Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Durham & post course.

At the end of April I went up to Durham, which is in the North of England, for a standard foundation course, Transforming Church Conflict.  It was being run by Colin Patterson, the assistant director for Bridge Builders, and another co-trainer, Sandra Cobbin, and myself.  Durham was a really neat little town (seems little now compared to London, but it has a major university), but I really didn't get the chance to see much.  We were just sooooo busy.  Went up Sunday morning (started packing up at around 8:30) and didn't return until Saturday at 1 am.  LONG week.  As a team we worked very well in supporting each other, but we'll obviously have things to work on for the next time we all three work together (Oct/Nov 2010 in Foxhill).  The next time I work on a course will be with Alastair (BB Director) and Liz Holdsworth (another co-trainer) in September in London.

The next two courses I'll be a participant on in early June (Church Leadership & Family Systems) and early July (Mediating Interpersonal Conflicts).  Should be a nice change of pace for the summer, but I'm also really excited to take the courses themselves.

My parents are with me right now (I'm in Ireland) on Holiday until 10 May.  They came on 27 April and we spent the first week in London.  I'll give a short update on what we did after they leave.  I essentially had 1 day of work between the Durham course and when they arrived.  I got back early Saturday morning, had a meeting Saturday before lunch with the Trustees of the LMC (happens twice a year and was this the spring meeting), Sunday watched the London Marathon, and then had work Monday.  Tuesday I headed out to Heathrow to get my parents and we've been going non-stop since.

So I went to Greece (long post)

So I went to Greece for my first major holiday since being in London.  Not that I hadn't taken time off before now (took some time at x-mas), but this was the first time I actually travelled outside of London for more than work or a day/weekend type trip.  I travelled to Greece on 24 March and returned to London on 31 March.  I'll do my best to give a summary of what I did/what I saw, but most of this post will probably be relating to pictures I took.  If you have any questions about my trip feel free to ask.

Day 1, 24 March - travelled to Greece via EasyJet out of Gatwick airport.  Took a 50 pence bus ride from downtown London to Gatwick airport, then a shuttle to the south terminal for a roughly 4 hour flight to Athens.  Greece/Athens probably wouldn't have been my first choice for where to go in Europe beyond England, but some people who were staying at the LMC in November said if I ever wanted to come to Athens/Greece (which I did want to at some point) that they'd have an extra room for me, so I jumped on it while they still remembered me.  The family I stayed with (Heath, Mariko, and their two children aged 12 and 8) were Canadian missionaries who were working for a summer camp that was around 1.5 hours northeast of Athens on the coast, but who lived in Athens for the rest of the year.  Heath picked me up at the airport in the evening, so my first experience was primarily travelling back to their place, but getting a bite of souvlaki (basically pork) along the way.  They live in a flat in Northeast Athens in an area called Zografos.  It's around a 30 minute bus ride downtown to ANYWHERE you want to go.  Nice location, near the university.

Day 2, 25 March - so it just happened to be Greece's Independence Day, who'd have thought?  Anyways since I hadn't remembered this until I was on my plane I hadn't thought of what to do given that most places would be closed.  Heath had thought of this and invited me to come along with his family to a coastal village for the day.  Apparently all Greeks have a village they go to on Independence day where they chill out, eat, drink, walk, etc...So the place we went was called Kato Alepochori.  So I got to eat with some real Greeks, eating real authentic Greek food, and be in a real non-touristy Greek village.  Nice introduction to Greece.  We ended the day by walking down the beach.  The next photos are from that location (the one guy was building a house so we ate on his property).

