A Travellerspoint blog

April 2014

Intro and catch up

As I was looking for information on the internet and couldn't find it, it occurred to me that other people may be interested in knowing about the "weekend warrior" trips I take locally. Most are hikes, but I do other stuff sometimes. Here are some of the places I went before it occurred to me to write this up:

Mt. Tabor: On Mt. Tabor, there are two monasteries and a bunch of hiking trails. One of the monasteries has a church that we went to see the inside of, and the other was closed. The trail we took circled the mountaintop and had great views. It was short and easy. At one point, we stopped where we could see the valleys below. In the book of judges, Deborah tells the Israelites to gather here to defeat an enemy army. From the point we stood at, we could see exactly what armies would have been where.

Kursi: Written in the new testament is a story about how Jesus took some devils, put them into pigs, and then herded the pigs into the Sea of Gallile. At the point where that supposedly happened, some men built a church, long ago. Today, all that remains are some ruins with mosaics. At the entrance area, you can see most of the ruins, as well as a "sand writing" device. If you take a short walk up the hill, there is also a chapel to see.

Golan: From a kibbutz, there is a steep path that leads down to some water. Most of the hillside is covered in cactus, and it is not a shady walk, but it is still pleasant.

Nevoraya: This is a forest area with a lot of hiking trails. The trail we took was relatively easy, although it could have been quite long, if we had time. It was extremely empty, maybe because it was Saturday, but we saw almost nobody else during our hike. The only place we really ran into people was at a frog pond. This pond was near a spring and there were hundreds of frogs in a tiny area. At the entrance we parked near, stand the ruins of an old synagogue.

Montfort: The English left their mark on Israel, just like all of the other colonialist powers that held the land. One piece of their legacy is a fort called "Montfort" and the nature in the surrounding area. They brought trees that weren't indigenous as well as animals. As a result, there are British fish in one of the streams nearby that is shaded by British trees. We took a path along the stream that did not go to the fort, but instead to a spring the fed the creek. There is even a little water hole where you can take a dip and have the British fish swim around you. If you're not squeamish and you sit still, they'll even come up and peck at your feet. The hike was steep in places and was a very pleasant hike, but there were a lot of people on the trails.

