Wednesday, January 23, 2008

travels in the UK

Last weekend I took a few days off study to visit friaries in London and Dorset (particularly to interview the older members) and to Ringwood in the New Forest to meet some cousins.

The English weather was is it always seems to be these days - wet and windy.

Here a few photos.

Salisbury Cathedral

With cousins Nick, Peter and Carol, and Jeannie (Peter's wife)
Carol with Gambit walking in a rather boggy heath

Hilfield Friary in Dorset

The Friary of the Divine Compassion in Plaistow, London

Brothers Donald and Arnold, two of the older ones I interviewed

Friday, January 11, 2008


After the various adventures of rail travel in Poland it was good to have a few extra days back in Prague. Camels on the feast of the Epiphany were a bonus. As was the snow which freshly fell that morning. And then at the Anglican church, totally by chance, I ran into an acquaintance from Australia - he's a member of a youth community in Canberra which has visited the hermitage at Stroud several times when I've been there. So I had some company for the final day of sightseeing. Mostly at the (former) convent of Agnes of Prague - the Poor Clare sister, and contemporary of St Clare and recipient of several letters from her. The convent is now an art gallery for medieval Czech art and certainly worth visiting.

Boarding a little plane from Prague to Vienna

Not a very interesting shot really

St Christopher - in the Agnes of Prague Convent

The former convent church

Some of the devotional works in the former convent

The camels arriving at the friary

The friary in the snow

Friars and postulants

There must be millions of photos of scenes like this in Prague

It was a surprise to run into someone I know from Australia at St Clement's Anglican Church in Prague. Toby is part of a youth community which has been to our NSW hermitage for programmes to reflect on community life and spirituality.

The following day, totally without problem, I travelled to London and then to Canterbury. I'm now at the friary and beginning my studies for this term. So far I've been collecting a pile of books to read - and very impressive they look - but haven't opened them yet.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wroclaw to Praha

Where my journey started - Wroclaw Station
Not much happening inside the station
My plan was an overnight rail journey from Wroclaw in Poland to Prague - then to catch my flight to England. It started well enough with the first train - from Wroclaw to Katowice. I then had 30 minutes in Katowice before the 23:52 train to Prague. First observation - Katowice railway station does not display any information for departures on the departure board until that train is ready to depart. So you stand and look at the board and then sprint to your platform. There's no opportunity to check in advance which train you are needing to catch. I asked and people said that probably my train was late, just wait a bit. A 23:54 train to Wien appeared on the board and a rapid sprint of travellers left me standing alone. Ask at information. But no English there. Ask at a ticket counter. The same - she just said "Wien, Praha, Budapest". The realisation sank in that I should have been on that 23:54 train to Wien - that it was in fact the same as the 23:52 to Prague.
The display board - see the 23:54 to Wien? That's where I should have been.

This is not what you want to happen in a foreign city, in the middle of winter, at midnight. Fortunately there was an internet cafe in the station and I was able to check on timetables and see that there was a 5.15 am train I could catch. I wouldn't be able to make my flight from Prague though. I thought of other possibilities such as flying to Prague, but there are no
flights from Katowice to Prague.

Resigned to an overnight wait in the station I was about to make myself relatively comfortable in the only slightly above arctic temperature of the cafe when lots of police appeared. There was a bomb scare and we had to evacuate the building. Two hours of waiting in the plaza in front of the station was a unique experience.

The station plaza in a slightly livelier moment

Finally we were allowed back in. No bomb had been found. After several hours of waiting in the circle of hell which is a railway station cafe in the middle of winter I was able to board the first of the three trains to get me back to Prague.

Again - not an easy procedure. The timetable showed the train as going to Ostrova - where I could connect with my next train. But the information boards showed that it was going only as far as Bohumin. This was a deliberate lie. It really was going to Ostrova - and stopping at every
station on the way - all 26 of them.

