As the crow flies, I'm only 20 kms from my final destination in Turkey, but the road is half again as long.‎ There's a market near the pansiyon where I'm staying, so I'll be able to supplement my breakfast with a few hundred more calories if need be.

That'll be all for now, I'm afraid. I will sleep well tonight!

Mar 14, 2015

A Song of Ascents

"I lifted up mine eyes unto the hills." (And for those of you who recognised the reference, you must be paying attention during the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy! {You have no idea how much I miss the Lenten services, and how much I look forward to my time in Lebanon!!!} Or you just really love the Psalms.)

The past two days, from Anamur to Gözce, the road has been relatively flat and parallel to the coast line. That changes tomorrow, as the Taurus mountain range once again descends directly to the shore. My GPS app doesn't show contour lines for altitude, but just looking at the constant tight curves is enough to tell me I'll be going up and down all day tomorrow.

When I set out from Bozyazı this morning, I had thought I might attempt the 40 kms to the next town of any size. When I fell asleep sitting on a bench in the sun during a break, I realised that plan was overly optimistic, especially given what my map was telling me about the last half of that distance.

The first few raindrops started falling around 2:00 PM, but it was another hour before it started to *really* rain. By then I knew I wouldn't be continuing on to Aydıncık, so the next time I stopped at a petrol station for a break, I asked about lodgings in that town. They told me what I very much did not want to hear. Nothing until Aydıncık, 25 kms away. And, as noted above, a very hilly 25 kms.

Following the "rule of three" outlined in Brandon Wilson's book (when unsure of directions, ask three different people), I asked again when I stopped at a shop to buy an energy drink. (Nasty things, but given the shocking lack of coffee in Turkey, I need to get my caffeine fixes somehow, and I can't spend all day drinking tea.) They repeated the bad news, so steeling myself for a long wet walk in the dark, I set off. On my way through that town, I spotted the municipal office, so on a whim I turned in. If there truly was nothing for 25 kms, perhaps there would be a dry room where I could bunk down for the night.  The municipal workers confirmed the lack of accommodation in town, but said the next town over, 4 kms away, had hotels that were not hideously overpriced. After giving me several cups of hot sweet lemon tea "for energy," they wished me a good journey.

By 5:00, the sun broke through a gap in the clouds on the horizon, so the last half hour of my walk in the rain was full of light, with a double rainbow making a complete arc. It was a good way to end the day. I'll be setting out early tomorrow, and with the good forecast I may wind up camping out again. While it's not as comfortable as a hotel room, it means I don't have to keep pressing on for hours after dark if I'm nowhere near a town.

And now it's time to say my prayers and retire for the night.

Great Lent on the Turquoise Coast

This has been tougher than I expected.

I spent the first week of Great Lent in İstanbul, attending services and visiting churches and museums.   I probably walked more than most tourists do, but my pack was in the hostel rather than on my back.‎  There are also plenty of restaurants that offer Lent-friendly fare, one of which was just around the corner from the hostel. I also prepared my own meals a few times: a half tin of beans mixed in with some lentil soup made for hot, delicious, and nutritious. 

I caught the bus to Antalya on the evening of March 1, but at some point on the ride, the bottle of fuel for my penny stove fell out of my pack. I only discovered that as I was packing up to start walking again on Tuesday, and I was unable to replace it until just last evening (Mar 13). All the packets of soup I had bought in İstanbul have been dead weight for almost two weeks, but what made the loss worse is that restaurants have been few and far between for the last four days. It's nice to have a hot meal at the end of the day, and a hot cuppa to start the day off.

The beautiful scenery along the coast has been some consolation, although the seemingly endless row of resort hotels around Alanya was less pleasant than the richly pine-scented sea air in the hills and the vast groves of citrus and bananas I passed. Every standing body of water has its own colony of frogs, and I've seen turtles sunning themselves several times. Lightening-fast lizards skitter away as I approach, and even the stray dogs I've encountered have been friendly.

One aspect of Great Lent that I treasure is the beauty of the services held throughout the week, but I haven't been to church since leaving the City. There was an Orthodox parish about 100 m from my hostel in Antalya, but they only have service four days per week during Lent and Monday is not one of those days.

It's not just restaurants and churches which are in short supply. After leaving Alanya, I've slept outside in an abandoned campground, in a petrol station as the honoured guest of the Kurdish man working the graveyard shift, and on a rickety metal cot in a room at a truck stop restaurant. The past two nights I've found legit lodgings, complete with mattresses and showers, but the next few days of walking are looking ‎pretty sparse on my GPS.

