19th – 22nd APRIL 2013

Who would have thought Newcastle would be such a cultural and vibrant city. Our 33 strong group did at the end of our trip.

The train was on time as we left Kings Cross on Friday morning and we arrived at the Copthorne Hotel in Newcastle just after lunch. The hotel was pleasant and comfortable, and ideally suited, with all our rooms overlooking the River Tyne. Free time followed, enabling us to stroll along the river path, soaking up the sun – ‘yes, the sun!’, before returning back to the hotel for the Friday evening Service and supper, which was in our own private dining room.

After the meal, we reminisced with “Where were you on the Queen’s Coronation in June 1953” which produced some fascinating stories. The best was Linda Weber and Diane Lobatto, who as friends (7/8 years old) wrote to Lord Sieff at Marks and Spencer to request to see the coronation from the Oxford Street store, so that they could have the best views. Their letters and photographs were produced in the M & S magazine together with the reply letter inviting them. Needless to say, they went home laden with gifts to commemorate the occasion.

Shabbat Services were taken expertly by Gill and Robert Bernard, Richard Harris and Jeffrey Fisher. Friday evening, Saturday morning and Havdallah were warmly and informal, with everyone participating and taking part.

After lunch (naturally) on Saturday, we set out on our walking guided tour of the city centre. There are seven bridges in total linking Newcastle to Gateshead. As we were watching the Millennium Bridge it opened to let a boat pass. On the Gateshead side of this bridge, there is the Baltic Flour Mill, now converted in to the Baltic Centre of Contemporary Art. The Tyne Bridge, built in 1928, is a smaller version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Hydraulic Bridge built in 1826 swivels open to let water traffic through. The High Level Bridge opened for traffic during August 1849, and in September of the same year, Queen Victoria was to open it with festivities and dinners to follow. She waved from a window of her moving train on her way to Scotland without alighting. The city was so upset, they sent her the bills. No one knows if she settled them, but she never visited Newcastle again during the rest of her life. On her death, she bequeathed to the city, two pairs of her bloomers!! These are just four of the bridges.

We also saw the Sage Concert Hall, built of glass and steel. Inside, there are three concert halls with acoustics that are world famous. We then walked to the cathedral and the castle, all within the city limits. The castle has the railway lines running by the side of it. An American tourist is supposed to have said “Why did they build the castle so close to the railway lines”!! The statue of Earl Grey in the city centre, who was a local Member of Parliament, is impressive. For his work in India, he was sent a large package of tea, which was later branded as the famous “Earl Grey Tea” that we know today. There are also two universities in the city, with a total of 50,000 students. The sunny afternoon ended with tea and cakes before the tired group headed back to the hotel. After dinner, fun and games were organised very cleverly by Veronica and Michael Lansman, together with Robert Bernard, with group teams competing.
An early start on a grey, very cold Sunday set us on our way by coach with a guide to Durham. We first saw some other areas of Newcastle, including St. James Park, home of Newcastle United football club. We travelled through the Tyne valley, part of the Pennines, with rolling hills and grasslands which supported thousands of sheep, all owned by the old and new gentry. It was the lambing season. Everyone enjoyed our break for lunch in a small village. When we arrived in Durham, we were given a guided tour of the Cathedral. It is recognised as the most important structure in the UK, and possibly Europe, because of its architecture and age. On our way back, we stopped at the statue of “The Angel of the North”, which faces south, welcoming everyone to the area. The artist, Antony Gormley, covered himself in bandages and plaster of paris, and then cut them off to form a mould of his body and head to sculpt the statue. No one can tell if the statue is male or female! As we travelled through Gateshead back to Newcastle, the guide told us about the first Jews who settled in the area around 1840, who were mainly silversmiths. The second wave of Jews who came later from Europe, found the first settlers were not observant enough, and so moved to Gateshead. They opened a Yeshiva and have now grown to 3,000 in number. There were a number of shuls in Newcastle at one time, but these have since closed or merged and there is now just one Orthodox and one Reform congregation.

After dinner on Sunday, Andrea and Jeffrey Fisher organised a Quiz with tables forming teams to compete against each other. It was really good – not too hard but fun. Our table lost by one point! No matter how hard I pushed for a recount, I was ignored!

On Monday after breakfast, we all went our separate ways sightseeing. Some of us went to the “Biscuit Factory”, a large warehouse on two floors exhibiting paintings, sculptures, pottery, glass and jewellery in all mediums. All were for sale and were just amazing. Others went back to the City centre, and some went to the Baltic Centre of Contemporary Art. We then all met up again at the hotel to go to the station for the train back to Kings Cross. Newcastle is no longer a mining and industrial city. They have re-invented themselves, catering to the tourist and all businesses that are related, and in this they have definitely succeeded.

We all thank Sandra Harris and the other helpers for their hard work in making such a successful weekend.

Written by Helen Jacobs


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