Saturday, June 30, 2012

More Jerusalem

Our first day full day in Jerusalem started by getting swindled by the Taxi Cab driver.  Cab drivers are supposed to turn on their meters (by law) and we assumed the man had done that...but as we arrived we noticed the meter had never been turned on and the driver demanded 30 Shekels.  We were told a taxi from our hotel to the Old City was at most 15...but what are you going to do?  Cause a scene? Argue in the streets? So we paid twice the fare and headed to this morning's destination....the Western Wall Tunnel tours.  

The Western Wall square...which you see in so many pictures....is only a portion of the Western Wall.  Many centuries ago, the ravine  next to the wall was filled in...to make the ground even.  Hence, parts of the wall are buried.  When Israel took over this part of Jerusalem after the war, they began excavating a tunnel next to the visible section of the old Wall...looking to uncover/expose more of the old Wall.

 This caused problems....and trouble....people living above the tunnel had concerns about their foundations/homes.... the majority of people living next to the wall are Muslims and were concerned about a tunnel being built below them....truly....who wouldn't be concerned if some new government took over your neighborhood and started excavating  under your house?

Anyways...they were able to dig a narrow passage next to the wall and with careful foundation supports keep the neighborhood above it from caving in...and hence the tour of the underground section of the Wall began.

 The leader of our tour of the underground tunnel was an ex-American who obviously was a wanna-be actress.  Head-covered by a scarf and wearing a long skirt....she was the epitome in exaggerated story telling and gestures...it was borderline comic.  After a few minutes, I closed my eyes while listening to her and didn't subject myself to her grand arm movements although her voice was still very theatrical.

The tunnel had some incredibly intricate and dynamite models of Old Jerusalem and the Western Wall area underground... so you visually understand what the temple and area looked like through the ages.  

 If you don't learn this fact...the first 24 hours you are in the Middle East/Jerusalem/Jordan....you will learn this nugget your second 24 hours....everything is built upon everything else....everyone liked the same spots...and many of the same areas are holy to several different people.

The Western Wall is part of a huge wall that holds a mound where Abraham is supposed to have offered his son Isaac up to God.  Herod, during Roman Times, built  a Jewish Temple there which the Romans destroyed but the area was preserved and built upon again because Muslims venerate Abraham and believe that The Prophet ascended to heaven on that spot too....hence you have an ancient sacred site...which had a sacred site built upon it....and then another scared site built upon it.   

All around you ....you find temples and buildings which have been pancaked....it was meaningful in ancient times....remained meaningful and scared with the next group of people who moved there came along.  Of course,  this is very logical.... in a small desert area people congregate where there is water and shelter......things happen....even holy things happen....and hence many of the same places have long rich histories.

You find pancaking in Rome too....a beautiful site acknowledged as scared has a temple built on it...a new religion enters the life of the people and they say....why knock down that great building?...let's just  modify and reuse it.   Thanks to pancaking....many of the world's ancient artifacts were saved because other religions used the same buildings rather than going through the expensive building process.

Anyways....the tour underground was amazing....seeing how different layers of the wall were built....seeing various arches that led to the temple area that are now underground ..gives you a tiny glimpse back in history. There is one spot underground...which is even considered very holy....in the Jewish Temple of long ago...the Ark of the Covenant was sheltered and stored there ...the Ark though disappeared before the Romans destroyed the temple. 

 Some people say the Ark remains buried deep in a side tunnel under the Holy Mosque which is there now...others believe it was taken away and buried somewhere else....if you believe the Ark is still there...then there is a section of underground wall which would be the closest area to where the Ark might be....women (and I don't know why or where the men are) often come down here to pray next to this holy spot.  

 When we arrived at this spot....the hysterical girl I saw the night before was there!  She was swaying and saying prayers in front of the holy spot...although without tears and much more together....there were also a few other women....sitting on white plastic chairs in the background....two of them were completely covered head to toe with scarves and shawls.  

I looked at them and thought....hmmmmm....I wonder if one of them is a soldier with a machine gun under her skirt?  I'm sure somebody was a guard...but I don't know which one was the soldier or soldiers.

We emerged from the tunnel tour and the actress leader said we would now walk through to the Western Wall square under armed guard.  What?  And sure enough two soldiers with guns...one in front and one in back of our group marched us down the Via Dolorosa....which if you are Christian...you know is the path that Jesus walked on with the cross towards his crucifixion.  