Cows in Nevoraya

Cows in Nevoraya


Frog Pond

Frog Pond


Nevoraya view

Nevoraya view


Nevoraya synagogue

Nevoraya synagogue


Mt. Tabor monastery

Mt. Tabor monastery


View of Kinneret

View of Kinneret


Creek by Montfort

Creek by Montfort


Golan hike

Golan hike


Golan hike

Golan hike


Golan Hike

Golan Hike


Kursi Monastery

Kursi Monastery


Kursi ruins

Kursi ruins


Words in Sand

Words in Sand

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Jewish Easter Sunday

In the morning, I had the hotel breakfast, which I was pleased with, and then took the tram to town. On the tram, I noticed lots of people walking around with Easter baskets. They didn't look to be full of candies, like kids' baskets in the states, but full of bread. One smelled like it had both bread and sausages. When we got to the more tourist areas though, less people had them.I walked an area a little bit south of where I had walked before, and then headed back to the Jewish area ticket office to get a ticket for the full guided tour. The entire area of town was completely mobbed. Maybe people were thinking that because it's Easter Sunday, everything but the Jewish area would be closed. Maybe people who were in town for a while knew that the Jewish sites would be closed for the next 2 days due to Passover. Maybe it was just the weekend rush. I don't know. It was absolutely crazy packed in that entire area of town. I was glad I paid for the guided tour for two reasons. One, she added a lot of context and explanation to what we were seeing. Two, she was able to get us to the front of the lines better and so we were able to beat some of the crowds at some of the places. The first stop on the tour is the Old/New Synagogue. This synagogue is a very old Orthodox synagogue where the women and men have a full stone wall between their sections. The seats for the members line each wall, but one seat is chained off. It was the seat for somebody famous and is now still only for him, although he has been long gone. The next stop on the tour was the Spanish synagogue. It is called that due to the architectural style, not due to the congregation. On the inside, this synagogue looks like it could be a mosque as it is very Moorish. It is incredibly beautiful and detailed. On the top floor, there are several display cases containing mini museum exhibits.After that, we went to the Pinkas Synagogue that is now a memorial to those lost in the Holocaust. The walls are covered with the names of those lost, and it is a very somber site. Next, we saw the graveyard. The cemetery contains 12,000 graves and over 100,000 people who were buried between 1400 and 1700. It does not look nearly big enough for either of those numbers, but the guide explained that the people were buried several deep in many places. She also pointed out the stone of the famous Prague Rabbis who were buried there, the oldest stones, and a few interesting ones.The path through the graveyard winds around and finally leads you to the entrance of the burial society building and then the Maisel Synagogue. The burial society building contains some displays about traditional Jewish death practices. There is a series of paintings that shows what happens to a corpse and several artifacts on display. The Maisel synagogue contains some displays on Jewish holidays and family rituals. It's a great place to get a taste of Jewish cultural practices.Overall, I found the tour quite interesting. It enjoyed seeing the wide variety of synagogue architecture all in one place. It was like a mini-tour of synagogues of the world. I decided that maybe it would be a good idea to eat lunch before going to the Gastronomy museum, so I grabbed a bite at the James Dean Diner. This restaurant was very 1950s-USA-themed with Marilyn Monroe plastered all over the walls, jukebox music playing, and cigarettes on the menu. The food was a bit overpriced, but very typically American food. The Gastronomy Museum is a little hole-in-the-wall museum, but it is very well done. The first section contains a history of food from how the first humans started to use fire to modern chefs. It was full of dioramas, displays, and even had a sample "modern kitchen." They do serve samples in the kitchen, and I can say that the homemade mead is very good. The next museum I went to was also a hole-in-the-wall museum- the Alchemy Museum. It is located more towards the castle, very close to the American Embassy. There are two parts to this museum. The downstairs part mostly has a lot of words (in English) on the walls, and not a whole lot to actually see. The other part is the tower that a famous alchemist, Kelly, used. There are 60 steps to the top, and then you feel like you've entered a Halloween funhouse. They have set it up how he might have had it set up, with jars of odd body parts, a skeleton, and other interesting items he might have had. It was cute, but probably not quite worth whatever I paid for it. Having seen most of what I wanted to see in the main part of the city, I took the tram to Vysehrad, which was off the edge of my map. However, I was still able to find the fort and fort grounds there. The fort grounds were peaceful and provided a good walk. I saw a church, statues, and some park areas. Also, since I had taken the tram to the area atop the hill, I had a nice walk downhill back to the river. I did finally get my river cruise. I went back to where I didn't get one from the other day. I still was just one person, but just as I was about to give up, a group of 3 tourists came up looking for a boat ride. I'm going to admit that while I got lucky and was happy to go on the boat ride, finally, it was not all I expected it to be. It was a nice, calm ride and a good view of the city, but the information was a droning recording that contained about 8 languages we didn't need and started to put me to sleep at some point. I didn't really learn a whole lot about Prague and didn't see a whole lot of new things since the water is pretty accessible by tram and bridge and I had already walked the area a lot. The one thing that did excite me is that they had "egg alcohol" on the menu. Other than eggnog, I had never really heard of egg alcohol. So, I of course had to try it. It wasn't particularly great, but also wasn't bad. Drinkers would probably enjoy it a lot more than I did.

My plan was to then go up to the Petrin tower, which is called "Prague's Eiffel," eat something there, and then see the observatory that I didn't get to see the other day. I did the first part ok. The daily pass tram ticket also covers the ride on the funicular to the top of the mountain where the tower is. From the funicular, you do need a separate ticket to get into the Petrin Tower, and it costs an additional amount to use the elevator.So, I instead used the stairs. All 299 of them. Fortunately, they have 2 separate stair cases- one for up and one for down, so it is a more comfortable climb. The view from the top is a good view, as would be expected. It's a bit windy, but very nice. Then, I got to climb down all the stairs. Despite being incredibly well marked, there were people climbing up the down stairs, for some reason. It made the descent a bit more of a challenge, but I managed. The next part of the plan was to eat something at the top. Unfortunately, any restaurants they had were closed. The funicular was only running every 20-30 minutes, so I didn't want to get off and see if the restaurant at the middle funicular stop was open, only to find it wasn't and have to wait again. So, I went to the bottom and decided to eat at the first place I could find something at. That turned out to be a tiny restaurant, but it had great tomato soup.

