Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Home again, home again!!

Wow, what an adventure. Our trip to Israel was unparalleled. Obviously 3 1/2 weeks isn't enough time to do justice to that beautiful country. But what we saw was awesome, wonderful, thrilling -- you name it.

We endured a 19-hour plane ride from Tel Aviv to LAX. The first leg of the flight, from Tel Aviv to Toronto was pretty good. Coach is always a bit uncomfortable -- but between videos to watch, audio books to listen to and people to meet -- we had a good flight. It was 12 hours.

The rest of the journey, Toronto to LAX,  was 5 hours. The plane wasn't very full, so each of us had a 3-seat "bed" on-which to sleep. I was surprised that Air Canada wanted to charge $7 for a blanket and $7 for a pillow!! I've heard the airlines are trying to maximize their profits, but that's "crazy"!!

But, all is well that ends well. We're home safe n' sound -- that's what counts. So, now the question: "Where to next"??!! I don't know for sure. Maybe India. Maybe Ireland. Maybe ???

Got any ideas?????

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Haifa to Tel Aviv . . .

Our last morning in Haifa. We had a casual breakfast at the "Port Inn". Check-out time was 11 a.m., so we were in no particular rush. As we left the Inn, we said "so long" to our hosts and made our way to the train station. It was about a 3 block walk. Our train was at 11:16 a.m. and we boarded a comfortable air conditioned car for the 1 1/4 hour trip to Tel Aviv.

Once in Tel Aviv, we found our way to our lodgings by taxi and checked in. A good part of the afternoon was spent exploring the Ha Carmel Market (The Shuk) looking for "goodies" to take home to the U.S. with us. As mentioned in an earlier post, the Market is a constant din of activity. We wandered in and out of the streets, enjoying the vendors, the people and the afternoon.

Around 4 o:clock, Linda and I went to the beach for a swim. As before, the water was warm and soothing. We had a great time bouncing in the waves and warm sand. It was just delightful. We watched the sunset, but as it got darker, the weather continued to be warm and comfortable.

Dinner on a Tel Aviv Beach.
Nothing is more perfect!
We went to a "beach front" cafe for dinner and a beer. We chose to sit out on the beach with the Mediterranean just in front of us. The cafe had a couple of speakers set up around the beach and we enjoyed "easy rock" during dinner. To our left, we could see "Old Jaffa" lit up in the distance -- it made for a perfect evening.

So, tomorrow, we go to the Ben Gurion Airport for our flight home. I know I've said this again and again -- but it's been an incredible 3 1/2 weeks in Israel. This is an amazing country with so much to see and do. The cities are alive with activities. The people are pleasant and friendly. Each of the cities we visited had a mature and useful transportation system making it easy to get around. We were able to take public transportation "everywhere".  For example, Masada and the Dead Sea are pretty remote, yet getting there was easy and inexpensive.

Most of all, we felt "safe". Considering the potential hostilities that erupt from time-to-time -- even the "rocket" incident during our stay here -- Israel is the perfect place to visit. Any time.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Behai Gardens, Haifa . . .

The Behai Gardens and
Shrine of the Bab.
Today is Shabbat, so most of the stores are closed. We did notice the city buses running, so it's possible to get around if we wanted to. As we walked to the Bahai Gardens,  only a few blocks from our lodgings, we went through a Christian neighborhood. A number of stores and cafe's were open for business, so there is some activity in the city.

As we neared the Gardens, one can see the UNESCO Place for Tolerance and Peace just across the street. The Garden is a series of 18 terraces. In the center is The Shrine of the Bab. The shrine is in celebration of Siyyid 'Ali'-Muhammad who, in 1844, announced that he had been sent by G-d to prepare humanity for a New Age and the imminent appearance of another Messenger. The Shrine is his burial place. An interesting aspect of the Baha'i faith is that it has no clergy. Its affairs are administered by a series of "elected councils" at the local, national and international levels. Additionally, they take no donations to support its "World Centre". All of the costs associated with the World Centre are supported by voluntary contributions from Bahai faithful around the world.

Linda with Haifa below
the first level of the Garden
Visitors are allowed to enter the garden free of charge. There are no fees, and nothing is sold. We climbed a series of stairs to the first level where one sees a commanding view of Haifa below and the Garden above. The grounds are beautiful with manicured lawns, cultivated flowers and water-falls. Surrounding the property are high-rise apartment buildings, so the residents have a "nice and quiet neighbor". Because of Shabbat there was very little traffic on the street below and except for the water-fountains, it was quiet and serene.

We plan to spend a quiet day around the Inn until Shabbat ends at sunset. Many activities will pick up again and we'll see what peaks our interest.

6 p.m. -- We ventured out for a "last meal" in Haifa. As we walked along Jaffa Street, we noticed the shops and cafe's opening. It was very near sundown and as Shabbat ends, the city comes to life. Once on Ben Gurion Street, we found an interesting restaurant called Havana Plus. After looking over the menu, we decided to stay and enjoy a meal and conversation.

So, tomorrow we head off to Tel Aviv in the morning for our last full day in Israel. It'll be nice to get back to the "beach town". I want to do some final shopping, so the Ha Carmel Market is the perfect place for buying the last of our "souvenirs".