The family I stayed with in Athens

Day 3, 26 March - So the night I flew in I told Markio and Heath of my rough travel plans for being in Athens and then travelling to North/Central Greece to visit an area called Meteora (pronounced 'Metera').  They had been there before and recommended looking at hotels in a village called Kastriki, which was next to the village where the train/bus would take me, Kalambaka.  So I found a cheap hotel in Kastriki (30 euros a night) and booked in since they felt I'd have no problem getting a train ticket on Friday for Saturday.  Well when I went to the little train office I got introduced to Greeks customer service, which in my experience was basically nothing.  After waiting 30 minutes in line I went to book a train to Kalambak..."all full" was the response. can I get a return ticket?..."all full, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tues, Wed"...Ok...where can I get a bus ticket than?.."I don't know"...where can I find out where to get a bus ticket?..."I don't know"... From that exchange I went to the MAIN train station hoping perhaps only a limited number of tickets were sold..nope, same responses, but I was at least able to book a return ticket & a nice lady behind me in line directed me to an information centre where I got directions to the bus travel to the bus station and booked a bus ticket there.  In all my sequence of events for booking my trip north was 1)book hotel, 2) book return from ticket, 3) book travel to location ticket, kinda backwards, but whatever, it worked.  A couple of pictures around Athens.

Theatre of Dionysos
Theatre of Dionysos
Theatre of Dionysos

Odeion of Herodes Atticus
Odeion of Herodes Atticus
Odeion of Herodes Atticus

Yup that's the Parthenon

The rest of the day I spent visiting the Parthenon & sites around it.  I pretty much was able to walk just about anywhere in downtown Athens.  Later in the day I hiked up the other prominent hill in Athens which has a church at top of it.  Pretty view/hike...not too long though only around 1 hr up.

[at this point I decided to just put photos on facebook because it was faster - add me as a friend if you aren't a friend already]

Day 4, 27 March - I travelled up to Kalambaka by bus in the morning / early afternoon leaving Athens at 8:30ish and getting to Trikila around 12:50, then a bus from there to Kalambaka at 1, in Kalambaka at 2 and walked to Kastriki/my hotel by 2:45/3pm...spent the rest of the evening planning my next day's hike, getting some food, and relaxing.  The route up was pretty much right up the coast for the first half of the trip and then cut inland across some mountains and than a lot of flatland.

Day 5, 28 March - Had breakfast (all included in price) of 3 pieces of bread/butter/jam, a piece of cake, a cut up apple, two pieces of meat & cheese, and a large coffee...I ate it all since I knew I would need the energy.  In all I figured I hiked at least 20 miles...up and down up and down and all over...visited all 7 monasteries, although I only went inside 3 of them given that 1 was never open to the public and with winter hours I just didn't have the time to see them all.  A VERY exhausting but fun day.  Pictures from all over in and out and around the monasteries of Meteora.  A guidebook said I would have hiked 20km if I visited 6 of them...and I visited I missed turns/trails and did SOOooo much extra hiking it's not even funny.  Pretty much moving nonstop from when I got up until sunset.  The pictures don't really do the area any justice at all.

Day 6, 29 March - Planned to check out of my hotel at 11:30, but the guy at the desk told me I could stay until 12:30/1 at no extra cost.  So I went for a little hike up past a church next to the town up toward one of the monoliths.  The route I took wasn't really well travelled so I didn't see anyone else, and then it got more than a little sketchy.  If you have ANY fear of heights it wouldn't have been a good idea.  The pictures I took don't give ANY real idea of how scary it was.  Wind, plus being alone, plus being really really high part took me three tries to finally go up it because I turned around twice deciding I didn't want to have to attempt to come down anymore.  I finally got to one topish area, but didn't go the final distance b/c the rock was all covered in moss and my starting spot was kind of a round dome that didn't really feel safe to climb up because if I fell at that point it nothing would have stopped me (not that other areas were better, but this just felt worse).  Still amazing to be up that high.

After my descent I went back toward the monasteries and hiked around on some monoliths there too...Did some climbing I probably wouldn't have down the day before due to the sketchy nature of it as well, but after what I had just done it didn't seem so plenty of other tourists could have seen me fall and could have called for help if something actually again don't do any justice.

