Bumpy road to the Holy Land

When I traveled around New Zealand three years ago, I had this habit to write about new places I visited as soon as possible, while everything was fresh. This post was drafted in Tiberias, at the beginning of my visit in Israel, but later the schedule was too tight and in the evenings I was too tired to write anything, so I was just making short notes and going through photos from that day. This post will have more words, while the rest of them will probably be photo stories.

One year ago, exactly to the date, I went to Israel with an organised group, because I was too afraid to go on my own in that part of the world, well, at least for the first time. The trip was organized by my old Hebrew teacher (I used to study at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Warsaw), so I trusted her and I knew it would be an interesting and very informative trip not only in Biblical facts, but also in sipping the cultural background. The meeting point was the airport in Warsaw, so I had to go to Poland first. I decided to go a few days earlier to spend weekend at my parents’ in Masuria and then go to Warsaw.

I had a plane to catch from London-Luton on Friday, 31st January in the afternoon. Usually, trains from my nearest train station to the city centre went every 3-6 minutes. When I got there, I found out that trains were every 20 min that day. I started to panic and there was no announcement why they were so late. I took a bus to Wimbledon hoping that trains would stop more often at a bigger station. How unpleasantly surprised I was when I discovered that the problem was in Wimbledon! There was a fire near the tracks and trains were delayed, redirected or cancelled.

Luckily, trains did go to Victoria and I managed to get there early enough to get on coach to the airport, which even arrived 17 min before the scheduled time. I had a plenty of time to drink hot chocolate after the amount of stress I had been through. I didn’t know then, that it wasn’t over yet. When we got on the plane and took our seats and every hand luggage was in the compartments, a crew member announced that one of the passengers decided not to fly with us and wanted to leave the plane. So, we had to take all our luggage out, put them on our laps and they had to check if everything of that person was unloaded. When we finally got back to our seats, the plane started getting ready to take off. We were already speeding up on the runway when suddenly the pilot pressed the breaks and we stopped. Wind? Rain? We were told it was a ‘technical problem’. After waiting 15 min for the breaks to cool down, we took the second attempt to take off from a different runway, which was successful this time. Later I found out that it was because of a puddle on the first runway and our plane was too big to drive through it.

We arrived in Gdansk with one hour delay. It was a real winter in Poland and for a van, which was waiting for me and other passengers from London in a temperature below zero it was too long. As a result its batteries died. We had to wait hoping the drivers would be able to recharge them from a different car of the same company. After one hour sitting in a cold car we were finally ready to go. I got home by midnight without any more adventures. Never the less, I started to believe I was dragging a bad luck with me and it was all my fault.

On Sunday afternoon, I went to Warsaw, spent some time with my sister and her boyfriend and in the evening they dropped me off at the airport. I had no problems with checking in and baggage control and I found my group by the gate easily. After recognizing some familiar faces and getting to know new people, I told them about my adventures from Friday. Everyone was cheering me up, when I told them my concerns about my luck. Their opinion changed and they started to look at me differently wondering if I was really a Jonah, when we found out few minutes later that the plane we were going to go broke down and LOT – Polish Airlines would give another plane, but it was smaller and 9 people from our group could go that evening and the rest of the group – 22 people were asked to stay over night in Marriott Hotel near the airport and go the next day with ELAL – Israeli airlines. My ex-teacher and organizer of that trip said it was the first time that something like that happened to her. I could only tell, ‘I told you so’ and wonder if I should risk and continue my journey.

I was in the group that stuck in Warsaw. On the next day, after delicious breakfast we all went back to the airport, but this time everyone individually was sort of interrogated by an ELAL staff member before checking in, then after being approved, we got our boarding passes and our luggage went through a detailed scan, including opening the suitcases, getting out all the electronic devices, cameras etc. Everything was examined. I had heard many stories about that, so I was prepared and understanding. Besides, if not in Warsaw, then we would have been checked at the Israeli airport after the arrival.