Ciao for now. . .

Friday, August 23, 2013

Street Musicians and . . .

Street Musicians in Haifa, Israel
We had a late start and a quiet day today. We explored a district just north of our Inn and found a street faire in full swing. A couple of street musicians entertained the crowd and, at one point, a woman from the crowd walked up the microphone and started singing in Spanish. Her rendition of "Besame Mucho" was pretty good.

Since our plan was to explore the Bahai Garden tomorrow, we ventured to the "Cinemall" we discovered. The three of us explored a bit and managed to watch the new film "2 Guns". It was good, and I commend it to you!!

As the day progressed, later in the afternoon, the shops started closing for Shabbat. Tomorrow will be a quiet day until Shabbat ends at sundown. We plan to do some "chores" in preparation for our trip to Tel Aviv on Sunday and our return home, via Air Canada, on Monday.

Stay tuned. . .

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Safed (Tzfat). . .

Downtown Safed.
Our adventures took us to Safed (Tzfat), a northern Israeli mountain town at 3,000 feet elevation. It is the highest settlement in all of Israel -- and as this country boasts everywhere, the "ancient" town dates back to the 12th Century, even earlier. Safed is considered one of Israel's "holy cities" and is a center of Jewish mysticism called "Kabbalah". Even with its ancient roots, Safed is a busy city, full of shops, religious study and diverse "ethnic" groups of people.

A Diverse Ethnic City.
We were up early this morning and made our way to the bus stop on Ben Gurion Road as before. A free shuttle took us to the "northern bus depot" and we boarded a city bus for Safed. It takes about 2 hours to get there. Along the way we passed through a number of towns and villages -- first along the Mediterranean and then east along Highway 85. The last stop was Safed. At first glance, the city doesn't look very inviting, but as we walked along Jerusalem Road toad the center of town, an abundance of shops began to reveal themselves. By the time we walked through a good part of the city the streets were full of shoppers, traffic and passers-by.

Jonathan darmon and Self
His work is an expression of a
"Touch of Spirit"
Our first goal to find the "old artist colony". It's a quaint street full of shops with arts and crafts. Many of the shops are owned and operated by the artists themselves, something I like much more than the mass-produced artwork so many tourist places offer elsewhere.  As we entered the "colony" I recalled visiting the artist studio of Jonathan Darmon. His studio is the first on the street so it was easy to find. As we entered his studio I recognized him immediately (I had visited and met him on my first trip to Israel in 2007). We had a wonderful visit as we recalled our previous meeting. I'm sure he didn't remember me, but he kept that "to himself". His artwork is known the world over and is an exquisite expression of his proclaimed "touch of spirit".  It is beautiful work.

The "artist colony".
We wandered through the rest of the colony looking in a variety of shops and talking with many of the artists. At one point, we ventured off a bit and found a delightful "boutique winery" run by a family of religious Jews. Their balcony boasted a view of the surrounding hillside and city. It was extraordinary. We enjoyed a glass of wine as we discussed a variety of social and religious issues and concepts. It was a fascinating exchange of ideas, something we'll all remember for a long while.

We found our way back into the city itself and started walking along what appeared to be the main street. As we got deeper into Safed, the neighborhood started to change. Quite by accident we had wondered into the "religious" Jewish Quarter. All the shops were open and busy as "orthodox" families hurried here and there. It was getting a bit late, so we decided to make our way back to the bus station and then to Haifa. 

Linda was convinced that, if we continued walking "straight", we'd find the station. A street sign had said "City Entrance" so she reasoned that, if we came in "that way", we'll go back "that way".  She was absolutely right!!  It turns out that the street had made a huge "circle" and we were able to find the beginning by going to the "end". It was the ultimate proof of "circular reasoning"!! It was a great walk as we discovered a part of town not seen, we think, by many tourists.

Today was a perfect day of exploration. We discovered so much of Israel we hadn't seen before. Safed was a joy to explore and the higher altitude made for perfect, and cooler, weather.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Caesarea . . .

Modern Day Caesarea.
Today our goal was getting to Caesarea, about 60 km south of Haifa along the Mediterranean coast. Caesarea is an ancient city, first established and built by Herod the Great in 25-13 B.C.E. Over the centuries it has been conquered and "destroyed" by numerous civilizations, but interestingly, today Caesarea still exists as a living, breathing city in the State of Israel. While the ruins were our destination, there is a modern and prosperous Caesarea adjacent to the ruins. It's an amazing story of a cities' survival.

Overlooking the Ruins of Caesarea
You may recall we weren't able to rent a car yesterday, so we had to rely on the city bus system. It happens to be easier than we thought. We caught a bus in downtown Haifa, about 5 blocks away from our Inn and then changed buses at the South Bus Terminal. The first stop was Caesarea. A 20 minute walk and we were at the gates to the National Park.

The ruins are still considered an active "dig" by archaeologists -- both from israel and universities around the world. At the entrance to the "park" there are a variety of cafes and stores selling souvenirs and memorabilia. After the 20 minute walk we had just completed, we sat in an air conditioned cafe for awhile and enjoyed a cool drink and snack. Today was Linda's birthday, so we told our server who, at the end of our visit there, presented her with a nice dessert and sparkler celebrating her day. It was an enjoyable and memorable event. I'm sure she never expected to celebrate her birthday at such a venue and among ruins older than she (lol)  !!
Linda and Archway along an
ancient street.

