Tips for Visiting Places of Worship as a Tourist

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For several years now, I have served as an instructor and guide for school groups visiting a particular place of worship in Cambridge.  The purpose of the students’ visits is to receive a measure of “religious education” about the design, architecture, and practices of the venue.  Church furnishings, symbolism, and art are explained.  But this isn’t the only type of Sacred Site Tourism.  Many people visit cathedrals, temples, mosques, and shrines, with a view of seeing them as historical structures, cultural artifacts, or as “museums.”

The purpose of this post is not to give advice for those visiting places of worship for the purpose of worship or prayer while on their holidays, but rather to give tips for those visiting with a “tourist” agenda.  Many of these points are given to visiting students in my introductory comments of educational visits, and some are more generally “touristy.”

Number One: Be Respectful 

You may not be a believer, or at least share the beliefs of those who worship within the site you are visiting.  It may be to you a historical building, or repository of heritage.  But for those who worship there, it is a special place.  It is therefore useful to get a feel of the place when you arrive.  What is the atmosphere?  Is it a quiet place of prayer and contemplation (as is often the case of Catholic Cathedrals) or of active prayer (Mosques), or of education and teaching.  Try to conform to the feel of the place.

Another area of respect is to aware of dress codes, and gender expectations.  Check to see if there are any notices in regards to these.  Most mosques expect that those entering have their arms and legs covered (avoiding sleeveless tops, and shorts), women are often expected to have their heads covered.  Note that these are not uniquely Muslim norms.  Some cathedrals in Italy expect women to cover the hair, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem requires legs to be covered (men and women).   If visiting during worship time, many mosques require women to stay behind men (for the issue of decency), Orthodox Synagogues for women to be in a gallery, and Sikh Gurdwaras usually have men’s and women’s sides of the worship hall, and men and women are expected to cover their heads in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib.    Many Jain temples also request that leather not be brought into the worship areas.

Number Two:  Photography

Here again see if there are any notices.  Some places ban photography during worship period, but allow it between services.  Others require a permit for photography (some of the ancient synagogues in Prague have this policy).  Even if photography is permitted – then consider Tip One.  Be respectful.  Don’t use flash photography if it will disturb others’ prayer or worship.  Don’t photograph worshipers without their permission, and don’t take too many snaps – giving the impression that the venue is a cheap tourist trap.

Number Three:  Cleanliness and Godliness

Eating and drinking within worship spaces may be permitted, but littering definitely isn’t.  Many places of worship do not have extensive cleaning staffs, but rather are maintained by volunteers from within their congregations.  What you may leave behind, may not be cleared away before the “true purpose” of the space is next conducted.  If eating and drinking is prohibited, then again see Tip One.  Respect the practices of the place.  This is equally true when it comes to foot ware.  In mosques, prayer is conducted by bowing down on a clean surface.  Shoes which have been outside soil this, and therefore are not permitted in the worship areas.  Similar shoe removal is seen in Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist sites.

Number Four: Avoid Souvenir Hunting

Okay for this one you may get a mixed message.  Many famous cathedrals and churches have small shops in which religious medallions, post cards, and the like are sold.  If they are available – go for it.  Other smaller churches have pamphlets, and the like in racks sometimes with “honesty boxes.”  If a price is put on a booklet, please pay it.  If tracts and other literature is noted as “please take one” then follow your conscience allowing for the fact that the intent is to teach you about their beliefs.  As such don’t clear out their pamphlet stands just for souvenirs.

A word about candles.  Candles are seen in many churches flickering away in alcoves.  These are often (especially in Catholic churches) as aids and symbols of prayer.  Many of these welcome you lighting a candle of remembrance or of prayer.  But if a donation is requested please follow your conscience.  If you don’t plan on using the candle as intended,  but want it as a souvenir, then please give a fair gift for it.

Of other items.  Weekly bulletins, and the like are often found in places of worship.  They are usually intended for the regular attendees.  These may seem ideal keepsakes of your visit, but refrain if it seems they are dwindling in supply.

Number Five: Leaving Your Mark

This too is an interesting one.  You may find in ancient sites, graffiti that is centuries old.  Some of these were left by pilgrims, others by conquering armies, and all give a sense of history.   While it may be tempting to “join the tradition,” it is problematic on several fronts.  A simple one is you are weakening the infrastructure, and a second is that you may be inadvertently removing or obscuring more ancient marks.  If you really feel that your visit needs to be recorded for posterity, many churches and temples have visitors’ books.  Feel free to use them.

Number Six: Provide for the Site’s Future

Remember, these venues were never intended to be tourist sites.   Many of these ancient structures require huge sums to maintain their fabric.   Gravity alone is a foe, pulling on roofs and walls.  But pollution, erosion, and human visitation take their toll as well.  Stairs become worn, woodwork decays, and cloth decays.  If you see a donation box at the end of your visit, show your appreciation for the opportunity you have had to enrich your vacation.



