I've decided to start blogging about our time living in Luxembourg since we've made some really great trips and seen some amazing things this year, and I want to try to share and remember as much as possible about our adventures.
So right now we're in Israel... Tel Aviv to be exact. We're here for the same reason we have been on many of our trips since moving to Luxembourg in June of 2008 - because Martin had to come here on business. We're in the fortunate position where I don't have to work and can tag along on many of his trips. We add a few days on one end of Martin's business trips, and many of Martin's expenses (including airfare) and our hotel for the nights he is working are paid for. It's a great system, and so far we've seen many new places this way. Our current trip to Israel, however, is the biggest one we've done tied onto a business trip. It was a lot more of a financial commitment then say, taking the train to Paris. But how many times in one's lifetime do you get the chance to go to Israel?
So here we go with the play by play for this trip...
Thursday, November 27, 2008
So we got in to Tel Aviv at around 3:30 am. We had to take separate flights because I booked my flight too late to get on the same flight as Martin... and when I got off the plane and walked to baggage claim, I got stopped twice by female security guards. I was really irritated that I was specifically targeted both times, but I found out later that many Russian girls come into Israel to become prostitutes (or more accurately, to become 'secretaries' and are pushed into prostitution unwillingly). Anyway, I found Martin in baggage claim, and we got to the hotel at about 5am and slept until about 11am.
Photo: The view of Tel Aviv from our hotel room
After crawling out of bed, we took a taxi down to the port area of Tel Aviv and had lunch and walked around the shops.
Photo: Martin enjoying his cappuccino after lunch
Photo: the sunset over the Mediterranean
For 'Thanksgiving' dinner, we went to a fantastic restaurant called 'Cordelia' in 'Jaffa', the old part of Tel Aviv. Our pictures don't do it justice, so I haven't posted them here, but if you check out the website, you'll get a good sense of the place. We thoroughly enjoyed the food and atmosphere at Cordelia.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Map: From our hotel in Tel Aviv to Bethlehem to Jerusalem
Today we decided to pay for a private tour of Jerusalem, which we both agree was worth it for Jerusalem. I don't think it's possible to see all of Jerusalem if you had a month straight, so we were glad to get in as much as possible in one short day and to not have to follow around 50 other people all day. Our guide was a man named 'Israel' who for the most part we liked a lot.
We started off the day by going to Bethlehem. Unfortunately Jews are not allowed into Bethlehem currently, so our guide had to call a friend of his to meet us at the border to take us into Bethlehem. I thought it would be more of a challenge for us to cross the border into the Palestinian Territory, but there was no one even at the border to check our passports.
We got in another car on the other side of the border with our new Bethlehem guide and a driver and they drove us to the Church of the Nativity, where we touched the spot where Jesus was born (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_nativity).
Photo: a view while driving through Bethlehem
Photo: Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity (on the left)
Photo: Church of the Nativity
Photos below: the Greek Orthodox part of the Church of the Nativity
Photo: Entering the Grotto of the Nativity, where Jesus is said to have been born
Photo: Touching the spot where Jesus is said to have been born
Photo: the Roman Catholic part of the Church of the Nativity
Photo: on the left is the entrance to the Roman Catholic side, on upper right is the original Church of the Nativity, and in the center is a statue of St. Jerome
After the Church of the Nativity, we went to a Bethlehem souvenir shop. The specialty craft in Bethlehem is olive wood carvings.
Then we headed back to the border and back into Israel to go visit the Old City of Jerusalem.
Photo: I loved this graffiti at the border before leaving the Palestinian territory (Bethlehem)
Photo: with our Bethlehem guide before crossing back into Israel
Photo: the pedestrian border crossing - our passports were surprisingly not checked going either direction
Heading back into Jerusalem, our guide first drove us to Mount of the Olives, from the top of which Christ is said to have risen to heaven, to get a great view of the Old City and Dome of the Rock, a very famous Muslim mosque.