We explored the ruins for about 2 hours, searching the interesting little streets -- some covered with stones. Archways were at the beginning of many of them. The ancient city doesn't look very large, but it does cover quite a bit of territory. At the far end is the "colosseum" and "forum". The city had all the "amenities" -- bath-houses, entertainment, government buildings and sports facilities. There was even a "tax" office, so the ancients had to pay their "fair share" too!! (I wonder if they had their 1-percenters??).

We finished our exploration of the ruins and found our way back to the bus stop. This time we took a cab. As luck would have it, a taxi driver happened by and offered us a ride to Haifa for the "same price" as the bus. So, for 18 shekels each, we enjoyed an air conditioned ride to the city in a Mercedes sedan. Not bad!!  We finished the day by further celebrating Linda's birthday at a delightful restaurant on Ben Gurion Road near downtown Haifa.

Tomorrow we're off to Safed (Tzfat), again by city bus. As we near the end of our trip, it's fun to look back at all the sights we've seen and things we've done. Israel is a wonderful country to visit. No doubt about it!!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Today was a transit day as we went from Tel Aviv to Haifa. We took the train for the 1 hour trip north. Israeli trains are very nice -- air conditioned, quiet and fast and with wifi on board. Cool.

Bahai Gardens in Haifa, Israel
We arrived at the Haifa Central Station and walked the two minutes to the Port Inn on Jaffa Road. Our lodgings are very nice and it was good to get settled into our room. We went for a walk, exploring Haifa for a couple of hours. Our wandering took us to the German Section on Ben Gurion Street. It's a beautiful area just to the south of our lodgings full of shops, cafe's and hotels. One can see the Bahai Gardens up the road.

The Bahai Gardens, located on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, are one of the most visited places in Israel. The design of the gardens started in 1987 and were opened to the public in 2001. We expect to take a tour of the gardens in the day day or two. From our viewpoint, the gardens are more than beautiful. They're up the side of a hill and at the top is a beautiful domed "temple".

"Jam" -- a music venue in Haifa.
We've had been thinking about renting a car for a day or two, so we checked the Internet for car agencies. It turns out that one must take the train "one more stop" north to a town  (or suburb of Haifa) called Lev Hamefrats. We caught the train easily and made the one-stop trip is about 10 minutes. The station is in an extensive shopping mall called the "Cinemall" -- so we took our time looking around. We found 3 car rental agencies -- none of which had a car for us. So, we've decided to use public transportation to go to our preferred designations -- Safed and Caesarea. Safed is a mountain-top artist colony and Casarea is a town built by Herod the Great in 25-13 B.C.E., so part of the adventure will be getting there.

"Jam" Band.
On our exploration of Haifa earlier in the day, we discovered a "club" not far from our lodgings called "Jam". It's a music venue with different artists performing in the evening. After returning from Lev Hamefrats, we walked over to Jam and enjoyed a hour of music by a local rock band. The music was good -- and the Guinness was even better!!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Cafe and Bar on Tel Aviv beach.
After our exploring Tel Aviv yesterday, we thought a "pasta" dinner would be nice. The receptionist at our hotel recommended a place within a 15 minute walk -- so we set out on foot to find the restaurant. Things went pretty well -- we sat outside in the warm evening, ordered a pasta dish each for each of us and enjoyed -- what we thought -- was an enjoyable meal.

Mine was a bit "al dente" and Vickie's was a bit over-"cheesed", but we ate it anyway and talked about the days activities. On the way back to the hotel, there are number of "beach clubs" along the Mediterranean. We decided to explore and went into the nearest one. The "electronic music" was playing its rhythmic beat, the large crowd was younger. Lots of young Israeli's enjoying the evening.  We sat far out in front and enjoyed the sea. We didn't order anything from the bar, but no-one complained so we had a nice time.
That's me at the beach in Tel Aviv
Just across from our lodgings.

Getting back to our room, we were tired and happy, so it was off to  bed. Nothing unusual! Until about 2:30 in the morning when I awoke to a stomach-ache that was pretty painful. I started drinking water, toughed it out and awoke later in the morning feeling a bit better -- so it seems to have passed.  But, we haven't done a whole lot today. We're off to Haifa in the morning, so we thought we'd find the central train station and get the schedule.

Otherwise, we'll hang around and get "well" -- as well as rested.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv...

Ha Carmel Market, Tel Aviv
After a hardy breakfast in a nearby restaurant, we decided to find and explore the Ha Camel Market (Shuk, Ha Camel). After asking a question or two, we jumped the #18 bus and were on our way. As was the case at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, the Hal Camel Market is an open and enclosed series of narrow streets and alleys winding through a part of downtown Tel Aviv. Except for Shabbat, the market is open every day. It is a never-ending parade of foods, clothing, gadgets and arts. While we were there on a Sunday, I'm told that Tuesday and Fridays are the days that artisans and other vendors sell unique items. We wandered through the streets for a couple of hours looking for "goodies" to take home.

