Sunday, 25 October 2015

Our last view of Israel

Our last day we headed to Haifa, to see the hanging gardens, and then to Cesarea, just down the coast. I actually didn't take many photos at all! But after our very last drive home, we headed down to the beach near our house. We had seen the beach, but it was a shame that we hadn't made out way down onto the sand until our very last day. We walked along the beach, seeing all the people hanging out with their dogs and seeing our last sunset!

The Gardens of Gethsemane

Underneath the Mount of Olives, right at the base is the Gardens of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion...I think. Anyway, it was a lovely little garden with a nice church next to it too! It was a good long drive back to the apartement, but we were pretty tired after another day in Jerusalem!

Oh, how I love Camels!

The best thing about visiting the Mount of Olives ( apart from the great voiceover they have and the AMAZING view) was the fact I came across another camel! One very smart man brought his camel up there for the tourists! And he didn't charge me for taking pictures of the camel either! I didn't really
need to ride it, just take pictures of it. And while Josh was asking him about some restaurant reccommendations, he let me hold the camel's reigns! And I was just SO excited, because I love Camels so so much! We had an interesting experience after taking in the view, and holding and petting it. The camel owner had directed us up a hill to a parking area,
to a restaurant, but when we got to the parking area, some Israeli policemen warned us that the people running it would steal our money. Well, we parked, and asked them or some restaurant reccomendations, and they told us to get out of there, and that none of it was a very clean was quite disheartening to see them so negative about the Arab community. Either way, we ended up leaving pretty sharpish, but I was pleased because I had seen not one, but two camels while in Israel!

From the Mount of Olives

After visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum, we visited the Mount of Olives. Our trip to the Mount of Olives was a little haphazard, in that we had tried to go the last time we were in Jerusalem, but had been warned off by the concierge and also by the police. However, we did manage to find our way up there, through the Muslim Quarter of town, through two checkpoints and such. But we did make it, and it was so worth the view!

We found a hanging Tree!

Yes, in the middle of Jaffa is a hanging tree. Hanging off the sides of three buildings and held up with wires, is a hanging tree. After Googling it, I found it is a piece of art by Ran art goes I guess it is quite interesting to hang an orange tree off of three buildings!

Walking through Old Jaffa

In the morning, we decided to explore Old Jaffa. Jaffa is the old part of the city, I guess which was there before Tel Aviv really was, and so now it is part of Tel Aviv. Since we had only explored it at night, I really wanted to get to see the little streets during
the day. It did seem like we were there so much earlier than everyone else and we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves! In the 1990's, they really revived Jaffa, fixing up the churches and the mosques, and making it home to lots of little restaurants and tons and tons of little art galleries. Really, there are art galleries here, there, and everywhere! And stairs - lots of stairs leading everywhere, even to the port. And the port is quite cute,
as old ports go, with an art gallery and some snazzy seafood restaurants! Along with lots of old men fishing along the harbour, and as such, it was filled with stray cats. Israel seems to have just as many stray cats as Greece does! It is lovely just to wander around the little side streets and see where they lead. I found myself by the end of it being able to navigate around quite well! And while art galleries aren't really my thing, I did find them interesting to
look in and peek through the windows at. We were quite well placed in that our apartement was only a five minute walk from Jaffa, so the one night we had wandered to the old flea market to try some food there. It was lovely, and actually the only part of Tel Aviv that we really saw much of!

A lovely view of Tel Aviv

The next morning, we decided to check out Old Jaffa, again, but this time in the daylight. It was so nice, because this time we could actually see the lovely view and the sky scrapers along the beach! And the beach was so deserted too! Maybe we were just a little early for everyone to be out and about!

A Camel at the Petrol Station Forecourt

I so, so, so wanted to ride a camel in Israel. I even looked up directions to go to Camelland in the desert, but it just wasn't going to fit into our timetable. On the way to Masada, we had driven past a petrol station with what looked like two camels, but we were all of differing opinions weather the camels were real, or just statues. On the way back, we found out that they were real! I was so excited! I know that they were just there for the tourists, but we got some petrol, and then I had to go take their photo! It was quite possibly the weirdest place to find a camel, but I was so glad we found one just the same!