I checked out of my hotel around 1 and walked back to Kalambaka for a 5:30 pm train ride.  Spent the afternoon relaxing in town, got something to eat, and read a bit about the history of Greece from a guidebook I brought.  In case you can tell from the picture of the cross that's up on the monolith...that's the view from Kalambaka, I had just been on the other side of it earlier that day.

Travelled back to Athens on a nice long 5 hour train ride.  The train went through the mountains which was pretty until it got dark.  Once in Athens I rode the metro and the bus back to the family's home.

Day 7, 30 March - I got up a little later given that this trip was suppose to be a holiday.  Went downtown and walked through the botanical gardens and walked around the outside of the olympic stadium.  I wish it had been open for visitors, but it's been years since they let people inside.  Thought it would have been kinda neat to be in a stadium that old and majestic.  Visited the national cemetery, got lost a coupel fo times, but eventually made it out.  Thought about visiting another museum, but decided against it since it was closing at 3 so I went back to the house for a couple of hours.  Took a short hike (1.5 hours up?) into the nearby mountains looking for a view of the city for a sunset.  Once the sun went down I flew back down the hill (15 minutes?) and walked back through the university and local neighbourhood in the early hours of the evening.

Day 8, 31 March - Took my bags to Heath's other job downtown at the beginning of the day and then walked to the Parthenon again.  Visited the museum Greece built for the Parthenon itself and as an effort to try and get the British Museum to give back all of the Greek Parthenon statues etc... that were taken back in the day.  There's a lot of mouldings that had the initials (B.M.) meaning the original was at the British Museum.  After seeing both collections I'd say the B.M. versions are in a LOT better shape.  Probably because they were taken off the Parthenon around a half a century or three-quarters of a century before Greece tried to salvage stuff.  Not to say they should keep it b/c there IS a very nice museum in Athens now, but it does look rather nice in the B.M....I don't think they'll give it up easily.

Took a final walk through the Agora, then went to the Temple of Zeus.  Unbelievable coincidence there...while up in Meteora I had met a Canadian girl who was just travelling around Europe and was stopping in Greece to pick up her sister.  She was staying in Kalambaka and we happened to run into each other on the same trail that turned into a dead end.  Her sister was in Athens and she said she'd be there a couple of weeks before going around the rest of Europe until finishing in London.  Well at the Temple of Zeus guess who I run into?  Yup that's right, the ONLY person I met while in Meteora who wasn't from Greece/Europe in a city of 5 million in Athens.  I've been in London since September and I've seen someone I know on the streets randomly ONCE and that was in a local area, let alone a busy downtown one.  So yea, if she happens to find me in London it'll mean something.  So then it was about time I headed back downtown to see Heath's work & get my bags to head to the airport.  Went to the airport at around 4 pm for a 7 pm flight.  Got to the airport by 5:20ish and my gate by 5:45, but then saw they had changed my flight time (but not until I had passed through security!!!) from 7 pm to 8:50...meaning I wasn't sure if I'd make it home easily due to transportation in London shutting down after midnight.

Landed by 10:20...went as fast as possible through Gatwick airport, through customs, then waited for a 50 pence bus back to London (had pre-booked before I left) and left Gatwick at to my stop on the outskirts of London at 12:10.  Caught the 2nd to last tube two stops and then switched to another line  (the original route I wanted wasn't available to central London anymore), and ran from platform to platform catching the LAST train on that line to the Northern line (my line home).  Switched to the northern line, but my branch wasn't running on that side of it (there are two sides/routes of the northern line that over lap at two spots), so I switched at camden town and ran yet again to catch the last train on the branch I wanted home..walked in the LMC at 1 am.  Certainly got the adrenaline running for the last portion of my trip home.