As we circled back through the market to our starting point, we took a break in a square with chairs and tables for the shoppers (no shade, though!). I looked at the map and recalled an email from my friend Steve Manning who suggested Old Jaffa as an interesting destination. Old Jaffa is the oldest part of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality and is an "ancient sea port". I learned there is archaeological evidence to show that Old Jaffa was inhabited 7,500 B.C.E.  An ancient city indeed!

Custom Chair in Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv.
As we entered the area, we noticed a Tourist Information Office -- the first we've seen in Tel Aviv -- and asked about this part of the city. We were told about the "flea market" to one side of the city and the "old city" itself. The flea market is about 10 square blocks of vendors selling everything one can think of. There were old watches, tools and crafts of all kinds. But it was a "real flea market" -- with most goods brought from home to sell to the passerby.

Along the nooks and crannies of the many streets, vendors occupied more permanent store fronts. I noticed a "machine shop" shaping metal into useful tools. One shop, a woodworker was of interest to me, and the owner spent 20 minutes or so talking about his craft. His chair, which sells for $1000, was particularly unique. Our mutual interest in wood working made for an enjoyable discussion. We found a cool little cafe called "Gibberish" and enjoyed a cool drink in the shade.

We finished up Old Jaffa by exploring the Old City for awhile. The shops are newer, the merchandise is newer and more expensive -- but it's an enjoyable place to wander and see a different part of this beautiful city called Tel Aviv. We made our way back to our lodgings by City Bus and will spend another hour or two enjoying the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. As stated in an earlier post, Tel Aviv is a warm and humid place, so enjoying a swim is just what the "doctor ordered"!

And I always follow "doctor's orders".....

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tel Aviv.....

Our "driver" Haytham and self.
We were up early again this morning and had a final breakfast at the Christ-Church House next to our hostel. We gave our hosts a container of cookies and sweets we bought at a bakery the night before and thanked them for their hospitality. Among other things, they were helpful when we were in the process of retrieving Linda's luggage.

We walked to the Tower of David at 9:50 a.m. and a few minutes later our driver arrived in his white Mercedes "taxi". Since it is Shabbat today, the roads were virtually empty, so we made the drive to Tel Aviv in about 40 minutes.  Haytham, our driver, and I chatted along the way. I discovered he has 3 children -- an 11-year old and 9-year old boys and a 5-year-old girl.

Our lodgings, the Beachfront Hotel, is next to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv it was easy to find (as I understand it, the U.S. Embassy is in Tel Aviv because it would be "political sensitive" for the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital city).

The Beachfront Hotel, Tel Aviv.
As we arrived at the Beachfront Hotel, we were greeted with a wonderful view of the beach directly across the street. The white sands of the beach and blue waters of the Mediterranean were gleaming brightly in the hot sun. As a contrast to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is considerably more humid and feels quite a bit warmer.

It was 3 hours before we could check in, so the three of us picked up a map and started walking into the city. We found a variety of delightful shops and neighborhoods along the way. Since it is still Shabbat, most of the shops were closed. They'll open at about 8 p.m. -- at sunset for Shabbat ends.

Tel Aviv Beach in front of our Hotel.
We noticed on the map what appeared to be a shopping center about 15 blocks away from the beach. So, determined to find it, we set out in search of "Dizengoff Center".  We'll return there later this evening when Shabbat is at an end.

So, for now, we've settled into our room with the thought of -- maybe -- walking across to the beach and going for a swim.

It's a tough life -- but somebody's got to do it!!

4:30 p.m. -- We donned our bathing suits and walked across the street to the beach. Wow!! First, the sand is so fine it feels like silk. It's an amazing feeling to remove your shoes and walk in this wonderful sand. We found a spot close to the water and spread out towels onto the sand. It's interesting that we saw a sign that said "no swimming" -- yet the water was full of people enjoying the warm and sunny afternoon.

Linda and I walked into the water. It is WARM and soothing! The waters of the Mediterranean feel almost "therapeutic". As we walked into the water, we found it continued to be "shallow", even 20 yards from the water line.  Every now and then a wave would come by and the water level would reach our chins. Add the fact that the bottom-sand is smooth and easy to walk  and stand on. There were no stones, rocks or even sea-weed to impede us. It was a wonderful experience.

Tel Aviv Sunset from our hotel roof garden.
We stayed just before sunset and decided it was time to call it a day. We'll get some dinner and take a stroll along the Mediterranean for a little while. Tomorrow?? Who knows! But I'm sure we'll find just the right combination of activities to fill our day with adventure.

So, as always, stay tuned.......

Friday, August 16, 2013

Today, Friday, Shabbot begins at sundown so we knew we were in for a short day. Since this is our last day in Jerusalem we decided to make our way to the Jerusalem Mall by city bus. The Information Desk nearby told us to take the #18 bus by the King David Hotel. The hotel is just a short walk from our lodgings. Once on the bus we made ourselves comfortable and arrived at the Mall in about 35 minutes.
The Jerusalem Mall.

What can I say about the Jerusalem Mall?? Simple - "a mall by any other name is still a mall!!" We could have been in the Westfield Mall in Palm Desert or any mall anywhere. It is an attractive environment though. We noticed that, in order for shoppers to gain entrance, they had to submit themselves to a security search. The same was true of cars entering the parking lot. Security guards were looking into the trunks of the cars and had mirrors for inspecting underneath the car.