It seemed like it was taking ages, but we managed to get on board on time. The flight was pleasant, but I was surprised they showed ‘Captain Philips’ with Tom Hanks. The film was good, but I wouldn’t expect waching a film about hijicking a boat or any other mean of transport on a plane to the Middle East. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

We left Poland after 10am, flew for about 4 hours, but because of the time difference, when we arrived in Tel Aviv and joined the rest of the group and our Israeli tour guide it was already 4pm. We had our first hotel booked in Tiberias, 150km from Tel Aviv, so all we did was just got on the coach and went to Tiberias. I was mad and dissapointed. I had hoped we would be able to catch up on lost time, but it was impossible. The first day, when we had scheduled travelling along the coast and the visits to Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Caesarea, Haifa, Mount Caramel, Nazareth and Cana was gone. The beginning of the trip was horrible and I felt I was the only person to be blamed for.

The only comfort I had after the return from the trip, was when I made a complaint to the LOT and I got a complete refund for the plane tickets, €400, but still, I would rather see those places we missed, than the money I got. I don’t know when will be the next time I go to Israel again.

January opened my theatre year

New Year’s Eve 2013 was very low key. I spent it with my brother and his girlfriend at some friends’ and nicely went to work on the next day.

I didn’t have many plans for 2014 and I didn’t want to waste another year in London without moving forward or out, but before I noticed the year was over. It was a pretty difficult year, which I finished a bit depressed, but after having some rest during Christmas at my parents’ home, I started 2015 with the resolution to be a little positive. Maybe if I look at the highlights of the past year, I’ll be able to see its bright sides?

Last year, I saw twice as many theatre plays as concerts. Only in January I went to see two plays. First, it was Henry V at Noel Coward Theatre with Jude Law. I bought the ticket way in advance. It was cheap, because it was in the balcony, so I could see Jude’s bays on his forehead quite clearly. 😉 I took a sneaky photo before the play started.

2014-01-08 14.27.12

I was putting away the decision of buying a ticket to see Fortune’s Fool at the Old Vic with Iain Glen who plays Jorah, Daenerys Targaryen’s right hand in Game of Thrones. But when I left Noel Coward Theatre and having still in mind how much I enjoyed Henry V, I finally bought the ticket. On the next day I found out that Iain Glen stopped playing the main character in Fortune’s Fool, because of his doctor’s advice and someone else took over his role. It was so unfortunate. The other actor wasn’t as good as I would imagine Iain could be. I’ll never know.

The good thing about that evening was, though, that I bought a cheap ticket, because it was a seat behind a pillar. Luckily, almost the whole row was empty, so when the play started, I could move to the centre and see everything very clearly. The stage was huge and they built a great scenography of a house and the garden at the back.
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When the play finished its run, the Old Vic has been transformed. The stage has been lowered and made round with the audience sitting around the stage. Quite a popular trend I’ve noticed in theatres recently with Young Vic and Trafalgar Studios as another examples.

So that was the first small bump at the beginning of my year – I went to see an actor and found out that he wasn’t in the play anymore. My next post will start the story of my trip to Israel, and the beginning wasn’t easy at all.

Christmas 2013

December is always hectic for everyone, so I’m not going to complain here how busy I was. I didn’t have plans to go to Poland to spend Christmas with my family, because I didn’t have many holidays left to use and the ones I had, I wanted to use on my trip to Israel in February. I decided to take up as many shifts in the RA shop as possible to save some money for the trip, because I wanted to buy belated Christmas presents over there.

So, in the madness of working 7 days a week from 5am till 6 or even 10pm for about 3-4 weeks and pre-Christmas Christmas parties, I was invited to spend the Holiday far from London noise at my friends’ in Farnborough. It wasn’t that easy to get there, because there was a horrible storm on that day and most of the trains were delayed 1-2 hours or cancelled, so my friends decided to pick me up from home.

There were floods and power cut in South West, but luckily my friends had their own power generator, so we managed to prepare Christmas Eve supper and didn’t have to sit only by the candles. I know it’s not humble to say that I made really delicious gingerbread and two kinds of herring: in beetroot and sour cream.