There were all sorts of tourists around and about.... looking at the shops (in the Muslim section).  I decided I wasn't going to be marched along...and hub and I slipped quietly into a shop for a cool soda.  As we ambled back to the square we must have missed a street and although we ended up in the Western Wall square...we missed the street with the Church I wanted to see.

I had found in some tourist info that there was a church called Our Lady of Spasms...I thought....wow...what a great name....and who is our lady of spasms? my second thought was....if anyone needed to visit a church for spasms it was me...since my hamstring injury was still giving me some trouble.  Unfortunately....I missed the church and spasmed for the rest of the day...lol.


We quickly left the square and hoofed down the street because we had another tour lined up at the Tower of David.  This enclosure was part of King Herod's castle near the gates to the old city of Jerusalem.  We had a great guide....a former lawyer historian from Canada...who filled our brains with so many facts....I could feel neural matter leaking out onto my t-shirt by the time we ended the tour.  I was so filled with info from the tunnels and the tower, I told hub I couldn't even walk...because my head was so big through the intense mid-day heat...so we discovered a small cafe in the courtyard of the castle and bought ice cold drinks and sat back quietly and looked around.

King Herod....King Herod's castle...here...right here two thousand years ago...Romans....Jesus....slaves from all over the world...commerce...mystery ...intrigue....all right here...in this court yard I was sipping my ice tea in.....two thousand years ago....King Herod...walking....strolling through this area in Jerusalem so long ago.

Amazing.


Monday, June 25, 2012

And I start my time in Israel....with....(of course) ...Elvis.


I am home now...and finally getting a chance to write about Israel and Petra and funny stuff that was hard to retell....when you're dog tired at the end of the day and facing the peck peck electronic keyboard of an Ipad. 

My hub and I miraculously arrived in Israel at the same time.  My plane was late ...his plane on time out of Rome.... and there we were in the baggage claim area....staring at each other....well hello there.......which was great.... because we could get our bags and start towards Jerusalem.


A friend of mine here in town who has been to Jerusalem about 20 times, told us to take a "sheroot" to the city...essentially a van/shuttle you share with other folks.  Yes, it was cheaper...but most of all ....you'll see parts of the city you'll probably never go to...since the van drops people off right in front of their house.

Our first stop off the Going-to-Jerusalem Highway was near a Kibbutz which looked like a dude ranch... there was a horse on the sign and  horseshoe logos scattered around (although I did not actually see any horses).  Not quite what I was expecting for a Kibbutz near Jerusalem. We left off a guy who looked like an aging Australian Hippie...and turned back to the highway.  That's when I poked my husband's side....

"Do you see that?"

"What?"

"That statue.....is that .....ELVIS?"


We stared wide-eyed with mouths open.  Yes....there in the middle of a gravel parking lot....was Elvis holding up his hand as if he were waving to the people on their way to Jerusalem.

 I turned around and caught a glimpse of a gas station and restaurant labeled "Elvis Inn." I rubbed my eyes....really.... in Israel next to a dude ranch on the way to Jerusalem?  Elvis? 

Apparently yes....the Inn and Elvis have been there for many years owned by two brothers Amon and Uri who are ardent Elvis fans.... the place apparently attracts folk who follow Elvis and folks who don't but really can't believe what they are seeing so they go in or stop anyways.  Trust me, if I wasn't in the sheroot....I'd be in the gift shop checking out Elvis salt and pepper shakers to see if they have a "I'm all shook up in Jerusalem" label on them.  I mean...how awesome would that be...lol.

Although the next stops by the sheroot were not Elvis oriented...they were different in their own way. People were left off deep in Orthodox or very conservative neighborhoods were women and girls on this hot hot day were covered up with long sleeves and long skirts and some men wore Hassidic garb.  

When we got to our hotel....we decided since it was getting late in the day....we should make our way to the Old Section of Jerusalem and see the Western Wall at sunset.  

By map....the walk was supposed to be about 10 minutes....in the heat and in the way Israel works ...it turned out to be more like 25 minutes.  

We eventually ended up in the Arab quarter Souk (long narrow alleyways where merchants have their shops) which we had to navigate through before we hit the Western Wall.  My hub was uncomfortable as men tried to stop and show him things or give him their cards....I was fine.... I had been in the Middle East before and knew the hellos and come-see-my-shop and look-at-this-fine-souvenir-were normal banter.

We finally were near the Wall....the Souk ended and we ended up in a small office with a metal detector and an exit door out to the square. We put our cameras and bags through the scanner and then stepped through the opening into a large square.  I had seen a thousand pictures of this area.... so it seemed familiar.  