Another view of the Jerusalem Mall.
We spent a good amount of time looking in the shops and tried to get a "bagel" for lunch. It's interesting that bagels are not very common in Jerusalem. About an hour later, we decided to make our way back into downtown Jerusalem and to the "Holy Bagel" cafe to satisfy our craving.

A couple days ago, we met a taxi driver who was very pleasant. He took us to our destination and was determined that we arrive safely. And he gave us a "flat rate". So, I called him today and arranged for a "flat rate" drive to Tel Aviv tomorrow. Given our history with him, I feel pretty good about the forth-coming transaction. He's due to pick us up at the Tower of David, just across the street, at 10 a.m. If he shows, I think we're OK??!!  

Such are the adventures of travel...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tower of David...

After an exhausting two weeks of exploring Jerusalem, we took the day to get a couple of chores completed and relaxed a bit. Even though, we were out and about much of the day. We were up and down Jaffe Street a couple of times looking for items we thought we'd like to take home as souvenirs. Today we explored the numerous side-streets off the main boulevard. We even found a "flea market" with 40 or 50 vendors selling all sorts of "treasures".

Tower of David.
We found an absolutely delightful shop owner who, for a few "bucks" took care of our laundry. As we walked back to our lodgings, we enjoyed an extended "sit down and relax" at the Jerusalem Coffee Bean. As it turns out, it's the only Coffee Bean in Israel.  It's the one place where we can get the kind of coffee we're used to having. It's interesting that, as we travel around the world, we look for little touches of home.

As mentioned, we'll be going to the Tower of David Museum and Light Show this evening. As luck would have it our lodgings are just across the lane from the Tower of David. It was originally built in the 2nd Century B.C.E. to strengthen a weakness in the Old City defenses. To further bolster the defenses, the fortress even includes a "moat".
Tower of David at night.

The light show is a visual and musical representation of Old City history. The inside of the Tower of David is a large space with the inside of the walls and towers surrounding the interior. The light-show consists of an audio-visual presentation of the history of Jerusalem. It's interesting, and beautiful, how the show uses the interior of the walls as the "screen". The show is made in such a way that some of the actual windows, arches and stair-cases are integrated into the film presentation. It very unique and not something I've seen before. The accompanying music is beautiful.
Image Projections of a "library" on the walls of
The Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem

Tomorrow will be our last full day in Jerusalem. We'll be heading to Tel Aviv on Saturday followed by a stop-over in Haifa and visits to other cities and sites in Northern Israel.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Dead Sea and . . .

Enjoy a Camel Ride
for 10 Shekels
As was the case yesterday, we retraced our steps to the Central Bus Depot in downtown Jerusalem and bought our tickets for the Dead Sea. It's about a 1 hour trip via city bus. Today, the bus was full of travelers so we stood for the first 20 minutes or so. But some nice "young people" sat in the aisle and allowed us "old folks" to sit the rest of the way. I must say that younger Israeli's are very nice to those around them. They are courteous, friendly, have good senses of humor and most speak pretty good English. The beach we're going to is called "Ein Gedi" and is one of the few "public beaches" available along the shore.

The public area at Ein Gedi
at the Dead Sea
What started out as a cool morning became a fairly hot afternoon, so the thought of enjoying ourselves in the waters of the Dead Sea was appealing. Once we got to our destination, we walked about 200 yards from the bus stop to the public area. There are a number of permanent "umbrellas" around with showers here and there.

We already had our bathing suits on, so we found a shady area and took off our outer clothing. One needs to be sure to have foot-wear for the trek to the shore of the Dead Sea. I had a pair of "flip flops" that didn't do the job, so I wore my walking shoes. Along the shore of the water are stones and rocks, so navigating the beach is a challenge. But -- once in the water, it's another story. It doesn't take long before you are past the stones and into the deeper water.

That's me sitting on the shore
in he center of the photo
I didn't know this, but the Dead Sea is 1388 feet "below sea level", making it the lowest place on Earth. The water itself, at its deepest, is over 1200 feet with just a fraction under 34% salinity. It is SALTY!! One must take care not to get water into their eyes -- it "burns"!! One of the neatest benefits of the dense salt water is that the swimmer "floats". I was just off shore, talking with some fellow travelers standing "vertically", but not touching the bottom. You just "float" or "bob" like a cork!!

The water is warm and feels "oily" to the skin. Your skin feels smooth and healthy. Being so far below sea level, I learned that the harmful UV rays of the sun are greatly reduced, thereby making the sun-bathing and swimming beneficial and healthy.

Linda at the Dead Sea
Ein Gedi
If you plan to visit the Dead Sea -- I recommend the Ein Gedi "spa" another four kilometers down the road. The public beach has no amenities what-so-ever, and isn't a very pleasing environment. The water, as stated above, is another matter. Getting to the Dead Sea from Jerusalem is quite easy. The tourist can rent a car, take a "day tour" or take the public bus. Obviously, the bus is the least expensive. The buses are comfortable, air conditioned and run every hour or so.

We returned to Jerusalem at about 4 o:clock and walked the Ben Yehuda shopping mall for a couple of hours. We found a "Coffee Bean" (we have one in Palm Desert), and enjoyed a nice "cuppa" coffee. Later, we had an enjoyable dinner and decided to call it a day.

