Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jerusalem to taste

Jerusalem is a strange, strange place for the taste buds.

It's a combination of Middle Eastern food, traditional Jewish foods and pretty much any Western junk food you can think of!

Not a bad thing I guess.....

After all, everyone likes variety.

Even going out at night, I had some interesting tastes to keep me interested.
For instance, "Taybeh", Palestine's (and apparently the entire Middle East's) only micro-brew. It tasted damn good as well!

Breakfasts were also a situation where I was spoilt for choice.

There was always the breakfast kebabs that I had grown accustomed to whilst travelling with the boys, but here there were also simpler and sweeter delights.

Pancakes and strange soups, rich and sugary coffees!

However, the best thing I was treated to was what I ate with Kamil.

The lovely knaffe!

This goat cheese dessert had the perfect combination of textures and sweetness. Covered in honey and hot! The sugary rush it gave me at the start of a day was something that couldn't be replicated.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A closer look

It was late in the evening. I was trying to think of what to do when Pete appeared back in the hostel after a long day at the dig site.

He hadn't been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre yet and was wondering if I wanted to go along with him.

I had already been... but I liked it in there, so I decided to go again.
It would turn out to be a very good decision by me!

Not only was it nice to see the Church at night, when most of the Church was deserted of people, but it was also great to go there with Pete.

As an archaeologist, Pete was able to give me a far greater insight into this historic place than any tour guide ever could!

When I had been in previously, I was overawed by the big things. I couldn't take my eyes of the large and magnificent scenes that presented themselves before me.

However, Pete forced me to have a closer look.
He showed me that even the individual stones that make up the Church have amazing stories to tell.

On many of the old stones, there are dozens of carvings. Tiny Templar crosses that are carved deep into the stone. Tiny little signs of the pilgrims and the Crusaders who had come to this place centuries ago.

We even found several coats of arms that had been hewn into the stones!
It changed my feelings of the place! It made me realise even more that depth and complexity of the stories that surround this place.

I walked out extremely happy that Pete had wandered into the hostel when he did!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Partying in Jerusalem!

Oh the hilarity of it all!!!

Standing at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, you feel like you're in the dead centre of the Middle East with all of it's hustle and bustle.

Walk a few hundred metres down the souqs and through the Jaffa Gate and you have a different story altogether.

Now you find yourself in what is essentially any Western city.

It really doesn't feel quite right.

And at night, that feeling of peculiarity is amplified.

Jerusalem has a club and bar scene like any other Western city.
.... with the slight difference that there are a few more guns out and about along with the people!

On most nights, you'll find the area near Ben Yehuda St packed with crowds of young Israelis and Birth-Righters , all laughing it up and having a fantastic time.
Pete and I happily took up the challenge to party it up whilst we could.
After all.... how often do you get to party in Jerusalem?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Temple Mount

I had seen alot in Jerusalem.

The amazing holy city grabs the imagination and confronts you with both its history and its importance.

I had walked through the streets, I had stood in front of the holy places.

Yet I hadn't been up to the Temple Mount. I had tried, but I seemed to continually walk to the gates when they were closed to visitors.

Eventually, I managed to get the timing right!
The Temple Mount is an interesting place.

Sitting on top of the holy of holies for the Jewish religion and being itself the second most important place in Islam.
The Dome of the Rock.

Absolutely stunning. The blue mosaic tiles shimmer.
Walking up to the top very early in the morning also had the advantages of the cool winds and the slowly rising sun.
Sadly, I wasn't allowed to go in as I am a non-Muslim.
Across from the Dome of the Rock is the famous "Al Aqsa Mosque".
Again.... I was denied entry.
The Temple Mount is a beautiful place.

Walking up through the busy and bustling streets of Jerusalem, it's a shock to find yourself sitting in these beautiful and calm gardens.
It really is an oasis in the middle of the bustling world outside.
There's nothing to bother you at all.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Yad Vashem

Travelling through Israel leads to the invariable conversations about the Holocaust. It's a strange thing, but there are always little reminders everywhere.

A memorial, survivors running the museums.

The past is definitely still alive.