Finally, I went back up to the observatory. Again, bad luck. The credit card machine was broken and she wasn't willing to take Euros, Dollars, Pounds, or anything but Czech koruna. I was about 2 koruna short, which is like being a penny short or something silly. Another couple "rescued" me. I offered them some Euro cents in exchange, but they were nice enough to just pay my penny. The observatory has several interesting displays on astronomy, light, and other scientific topics. Of course, the highlight is the ability to look through 2 of their telescopes. I got to look through both before it started to rain and they had to close the ceiling doors. The docents were very knowledgeable about the telescopes. One was able to explain the difference between a telescope designed to look at the moon and one designed to look at the stars. (One is longer to "zoom in" more and see features, the other is wider to gather more light so the stars are brighter.) The other didn't speak English, but was able to answer my Spanish questions with Italian.While I wish it hadn't started to rain, at least I got to see a little through the telescopes.

The Pyramida was a very short walk from the observatory, but the park wasn't really well enough lit for me to want to walk it in the dark and in the rain, so I took the funicular down the mountain and then took the tram over to the hotel. Overall, I really enjoyed my stay in Prague and fell like it's a place worth going back to for a few more days, although I'd definitely do some of the day trips and not stay in the city the whole time, since I already saw most of what I wanted to see. The only general negative things I can say were about the smoking and the bathrooms. Everybody seems to be smoking thesehorrible cigarettes with smoke that lingers longer like cigar smoke and just has an overwhelmingly bad smell. The other is that all the places have signs on the bathrooms that say they will charge for the bathrooms. Although I can only half-complain about that as nobody every charged me if I was a customer.

Old New Synagogue

Old New Synagogue


Spanish Synagogue

Spanish Synagogue


Kelly's Tower

Kelly's Tower


Fort

Fort


View from fort

View from fort


Petrin Tower

Petrin Tower


View from Petrin

View from Petrin


View from Petrin

View from Petrin


Jewish Cemetery

Jewish Cemetery

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Prague, part II

I headed back to Prague. When I had been there the weekend before, I had learned that the guy at the airport bus ticket counter doesn't break big bills. Of course, anybody who came from abroad and just got money from an ATM only has big bills. He makes you pay with your credit card. This time, I was smarter about it because I had change (intentionally) left over from last weekend. I skipped him altogether and just bought a ticket from one of the automatic machines out in the bus area. This time, I was staying in a 4-star hotel and not the hostel. One, I had so much luggage it wouldn't have fit into the lockers at the hostel. Two, I didn't want to schlep it all up the stairs just for two nights. Three, I knew that I'd want some peace and quiet and to be by myself to recover from my week in DC. Four, I wanted to stay across the river from the main part of town so I was closer to the observatory and things I ahdn't seen instead of close to the things I'd seen. And lastly, I got a great deal on it so it was actually pretty cheap. From the airport, I had to take the bus to a stop that was just around the corner from a tram station. It's good the tram was going by as I got off, or else I would not have seen the tram station and might have gotten lost. The tram lets off basically right in front of the Pyramid hotel, which is in a nice, quiet neighborhood. One thing to note is that there is no automatic ticket machine at that stop, so if you want a ticket for the next day, you should buy it wherever you bought your ticket for the first day, and just don't activate it until the next morning.