Christmas Day was properly lazy: slept late, had light breakfast, quick walk in the forest (the weather wasn’t that nice), long and amazing Christmas dinner with my friends and their parents and then TV and drinks in the evening. My friend’s dad used to tour with Eric Clapton, so whenever I hear his music, I remember that Christmas.

Next day the weather was much better and we went for a longer walk. In the afternoon my friends drop me off back home right on time to catch the screening of ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ in the nearest cinema.

Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan at Union Chapel

Going fast forward and we’re in early December. Non-Kiwi readers may ask ‘who on Earth Dave Dobbyn and Don McGlashan are?’ and I would have asked the same question if I wasn’t into NZ music that much. To be honest, I found out about Dave Dobbyn’s existence about three years ago, when Flight of the Conchords invited him to sing with them in a charity song “Feel inside (and stuff like that)” (the song starts from 10:15, but it’s worth to watch the interviews with the kids). He was big in the 80’s and now he’s a legend in Kiwi music industry.

Don McGlashan is another Kiwi music giant, whose career started in the 80’s as one half of a music/theatre duo The Front Lawn. Now he plays solo and with a band called The Seven Sisters in which plays Chris O’Connor, the drummer of my favourite NZ band, The Phoenix Foundation. So as you can see, everything is somehow connected with either Conchords or TPF.

Two great Kiwis in London was something not to be missed, even if I didn’t know all their songs, but I knew it’d be a fun evening. And I did very much enjoy the concert. Union Chapel was full of Kiwis singing along the songs they knew for more than 20 years.

For me, the highlight was The Front Lawn’s song ‘Andy’. A few years ago, back in my small home town, when I was listening to this song and loving it, if someone told me that I would hear it live some day performed by Don McGlashan himself, I’d say that person was crazy… or I’d want to know how and when it would happen. Amazing what twists and turns life can take, even when it seems like nothing happens, when we look from a short distance. It was quite an emotional moment when I recognized the song and I don’t know how I managed to record it.

I was absolutely impressed by Don and his multi-instrumental skills!

The first part of the show was just them two playing each other’s songs and for the second part they were joined by two more musicians. Here’s Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Whaling’ with the complete band.

You did notice the Christmas Tree in the left corner? Yes, holiday was just round the corner.

6 December, 2013

Villagers at Heaven, Under the Arches

Less than a week after my trip to Lincoln, I went to see Villagers live.

Villagers - screencap

Villagers is Conor O’Brien’s band, whom I saw at Barbican, where he shared the stage with and overshadowed (in my humble opinion) Glen Hansard. I bought both albums soon after that and was hoping to see the whole band performing in the nearest future. The opportunity came up, when one day on my way home from work, I saw their poster on Heaven’s door. I didn’t knock, but I went online, double checked the date if it wasn’t an old poster from their previous tour and bought a ticket right away a few months before the actual event.

Their supporting band was We Were Evergreen. I didn’t film them, but they were very good and you should check them out. There are plenty of videos on YouTube with them.

We Were Evergreen

So as with the Villagers. 🙂

Seeing Conor O’Brien solo just with his guitar vs. Conor with his band are quite different experiences and it was interesting to see both sides of this artist. This time there was not much of melancholy or shyness, but thanks to the power the rest of the band members were giving him, he was full of energy or even some rebellion. They gave an amazing performance and the same songs Conor played in Barbican, were like new when I heard them in Heaven.

I would love to see them again sometime.

This concert was on 7 November, 2013.

Lincoln and Newark, Lincolnshire

I got stuck. It’s taken me ages to finish this post! I get the urge to write something more often, but then I get busy, distracted by other things, hence the delay. I wish I had more time, but one has to earn money and live a little… Still, one year delay is pretty shameful… I’ll just humbly proceed with the posts…

I was getting itchy feet again and in October (last year, of course, lol) my usual English co-traveller contacted me asking if and where I would like to go to next. The way we made the choice was quite spooky. I just finished watching Simon Schama’s ‘The Story of Jews’ where in one episode he talked about the story of the Jewish community in Lincoln and I THOUGHT, ‘I wish I went there’. In the next message from my friend she asked me, ‘How about Lincoln?’ Whoa! Mind reader!