With this in mind, I knew the next place that I was off to visit.

The Holocaust Museum and Memorial.

Yad VaShem.
Situated in the forests on the edge of Jerusalem, it's a scenic and peaceful place.

I caught the bus out there. It dropped me outside the grounds, leaving me to walk in.

It was nice. A peaceful and serene walk through a calm forest.

As I got closer, I could see the structures appearing.
The museum inside is a touching place. The stories and the items of those who survived and didn't survive are clearly shown and on display. It's set underground, so you enter at one end, walk through what is essentially a long tunnel underground before appearing on the other side.

When you walk out, this is the scene that is before you.
The entire walk through the museum is moving and confronting. Seeing the faces, seeing the names. It's difficult to look at.

Outside of the museum are quiet gardens and smaller memorials to more specific groups.
This is the garden dedicated to the communities that were destroyed.
Inside the garden, there is a small memorial for people to dedicate to their loved ones.
To the side was a beautifully made memorial to those who were sent to the camps.
The train that terminates to nowhere.
A very fitting memorial.
There were plenty of visitors at Yad VaShem, and yet the way it is constructed you don't feel it. There is a sense of isolation that follows you. Even with all the people around, you feel alone.

The most confronting memorial was the last one I walked to.

It was the memorial to the children who were killed in the Holocaust.
As I walked underground into this final memorial. I felt a slight chill. The further I walked in, the darker it became.

Soon, I found myself walking through a completely darkened tunnel. The only thing that was leading me was a feint light at the end of the tunnel.

I slowly walked towards it.

As I turned the corner in the tunnel, what was before me was disturbing and depressing.

Children's faces, just floating in the darkness. Moving and changing from face to face. The faces of children who would never grow up, who would never see anything but suffering.

Further inside, there was a simple light. Reflected by dozens of mirrors, it lit up the small room in the middle of the memorial. In the background, I could hear a lone voice slowly reciting the names of the children. Name after name, life after life.

I walked out of the children's memorial feeling awful.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Finding something special

How many Danish-American archaeologists do you meet in the course of a day?

I mean seriously? How many?

Well I was one of the lucky few to bump into one of these rare creatures!

It just so happened, that Pete, my new found hostel friend was actually an archaeologist who was having a working holiday in the holy lands. He wanted to get some experience in working in a Middle Eastern site, so he had volunteered to work a dig here!

His previous work experience?

He was part of the team restoring the Wasa!!!!!

Now THAT is a cool job! Far better than the office job that was waiting for me back home (sigh...)

So Pete tells me all about this current archaeological dig. It turns out that the Islamic authorities in charge of the top of the Temple Mount had done some renovations about ten years ago. They had dug up lots of dirt and simply dumped it near Mount Scopus.

Hebrew University had asked for their permission to go through the dirt to see if there was anything significant. They had agreed and so there was now an international team going through this dirt, slowly sifting and cataloguing their finds.

It sounded amazing! Pete suggested that I come down with him one day and volunteer....

How could I not say yes?

So, early one morning, we both headed off to Mount Scopus and to the dig.

I was assigned a large metal sieve, next to a pressurised water hose and provided with bucket upon bucket of dirt.

I did my job, whilst Pete observed and checked that I was removing the correct items.

I found lots of pottery, pieces of metal, bits of of ugly Crusader earthenware, ugly pieces of Byzantine mosaic, beautiful little pieces of Islamic mosaic.... and most incredibly of all......

I found a COIN!!!!!
I found a tiny little Greek coin (according to Pete). Apparently it's a rare thing to find coins on digs.

I felt special!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Hitting the town in the new city in Jerusalem is fun.

A little bit too much fun actually.

The next day my head hurt and the room was spinning. My time was limited though, so I didn't want to waste the day.

Pete was equally hung over (if not worse), but he was keen on doing something as well. So we decided that this was the perfect day to head out to Masada!

A long.... bumpy bus ride followed this decision. It didn't sit well with how we were both feeling.

After about two and a half hours, we reached our destination!
This site holds incredible importance to the modern state of Israel who see it as symbolic of their greater struggle for freedom and nationhood. Apparently there are units of the IDF who make their loyalty pledges on the top of Masada.
Pete and I decided that the best way up would be to climb.