The weather has been quite nice, so unless there's rain overnight, sleeping rough is a good option. Apparently this part of Turkey gets 300 sunny days each year, so we've had about a month's worth of rain in the past week. It's been warm enough that the rain has been refreshing rather than miserable.

Although my time in Turkey has been wonderful, I am very much looking forward to arriving in Cyprus. After a day in the (self-declared) Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, I'll cross back into a country where churches are numerous. My plan is still to spend a week in Lebanon, where I hope to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. Then it'll be back to the airport in Cyprus before hopping a flight or ferry  to Haifa and the last eight or ten days of walking.‎ It would be wonderful to arrive in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but we'll see how it goes.

I'll try to write updates more frequently, but even when I do have WiFi I've been too exhausted to think. There are several dozen photos waiting to be sorted through and uploaded as well. Perhaps I'll be able to do some catching up once I reach Lebanon...

Mar 8, 2015

Onwards!

In 1901, Hilaire Belloc set out on an epic walk from Toul (in France) to Rome. He chose his path by drawing a straight line between the two points on a map, and attempted to adhere to this direct path as far as possible. (His account of this journey, "The Path to Rome," is one of the e-books I read while I was waiting for my foot to heal all those months ago in Italy.) One of the choices he made was to walk at night when it was cooler, and sleep where he could during the day.

Back in December, I had expressed a certain fondness for walking at night. The past few days have seen me struggling during the day, only to be revitalised once the sun has set. Tonight I intend to take advantage of the almost-full moon and cooler temperatures and hit the road an hour or two after midnight. Traffic on the D-400 is practically non-existent after 9:00 pm and I have spare batteries for my headlamp should I need to change them.

From all of the above, it should be obvious that the ferry companies no longer offer a direct connection to Cyprus from Alanya. This is what I'd expected, based on the experience of other pilgrims in the past few years, but the (out of date) information on the company websites had given me some hope.‎  ‎And yes, I am once again planning to go to Cyprus by boat rather than to Tripoli. After consulting with an old friend in Lebanon, I decided it was better to fly into Beirut. The divisions in Tripoli run deep, and have led to several outbreaks of violence in the past few years. It's calm at the moment, but it's just too close to the Syrian border for my liking.

Taşucu is 247 kms away by road, so in another eight days or so, I should be booking passage to Cyprus. Because I'm unlikely to have WiFi access very often, my updates until I arrive in Taşucu will be sparse.‎ My physical progress may be tracked online at http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0sldYqR7VeaqhcOYWdCqxfiUxvX7hlgrb  The GPS tracker I'm using updates my location every hour while it's turned on and I'm moving, but the website only displays the past five days of activity. Kinda cool, but I can't imagine anyone apart from my immediate family checking it out more than once.

This isn't the update I'd hoped to be writing, as there are a few noteworthy observations from the past week which I simply haven't had the energy to write up. At least I've got a physical notebook to scribble in. Perhaps I'll do a post-facto update, or else just leave the Mediterranean coast of Turkey as an enigma to my readers.

Mar 7, 2015

Alanya At Last!

Since ‎leaving Antalya, I have been walking progressively slower each day. I'm covering the same distances that I normally do, but it's taking me hours longer. Today it finally dawned on me that by taking the bus from İstanbul to Antalya, I didn't give my thermostat a chance to adjust to the new climate. People freezing in North America may hate me for saying this, but daytime highs in the low 20s Celsius are uncomfortably warm for me. (The overnight low of 11 or 12, on the other hand, is an ideal temperature for me.)   By 2:00 pm I was toast, so I spread my foam pad out in the shade of a palm tree and had a good long nap. When I woke up, it was noticeably cooler, and I was able to walk more quickly than the 3 km/h I'd been averaging earlier. I still took plenty of breaks, but I felt much better at 10:00 pm than I had at 2:00.

When I checked in, the desk clerk kindly looked up the ferry schedules for me. He found conflicting information - either the ferry to Cyprus leaves daily at 9:30 am or the next boat is at 2:00 pm Monday. (Kinda reassuring that even a native Turkish speaker finds the website confusing.)  Either way, I think I'll spend two nights here so that I can determine whether there's a church in town, and if so, get to Liturgy in the morning.

And now, good night!

Mar 6, 2015

I'm Tired...

...but it looks like I may be able to catch a ferry in Alanya after all. I should arrive there Saturday, and if the information I was given this morning is accurate, I hope to be Cyprus-bound Sunday afternoon. (And if the ferry company simply hasn't updated their website, it's another 170 kms to the next port east.)

If all goes well, I'll post a real update Sunday.