The square and the Wall looked much smaller than I pictured it.  The light was starting to fade....but there were still plenty of people around.  

If you're not religiously conservative....you immediately notice the disproportionate way the area in front of the wall has been divided. 

In this rather small space...there's a large wooden fence which divides the square into a men's and women's section.  2/3 of the space is given to the men's section and a high wall separates a much smaller area for the women.  You can't go up as a man and woman together to the Wall to pray....you must be segregated. I showed my hub where to go.....then I headed for the women's section.


To Jews....the Western Wall still contains the spirit of G-d so hence is very scared.  As I moved to the wall....trying to get into the right frame of mind....I heard wailing....and looked over into the men's section where Ultra-Orthodox men, Hassidim, where crying. 

 I remember reading some people cry at the wall because they morn the lose of the temple and the closeness to G-d...but I was still surprised to hear the wailing.  As I moved into the narrow confines of the women section....again trying to get into a spiritual frame of mind....I heard crying again...this time not from a man.... but from a young girl.  

Very thin...covered up with a scarf and long sleeves and long skirt....she was crying into her prayerbook.  Actually, she was rubbing her face with the prayerbook and sobbing into it.  The nurse in me kicked in....and I wanted to go up to her and say, "Are you alright?"...Intellectually, I knew she was probably in a trance or mild hysteria...which can be a common state for religious people when they are near a holy shrine of their faith......but the sound of her crying....the picture of her weeping and wiping the prayer book on her face....wouldn't leave me.  

I approached the Wall which was had two layers of women in front of it.  Covered with scarves and holding prayerbooks...they were not moving and it was quite obvious they weren't going to share the space.    With some discreet elbowing.... I wedged in between two women....and placed my hand on the Wall.  

I began to quietly say a prayer...when I heard this very loud audible "tisk"....apparently one of the women looked up and saw that I had red nail polish on my hands and was making tisk-tisk noises at me. 

 Hmmmmmm...I'd never read anything to suggest that a hand with nail polish was not permitted...so I tried to tune her out.   I closed my eyes.....left my red-nailed hand on the Wall....and tried to find a spiritual doorway.  It was hard to find that doorway....probably cause I was looking too hard for it.


I left the Wall...and found my hub....and we stood around watching the parade of people coming and going as the sun set and the square got darker.  We noticed most of the people praying where either tourists like ourselves or Ultra-Orthodox/Hassidim in their very distinctive clothes.  One man, from a particular Polish sect, walked by with such a large round fur hat on it was startling....it looked like a bear was perched on his head....even more startling was the site of him whipping out his cell phone as he walked away from the Wall...I kept thinking geez if you're going to dress and live like it's 1880 ....you should probably be shouting into a shofar or speaking face to face with someone since cellphones did not exist a 100 plus years ago.


We stumbled around the Old City till we found a restaurant ...correction...smelled lamb on a spit...and discovered we were in the Armenian section of the Old City.  We disappeared down an old low arch and some narrow stone stairs and found a dining room with one long table left open. We sat down next to a couple from Toronto.  She was Jordanian and he was originally from Canada...they had two small children in tow.  

The woman was warm and funny and telling us what mischief and tricks to watch out for....clerks put 112 dollars instead of shekels on your MasterCard bill....cab drivers that don't turn the meter on....all manner of tricks to be played on bewildered tourists.  I enjoyed her enthusiasm so much...but I was so tired and hungry at this point from our travels from Rome and finding the Old Section that I realized I probably didn't look very enthusiastic and she grew quiet...if not disappointed in our conversation.


After dinner we struggled home...by that I mean it was hot and most of the trip was uphill to the hotel. Tired ...Tired... I hit the bed and started to drift off...but I heard ......wailing....crying.....and I wasn't sure if the sound was my memory from the Wall or my imagination or something on TV in the next room.  

It was ...confusing....and I sunk down into a deep sleep in Jerusalem.

Friday, June 15, 2012

My last two days in Rome

When I added Rome to our itinerary for our trip...many moons ago....I was pleased to add the trip but not over-thrilled as I had seen and been in Rome once before. Now as I was entering the last two days of my stay there...I felt a little sad to realize the end of my roman segment was here.

I was beginning to like Rome..a lot. The city was interesting and walkable. Good food and good coffee was always nearby....I was starting to look into shop windows at clothes and shoes and purses. I found the quality and the styles beautiful. I watched and studied the Roman women...what made them look so good...narrow pants...incredible shoes???A particular type of confidence? I was even beginning to say words like Bon giorno and grazia with some grace myself. I know a bit of French so translating Italian (in simple situations) was not difficult. Men smiled....I smiled back. We even mastered the subway system which was (in comparison) to NY..a piece of cake.

