Canaries Cruise (Part 4): Gran Canaria

Our voyage on the Columbus next took us to Las Palmas on Gran Canaria.  The Columbus link was clear here with a full-sized replica of the explorer’s ship Nina at the port and Columbus’ residence on the island in the Old Town.


When we arrived we caught the City Sightseeing Hop on Hop off at the port and toured the city.  It provided us with panoramic views and stops at the Opera House, Beaches, and the Old Town.



We made an extended stop at the Old Town. Here we found Santa Ana’s Cathedral, and Columbus’ House and sidewalk cafes.  It was really atmospheric, and indeed did feel like a step back into Spain’s past.

Old Town 2

Old Town

We stopped for drinks at the Cafe Habana.  Prices were reasonable, and it was a great vantage point to take in the feel of the Old Town.  Initially sitting in the sidewalk seating, and then exploring the inside of the cafe made for a good pit stop.

Cafe Habana 1


Cafe habana 3

We finished our tour with a journey past the naval station, and on to the ship.  A tiring but wonderful day.  Sailing on wards in the late evening our next destination was Tenerife.


[An aside:  It is amazing that the Columbus Expedition crossed the Atlantic in vessels like the Nina. The little caravel is open decked and is only 17.3 metres long, and has a draught of 1.2 metres. Nina also only displaces 36.3 tons.]

Contact for Hop on Hop Off

Canaries Cruise (Part 3): Arrecife, Lanzarote

Roadtrain Arrecife 1

Our second port of call was Arrecife on Lanzarote.  This is an interesting Island, with a desert like volcanic interior.  Many people visit here to see the “fire mountains”  and even to trek on camel-back to the cones.  I am not one of these.  As is my custom, it is Hop on, Hop off to get my bearings. In Arrecife this is in the form of a “road train.”  This service began operation in April of this year, and as yet has little publicity.  Let’s remedy that.  It goes around Arrecife, stops at bus stations, beaches, and historic landmarks, and best of all it costs only 4 euros per person.


We made our way around the town, and enjoyed the sunshine, warm temperatures (27 C) and took it all in.  We then got off at the Playa del Reducto and took in more sunshine. We then found a bench in the Parque Islas Canarias and watched the boats, swimmers, and enjoyed the garden.

Playa Del Reducto

We made our way across the street to the Manhattan Bar where we had a cold San Francisco mocktail, and a strawberry-banana smoothie.  This was a lovely bar cum snack bar with free WiFi, and freshly made drinks, not pre-mixes.

We caught road train again at the Arrecife Gran Hotel at proceeded to the little fortress of Castillo de San Gabriel.  This little fort once protected the city from pirates, and is on a small island connected to the town by a causeway.  Locals used the causeway as a diving platform as they swam in sea between the islands.  There were also some good touristy shops nearby for the little souvenirs one feels obliged to collect.

Castle of San Gabriel

Saint Gabriel’s Castle

It was then back to the Columbus for a late lunch and a chill in the library.  We then returned to the cabin where we learned about Barcelona.  Sad news after a wonderful day (see blog Reflections on Barcelona

Then at sea again, next stop Gran Canaria.


Canaries Cruise (Part 2): Gibraltar

The Rock 3

The first port of call on our Canaries adventure was Gibraltar.  This British enclave at the bottom of Spain is a city and a country in its own right.  With a population of only about 35,000 it is the size of many British market towns.  Yet it is more vibrant, and has a mix of cultures.

Gibraltar is primarily British, the High Street shops include Debenham’s, Marks and Spencer’s, and Costa Coffee.  But there is more.  There is the Spanish influence as well. Thousands of day workers cross the border every day.  There is also a large Maltese and North African influence.  It is a very cosmopolitan place but with a Mediterranean feel.

The focal point of Gibraltar is “The Rock.”  This huge feature commands the city and the Strait. It is an icon of stability. I found it interesting that the Rock itself is made of the same minerals as the African side of the strait, rather than of that of Spain.  During the various sieges and wars (especially WW2) the Rock was tunneled into for defences, access, and shelter. There are now miles of tunnels many of which are “unfinished”, and the roads run through at various points. According to our guide, when it rains on the Rock, the tunnels get “rain” two days later.

The journey up the Rock to St Michael’s Cave and the nature reserve beyond is through narrow roads or cable car. The views from the Rock are as impressive as the views of it. There is a fair amount of greenery near St Michael’s Cave, and the monkeys make the most of it. We arrived on a misty day on the straits, so Africa was just a vague outline, but views of Gibraltar, the harbour, and of Spain were good

We stopped at St Michael’s Cave as part of our tour in Gibraltar. The cave site is as far up the rock as motor traffic can go, and it is a good vantage point on the Rock to view the world below.