Photo: Dome of the Rock
Photo: view of Jerusalem and Old City walls. Every building is built out of Jerusalem limestone, which is why they are all pretty much the same color
Photo: our guide, Israel, showing us a map of Jerusalem. According to Israel, to become a tour guide, you must go through rigorous training - he studied 5 days/week for 7 months, and traditionally people go 3 days/week for 2 years.
We took some pics and Israel told us a quick history of Jerusalem, then we got back into the car and headed toward the Old City, which is only 0.35 square miles and is home to over 17,000 people. The Old City is divided into 4 quarters - the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian quarters. We entered the Old City through the Jaffa gate and walked through the bazaar in the Christian quarter.
Photo: the bazaar in the Christian quarter
We walked pretty much directly to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most sacred places in Christianity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre).
Photo: the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
This church houses the final stations of the cross, including where Christ's clothes were removed, where he was nailed to the cross, where the cross stood and he died, where he was taken down from the cross, where his body was anointed, and the tomb where he was buried and disappeared (i.e. where he was resurrected).
Photo: the mosaic at the spot where Jesus was nailed to the cross
Photos below: the ceiling between the spot where Jesus's clothes were removed and where he was nailed to the cross
Photo: our guide, Israel. Behind him on the left is the spot where the cross stood and Jesus died. On the right is the mosaic over the area where he was nailed to the cross.
Photo: Martin and I touching the spot where the cross stood and Jesus died.
Photo: this mosaic represents the Jews taking Jesus down from the cross
Photo: this mosaic depicts them anointing his body with oil
Photo: this stone is where Jesus's body was lain and anointed
Photo: this is the tomb where Jesus's body was placed after anointment
Photo: Martin touching the stone where Jesus's body was laid in the tomb. His body disappeared from a guarded tomb, and so it is believed that he was resurrected from here.
Photo: the spot where Mary stood during the crucifixion
Being there was what I can only describe as a humbling experience -touching the spot where the cross stood, the rock that Jesus was anointed on, and the rock that he was laid on in the tomb. At the time of Christ, it was a garden on top of a mountain, and they later built the church there to house these important locations.
Photo: the monastery behind the Church of the Sepulchre. Each monk's cell is only 2m x 2m.
After leaving the Church of the Sepulchre, we followed some of the other stations of the cross backwards... #9 through #5, points along Jesus's walk from the bottom of the mountain to the top where he was crucified. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stations_of_the_cross)
Photo: the 9th station of the cross, where Jesus fell for the 3rd time
Photo: the 8th station of the cross, where Jesus met the weeping women and told them not to weep for him, but for themselves
Photo: the 7th station of the cross, where Jesus fell for the 2nd time.
Photo: the 6th station of the cross, where Veronica wiped Jesus's face with her veil.
Photo: the 5th station of the cross, where Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry the cross.
Photo: a cool photo Martin took on our way to the Wailing Wall
After that, we walked to the Wailing Wall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall), where dozens of people were praying & some were softly singing. The men and women had to go pray in separate areas, the womens' side being much smaller and much more crowded.
Photo: the women's side at the Wailing Wall
Photo: the Wailing Wall (aka. the Western Wall). You can see the much more crowded women's side on the right and the men's side on the left.
Photo: A spice & tea shop we passed late in the day.
Those were the highlights of our day... after that, we went to a Lebanese restaurant and had a variety of small dishes (hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, etc.) and shish kabobs with beef, lamb, and chicken. Then we drove back to Tel Aviv to our hotel and relaxed for a couple of hours before hitting the hay.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Map: From our hotel in Tel Aviv to Masada and the Dead Sea
Today we went on a group tour to Masada and the Dead Sea. We were expecting a huge tour bus, but it was only about 20 people total, which was a good size. We drove from Tel Aviv through Jerusalem, from there entering the Judaean Desert, and driving toward the Dead Sea. On the way we passed a few Bedouin encampments...