It wasn't long before Pete was straggling.
I on the other hand was now full of energy!

My wool jacket probably wasn't the best idea in the sun though.
The view from the top was beautiful. You could see clear over to the Dead Sea.
Pete and I wandered around the top. There was a strange combination of old buildings and not so nice developments.

Soon, we found our way to the other side. There we looked down and saw the remains of the Roman ramp. It was from here that the Roman legions charged up to find not a defending force, but thousands of dead.

Suicide was preferable to slavery for them.
We continued walking.

The views really were spectacular.
The air was fresh and the sun was bright.
But after all the walking, we were both tired.

The lack of sleep and the bumpy bus ride had caught up to us and so instead of walking down to the bottom, we took the lazy option and went down on the cable car.
A forty minute walk versus a smooth three minute trip!
Travelling in style is always nice!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Walling Off

Leaving Hebron was a very interesting experience. Looking at our watches, we realised that we were late. Very late.

The last bus from Hebron to Bethlehem was leaving soon and we didn't really feel like paying the extra price for a taxi.

So... we ran.

Mike and I were off (though he was soon wheezing) and before long we were through the souq and moving quickly towards the bus stop.

Kamil on the other hand was not so lucky. While we were running, he decided that the call of nature was stronger than our need to get to the bus. He ran off to the side to fix this problem while Mike and I continued running.

That's where the problems began. After Mike and I were well out of the souq, Kamil was able to start running again. However, instead of the nice empty souq.... he was confronted by a squad of IDF doing their patrol.....

He was of course stopped.... questioned.... and frisked.....

It seems running passed the IDF in the middle of Hebron isn't the best of ideas.

Eventually we found Kamil again, still running and the three of us finally made it to the bus stop.

It didn't matter. We had missed the bus.

But thankfully a service taxi drove straight passed us so it was all fine.
Back in Bethlehem, we started to walk back to the crossing out of the West Bank.
It's a sad situation... houses and lands completely split up.
No one on either side seems happy with this situation.
But the art work all along the walls and the adjacent buildings were both spectacular and inspiring.
Hopefully they are a sign of the better times that will come.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Patriarchs

Bethlehem was an interesting place to visit. But being in the West Bank, my friends and I decided that it was the perfect time to go deeper. To go further into the Palestinian territories.

After all.... we were there already!

We looked at the map we had and decided that based on where we were, the best direction to head would be south!

So we went to Hebron.

Hebron is one of the most tension filled places in the West Banks. Whilst the Jewish settlers in other parts of the West Bank live in settlements isolated from the Arab population, here in Hebron they live intermingled.


Whilst sitting on the bus to Hebron, Kamil mentioned to us that someone had been shot and killed by the IDF in Hebron the day before. Again.... lovely.

When we reached the place, we were surprised by just how friendly and welcoming the people were. Everywhere we went, people wanted to stop and say hello to us.

We continued walking through the city and eventually we reached a long and windy souq. Sadly, the souq was almost deserted. What could easily be one of the most beautiful and bustling souqs in the Middle East was nothing more than a empty side street, the only noise being the occasional yells of children and the repetitive march of IDF boots.
Eventually we reached the end of the souq. Security gates were waiting for us. We were trying to get in further because it was here that the Ibrahimi Mosque is situated.

After a long wait and two security checks. We managed to get through.

At first, we were unsure about what the fuss was. There was nothing much to see. We were on the verge of turning around and going back to Jerusalem.

But just as we were about to walk out, an old man in the mosque motioned us to walk in further. We followed his smiling advice and continued in further.

What we found was beyond comprehension.
This was the tomb of the Patriarchs.

Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Leah, Isaac and Rebecca.
Their cenotaphs all stood silently, representing what had come before.

However, in the middle of the great room, was a small well.
This well led to a cave where it was believed that the Patriarchs were actually buried.
Standing next to the cenotaph of Isaac! Standing above the cave that legend claims Adam and Eve are lying in!
Every step I take in this land, I see more and more that leaves me completely astounded.