Gibraltar Columbus

The monkeys congregate in this area, and for those interested in them it is a great photo opportunity. There are toilets and a cafe/gift shop at the site near the cave entrance. The cave itself is impressive, and I found it interesting that it is used as an entertainment venue as well as natural attraction. The down side of the cafe/shop is that the monkeys do come in. And as we had a rest for a drink, we had to dodge some monkey-poo.

Ape 1
The “Rock Apes.” The monkeys (rather than apes) spend most of their time on the Upper Rock, and the authorities feed them twice a day to keep them up on the Rock rather than in the city.

The monkeys are actually from North Africa, and the first were probably brought by the British. Tradition has it that if the “apes” leave Gibraltar then it will fall. In World War Two their were only a handful left so Churchill hedging his bets ordered more to be collected from Morocco. In all the number rose to a couple of dozen. The colony is now about 250, which is more than can be sustained naturally; thus the feeding programme.

We also stopped at Europa Point and found it beautiful. The backdrop of the Rock in one direction and the Sea in the other was impressive. There is a light house and the Mosque gives an interesting perspective, and the newly built university shows the growth of the city’s opportunities. This is a great spot for photos, and to chill.

Gibraltar Catalan Bay 2

Catalan Bay

Catalan Bay is scenic and offers views not only of shipping awaiting orders, but of Italian styled housing in warm colours and beautiful waters. It is not a very large area, but good for photo opportunities as it gives a feel for the diversity of Gibraltar’s population. It is well worth the stop.

After our tour we made our way to Grand Casemates Square, near the Water Gate to have a bite, and to enjoy the experience of our visit. The cafes, food stalls, and flow of life were wonderful to behold. We could see the Moorish Castle, the glass-blowers, and the culture of the city. The Rock ever above us. We had drinks, and my wife had a kebab in a tortilla wrap rather than a pita. It was tasty and a nice change. We found several nice shops nearby as well, and for the experience this area is a must visit.

Gibraltar Kebab

Then it was back to the ship for dinner, and a day of cruising to follow.  Next stop – Lanzarote.


Canaries Cruise (Part 1)

Columbus Tilbury 2

Columbus at Tilbury

I have just returned from a 14 day cruise to Gibraltar, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Teneriffe, Madeira, and Lisbon.  8 days at sea,  6 in ports.  We were on the Cruise and Maritime ship, Columbus which is fitting for the ports we visited.  Along the way we saw a house which Columbus stayed in, and we sailed on a reproduction of the Santa Maria for a tour.

The Columbus is a former P & O vessel, but still has a lot of life in her.  This was an unusual C&MV journey, however, as it was one of the first with children on board.  A point for a later discussion.

The Columbus is a medium sized vessel, with two main restaurants, some specialty eateries, and several bars.  There is a nice library, and two pools, plus some hot tub pools. All in all quite comfortable digs.

As I have commented in previous posts, I love traveling by sea.  Cruises have many advantages for the traveler. Your accommodation, transport, and meals are all in one place.  You only need to unpack once.  Your “hotel” travels with you.  Meals are generally generous and five or six courses are often on offer.  If you calculate the various expenses cruising is a really good deal for the money.

That said it can be confining for some.  Two or three days on even a large vessel does have some limits.  But meals are regular and often, entertainment is every evening, and activities fill the days.  Then there is the just chilling in the lounges, your cabin, or the pools to make the time pass.  It is about you tastes, I guess.


Day 3 Biscay 1

Cruise and Maritime is experimenting with family cruises, and it has had some drawbacks.  There was not as much quiet as on previous cruises, and children, let’s face it, get bored.  Therefore there were some cases of kids pushing several lift buttons and then leaving, or spinning in revolving doors.  Minor annoyances, but still there.

There were two “formal” nights in the restaurant, and it was great to break out the finery and “dine in style.”  Our table waiter was great, and the section head waiter went out of his way to monitor our dietary needs, and to alter menus to suit those needs.  We even had a meeting with the Executive Chef and Head Waiter to iron out our allergy issues.  As a foodie sub-point, bread was freshly baked on board and after day three bread pudding started to be a regular feature in the buffet desserts (waste not want not).

Customer service was excellent, and we received an upgraded cabin as a plus.  Large windows, great views, and a place to “call home.”  Our steward was conscientious, learned our names immediately, and was ever ready to make things right.

We left Tilbury with temperatures around 20 degrees C, and headed for Gibraltar.  The first night and next day were in the English Channel.  This in turn took us into the Bay of Biscay, and the weather warmed as we went.  It was time for many to take to the pools and decks for some sun worshiping.

As we approached the pillars of Hercules, the weather continued to be brighter, and 27-28 C welcomed us to “The Rock.”