I could visualize myself staying longer in Italy....heading north to Florence or south to the Amalfi coast...I pictured myself wearing more stylish shoes.....but instead of more Italian travels we finished Rome with a tour of the Vatican and a tour of the roman forum and colosseum. I had visited these places when I was in high school....in the Vatican....I swear they have not moved a single statue....I recognized works of art and I recognized the room they had been in.

The most startling site was the Colosseum. I had been there before, as I mentioned, when I was in high school. When we entered the site my jaw dropped....it was so clean...and reorganized. When I toured it before you couldn't walk around the Colosseum inside....the walkway was broken in several places...chain link fence prevented your passage in areas...it looked old and worn and broken. Now..viola...you could walk around the entire first and second levels...some of the interior arches had been added to and renovated...the lower level of the Colosseum floor was built up. The jagged ground floor I remember was smoothed...the rubble used to rebuild. I kept saying to my hub...wow this place looks so good....but he had never seen it before so had no point of comparison. Strange but I decided I liked the ruined Colosseum better....the jagged raw place that looked tired and was showing it's age appeared more real to me than this tidier version...which seemed to say all 2000 year old structures look this great...not really.

After a rather long walk back to our hotel....we freshened up and headed to a restaurant by the Spanish Steps...we ate there earlier in the week...we had no problem finishing off a bottle of wine and our pastas...and our coffees...we even knew how to navigate ourselves down the back streets to our hotel. When I pulled the curtains..and cut off the view of the Piazza below our hotel room....I felt a little sad....I was just getting the hang of this place...and now it was time to leave.....I could use another week....but I had tickets in my bag for Israel the next morning....so I packed and headed from one eternal city to another...Jerusalem.



Sent from my iPad

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pompeii

We reached Pompeii on Sunday. I couldn't believe that we had made it without too much trouble...yes...I worried a gang of Russians might rob us in the hotel....lol....but really considering all the plans and complications we had arrived on Sunday just as we planned at Pompeii.

It was a grayish morning and I was thankful for that...a mild cool breeze...greeted us and we headed down the original street to the city. I looked around and suddenly it dawned on me...I am in Pompeii. ....and there is Mt. Vesuvius . I had heard about these places forever and here I was....how strange.

It took me about twenty minutes to shift from " gotta get here mode" to "here I am mode.". And when I switched modes...all of a sudden I realized what an amazing place this was....I was walking down streets made 2000 years ago...I was walking into houses....some magnificently intact from 2000 years ago...I was a lookey-loo walking into people's courtyards....looking at the paintings in their dining rooms....strolling through their courtyards. It seemed so personal....here was someone's mosaics they choose for their house....here were the take-out stands for food along the streets( folks like to eat at take away stalls in the afternoons),..where you could still see the indents in the counters for the food bowls...here down the street was a small amphitheater for speeches..the large amphitheater for plays...the special courtyards for athletic games.

Unlike a drawing ...or an essay...you were walking and seeing this town in 3-d....it occurred to me over and over what a treasure this site was for scholars...for science...for life....because one of the most interesting aspects of your trip was how normal things felt....how people had bathrooms and baths and kitchens and decorations and entertainment. It was all so incredibly civilized....so well thought out...I kept wondering how did society plunge into such an uneducated dirty mess in the middle ages....how did they forget the hygiene and the mechanisms for debris removal...how did people move from such civilized life to one where they were throwing their human waste onto the streets in front of their houses?

My hub ..mr history as well as mr science...gave me a run down on all the theories....most centered around a society which (for many reasons)became less organized and less educated.....and as soon as people became less scientific...less well read....they became cruder and technology was lost.

When we were leaving ...I read a sign which stated that there are several more acres of the city buried which have not been excavated...whole new housing and merchants areas still sealed tight. They are not sure when they will dig those sites....previous excavations were often done very quick and much was lost or stolen or carted away by the locals. Now, a new dig would be done under intense scientific scrutiny and the results...what they learn...should be even more fantastic.

We got on the train....and I w arched mt. Vesuvius fade...my hub though shook his head...look at how they built those suburbs....indeed you could see tight bundles of homes climbing up parts of the mountain...another eruption is certain...apparently too other Pompeii -s are waiting to be created.


