Reflections of a Disabled Traveller

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My journeys have spanned decades, though most of my accounts are recently written.   As a young man in the forces, I was able with relative freedom to explore Asia.  As a youngish man I was able to expand my range to North America and Britain. But as I entered “Middle Years,” I have had increasing mobility issues, but nonetheless persist in my enjoyment of travel.

I still occasionally make “day trips” on cheap flights to the Continent to follow-up on my research interests in Holocaust Studies.  But with my wife, have taken to more low key explorations of the UK, and begun taking cruises.

Cruising for someone with limited mobility is a blessing.  Your hotel travels with you. Meals are provided, and once boarded the queues of budget airlines become a distant memory from the past.  With advanced planning and some recourse to offered excursions, interesting things can still be seen and cultures explored.  On non-excursion days with some advanced planning, (with the help of others’ travel blogs and TripAdvisor) good eateries and out of the way sites can be accessed via taxi or in some cases even public transport (thank you all you bloggers that post about routes).

Day travel in the UK and via budget flights makes for some different experiences. In Britain advanced planning and a disabled “Blue Badge” go a long way.  We recently started a programme of visiting  “ancient pubs and coaching inns” (the subject of a future blog I hope).  These provide wonderful atmosphere, a sense of history, and “some mighty fine eats” as well.

This brings us to budget flights.  Okay, with disabled assistance in the airports this is usually not an issue.  Yes, you need to check-in early.  But, for the effort you usually get to your gate with little or no walking.  Usually! I do remember arriving in a regional airport in eastern Poland, and the there being only one wheelchair in the entire place.  It was rickety and well overused.  Discomfort aside, the local officials did decide that even those with disability stand and walk through the securities checks.  Fair enough, with a stick I can manage.

Planning is everything when travelling with mobility issues.  Knowing the location of taxi ranks, and the designations of bus routes is essential.  Once “in country” Hop on, Hop off services are great for getting a feel of the place.  It allows an overview of a city without even having to get out.  This reconnaissance done, priorities can be set of places to go back to.  A quick internet search will usually aid in accessibility information as well, especially for museums and other “tourist friendly” venues.

Going off the beaten path isn’t as easy, but still possible.  Allow time, have the number of a taxi firm and some local currency (as a backup), and go for it.  Thus far it has worked for me.

My ultimate word of encouragement – never give up exploring.



Nakagusuku Castle: A Tale of Loyalty and Betrayal


When I was in Okinawa several years ago, I paid a visit to Nakagusuku Castle.  This is an interesting ruin, with still impressive walls and fortifications.  While it may well have changed some from when I made the visit decades ago, more recent photographs seem to indicate that the site is still virtually unchanged.

Apart from the views and impressive stonework, the story behind the castle is enthralling.  Here is one variation of the tale as it was told to me.

King Sho Taikyu of the Ryukyus ruled over a kingdom divided by ambitious nobles. Chief of these was Amawari who had power in the north.  The loyal Lord Gosamaru, built the impressive Nakagusuku Castle as a buffer between the king and Amawari.

In 1458 CE, Amawari went to the king and told him that Gosamaru had built the fortress, not to defend, but to overthrow the king.  As a result Sho Taikyu  commissioned Amawari to lead the royal army against Nakagusuku to preempt any rebellion.

The king’s army arrived as Gosamaru was observing a moon viewing celebration, and seeing the approaching army flying royal banners, the loyal baron, rather than defying the king, committed suicide.

This was not the victory over his rival that Amawari had hoped.  For when Gosamaru’s head was taken to the king, a note was found in his mouth explaining Gosamaru’s treachery.  The king soon turned his armies against the Amawari’s stronghold, Katsuren Castle, and the baron was defeated and executed.

This again is a great story, and the ruins themselves a great site to visit if in Okinawa.



In Search of Olde England



Many tourists come to the UK in search of a taste of Chaucer and Shakespeare.  There are many places on the tourist trail that can provide such experiences such as the Shambles in York and Elm Hill in Norwich.  Others prefer the Constable Country feel of Lavenham.