Reflections on Barcelona

It is ironic that my travel blog on Barcelona posted a few days after the terrible events there.  The irony is that I was on holiday in Spain at the time, and without computer access. The blog was a scheduled one.

We had had a pleasant day in Arrecife on Lanzarote, the atmosphere was laid back and we sat in a sunny park overlooking the Playa Del Reducto before getting some mocktails and smoothies at a seaside restaurant.  We returned to the ship, no worries no problems. Then the news.  It was shocking to turn on the cabin TV to see what we recognised as Spanish police cars.  Barcelona was breaking news.

At this point most of the news was jumbled.  Casualty figures, “lone wolf” theories came and went.  No link had been made to the “bomb factory” explosion the day before.  And we sailed on to Gran Canaria.

Things had changed.  Not massively for US, but changed.  Our ship moored alongside two Spanish warships.  There were more police at the port gates and checkpoints.  But again, life went on.  We caught the Hop On Hop Off and toured the city.   On the main avenue, having a very similar layout to Las Ramblas,we could see police vehicles parked at the visible access points for traffic to the pedestrian section.  We also saw notable police foot patrols through out the city.  As we had a snack and a drink in the old town of Las Palmas helicopters flew over alleys and byways nearby.

The striking first impression for me, however, was the the two navy vessels had dropped their colours to half mast.  This was repeated throughout the city at all government buildings and police stations.  It was to me moving.  Here in a place heavily caught up into the season’s tourist rush, those few moments of tribute seemed admirable to showed an appropriate sense of the national mourning overlooked by many tourists.

I have written of terrorism, and of memorial in the past.  These are themes which are important to me.  The first as a negative which requires action and demands dialogue to promote understanding.  The second as a human duty to remember, celebrate, and mourn those who have come before. Let us hold tight upon the words, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Let Barcelona, Spain, and the world be find that comfort.



Of Symbols and Titles


I have fallen under the banner of many symbols and titles in my life.  I became a Christian at a relatively young age in my early teens.  My faith was flavoured by the Celtic and Anabaptist traditions and heritages of my background.  These traditions were sharpened and refined by the Restoration theology of my education and ministry.  And as a growing “seeker” many of the tenets and practices of Pentecostal worship have become part of my relationship with God.

Along this pathway I have had the symbols of the cross and the ichthus as shorthand for my most important defining characteristic of self-identity.  I have always found the ichthus fascinating.  This simple fish symbol is based on an acronym spelling the Greek word for fish.  I – Jesus, X (CH) – Christ, Theta (TH) – God’s, Y (U) – Son, Sigma – Saviour.


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I later joined the forces. My job description was Religious Program Specialist.  A chapel manager; and secretary, driver, and bodyguard to the chaplain.  I to this day am proud of my service to the Chaplains’ Corps and the emblem of my service.  This emblem or symbol consists of a compass signifying that life is given direction though religion;  a globe symbolising the world-wide scope of the ministry; and an anchor to show that it is part of the naval services. The time in the service taught me much about religious toleration and cooperation.  Working with Catholic priests, and Jewish Rabbis gave me a lot of perspective and enriched my Protestant upbringing. This aided me greatly when at a later date I entered into chaplaincy myself.

After the military came university.  I still find it hard to believe that I ended up studying at a university that existed more than 500 years before there was “an America.”  Here at learned to dig deep into my own beliefs.  To question them, and to own them for my own.  As a church historian, I saw how the faith itself had been on a journey like my own, but always (again like myself) clung to its key orthodoxies.  I have attended several universities at various levels (undergraduate, and post graduate) and each has left its mark on me as well.  I can say I am proud to have been associated with each.

Here is where titles come in.  I do have academic titles. I have religious honorifics.  I have had a military rank and rating.

I use the honorific “Padre” as I found it to be a term not only of respect but of endearment used towards me when in chaplaincy.  While the usual title used among the coreligionists of my own tradition and heritage is “brother.”  I had for a while liked the use of the title “parson,” as it fit the character and rural location of the first church I ministered in.

Titles are in many ways linguistic symbols.  They encapsulate the nature of a position or attainment.  But too much should not be read into them.  I am a Christian.  I am a husband.  I am a father.  I am a teacher.  And I am here to try to do some good with or without symbols and titles.



Elizabeth a Curse?


In Luke 1:25 we read Elizabeth’s words,  “25 ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.'” But what favour?  She is pregnant.  So what disgrace?  She had been barren.

Deuteronomy 7:12-14 paints a picture for us. “12 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.14 You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless . . . .” Elizabeth’s childlessness, rightly or wrongly, would have been seen by her contemporaries of her or Zechariah’s sin.

As Zechariah was a priest, of good reputation (he had not been barred from his temple functions), then in many’s minds the fault must have been Elizabeth’s.  This in people’s minds would be the issue of unfaithfulness/adultery.  Numbers 5 : 20f reads, “ But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.” 

Remember the Middle East in the 1st Century was obsessed with the ideas of shame and honour.  In fact, they believed that honour was a limited commodity like gold or silver. If you had it, someone else didn’t.  Shame likewise could diminish the honour someone held, making more available for you.  So quick judgement of Elizabeth by her peers would be in keeping with her culture.

In addition to the perceived sin, and shame versus honour considerations, Elizabeth’s barrenness had a practical aspect as well.   Children were security for the future. There were no pensions or retirement plans.  It was your children that took care of you in your old age.  No one else would!

So even on a personal level, Elizabeth would have “felt cursed” by the lack of children. Her pregnancy with John was a blessing on several levels.  She had a carer for her dotage. Zechariah had an heir. People’s mutterings about sin in the family were proven for naught.

This is a wonderful little passage.  Elizabeth is moved from a state of “disgrace” to “favour.” Her relative sinlessness (for all people are sinners), is shown to her fellows. Her future is for the time being secured.  And in the end, a great prophet enters the world through her.

As a side point, let us be quick to recognise favour in others, and slow to shower disgrace.







Customer Service


It has been said that “the customer is always right.”  Well we all know that cannot be categorically said.  Customers like all humans make mistakes, have bad days, and sometimes are just difficult.  What is true, however, is that “the customer is always the customer.”  In short your profits and ultimately your job depends on them.

So how do you deal with a customer who is difficult.  Rule one, don’t be difficult back.  It is a hard order, but one that fits into every level of conflict resolution.  Listen carefully to what they are saying and/or asking for.  If it is in your remit give it to them.  If what they are asking for is “above your pay grade,” still hear them out and try to find a compromise, or someone who can address their issue.

We recently had one such exchange.  [And trust me this is not just a blog of sour grapes]. We had arrived at a hotel at the time we had stated on our booking form to be told the room wasn’t ready.  Fair enough these things happen.  But the receptionist went on [rather than letting it go] by saying that in fact rooms are never ready at that time, and we were at fault for arriving to soon.  Oops, herein lies conflict.  The long and short of it is that despite the [eventual] intervention of a manager, we left.  A bad start or first impression will cost you customers.

Winning hearts and minds has been a catch phrase in recent years.  It means getting others to see and understand your point of view.  You may not in the end agree any more than you did at the start, but at least an avenue of understanding has been opened.

The Apostle Paul new this about “selling” a message. In I Corinthians 9 he writes,

“19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

Whether selling a product, and idea, or a service – in the end people need to connect with you the provider before they will ever connect with the thing you are promoting.

Key points then:  Listen (don’t argue), be flexible (where you can), be prepared to refer it upwards (not just hold you party line), and be human (officiousness is easy, but it seldom makes people feel valued).

Just some thoughts.


Barcelona: Gaudi, Olympics, and More

Barcelona is a city with a distinct character, and the artist/architect Gaudi has left his mark.  The Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera are wonderful examples of his style.  But the city also has the Olympic Stadium, Gothic Architecture, and former bull fighting stadiums, all contributing to the character of the place.

There are beach front leisure activities, and wonderful gardens as well.  For the foodies there is paella and fresh seafood.  The city also had a Hard Rock Cafe (yes, we do make a point of visiting them in as many cities as we can), and several sidewalk eateries near the cathedral and the Sagrada Familia.

La Piazzenza - Paella

The cathedral is also wonderful to visit, and in contrast with the SF in design, but not in purpose.  This is a city with monasteries, and churches to explore.

There is a Hop-on-Hop-off service, and it is a great way to gets one’s bearings before making a more in-depth exploration.

Oh, did I mention that the weather is wonderful as well.




Listen Carefully

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One of the catchphrases of the comedy programme “Allo, Allo” was “listen very carefully for I will only say this once.”  The Gospel on the other hand calls on us to listen carefully, and to aid us on our way repeats its message over and over.

Hebrews 2 reads in part, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,  how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (v 1-4).”

This message of “the good news,” of the coming of a savior, not only appears in four different accounts in the Gospels, but in various letters and testimonies as well.

Let us first look at the Gospels.  The Hebrews writer remarks that “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles.”  John’s gospel in particular focuses on these with a structure based around seven key miracles.  From water into wine, to the raising of the dead, God’s power through Jesus is manifest. In fact, John concludes his account thus, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).”

Later the power of the gospel was shown in Acts 2.  As Hebrews cites, “God also testified . . . . by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  Acts reads, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ (Acts 2: 4-11).”

These gifts kick-started the fledgling church.  Uneducated fishermen, and tax collectors from the backwaters of Galilee changed the world. Their message (in whatever tongue) was simple, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

Listen carefully,  we have been proclaiming it for 2000 years.