Spicing Up Your Healthy Snack: Foodie Tip

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I appreciate that fresh fruit is good for us, and plays an important role in our “five a day.”   It can, however, become “same old, same old.”  You can spice up your daily fruit to make a change to the ordinary.


  • Apple(s) [Pink Lady or other sweet dessert variety] 1-2
  • Ground Cinnamon 1/8 tsp


Chill the whole fruit in the fridge for 2 hours.  Peel if desired, but I don’t.  Then using a corer or wedge cutter remove the seed core.  If merely cored, cut into rings, and if in wedges just proceed.  Then place the apple pieces into a bowl and lightly sprinkle each piece with the cinnamon.  There is no need for sweetener as the apples’ own juice will act with the cinnamon.  That’s all there is to it.  Enjoy.

Oh, by the way it works with pears as well.


Travel Tip: Travel Prepared and Stick to the Plan

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Last week I had a little fun with my weekly travel blog by taking it along a holiday themed tangent.  Today I will be giving one serious travel tip and a quick reflection on our Christmas break to Cornwall.

When we travel it is a bit like a military operation.  My wife’s medical needs, limited diets, and a wide range of other concerns have made list making part of our travel plans. This once used to be only checking that we had tickets, passports, and essential travel items. Now it is a double checklist of medications, electrical devices (complete with various leads and auxiliary leads), lists of places to visit including post codes for GPS access, itineraries, and the age old passports, etc. lists.

But here is the important point on travel lists.  Here we do need to be like Santa, check your list and check it twice. And above all don’t deviate from your own tired and true check in and check out rituals.

This is exactly what happened to us this holiday. We made our way to Cornwall with three side journeys, this was fine in an of itself.  We were able to have Christmas visits with friends and family along the route, and it broke up an otherwise daunting journey. The third of these stops was at a hotel in Bristol (approximately the halfway point).  We checked in, settled in, and I was able to unwind before starting the drive to complete the journey.

What we did wrong was to pack-up before breakfast with the idea of a quick and early departure. We usually do the final stages of packing the more important items after breakfast, and have a good search of the room before leaving.

You may have guessed it, this change in protocol, and failing to do our final list check led to a fail. We left early, drove from Bristol to St Ives in Cornwall, and did it all in good time.  Until . . . .  When my wife started to unpack and to settle into our holiday flat for a week long stay, she discovered her phone and iPad had been left in Bristol. A quick call to the hotel proved the point, and we were assured they were safe in the office.  But it did necessitate a round-trip journey (400 miles or so) of six hours after having already done the one way. For the want of keeping to routine, a nine hour journey was invented.

So the travel tip is simple. Make lists. Check the lists. Keep to the lists. Double check the lists. Enjoy your trip.


World Tour Travel Tips

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It is Travel Tuesday, so the perfect day to reflect on tips for a round the world trip.  World travel can be a formidable undertaking but with some planning and preparation, it can be a real joy. Those who have read my travel posts in the past know that I am a big fan of cruises. Cruises are an excellent way to see the world, but are time consuming. If you have limited Holiday time, and need to keep to a work schedule, flying is the better option.

Of course working out your itinerary is important as well. To maximise the potential of schedules, starting at the International Date Line seems to be the way to go.  But, this approach is not without risks, however.  I find that for a clear mind, and to maximise the desired outcomes, starting in North America and finishing in Europe is the better plan.

“But why?” you might ask. Well if you are trying to get around the world in lets say, one night, you need to have your wits about you.  In America you will need to negotiate a wide range of cookies, and small snacks, but most are accompanied by glasses of milk, or the occasional cup of cocoa.  In Europe however, mince pie, Yuletide puddings, and glasses of sherry can quickly fill you up and make you a little tipsy.  Best save these to the last.

Your choice of air provider is also important. It doesn’t matter if you are using major carriers such as British Airways, or smaller more personal providers like Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, you need to look at their record of cancellations and delays.  You don’t want to be caught out by missed connections or become stranded by some technical failure.

This leads to some associated travel tips. It has to do with vegetables. Eight (or occasionally nine) little reindeer cannot possible eat the number of carrots, parsnips, and turnips placed out for them.  Flying on a full stomach is really a no no. But this is where the magic toy sacks come in handy.  As the presents are deposited in stockings, under trees, and in wooden shoes around the world, the sacks make for an excellent collection tool for the excess veg.  This can be taken back to headquarters for long term deer feed, or it can also be turned into a hearty stew for hardworking elves.

Speaking of headquarters, the North Pole is a great strategic manufacturing venue, but weather conditions might provide difficulties on priority travel night. I know reindeer number nine has done much to alleviate these problems, but having a reserve airfield in a place such as Lapland remains a prudent arrangement.

Well, I hope you find these tips useful, and that you will enjoy your Christmas celebrations and that they herald a great New Year.



The Haunted Wordsmith: Dancer, Dasher, Prancer

Fandango’s One Word Challenge:Formidable

Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Wordle #215:













Soup Stretcher

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Many people have a love/hate relationship with gluten-free products.  It may be that some have a reputation of being “cardboard.” But one gluten-free category does have some flavour merit: Pasta.

Gluten-free pasta is incredibly variable however. It can be made from rice, corn (maize), potato, tapioca, and a broad range of other “friendly” starches. In addition, the cooking time can vary between 3 and 12 minutes.

Other considerations are the fact that most gluten-free pasta does not reheat well. This creates a situation where you need to cook less of it to avoid left-overs, or overeat, or throw-away.

In my experience the size of the packaging seems to promote “left-over” uncooked noodles and such. This led to a wide range of partial packages in the cupboard, any of which were less than a full serving size, and with the aforementioned cooking time variation, it was potentially waste.

That is where soup comes in. These miscellaneous partial pasta portions make a great “soup stretcher.”  I take the various noodles, shells, and tubes and break them into similar sized pieces. These are stored in a single large Kilner or Mason jar and a large handful can be added to the soup maker when the favourite recipes are being made. This adds some volume to the mix, and as it is stewing for a considerably longer time than the recommended cooking time, the pasta either makes a “noodle” element to the soup, or dissolves to thicken the broth.  All in all a win-win, as it uses surplus pasta, and makes for a heartier soup.



Road Trains

One of the main travel tips I have always given to disabled travellers is to use the hop on hop off tours where available. Another similar service which is appearing in more and more destinations is Road Trains.  These are generally cheaper than the tour bus options, and have their own share of benefits and weaknesses.

On the plus side, as already mentioned, they are generally cheaper.  They travel a usually shorter route, but also have access to some parts of cities where a bus could not fit (such as Medieval streets).  On the downside they are generally lower to the ground so lack panoramic views, and travel at a fairly slow rate.  That said, they also are more hesitant in traffic to make prolonged photo stops.

The Great Yarmouth service is one which makes a regular circuit of the beaches, and piers of the town.  As Yarmouth is a long sea front it is very convenient to get from one end to the other without worrying about multiple parking places, or making the long foot journey.

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Road Train Gt Yarmouth

The Road train in Arrecife, Lanzarate is a great little bargain.  It is a Hop on, Hop off service, in the form of a “road train.”  This service began operation only a couple of years ago.  It goes around Arrecife, stops at bus stations, beaches, and historic landmarks, and best of all it costs only 4 euros per person.

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As a whole I find this mode of exploring wonderful, but beware. Not all road trains are created equal. When I made my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela we used the road train from Praza do Obradoiro to tour of the city. Okay, we saw the city.  But at what a cost. The tour is over very rugged cobbles, and there is a lot of jarring about. It is so rough in some areas that any photography is impossible. On smoother sections we travelled at too great a speed to take focused pictures. Only on the occasional stop for traffic signals are there any photo ops. The commentary is okay, but is difficult to listen to, accent is only a minor issue, but that it is over a intercom is more difficult to hear. It also has a limited scope of the sites available and spends more time in the university campuses than in the traditional old sectors.  It also is a set tour, and not a hop on, Hop off service.

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Road Train Sanitago

All in all I like this quirky way to explore a city or town.  But it is not the do all and end all, but rather a great starting point to find one’s bearings so that further exploration can be planned.  Do however, give it a try.


Easy As Pie

It is autumn, the days are getting shorter (and theoretically) and are getting cooler. that makes it baking season. With apples, pumpkins, and the like filling our grocery shelves, pie is a natural. Below are a couple simple pie crust recipes to get us into the season.

Easy Pie Crust  This is an all purpose crust for sweet or savoury.


  • Plain or All-Purpose Flour 1 1/4 cups
  • Butter 1/4 cup chilled and cubed
  • Stork (or similar) Shortening 1/4 cup
  • Salt 1/4 tsp
  • Chilled Water 3 to 5 Tbs


Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the water about a tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork after each splash. Continue adding water until the dough starts to hold together. Roll the dough into a ball and chill for at least half and hour before rolling out to fill a pie pan. It should make enough for a 9 inch single crust pie.

Simple Sweet Crust  This is for fruit and milk based sweet pies.


  • Plain or All-Purpose Flour 1 1/4 cups
  • Butter 1/4 cup chilled and cubed
  • Stork (or similar) Shortening 1/4 cup
  • Sugar 2 Tbs or Stevia 2 tsp
  • Salt 1/4 tsp
  • Chilled Water 3 to 5 Tbs


Mix the flour, sweetener, and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter and shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the water about a tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork after each splash. Continue adding water until the dough starts to hold together. Roll the dough into a ball and chill for at least half and hour before rolling out to fill a pie pan. It should make enough for a 9 inch single crust pie.