Photo: Bedouin settlement
...and quite a few camels.
Photo: a Bedouin and his camel
We stopped for a few minutes at sea level to take a few photos...
...then continued down toward the Dead Sea. When we reached the Dead Sea, we turned south toward Masada (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masada).
Photos: a couple of pictures on the drive along the Dead Sea toward Masada.
Photo: the entrance to Masada
If you are interested, here's a slimmed-down version of the history of Masada...
Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BC as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. In 66 AD, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire, a group of Jewish extremists called the Sicarii fled Jerusalem (which was being taken over by the Romans) and settled on the mountain top of Masada.
In 72, the Roman governor of Iudaea Lucius Flavius Silva marched against Masada with a Roman legion and laid siege to the fortress. After failed attempts to breach the wall, they built a wall around the entire plateau and then a ramp against the western face of the plateau, using thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth.
The ramp was complete in the spring of 73, after approximately two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. When they entered the fortress, however, the Romans discovered that its 936 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery or execution by their enemies.
The account of the siege of Masada was related to Josephus by two women who survived the suicide by hiding inside a cistern along with five children, and repeated Elazar ben Yair's exhortations to his followers, prior to the mass suicide, verbatim to the Romans. Because Judaism strongly discourages suicide, Josephus reported that the defenders had drawn lots and killed each other in turn, down to the last man, who would be the only one to actually take his own life.
Photos: On the way up to the top of Masada on the gondola
Photo: our guide, Zach, giving us a quick history lesson
Photo: Commander's quarters at Masada
Photo: Room where doves were raised (I think) at Masada
Photo: Storerooms built by Herod
Photo: view of north end of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea
Photo: view from Masada of one of the Roman forts
Photo: A doorway at Masada. Everything below the black lines are from the original structure. Everything above the black lines was rebuilt.
Photo: the ramp built by the Romans to breach the fortress
Photo: Martin being a goofball
After Masada, we had a quick lunch and then hopped back on the bus. We drove to the Dead Sea to a little beach area with showers and beach chairs, etc. When we got there it was almost 4pm, so the sun was pretty low and it was a little cold, but it wasn't too crowded, which was nice. We got into our bathing suits and walked down to the water. The water is 10x saltier than normal salt water, so you are incredibly buoyant. It's such a strange feeling! You can roll around and not sink at all. When you try to stand in the deeper areas, it's really hard to push yourself down to touch the bottom. It's so crazy.
Photo: the Dead Sea - the lowest place on earth at 420 meters (1378 feet) below sea level
Photo: floating in the Dead Sea! The mountains behind me are Jordan.
Right next to the beach was a big mud pool, which I had to talk Martin into getting into. But he had a great time. It was really fun and again such a weird sensation to be slathering this slimy green/black smooth mud all over yourself. Now I know where the phrase "stuck in the mud" really comes from - it was really hard to get OUT of the mud, and the mud was so HEAVY that when you do get out it's hard to walk!
Photo: People getting in and out of the mud pool
Photo: Me getting into the mud pool - squish squish
Photos: Martin & I after the mud pool
The minerals in the Dead Sea are very good for your skin, although when we were changing clothes to get ready for bed, we were both like "What's that smell?!?" We both showered but still smell a little like sulfur, which also smells like someone farted... Martin's blaming the sulfur, but who knows. =) There was also a hot sulfur pool there, but Martin & I ran out of time to go because someone stole my camera case, and we spent our last 15 minutes or so looking for it.
Then we got back on the bus (one camera case, battery, and memory card short, but at least it wasn't the camera, and the memory card they stole was empty). We came back to the hotel and ate dinner here. Quite surprisingly yummy for a hotel buffet!