Floating at the Lowest Place on Earth

As you get closer and closer to the Dead Sea, you see these markings about how far below sea level. The Dead Sea is 430 meters below what is normal sea level, so it really is the lowest place on Earth. We happened to go back to the same place I had swum in the Dead Sea when I was a child! It was so hard to get into the water, because of all the sharp salt,
but once we were in the water, it was so much fun floating! I had a great time, and floated for ages! It was wonderful! Josh and Steph covered themselves in the Dead Sea mud, but I just couldn't do it! We had such a great time and my hair was hilarious because it was so full of salt! We felt gross, but we had to head home! It was great to be at the beach!

Our first up close view of the Dead Sea!

Aftere we left Masada, we drove back past Ein Gedi, where we were going to swim in the Dead Sea. On the way, we passed a checkpoint, and got out and took this photo when we got close enough! It was so exciting and so beautiful!

The View from Masada

What was most spectacular about Masada was the view you got from the top. It really was incredible how far you could see. You could see the Dead Sea and on the other side is Jordan - so I guess you could say we could see all the way to Jordan!
We climbed down some stairs so that we could see the ruins of one of King Herod's palace and there was such a good view from there!

The Fortress at Masada

I was pretty thankful that Josh told us a bit about Masada before we went, otherwise I would have absolutely no clue why there was a ruin of an old fortress on top of a mountain in the middle of an Israeli desert. The story goes that the Roman Army surrounded the fortress
and because of that, everyone in the fortress commited suicide. It is for sure a very weird story. When you arrive there, you take a cable car up to the top of the mountain. Really, from the bottom you can't see how large the site was. It was really, really big, and it makes sense it was home to 1,000 people.
And you can see the remains of the town hall buildings, the synagogue and the store rooms. It was really interesting, although it was really warm up on the mountain! On our way back down, we grabbed some falafel ( again!) at the food court and a seat in the sun.

Driving in the Desert

On Wednesday, we decided to go to Masada and the Dead Sea, which was probably the destination furthest away from where we stayed. For a while, we drove through just through the desert! We had to snap a photo of our tiny little car againt the amazing landscape. The Fiat 500 was just, so so terrible, but it did get us everywhere in one piece!

A snap with King David

The Armenians believe that the Last Supper happened in one church, but most people go to this other place, the Cenacle, which is where they believe the last supper happened, just outside the city walls. So, off we went. And it was much closer than we thought! While we were there, we also saw this statue of King David, so we had to snap a picture for my brother-in-law David! Our day in Jerusalem was long, but we did get enough time to wander through the outdoor mall on the way home!

The Via de la Rosa

The Via de la Rosa is a path of pilgrimage for many Christians that visit Jerusalem, because it is the path that Jesus took while he carried his cross. It starts near the Muslim Quarter, and it heads to the Church of the Sepluchure in the Christian Quarter. There are 13 such stations along the way. It was very important for us to walk that way, although it seemed quite touristy with shops on either side the whole way there. The shops are in these tiny little alley ways, much like they were sometimes in Asia, these little tiny market stalls.

Atop the Austrian Hospice

Neither Steph nor Josh believed me that there was a building called the Austrian Hospice, but there it was right on the map. I had read that there was a great view from the top of it. It was right on the edge of the Muslim Quarter, so I asked some policemen where it was. Turns out, you pushed this buzzer, and climbed some stairs, and there was this beautiful building, decked out like it was in Vienna. Sure enough, it used to be a place for pilgrims from Austria, but now it has a chapel, and a lovely cake shop, and this beautiful, beautiful view.