So the first weekend of November we went to Lincoln and Newark nearby.

It was easier and more economical for me to go to Lincoln by train, meet my friends there, who came by car and continue the trip together. I left sunny King’s Cross & St Pancras behind, had a change at Nottingham to more crowded and non air-conditioned train (felt like being back in Poland), passed Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal power station with gigantic chimneys which looked like the ones used in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and finally arrived in Lincoln after midday. Saturday was wet. Frequent showers ‘forced’ us to frequent visits to second hand bookshops and tea rooms on the way up the hill where the Cathedral and Castle were. One of them was Jewish House, where I bought Gombrich’s “The Story of Art” for £2.50!

Entry to the Cathedral was paid and the Castle ‘next door’ was already closed, because it was off season, so we decided to eat dinner by Brayford Pool, bought some cheese and wine, because on the next day was my Name Day and head to our hostel to have a rest. After taking shower, we enjoyed wine while watching 50 Years of National Theatre Live on BBC2.

On Sunday the weather was much better. We strolled familiar streets and went up the hill again. We visited the Castle. The ticket was very cheap, only £2 to enter Castle Square. The Castle itself was closed, because of the renovations. We could go inside only with a guided tour which was in an hour, but we didn’t want to wait. The view on the Cathedral from the wall was a disappointment. One side was blocked with rubbish and the tower with the best view was closed to the visitors without the guide.

Good thing we managed to go into the Cathedral for free, because it was right after the Sunday Mass. The highlight of this trip for me was to see one of the copies of Magna Carta from 1215 signed by King John.

After having one foot long hot dogs, we went to Newark, a small town with a lovely square and castle ruins. When we walked around the town, I had a bizarre feeling, because I didn’t hear any English, just Polish absolutely everywhere! I felt that my friends were only English in town. It wasn’t a complete truth, but seriously, it was too much.

In the evening my friends left and I waited in a pub for my train back to London.

That was on 2-3 November, 2013.

Peter Gabriel – Back to Front tour at O2 Arena

Last weekend I went to a concert and it reminded me how far behind I am with my blog.

So, back to October last year, which was pretty busy with concerts.

About one week after I came back from Poland, I went to see a guy who most of you must have heard of, not like the previous shows I wrote about.

I had seen Peter Gabriel years ago in Poland when he was promoting ‘UP’. The concert was on a comparatively small stage, so the possibilities of special effects were limited and I left the show not completely satisfied. After watching Secret World DVD many times, I hoped Peter would come back with a similar show some day. Back to Front wasn’t as theatrical as Secret World, but never the less, spectacular.

The show was divided into three parts. The first one was acoustic with full lights on on stage and the audience. Some people between the songs were yelling to turn them off, as if they didn’t want to understand that it was part of the show. Then, in the middle of one of the songs (I’m not going to give away which one, because Peter is coming back with the show this year and I don’t want to spoil it for you), the lights went off and the second part started, ‘savory’, ‘main dish’ as Peter called it. The transition from one part to the other gave me shivers and ‘wow’ moment. Third part was a ‘dessert’ – full album SO live from beginning to the last song. We all knew the order of the songs on the album and I had thought it would be boring, but actually we had so much fun waiting for the first notes of the next songs. Before Sledgehammer, we even started singing them and then the band joined us.

I recorded some footage, but the quality isn’t the best, because I was far away from the stage and my camera struggled with getting the focus, so here’s only one song I’ve uploaded.

It’s amazing how great effects they could create using lights on those cranes. YouTube is full of films from the whole tour, but I wanted to post here my all time favourite song of Peter.

Thanks to my sister who bought me ‘Encore’ album, which is a complete show recorded live off the soundboard, I can re-live the concert any time.

22 October, 2013

Fat Freddy’s Drop at O2 Academy Brixton

It was the first weekend of October. That evening was a fail. Not because of the band, but because of my poor health. The band was great, people loved them and the show was sold out, but I was ill.