The plus side of early morning rail travel is watching the sun rise

Warm and on a comfortable train at last

At Ostrova I was able to make some phone calls to alter my flight reservation without too great a penalty fee - and eventually, two other trains and then a metro and tram ride later I was back at the Capuchin Friary in Prague in time to see the camels arrive.

They were sent by the Spanish Embassy and brought their three riders and gifts to where Joseph, Mary and a real baby were standing waiting in front of the friary walls. (January 5th - the eve of the feast of the Epiphany).

Today (Sunday Jan 6th) it's snowing. I'm waiting here until Monday morning when I can catch my flight to London.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Praha to Wroclaw

Travelling on the train eastwards across the Czech Republic and then later this afternoon crossing the border into Poland before changing at Katowice to head north to my destination of Wroclaw. The border crossing is an invisible event since yesterday when border checks ceased.

The countryside is a mix of flat or gently rolling farm land, empty of crops in the winter, and hills and forest. Recent snows have blanketed most if it in white.

Before setting off from Prague Station

scenery along the way

Transferring in Katowice Station was interesting. Poland seems older and dirtier than what I saw of the Czech Republic; and Katowice Station, in mid-winter with crowds of people fighting for seats on the trains, and when I myself have a cold, certainly feels like one of the less attractive places to be. I needed to go to the toilet so of course I needed money, Polish money. Finally I found an ATM which, even better, was working. But the notes it issued me with were too large for the toilet attendant. So I had to get some change. Bought a bottle of drink, grabbed the change, rushed to the toilet. And then later realised I had forgotten the bottle I had just bought. Then had to stand for 3 hours in the poorly heated corridor of the train.

My friend and former student, Chris Park, met me at the station. He works for LG (the Korean electronics company).

I think there are interesting things to see here but I've had a cold and have spent the day inside resting - looking at the view from his apartment (as in the picture below)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Firenze / Wien / Praha

My last day in Florence was more restful. In the morning attended a mass in the Duomo. Started off by sitting in a good Anglican seat - second from the back - but we were called up to fill in the seats higher up. Landed up in the front row just a few metres from the high altar. Then more sightseeing - the Duomo museum and the Baptistery. Back to the hotel to rest. Vespers in
the Duomo - sung by their ancient canons - assisted by a small choir. Back to the hotel to pack.

Some last images from Florence

From my seat in the Duomo

Votive candles

The mosaic ceiling of the Baptistery

Statues in the Duomo museum

Florence fashion

Early morning to the airport by taxi - too early for the bus. Was ripped off by the taxi driver - the fare on the meter came to 31.50. I paid him with four ten euro notes because I only had about 75 cents in coins. He put the notes in with his pile of other notes. And then asked for the 1.50. I showed him my 75 cents. He took it and said thank you - and gave me no change. He
said I had only given him three ten-euro notes - and not four. He pulled out three notes from his pile and said that was what I had given him. It was impossible to prove anything. I guess it's one of their oldest tricks!

Arrived at the airport much earlier than I needed to be. But just as well since there was a problem with my luggage. It was 6 kg overweight. But no problem they said - just carry an extra bag with you as cabin luggage. Frantic rearrangement at the check in counter to remove my shampoo and other items which might be used to make a bomb and transfer them to my main bag. Then - while queuing for security I suddenly realise I'm still carrying in that bag my Swiss army knife. Obviously I am a terrorist! Back to the check in counter. Nothing else is possible but to check in my other bag. It's overweight but they don't charge.

You know you're travelling on Austrian Airlines because they play Strauss waltzes before takeoff.

Arrived in Prague and was met by my Capuchin friend, Serafin, and taken back to the 16th century friary where he lives - just above the old castle.

Have been walking round, sightseeing, fighting off the cold. Mass this morning in the cathedral. And more sightseeing to come this afternoon.

The old castle - the cluster of buildings around the cathedral

By night from across the river

St Vitus Cathedral, Prague

Crucifix on the Charles Bridge

With my friend Br Serafin outside his friary