"Now let's see what's happening today."
Tomorrow we have tickets for the Tower of David Museum and Light Show in the evening. So, we'll spend our last couple of days relaxing and staying nearby Jaffe Gate. Maybe a trip to the Jerusalem Mall will take a bit of time and add to the enjoyment of our stay so far.

It's hard to believe we will have been here 2 weeks on Friday. Our days have been filled with enjoyable adventures. As stated elsewhere, I'm sure we missed a lot, but we've seen a lot too. So, we're pretty pleased with our decision to extend our stay in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

City Bus to Masada.
Today started out with a cool breeze in the early morning. I thought it was the perfect beginning to our plans for the day. Yesterday we had decided to go to Masada and the Dead Sea on the same day. At the last minute we changed our plan and chose to go to Masada only, we would go to the Dead Sea tomorrow or Thursday. It turned out to be a good decision.

After breakfast, we got on the tram for the Central Bus Station at about 8:30. There was a 9:40 a.m. bus, so we had a few minutes to wait at the departing gate. As chance would have it, I sat next to a Japanese fellow. We chatted and, as it turns out, he knew the company I worked for in Silicone Valley -- Alps Electric. Alps is a Japanese manufacturer of computer peripherals, so it's well known in Japan. It was fun reminiscing about some of the cities I used to visit while in Japan on business.

Bedouin Settlement along the
highway to Masada and the Dead Sea
After boarding the bus at 9:45 we departed the station at 10 a.m. and started our 1 1/2-hour journey to Masada. As we drove through the desert, I noticed how modern and well kept the highways are in this country. We enjoyed a four-lane divided highway all the way to our destination.

Along the way we saw an occasional Bedouin settlement. Their dwellings look like temporary structures and seem to be made from plywood, cardboard and canvas.  Most of the roofs are corrugated metal. Around their dwellings, herds of goats and/or sheep graze in the hot sun. There are about 130,000 Bedouin's in Israel and these nomadic people have been residents of the Middle East for the last 7000 years! Quite a history.

After Hitch Hiking we arrive
at Masada!!
We arrived at Masada at around 12:15 p.m. It was "hot" and the Visitor's Center is a healthy walk from the bus stop. As we walked along, a couple of cars passed us and, as a humorous gesture, I put out my thumb to "hitch hike". A delightful young couple from Paris picked us up and drove us the rest of the way. We had a wonderful couple of  "getting to know each-other" moments. We learned they were visiting from France for 2 weeks and were touring the country by car. We saw them off and on during our time on the top of the mountain and said "hi".

There are three ways to get to the top of Masada. One, the tram, was our choice and only takes a few minutes. The other two are trails one on each side of the mountain. One may choose to walk up and or down -- but in the heat of summer, we decided against it.

On top of Masada with the Roman
Fort and Visitor's Center below.
Once at the top, we chose to rent an audio tour and began exploring the mountain top. Masada is truly an "ancient place", dating back to 37 B.C.E. when "Herod The Great" built palaces for himself on the mountain. I visited both of these -- one to the north and down the mountain by a few hundred feet. The other is the "Western Palace" located on the level top. The tourist, "me", can see the Northern Palace via a series of stairs and paths.

The rest of the mountain-top is a series of ancient cisterns, storage rooms, living quarters, pathways and public areas. Masada, as an archaeological find, is relatively new and was "rediscovered"
At the "Commanders" Residence
as recently at 1842. The excavation of the site generally took place between 1963 and 1965 and still is going on today. Interestingly, as one wanders around the mountain-top looking at the buildings, a "black line" painted on the walls designates the original construction. The area above the line is a reproduction.

Using the audio tour as our guide, we wandered the 27 stations of Masada listening to the descriptions. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to explore the encampment. I'm sure there was much that we missed -- but it seemed a thorough way to see this ancient site.

At about 4 o:clock, we made our back to the Visitor's Center cafe for some lunch and cool drinks. We found the bus stop and headed back into Jerusalem. The bus came fairly quickly and we enjoyed the cool air conditioning and rest on the bus after an exhausting but interesting and enjoyable visit to Masada.

Stay tuned, reader, it "ain't" over yet!!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount and Solomon's Stables

Ramp over the Western Wall
to the Dome of the Rock.
This morning we decided to visit the Muslim Quarter and the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock is located on a larger area known as Mt. Moriah, The Temple Mount and Har Habait. The site, itself, is a sizable compound used by Muslims as a place of worship as well as more informal gatherings for family and friends.

There are two ways for the tourist to gain entry into the Dome of the Rock. One, through the Muslim Quarter, at the end of a  long narrow street -- almost a straight shot from the Jaffe Gate. The other is a long wooden and steel ramp up and over the Western Wall. We chose the ramp. As we walked along the long covered ramp, and to the right, there is an active archaeological dig underway. On the left side, the Western Wall is below. The crowd of worshipers at the Wall, on the men's and women's side, was very large.

Once inside the compound a number of tourists, all men, were asked to stand aside. We were all wearing shorts -- a mode of dress considered too "immodest" for us to enter the area.  At the end of a long portico, we were offered a scarf large enough to cover our legs. Twenty-five shekels and 5 minutes later we were on our way onto the grounds of the Dome of the Rock.