I don’t often get sick, maybe once every second year, but when I do, I just have to stay in bed for 2-3 days, because I don’t have enough strength to get up. On Friday I didn’t feel well and didn’t eat much. I tried to stay at work as long as I could, but when I started getting shivers, I thought it was time to leave early and go to bed. I spent whole Saturday in bed without eating hardly anything and I felt weak. But at the back of my mind I remembered I had a ticket to a concert that evening bought in summer and it cost me over £20, so it would be a great waste if I didn’t use it. Going to a crowded venue was the last thing I needed, so I thought that if I manage to go, maybe I’ll be able to sell the ticket and go back to bed.

So I did get up from bed, went to Brixton and once I got there, I thought I felt well enough to go inside. I managed to listen to the concert just for half an hour, because the crowd, the smell of sweat and smoked pot, loud music and flicking lights made me feel sick and weak again that if I stayed there any minute longer I’d faint. The fresh air outside woke me up. I decided not to torture myself going back inside and just went home.

Sorry, Fat Freddy’s Drop fans. I really wanted to film a full song, but I struggled to stand at all. Besides, the music was very loud so I’m not sure if my camera would bear it. Someone posted over 30 minute footage, so you can see how it was. The guys were great, but I was too sick to enjoy it. Here are just some screencaps from short videos I recorded.

FFD are playing at Alexandra Palace in October. It’s pretty far north from me, but who knows where I’ll be living by then? My housemates are expecting a baby and are looking for a house to buy. Changes… life…

Simon Schama at Queen Elizabeth Hall

This is something absolutely not related with New Zealand, but it’s got a lot to do with my next longer than weekend trip.

The event I attended wasn’t a concert.

A variety!

When I studied English philology back in Poland a few years ago, Simon Schama’s ‘History of Britain’ BBC series was very helpful in finishing the course with the top mark. In one of the Southbank Centre newsletters, I saw that he was going to have a talk on 25th September about his latest book, ‘The Story of the Jews’ as part of Southbank Centre Literature Autumn Season 2013. I also did a research and found out that he did another tv series for the BBC under the same title as his new book (the programme is already on DVD). Luckily, all the episodes were still available on the BBC iPlayer and I was able to catch up on the series before I went to see the author himself.

The talk was very interesting, informative, often entertaining, because Mr Schama knows many Jewish anecdotes. I really enjoyed that change in my going out habits.

The BBC series was amazing, touching and listening to Simon Schama very enjoyable. Soon after that I watched a very so called ‘provocative’ but for me very brave, inspired by actual events Polish film called Aftermath at the Raindance Film Festival on 30th September. The film tells a story of a man who discovers that his parents and the rest of the older generation of the villagers are responsible for mass murder of their Jewish neighbours during the World War 2. Poland is generally antisemitic and the actor who played the main character had a really hard time during the interviews. People were writing horrible things about him on the Internet, but he stood tall and it all made me admire and love him even more after that.

Anyway, I used to study theology (years ago!) and always hoped to visit the places I read about in the Bible. All this woke up my old interest in Jews and the desire to go to Israel ‘some day’. So, since I’m doing ok with my saving money to go back to New Zealand plan, and I’m still working and can save even more, why not go now? It’s always closer from here than from NZ. I got in touch with an organization from Poland which I knew from my Theological Seminary years and learned that their next tour was planned in February and the deadline to book the tour with them was in October! I didn’t want to go alone this time for safety reasons, of course.

When I was booking my place, I thought impatiently how long I would have to wait until my holiday comes and I can’t believe that this time NEXT WEEK I’ll be already going to the airport to meet the rest of the group and fly together to Tel Aviv!

headphones on and off

I didn’t have my camera with me, so I tried to take a photo of the rainbow over the East side of London on my phone. I also wanted to test how it films (poor quality as you can see). At the same time I was listening to music on my headphones. How surprised and shocked I was later when I watched and heard what I had recorded!

September 2013