Mar 4, 2015

Mar 2 - 3: Quick Update

On Sunday I caught the 8:00 pm bus from İstanbul‎ and arrived in Antalya twelve hours later. Overnight we had driven out of winter and into early summer. The weather and the scenery were stunning - snowcapped mountains form a distant ring around the city, which is on the Mediterranean coast. The warm sun was dazzling as it reflected off the turquoise waves. It was a seven kilometre walk from the bus terminal to the cluster of hostels and shops and restaurants in the Old City, and I took my time.

When I arrived and logged on to the WiFi network, I was stunned to learn that a man I had known at seminary had died in a snowy car crash‎ Sunday evening on the way home from church. Fr. Matthew Baker had only been ordained in January 2014, and his oh-so-early demise has left his widow Kate to care for their six children, ranging in age from 2 to 12. That was very sad news indeed, and instead of visiting some of the museums and other sights in Antalya, I found myself walking along the pedestrian path atop the cliffs overlooking the harbour.

Tuesday I was up early and began my walk to Serik, some 40 kms away. It was overcast all morning, but the sun broke through at about the same time that I spotted a Starbucks. It's been a very long time since I've had a cup of non-Nescafe coffee, and I lingered on the sunny patio far longer than I should have. It was dark when I arrived in Serik, and if I'd known just‎ a bit more Turkish, I'd have been in a room two hours before I actually started unpacking.

Wednesday morning the skies are cloudless and my weather app is calling for a high of 21. The next stop along the way is about 35 kms away, so once I find some breakfast, I'll be on my way.

Mar 2, 2015

It's Not About Me (this time)

When I arrived at the hostel in Antalya and went online, I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn that a man who I knew from seminary had passed away the evening before. The following is from the GoFundMe campaign which has been established in his memory. I have only made one editorial change, to indicate the date of his repose. That change is marked in [brackets].

Please follow the links to the testimonials, and then consider making a donation to help this man's family. The link to the donation page is at the very bottom of this update.

* * * * * * *

Fr. Matthew Baker was an extraordinary man. Principled. Kind-hearted. Devoted to Christ, his wife, and his six children.

During this evening's snow storm [March 1, 2015], he passed away in a tragic car accident while travelling home from Vespers at his parish. His children were with him, but were thankfully not injured.

Please understand something. Fr. Matthew lived to serve. He cared deeply for *others* and always gave freely of his time and expertise, without any financial reward. Unlike many intellectuals, he cared most deeply about *people*: helping them, mentoring them, encouraging them in faith and life.

During his life, he gave freely. Now, we who are left to cherish his memory must also give freely, in testimony to his unique gifts and in support of his wife and six children.

100% of the donations received in this campaign will go directly to his wife. She has 6 young children to care for, and has lost the family's only income. 

Please give generously, and keep Fr. Matthew and his family in your prayers.

Memory eternal!

Here are some articles written by three of Fr. Matthew's closest friends. Please read and share them all.

"Fr. Matthew Baker Leaves Behind Wife and Six Children: How You Can Help" by Seraphim Danckaert
http://myocn.net/fr-matthew-baker-leaves-behind-wife-six-children-can-help/

"'We need more spiritual brothers': Losing Fr. Matthew Baker" by Fr. Andrew Damick:http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/roadsfromemmaus/2015/03/02/we-need-more-spiritual-brothers-losing-fr-matthew-baker/

"The Life of Fr. Matthew Baker Is a Triumph of Orthodoxy" by Hierodeacon Herman Majkrzak:http://myocn.net/life-fr-matthew-baker-triumph-orthodoxy/

* * * * * * * 

Please visit the following site and donate what you can and encourage others to do the same.

Mar 1, 2015

Mar 1: Quick Update

I got to Liturgy this morning, chatted with my American friend a bit, and then paid a visit to the Studion Monastery. The walls are still standing, but since it's Sunday, the "museum" was closed.‎ I had a tea at the "Studios Garden" right across the street and then headed back to the hostel where I picked up my pack and said goodbye to the staff. Then I swung by the shop to spend a last few minutes with my old friend Ribon.

Since the morning service lasted until early afternoon, I didn't have time to walk to the bus terminal like I'd planned to, so I hopped on a very crowded tram and then transferred to the Metro system which delivered me right where I needed to go. No WiFi or power outlets on the bus, so I'll read for a bit and then hopefully get a good night's sleep so I cann start walking again Monday morning. The forecast looks great, and I'll probably be camping quite a bit as I walk along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

And while I was typing the above, we crossed the bridge over the Bosphorus. I am now in Asia!