Very few, however, go off the beaten path.  Kersey in Suffolk is one of these places. Kersey is a relatively small village, but full of character.  Many of the houses down the main street are period dwellings (many in Suffolk pink), and The Bell Pub (opened 1379) give the village the “Shakespeare” feel. The pub is dog friendly, and the food is good at a reasonable price.

The ford on the approach to the church provides for some good photographs, and is great vantage point for getting a 360 degree view of the village.  Kersey is only 12 miles from Long Melford, with Kentwell and Melford Halls providing even more of a Tudor period experiences.  If in the region, it is well worth the side-trip to get those experiences missed in more touristy venues.


A Vision to Lead

The founder of Toastmasters International once said, “People more willingly follow a leader who knows where he is going (Ralph Smedley).”  Leaders need to have vision! Otherwise, Jesus’ biblical metaphor of “the blind leading the blind” comes into play.  In fact, this seems to be a common occurrence in organisations without a plan, that they lose their way.

Many of us strive for self-improvement.  Whether this is as speakers, friends, lovers or as leaders we often need the development of our skills.  Vision is an important starting point on this journey.  Having a goal in mind is the beginning of leadership (etc.). What is it that you want for you and your team to accomplish? With that goal in place all else (including your team) will follow.

Incidentally when Siddhartha Gautama set out the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, he noted the starting point of “right vision”.  The idea of having such vision has a pretty good pedigree as the quotes from Jesus, Smedley, and the Buddha attest.



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Italian Renaissance in Eastern Poland

I was lucky enough to visit Zamość a couple of years ago.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is well deserved.  The town was “designed and built in accordance with the Italian theories of the ‘ideal town,[wiki quote]'” by the town’s founder Jan Zamoyski and the Italian architect, Bernardo Morando.

The central square boasts Zamoyski’s Palace, the “Armenian Houses,” and a wonderful pink-hued pavement.  It has far more a Mediterranean feel on a summer’s day than that of Poland.

There are some nice cafes along the market square, and it is a beautiful place to take in the architecture while sipping a drink.

A bit of the dark past of Zamość is not far away, however, as the synagogue of what was in pre-war times a Jewish community of 12,500 stands as a memorial.

This is (and I hate the over use of this term) a gem in the Polish countryside.  A must visit!


Beyond Doubt and Even Giants

Pastor Vince brought his message from Numbers 13 this week.  He focused on the power of God in our lives in making things change.  If it is not our circumstances that are modified, it is often ourselves.

Drawing from the same passage, I would like to reflect on the mindset of the people involved.

“23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.”

So far, so good.  The scouts of Israel find that the land that has been promised is truly an abundant one. But . . .

“31But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anakcome from the Nephilim).”  Yes, the land is great, but there are giants.  We can’t do it.

Despite coming out of the land of Egypt with power.  Despite the parting of the Red Sea, they still had a slave mentality.  “We aren’t good enough.  We aren’t strong enough. We aren’t big enough.”  Does it sound familiar?

But hope is found in the preceding verse, “30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it’.”  Caleb saw potential, not doom.  He and Joshua were ready and willing to go, not just onward, but right away! No slave mentality here, but faith in what they had already witnessed.

Do we see the giants or the grapes?  Do we see strong cities, or the God who divided a sea?  Can we, today, look beyond doubt?


Safety in Numbers (Part 2)


Gideon was a man of contradictions, yet God chose him to lead Israel against the Midianites.  Here the judge and general begins his campaign with an army of 30,000. And in another of God’s seeming ironies, He tells Gideon his army is “too big.”

So those who are afraid of the coming battle are relieved of their duties and sent to the rear.  He now faces the host of Midian with 10,000 men.  Judges 7 relates, “But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.’ So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.”

So Gideon now has command of 300 men.  But, I thought there was safety in numbers? Here again we see that God’s ways are not our ways. Gideon divides his men into 3 units.  Each is given a horn and a hidden torches.   “They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. 20 The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.”