Sent from my iPad

Monday, June 11, 2012

More Roman Holiday

Our trip to Pompeii was quite nerve-wrecking but satisfying. Despite hours of research, I was still a little nervous about the travel plans. We had to hop on a train from Rome to Naples...then walk through a rather seedy piazza then take a train known for pickpockets then managed to go through the Pompeii ruins without fainting from sun or heat exhaustion (there are few trees).

With some effort and luck we found our way to our bullet train which was a quick hour ride to Naples. When we got off the train, google was right...the train station is a terribly seedy area especially at night. Homeless disheveled folks lurked about...some of the sidewalks were littered with broken bottles and the streets pulsated with fast get-out-of-my way or I'll kill you drivers. We only had to navigate 4 blocks to our hotel but it felt like 40....I was exhausted and sweating . We got in line to register and the woman in front of me...a blonde with a Russian accent kept getting assurances from the desk guy that she could rent the room for "only von hours". This had my confidence challenged about the hotel quality. After showing our passports, the desk guy instructed a huge burly Russian(also with an accent) to show us to our rooms. "here is dee kovveee maker..it's free so use it.". Now I had convinced myself we would be woken up and robbed by a Russian gang in Naples. No such thing happened...but I didn't sleep well that night...waiting for the Russian bellboy to team up with the one hour quickly lady.

Sent from my iPad

Roman Holiday

Well.....Bella Roma....we have one more day in Rome and are having a great time. I can even say bon giorno with some style.

We have been busy busy covering all of Rome's attractions from the odd Capuchin monks gallery to the Spanish Steps....and down to Pompeii .

The Capuchin monk place was quite a treat...lol. Sometime in the past the head of the order decided to use the bones of past monks who died to create several galleries of designs using the bones of dead monks. The order is dedicated to supporting itself so they made 5 galleries using their colleagues bones. They made decorative chandeliers out of bones.....think thigh bones gussied up with some spine bones and then made wall decorations think designs with scapulas and more spine bones which tend to be excellent fillers when designing sculptures.

Sent from my iPad

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Bella Bella Roma

The Misery of my long night in coach coming over to Rome is forgotten and I am having fun in Roma! Miraculously even though my hub and I took separate flights over I found him waving at me from the baggage section of the Rome airport....what great timing!

It was sunny and warm and after checking into our cute hotel near the piazza Barberini we hit the streets. You could immediately tell Roman women from tourists because they all wear stunning leather shoes. Gorgeous creations of colorful leather and very often high heels. You must be a native to wear high heels here because the streets in the older sections of Rome are cobblestone so you need a practiced gait to handles heels and uneven sidewalks. Even in tennis shoes ( so American) I have stumbled and almost tripped. Italian women here also have wonderful legs....a no brainier since there are so many hills to climb here. I also figured out some of their slimming secrets as the coffee here packs a powerful punch of caffeine...that leaves you not needed much else.

Last night we covered the pantheon, piazza Navone, and the Spanish Steps. We also ducked in to some jaw-dropping splendid small churches washed in gold and artwork. This morning we hit the streets early and it was wonderful... A small light shower kept most tourists inside and we had the place to ourselves. Quiet ....cool...a pretty breeze it was just glorious to walk down the streets and soak up Roma.

This afternoon we visited a monastery where the friars dug up their dead brethren and arranged their bones into artistic patterns on the wall. Loops...and swirls...and floral motifs all made out of bones....okay. Weird but interesting.

After a short rest, we will head out to a museum and then on to Naples via train to stay overnight there. Hopefully, we will find the right trains and find ourselves in Pompeii tomorrow morning! Wow. That's all I can say.....

Sent from my iPad

Outside our hotel window

Wednesday, June 06, 2012



Yikes....in 4 hours I'm supposed to get up and head to the airport....nothing like a 630am flight to start your journey.  I've set two clocks....have all my clothes out....passport and e-tickets checked 400 times.

Head to Dallas...then to JFK then to Rome.  I don't fly with hub so he heads a different route.  If all goes well...we will arrive about 30 minutes apart. 

I can hardly believe THE DAY is here to leave....my animals are all acting weird.  They seem to have "suitcase" anxiety....they see suitcases....they know something is going to happen.  Fancypants, my little exotic fur ball, threw up for the first time I can remember right next to my carry-on.  I take that as symbolic gesture of her appraisal of my leaving.  Ozzie, the wonder dog, is pacing....his lips are red because he's over-licking them because of worry.  My Wildcat stop eating yesterday....and my boys look like they are counting down the minutes will exit.

Bringing Ipad....and a connector between camera and Ipad...so maybe I'll get to blog some pictures as we travel about.

Wish me luck.