Walking around the Dome of the Rock and adjacent properties is a "quieting" experience. It is cosidered one of Islam's holiest sites.  The "rock" dates 70 C.E. and has been in continual use since then. The dome, and the building on which it sits, was constructed in 571 C.E. As we learned about this part of the Old City, we found that the site has significance to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. It is considered one of the most "contested pieces of real estate" on the planet! Quite a reputation.

Linda and Dennis at
The Dome of the Rock.
As we wandered around the area, we found Solomon's Stables to the East of the compound.  Solomon's Stables is a huge 1500 square foot building and is purported to have built by King Herod. We were told that the earliest use of the building may have been a reservoir. Later, in the 11th Century, the Crusaders used the building as "stables". It is now used as a mosque.

The building, sitting quietly in the sun with very little shade to cool the area. We noticed quite a number of "umbrellas" that, when opened, offer shade to the visitors and worshipers. A large tented area serves the same purpose nearby.

After about an hour of exploring the Temp Mount, the Dome of the Rock and Solomon's Stables, we left the compound for a leisurely walk back through the Jewish Quarter. We found a wonderful little food market where we bought some fruit and water and sat under a tree have our snack, watching the passers-by and talking about our experiences so far.

Linda overlooking Solomon's Stables.
Our goal was to venture out and to the Jerusalem Mall. I'm told it's quite a place with hundreds of shops, cafe's and larger "box stores". On our drive-by the other day, for example, I saw an "Office Depot". When we returned to the lobby of our lodgings and discovered that a smaller mall across town was showing the new film Elysium! We decided to opt for that and took a cab to the theater. After the film, which was just "OK", we returned to the Jaffe Gate by city bus.

Tomorrow we're off on the next leg of our adventure -- that is to Masada and the Dead Sea. So, check back when you can. It'll be fun.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hadassah Medical Center and Chagall.

We set out this morning  with a few things to do in mind. Utmost was a trip across town to the Hadassah Medical Center to see the Mac Chagall windows. There are 12 windows, presented by Marc Chagall to the Jewish people and Israel in 1962. We decided to take public transportation and set out to find our way.

It made sense to me that we'd go to the Central Bus Station and get a ticket for the #27 bus. So, we hopped on a tram and rode the few stops to the station. After navigating the crowd, we made our way to the third floor and the ticket booth. "Sorry", said the nice, but curt, lady in the ticket booth. "Take the tram to Mt. Herzl and then the #27 bus." We did as we were told and managed to get back into the train we had just left only a few minutes earlier! Such are the adventures of being a "stranger in a strange land," (with apologies to Robert Heinlein).

Vickie and Linda at the Abbey Synagogue
and the Chagall Windows.
We found our bus and fortunately, the Hadassah Medical Center was the last stop. Easy. Once at the medical center, it only took a couple of minutes to find the Chagall Windows Information Desk. We purchased our tickets and entered the Synagogue where the windows are on display high above the floor.

It was a bright sunny day outside. The stained glass windows were beautiful in the morning sunlight. Each of the 12 windows tells the biblical story of Jacobs blessings on his 12 sons and Moses blessings on the 12 tribes. We were invited to sit on the far side of the room (so we could see the first window) and enjoyed a 15 minute commentary about Chagall and the windows. After the commentary, we stayed there for 15 minutes or so, walking around the small Synagogue and talking about the various artifacts and inscriptions on the walls.

Yours Truly at the Chagall Windows.
I noticed that some people were walking outside and around the windows, so we asked if that part of the display was open to the public. While it was, seeing the "back of the windows" isn't much of a sight. Obviously, the sun needs to shine through so as to transform the colored glass into the magnificent images one sees from the inside. Yet, it was interesting to see the handy-work from the back-side of the windows.

In the visitors center itself, we noticed a couple of Chagall original works of art on the walls. On the same wall was a set of framed Israel stamps, struck and introduced in 1973 and signed by Chagall. There are 12 "full sheets" of Chagall window stamps, one for each of the 12 windows themselves.

As we left the medical center, we found our bus and learned that one cannot use a tram ticket to "initiate a bus ride".  It turns out, in Jerusalem, that one can use a tram ticket on a bus if it is "first used" on the tram. Or, one can use a bus ticket on a tram if it "first used" on the bus! Go figure?! By the time we returned to Jaffe Gate, it around 2 p.m. Time for some lunch and rest. We found that the  Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount are only open for a couple hours each day, so we'll take in those sights tomorrow morning..

Today (Sunday) is the Israeli first day of the week and our last week in Jerusalem. We've done so much and have enjoyed  every "turn in the road". I also realize that, if one is to see Israel properly, it would take 8 weeks or so. Maybe a bit more. But, our 4 week stay will give us a wonderful opportunity to see this country in more detail than we originally hoped.

So far, so good!!

It could've been Greenwich Village in the '60s.
8 p.m. -- We decided we wanted to do something different for dinner -- Chinese as a matter of fact. We had noticed the "Mandarin Palace" near City Hall, just a few blocks away. It was delicious. As we walked back to the Jaffe Gate, we saw a side street lined with restaurants and pubs. The street was closed to traffic and diners and drinkers were at tables filling both sides of the street.

