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Different in daylight

January visitors to Budapest commented that the city was sooooo different to the Budapest they’d visited in the summer. And yes, it is. Completely different. No less interesting or beautiful though, just different. The same goes for Birgu (Città Vittoriosa) in Malta.

The last time I was there, it was night time. We’d taken a boat across to enjoy the Festival of Lights, when people prop open their front doors, light up their hallways and front rooms with candles, and give the world a peek inside. It’s a fascinating idea, one which the cynic in me screamed ‘reconnaissance’ figuring that it had to be equivalent to Christmas for art thieves. Although, presumably, all the good pieces would have been removed from sight. That said, some people’s egos may have decreed otherwise.

This time though, putting the couple of free hours I had this trip to good use, I was there early morning – in sunlight. And what a difference the daylight made. The niches, a tradition that dates back to Roman times, are plentiful. [I read somewhere recently that religion gave Malta the statues and the streets provided the Maltese with the space to put them up.] But in Birgu, the niches give way to the paintings and the pottery (all holy, of course). Walking through the streets is a joy because you simply never know what you might happen upon.

And the secular equivalent of these holy curiosities has to be the doorknockers. Some were obviously new, but others had a polished patina that could only have been achieved by decades, if not centuries, of elbow grease.

And then, of course, there’s the oddity. That thing that no one can explain. But it wouldn’t be Malta if the quirkiness could be explained. It brings a whole new appreciation for the concept of bathing in public.

A woman on the altar

I’m not very big on religions. I have a hard time distinguishing between the various Protestant churches and an even harder time identifying which church I’m in. I’ve learned to look for the little red light and know that when it’s there  the Eucharist is present. I’ve learned to look for a statue of Our Lady and if there is one  know that there’s a pretty good chance the church is Catholic. But when it comes to distinguishing between Church of England, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist… I am lost completely.

I was in Durham last week. Visiting the Cathedral there has been on my list of things to do for a long time. The city itself is very pretty. The northern accent is lovely to listen to. And the people seem to be dead sound. I was impressed. Down on Market Square, a group of volunteer tour guides offered help and directions and a bit of banter that made me want to stay longer. Popping in an out of the local shops took an age as every interaction involved a conversation. No one seemed to be in any rush to do anything. Buskers provided the entertainment as people sat around the square enjoying the morning sunshine and living the moment. If I had to live in the UK, I could live in Durham.

2015_0526_0825_52 (800x585)2015_0526_1031_31 (800x600)The Cathedral is magnificent. An amazing piece of work. It and the castle were amongst the first to be designated World Heritage Sites, along with the Taj Mahal and the Palace of Versailles. Built between 1093 and 1133, it is a testament to endurance. It’s mind-boggling how builders back in the day managed to do the work they did, given that they didn’t have any of our 21st-century tools. So much for progress. Perhaps though it was because they took 40 years to build something and weren’t in any rush. It has been in continuous use for 900 years, has more an 1700 services a year, and costs £60 000 a week to maintain. And it’s still going.

I was pleased to see that there wasn’t an entrance fee. I object to paying into churches but am happy to light my candles and make a donation. I wandered around for about an hour or so and then sat for almost another hour just contemplating life and the universe. I’ve a lot to be thinking about these days so it was good to have the time. I saw that there was Holy Communion at 12.30 and I went. And when the priest turned out to be woman, I figured the Cathedral definitely wasn’t Catholic. The words were pretty much the same – the same stand/kneel/sit rotation – the same readings. But it was so strange to see a woman in full clerical garb. I wish the Catholic Church would catch up – I’d be amongst the first to register.

20150715_111948_resized (600x800)I was fascinated by the door knocker. Apparently, if you were on the run from the law and managed to grab hold of it, you were given sanctuary for 37 days and then had the choice of facing your accuser or getting safe passage to the coast and from there escaping to another part of the world. I wonder what the significance is of the 37 days though…  and how many people availed of it… and if anyone ever cheated … With questions like these it’s no wonder than I lose countless hours day dreaming and surmising.

20150715_134209_resized (800x600)The Castle is now part of the University and when not in term, it offers B&B accommodation to the public. So, having crossed Durham Cathedral of my list of things to do, a night or three in the Castle has now replaced it. I only had one day in the city but it left an impression. Will simply have to go back.