Dominating the Sky Line: The Dome of the Rock

Definitely one of the coolest places we visited was the Dome of the Rock. It really does dominate the skyline in Jerusalem, you can see it from all of the rooftops! I had read online that you could visit it, even though some people think you really can't go up and visit it. Lately, there have been a lot of issues with access to it being blocked off by Jews and Muslims alike, and it has caused a lot of tensions. It definitely isn't a place that you visit on Birthright trips, so I was super
excited that Josh, Steph and I could go. It is only open for a few hours in the morning, and then later in the affternoon for just one hour. One lady told us that Jews aren't allowed up there, and we saw some signs saying that they shouldn't, but what the security was really worried
about was anyone praying or showing religious symbols up there, because along with the Dome of the Rock, there is the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is the third holiest place in Islam. We waited for a while for the line to open, and then quite a long time to get through security. Then, you have to walk up this wooden walkway which goes over the Western Wall.
I had wondered what that walkway was for, it really does cut right across it. Steph and I were very respectful and covered our heads. It was such a beautiful, beautiful site. The Dome of the Rock is up this set of stairs, all alone on this big platform. And it is huge, and beautiful and so wonderful! I really enjoyed visiting it! After the one hour was up, some policemen came to escort us out, through the Muslim Quarter. A lot of the shops which I know are there usually were shut, but we did manage to get some amazing Israeli orange juice!

A happy, happy man with his Shwarma

We ended up eating so much falafel on our holiday! But Josh was really excited about getting some Shwarma. After we visited the wall, we stopped at a little touristy place to get falafel and shwarma. The funny thing is, even the cheap touristy places are yummy. There are all sorts of toppings and sauces and pickles and coleslaws to try too! So he tried a turkey shwarma with a mango sauce and it turned out to be really good! I was pleased because I got to just have some balls of falafel and some taziki sauce, which was the perfect little lunch for me!

Wailing at the Wall

We left our tour for two reasons - it wasn't particularily good, but also we wanted to be able to visit the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock, which is only open in the afternoon for just one hour. So we headed over there, and that is where we encountered our first Israeli policemen.
The way on the map to the Western Wall was blocked, but there was another way there. They said that path had been closed because of the violence. We headed down the other path, through security, and then we were at the wall. It was different than I remembered, but I was so excited that we got to go up and pray at the wall! I remember not going up to the wall to pray as a child. But this time, Steph and I headed to the women's side. It was much smaller than the mens, and much, much busier than the men's side!
There were lots of women praying, and seats for them to sit and read their bibles. We had written our prayers on little, tiny pieces of paper, and then pushed them into the cracks on the wall. It was a really wonderful experience. You could tell that it was an important place, and Iit was definitely the highlight of our day.

In Jerusalem

We arrived Monday afternoon, flying into Tel Aviv, where we got our car rented (which took forever) before finding our way to our cute little apartement. There wasn't really a lot of time to do too much, so we mainly explored the old part of Jaffa in the evening, and found a great falafel
stand to have dinner at. We actually didn't find much apart from falafel stands, so we ended up going there quite often! The next morning, after planning out what we would do each day, we decided to start with Jerusalem. While Israel has often had issues, it had really been having quite a few attacks in Jerusalem, so I was a bit nervous. We found a nice place to park, before heading towards the old town. Once we got to the gate, we decided to join one of those
free walking tours which made me feel a little better about wandering the city with a group. ( It seems in Israel, everyone is with a tour group). So we got to learn a little more about the Armenian Quarter ( which I had known nothing about before) and see one of the sites where they think the
Last Supper took place. The Armenian Quarter isn't terribly full of tourist sites, but it is very cute and full of little tiny alleys. From there, we went to the Jewish Quarter, which is where we left the tour to head to the wailing wall. After our visit to the Wall and the Dome of the Rock, we discovered the Christian Quarter too, where we visited the Church of Holy Sepluchre too. The Muslim Quarter was mainly blocked off with police, but I had forgotten how lovely Jerusalem was, and how interesting each and every little alley was!

Reactor Number 4

Ater Pripriyat, one of our final stops was at the site of the famous disaster, Reactor Number 4. I had known before the trip that they had covered the reactor with a sarcophagus, and were doing another one to replace it, but I hadn't expected them to actually be using the other 3 reactors! The radiation wasn't very high in front of the reactor, but much higher than in town. I just couldn't believe that people still worked there! Ater we visited the reactor, and concluded the tour, we drove back to Kiev. We got a dinner just down from the hotel, which was great and checked out the food court. In the morning we were heading to Israel!

Steph in the Swimming Pool!