This time year, Jerusalem is warm and comfortable in the evening, so the streets were crowded with people -- 20-somethings, families and children.

Tomorrow will be an off-day. After seeing the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount in the morning, we'll venture by public transportation to the Jerusalem Mall for a "look see".

So, as always, stay tuned.....

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ramparts Walk -- The Wall of the Old City...

Map of the Rampart Walk.
he Jaffe Gate is to the Left about mid height.
Today is Shabbat so we figured we'd stay in the Christian and Muslim Quarters of the Old City. As chance would have it I met an interesting fellow traveler from Holland at breakfast --  his name is Hank. He's here for a 3 month stay, but this is his 14th year in Israel. As we  talked about the character and beauty of the City, Hank mentioned The Ramparts Walk  (thanks to Steve Lipman, for this suggestion, too) -- a stroll around the top of the wall that encloses the Old City.

Linda climbs to the top
of The Rampart Walk.
Once again, our location makes for a perfect union of activity and accessibility to many Old City sights. The Ramparts Walk begins at the Jaffe Gate and goes in two directions -- one to the north, along the Christian and Muslim quarters, and one to the south, along the Armenian Quarter, the Zion Gate and the Jewish Quarter. It turns out that the wall around the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount is closed -- so one must take the wall in two sections. It costs us "seniors" 8 sheqels to make the journey -- and it's worth it.

We bought our ticket and found the entry way -- up a couple of flights of steps, to a gate. Once inside, one climbs more stairs to the top of the wall. It's a narrow passage, for most of the way, with hand-holds on one side and a banister on the other. The walk-way itself is made of small square "domed" stones that are sometimes slippery and difficult to navigate. The "many" steps one needs to climb up or down are often steep and slippery as well. As we continued along the narrow wall, it sometimes opened to a wider space used, we read, as a gathering place for "soldiers" sent to defend the Old City against the "enemy of the day".
Children's Playground, Soccer Field
and School.
Going in the "northern direction", the inside of the city is always to the right with the outside to the left. We would stop every now and then to see the sights that were below. On the outside of the wall, the New City of Jerusalem is below, with many stores, parks and a constant din of activity. By contrast, the inside view reveals the private patios and back yards of residents and churches.  An expanded view of the Old City was displayed before us.

There are so many contrasts. At one point, we'll see the back yard of a 12th Century church and then a modern children's playground just a few feet away. A large soccer field was on the same property. Farther down the wall, in the Christian Quarter, was a soccer stadium and basketball court. It was a fascinating contrast of life in the Old City. Along the way there was another modern children's playground, fountain and sitting area for adults. All protected by fences and, sometimes, guards.

The end of the Northern Rampart
Walk with the Dome of the Rock and
Mosque nearby.
Finally, at the very end of this section of The Rampart Walk, we reached a dead-end -- but the view was beautiful as we looked over to the Dome of the Rock  and a mosque tower in the near distance. We walked down the steps and, thankfully, found a little shop with bottles of cold water and a cool place to sit.

We wandered along the narrow streets of the Muslim Quarter and found a church purported to be the birthplace of Mary. A convent was nearby as was a Catholic seminary. We finally found our way back to the Jaffe Gate, had a bit of lunch and rest, and then will walk the southern section of The Rampart Walk.

A 45-foot spiral staircase.
2:30 p.m. -- With an ample lunch and rest under our belts, we decided to take the southern stretch of the Rampart Walk. I was surprised to find our ticket was good for the entry fee -- so we found the gate and made our way along the inside of the wall the high stairs leading to the top of the Wall. What we saw in front of us was daunting!! There, scaling to the top of the Wall, was a 45-foot circular staircase bolted to the stones. Now, I must admit, I don't like heights. But, we attacked the stairs and made our way to the top of Wall for the second leg of the journey.

Jerusalem from the Southern rim
of The Rampart.
This section of the wall is  quite different. Now the outside of the wall was to our right. We came to a large observation platform -- actually the roof of some building below -- and saw a beautiful panorama of New Jerusalem to the east. We saw the David Hotel in the distance with the Mamila Mall to the right. The park below the Jaffe Gate was visible, with children and adults playing in a fairly large fountain. Along Jaffe Street, traffic was heavy with tour buses and tourists along the parking garage and street.

It ain't Starbucks, but it'll do!!
We managed our way along the wall for about 1/3 of the way and decided that "OK, enough is enough!!". Just as we made that decision, an exit was just a few feet farther down the path, so we took the stairs to the street level. The exit was at the Zion Gate, and we took the winding street back to our "neighborhood" at the Jaffe Gate.

We rewarded ourselves with a coffee and cool drink. It was an end to a perfect morning and afternoon exploring the Old City of Jerusalem in a different perspective. I read, somewhere on the Internet, that the Rampart Walk is a "hidden gem of Jerusalem". It's true. If you're in this part of the world, I urge to try this adventure. But, it isn't for the "faint of heart". Wear good shoes, wear a hat and, above all -- TAKE WATER!!

Tonight, we're off to the movie house at 6 p.m. for a film and a couple of hours in a "cool dark theater". For me -- that's always a pleasure.

Ciao for now.....