The hotel lobby is exactly what I would expect from a 4-star hotel. It was well-decorated, shiny and new. The service was excellent. The hallways and rooms probably weren't redecorated as recently, but they were immaculately clean with no trace of mold, even in the bathroom. My room was also very large for a European hotel room. It was almost the size of a US hotel room. By the time I was settled and ready to go out, I decided that I would postpone going to the observatory because I was hungry and it was late. I wanted as much time as possible there and not to feel rushed. Instead, I took the tram to town and found a Chinese restaurant. It had a buffet, but I ordered off the menu. Maybe the Czech palate doesn't do spicy at all, becasue when I asked for "regular spicy" I got what I would consider mild. Otherwise, the food was what I would expect at any Chinese restaurant in the states. Afterwards, I walked around town and again marvelled at the souvenir shops that were open until 2am. Do people at bachelorete parties really get drunk and say, "Hey, we should go buy a new plate set! That's a great idea!" and then actually do it?

Charles Bridge at night

Charles Bridge at night

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Not so Kewl

So, on my way back to Prague, I had a little bit of a layover in London. It wasn't long enough to go see Stonehenge and guarantee I'd be back in time for my flight, so I decided to do something less risky and closer. On a tube map, Kew Gardens looks close, so I decided to go there. It looks close, but it took an hour to get there- definitely more than I expected. It is a cute area though. Right by the station are some shops that are very quaint and I would guess there have been shops there for hundreds of years. The houses are adorable, each with their own little well-kept lawn. It's only about a block to Kew Gardens through the pretty neighborhood, so I should have had plenty of time in the Gardens. WRONG! The line just to get in the gardens looked something like over an hour long. It went out the gardens and down the street. I would definitely not have had time to see anything, if I even could get in before I had to leave to return to the airport. Instead, I got some local cheese for lunch at one of the shops and headed back to the airport.

Kew Gardens entrance line

Kew Gardens entrance line

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

The Defenestration of Prague

I woke up this morning only slightly later than my normal time, so even after getting ready and dressed, almost nothing was open when I left to go explore.

First, I walked around the Jewish town and saw the outsides of the various synagogues. They looked interesting, but without knowing the story behind them, it was just some cool architecture. I'd like to come back when they're open and see the insides.

Then, I crossed the river and headed to the castle. I asked the guards at the front gate if they were the kind who weren't allowed to talk, and didn't get a response. I said, "I'll take that as a no." What I would have liked to ask them is where to go to see the spot of the famous defenestration of Prague. Instead, I just walked in and wandered around, hoping that I'd find a sign or somebody who knew. Inside the walls, it's basically a small town. There are a few shops and restaurants as well as a cathedral, some museums, and other buildings. That early in the morning, it was very empty and I had the place mostly to myself and the occasional other tourist. Despite there being nobody there, they still do the whole hourly changing of the guards ceremony thing. I basically got my own, personal guard changing ceremony. It was pretty cool. Even with nothign open, it still took me hours to walk around the grounds and see what there was to see. By the end though, there were a few more people around, including one who could point me in the direction of the defenestration window. For those who need directions, basically you stand in front of the cathedral and look left. On my way out, one of the shops was finally opening up, so I got a cup of mulled hot wine. Probably, this wasn't too brilliant because I hadn't really had breakfast yet and while the alcohol mostly cooks out, this wine hadn't been there long enough for it to do so. Also, I had never had it before (which is why I bought it), and didn't really like it. Probably if I added a bunch of sugar packets it would have been good, but as I got it, it wasn't that great.

I went back down the hill to the town, and thankfully, the markets were opening up so I could get some real food. Except all the junk food looked so good and I had never had some of it before, so my breakfast ended up being more delicious, bad-for-you food than nutrition. One of the items I got was called "cheese balls," but basically it tasted like donut holes. Another was a heated nutella wafer that was really good.

My breakfast of champions kept me relatively satisfied until I got to the airport and got checked in. There wasn't much to eat past security at the airport- something like 4 different places each with the same 4 menu items, but I managed.

Synagogue

Synagogue


Inside castle grounds

Inside castle grounds


Inside castle grounds

Inside castle grounds


Inside castle grounds

Inside castle grounds


Changing of the guard

Changing of the guard


Inside castle grounds

Inside castle grounds


Defenestration point

Defenestration point

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)