After the school, just next door was a swimming pool, that actually hadn't been abandoned that long. Our tour guide said that it had been used by the workers in Chernobyl as late as 1997! The gym floor was practically sodden through, and falling in
some places, and the whole side of the building was gone! ( No health and safely here!) But the coolest for Steph was the swimming pool, mainly because she spends so much time in the pool! The pool was huge, with really high diving boards and a super deep end. While everyone else stood on the side, looking at how big an empty swimming pool is, Steph climbed right in!

The coolest part of Pripriyat

Ater exploring Pripriyat, the tour guide let us explore the old school and the old swimming/gym complex. It was so nice to be able to have some time to do some exploring to ourselves. Ukraine really does have different health and safety laws than the West, so really, we were walking into places where the floor had given out, and there was tons of debris, but the tour guide was just like "be safe!". Haha! We started exploring the school. It turns out Pripriyat had tons of schools because they had tons of
children! We found a cafeteria full of gas masks, and big, empty windows. We headed up the staircase and found all sorts of abandoned classrooms. Some still had work and books laid out, and some were all messed up. But it was interesting to see the labs and what they used to teach, what the maps looked like, and as a teacher, it was the best part of the tour!

The famous Amusement Park of Pripriyat

Our next stop on our little tour was through the next layer of security, and the smaller, tighter exlusion zone. This is where the company town, Pripriyat was located, and people had to leave so soon, and everyone was evacuated in the space of three or so hours. We walked all around the town, to the leftover supermarket, and the meeting hall, and a couple other buildings,
but the coolest place was the amusement park. It was due to open, but they ended up opening it just one day early, after the accident at the power plant, to distract everyone. So it wasn't really used. But it is proably the most famous part of Pripriyat. I was so excited to see the dodgers! They were so evergrown and great!

In an Abandoned Nursery

We watched a great video on the way to Chernobyl, and once we entered the larger exclusion zone and got our passports checked, we were on our way. The guide had said that we weren't going to be allowed into any buildings, but apparently we were! I was so excited! Our first stop was an abandoned nursery kind of child-care thing. It was so creepy! It actually had some of the highest radiation levels we saw all day because they had washed the walls of the building and it had gotten into the soil. They let us explore all
the building, with all these creepy dolls, and old iron bed frames. There were lots of little books let, with kid's work still in it! It was so creepy, it did look a little set up for photographers, but it was still so interesting!

Entering the Exclusion Zone

It is finally half term! The first half term has just flown by, which is great, but it is also great because it means we get a little longer for a holiday! We were mainly heading to Israel, but we did a stopover in Kiev. Kiev is nothing to write home about, but we had planned to go there becuase we wanted to do a day trip to Chernobyl. We got on the bus nice and early, for the long trip to Chernobyl. The first place we stopped, we had to get our passports checked, so we snapped this cool picture!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

In the Big Tent

We had read online that if you want a good seat, or a seat at all - that you had to get to the Oktoberfest tents super, super early, like 6 am - even though they don't open til about 9. But we were all pretty tired the day before, and decided to get there for 9am, and give it a shot. We had done some research on which tents were the most fun. There are I think 11 big tents, and they all have different styles, and atmospheres. We had set our sights on Hacker-Pschorr - which is called the "Heaven of Bavaria". And miraculously, we just walked right in. There were tons of tables free, right when it
opened. I had to go ask if it was alright to sit there, but we managed to get a whole, empty table to ourselves, right in the centre, with a great view of the pretty sign. We started on beer at 9 am - so, so early but worth it if you wanted to stay. It was nice that they gave Steph and I our apple juice in smaller beer glasses.
We took so, so many photos with the big beers and a giant pretzel! We had the table to ourself for a little while, before we were joined by some nice Americans visiting Munich. Eventually, we had to share our table with some Germans too - but it was still good fun! We enjoyed some great yummy food, lots of singing and Prost songs - until people started getting up on the tables to dance! It was great, great fun! We sung and drank for several hours, until about 2pm, they decided since we had stopped drinking beer, we had to leave. I was a bit miffed, but we did have such a great time looking back on it!