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Map: From our hotel in Tel Aviv to the old port city of Jaffa
Last night we tried to sign up for one more tour but there wasn't anyone else signed up for the tour for Sunday morning, so the tour wasn't going. So we decided to sleep in and take it easy today. I (Kelly) was up late last night working on the blog, and this morning I slept in until 11am! We had our standard quick breakfast of a chocolate croissant and cappuccino in the lobby and headed off to Jaffa, an old port city connected to Tel Aviv. The weather was beautiful today and there were hardly any other tourists - a perfect combination!
Photo: View of Tel Aviv from Jaffa Hill
Photo: The belltower of St. Peter's Church
Photo: Martin in Kedumim Square on Jaffa Hill
We first walked through the zodiac alleys, full of artist galleries and shops.
Photo: Suspended tree in zodiac alleys of Jaffa
Photos: cool doorways in Jaffa
Photo: there were cats everywhere in Jaffa
After leaving the zodiac alleys and Jaffa Hill, we had a nice lunch of humus and small salads and lamb and turkey shishtik (shish kabobs) at a little kosher cafe. We love the small salads and humus which start of nearly every meal we've had, and I have become a huge fan of lamb here.
Photo: part of our lunch menu - would you prefer turkey testicles, chicken hearts, or stuffed spleen?
Photo: photo Martin took from our lunch table
After lunch, we walked through the streets near the clocktower which were full of all kinds of merchandise... a lot of antiques, copper pots, ceramics, clothes, and a few streets of commercial kitchen equipment.
We stopped at a juice shop and ordered a pomegranate juice. An old woman used an old fashion juicer and juiced 4 pomegranates into a cup. It was so delicious and sweet and not at all tart. After that we walked along the beach for a while...
Photo: boardwalk near Jaffa
then grabbed a taxi and came back to the hotel.
Photo: Jaffa Clocktower - taken from the taxi on our way home
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Map: Tel Aviv Hotel to Caesarea to Haifa (Mt. Carmel) to Acre to the grottoes in Rosh Hanikra (at Lebanon Border)
Today Martin had to attend his conference, so I decided to go on a tour by myself. It was the tour we tried to get on on Sunday - driving north along the coast from Tel Aviv and hitting 4 major stops - Caesarea, Haifa, Acre, and the grottoes in Rosh Hanikra, on the Lebanon border. It was a fun trip, but I wish Martin was with me... but hey, somebody's got to pay the bills around here... =)
So anyway, I ended up on a bus with 15 other people plus our driver/tour guide, Jacob. Jacob is a 73-year old Jewish man who has 2 PhD's and speaks 12 languages, including Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Latin... he was a very interesting guy.
Photo: My tour guide, Jacob
But today was quite a whirlwind and the history facts didn't stick with me as much today as they have on other days this trip. We were only allowed about 30 minutes to explore each place after we had gotten there and after Jacob had given us his spiel (a Yiddish word, by the way). And so with only 30 minutes at each place, we were only able to skim the surface of what we could have explored. But that being said, it was still a great day, and I got to see a lot and explore a little more of Israel's vast history.
So first off, we drove about 45 mins to Caesarea (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarea). Caesarea has a long history (as does all of Israel), but the majority of the ruins that can be seen now are from Herod's time. He built most of the structures, including a amphitheater, a hippodrome, a palace including a swimming pool in the sea, an aqueduct, and a residential area and market, starting in 22 BCE.
Photo: Caesarea - Herod's Hippodrome in center/right
Photo: Pictures of the ruins at Caesarea - near amphitheater
Photo: Swimming pool at Caesarea built in Herod's time
Photo: the "residential" area of Caesarea
Photo: a Roman aqueduct built by Herod
One of the most interesting things to me was that, according to Jacob, at one point in history the area was home to over 80,000 people (now only about 4500 people live there), so the archeologists of today could dig endlessly and never be finished excavating the area. I thought that was amazing, especially being from the US, where if you dig, you're most likely to find more dirt... here, you could find layer upon layer of ancient civilizations. In fact in one place near Acre, where we went later in the day, there is one "tel" (a Hebrew word meaning "artificial hill") that just looks like a green hill, where they have excavated and uncovered 25 civilizations layered one on top of another. Unfortunately we didn't get to stop at that hill, we only drove by it... something for Martin & I to do next time I guess...
