A Travellerspoint blog

August 2011

Wedding

Today, I was planning on getting up early and running, but I wasn't quite sure how early as I was running short on sleep. I ended up waking to the sound of my aunt calling my sister for breakfast at 9. So, there was no running. I went down to eat hotel breakfast with them. The hotel had quite the buffet. There were omelets, cereals, and fruits for people who like that kind of food, and bread, veggies, cheeses, and pasta for those of us who like that kind of food.

After my excitingly hearty breakfast, I set out upon my 2 missions. 1- I had to go do my laundry as Irene forced me to pack some dirty clothes. 2- I had to go find a gift bag and greeting card as I didn't bring those things to Israel. The guy at the front desk of the hotel had given me directions last night on how to get to a shopping area that supposedly had 2 places I could do my laundry. I grabbed a bag of dirty clothes and headed that way. The shopping center actually wasn't that far. It was a pleasant walk to get there and the sidewalks were very well kept up. The challenge came once I got there. All I had to go on was “there are 2 places in the shopping area,” nothing more specific. Because I didn't want to wander the (very large) shopping area, hoping that the sign would be in English, I tried asking some people. A lot of the the people didn't know English. The first guy I found that spoke English was new to the area and only knew of laundromats near the University. Eventually, somebody sent me over to a dry cleaners. Unfortunately, she wanted 60 shekels (about $18) to do my laundry. That's a lot of money for a small load. I really didn't want to pay that much, so I started on the second mission and figured I'd ask about the first in the various stores. Based on the responses I got, it sounded like the dry cleaners was my only choice to get the laundry done today. I dropped it off and she promised me it would be done at 3:00. I left, dismayed that I was getting ripped off and didn't have a choice, but glad just to be done with my mission. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure I was supposed to negotiate, but at this point, I didn't even care. It was extremely hot outside, but all of the stores were air conditioned, so I started checking out the stores for my gift bag and card. The pharmacy and big, Costco-style grocery store didn't have them. The toy store didn't have them. Ultimately, I was getting thirsty, so I asked somebody, who suggested the Office Depot. I'm not big into shopping at stores we have in the US while I'm in other countries, but the novelty of wandering semi-aimlessly through stores had worn off. To my surprise, Office Depot not only had a gift card, but had wrapping paper, too. With my mission completed, I hightailed it back to the hotel to get some water and a much-needed nap. By the time I got back, I was so parched, I was gulping water as fast as I could. While the dry heat minimizes the feeling of grossness, it also left my throat extremely uncomfortably dry. I decided to remember to bring a water bottle when I go back for my laundry. After a much-needed nap, my parents and I headed back out to the shopping center to get food and also pick up my laundry. By the time we were back, it was time to get ready for the wedding.

The wedding was held on a small farm outside of Be'er Sheva. The trees were lit in various colors, and there were some live horses as decoration or entertainment. The location was quite beautiful. The wedding began with “happy hour” and delicious appetizers. At some point, the power went out. Everybody took it in stride. Some people even started singing to replace the music that had stopped. The power mostly stayed on for the rest of the wedding. After the beginning reception, everybody was called to their seats and then to the chuppah to watch the ceremony. The ceremony was very nice, although I couldn't understand a lot of it as my Hebrew is pretty insufficient. Both the bride and groom were absolutely glowing. I heard somebody comment later that she had never seen a happier groom at any wedding (and she has been to many more than I have).

We returned to our seats and the food just flowed in. There was a veritable smorgasbord of salads, breads, dips, and appetizers, followed by several courses of food. I was dancing a lot, so I *only* ate 3 courses, missing at least dessert and possibly some others. It was impossible for anybody to leave there hungry AND the food was delicious. I spent most of the night dancing, as did many of the people there. The variety of modern pop, oldies, and Israeli music was great and everybody was super-friendly about dancing with everybody. There was a lot of love and happiness in the air, which is the excuse I'm going to give because at some point, one of the groom's aunts introduced herself to me by saying "Hi. You will marry my son. I will show you him." It was pointed out to me that if we were in the old country, I would have come away from the party engaged. As it were, I came away from the party exhausted, but excited and still ready to party some more. Of course, by the time we got back to the hotel, I was ready to shower and pass out. I think that's a sign of a great party.

Mexican food in Be'er Sheva

Mexican food in Be'er Sheva

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

Masada and Dead Sea

I arrived in Tel Aviv hella early in the morning, but Inbal was a fabulous cousin and came and picked me up anyway. I was able to get showered (which felt great) and have breakfast with the family before Eliza took me to the train station in Herzliya and sent me on my way to Be'er Sheva. Upon arrival in Be'er Sheva, Julie and Max came and picked me up to take me to breakfast at the soon-to-be-in-laws' house. (Everybody took such fabulous care of me!)

