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Thursday 18 October: AN ARAB CARTEL AND THE VICAR OF DIBLEY

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Oh! Look! More Scarves!

I am woken up at 4.00 a.m. by the sound of loud snoring coming through the wall from the next door room. A large group of French people moved in while Julia and I were staying at Villa Nazareth and a couple have been allocated the room next to ours. Eventually I manage to get back to sleep again only to be woken again at 6.00 a.m. by the French couple next door having a loud discussion in French. Sacre bleu!

Today May is taking us all to Mount Tabor – one of two sites alleged to have been the scene of the Transfiguration of Jesus (the other being Mount Hermon) – and then we are going on to Beit She’an – reputed to be one of the best preserved archeological sites in Israel. Julia and I have been to Mount Tabor before. We remember it well, not least because there was some kind of cartel operating which meant that our driver could only take us so far up the mountain. We had to go the rest of the way in a fleet of huge Mercedes taxis built more like tanks than cars. It is much the same this time although the taxis have been replaced by a fleet of mini-buses. It costs us $6 a head to go up to the top but, thankfully NETS pay the bill. We have to wait for our turn because there are so many people waiting to get up to the top. There is nothing else to do while we wait for the mini-buses except look round the gift shops or go to the food stall. They are all frightfully expensive. The gift shop sells scarves … the same scarves that Julia bought for around £4 each in the market at Nazareth … except these scarves cost $20 each?! Even Julia passes up the opportunity to buy another scarf … although I suspect that another trip to Nazareth market is probably still on the cards.

We survive the hectic drive up the narrow road to the top of Mount Tabor. Our driver scares the living daylights out of us – driving far too fast, talking on his hand-held mobile phone the whole way, taking his other hand off the wheel periodically to wave to his fellow drivers coming the other way. There is a big sign in his minibus over a large box asking us to leave him a tip … fat chance! We are dumped unceremoniously in the turning area at the top of Mount Tabor, and walk the short distance to the church and the viewing platform. We like the church. It is bright and airy with lovely wall paintings. There are lots of people and Mass is being said in the lower sanctuary. We sit and listen for a while and then join the crowds on the viewing platform. There are lovely gardens here and we spend an hour or so just taking in the sights and sounds. Julia and I find a quiet place and Julia reads the biblical story of Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17). We sit and reflect prayerfully for a while before getting back on one of the minibuses and descending down the mountain to our own little coach.

We drive on to Beit She’an and discover the most amazing archeological site consisting of a Roman theatre, streets, bath house and so much more. There is a Fortress Mound or Tel, with hundreds of steps leading right up to the top. Julia and I climb right to the top and are rewarded with an amazing view over the whole historic site, and another amazing view on the other side right over the Jordan Valley and Jordan itself. We manage to find a bit of shade where we sit and have our lunch. After a thorough explore of the whole site, in blazing hot sunshine, we stagger up to the restaurant area and have an ice cream each … blow the expense!

We drive back to Saint Margaret’s in time for a good rest before dinner. It’s chicken of course … but it is the chicken dish disguised to look like a piece of fish … and we get chips as well! After dinner Julia goes to our room to write her journal and I stay in the reception area, writing our blog and uploading some photos from our cameras. I am sitting at one of the tables, chatting to the Arab guide for the French group, when the Vicar of Dibley bursts in! Well, it is not actually Dawn French but it is a rather large female Anglican Priest, dog collar the lot! ‘Hello!’ she gushes loudly heading straight for me. ‘We have arrived! We are here! I hope our rooms are ready?’ The Arab guide looks at me, and I look at him. ‘I don’t think they are expected?’ whispers the Arab guide. We find Salim, and he knows nothing about any party arriving? ‘This is Saint Gabriel’s?’ says the Vicar of Dibley. ‘No!’ we all say in unison, ‘This is Saint Margaret’s!’ ‘Oh dear!’ says the Vicar of Dibley, ‘My group will be so disappointed. They really like the look of this place!’ And off she goes to round up the members of her group who are all standing around in the courtyard looking so pleased to have arrived after such a long journey. She marches them all out of the gate. I hope that their coach is still waiting for them?

Jim Binney

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