Chocolate Pie Crust Great for chocolate pies, cheese cake types, or just to be decadent.


  • Plain or All-Purpose Flour 1 1/4 cups
  • Butter 1/2 cup chilled and cubed
  • Sugar 2 Tbs or Stevia 2 tsp
  • Cocoa Powder 2 to 3 Tbs
  • Salt 1/4 tsp
  • Chilled Water 3 to 5 Tbs


Mix the flour, sweetener, cocoa, and salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the water about a tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork after each splash. Continue adding water until the dough starts to hold together. Roll the dough into a ball and chill for at least half and hour before rolling out to fill a pie pan. It should make enough for a 9 inch single crust pie.

For each recipe bake according to pie recipe requirements. Or for prepared crust bake at 350 F/ 175 C for 20 to 30 minutes.



Reheating Pizza – Tip

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I love pizza. I love thin pizza, thick pizza, hot pizza, and even most cold pizza. As a pesceterian my topping choices have a lot to do with what to do with left over pizza. Most veggie options are okay cold (refrigerated) though the nuance of flavour of let’s say onion looses in the colder form.  Seafood toppings may be alright if chilled, but are a real no no when at room temperature. The same is true for most “meaty” options as well.

So how do you resurrect the piping hot, bubble cheese pie? Answer, not in the microwave. The nuke machine has its place, but pizza is not it. Microwaved pizza becomes limp and rubbery, and the cheese often begins to sweat. In short, I’d rather eat it cold.

There are several methods that do work however. By far the best option for a whole pie (or a nearly entire one) is to preheat an oven to 400F/200C. When suitably warmed place the pizza on a cookie sheet, or pizza pan or stone. Allow to cook for 5 to 10 minutes (be sure to check at 5) to when the crust begins to darken and the cheese begins to bubble again.  If it is a thin crust or heavy in toppings, you may want to place a thin border of foil on the edges to prevent burning.  This method should give you a crisp crust, and revive the pizza’s flavours.

A second method I have tried is from Domino’s Pizza’s own site.  They call it a “hack,” a term I as a English language purist avoid. The suggestion is to take two slices and place them together with the toppings in the centre. These than can be placed in a sandwich grill, toastee maker, or similar to make a “toastee” or mini calzone. It does require lightly oiling the grill, and in order to make a nice melted centre is better with thin crusts than thick.  I also found that it isn’t particularly effective on chilled pizza, so allowing a return to room temperature before grilling is a useful step.

The third, tried and true method is the frying pan approach. Heat a suitably sized pan to medium high. Then place slices of pizza crust down and over with a lid for about 2 to 3 minutes. Lift lid to see it cheese is melting, if not slide a spatula under slices to free them from sticking and burning and cover for an additional couple of minutes.

Hope it helps, and happy left-overing!



Easy Tips: Simple Syrup


photo: Daily Mail

Several desserts and mocktail recipes call for simple syrup (sometimes noted as sugar. syrup).  It is useful to have around as it speeds up other recipes as well, as there is no need to wait for the granulated sugars to dissolve. While you can but pre-made commercial syrups (Monin, and others), there really is no need as it is easy to make, and much less expensive as well.


  • White Sugar 2 1/2 cups
  • Water 2 cups


Place the water into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Then add the sugar a little at a time stirring constantly. When the sugar is completely dissolve , reduce the heat. Cover the pan and allow to simmer for 10 to 12 minutes (do not over cook it or it will be too thick when cooled). Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool completely.  It should have thickened. Check the consistency and when you are happy with it, store in a clean glass bottle or jar.


Lavender Sugar

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It’s summer, and the lavender is in bloom, so it is the perfect time to make lavender sugar.  This is a great little confection that goes well with teas, cream desserts, and as my favourite use, as the sweetener in cheese cake.

It really is simple to do as well.


  • Lavender Heads about 10-20
  • Granulated White Sugar 2 cups


Cut the lavender heads just under the bottom blooms, keeping the blossoms on the stem. Place a quarter of the flowers in a 1 Litre (one quart) Kilner or Mason jar.  Pour 1/3 of the sugar over the blooms, then layer a few more flowers and sugar until all is used. Seal tightly and set aside.  The next day, holding the jar firmly, shake vigourously and set aside again. Repeat for 3 days.  The mixture is now ready to be used, and will keep for several weeks (even months).

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The flowers can be filtered out after three days, or kept in the jar.  If retaining them, shake the jar periodically the best mix the lavender into the blend. Then just remove them before use.