From there, everybody (sister, cousins, cousins' friends) got on our own private tour bus to head to Masada. On the way, we saw a lot of the dead sea, and our tour guide explained it to us. He said that in the fully natural part of the dead sea, the water level was falling. However, there is a part of the dead sea that used to be natural, but is now blocked off into pools where they pump water in from the other areas. Various industries extract minerals from these pools, and the floor of the sea in these pools is rising. As a result, the water level is rising, even though it isn't really increasing in volume. He also explained that both Jordan and Israel are working together on preserving the water in the dead sea as both of the countries benefit from it. It's nice to know that they're working together on something.

When we got to Masada, we took the cable car to the top as it was way too hot for a hike. Also, some people in the group had never been there before and we wanted to make sure they had plenty of time to see a lot of the ruins. The story of Masada is that Masada is the remains of a hill-top palace built by King Herod in Roman times. When the Romans came to Israel to conquer the Israelis living there at the time, some of the Israelis were able to flee to Masada and hold out against a Roman seige for quite some time. When they knew that they would not be able to hold out any longer, they chose to die instead of becoming Roman slaves. Our tour guide did a fabulous job of explaining the water channels and cisterns used by King Herod to supply the baths with water as well as the palace with drinking water. He pointed out to us the remains of the Roman army camps, as well as the ramp they built up to the city in order to attack it. We saw the snake path, which was a path that was present in Herod's time. We went into the ancient synagogue, the baths (some of which have original mosaics still intact), and a large cistern. At some point, we were all getting tired. While I had been on "water duty," reminding everybody to drink water every few minutes, it was hot and sunny, and we were all ready to take the cable car to the bottom and get some ice cream.

After a quick break, our bus took us to the Crown Plaza on the Dead Sea, where we had a quick buffet lunch that was pretty decent and got into our swimsuits. We went to the Dead Sea beach that belonged to the hotel. The part of the Dead Sea that we went in was more oily and bitter than I remembered. I'm not sure if that was because we were in a different area, if the sea had changed, or if I was just remembering wrong. Either way, we hung out in it long enough to get our pictures and be amused by the floating. Then, we went to the hotel's pool and played in there for a while.

I think I slept a lot of the bus ride back, but I was still able to pass out quickly when I got to the hotel we were staying in in Be'er Sheva.

view from the cable car

view from the cable car


Inside the bath house

Inside the bath house


Roman army site

Roman army site


Dead Sea

Dead Sea


In the Dead Sea

In the Dead Sea

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

Consolation Prize

While I would have much rather been at my cousin's henna party, Amsterdam is what I got, so I was determined to make the best of it... The excitement started from the sky. As we were approaching Amsterdam, I noticed an interesting diamond of dots in the ocean. As we got closer, I noticed that they were windmills. I find the concept of offshore wind farms pretty exciting. From the sky, the Amsterdam area appeared quite different than most cities. As the plane went inland and closer to the airport, the area was mostly green, with some watery areas lined with tight clumps of houses with burnt-sienna colored roofs. It was as if the city area was clustered around all of the waterways, and anything not touching the water was a farm. As a result, the area seemed to be more mixed-use than most areas. The first question that popped into my mind though, was "how do they do that?" I was very curious to know if they had water and somehow built houses on it, or if the waterways were man-made. (I found the answer on the canal tour later in the day.) Even the airport in Amsterdam was neat. The airport has some nice amenities. There is a free art museum (with about 9 paintings, but hey, it's something), a nice lounge area with very comfy couches and “fireplace,” and even a shower area. The amenity that got me excited was the luggage locker area. I love being able to drop my stuff off and not have to haul it around the city. Before I left the airport, I wanted to make sure that I was checked in to the next flight segment, as they couldn't check me into the flight in NYC. The one drawback to Schipol airport is the transfer service. I wasn't able to just print a boarding pass and go. I had to get some ticket from a machine, wait in line, get a number for another line, and check in with some other person. In the end, I walked away with a boarding pass, but it took about 30 minutes longer than it should have and cut into my time to see the city. Because I was short on time, I took the fast train to the center of Amsterdam. It cost a little extra, but not that much, and it took less than 10 minutes to get downtown. In my case, it was probably worth it. If you're a budget traveler and not in a rush, the "slow train" is probably a better deal, and it's not that much longer.

As I hadn't planned on being in Amsterdam, my pre-trip research consisted of asking 3 people “What should I see?” The unanimous verdict was “the red light district.” So, I grabbed a map at a cute litle map machine at the train station, and just headed in that general direction. the machine prints free maps of the area, and prints right on the map a black line showing you how to get to whatever ourist location you enter on the computer screen. The red light district is basically just across a canal from the train station, so the line was almost non-existent and the area was extremely convenient to get to. The first street I walked down had 2 McDonalds and 1 KFC restaurant, which did not excite me. This was not what I came to see. It did, however, have a fast food place where the burgers were in little vending machine slots, so you didn't even have to wait in line for them, and the line was only for the fries. Because I was told that the fries in Amsterdam were fabulous, I got a tray. Honestly, I was happy that they were very potato-ey and soft, but they didn't taste that different from other fries or that fabulous. Mayo is better than ketchup on fries, in my opinion, so maybe that's where the reputation comes from- the sauce. Otherwise, I can't see why the fries are so highly rated.

I wandered around the area, admiring all of the neat architecture, bridges, and canals. It did seem that pretty much everybody was smoking, which meant that the air wasn't that great, but that was about the only damper on the day as the weather was gorgeous- perfect for the shorts and t-shirt I was wearing. I was lucky about that, as I hadn't even had time to check on the weather before I left home.

Overall, the red light district had three main types of "entertainment"- gambling, weed, and raunch. I didn't really see any working girls themselves, but I was also there in the middle of the day. What I did see was a large quantity of porn stores; stores with "upscale" adult toys; stores hawking sexual-shaped egg molds, pasta, and mugs; and several Chinese massage parlors. Unlike in other areas, the R-rated material wasn't hidden in some curtained-off area, there were images right in the windows for anybody passing by on the street to see. Additionally, all of the souvenir shops contained t-shirts that were pretty raunchy, and mostly unfunny, although a few were at least clver. To give an example of the type of shirts there ere... one I saw in several shops was of a not-fully-dressed lady asking Pinocchio to tell her lies. In addition to the raunchy souvenirs, every shop had weed souvenirs. In addition, there were plenty of stores selling cannabis lollypops, "special" cookies, and marijuana seeds. There were a ton of coffee shops that I'm not sure even sold coffee, and then there were stores that didn't even try to pretend, they just said "headshop" on the sign. (For those looking for other kinds of souvenirs, there were plenty of stores with tulip, cow, and cheese-themed trinkets, but not as many as with the raunchy trinkets.) In the middle of all of this "XXX entertainment" there was a very gorgeous Buddhist temple. The temple seemed to be in the "Chinatown" area of the red light district, which makes sense as it is a Chinese Buddhist temple. The temple itself is small, but very ornately decorated. There is one very large big Buddha in the center, and there are several smaller Buddhas in glass cases areound the sides. For a small donation, I was able to pic out a "fortune paper" that gave me advice like a fortune cookie would.

After visiting the temple, I walked around areas of town that weren't completely filled with smoke. There are actually quite a few great cheese shops around the main tourist area. I tasted sampleed of absolutely delicious gouda, and in one shop got to see each of the steps to make the cheese. The Reypenaer store had delicious big chunks of fancy cheese that I would have loved to have picked up to bring back to the US. However, as I wasn't going straight back, I restrained myself.

A waffle completed my food tour of Amsterdam. Again, I was told they were fabulous. While it was good (and covered with strawberry icing as the guy at the waffle place said that was his personal favorite), it reminded me of a stickless waffle from the waffle-on-a-stick place in the mall in Columbus, OH, and didn't live up to its reputation.

Now that I had done all of the things I had been told I should do and would have time to do, I just wandered around. I ended up seeing some palace, plazas, a church that looked old and important, a very fancy (from the outside) mall, and a quiet residential area that was devoid of crowds.

Eventually, after hours of walking, I decided I needed to sit, and that a canal tour boat was probably the best place to sit as I would still be able to see the city. The boat tour probably would have been a good way to start off the day as it gave me a better idea of the city layout, what was in the city, and where all of the museums were. Also, it was warmer in the morning. By the time I was on the boat, it was cooler, plus there was wind due to the motion of the boat. I put on my sweatshirt and was fine, but recommend doing things in the other order. The tour guide explained to us that there are over 100 canals and 1000 bridges in Amsterdam. He pointed out all of the museums and other sights, including the leaning houses. Apparently, the ground is very soft due to all of the water. In order to build the houses right up on the canals, the people fill in the mud with wood piles, and build the houses on the wood piles. However, the houses still end up sinking sometimes, which means that they start to lean. It's neat to see from the canal, but must suck for the homeowner.

After the canal tour, I had to get back to the airport to make sure I caught my flight. As a result, I ended up eating the Chinese food at the airport for dinner, which I don't recommend as it was so salty it would have been inedible if it weren't so expensive and me so cheap. Fortunately, the flight to Tel Aviv had a vegetarian pasta option for the main course that was pretty decent. However, the salad that came with the vegetarian meal was topped with a shrimp, so pretty much nobody ate it. (What genius came up with that idea?) I was able to sleep for most of the flight after the meal, which felt great after a long day of walking.

Amsterdam Canals

Amsterdam Canals


Buddhist temple

Buddhist temple


Central Plaza

Central Plaza


making cheese

making cheese


Museum from tour boat

Museum from tour boat


Pot store

Pot store


Fancy mall

Fancy mall

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

Grandma, don't worry. I'm on my way...

I bought a direct flight to Israel from NYC, but thanks to Irene, the plans got changed a bit. I was pretty exhausted from exertion (see a picture of my flooded basement) and lack of sleep, so every little thing that went wrong was a tad flustering. I took the bus to NYC and tried to take the train to Newark, but the train wasn't running, so I went back to the bus station and took a different bus that I had to wait in line for 45 minutes to get. I spent my bus ride calling companies to come clean up the flood mess in my basement. From NYC, I flew to Atlanta and from Atlanta to Amsterdam. Fortunately, the flights themselves were pretty uneventful and I was able to get some sleep.

Flooded basement

Flooded basement

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