Whew I think that's it!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In between courses

So you might ask why I haven’t been updating my blog very diligently.  I’ve probably just been through (part of at least) the busiest time of year for Bridge Builders.  We have a section during the winter months where we have a course in February followed by a course in March followed by a course in April.  Adding to this were a couple of one-off workshop days.  I just got done with the March course and didn’t really take any time off following it (like I normally do) because I’m now going on holiday for a week.  Following my holiday (in Athens and Greece) I’ll have about two weeks before the next course (a week long course) followed by two weeks when my parents will be visiting.  Needless to say it’s a very very very busy period of time for me.  The only fortunate part of all of this is that the courses are relatively similar in that they are all the foundation course Bridge Builders offers.  The differences between them are: location, people on the course (two are for anyone, while one was just for “Senior Church Leaders”), and trainers.  The first course in February was co-trained by Alastair and Liz.  The March course was done by Alastair and Colin and the April course will be done by Colin and Sandra.  In all of those I’m the ‘observer/assistant.‘

I saw some fireworks from the Chinese New Year, but didn't get any good pictures.  Too much smoke from Leicester square, but fun to watch.

This summer is looking pretty nice considering how busy we’ve been and I’ll continue to be.  Given that I’m taking a week off in between courses means I’ll just be hyper busy for the days I am in the office.  I worked a normal day monday (9-6) and then a longer day Tuesday (9-6 & 7-9:30) followed by a couple of hours before I left for the airport on Wednesday (7:30-9am).  This really isn’t that bad, but coming off of a course where we typically were busy/on from 7am till 10pm M-F with an 8 hr day on Sunday it adds up.  Plus the fact that I got a bit of a cold at the end of the course.  Fortunately I’ve shaken it (as of last night) and have really started to feel better.

Some pictures from Sheffield (the March course).  The conference centre was right on the edge of Sheffield (pop. 1 million maybe???), but had access to a nearby farmish type area.  I took some pictures of the chickens and lambs for the benefit of my mom.  I thought she’d appreciate.  Interestingly the lambs seemed to have numbers which corresponded to a momma sheep.  Some of them were a little camera shy, but I caught a couple off guard.

The real difference between the March course (for Senior Church Leaders) and the other courses is that it is designed for leaders who have a large amount of oversight over many congregations.  Many as in some had responsibility for over three hundred....not light work at all.  The course was then structured slightly different toward the end of the week with a larger emphasis on analysing the level of conflict and appropriate interventions.  The people on this course were really high quality.  Questions were high in quality and very engaging.  They really didn’t let you take a moment off.  Higher stress for Alastair and Colin as co-trainers, but just more interesting for me (at this point).  Had a lot of really interesting conversations over the course of the week.  The one that stuck out to me the most was with a man named Adrian.  Over lunch we discussed the change in British society from being a more supporting society to one that is much more individualised.  From Adrian’s perspective the change came about from Margaret Thatcher’s time pushing for education on a “for me” basis and influence from what England saw from the United States in push for the “individual.”  Interesting to me because England now is suffering from much of the same problems of individuals in the states (have education but no jobs available and saddled with debt from such education).  Prior to Thatcher’s administration the country didn’t have as many higher degrees, but people also didn’t have debt from education.  Now funding for education is in the tubes and people are paying out of pocket in the US and suffering when they can’t find decent work to pay off loans.  Not sure that I see a “solution” anywhere, but it’s a difficult to deal with because the government preaches getting education, but when the jobs don’t follow, it just doesn’t make for a good situation down the road.

Andrew Bontrager was also in London while I was up in Sheffield.  Before I left we went on some walking tours around central London.  Saw a lot of the palaces/guards/etc.. and then some of the older parts of east-central London.  Two tours in all.  Well worth it, but now that I know most of the information so they probably wouldn’t be much interest to me anymore.  Oh well, maybe I can give them for others when they’re around London.

I haven’t really given too much thought to what I might do/where I might go this summer, but a couple of ideas floating in my mind are either traveling around England and doing some hiking (perhaps the three tallest peaks in the England/Scotland/Wales) or getting a continues rail ticket and traveling around Europe going to Paris and going to Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, etc...we’ll see how adventurous I am after I get back from Athens.

I should have some time to update my blog regarding my Athens trip once I’m back since Easter weekend isn’t that far off from when I get back (and I get Good Friday / “Easter Monday” off).  Cheers!