Safety was not in numbers, but in the Lord.  Strength was not in swords, but in wisdom and cunning.  Victory was not Gideon’s but God’s.

Where are we putting our trust today?



Menu Roulette

Suntory - Sushi Boat


About thirty years ago, my friends and I played a game called menu roulette.  The rules were simple, when the ship arrived in a foreign port we would make our way far enough from the harbour that the local eateries did not cater to Western tastes, and the menus were seldom in English.

The four of us would then point to a random place on the menu.  We would not ask for translation, nor would we accept explanation. When the food arrived (no matter what it looked like) the orderer had to taste it. If they did not like it, the plates would be passed to the left (sometimes robbing another orderer of something yummy).  No dish could make the trip back to the original taster.  If anyone did not finish the food they were left with, then that individual had to pay the bill for the whole table.

Dishes which included sea cucumber, chickens with feet on, and mystery meats were all consumed.  One memorable meal turned out to be pizza with squid and octopus.  How’s that for fusion?  Only once did any of us get food poisoning.  This was a really exciting time for young men abroad for the first time in the Far East, and it was a great way the get a taste (pun intended) of other cultures.




Safety in Numbers (Part 1)

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In Judges chapter 6, we find what seems to be one of the great Biblical ironies. “11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrahthat belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior’.”  

Here we have a man hiding in a wine press to prepare his wheat for fear that his oppressors will come and take it from him.  And the angel of the Lord appears and addresses him as “mighty warrior.”  Okay, God see things differently than we do, but this one is worth a brief chuckle.

This man of “might,” isn’t even a man of absolute faith.  God next demonstrates His power when “20 The angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.’  And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face’!”  So, “Wow, I have seen an angel. I have seen the power of God. I should do what God tells me as it is the Lord. Right?”  Wrong, Gideon asks for more signs.

“36 Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.’ 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.’ 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.”

Gideon is a man of contradictions. But in them he is so much like many of us.  We strive to be fearless.  We strive to show faith.  But we still often find the wine presses to hide in. We want that one last dry fleece.   Yet, Gideon proved to be what God called him to be, a brave leader!  What has He called you to be today?  Remember there is no irony with God, He sees it as it is.



The Magic of Words

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Humans are endowed with imagination, and this has aided us in the symbolic medium of language.  We can communicate beyond the easily apparent.  We can describe a far-off land, or even better – abstract concepts.

An experiment I try with every first year class is to ask them to show me “one.”  I am then usually presented with an assortment of single fingers, pens, and books.  To which I respond, that is a finger, pen, etc. Some then turn to writing the figure “1,” to which I respond, “Then show me five.”  To this I am offered a “5.”  I in turn say, “There is only one symbol there.”  The end comes with the realisation that one or five are merely concepts.  You can see “one.”  One pencil, yes; “one,” no.

So it is that our language captures the concepts and constructions of our imaginations.  It is indeed a kind of magic.  I can tell you of a peaceful lagoon, with waters that glisten with the lustre of crumpled foil, that has been smoothed out.  The blue is that of a robin’s egg, and the sand a coral white.  Many of you will be able to share this invisible image with me.

There is the wizardry.  We as adepts in our own tongues can create “reality” from nothing!

How absolutely powerful is the creation account of the Judeo-Christian scriptures?  For we in our use of language are “in the image of God.”  God said in Genesis “Let there be . . .” and it was so.  In John’s gospel we similarly see, “In the beginning was The Word . . .” and nothing that was made was made without Him.  God created with words, and so do we.  [Don’t get me wrong, and think I am equating creation with “magic,” I am merely illustrating the power of words, and any verbal creation of ours must by necessity pale to true physical creation].

We then, as agents of this verbal power should create with good intention.  The words we use to paint a sunset, can also be used to bring darkness on the soul of the one we criticise.  With great power verbal magicians, comes great responsibility.