From Caesarea, we drove to Haifa to the top of Mt. Carmel and basically just took pictures and drove on.
Photo: View of Haifa from atop Mt. Carmel
Apparently there is a lot to do in Haifa - another place for Martin and I to explore when we come back - but on my tour we only stopped for the view and drove on to Acre.
A couple of interesting facts about Haifa before I go on to Acre -
- In 2006, Haifa was hit by 93 Hezbollah rockets during the conflict with Lebanon killing eleven civilians in the city, and leading to half of the city's population fleeing after the first week of the war.
- Haifa is home to the Baha'i World Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is the administrative center of the Bahá'í Faith. These gardens and tomb on the north face of Mt. Carmel belong to the Baha'i religion.
Photos: Baha'i Gardens and the Shrine of the Báb
I found the Baha'i religion quite fascinating actually - for example:
- they believe in the unity of all major religions - that there have been many prophets (including Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad), but that there is only one God. In other words, although human cultures and religions have different concepts of God and His nature, Bahá'ís believe that such varying views nevertheless refer to the same God.
- they believe in harmony between science and religion
- they believe in the transcendence of all divisions of race, nation, gender, caste, and social class
- and they believe that universal peace should be the supreme goal of all mankind. It's quite an idealist religion, but maybe that's what I like about it...
From Mt. Carmel, we drove through the suburbs of Haifa and on towards Acre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akko). The Old City of Acre is 4000 years old and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Acre (also spelled Akko), we toured the underground city and tunnels built originally by the first crusaders.
Photos: Underground city - below the citadel in Acre
They are still excavating these underground tunnels, and this is another area where they could dig forever and never finish exploring the lost civilizations that have been destroyed and built up, time and time again.
After a quick tour of Acre, many of us bought pomegranate juice, then we all hopped back on the bus and headed north to the border between Israel and Lebanon. Since the most recent conflict with Lebanon was only a little over 2 years ago, the border crossing where we were was closed.
Photos: the view from the parking lot for the grottoes
We took a 58-second tram down to the grottoes...
...and explored the beautiful caves.
Photo: Limestone "Elephant Rock" - outside of the grottoes
At the other end of the walkway to the grottoes, we came to this wall.
On the other side of this wall is Lebanon. From what I understood from Jacob, they used to make you show your passport to go see more grottoes that way, but because of the tensions between Lebanon and Israel, the border was sealed off.
Back up the tram near the parking lot, there was a border station that was also closed (but fully guarded) between Israel and Lebanon.
Photo: border station - guarded but closed. not the barbed wire up the steps
Photo: at the border station near the parking lot, we were 205 km(127 miles) from Jerusalem and only 120 km (74 miles) from Beirut.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Map: Tel Aviv Hotel to safari
Today Martin was working again, so in anticipation of our honeymoon in February to South Africa, I decided to walk to this safari/zoo place I had been hearing about which was very close to our hotel. It was basically a drive-through safari area, housing all kinds of animals from hippos to flamingos (and on the drive out, lions and rhinos), and in the center of the safari area was the zoo. It was an amazing day, and the place was nearly empty. It was the first time I've ever seen raccoons in a zoo - and they were by far the fattest raccoons I've ever seen too! I know zoo pictures aren't usually that interesting, but I can't resist posting a few of my favorite pics...
Photo: hippos - on the safari portion on the drive in to the zoo
Photo: the cutest bats!
Photo: mama and baby chimp
Photo: female gorilla
Photo: meerkat! they were a lot smaller than I remember them being in the states...
Photo: the great hornbill - he was huge and so cool looking (picture doesn't do him justice)
Photo: loose emu in the parking lot!
Photo: lions on the safari drive out
TO SEE ALL OF OUR PICTURES FROM OUR TRIP TO ISRAEL, CLICK HERE: